Helpful Tidbits for Organic Church Life                                                May 5, 2008
In This Issue
Do Practices Shape Beliefs?
My Reflections
Quick Links
The Banqueting Table does not necessarily endorse all contents of videos

For me this was a watershed week. Although you probably won't shed tears of joy as you read the below, I came close to it when I read the last chapter of Practicing Theology (Bass & Volf, 2002). Why? Because when Miroslav Volf (Henry B. Wright Professor of Theology, Yale Divinity School) asserts that right doing, for the most part, leads to right thinking...well, that's just beautiful...and the implications for discipleship and mission are enormous.

THIS WEEK'S QUESTION/TOPIC: Do practices shape beliefs?
Do Practices Shape Beliefs? 
Excerpt from Practicing Theology by Miroslav Volf et al.
Volf_1...the relation between beliefs and practices amounts to the claim that Christian beliefs do not express "pure knowledge" but are intended to guide Christian practices by situating the practitioner within the overarching narrative of God's dealings with humanity and by offering an account of his or her constitution as an agent. Seen from within that way of life, beliefs describe the constitution of agents of practices and offer normative direction for that way of life. So beliefs shape practices. But do practices contribute anything to beliefs?
One way to explore this issue is to ask the following question: Do we first accept Christian beliefs and then engage in Christian practices, or the other way around? As attested by the accounts of those who have experienced conversion through reading the Bible without having had previous contact with Christians, one can accept Christian beliefs without perviously engaging in Christian practices or even observing Christian practices. A person can start engaging in Christian practices because he or she has found Christian beliefs intellectually compelling. In such cases, Christian beliefs come first and Christian practices follow.
As a rule, however, this is not how things happen. People come to believe either because they find themselves already engaged in Christian practices (say, by being raised in a Christian home) or because they are attracted to them. In most cases, Christian practices come first and Christian beliefs follow - or rather, beliefs are already entailed in practices, so that their explicit espousing becomes a matter of bringing to consciousness what is implicit in the engagement in practices themselves (2002:256, emphasis mine).
My Reflections

For over two years I've been studying the relationship between epistemology (knowing) and ontology (being) through the lenses of rationalism (reason) and empiricism (experience). My inquiry, really, is nothing new. Everyone from Aristotle to Aquinas has addressed this question in some form or another, with not a few opinions. Do humans come to truly "know" something via reason or experience?

The reason this question is so important is because the western church has adopted what's known as the "educational model for social change." In other words, the more we "teach" you, most western church practitioners purport, the more likely you'll be on the road to conforming into the image of Christ. The problem with this theory is it doesn't work as well as we'd hoped;this is common knowledge in seminary and anthropological circles (Bernard, 2006:35).
It's no wonder Jesus gave us the "Come, follow me" model for discipleship. Obey me first, Jesus seems to assert, then come to understand me and my ways as a result.
One of the major premises of organic church life is that knowledge is superfluous outside of obedience to Christ. Neil Cole, for example, asserts that we in the west are "educated beyond our obedience." It's true.
Although space won't allow me to unpack all the implications concerning this fundamental shift in praxis, I'll leave you with this: "[What Christian's believe] gains power and meaning insofar as it is embodied in the total gestalt of community life and action" (Lindbeck, 1984:36). "'Right (communal) doing' seems in some sense a precondition for right understanding" (Bass & Volf, 2002:257).
Hope this was of some benefit to you.

Traver Dougherty
The Banqueting Table