Practical Theology: What We Would Steal

We got the authors of three recent books of practical theology together and asked them to bang their ideas around to see what interesting overlaps and contrasts emerged. Andrew Root of Luther Seminary recently wrote Christopraxis: A Practical Theology of the Cross. Mark Van Steenwyk, founder of the Mennonite Worke Community, wrote The UNkingdom of God: Embracing the Subversive Power of Repentance. The guys from Two Friars and a Fool, Aric Clark, Doug Hagler, and Nick Larson wrote Never Pray Again: Lift Your Head, Unfold Your Hands, and Get to Work

by Two Friars And A Fool

NeverPrayAgainWe need to be honest here – we are already stealing ideas from UNKingdom and Christopraxis. We would be fools not to do so. Or we are stealing because we are great artists. It makes no difference. We have truly enjoyed interacting with these texts and these authors, and are doubtless coming away with far more than we have offered.

From Mark’s UNKingdom, we wish to steal the easy interplay of the mystical and the mundane. Our general skepticism around certain claims no doubt causes us to edit our own experiences and memories so they fit more easily with how we think the world works. Where we might have a mystical experience, but explain it away or minimize it, Mark would weave it into his subversive theological reflection and draw from it a call to action, or at least a pointed insight.

We would also like to steal Mark’s life story, vampire-like, draining it from him to embellish our own. Without a doubt, Aric is our resident adventurer, but Mark’s story, like the stories of some others who have come out of a fundamentalist background, has a long dramatic arc. As he travels along that arc, Mark changes a great deal, and simultaneously, not at all. In contrast, if you met any of the three of us ten or twenty years ago, not much would change, though Aric’s inability to grow a beard would make more sense.

Lastly, while we are fastened to Mark’s neck and drinking in his precious fluids, we would steal his courage. Mark’s proverbial money is much closer to where his mouth is than ours. Mark’s arc seems to have brought him to a life of growing subversion, whereas ours has thus far brought us to writing a book and hoping people invite us to come talk about it. We recommend experiments, where Mark calls for fundamental changes in our way of life.

Moving on to siphon sweet ambrosia from Andrew’s Christopraxis, we would latch on to his specificity and clarity of intent. Never Pray Again is a hopefully-eloquent grenade lobbed into the middle of prayer, and more broadly, piety that is not directly connected to acting in the world and in the lives of other people. We do not, however, name a lot of names in terms of what we feel we are contending against. It has come up more than once in conversation – what is it exactly that we are contending against? How do we see prayer in specific instances functioning to reinforce empty piety? Never Pray Again is more focused on pushing for gestalt-change from various directions, and to playing out our eleven themes as far as we can take them, but the book would have benefited a great deal from Andrew’s clarity of intent.

If we are going to inveigh against something, and we will if only for the opportunity to use “inveigh” in a sentence, then particularity would lend our critiques more power. Andrew’s intent is similar to ours, in the sense that he is also working toward a change in basic perceptions of a topic, in his case practical theology and in our case the practice of prayer, but his method might very well have a better chance of success. If it wasn’t aimed at theologians, that is – a famously impenetrable lot.

Two Friars and a Fool is the result of a heady mix of alcohol, sleep deprivation and the kind of hubris that makes blogging seem like a good way to contribute to society. Aric Clark is religious but not spiritual, and inflicts that religion on a congregation in Fort Morgan, Colorado. He is an over-functioning Enneagram 8 shouting at the universe from his pulpit. Doug Hagler is a deep-water Facebook argument-trawler who wants to open up the canon and add the collected works of J.R.R. Tolkien. As a fatbeard-at-large in Phoenixville, Pennsylvania, he lives out his calling to design role-playing games and write things on the Internet while pretending to actually work. Nick Larson is a post-doctrinal, post-modern hipster who messes it all up by wearing Star Wars shirts non-ironically. He is always reading every book he can find with the word “Toward” in the title, and is currently teaching rock-paper-scissors-lizard-Spock to disciples in Columbia, MO. These three published a book entitled Never Pray Again: Lift Your Head, Unfold Your Hands, and Get to Work, which aims to turn individualistic internalized spiritual practices into concrete neighbor-focused habits. They tell themselves that only one of them is the Fool, but they are wrong.

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