Practical Theology: Love-Fest

Practical Theology: Love-Fest August 7, 2014

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 Mark Van Steenwyk

We’re on the love-fest part of the series where we’re supposed to share our favorite bits of one another’s books. I’ll begin with Christopraxis.

On three different occasions, I seriously considered doing a PhD. I’ve taken the GRE twice and was even accepted into a PhD program once. In the end, after a healthy dose of self-reflection and communal discernment, I’ve decided that academia isn’t for me. Reading Andrew’s book brought back some of that old longing. It reminded me why I love good scholarship.

Andrew’s book helps explain the way in which God is active and present in our own actions. Here’s how he says it:

This concrete human action of ministry is confessed to take us experientially (and therefore normatively) into the very being of God in and through God’s own hypostatic being that is given to us only through the action that moves from possibility through nothingness in ministry. Ministerial action then joins God (as an ontological realism) by sharing concretely in love of neighbor, by embracing the nothingness of the hypostatic other, giving to them our own hypostatic being as a new possibility (personalism).

I know some people’s eyes glaze over when reading tasty theology, but I love it. My own book asserts that God is present in our actions in the world–particularly being present among the marginalized–but I never really get into how that works. What I love about Andrew’s book is that it is precisely about that question: “How is it that God is present in our human experiences?” Rarely do theologians explore that question. And few questions are more important. We live in a society where church leaders are more likely to celebrate bombing Palestinians and exclude immigrant children than they are to call us to share “concretely in love of neighbor.” These are times when compassion must become deeper, and our encounter with God must become thicker.

Turning to Aric, Doug, and Nick’s book, Never Pray Again. It too calls us to go deeper into the way of compassion. I love its witty practicality. For me, the best part of their book were their experiments at the end of each chapter. It is something I wish every author would do. Not only does it give the reader some tangible sense of the implications of what they’re reading, I find that authors who have practicality in mind are better writers. If you intend for your reader to act upon your words, you will write better.

My favorite chapters were Confess! and Expel! These two chapters work together as a sort of movement from looking at inner demons to looking at outer demons. Lots of folks can read Walter Wink’s powers trilogy. But to develop a practical approach to exorcism is rarely done. The way Aric, Doug, and Nick lay things out is brilliant. I wish I had written those chapters. Here’s one of my favorite paragraphs from Expel:

…we hereby reach through the pages of this book and declare in the name of Jesus Christ and b the power of the Holy Spirit that you are set free from the unclean spirit of Consumption, which whispers to you that you need more things in order to be complete, and helps cover your ears and turn your eyes away from the suffering that your wasteful lifestyle causes other human beings.

It is one thing to understand that consumerism is problematic. It is another to name it as a demonic reality. But to cast it out and even come up with practical ways of exorcising that demon? That’s the trick. And these guys go further down that road than I’ve seen in a book. Well done.

Now that I’ve poured out my love on my fellow authors, go out and buy their books (assuming you’ve already bought mine). 🙂

Mark Van Steenwyk is cofounder of Mennonite Worker, a Christian intentional community in Minneapolis. Mark is an editor at and the producer and co-host of the Iconocast podcast.

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