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Practical Theology for the Heart, Mind, and Soul

Recently we looked at the idea of whether a sermon should focus on the Gospel, doctrine, or application of God’s Word. We came to the conclusion that a great sermon has all three. A study of the book of Ephesians proved this, which you can read here.

What do you think about when considering practical theology? Practical theology is simply theology in practice: what we do, act, or react with the Gospel and doctrine that we hear. Although practical theology can be something physical, my intent today is to show that is not always the case.

A century ago most churches had little practical theology. As liturgical churches focused on the Gospel, and some mainline churches focused on doctrine, practical theology got pushed aside.

There was a reaction to this in the late 20th century. Churches like Willow Creek Community Church in Chicago, and Saddleback Church in Lake Forest, CA, began noting a problem of missing out on practical theology, or cultural relevance to the faith. Believers were stepping away from the faith, not because our Christian faith isn’t relevant, but because it wasn’t being applied to daily life.

Unfortunately a pendulum swing happened. Some churches refocused only on practical theology, leaving solid doctrine and the basic Gospel in the dust. One thing that happened in the shuffle is a misunderstanding of practical theology.

Some think practical theology is simply something they can practice, something they can do. They want, at least from the practical part of the sermon, specific things to do or things to avoid in their marriage, finances, and workplace. They want to know how to raise their kids, live peaceably with neighbors, and help the poor and needy.

All of these things are great, and should be addressed. One thing that is missing (or maybe we can say is misleading) is that practical theology is not just for our hands and mouth. It can also be applied to our heart, mind, and soul.

How can we know that? Because there are many words throughout Scripture, especially the Psalms, that are action verbs – that we can’t do with our hands or our mouth. They can only be done with our hearts, souls, and minds. Most of these actions are applied directly to God, while some can be to other people.

Think of the ideas related to God like, “trust,” “take refuge,” “remember,” or “meditate.” When it comes to our relationship with God, there are many practical things we are to do, which can only be done with our hearts, minds, or souls.

The same is true with our relationship with man. “Love” is often an action of the heart before it becomes physically worked out with our hands. The apostle Paul tells Christians to “value” or “think” of or “count others more significantly than yourself (Philippians 2:3).” That’s not something we physically do. It starts with a mentality before it looks like physical service.

We must also understand that it is practical to think a certain way. While the Gospel and doctrine is laid out, the way we think is a practice. This is why we can hear a sermon on Philippians 4:8, “think on these things.” helping reveal how we can change our thought life in practice.

My contention is, while sermons should have practical theology, we need to be careful that we don’t misunderstand the depth of practical theology. It is not always physical. Sometimes it is spiritual or mental. Just because we weren’t called to go feed the poor, do an act of physical service for someone else, or called to some other physical outworking of our faith, doesn’t mean we didn’t hear practical theology. When listening to a sermon, also look for how we are to think, feel, and use our emotions in the process.

Do you only think of something you can physically do when it comes to practical theology? How would an understanding that practical theology can also be a pattern of thinking or a way to handle your emotions or feelings change the way you respond to sermons?

Thanks for taking time to read this Maddening Theology post. If you enjoyed this content you can find Pastor Tim’s sermons at You can also join us at 520 Marion St. Browndale, PA 18421 on Sundays at 10 AM. To make following the blog easier you can also register. You can also join us on Facebook at Cornerstone Forest City. Also, don’t forget to download our APP on iTunes  or Googleplay.