April 7, 1992
Two women were discussing the textbooks for a particular college course. One said one of the books was “too philosophical.” The other woman agreed with her, then added the other book was “far more practical.”
As they talked, it was evident they did not like the first book as much as the second. It forced them to think about ideas and theories. The second book was about action to take in certain situations. It was easier to read and the answers to the problems discussed were in the back of the book.
These women were talking about a course in Counseling, but this same contrast between philosophical and practical frequently is used to describe other books, other courses, even those who teach the courses.
What bothers me is that the two approaches, no matter the topic to which they are applied, are usually kept separate — as if thinking and doing have no relationship to each other. In other words, the philosophical approach is not considered practical and even if the information is useful, no one bothers to make it so. Instead, students are given theories that sound like untested opinions and assumptions that may or may not work in the “real world.”
On the other hand, the practical approach involves a lot less thinking, at least for the students. The teacher (or author) has dissected the problems, struggled through the solutions, then presents just those, sometimes without revealing any of the theory behind his work. All that is left for the student to do is apply the same solutions to the same problems — very practical.
Of course the philosophical or thinking part is important in any field of endeavor. No matter the discipline: art, music, engineering, teaching, counseling, raising kids, or training dogs, there is some theory that must be worked out. No one can act in a correct manner without they themselves, or someone else, thoroughly considering the issues.
The difference between the two approaches is whether the student is going to learn how to think for themselves — and thus be able to identify and solve problems that are not in the textbook — or whether that student is equipped with some good answers just in case he or she happens to run into the exact same problems described by the instruction book.
I’m glad the Bible is a good balance between philosophical and practical. Even at that, some respond to it with, “Don’t give me all that theology — I just want to hear something practical.” They seem to want a quick-fix, no lectures, and certainly not any doctrinal arguments. On the other hand, others immerse themselves in theology and the theoretical without ever seeking God for specific solutions to take action regarding specific problems. The balance is knowing the philosophy in His Word — then being able to apply it to the unique situations of our lives. The process of thinking is not contrary to spirituality. In fact one author said that most of the problems in the world would never happen if the people involved gave 30 minutes of concentrated thought to the consequences of their actions — a statement both philosophical and highly practical. Taking action is not contrary to spirituality either. The life of Jesus Christ exemplifies both.
The Apostle Paul also put both together when he wrote Timothy telling him to stick to “sound doctrine” so he could live righteously. Then he added, “All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for doctrine, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the man of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work.”
Whoever picked those textbooks first mentioned knew some philosophical effort is necessary for practical action. Christian living involves both: thinking and doing.