Posted by: Philip Rushton | June 16, 2010

When Theology Meets Real Life

Julie and I are currently reading a novel by David James Duncan titled, The Brothers K. This story follows the lives of four brothers from Camas, Washington as they navigate through the turbulent decades of the 60’s and 70’s. As I was reading this evening, I came across this powerful observation by the main character in the book:

“It is incredible to me how blithely even intelligent people sometimes toss around terms like ‘transcendence’ and ‘crucifixion.’ The words move us on paper. They feel noble upon the tongue. But when they cease to be sounds and begin to caress the flesh and bones, when they leave the page and get physical, there is little that even the best of us wouldn’t do to escape them.”

In a recent conversation with one of my friends from Regent, we were talking about how spiritually immature we feel in the midst of some of the set-backs we are facing. There is a noticeable contradiction between the ideas we have supposedly ‘mastered’ during our masters degree and our inability to live these ideas out.

Jesus talks about taking up our cross, and denying ourselves. He tells his disciples that they will face trouble in this world. When I am sitting in a theology class or a church pew I often find myself agreeing with these ideas, thinking they are true and noble. Yet, when I am actually forced to take up a ‘cross,’ or when I am called to a small act of ‘dying to self,’ I find that my idealism is quickly lost. Like Duncan articulates, there isn’t much I wouldn’t do to escape.

However, at the end of the conversation I had with my friend, I came to the conclusion that perhaps we are heading in the right direction. Perhaps the fact that we are struggling to live out the teachings of Jesus means that we are starting to learn what he really means. For Jesus does not call us to simply understand an idea, he calls us to follow him. True Christian discipleship requires that theory turn into practice.

As we make the transition from theory to practice, it may seem like we are moving backwards. When the noble themes we agree with on Sunday morning are applied to our broken and messy lives on Monday morning, we feel like we’ve failed. As we try and live out our ideals we stumble, and this leaves us frustrated. But in the end I would rather be stumbling over the teachings of Jesus in real life, than deluding myself into thinking I have mastered them from the comfortable distance of the pew or the classroom.


  1. Phil, The Brothers K is a favorite novel of mine. With its themes of family, spiritual seeking and societal changes in Southwest Washington several decades I’ve found it to be engaging, insightful and thoughtprovoking. I’ll be interested in hearing more of your reflection on it.

  2. Hey Dave,

    Ya, what a book. Julie and I are on the last 100 pages now and I can’t wait to finish it. Wanting to read Dostoevsky’s “Brothers Karamazov” next to see how Duncan draws from it. Loving that it is set in our county. Perhaps another blog post on the book will come soon!

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