Revisiting the Popular but False Dichotomy Between Knowledge and Practice

say_no_to_knowledgeI recently came across a quotation which stated something along the lines of: “It doesn’t matter how much theological knowledge you have if it doesn’t change the way you live.” Something like that. Something involving the pitting of the mind against the heart, like head knowledge vs. heart knowledge, or knowledge against lifestyle, or information against practice is what I’m addressing.

I understand and agree with this sentiment in general. I understand the motive behind this sentiment: don’t simply say you believe in something; put it into practice. Don’t just have lots of knowledge; life out your faith. I’ve heard this and forms of this sentiment for decades now.

But as I reflect on this sentiment again, I wonder whom this is for, whom this is addressed to. Certainly not for new believers! As I see it, we need more Christians—and actually just people in general—to be more informed and more educated, especially with regard to the Christian faith. We need more Christians to be able to talk in depth about the Bible and theology. The problem with this sentiment is that it seems to disparage knowledge by pitting knowledge against practice.

An example of why knowledge is important—and while it is controversial, I’ll take the risk—is the current controversy in the church regarding the LGBTQ+ movement. There are a lot of Christian groups who are advocating the movement, citing love and mercy, and a lot of Christian groups who are simply quoting Scripture and saying, “There the Bible says it; plain and simple.” But it is not that simple. The Bible says a lot of complicated things that we need to really think deeply about, rather than just take things at a surface level. And the Bible cannot be reduced to just love and mercy, or whatever we think love and mercy are. I would say both extremes are a result of a lack of knowledge.

I may have lost some readers with that example (if they got distracted by that with my main point). But it’s a good example of why we need more Christians to be more educated, more aware, more knowledgeable, more critically thoughtful about the Bible and theology, not less! So for a Christian leader to articulate this sentiment publicly—that knowledge doesn’t matter, with or without a conditional—is really not helpful.

Sentiments like this seem to come from certain groups in Christianity, those who think they know something but really have just been indoctrinated (usually with a certain Systematic Theology textbook) or simply perpetuate indoctrination. This is not knowledge; it’s indoctrination. If one has not thought through and grappled with the issues for themselves, then one doesn’t really know it.

I’m not saying every Christian needs to be seminary educated, but we should stop saying that we need less head knowledge and more heart knowledge. No, we need more head knowledge, in order to inform our hearts, in order to live out our faith. I mean how do you know whether you should baptize your one-year-old if you don’t look into the views on baptism? We need more Christians who are aware of their faith and are able to articulate their faith, and thus live out their faith.

So can we stop pitting “head knowledge” against “heart knowledge” or knowing theology against practicing our faith, and see that they really complement one another and that one feeds the other? Knowledge should not be a four-letter word; it leads to life-transformation, as even the Apostle Paul says: “Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing, and perfect will” (Rom 12:2; italics obviously mine).

— David I. Yoon

2 thoughts on “Revisiting the Popular but False Dichotomy Between Knowledge and Practice

  1. David,
    I have been responding to this issue in my congregations for years. As you articulate well, my response always includes; head knowledge and heart knowledge are two sides of the same coin, without head knowledge there can be no heart knowledge!
    Thanks for your article.
    Tim

    Liked by 1 person

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