Written by Dr. Derek Cooper
Monday, 19 December 2011 00:00
When I was in graduate school, I decided that I would not allow my study of theology to become a purely academic exercise. So when it came time for my specialization, I consciously chose the book of James. Although I would argue that all the books in the Bible are “practical” in nature, there is something especially punchy about James’s letter. Just in the first chapter alone, he confronts the reader with a continuous cascade of sayings: “Do not merely listen to the word and so deceive yourselves. Do what it says” (1:22). “If anyone considers himself religious and yet does not keep a tight rein on his tongue…his religion is worthless” (1:26). There is no way to read the book of James and walk away unaffected.
Which is exactly what many of us who teach theology professionally do. We become, as James cautions us, “hearers of the word and not doers” (1:23-24). In order to protect myself from this tendency, I am committed to having a long-life engagement with the book of James. In the midst of this engagement with the book, what I continue to come back to are two separate verses in the first chapter.
- “Let steadfastness have its full effect [on you] so that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing” (1:4).
- “This is a double-minded person, unstable in all his ways” (1:8).
These two verses, like Lady Wisdom and Lady Folly in the book of Proverbs, serve as contrary ways to navigate the world. James’s goal is that, as a follower of Jesus, I will be mature and complete, able to respond to any trial or temptation that comes my way. He contrasts a single-minded and stable person with a double-minded and unstable one. Unlike the latter, a mature and perfect person is able to keep a rein on his tongue, put his faith into action, and love God rather than the world.
Although it may be my inclination to divide theory from practice—where I “work” in the former but am forced to “live” in the latter—my obligation as a single-minded person of God requires that I live my life with the understanding that the two are always related and connected. Theory and practice go together. And that is the way it is supposed to be.
Derek Cooper is assistant professor of biblical studies and historical theology at Biblical, where he directs the LEAD MDiv program and co-directs the DMin program. His most recent book is entitled Thomas Manton: A Guided Tour of the Life and Thought of a Puritan Pastor. See his faculty page at: http://www.biblical.edu/index.php/derek-cooper.