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How to make your theoretical learning practical

Do you ever get the feeling that the things your learning are irrelevant, or that things you’ve known for a long time are just getting reinforced? It’s especially painful when you feel you’ve hit an academic rut in seminary. Perhaps then more than any time, you get the impression that you’re wasting your time. Few things have been as immobilizing for me as feeling like I’m wasting my time in my studies. Let me offer a few practical tips for reigniting your passion for learning.
1. Volunteer at church
Meaningful learning comes from meaningful question-asking. If you don’t have good questions, you won’t find meaningful answers. You’ll pursue Truth half-heartedly. I recommend asking your pastor if you can shadow some of their meetings. For me, having never worked in a church, I’d never known what kinds of questions pastors wrestle with. Listening to their questions gave me questions. Taking those to my studies has been so orienting, giving me direction.
2. Get confused
One Friday night, I hung out with non-church people and we started talking religion and politics. One of the guys told me the story of how he left the Church. He even let me try to explain my beliefs, as well as my rationale for my beliefs. After a long epistemological discussion, he told me that his main problem with Christianity is the seeming arbitrariness of God’s rules. He didn’t buy them because he didn’t understand the logic underneath them. And I wasn’t able to explain them very clearly. You can bet that I thought harder that week in my epistemology and OT classes.
3. Pay attention to difficult things
As I’ve stayed in touch with friends, they’ve given me the privilege of telling me what’s been difficult for them, and allowing me to respond pastorally. They aren’t letting me be a detached, ivory tower theologian. They’re keeping me in touch with the difficult realities of life and faith, and helping me stay sharp in the way that I try to care for them. As I study Philippians in Greek, they’re trying to hear what God says in his word in the middle of very difficult situations.
In addition to staying in touch with friends, I recommend wrestling over current events. Ask yourself constantly, “How does my theology inform Christian persecution in Syria, racial tensions in America, and refugee crises around the world?” Read interviews with and books by people who are suffering, and they’ll help you read the Bible better.
4. Suffer righteously
Finally, and fairly centrally, do the difficult work of pursuing holiness. Let God convict you of your sin through Scripture. When you feel lonely or tempted, don’t give in to sin. Suffer through pain, and you’ll understand the Word of God better. His assurances, commandments, and promises will make more sense. As Lesslie Newbigin put it, “The Bible functions as authority… within a community that is committed to faith and obedience and is embodying that commitment in an active discipleship that embraces the whole of life, public and private.
Academic theology doesn’t have to be dry. It’s unnatural to read Scripture in only that way anyway. Read it the way it was supposed to be read, and you’ll learn tons!
By Jack Franicevich Jack is an MDiv student at Denver Seminary. His interests range from the doctrine of the church, theologies of friendship and work, preaching, hymn-writing, and grassroots ecumenism to competitive table tennis, cooking for large groups, classical literature, and organizational development.

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Written by
Ryan Burns

Ryan Burns is a past Marketing Manager at Faithlife and now works at Redemption Hill Church in Richmond, VA.

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