I’m currently reading “Astrophysics For People In A Hurry” because I’m a nerd and I’ve always been fascinated by physics. The chapter I read last night was about Einstein's biggest blunder, the cosmological constant, which it turns out actually is still useful, just not for the reasons Einstein thought when he developed it. This chapter has one seemingly small distinction woven through it, the difference between theoretical physics and experimental physics. Einstein did most of his greatest work inside his own head. At the time there were no machines or tests to prove that his theory of relativity was right or to prove if the universe was expanding, stable, or being forced together by gravity.
So what Einstein did was he imagined how the universe would react and respond within certain scenarios. This puts him in the theoretical camp. The other camp is experimental physics. This is where scientists actually try to set up experiments and see if theories are right. If they confirm the theory, they try to get repeatable results. If something comes out different than expected, they try to figure out why it’s different. Essentially, one says this is the way we think the world works, and the other says this is the way the world actually works. They aren’t competing groups, they all work for the same purpose, and they actually need each other.
If you take away all the science language, you get a concept that is everywhere in our world, especially in Christianity. There are those people who love to sit in a room and think about what the kingdom of God looks like and try to discover the true heart of God (i.e. the dessert fathers and monasticism).Then there are those who are actually neck deep in the kingdom and living out the Christian life. It would be a bit like comparing Karl Barth, who wrote mountains of pages in systematic theology, and Mother Theresa who lived the majority of her life living among lepers in Calcutta.
There is certainly a case for saying that as christians, we should spend our time doing both. We should spend time thinking about who God is and how his revelation through Jesus should change the world. We also need to spend time actually trying to live out those conclusions and actively love God and love others. My guess would be that the majority of us fall into one camp, or default mode, than the other. Perhaps we find it incredibly helpful to sit with a close group of friends and talk about the difference between transubstantiation, consubstantiation, and symbolism and how each view presents God in a different way that might send echos through the rest of your formed theology. Perhaps you find that idea awful and would rather just walk around and have people participate in communion in their homes and on the streets. Both are acceptable, yet without each other it would end up either just talking without any action or we give bread and juice to people with no meaning.
It’s this codependency that reminds me of the early church leaders Paul and James. Paul tends to talk about salvation in terms of your faith, or believing, while James said that faith without works is dead. They aren’t contradicting each other, they are merely broadening what it means to actually be a follower of Christ. We aren’t saved by our works, but if we truly believe than we will want to do something about it. So read through the book of Romans, then read the book of James, think about it, then go do something.