Is the Bible Practical?
A Christian media guru said “the Bible may be the least practical book ever written.” Is God’s Word and way of life really impractical? Or does it really work?
I have a lot of respect for Phil Cooke’s work. He’s helped some of the biggest names in the religious and nonprofit worlds tell their stories through the media. I found many helpful insights in his book Branding Faith: Why Some Churches and Nonprofits Impact Culture and Others Don’t.
But recently he tweeted: “Not sure teaching that the #Bible is ‘practical’ is the best thing.” He gave a link to his blog and invited everyone to “tell me your thoughts.”
In his blog post he took exception to ministers who treat the Bible like the owner’s manual of a car. “But the problem is—the Bible may be the least practical book ever written. In fact, I wonder if you’re teaching the Bible from a practical perspective, you may not be grasping the Bible at all” (emphasis his).
So, as someone who firmly believes that the Bible is the most practical book, I felt motivated to share some of the reasons I see this ancient book as relevant, helpful and solidly useful for this life—and the next.
Mr. Cooke’s argument
Lest I slight Mr. Cooke, let me first say he made some good points and had an important motive.
His main argument was that the sacrifice of Christ to redeem the human race “is the least practical thing I’ve ever heard.” I assume by that he means it doesn’t make sense from a human perspective. Why would the Creator God be willing to die for us puny, sinful humans?
God’s mercy and love are so far above our natural thinking, He was willing to put up with the most terrible injustice in history and pay the death penalty for those who truly deserved it! (To learn more about the reasons for Christ’s sacrifice, read “Why Jesus Had to Die.”)
Mr. Cooke also listed examples of people enduring persecution and sacrificing physically to serve God. Again, these actions do not appear to bring any practical benefits—in this life.
Mr. Cooke’s main concern seemed to be about those who call the Bible practical in order to promote a “health and wealth” gospel. “This is my beef with the fringe TV evangelists who drone on and on about one thing—money.” The Bible has many warnings about a wrong focus on material things—and it has practical advice about avoiding this pitfall! (For example, see Matthew 6:19-34 and James 2:1-9.)
The God who created an orderly, law-abiding universe also made universal laws that are designed to bring order and make life work.But where does the impractical come from?
Why did Christ have to die? Why is there death and suffering in the world? Why is it that even people trying to serve God endure persecution and trials?
The answer to all of these questions is sin. Not Christ’s sin. Not necessarily the sins of Christians. But all suffering and death are the result of the cascading effects of sin—starting with the rebellion of Lucifer and continuing on through the disobedience of Adam and Eve until the whole world is steeped in sin and its effects.
How do we know the effects of sin? Because the Bible gives us clear and practical principles, such as cause and effect. This is a key theme throughout the Bible: Obeying God brings life and blessings, and disobeying God brings death and curses. We see this practical teaching from Moses to Solomon to the apostle Paul.
God’s way works
The God who created an orderly, law-abiding universe also made universal laws that are designed to bring order and make life work. Moses listed the blessings for obeying God’s commandments (Deuteronomy 28:1-14) and encouraged us to “choose life” and blessings (30:19).
King Solomon, who was blessed with wisdom from God, repeatedly stressed the good results of obedience throughout the Proverbs.
And the apostle Paul reiterated the principle of cause and effect: “Do not be deceived, God is not mocked; for whatever a man sows, that he will also reap” (Galatians 6:7).
Each of these writers (and many others) also point out the practical bad results of disobedience (Deuteronomy 28:15-68; Proverbs 1:15-19; Romans 6:23).
Blessings and curses delayed
In this world under the sway of Satan (1 John 5:19), these blessings and curses can be delayed—but they will come. Sinners—and that means all of us (Romans 3:23)—will eventually receive the penalty of eternal death—unless we repent and accept Jesus Christ’s payment for our sins.
And those who, after being forgiven, strive with God’s help to overcome sin and to obey God will receive the blessings He promised.
But as the book of Job demonstrates, Satan’s world can distort these cause-and-effect relationships. The good can suffer for no reason, and the wicked can enjoy blessings for a time. Phil Cooke considers that situations such as these show the Bible is impractical. But that is a shortsighted view. Solomon gives the long view:
“Let us hear the conclusion of the whole matter: Fear God and keep His commandments, for this is man’s all. For God will bring every work into judgment, including every secret thing, whether good or evil” (Ecclesiastes 12:13-14).
What to expect now
God promises that He can make the sufferings and trials of this life work out for good for those who love Him (Romans 8:28). His way of life has many benefits now, but the biggest blessings will come in the next life (Mark 10:29-30).
He wants us to learn to think and act like He thinks for an incredible purpose—because He wants us to be His children! To get a glimpse of this, just read and ponder these two passages: 1 Corinthians 2:9 and 1 John 3:1-3.
That’s why I believe the Bible is eminently practical, even though the end result is unbelievably wonderful! Read more about God’s practical way of life in the article “The 10 Commandments for Today.”