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Philosophy vs. Application

I have strong convictions about church ministry and worship philosophy. I also have strong opinions about certain applications of that philosophy.

But these are not the same thing. Neither are they equally important.

Philosophical convictions are judgments based on clear, biblical principles. Notice that I did not say that the convictions themselves are necessarily clear, but they are based upon clear principles.

Applications, however, are methodological opinions with much less clear, objective basis. They are based (hopefully) on wise consideration of the philosophy and how it works in real life. This means that although I think strongly about these particular applications, they are not as important as the philosophy, and I certainly do not insist that all churches should adopt them.

On the local church level it is important that all of the leadership agree philosophically when it comes to ministry and worship. It is also fairly important that the leadership come to agreement about how that philosophy will be applied in that ministry. This has been true of the churches in which I’ve served. The pastors under which I’ve served and I have agreed completely on philosophy and, through continual discussion, came to a consensus on how that philosophy would be applied (although the exact applications differ between churches somewhat). It seems clear to me that this must be how it works on a local church level.

Beyond that, however, agreement on particular applications becomes less important dependent upon the situation.

This is why, for example, when I am preaching in churches, I never make direct applications for those churches. I focus primarily on biblical principles and the important philosophy we should draw from these principles. It is not my job to make applications for autonomous churches; that is the job of the leadership of that church. When I’m preaching at a pastors’ conference (or writing on this site!), I sometimes express my opinions about applications, but never in church meetings. This actually frustrates some people who wish I would come right out and name names, styles, or other specifics.

I think that it is important to distinguish between these two categories as we discuss church practice. Both are important, but my biggest concern is always philosophy rather than particular applications.

I know some pastors with whom I share convictions about both philosophy and general applications. There are other pastors I know with whom I agree philosophically but who make applications of that philosophy that I woudn’t. I can find sufficient ground for most levels of cooperation with men in both of these groups. Differences in particular ways of applying a similar philosophy don’t necessarily affect much.

It is fundamental philosophical differences that will often limit cooperation. Differences in philosophy often result in significant differences in application, and it is usually these differences in application that are most apparent and that appear to be the primary reason for limiting cooperation. Yet in reality, it is the more important philosophical differences that are the real reasons for cooperation limits.

It is not always easy to keep these categories separate in discussions, but it’s critically important that we do.

Scott Aniol

About Scott Aniol

Scott Aniol is the founder and Executive Director of Religious Affections Ministries. He is on faculty at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, where he teaches courses in worship, hymnology, aesthetics, culture, and philosophy. He has written two books, dozens of articles, and speaks around the country in churches and conferences. He is an elder in his church in Fort Worth, TX where he resides with his wife and two children.

2 Responses to Philosophy vs. Application

  1. Alan says:

    Scott,

    Were you answering the Paul Washer question with this post?

    In the last post of the debate, someone commented and added a video of Paul Washer saying that rap was a God-ordained or originated medium. Then we see him in the NCFIC worship videos saying something that seemed the exact opposite.

  2. Martin says:

    “For if the trumpet give an uncertain sound, who shall prepare himself to the battle?” (1.Cor 14:8)
    I think the crux of your discussion with Shai so far is that people don’t understand your arguments, i.e. much is based on assertions that need to be better founded to become valid arguments. What people are asking for – and I think it’s a reasonable question – is how you show premise B:
    A) God forbids sin
    B) Some musical styles are sinful
    C) Therefore, they should not be used by Christians.

    I don’t think that this is an application in the sense of interpreting a verse or passage in the Bible. And it would certainly help to provide examples (e.g., discussing one of Shai’s songs in detail) even if we will then disagree on the specifics. This is quite normal and means we need to refine our methodologies further to support one or the other view. Since it’s elevated to ‘sin’ we are no longer speaking of possible applications that may differ between Christians. If it’s sin, let’s get rid of it!

    Of course it would be much easier to argue:
    A) Music represents emotion and shapes lyrics accordingly
    B) For are to be good, Christian messaging needs to be shaped by appropriate music
    C) Some styles are not appropriate
    D) Hence, they should not be used in this context

    There may be exceptions to the above, i.e. maybe it’s possible to ‘pull the teeth’ of some inappropriate styles but on the whole it should be possible to make this argument. And we will need to work on the musicology and cultural or universal semiotics to help people discern these issues.

    There is nothing wrong in saying ‘This work of art is inferior BECAUSE…’ – and of course others will disagree. But there is little value in specifying you believe there are Apollonian and Dionysian styles if nobody can tell with any degree of certainly which is which, and what the damage is when using one or the other.

    You have a very strong argument with the ‘wrong affections’ when music is combined to Christian lyrics but please continue to provide more detail on the specific methodology and decision-making process so we can all agree or intelligently disagree and look for better criteria as time goes on.

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