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Knowledge Without Skill

12144727_10153153836068176_1028229683198052317_nBoth of my children take Suzuki strings lessons, Caleb on cello and Kate on violin.

Part of the Suzuki philosophy (which happens to match perfectly with our parenting philosophy) is that a parent attends the child’s lesson in its entirety, takes careful notes, and then practices each day at home with the child. In essence, the teacher is the “expert” who teaches the parent during the lesson time, and the parent is then the “teacher” the other six days of the week.

Since Becky teaches the kids all day every day, I am the kids’ “practice parent”–I attend their lessons and practice each evening with both of them.

Because of this, I have essentially learned how to play the cello and violin. I can tell you what constitutes a correct bow hold, what a good posture looks like, where all the notes are on both the cello and violin, and how to bow correctly.

I joked in the kids’ lessons last week that really, I could probably sit down and play the cello or violin with all the time I’ve spent in lessons and in practicing with my kids. Then the teacher said something perceptive:

“Yes,” he said, “you have the knowledge, but you don’t have the skill.”

He is exactly right. Even though I know how to play the cello and violin intellectually, actually playing them would be slow-going for me because I have not practiced.

The same is true with spiritual virtue. Knowledge of what constitutes godliness, what Christ is like, and what makes for a good Christian is absolutely necessary in order to live a holy life, but knowledge alone is not enough.

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The Form of the Liturgy

Christian virtue involves skill; it involves being able to put that knowledge into practice.

Christian virtue involves skill; it involves being able to put biblicial knowledge into practice. Tweet this

The problem is that a lot of Christians think that all we need to do in order to live holy lives is to fill our heads with more doctrine, but the reality is that doctrine alone is insufficient. I’m not downplaying the importance of doctrine any more than I downplay the importance of my kids’ teacher telling us what a correct bow hold is like or how to play a harmonic on the A string.

But living out that knowledge as a Christian requires practice in order to develop the skills of Christian virtue. And just like a string player has to learn how to turn knowledge into skill by rehearsing over and over again, so Christians need regular, repeated spiritual disciplines by which they nurture the skills of spiritual virtue.

This is why regular, daily Bible reading and prayer are important. Through these regular disciplines over time, a Christian cultivates virtue.

This is also the primary importance of corporate worship. As I’ve often said, corporate worship is not simply a group of Christians getting together for authentic expression of worship. Regular times of corporate worship are formative–corporate worship is “practice” for a life of worship, disciplines that form Christian virtue through the development of the skills of Christian living.

For a more thorough explanation of this line of thinking, see my extended series: “Practice Makes Perfect: Culture and the Liturgies of Life.”

Scott Aniol

About Scott Aniol

Scott Aniol is the founder and Executive Director of Religious Affections Ministries. He is Chair of the Worship Ministry Department at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, where he teaches courses in ministry, worship, hymnology, aesthetics, culture, and philosophy. He is the author of Worship in Song: A Biblical Approach to Music and Worship, Sound Worship: A Guide to Making Musical Choices in a Noisy World, and By the Waters of Babylon: Worship in a Post-Christian Culture, 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 four children.

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