I’m speaking especially of preaching and of Bible study.
On the one hand, no man can live merely by knowing what Jesus has done if he doesn’t recognize Christ’s death and resurrection for his sake; on the other hand, the accusation of ‘all head knowledge’ quickly gets old when we consider what things Hebrews talks about in reference to spiritual maturity for chapters and chapters after it urges:
Therefore let us leave the elementary doctrine of Christ and go on to maturity, not laying again a foundation of repentance from dead works and of faith toward God, and of instruction about washings, the laying on of hands, the resurrection of the dead, and eternal judgement. And this we will do if God permits.
Maturity involves doctrine, doctrine that builds on the fundamental teachings of soteriology and baptism. Overemphasis on ‘application’ without explicit discussion of the thing being applied, i.e. the gospel, lends itself easily to legalism, plain and simple. Yet what we often hear is calls for arrested development doctrinally in favour of telling people – by any means, by human means left unquestioned – how to change their behaviour by trying harder to ‘have more faith’.
Yes, we must live. But to live, we who live by Christ and not by Adam must live by the Spirit and not by the flesh, by the maturity of sonship and not the tutelage of the law. To understand what to do, we must understand Christ’s love: we must learn to reason the logic and feel the words of Scripture. ‘Application’ without that is the real pedantic mess.
This is not Animal Farm: ‘I will work harder’ is not the motto of our faith.