Theory vs. practice

Discipleship and soulcraft favor deeds but without diminishing the importance of words, preferring becoming to describing, and exemplifying over explaining. Otherwise, though doctrinally rich, we would ironically end up developmentally poor! Nephi’s “I will go and do” leads to action and brings results (1 Nephi 3:7; emphasis added). Its counterpart, “I will stay here and moodily contemplate my navel,” stirs no souls, indicative of those who are willing to serve the Lord but only in an advisory capacity.

–          Neal A. Maxwell, Whom The Lord Loveth

Theory is nice, but focusing on theory to the exclusion of (or in contradiction to) practice is deadly.

Such theoretical reflection can seem more exciting, noble, or sophisticated than those in the trenches and arena. Perfection is so easy in theory, while those actively engaged are so easy to critique because of both their inadequacy and the messiness of real life.

I remember my first chemistry lab in university. Up until then, I was really good at chemistry—on paper.

More than three hours later, I staggered out, smelling terribly, burned, and with 10% of the predicted yield of nice white chemical a dirty grey on the filter paper. And, I was the last one done and only got that much by the mercy of the teaching assistant who let me stay late.

Yet, what is chemistry worth if you cannot do it in actuality? The chemist who can synthesize nothing is like the would-be disciple who knows all the answers, and flatters himself an intellectual as he explores all the exciting questions without all the dreary submission and weary service to “the least of these my brethren.”

Nephi’s going and doing was difficult, messy, and perhaps imperfect. But, it was still better than Laman and Lemuel’s carping on very real—Laban can command fifty, even slay fifty! If so, then why not us?—but theoretical grounds.

Laman and Lemuel were probably right as a matter of secular inductive logic and risk-benefit analysis. But, their lack of trust and going-and-doing ultimately made them very wrong.