Practical Theology - Part II

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In the last post I arrived at the current place of practical theology, where there has been a questioning about the nature of practical theology, and challenged to the separations of abstract theologies from concrete reality.

Reflective Practitioners Practical theology has started to address how theology should be more concerned with phronesis (practical wisdom), than theoria (abstract theological reasoning). There has been a growing refusal to accept this separation between theory (of systematics/biblical studies/ historical theology etc), and the practices (pastoral church contexts) of concrete church. It’s equally concerned with the ivory tower, abstract theology of the university and denominations, as much as the on the ground idealizations, and speculations about the nature and possibilities of church, from the emerging post-church habitats.

‘Reflective practitioners’ might encapsulate the process and aspirations of this way of doing theology (Antonio Gramsci coined the phrase ‘organic intellectual’ in 1949, to describe the need for a similar process of people who would direct the ideas and aspirations of groups of people into concrete practice. The word intellectual seems so pejorative now, as part of the reaction against theorizing, despite his hopes, but that’s another post/topic).

The distinction between theory and practice dissolves, as theology becomes about relating the resources of faith to life. Within ‘practical theology’ this emerging theological method, has been called and self identified as ‘theological reflection’.

Some Weaknesses of Practical Theology There have been some weakness of theological reflection to date such as:

1. Dis-connectedness: Much theological reflection in its dialogue with social sciences, lacks the confidence to bring it’s contextual understandings into contact and relationship with the bible.

We find it easier to survey people, and explore their social context, and understand who and what they are doing in church life, but lack the confidence and ability to connect and understand that process from a biblical view point.

2. Deepening Separation: And the more christians become expert at contextual analysis of the church and emerging church context, the disconnectedness goes deeper and further, with a lack of connection to systematics, church history, and doctrine, as well as the bible.

So despite the aspiration of practical theology, it has become captive to sociological descriptions of church, and translated into sociological responses. The result is forms of church that are cultural aware, but not located in biblical, historical or doctrinal understandings.

For example we grab hold of the latest cultural metaphors, of web 2.0 and attach them to ideas and practices about church, but fail to critique those metaphors from a theological perspective. We are more confident of forming qualitative sociologies of the church, but less so of theological sociologies of church.

I am hoping to locate my PhD research within the field of practical theology, and it’s aspiration whilst attending to some of the deficiencies of it’s methods to date.

In that sense my conviction is that all theology should be practical, that systematics, historical theology, church history, biblical studies etc should all be contextual, and practical, and that practical theology, rather than being a terminus of final application of those others theorizing theologies, is fact the umbrella under which all theology should be measure and practiced, enabling those theologies to be lived in faithful christians community.

How practical theology attempts to open out into that in practice and method, is varied and fascinating, or at least I think it is. I’ll post later next week about the avenues, and methods, and in particular the ones I am thinking of using for my research. I'll also post link to other web sites on this and books I am drawing on.