Practical theology is not widely spoken of, but nevertheless, it is a very popular notion. Have you ever heard the term, “practice what you preach”? Well, that actually is a phrase that supports the idea of practical theology.
What is practical theology? Practical theology is, as it sounds, is a theology that we can deem as useful, applicable, or relevant. Practical theology equips someone with the necessary professional skills to minister effectively rather than just being equipped with theological knowledge.
Throughout this post, we will learn what Practical Theology is while looking into some history, as well as how it is viewed and practiced today. Additionally, we’ll learn sub-fields, related terms, the Biblical basis of Practical Theology, Resouces, and why this matters to the Church body.
One seminary states that the goal of practical theology is to develop effective communicators of Scripture, who have a vision for the spiritual growth of believers, while being servant leaders.
As GotQuestions states, “The emphasis of Practical Theology is not simply to contemplate or comprehend theological doctrines but to move beyond that to applying those doctrines in everyday Christian life so that we contribute to the world’s becoming what God intends it to be.”
Practical theology differentiates between theological knowledge and learning and the actual experience and needs of Christian communities. Practical theology has often sought to address a perceived disconnection between theology as an academic discipline on the one hand, and the practical life of the church on the other. This area of theology often focuses on pastoral ministry students, missionaries, Christian education directors, and other vocational ministry roles in Christian colleges and seminaries.
How It Has Been Viewed Historically
An English Puritan man named Richard Baxter (1615—1691) is often given the credit of first introducing Practical Theology due to his writing of a large, four-volume book called A Christian Directory of Practical Theology. This book was very popular and influential during its time, covering a wide range of social and practical issues. He divided Practical Theology into four major parts:
- Christian Ethics (or Private Duties)
- Christian Economics (or Family Duties)
- Christian Ecclesiastics (or Church Duties)
- Christian Politics (or Duties to Our Rulers and Neighbors)
However, Practical Theology was reintroduced in the early 1800s by Friedrich Schleiermacher, as an academic discipline encompassing the practice of church leadership in his Brief Outline of the Study of Theology.
As articulated by Richard Osmer in his book, Practical Theology: An Introduction, the four key questions, and tasks in practical theology are:
- What is going on? (descriptive-empirical task)
- Why is this going on? (interpretative task)
- What ought to be going on? (normative task)
- How might we respond? (pragmatic task)
Practical Theology in the Church Today
In the Church today, practical theology must be applied and practiced. It is an avenue for Christians to show their theology of the Bible in action. Although every church should be instituting steps in Practical Theology, there is an association for the theology itself. It is called the Association of Practical Theology and it serves as an academic group consisting of scholars and ministers who research the implications of Christian faith and the practice of it.
What are some areas that Practical Theology can address in our society today? Here are some examples:
- Social justice
- Church growth
- Spiritual formation
- Aiding depression
- The Great Commission
- Social issues such as divorce
As we can see from this list, Practical Theology covers a wide range of issues and it is very important that the Church practices proper Practical Theology.
Sub-Fields & Related Terms
Practical theology consists of several related sub-fields: applied theology (such as missions, evangelism, religious education, pastoral psychology or the psychology of religion), church growth, administration, homiletics, spiritual formation, pastoral theology, spiritual direction, spiritual theology (or ascetical theology), political theology, theology of justice and peace and similar areas.
Other related terms include:
- Christian living
- Everyday Christianity
- Pragmatic Theology
- Pastoral Care
As CompellingTruth states, “Because of its focus on everyday application of the Christian faith, many similar terms have been used to describe this field of study. Other common, related terms include Christian living, everyday Christianity, Pragmatic Theology, and Pastoral Care. Practical Theology is in one sense an application of the Christian life based on the study of biblical principles.”
Biblical Basis of Practical Theology
Throughout the Bible, there are many Bible verses to be found that explain we must put into action practically what we learn about God and His word.
James 1:22-25 states,
“But be doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves. For if anyone is a hearer of the word and not a doer, he is like a man who looks intently at his natural face in a mirror. For he looks at himself and goes away and at once forgets what he was like. But the one who looks into the perfect law, the law of liberty, and perseveres, being no hearer who forgets but a doer who acts, he will be blessed in his doing.”
James then reiterates his statement, with an example of putting our theology into action. This is found in James 2:14-17,
“What good is it, my brothers, if someone says he has faith but does not have works? Can that faith save him? If a brother or sister is poorly clothed and lacking in daily food, and one of you says to them, ‘Go in peace, be warmed and filled,’ without giving them the things needed for the body, what good is that? So also faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead.”
And to sum up this Biblical concept simply, we look to 1 John 3:18,
“Little children, let us not love in word or talk but in deed and in truth.”
By reading these resources you will develop a deeper understanding of Practical Theology truly is, and you will also learn how to put Practical Theology into practice.
- “On Becoming a Practical Theologian: Past, Present, and Future Tenses” – Elaine Graham
- “Practical Theology: An Introduction” – Richard R. Osmer
- “Context Is Key: A Conversation between Biblical Studies, Practical Theology, and Missiology” – Heather J. Major
- “Practical Theology from the Heart” – Glenn Morrison
- “Introducing Practical Theology” – Pete Ward
Why It Matters
This concept of Practical Theology matters because it is the component of putting our faith into action. If all we had was Biblical knowledge without the application of our faith, our faith is actually dead (James 2:17).
Having proper knowledge of how to apply our faith is Practical Theology, and with it, we can make an impact in the world.
Additionally, we must understand that with each cultural context, Practical Theology will shift. For this reason, it is important to have a deep and insightful understanding of Practical Theology to represent Christ well.
Here is a powerful example of Practical Theology being lived out;
The evangelically poor are those who make themselves available to God in the realization of God’s project in this world, and thereby make themselves into instruments and signs of the kingdom of God. The evangelically poor will establish solidarity with the economically poor and even identify with them, just as the historical Jesus did.
― Leonardo Boff and Clodovis Boff
Overall, the importance of practical theology is that one doesn’t simply know Scripture, but puts it to use in their day to day life and Christian walk.