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The New Christians

Practical Theology is a self-consciously hermeneutical enterprise. Now, if you’re a regular reader of this blog, you know that I think that all of life
is, essentially, a hermeneutical endeavor. Each of us is an
interpreter, of our surroundings, our traditions, our conversations,
the media we engage, etc. In the words of one philosopher,
“Interpretation goes all the way down and all the way back up.”

PT engages hermeneutical theory constantly, especially in an effort
to mediate between the empirical-descriptive moment (as described
below), and the normative theological moment (to be described in the
next post). Thus, with a hermeneutical understanding, practical
theologians will work with an interdisciplinary “dialogue partner,”
like a particular school of thought in psychology, sociology, social
theory, political science, etc.

For example, for my dissertation, I am performing an in-depth field
study on eight “emerging church” congregations. Using a method of
phenomenological research, I’m using focus groups, one-on-one
interviews, participant-observation in the worship setting, and a
congregation-wide census survey to uncover the core practices in each
congregation.

However, all of this data will do me no good without an adequate
interpretation – it’ll be nothing but a group of numbers and hours of
transcriptions without my analysis. And the way I will analyze the data
is to put it in the context of recent work in the sociology of American
religion. Using tools like the National Congregations Survey (1998) and
analysis by sociologists like Chris Smith and Robert Wuthnow, I hope to
show how these congregations are similar to and different than other
congregations on the American landscape. In other words: Where do these
emerging congregations fit in the ecology of American congregations?

So that’s the essence of the interpretive moment of PT, and it also
shows again how important it is for the practical theologian to have a
sophisticated theory of interdisciplinarity.

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