The New Christians

The New Christians

What Is Practical Theology? Part Four

OK, I was all brewing up a great intermezzo post with a provisional
definition of PT, then I got this anonymous comment that blew me away:

Practical theology is that
theological discipline which is concerned with the Church’s
self-actualization here and now – both that which is and that which
ought to be. That it does by means of theological illumination of the
particular situation in which the Church must release itself in all its

This practical theology is a
unique, independent science, a fundamental one in essence in spite of
its reciprocal relationship with other theological disciplines, since
its business of scientifically critical and systematic reflection is a
unique quantity and its nature is not deducible. For it is reflection
oriented towards committal.


The task of practical theology as
an original science demands a theological analysis of the particular
present situation in which the Church is to carry out the especial
self-realization appropriate to it at any given moment.

Practical theology challenges the
other theological studies to recognize the task which inheres
immanently in them, oriented to the practice of the Church; the second
demand it makes is that they should apply themselves to this task.

Comments read comments(7)
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Blake Huggins

posted March 23, 2009 at 1:25 pm

I like it. I just wish we could get away from the habit of speaking of theology as a science. An art, maybe. But even that doesn’t really seem to capture its essence. Nit-picky I know…but I take my words very seriously. :)

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posted March 23, 2009 at 1:33 pm

It isn’t nit-picky. There’s absolutely nothing scientific about theology. It doesn’t, and can’t, and shouldn’t try to, follow the scientific method or scientific principles. Philosophy, -maybe-, but not science. To call it a science is flat out incorrect.

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posted March 23, 2009 at 1:59 pm

To call it a science is flat out incorrect.
Nonsense, theology is the queen of the sciences, and just because a bunch of secularists have tried to hijack the the term for their own use is no reason to give it up.

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Patrick O

posted March 24, 2009 at 9:42 am

Tony, I’ve been reading your posts with a great deal of interest. What’s especially interesting is what you are describing is basically a lot of what I’m focusing on myself. I’m in a PhD program as well, in systematic theology. Just finished looking at liberation theology, a decidedly practical theology according to your posts.
I wonder if maybe the older divisions between various theological emphases is outdated. There’s just Theology now, as we can find significant more paths to integrate experience, practice, reflection, and research. In a way this is getting back towards the Orthodox understanding of theology–which is never separated from practice or spirituality. A theologian is one who prays deeply, and one who prays deeply is a theologian, an early writer once said (or something like that).
I realize Princeton is defining it in a certain way and making a call for an expansion of practical theology past the border of homiletics and liturgy. In doing so it seems less about a unique form of theology and more like what all the previously divided theologies can and should do together. It’s theology–always practical, always spiritual, always thoughtful. Otherwise, it’s not really Christian theology.

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posted March 24, 2009 at 10:38 am

No doubt that “science” comes across as a bit out of place in reference to theology, but historically that is what theology has been considered. Not science in the way we moderns think conceive of it with its hard, empirical data–rather, calling practical theology a science (besides giving a nod to Aquinas and the gang) suggests that it is systematic and can be pursued with some degree of certitude.
Certainly “science” sounds strange to us, but I’m not sure that calling practical theology an “art” is particularly fitting either….

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posted March 25, 2009 at 3:40 pm

The contemporary definition is the only one which is relevant or has any meaning. Defining science as nothing more than systematic robs the word of any use or meaning.
Theology is a study of letters, not phenomenology. Protestants insist, demand, schism over the solas, the core of which is sola scriptura. If you are serious about sola scriptura, then theology is a study of letters and -cannot- be a study of phenomenology. Without phenomenology, theology cannot be a science by any meaningful definition of the word. If you insist that there are phenomenology which can be studied in the pursuit of theology, then you must reject sola scriptura.
Since letters cannot be studied with certitude, and conflicting interpretations and understanding are not only valid but expected, this is all nonsense.
With this kind of use of language, we could claim the study of poetry was a science.
The problem isn’t that secularists have hijacked the word, the problem is that too many Christians are unwilling or unable to engage the argument that something which is a science is superior to something which is not. The study of poetry is no less valuable than the study of bio-chemistry. We do not need to twist linguistic knots to make theology valuable.

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posted March 25, 2009 at 4:43 pm

The contemporary definition is the only one which is relevant or has any meaning.
? ?/?sa??ns/ Show Spelled Pronunciation [sahy-uhns] Show IPA
1. a branch of knowledge or study dealing with a body of facts or truths systematically arranged and showing the operation of general laws: the mathematical sciences.
2. systematic knowledge of the physical or material world gained through observation and experimentation.
3. any of the branches of natural or physical science.
4. systematized knowledge in general.
5. knowledge, as of facts or principles; knowledge gained by systematic study.
6. a particular branch of knowledge.
7. skill, esp. reflecting a precise application of facts or principles; proficiency.
Now theology meets definitions 1,4,5,6 and 7, from this we can conclude that theology is a science and if you say it is not you need to take it up with lexicographers.

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