After an all-to-lengthy excursion into interdisciplinary method,
it’s time to get back into the four core tasks of practical theology.
Having been through the descriptive and empirical moments, the third
moment of PT is the normative moment.
It is now, after gathering data and using the best of several
disciplines to interpret that data, that the practical theologian makes
normative claims for the life of the church. Often, practical theology
is in conversation with the other volumes of the “theological
encyclopedia” at this time, consorting with the likes of biblical
studies, systematic theology, and church history.
But remember that the practical theologian is grounded in real-life,
empirical data from church, society, and/or individual. In other words,
the practical theologian does not think, “I’d like to spend my career
studying the doctrine of sanctification” or “I’d like to write my
dissertation on the Nestorian controversy” or “The world needs another
book on the aorist tense.” (OK, simmer down. This is not meant to
disparage those who do perform those important tasks. Without them,
we’d never have to pay $75 for a book again!) The practical theologian,
instead, is confronted with a problem. It might be a theological
response to young women who cut themselves, or how to preach funeral
sermons in the African American tradition, or how the emerging church
is negotiating its relationship with culture (hey, there’s a great idea
for a dissertation!).
So let it not be said that the practical theologian is not in the
business of normative theology – she is, indeed, and it is normative
theology that responds to crises in the life of church and world.
Here’s my diagram of the four moments and four theoretical decisions of practical theology that I have described in these eight posts.