What is practical theology?

Some explanations and definitions from the British traditions of practical theology.

‘Practical Theologians are, I think – to quite an extent – born, not made. At the very least we are shaped in our understanding of how people ‘know God’; more specifically, how people know they know God. To put it another way, Practical Theologians are congenitally more comfortable with the notion of two-­way rather than one-­way streets. Practical Theologians will, to various extents, hold that people’s practice is informed, shaped per­ haps, by doctrine – or even dictated by it. But, and this is probably the crucial difference, Practical Theologians want to keep asserting that doctrine is informed, shaped and even dictated by practice.’

Stoddart, Eric. Advancing Practical Theology: Critical Discipleship for Disturbing Times. London: SCM Press, 2014. [p.xii]

‘Practical theological research is rooted and grounded in the contemporary material and embodied world. This type of research attends to the text of the present as well as to theological traditions. It takes the present moment and the complexity of contemporary bio-social reality as an important locus theologicus, a place there theology is constructed and understood in the light of divine reality. Religious and theological practices, insights and truths are mediated through contemporary social and material realities; they are generated for and by people seeking better to understand faith and action.’

Bennett, Zoë, Elaine Graham, Stephen Pattison, and Heather Walton. Invitation to Research in Practical Theology. London: Routledge, 2018.  [p.12]

‘Practical theology is a discipline committed to making whole and dynamic the truthfulness of Christian thought and action, through the bringing together of aspects of faith which, in truth, can never be separated from one another. Practical theology seeks in explicit and varied ways to enable the Christian practitioner to articulate faith – to speak of God, in practice.’

Cameron, Helen, Deborah Bhatti, Catherine Duce, James Sweeney, and Clare Watkins. Talking about God in Practice : Theological Action Research and Practical Theology. London: SCM Press, 2010. [pp.20-21]

‘Practical theology is concerned with the study of specific social structures and individual initiatives within which God’s continuing work of renewal and restitution becomes manifest. These may be found either inside or outside the life of the church.’

Campbell, Alastair V. “The Nature of Practical Theology.” In Theology & Practice, ed. Duncan B. Forrester, 10-20. London: Epworth Press, 1990. [p.18]

‘If all theology were seen as practical theology

:: theological enquiry would be seen as something generated by problematics, dilemmas, contexts, practical texts;

:: the process of theological formulation would become one of making creative use of available thought-forms and concepts – contemporary and inherited;

:: ‘talk about God’ would be recognized as a human activity intending to bring practical perspectives faithfully into critical and creative interplay with divine horizons;

:: theology would be a kind of ‘practical wisdom’; a way of living wisely, shaped by reflection and faithful obedience;

:: the practice of theology would be a disciplined reflection, providing indicative models of understanding how talk about God emerges from human experience and questions.’

Graham, Elaine, Heather Walton, and Frances Ward. Theological Reflection: Methods. London: SCM Press, 2005. [p.8]

‘Practical Theology is critical, theological reflection on the practices of the Church as they interact with the practices of the world, with a view to ensuring and enabling faithful participation in God’s redemptive practices in, to and for the world.’

Swinton, John, and Harriet Mowatt. Practical Theology and Qualitative Research. London: SCM, 2006. [p.6]