Thursday, December 12, 2019

Introducing Practical Theology - A Review

Practical Theology

Pete Ward

Though originally published in 2017, Baker Academic has more recently made Introducing Practical Theology available for more general review. 

The author begins with the very real premise that “... all theology can be practical” (p. 9). Earlier, in the introduction, he points out that

Modern theology has a basic fault line running through it between liberal theology, which prioritizes experience over doctrine, and conservative theology, which prioritizes doctrine over experience. Both the rejection of applied forms of theology and the uncritical acceptance of practical theology as distinct because it starts with practice are problematic because these views situate the discipline solely within the liberal tradition. This is a problem not because I would advocate an uncritical conservative approach. Rather, I argue for a collapse of these two distinctions—the liberal and the conservative—into one another. The distinction is therefore artificial.

Hence, theology, the author argues, is not merely theoretical, but also must influence the life of the church. How this is to be done is not always an easy task; but it is a task that the theology practitioner, the theology student, and all believers will want to undertake. 

The first two chapters seek to define Practical Theology, The author then begins connects Practical Theology to the Gospel and to the lives of believing individuals and communities.

The book then moves onto the “how” of practical theology - chapter 5. “At its heart,” the author states, “[Practical Theology] is a conversation,” a “complex and multilayered” conversation. He examines several of the individual scholars and writers that have contributed to the field. The next three chapters address how practical theology interacts with other branches of theology:

        6. Theological Reflection
        7. Theological Disciplines
        8. Culture

The final two chapters examine the role empirical research plays within the field and how the practitioner will produce Practical Theology - whether it be through living one’s life, writing, preaching, etc. The final chapter is by far the most practical chapter but follows nicely from the preceding chapters.

The book is well-researched - with copious footnotes and a formal bibliography of all quoted resources. As a piece of writing, it is an academic work. Though not stated officially, it could easily have been offered as a Ph.D. dissertation. Though not designed for general reading, the book is not difficult reading. This reader, a semi-retired pastor, found the book interesting.
This review is based on a free electronic copy provided by the publisher for the purpose of creating this review. The opinions expressed are my own.

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