Theology is supposed to practical if we mean applicable. Ivory-tower scholarship isn’t of much use to the church, and probably not much use to God. Yet some reduce the discipline of Practical Theology as equivalent to nursery workers or janitorial work. The attitude is that Practical Theology is either easy, unimportant, and/or doesn’t require much thoughtfulness.
The late Ray S. Anderson has something to say about that. In the Dictionary for Theological Interpretation of the Bible, he writes,
“Practical theology is inherently a hermeneutical discipline insofar as it attempts to interpret situations in terms of the presence and action of the Spirit of God with respect to the word of God. One might say that in practical theology the work of God interprets the word of God in the form of a hermeneutical circle. The practical theologian seeks to interpret Scripture, tradition, and praxis in order that the contemporary life of both church and world can be transformed.”
This isn’t nearly as simple as some might think. And yet that doesn’t mean that it isn’t a discipline that most thoughtful Christians can do or are already doing, either well or in need of some refinement. It is similar to the statement that everyone interprets the Bible. Some do it well and others not so. Make no mistake, our actions are an interpretation of what we believe!
I love his next statement:
“In praxis, God’s truth is revealed in the structures of reality by which his actions and presence are disclosed to us through our own actions. It is not our human actions that constitute the praxis of God. Rather, God acts through our human actions to reveal the truth.”
Three is a great connection between our theology and our actions. More so than we often realize. And every pastor I know will probably sense the reality of what Anderson goes on to say:
“Theological reflection that begins in the context and crises of ministry seeks to read the texts of Scripture in light of the texts of lives that manifest the work of Christ through the Holy Spirit as the truth and will of God. Present interpretation of Scripture must be as faithful to the eschatological reality and authority of Christ as to the text of Scripture as word of Christ. This is why the hermeneutics of practical theology is a theological hermeneutic, and not merely a spiritual hermeneutic. Practical theology thus includes pastoral theology as those commissioned to practice pastoral care interpret actual human situations with respect to the theological meaning of baptism, the Eucharist, justification, and sanctification, as witness to God’s saving activity with his people. The hermeneutics of practical theology seek what is normative in Jesus Christ, as the inspired source of the written word, and seek the objective reality of Christ, as the praxis of the Holy Spirit in the context of ministry.” (emphasis mine)
I think those who serve in ministry would do well to think about this last paragraph more in depth. There is a lot to it and the more we reflect on the implications of Anderson’s thoughts, the more well-rounded our ministry will probably be!
Luke is a pastor-theologian living in northern California, serving as a co-lead pastor with his life, Dawn, at the Red Bluff Vineyard. Father of five amazing kids, when Luke isn’t hanging with his family, reading or writing theology, he moonlights as a fly fishing guide for Confluence Outfitters. He blogs regularly at LukeGeraty.com and regularly contributes to his YouTube channel.