“Practical” Theology as opposed to…?

Per Crucem ad Lucem‘s latest post “What is Practical Theology?” leaves me to wonder whether distinguishing certain theology as practical and other as not, is at all helpful.  My suspicion is that it is not.  Of course, this certainly depends on what one means by “practical” and what one understands theology to name.

David Lyall’s definition or description of practical theology is as follows:

‘So what is practical theology? … It is concerned with practice and it is an academic discipline; it seeks to serve both the mission of the Church and the needs of the world; it touches that which is most personal and engages with that which is most public. Perhaps the truth of the matter is that practical theology cannot be defined too precisely – nor should we try to do so’. – David Lyall, ‘Editorial: So, What Is Practical Theology?’ Practical Theology 2, no. 2 (2009), 158–9.

My question is why this is allotted to practical theology?  Doesn’t theology always name practice and discipline? (sidenote: why is academic discipline not seen as a practice?)  Theology is always practical because theology names a way of thinking and being in which the body and mind are inseparable.   “Practical theology” therefore appears to me to be a pseudo category. These are my suspicions.

Of course, I’m up for dialogue. That IS the purpose of this blog.

What do others think?


5 comments on ““Practical” Theology as opposed to…?

  1. Theophilus says:

    Practical theology happens when theologians actually bother to parse out the implications of living out conceptual theologies, and especially when they allow this to shape their conceptual theologies. Perhaps practical theology might then also be called pastoral theology, as it is theology that has been made useful for guiding actions other than the discursive thinking of academic theology.

  2. Kampen says:

    Per Crucem ad Lucem followed up his post with this one
    (http://cruciality.wordpress.com/2009/12/14/theology-for-the-community/) which I find helfpul.

    My concern remains, however, with how we can bring together pastors who do not identify themselves as theologians, and theologians who do not identify themselves as practicers of the Word of God.

    • Theophilus says:

      That reminds me out of an anecdote from Tony Campolo’s book “Following Jesus Without Embarrasing God” in which he ends up ripping into someone who says “I’m not a theologian, but…” and then makes some heartless, hyper-Calvinist comment about how someone’s tragedy was part of the perfect will of God. Campolo says something to the effect of “You are a theologian every time you speak about God like that.” (Unfortunately the book was a loaner, and that’s not his actual quote). I particularly like that this story comes from the pen of Campolo, who is not generally viewed as a serious academic theologian. That’s precisely the critique that “theological lay people” need to hear. I’m far less sure about how to convince theologians to be practicers of Christianity. John Calvin says some good stuff on the subject, but the kind of theologians who take Calvin seriously aren’t the most likely figures to need that particular critique, at least in my experience.

  3. John says:

    Does “theology” have anything to do with The Radiant Transcendental Being–namely God.

    Jesus was not a theologian.
    The Bible is not a theological work.
    None of the various writers of the books of the Bible were theologians–this is especially true of the fiery prophets of the Old Testament.

    None of the many Sacred Scriptures of the entire Great Tradition of humankind were written by theologians.

    Gautama Buddha was not a theologian. Nor was Shankara the greatest and brightest Saint/Sage/Mystic.

    The story of Humpty Dumpty tells us a lot. ALL theology is written from the fragmented perspective of a piece of Humptys broken shell lying on the ground. If you begin from a fragmentary perspective your entire theology or philosophy will inevitably be an extension of your fragmented perspective.

    All the kings horse and all the kings men can never ever put Humpty back together again.

    Platos Cave is another analogy. ALL of the usual theology and philosophy is written from WITHIN the darkness of Platos cave. As such all of it only describes the flickering light on the walls of the cave. It is thus incapable of seeing and feeling what IS outside of the cave, or the totality of everything in which the cave exists.

    Or take an iceberg. All of us, including theologians are like little stick figures running around on the tip of the iceberg.

    Meanwhile the vast bulk of the iceberg is under water and hence forever hidden from the stick-persons view, and by extension any theology written by a stick person.

    And yet this vast unconscious invisible bulk is what is patterning life altogether, both of the individual, the human collective, and the world-process altogether.

    How profound or even insightful could any theology possibly be if it dos not and can not even see the vast invisible depths of Reality—the light outside of the cave (in all of its fullness)–or the indivisible unity of Humpty (the Cosmic Egg) before he fell of of the wall.

  4. Kampen says:

    The academy is the first place most of us look to find theologians. One of the common understandings the academy works from in regards to theology and the task of the theologian is that it is a work of uncovering, of discovering the iceberg below the surface, of putting humpty together again. This understanding is problematic because it does not make sense with the Christian story rather comes from secular, synthesizing, and totalizing moves of modern philosophy (and largely theology too) which function in an ontology of scarcity.

    That is to say, any work of theology, any task of the theologian is always a participation in what God is already doing in the world, for the world (including the Church) because any theology that is “profound or insightful” is only so because God is moving in the world. Rowan Williams has a quote in his book “Tokens of Trust” that “we need to come to grips with the fact that we don’t contribute anything to God.”

    To put it another way, God comes to us, Truth comes to us. Knowledge, “good theology”, is a gift. The task of the theologian is to participate in that giftedness, which of course, is also the task of the pastor, the social justice worker, the parent, the student, the professor, the artist, the cook, the plumber, etc. Ultimately, the disciple. Which is why Jason at Per Crucem ad Lucem (in a follow up post called “Theology for the Community”) writes: “Pastors who are serious about serving their communities will be theologians, and unashamedly so” to which I replied “Theologians who are serious about the Word of God will be serving their communities, and unashamedly so.”
    Thus, I think the category of “practical theology” and the distinctions that are being made by it are a pseudo-category.

    (Jason’s follow up post can be found here: http://cruciality.wordpress.com/2009/12/14/theology-for-the-community/#comments)

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