What is practical theology?

I guess the first thing to say is that practical theology is the opposite of non-practical theology. I remember being in seminary classes and hearing more than one theology professor state that all theology is practical. That is, it is all meant to be practiced. I heard it said that “all good theology is practical theology.” What I found noteworthy is that these theologians felt compelled to make that point. If you have to argue for the practicality of theology, then maybe there is some distance between Christian theology and Christian practice.

Sadly that is the case. For several centuries, the vast majority of academic theology has remained remote from everyday life. Now I am not knocking the technical discussions that need to take place in the academy. I have been privileged to take part in some of them myself. However, it is no secret that theologians have had a less than stellar record in speaking plainly to the Christian masses who have done well just to make it to church on Sunday morning.

Also, if it is true that “all good theology is practical theology,” and it is true that a lot of theology is not very practical, then… well, I won’t say it. In fact, no theologian I know would make practicality the sole criterion by which we should judge theology. However, it is one criterion. So let’s settle on this point for today: One of the things that makes theology good is how well it informs and shapes Christian practice.


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