A semi-regular attempt (in other words, as I have time) to explore the interaction between God and the adolescent world, especially the connection between theory and praxis (otherwise known as practical theology). Primary emphasis will be given to the role of the church (and especially the emerging church) in this process.

Friday, May 25, 2007

Youth Ministry as a Practical Theology, part 2

In my opinion, the field of practical theology has been throughout its history the most beleaguered and despised of the theological disciplines. However, with the rebirth of the practical philosophies, practical theology has been reborn. As such, there has been a rush among systematic and historical theologians to ask, “Hey, aren’t we practical?” And the truth is, they are right. In short, the epistemological climate has changed. The English word practical and the Greek word praxis are no longer words of disparagement. If you can both act and think about or reflect on your action, you are a “reflective practitioner.”

Unlike historical or systematic theologies, which seek to discover God’s truth by stepping back from Christian life and analyzing the texts, traditions, and general themes of Christianity, practical theology “discovers God’s truth in and through Christian life. Historical and systematic theology give disciplines such as CE, YM, Counseling and Leadership a broader context—a wider conversation in which the particular situation of practical theology may participate” (Dean, 2001, pp. 31-32).

In the past, many of these disciplines have been part of a dialectical interaction with theology. However, as Pazmino and others point out, these disciplines are not entirely separate from theology (Pazmino, p. 58). Rather they are interdependent with one another. The problem, from my perspective, is that this interaction is most often 2nd order discourse.

We understand, of course, that for education to be truly Christian, it must be rooted soundly in biblical and theological imperatives. Educators must understand how to draw educational conclusions from theological premises. Earlier, Barthian theology proposed that practical theology occurred as the theologian moves from revelation to the human, from theory to practice, and from revealed knowledge to application (Barth, pp. 47-70).

Whether we view theology as a first order or second order discourse has everything to do with how we do practical theology. (An example of a first order discourse is you and I having dinner together. In a second order discourse, you would report to others your reflections and understandings of the event.) Historically, theology (especially systematic and historical theologies) has been understood as a second order discourse.

In the next post, I will show that a first order discourse is needed, and what that looks like. Again, I look forward to your opinions on this, as I believe that practical theology truly is the cornerstone for the future of church ministry.


Barth, K. (1936). Church Dogmatics, I/1. Edinburgh: T. and T. Clark.

Dean, K.C. (2001). “Fessing Up: Owning Our Theological Commitments” in Dean, K. C; Clark, C; Rahn, D. (eds.) Starting Right: Thinking Theologically About Youth Ministry. Grand Rapids: Zondervan.

Pazmino, R. W. (1988). Foundational Issues in Christian Education. Grand Rapids: Baker.


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