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.

Saturday, June 02, 2007

Youth Ministry as a Practical Theology, part 3

In the last post, I described the traditional method of theology as a second order discourse. However, I aruged that a first order discourse is needed. Here I will begin to argue for that first order discourse, commonly known as practical theology.

While Barthian theology is still present in modern theology, many contemporary commentators (see for example, Anderson, 2001; Browning, 1991; and Dean, 2001) believe that Barth’s view is only partially right. True practical theology, according to these folk, starts with practice, then goes to theory (theology) and then ultimately back to practice. Or to put it more accurately, it goes from “present theory-laden practice to a retrieval of normative theory-laden practice to the creation of more critically held theory-laden practices” (Browning, p. 7).

What sets practical theology apart from the other three traditional disciplines in theological education (Biblical studies, Systematic theology, and Church History), and what I find most compelling is that it's grounded theological reflection. In other words, practical theologians attempt to deal with issues that are a part of life in the world, not to solve abstract theoretical problems. Of course, practical theology is not the only type of theology that is grounded; rather, it is just the most committed to being grounded.

Browning argues that all theology is practical in the sense that practical thinking is “the center of human thinking and that theoretical and technical thinking are abstractions from practical thinking” (Browning, p. 8). While practical theology is intimately connected to the practices of ministry, it is NOT limited to the practices of professional church ministers. Practical theology assumes that we live our convictions about who God is and how God works in the world, and that we practice our theology most faithfully when we do it on purpose.

In the next post, I will begin to explore some possibilities of what it looks like when we practice our theology on purpose.


Anderson. R.S. (2001). The Shape of Practical Theology. Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press.

Browning, D. S. (1991). A Fundamental Practical Theology. Minneapolis: Fortress Press.

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.


Blogger Scott Williams said...

Jim, just so you know, I've been reading your posts, but to be honest I'm having a hard time keeping up with you. I need to re-read all of this and I'll try and post when I have something worth saying.

10:34 PM


Post a Comment

<< Home