Practical theology is the study of how theology and faith inform everyday living and decision making. It seeks to apply biblical truths to real-world situations and provide practical guidance for how Christians should live in light of their faith. Here are some key things to know about practical theology:
Practical theology considers how Christian beliefs should shape daily practices and habits. For instance, it may explore questions like: How should Christians approach work, rest, and leisure time in light of biblical principles? What does the Bible teach about managing money, giving generously, and living simply? How do teachings about forgiveness, reconciliation, and justice impact relationships and conflict resolution? Practical theology aims to connect theology with everyday Christian life.
Practical theology also examines how the church carries out its functions. This includes things like worship, preaching, spiritual formation and discipleship, evangelism, and social action. Practical theology asks questions like: What makes for faithful and engaging worship? How can preaching best proclaim the gospel and equip people to follow Jesus? What practices and programs best nurture spiritual growth and maturity? It aims to reflect theologically on all aspects of church ministry.
In addition, practical theology looks at how Christians live out their faith in civic and public spaces. It explores questions like: How should Christians be involved in politics, activism, and causes of justice? What does neighbor love look like in a diverse culture? How do Christians relate their faith to work, economics, and the use of resources? Practical theology grapples with connecting faith to all areas of public life.
Practical theology also involves studying applied fields like pastoral care, counseling, and chaplaincy. It asks: How can pastors, counselors, and chaplains effectively care for people facing grief, crisis, addiction, abuse, and trauma? What approaches allow faith communities to support marginalized groups and those in need? Practical theology equips pastoral ministers with theological and spiritual foundations.
Some key themes in practical theology include:
- Everyday discipleship – studying how Christians grow in faith, character, virtues, and spiritual disciplines amidst daily life.
- Contextualization – examining how theology engages with specific cultures, places, and people groups.
- Formation through practices – considering how historic spiritual practices shape beliefs and cultivate transformation.
- Ministry skills – equipping pastors and ministers with spiritual and interpersonal skills needed for serving others.
- Nurturing communities – exploring how theology informs building authentic community, relationships, and social action.
Practical theology draws deeply on scripture as an authoritative guide and source of wisdom for life. Key biblical themes relate to practical theology include:
Loving God and neighbor: Jesus identified this as the greatest commandment (Matthew 22:37-39). Practical theology considers how to live this out across all of life.
Bearing fruit: Jesus said his followers would be known by their fruit (Matthew 7:15-20). Practical theology aims to cultivate outward love, justice, wisdom, and other Spirit-led character.
Putting faith into action: The book of James highlights the importance of living out faith through good deeds more than just religious talk (James 1:22-27, 2:14-26). Practical theology focuses on active expression of beliefs.
Gifts of the Spirit: Passages like Romans 12:3-8 and 1 Corinthians 12 identify spiritual gifts for building up the church. Practical theology helps people discern and use their gifts.
Imitating Christ: Christians are called to follow Jesus’ model and take up their cross daily (Mark 8:34-35). Practical theology explores what this looks like in real life.
Stewarding resources: Passages like Matthew 6:19-21 and 25:14-30 highlight stewarding money, possessions, and abilities for God’s purposes. Practical theology considers how to live this out.
Discipling others: Jesus’ commission in Matthew 28:18-20 sends his followers to teach others obedience to his commands. Practical theology informs disciple-making and teaching.
Living wisely: Much biblical wisdom literature, like Proverbs, teaches prudent living that honors God. Practical theology aims to apply this wisdom.
Renewing the mind: Passages like Romans 12:2 emphasize being transformed by the renewing of our minds. Practical theology seeks to align thought and action with God’s truth.
Hope in Christ’s return: Jesus’ return gives hope (Titus 2:11-14) but also motivates righteous living (2 Peter 3:11-14). Practical theology considers implications for daily practice.
There are a variety of approaches within practical theology. Some key methods include:
- Correlation: Placing human experience and cultural context in dialogue with biblical texts and theological tradition.
- Praxis: Moving reflectively between theological concepts and embodied practice to inform faithful action.
- Situational analysis: Examining specific ministry settings and contexts to discern theological themes and implications.
- Pastoral circle: Cycling between perspectives of theology, human sciences, and ministers’ experiences to address situations.
- Canonical narrative approach: Situating questions of daily practice within the overarching biblical storyline.
Practical theology engages in interdisciplinary ways with other fields of study:
- Draws on biblical studies methods to interpret and apply Scripture.
- Learns from Christian ethics approaches to moral formation and decision-making.
- Utilizes social science insights into human behavior, society, and culture.
- Adapts psychological and counseling approaches to pastoral care.
- Incorporates leadership studies to inform ministry practice.
- Learns from religious education and formation strategies.
- Benefits from immigrant and ethnic studies of diverse congregations.
Practical theology equips seminarians, ministers, and everyday Christians with frameworks for connecting theology with the nitty-gritty of daily life and church practice. It aims to cultivate wise, faithful, and fruitful living that embodies Christ’s love and advances God’s kingdom across all spheres of life.
Here are some examples of how practical theology engages various areas:
Work: Explores relating Christian values to job satisfaction, business ethics, career guidance, workplace dynamics, unemployment, and calling.
Wealth and poverty: Considers biblical teaching on materialism, simplicity, generosity, and care for the economically disadvantaged and marginalized.
Marriage and family: Equips couples and parents around faith-infused practices like Sabbath, hospitality, household discipleship, conflict resolution, and instilling values.
Singles: Addresses challenges and opportunities of Christ-centered singleness including service, celibacy, community, and pursuit of wholeness.
Youth and children: Informs ministries that ground young people in faith through mentorship, rites of passage, moral formation, and developmentally appropriate practices.
Disability and illness: Brings theological perspective on meaning, hope, purpose, and spiritual growth amidst physical or mental disability and disease.
Aging: Considers aging with grace, staying engaged, life review and integration, leaving a legacy, and finishing well from a faith perspective.
Dying and grieving: Offers theological grounding and spiritual practices for faithful end-of-life preparation, care for the dying, consolation of grievers, and funerals.
Technology and media: Encourages responsible digital citizenship and discerning engagement with technology for human flourishing versus exploitation.
Ecological issues: Motivates care for creation and environmental stewardship as dimensions of loving God and neighbor.
Politics and advocacy: Explores political involvement, activism, and civil disobedience guided by biblical values like justice, dignity, and reconciliation.
Mission and evangelism: Studies effective and ethical ways to communicate and embody the gospel in today’s pluralistic context.
Arts and beauty: Considers how music, visual arts, poetry, drama, and literature can convey theological themes and enliven worship.
Multicultural diversity: Facilitates cultural competency, racial reconciliation, and appreciation for ethnic diversity in congregational life.
As an applied theological discipline, practical theology is concerned with supporting faithful Christian living and ministry across all of life. It aims to be academically rigorous, biblically rooted, relevant to real-world concerns, and oriented toward forming wise disciples who embody Christ’s transformative love.