Practical Theology

Practical Theology

I haven’t started REALLY reading this book yet. But one thing for sure, I love the diagrams in the book especially the “floor plan” diagram which gives a overview tour of what the author wants to convey. When the spark came after seeing practical theology not in terms of skills and technique to apply the “distilled” theology detached from “concrete” ministry realities, I got more excited about this subject and it’s relevance to my own journey as a pastor. Once that way of thinking shifted, my imagination is fired up to allow ordinary happenings to serve as a context for theological inspiration and instruction. :-)

Practical Theology: History, Theory, Action Domains: Manual for Practical Theology gives a short review which makes me want to plunge in deeper. Here’s an appetizer:

“The author notes that the church is always involved in two types of praxis. One is the task of passing the faith to new generations, and the other is the task of communicating the faith within the context in which it is located. These two types of praxis are interrelated in Heitink’s practical– theological theory of action to three different arenas for ministry: the individual, the community of the church, and the broader society. It is at this point that the author establishes the linkage with the diverse disciplines that have emerged as the practices of theological education. These include pastoral care, Christian education, and spiritual formation, which focus on the individual; church development, catechetics, liturgics, and homiletics, which focus on the church as community; and service, evangelism, and lay vocation, which focus on society.”

A more in depth review is found in Journal of Religion & Society. As usual I will pick out what strikes me:

[3] Practical theology, the currently preferred term for what used to be “pastoral subjects” in the Protestant and “pastoral theology” in the Catholic traditions, is “the empirically oriented theological theory of the mediation of the Christian faith in the praxis of modern society” (6). Praxis is action, and Heitink correctly differentiates two praxes. There is Praxis 1, which is the mediation of the Christian faith, and there is Praxis 2, which is the context in which Praxis 1 is played out, real life, real people in dynamic interaction, real actors responsible for their own lives, the lives of others, and the life of society as a whole. Though the two praxes are differentiated, they are not separable; they are correlated and dialogical. The two demand that practical theology be hermeneutical, empirical, and strategic.

[5] Communicative action divides communication into three areas: facts, norms, and feelings. Corresponding to these three areas, there are three validity claims to be established: that the facts are true (theoretical discourse), that the norms are fair (practical discourse), that the feelings are genuine (esthetic-expressive discourse). A family, for instance, is watching television. The mother says to her son: “I am thirsty, please get me a coke from the fridge.” The mother is convinced of the fact that there is a coke in the fridge, she accepts the norm that parents can ask their children to do some tasks as fair, and she believes her feeling of thirst is genuine. If the son also accepts the fact, the norm, and the feeling, he will get the coke; if he does not, he may enter into negotiations about one or all of them. Such democratic negotiation is the root of social order. If the mother decides not to negotiate but to impose her authority, she has embarked on strategic action which may provoke from the son a strategic reaction. Authoritarian strategic action and reaction may lie at the root of the crisis the Churches face in Europe and the United States. This crisis is ultimately the provocation for practical theology.

[6] The book closes with a differentiation and consideration of three domains in which practical theology functions: humanity, church, and society. Heitink, therefore, makes strategic choices of an anthropology, ecclesiology, and what he calls diaconology. His anthropology is Augustinian: the human is made to encounter God, to respond to his love, and is respondable. Being related to God and to fellow humans, the human being is endowed with a high degree of responsibility. Heitink’s ecclesiology is a normative ecclesiology of koinonia: the Church exhibits solidarity, celebrates memory, and is engaged in the world. Koinonia requires critical participation by all Church members who are taken seriously as critical subjects. Consideration of the relationship between society and Church leads to diaconology, “coined as a parallel for anthropology and ecclesiology” (293). Koinonia leads to diakonia-service. Diaconology refers to the work of serving at table (John 12:2), to the service of fellow humans (Luke 22:26-27), with the use of the charismata, not only of the clergy but of all the baptized, for the well-being of all, including non-believers. Diaconal service in the public domain is differentiated in four areas: labor, equality for all, irrespective of race, religion, gender, or sexual inclination, politics and social policy, and moral responsibility as a contribution to public morality.”

I recall overhearing the need for “Practical Theology” taught in our local Malaysian theological education scene that’s not merely seen as technique and methodology or mere application of theology. Obviously, there are those like Prof. Gerben Heitink who has gone before us in this line of thinking. Here’s an area of theological conversation I think is needed between the east and the west, North and South.

3 Responses to Practical Theology

  1. EJ says:

    Hey Rev,

    Are there any more copies available from where u got it? Regards

  2. Chee Keat says:

    Sound like a good book. wonder where I could get it !!

  3. Sivin says:

    EJ & Chee Keat, I got the book from SUFES, Petaling Jaya.

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