Practical Theology – What is it?
Practical Theology is the branch of Christian theology that focuses on the everyday or modern day implications of Christian theological beliefs. This area of theology is often the focus of pastoral ministry students, missionaries, Christian education directors, and other vocational ministry roles in Christian colleges and seminaries. The definition of one well-known seminary notes Practical Theology as, "Practical theology is the application of theological truth to all of life, particularly the life and work of the church."
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One English Puritan writer named Richard Baxter (1615—1691) has often been associated with the area of Practical Theology due to his authorship of a large, four volume book called A Christian Directory of Practical Theology. Its writing covers a wide range of practical and social issues from its time and was very influential upon its publication. His work consisted of the four areas of Christian Ethics (or Private Duties), Christian Economics (or Family Duties), Christian Ecclesiastics (or Church Duties), and Christian Politics (or Duties to Our Rulers and Neighbors). These were only part of the 141 book titles attributed to Baxter.
Today, the Association of Practical Theology serves as an academic group consisting of scholars and ministers who research the implications of Christian faith and practice (practicaltheology.org). Areas addressed often include aspects of social justice, church growth and administration, spiritual formation, and preaching/homiletics.
Because of its focus on everyday application of the Christian faith, many similar terms have been used to describe this field of study. Other common, related terms include Christian living, everyday Christianity, Pragmatic Theology, and Pastoral Care. Practical Theology is in one sense an application of the Christian life based on the study of biblical principles.
The contemporary nature of Practical Theology also introduces a wide range of questions to consider. Those studying this field may consider questions ranging from, how to help a person who is depressed, to "How can I know if I am called to be a missionary?", to social issues such as how to advise a couple considering a divorce.
The overall importance of Practical Theology is that the study of Christian beliefs as found in Scripture involves more than merely knowing what the Bible teaches but also how its teachings apply to life's situations. As such, the emphasis in Practical Theology will vary from one cultural setting to another, yet the biblical principles that serve as the basis for each cultural issue remain unchanging.
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