Practical theology is an academic discipline that examines and reflects on religious practices in order to understand the theology that is enacted in those practices and in order to consider how theological theory and theological practices can be more fully aligned, changed, or improved. Practical theology has often sought to address a perceived disconnection between theology as an academic discipline or dogmatics on the one hand, and the life and practice of the Church on the other.
As articulated by Richard Osmer, the four key questions and tasks in practical theology are:
- What is going on? (descriptive-empirical task)
- Why is this going on? (interpretative task)
- What ought to be going on? (normative task)
- How might we respond? (pragmatic task)
Practical theology was first introduced by Friedrich Schleiermacher as an academic discipline encompassing the practice of Church leadership in his Brief Outline of the Study of Theology.
Practical theology consists of several related sub-fields: applied theology (such as missions, evangelism, religious education, pastoral psychology or the psychology of religion), church growth, administration, homiletics, spiritual formation, pastoral theology, spiritual direction, spiritual theology (or ascetical theology), political theology, theology of justice and peace and similar areas. It also includes advocacy theology, such as the various theologies of liberation (of the oppressed in general, of the disenfranchised, of women, of immigrants, of children, and black theology). The theology of relational care, which concerns ministering to the personal needs of others, may also be discussed as a field of practical theology.
"Convergent practical theology" has emerged from the combined studies and practice of missiology with organizational development since the publication of Missional Church: A Vision for the Sending of the Church in North America. This new perspective is described by Christian Boyd as "living our theology (primary and secondary) and practicing social science theologically, [so that] our minds are renewed and the community formed nurtures a new imagination for being and doing church."
- Theresa F. Latini, The Church and the Crisis of Community: A Practical Theology of Small-Group Ministry (Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing, 2011)
- Osmer, Richard Robert (2008). Practical Theology: An Introduction. William B Eerdmans. p. 4.
The Core Tasks of Practical Theological Interpretation
- Chang Kyoo Lee, "Practical Theology as a Theological Discipline: Origins, Developments, and the Future."
- Gerben Heitink, Practical theology: history, theory, action domains: manual for practical theology (Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing, 1999)
- Darrell Guder et al., Missional church: a vision for the sending of the church in North America (Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing, 1998)
- Christian Boyd, "Formed and Always Being Reformed as a Community Under the Cross," Luther Seminary, Doctoral Thesis, May 30, 2010. p. 9-11; 30-34.