Introducing Practical Theology

Mission, Ministry, and the Life of the Church

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Pete Ward
  • Ada, IN: 
    Baker Academic
    , October
     192 pages.
     For other formats: Link to Publisher's Website.


Pete Ward outlines his monograph Introducing Practical Theology: Mission, Ministry, and the Life of the Church by stating that “an introduction to a field of study always has two purposes [for beginners:] to orient themselves and grasp the basic ideas, methods, and writers in the field [and] to attempt to shape the field of study by drawing attention to certain ways of thinking and by advocating a particular approach over another” (1). He defines his audience as both the general reader as well as his colleagues who teach practical theology and argues that practical theology is already part of the life of the Christian community and practitioner. His aim is to reshape the discipline and he sets out to achieve this by (1) reimagining the clerical paradigm, namely, practicing “practical theology that is fundamentally ecclesial and theological in nature” (3); (2) starting with everyday and ordinary practical theology and enhancing it by formal study; (3) reembracing applied theology—starting with engaging the scriptures, bringing experience to theological reflection, and moving the debate beyond its current liberal theology position; (4) expanding the canon of practical theology by inviting participation by those outside its academic guild; (5) developing a theology of practical theology; and 6) encountering God in prayer and worship as a relational basis for knowing God. 

Chapter 1 describes practical theology as the ordinary life of the church that includes “doing theology that arises from and seeks to inform the pastoral practice of the church” (10). Practices of “remembering, absorbing, noticing, selecting/editing, and expressing” (14) are used to explore everyday practical theology with authentic theology being “deeply embedded in the practice of faith” (24). Chapter 2 identifies practical theology as faith seeking understanding, taking seriously both practice and theology, thus avoiding the dangers of being too theoretical or not theological enough. Drawing on Anselm’s construct of faith seeking understanding, Ward offers it as a means for practical theology to take theology seriously by finding “its primary orientation in the being of God … [starting with] faith being faith in God” (29). Chapter 3 unpacks the relationship between the gospel and practical theology describing theological work in the modern period as a “divide between theologians who prioritize doctrine and revelation and those who emphasize human experience as the source of knowledge of the divine” (40). Ward uses “the idea of gospel … to speak about encounter with God and how that encounter is understood and communicated” (41) and indicates that how practical theologians view the gospel will influence the choices they make in their reflections.

Chapter 4 focuses on lived theology as practical theology with Ward guiding readers through the ideas of lived religion (theology that is incomplete and provisional and generated in everyday venues such as streets, homes, churches); ordinary theology (the theology of those who have received little training and “focuses on listening to what people are saying” [59]); and the four voices of theology—operant, espoused, normative, and formal. Ward asserts there is a difference between lived and official theology. Chapter 5 describes practical theology as a conversation about practice and theology, noting its origin in the education of ministers and its expansion to include homiletics (preaching), Christian education (teaching), youth ministry, pastoral care, congregational studies, and more. Ward overviews practical theological approaches such as ministerial education (these include the science of ministry, the pastoral perspective, and ecclesial and pastoral imagination); correlation (these include a revised correlation method, fundamental practical theology, and “words that resurrect the dead” [80-82]); interpreting action (these include theology mediated in praxis, transforming practice); and a return to theology and tradition (these include rediscovering the classic tradition, and Christopraxis). Chapter 6 covers theological reflection by describing the history of the pastoral cycle, namely “see, judge, act” (96) and its variations as espoused by Ballard and Pritchard (experience, theological reflection, learning, and action), Osmer (the four tasks: descriptive-empirical, interpretive, normative, and pragmatic), and van der Ven (the empirical-theological cycle). Ward also offers other non-pastoral cycle approaches such as complexifying practice, a form of testing, generating theoretical frameworks, worship of a community, narration, and pastoral practice. 

Chapter 7 describes the contribution of the other theological disciplines to practical theology. Ward covers biblical studies, doctrinal theology, church history, religious studies, and the social sciences. Chapter 8 considers practical theology as a conversation about culture as it has become a key concern in the field. Ward describes culture as both universal and diverse, contextual—a “local theology” (137), and a change that forces the church to reimagine itself. Chapter 9 offers guidelines for starting a small-scale empirical research project that includes exploring the self and the community, identifying the research design (quantitative and qualitative), and ten steps to consider (culminating in prayer throughout the whole project). Chapter 10 concludes with highlighting the outcome of practical theology, namely “the transformation of individuals and communities” (167). This outcome is expressed in various forms that include “living, action, prayer, songs, and preaching” (168).

Ward achieves his aims as stated in the beginning of his book, namely to orient newcomers to the field’s basic ideas, methods, and writers as well as to reshape the discipline is some small part. He offers a fresh perspective that positions practical theology as “faith seeking understanding” and argues for practice that is theological and theology that is practical, allowing neither to undermine but rather to enhance the other. He argues that the mission, ministry and life of the church must be the basis for practical theological research. Of particular interest is his proposal to collapse the two distinctions of liberal theology (prioritizing experience over doctrine) and conservative theology (prioritizing doctrine over experience) into one another in order to introduce students to a range of approaches and methods from which to choose. This book is recommended to all practical theologians, especially the everyday ordinary type.

About the Reviewer(s): 

Shaun Joynt is a Postdoctoral Fellow at North-West University in Potchefstroom, South Africa.

Date of Review: 
June 8, 2018
About the Author(s)/Editor(s)/Translator(s): 

Pete Ward is a Professorial Fellow in Ecclesiology and Ethnography at St. John's College, Durham University, in Durham, England. He also teaches at MF The Norwegian School of Theology, Oslo. He is the author, coauthor, or editor of numerous books, including Perspectives on Ecclesiology and Ethnography, and has written in the areas of youth ministry, contemporary worship, theology and popular culture, and ecclesiology.


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