Practical theology is the application of theological truth to all of life, particularly the life and work of the church. While the other theological disciplines are oriented toward understanding God, his work in history, and his revelation in Christ, practical theology concerns our participation with God in the work of bringing that revelation to the church and the world. In a seminary context, practical theology seeks to develop in students the skills and wisdom for preaching, teaching, counseling, church leadership, evangelism, church planting, and mercy and cross-cultural ministries. In addition to training students for professional competence, practical theology seeks to encourage and foster spiritual development in students preparing for Christian ministry and service.
As an applied discipline, practical theology is concerned with how theology ought to be applied to life and with making that application directly. That is, practical theology has both theoretical and lived dimensions. This dual character allows for the study of theology to exist in constructive dialogue with the practice of applying that theology.
Writing for Practical Theology Courses
Practical theology writing assignments are opportunities for the student to strive for development of professional ministry skills while examining how the gospel transforms the student’s own heart and life. Some projects may be especially geared towards one of these aspects. Putting together a standard funeral liturgy may not be as personally engaging as a reflection paper on heart idolatry. But assignments such as sermons or counseling analysis papers may equally engage both sides of practical theology. As you have opportunity, give attention to how an assignment engages your own spiritual development as well your professional formation. Writing that demonstrates development in both of these arenas gives evidence of the spiritual and ministerial growth with which practical theology is concerned.
As part of this development, it is ideal when writing practical theology papers to balance practical, personal, and situational ministry insight with salient theological reflection. That is, it is hoped that students will be able to draw upon a rich store of biblical and theological wisdom that can inform a right application of God’s word to their own hearts and to ministry situations. Thus, a balance of the theoretical and practical aspects in practical theology writing helps to ground practical judgments and insights in the truth of God himself.
Basic Guidelines for Practical Theology Writing
A wide variety of writing projects are assigned in practical theology classes. Each assignment has its own characteristics and special requirements. The following guidelines are broadly applicable to practical theology. However, always consult your professor and syllabus for specific guidance for each assignment.
This guideline seems simple enough, but it bears mentioning. Writing practically can be challenging, especially for students who are gifted academically and may be used to theoretical and abstract argumentation. While theoretical thinking has its place, even in practical theology, your writing should be geared to asking and answering practical questions. What motivates this behavior? How is a particular issue affecting the church? How can unbelief be exposed and dismantled by this biblical text?
While being too theoretical in your writing is problematic, it is also unacceptable to write thoughtlessly. That is, there cannot be a wise and timely application of God’s truth without an understanding of that truth. Practical questions need practical answers, but wise answers arise from thoughtful reflection on how the word of God should apply to a given context. It is this sort of reflection which practical theology classes endeavor to prompt and which should be evident in your thoughtful, practical writing.
A major goal of practical theology is personal spiritual development. Some assignments are explicitly oriented at self assessment, criticism, and counseling. Others may provide opportunity for you to respond to how a reading assignment challenges or affects you personally or to expound a biblical text with a personal illustration. As you have opportunity and as it is appropriate to the assignment, use writing projects to engage your own spiritual development. This is useful both to yourself and to those to whom you will minister, who will learn from your experiences and follow your example.
A major responsibility of those who lead in the church is that of vision and oversight. The overseers (Greek episkopoi) of the church are charged with the shepherd-like tasks of surveying the state of a congregation (or larger Christian body), identifying points of weakness and need, and seeking to creatively strengthen and care for the flock. This calling to service in the church was envisioned by Jesus for his chief disciple, even in anticipation of Peter’s greatest failure: “I have prayed for you, that your faith may not fail; and you, when once you have turned again, strengthen your brothers” (Luke 22:32). This calling to care for the church, strengthening the weak, is at the heart of discipleship. How can you, as a student preparing for ministry, begin to think about caring for the church? Practical theology writing assignments are prime opportunities to reflect on pastoral questions, to consider how various issues affect the health of the corporate body of Christ, and to train a watchful eye for potential problems and sources of strength.
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