How is academic theology related to actual, living communities of faith? (155)
This is the question which the essays in this volume attempt to answer. As academic theology, influenced by postmodern deconstruction, has moved away from talking about God to talking about the possibility of talking about God, the academy seems more and more removed from the actual life and practice of the local church. Practical theology could be the bridge to reunite the two. The question is how.
The essays in this book are challenging to read. Each contributor is a respected author in their own right, bringing their own conceptual frameworks and peculiar language to the conversation. The range is broad. The essays cover historical theology, theological pedagogy, postmodern philosophy, hermeneutical theory, and liberation theology.
An interesting feature of this book is its unity—the contributors were able to read each other’s essays and update their own before the final printing. The back-and-forth between the authors helps to situate their viewpoints.
Edward Farley’s lead contribution, “Interpreting Situations: An Inquiry into the Nature of Practical Theology,” is particularly helpful in focusing the volume. If theology is an interpretation of history (tradition and scripture), then practical theology must be an interpretation of the situation. Why is it that we have libraries worth of material on biblical hermeneutics and tradition criticism, but no rigorous framework to guide the interpretation of the present?
This collection of densely argued essays demonstrates how difficult practical theology is to define, let alone to do. However, if we want to reunite orthodoxy and orthopraxis, then the effort is more than worth the reward.
Mudge, Lewis S. and James N. Poling, eds., Formation and Reflection: The Promise of Practical Theology. Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 1987. Reprint, 2009.