Practice-led Research, Research-led Practice in the Creative Arts | Hazel Smith and Roger T. Dean, eds.

The cover of Smith and Dean's Practice-led Research, Research-led Practice in the Creative ArtsCreative practice and critical research appear to be unlikely bedfellows! Creative practice is viewed as intuitive and open ended while critical research is more rigorously methodological and outcome oriented. However, for the last number of decades, creative practice has made its mark in the university as a form of research in itself: practice-led research.

Smith and Dean’s volume explores how creative practice can lead to the generation of new knowledge, which is the typical definition of research. They have collected essays from various realms—dance, new media, and creative writing to name a few—that demonstrate how practice and research can form generative partnerships which can find a home in the university.

The systems and structures of the university were not created with a view to practice-led or practice-based research, so the essays also tackle the sort of issues that arise when these two worlds collide. Most important, perhaps, is the need for funding bodies to understand what practice-led research is in order to promote this growing type of research.

This highly specialized volume will help practice-led researchers to understand their methodology while at the same time appraising them of the type of issues they will encounter in the university.


Smith, Hazel and Roger T. Dean, eds. Practice-led Research, Research-led Practice in the Creative Arts. Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 2009.

Pastors and Theology | Owen Strachan

Owen StrachanThe pastor who leads well owes less to “best practices” or strategic vision and more to biblical theology and the way of the cross.

—Kevin J. Vanhoozer and Owen Strachan, The Pastor as Public
Theologian: Reclaiming a Lost Vision 
(Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2015), 54.

Formation and Reflection | Lewis S. Mudge & James N. Poling

The cover of Mudge & Poling's Formation and Reflection

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.

To Know As We Are Known | Parker J. Palmer

The cover of Palmer's To Know As We Are KnownThe way in which we know things—our epistemology—matters. If we view the world objectively, as an object to be categorized and filed, we do damage both to the world and to ourselves. True knowing “requires the knower to become interdependent with the known” (32).

Parker Palmer, author and educator, develops his philosophy of teaching in To Know As We Are Known.

To teach is to create a space in which the community of truth is practiced. (xii)

Teaching has to be more than the passing down of objective facts. Genuine teaching brings learners into a community where they interrelate in faithfulness to the subject. Palmer even offers some practical advice for teachers to transition in this direction.

Stories are important for Palmer. A film about the nuclear weapons program, the account of a desert father, and the confrontation between Jesus and Pilate are all illustrative fuel that Palmer uses to flesh out his ideas.

To Know As We Are Known is an important book for both teachers and students that challenges the epistemology of the Enlightenment.


Palmer, Parker J. To Know As We Are Known: Education as a Spiritual Journey. New York: HarperOne, 1983, 1993.

Exclusion and Embrace | Miroslav Volf

The cover of Volf's Exclusion and EmbraceThen Jesus said, “Father, forgive them; for they do not know what they are doing.” And they cast lots to divide his clothing. (Luke 23:34 NRSV)

We all know that we should forgive each other. We even know how often—seventy times seven (i.e. unending forgiveness). The problem comes not with the knowing, but with the doing.

Miroslav Volf hit this crisis between knowing and doing after at the end of a lecture when Jürgen Moltmann stood and asked, “But can you embrace a cětnik” (9)? These Serbian fighters had been terrorizing and destroying Croatia, Volf’s country. He was torn between “the blood of the innocent crying out to God and by the blood of God’s Lamb offered for the guilty” (9). This question drove him to research and write Exclusion and Embrace.

Exclusion and Embrace is the best book on forgiveness that exists. Period. Volf used the image of the crucified God, arms outstretched with side pierced, to show how those who are offended can make space within themselves to embrace the other. This does not mean that the embraced are exonerated—they can be embraced “even when they are perceived as wrongdoers” (85). This, of course, is precisely how Jesus receives us.

Although written in 1996, this book feels tailored for today. In our culture of “truthiness,” Volf writes of “Deception and Truth.” As geopolitical tensions flair, Volf writes of “Oppression and Justice,” “Violence and Peace.” Even gender identity receives a chapter. It is stunning to see just how broad the theme of forgiveness reaches.

Every paragraph of Exclusion and Embrace is rich. Volf’s writing is a dense and insightful mixture of philosophical acuity, psychological wisdom, and theological insight. Our world needs this book more now than ever.


Volf, Miroslav. Exclusion and Embrace: A Theological Exploration of Identity, Otherness, and Reconciliation. Nashville, TN: Abingdon Press, 1996.

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