practical theology defined

When people asked me what I was going to be studying in Aberdeen, I would tell them that I was going to be doing a Master’s in Practical Theology and Christian Ethics. Some people would nod and say ‘wow, that sounds great!’, and others would very honestly ask ‘so, uh, what does that mean?’ Fantastic question, since the term Practical Theology was one that I wasn’t able to eloquently define until this week.

In his book Raging With Compassion: Pastoral Responses to the Problem of Evil [and in class this past Monday], John Swinton [professor of Practical Theology @ the University of Aberdeen] defines practical theology as the following:

Practical theology is critical, theological reflection on the practices of the church as they interact with the practices of the world, with a view to ensuring and enabling faithful participation in God’s redemptive practices for the world.


Practical theology is rooted in the scripture and tradition of the Christian faith and takes theology very seriously. However, the theological reflection carried out by the practical theologian is never for its own sake; it is always for the sake of developing practices that faithfully reflect the actions and character of the triune God, as God has revealed God’s self in the life, death and resurrection of Jesus.

That is the basic framework of what I will be diving into this year, and how I will approach my as yet to be determined thesis topic. And I suppose I’ll begin to think about that starting tomorrow as I will be attending my first Methods in Theology / Dissertation Colloquium class, which will be preceded by two hours of New Testament Theology.


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