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What Is Applied Theology?

By Jan Fletcher
Updated May 23, 2024
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Applied theology is the practice of applying religious beliefs in practical ways. Although it typically refers to the application of Christian theological beliefs lived out in the course of an adherent's normal activities, it may also refer to Christian ministry, or Christian missions. The term missions usually describes the spreading of theological beliefs to those with a different set of beliefs. Theological seminaries frequently require some coursework in applied theology, before awarding a theology degree to a candidate. Those professing other faiths may also undertake similar endeavors that express the person's religious beliefs through religious acts.

Many popular activities within the culture of Christianity fall under the practice of applied theology. These include evangelistic efforts, acts of mercy, and volunteerism motivated by the desire to create a more humane society. Adherents seek to impress the value of Christian religious beliefs upon those who do not ascribe to Christian theology.

This is sometimes done through attempts to show kindness to others who are suffering. Often, this is a topic not without controversy, because some people find another person's effort to practice applied theology as intrusive. Still, many charities around the world continue to be funded by those motivated by a desire to live out their beliefs through offering charity, along with persuasive theological arguments, to others.

Efforts to convert those possessing religious or spiritual beliefs that differ from Christian beliefs are likely the most controversial aspect of applied theology. Much legal action in the U.S. has been centered around the effort to protect the right for adherents to experience practical theology, or conversely, to restrain evangelistic zeal in the public sphere. In general, freedom of religion laws in the U.S. protect the expression of applied theology, as long as due respect is accorded a person's right to decline an invitation to partake in a religious ritual or debate.

Applied theology is a required course of study at many Christian seminaries, and aspiring pastors are expected to engage in a variety of ministerial duties. Since many religious institutions offer aid to suffering people, hands-on experience assisting those who are in grief, in poverty, or suffering a painful or disabling illness is typically considered essential for a person preparing to be a Christian minister. Graduate-level theology students aspiring to be seminarians are often required to take a ministry internship, or to volunteer for a missions program. The practical application of one's faith is not limited to Christianity. It may also apply to other faiths, in the same basic sense of living out one's religious faith through practicing devout acts.

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