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What Is Practical Theology?

By Megan Shoop
Updated May 23, 2024
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Practical theology is the practice of applying theological lessons and ideas to situations found in everyday life. The term is most commonly used among Christian theologians and clergy, but may refer to any religion that promotes the well-being of its practitioners. Usually, the lessons used in practical theology have to do with generosity, charitable activity, and evangelism, or spreading one’s own faith. Some faiths really stress evangelism, while others focus more on setting an example of charity through actions.

Most of the lessons used in practical theology come from some kind of religious text, like the Bible, the Qur’an, or the Torah. Examples of how to behave, such as Jesus’ parables, are usually studied and discussed. Through discussion, practitioners often learn how these ancient stories may be applied to modern situations.

There are two basic types of practical theology: theology as it applies to an individual’s personal situation, and theology as it applies to things happening around the person. These two branches often intertwine because the way a person acts often affects those watching the action. For instance, if a child drops his books and another child helps him pick them up, this is a charitable action that others can see. The second child was showing charity because he knew it was right, but was also acting as an example to others.

The above scenario is an example of practical theology that is both individual and indirect. Christianity, Islam, Judaism, and many other major religions teach that being charitable and helping those around you is right and good. Applying this theology individually means extending charity from one person to another. The child was also indirectly showing others how he’s been taught to act by his chosen theology. Some would argue that the above example is also a form of indirect evangelism, meaning those that saw the act might wonder where the second child learned to be so kind and ask him about it.

The second branch of practical theology, or applying lessons to situations around an individual, can also occur directly. Direct application usually occurs in the form of missionary work, which is also a form of direct evangelism. Many of the major religions teach their practitioners to help those less fortunate. Missionaries do this by going into impoverished places and providing the groups there with the things that they need. As the impoverished people benefit from the missionaries’ help, some of them may convert and continue to spread the missionaries’ religion.

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