The Practical is Theological

The reason I switched majors from Youth Ministry to Theology when I was in college was not that I didn't care about youth ministry. I never really stopped caring about youth ministry. It was and always has been my passion. However, because it was my passion, I couldn't stand it when people refused to see or dismissed the fundamental theological nature of the practice. I was frustrated by a program which centralized social sciences (psychology in particular) and even the methodological over against theology and the theological. At best, the dominant voices in the program used theology as justification, but there was a general anxiety to rush past any theological question that didn't seem practical, or to only illuminate those parts of the theological conversation which were obviously and immediately practical. The assumption was that theology must be practical and if it wasn't, then it was irrelevant. Theology, in its own right wasn't taken very seriously. Rather than allowing the practical to emerge from the theological, in some sense, the round peg of the theological was forced into the square hole of the practical... and when it didn't fit after being pounded with a hammer, it was tossed out.

My young peers in the practical theology department were probably as frustrated with me as I was with them. When they wanted to skim past a theological question, I was stubborn in staying with it. I insisted that it mattered how we perceived, for example, the divine presence in creation (was it really just a vertical relationship while human relationships are horizontal? I can remember one professor rolling his eyes at me when I stopped the class to question this assumption. He wanted to move on to the "real" point of the conversation). By and large, theology was a sort of obstacle, a speed bump (and, I should say, the people with greater theological affinities probably saw it as a necessary speed bump) we had to pass over, because we're good Christians, on the path to the practical. But I couldn't help but think that it had to be more important, it had to be essential, it had to be not just a speed bump on the path but the path itself as well as the destination.

If aspiring practical theologians don't stop seeing the theological as a speed-bump on the path to the practical, then they should admit that they are not practical theologians. They might be practitioners with certain theological affinities, but practical theologians don't merely insist that the theological must be practical (and thus roll their eyes at theological discussions which don't make themselves immediately applicable or accessible) but that the practical is fundamentally theological.