The Need for Ecclesiological Prolegomena in the Pursuit of Practical Theology -- By: Helge Stadelmann

Journal: Trinity Journal
Volume: TRINJ 19:2 (Fall 1998)
Article: The Need for Ecclesiological Prolegomena in the Pursuit of Practical Theology
Author: Helge Stadelmann


The Need for Ecclesiological Prolegomena
in the Pursuit of Practical Theology

Helge Stadelmann*

* Helge Stadelmann, S.T.M. (Dallas) and Dr.Theol. (Basel), is Rektor of the German Theological Seminary, Giessen (Germany), and Guest-Professor of Practical Theology at the Evangelische Theologische Faculteit, Heverlee/Leuven (Belgium). This article is a slightly reworked version of his Inaugural Lecture of Sept. 25, 1997, at the ETF Heverlee/Leuven.

In a time when in many places practical theology seems to be developing into a merely “pragmatic theology” dominated by the social sciences, it is time to start remembering that basically it is and must be a theological discipline. The predecessor of practical theology was the traditional pastoral theology, which from early centuries onwards through the Reformation and up to the nineteenth century existed as a literary tradition describing the duties of the priestly or pastoral office and giving practical helps toward the fulfillment of the daily pastoral duties.1 Perhaps it can be said that American practical theology with its “how-to” approach and its heavy emphasis on empirical methods and findings, still stands largely in this pastoral theology tradition - with the difference that the old pastoral theology was deeply embedded in theology, while today in a more pragmatic type of practical theology, insights from psychology, sociology, and communication and management theories tend to take the central place, being adorned by some biblical thoughts and applied to a Christian setting. In Europe, on the other hand, since the early nineteenth century practical theology, influenced by an idealistic epistemology, has become a mainly theoretical theological discipline at the theological faculties of universities. Though twice there have been turns towards a more intense incorporation of empirical methods and findings into this rather unpractical “practical” theology (just after the turn of the century, and again since the mid-sixties), it still tends to stay in the more theoretical fields, taking care not to give too concrete practical instructions.2 The question is: How can practical theology be done in

a theologically legitimate and at the same time helpful way? This paper will offer some considerations on this issue. It will start with a reflection on the basically practical character of all of theology, and then will move on to consider the task and standards of practical theology, thus attempting to outline some basic prolegomena to the pursuit of this discipline.

I.

All theology needs to be eminently practical. Theology is reflection between practice and practice on the basis of ...

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