Practical theology: The past, present and future of a concept

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David Grumett


This paper argues that if practical theology is to be sustainable in the academy it must engage more closely with Scripture, doctrine and tradition and, in so doing, attempt to address the whole of material life. More particularly, he argues, there are dangers in a purely pastoral understanding of practical theology, since the temptation is to derive this from secular sources. Practical theology, however, is also closely related to Christian ethics, opening the further possibility that one of the tasks of practical theology might be to study and critique aspects of the secular social and political order. Turning to the nature of practice itself, Grumett reflects on Alasdair MacIntyre’s definition of practice as a complex, socially rooted, co-operative activity, through which goods intrinsic to that endeavour are actualised in the course of attaining the standards of excellence native to that activity. Grumett suggests that MacIntyre is too dependent on Aristotelian ethics which are, ultimately, epistemologically self-referential, proposing instead a proper dualism of practice and doctrine. The implications of practice as a (pre)condition for understanding are then unfolded in a profoundly illuminating way.

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