Practical theology is an academic discipline that examines and reflects on religious practices in order to understand the theology that is enacted in those practices and in order to consider how theological theory and theological practices can be more fully aligned, changed, or improved. Richard Osmer explains that the four key questions and tasks in practical theology are:
- What is going on? (descriptive-empirical task)
- Why is this going on? (interpretative task)
- What ought to be going on? (normative task)
- How might we respond? (pragmatic task)
Practical theology consists of several related sub-fields: applied theology (such as missions, evangelism, religious education, pastoral psychology or the psychology of religion), church growth, administration, homiletics, spiritual formation, pastoral theology, spiritual direction, spiritual theology (or ascetical theology), political theology, theology of justice and peace and similar areas. It also includes advocacy theology, such as the various theologies of liberation (of the oppressed in general, of the disenfranchised, of women, of immigrants, of children, and black theology). Practical theology may also include practices of Christians caring for others as Christ cared for the poor. Dr. Christian D. Boyd also writes about a new perspective of practical theology called "convergent practical theology" which has emerged from the combined studies and practice of missiology with organizational development since the publication of "Missional Church" by Darrell Guder et al.
- Osmer, Richard Robert (2008). Practical Theology: An Introduction. William B Eerdmans. p. 4.
The Core Tasks of Practical Theological Interpretation
- Gerben Heitink, Practical theology: history, theory, action domains: manual for practical theology (Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing, 1999)
- Christian Boyd, "Formed and Always Being Reformed as a Community Under the Cross", Luther Seminary, Doctoral Thesis, May 30, 2010. p. 9-11; 30-34.