The utility of practical theology: mapping the domain, goals, strategies and criteria of practical theological research
Historically practical theology entered the theological encyclopaedia as a discipline of ‘crises’ in the praxis which ministers, congregations and churches experienced in making the Christian tradition relevant in the life of individuals, communities or in society as a whole. Among scholars in practical theology there is a deep consensus that practical theology starts with practical concerns and contributes to practice, but what is the utility of practical theology? This article want to ‘deconstruct’ the consensus that all practical theology is by default practical. If practical theology wants to construct knowledge about the improvement of practice, some strategies are preferable compared to other strategies. The question of utility refers to the methodological criteria of empirical research regarding (a) the object of research or the problem to be solved, (b) the needs of the stakeholders as to the research and its results and, (c) the type of knowledge to be produced. If utility is the target of practical theological research, then the question is which research strategies meet these methodological criteria better than other criteria. Some research strategies are strong on reaching certain goals, but are weak regarding other goals. It is only in the complexity of the type of knowledge, research strategy and methodological criteria that the focus on practice orientation can be decided.