Ray Anderson on theology as practical

Reading Ray Anderson is always good for the soul, the head, and the hands. He writes as one who is simultaneously clinician and patient – pointing ever away from himself to Christ as both God’s Act of reconciliation and God’s Word of revelation. Like all good theologians, Anderson does his theology apostle-like; that is, daily at the coalface with people in their doubt, grief, death, guilt and repentance. Not one word of the NT came from the pen of a cloistered cleric! NT theology was hammered out not from articles and commentaries and academic conferences but on the anvil of existential need, seeking at every turn to bring every situation under the scrutiny and grace, not of Scripture, but of Jesus Christ, mindful of the fact that Jesus did not come to preach the Gospel (or the Bible) so much as he came to make a Gospel to preach. Ray Anderson continues in this tradition … and that’s one reason why I love reading him.

Anyway, here’s a few sentences from his great introductory essay on practical theology:

‘What makes theology practical is not the fitting of orthopedic devices to theoretical concepts in order to make them walk. Rather, theology occurs as a divine partner joins us on our walk, stimulating our reflection and inspiring us to recognize the living Word, as happened to the two walking on the road to Emmaus on the first Easter (Lk 24) … At the center of the discussion of the nature of practical theology is the issue of the relation of theory to praxis. If theory precedes and determines practice, then practice tends to be concerned primarily with methods, techniques and strategies for ministry, lacking theological substance. If practice takes priority over theory, ministry tends to be based on pragmatic results rather than prophetic revelation … Barth, from the beginning, resisted all attempts to portray theory and praxis in opposition to one another, In his early Church Dogmatics he described any distinction between “theoretical” and “practical” as a “primal lie, which has to be resisted in principal”. The understanding of Christ as the light of life can be understood only as a “theory which has its origin and goal in praxis”‘. – Ray S. Anderson, The Shape of Practical Theology: Empowering Ministry with Theological Praxis (Downers Grove: IVP, 2001), 12, 14, 15.

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