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"Very worthy and very boring"

I was talking to someone over the weekend about some university changes that impact on my research work and through which I am trying to navigate/negotiate a workable route alongside a geopraphical move.

"It all sounds very worthy and very boring," she said "I'd far rather be at the coal face."  When I pointed out I am at the 'coal face' as well and that's the whole point of practical theology she dismissed the whole field as "not proper theology, just a load of unreflected experience."  Her final comment, when I said that Moltmann asserted all good theology is ultimately practical theology was "pah, you'd never see him on a pastoral cycle."  Maybe not, but I was left with a lovely mental image on him on a bicycle!

It's a good job tongue-biting is on my list of competencies.

How does one win, I wondered.  Practical theology does indeed need some sustained theoretical work, which is precisely what I am trying to do - even if it is deemed 'boring' and 'not practical' albeit 'worthy' - but a lot of theorists deem it 'improper.'

As I pondered the comments, and the likely underlying reasons, I concluded that one of the problems of practical theology is that, alas, a lot of stuff is peddled under this banner that perhaps isn't really theology (as one of its advocates, Stephen Pattison would, I suspect, readily concede) and a lot of people who don't 'get it' cheerfully throw out the baby with the bathwater.  All of which makes my 'worthy and boring' foray into the theorectical aspects of a practical field all the more pertinent I guess.

Just maybe this gives me the kick up the backside I need to continue at a point where exit routes appear especially attractive (not least as they offer more letters for less work!!)


  • I may not be as good a pastor as I ought to be or could be but I am alot better that i would have been without having had the chance to study and reflect theologically at some of the practical edges of disicpleship.

    The 'way to win' as you ask, is surely to have people remind you of your calling ... if God calls you to pastoral life and academic life as well, then it is God who has decided that, it is your place to follow to what are surely both equally challenging coal face places to be. Ultimately it is about vocation.

    By the way I heard Moltmann speak at a Bonhoeffer conference i attended last year, even had breakfast with him, and he (like many other if not most theolgians today) seemed deeply committed to the pastoral and missional life of the church

    Keep on keeping on

  • Sorry you had to bite your tongue; hope the resulting blister doesn't hurt!! But how frustrating to get that kind of response. As one who has done each and both, I know what you mean - and keeping going, knowing that this is where God has put you now is the way we all survive. And yes - I will read your paper this week (probably tomorrow morning, as one of my meetings has just been cancelled....)

  • Hi both, thank you for your comments and encouragement.

    Some tricky juggling lies ahead as I (re-)negotiate how to take my work forward but hopefully it can be resolved satisfactorily.

  • I hate it when sincere and effective Christians, committed to their own calling, rubbish yours because it isn't like theirs. As though God only had one set of off-the-shelf gifts to distribute to the church and the rest didn't count.

    My own tongue biting in such circumstances usually spares everyone a long and rambling exposition of 1 Corinthians 12 and ends up with me preaching 1 Corinthians 13 privately to myself afterwards until I've got the message!

    Anyway, follow your calling with enthusiasm and may God bless the gifts you have undoubtedly been given - once you've worked out how to make that happen.

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