Practical Theology is the present probe of theology.
It is the professional reminder of the practical relevance of Christian faith in total and thus of any discourse about God. In this aspect, according to Rainer Bucher, difficult times for church and society are good times for Practical Theology. Few things seem more necessary nowadays than the salutary civilization of the potential for violence in religion and politics. Jürgen Habermas suspects it, Charles Taylor establishs it, Papst Franziskus advocates it: It is a matter of giving a discursive and at the same time religiously authentic voice to the vulnerable and threatened contemporary lives.
As an academic subject, Practical Theology cannot avoid three factors: The present, the concrete day-to-day lives and the gospel of the son of God, Jesus.
Do not avoid the present!
Practical theology is committed to the fleeting boundary between past and future: the present. Unlike biblical, historical or systematic theology, practical theology cannot escape into supposed certainties of the past, where the confusing diversity of intentions and events have already thinned out, where the sources provide a framework and the authoritative theologians (rarely only women theologians) have always already formulated what is normatively valid. Practical theology has to deal with the often irritating newness of the present and asks about the chances of realising the gospel in it. This is uncertain, vulnerable and always a risk. Or as Sören Kierkegaard put it: "Life can only be understood by looking backwards, but only lived by looking forwards". The world and what we know about it is changing so fast that nothing in church, Christianity and theology can be taken for granted any more. The test bench of religious faith traditions is thus no longer only the forum of reason, but above all its life-enabling practical relevance.
Do not avoid life practices!
Secondly, practical theology cannot withdraw into the language games of theoretical thinking or the worlds of meaning of formal logics. It must engage with problems of action that concrete life, in all its complexity, has in store for us. The whole thing is exciting because practical theology observes these problems of action as an academically responsible discourse. Thus the subject sits between many stools. At the university, it comes across as not academic enough because it has to sue the inherent logic of event and experience as places of knowledge. In the everyday life of individuals and the church, on the other hand, it is seen as too detached or not pious enough - in other words, as academic. This contrast produces a creative restlessness between life and doctrine, between dogma and pastoral. As an academic subject, therefore, it is not simply about mapping practice. It is about intellectual discourses that are irritated by the problems of non-academic life and formulated with practical problems in mind.
Do not avoid the Gospel of the God of Jesus!
And like all Christian theology, it cannot avoid the God of Jesus in all this because it refers to him. Practical theology is theology because it reckons with the reality of God as gospel, as good news, in the places and topics it deals with. The guiding distinction here is not religious/secular, but God/world. From the biblical testimony, theology is not first and foremost in the service of passing on a religious confession, but in the service of the possibilities of life promised by God to all people. This is the point of Jesus' Kingdom message. The Gospel makes no additional religious demands on us. It is only about the dare to let ourselves be touched by the endangered lives of others to the core of our faith and our own personal and social existence. Mt 11,5 formulates exactly this in biblical terms: "The blind see again, and the lame walk ... and the poor have the gospel preached to them". This is precisely the hot core of biblical traditions that is always bursting forth: to bear witness to a God who will have been an ultimately liberating event right into all our wounds, into all our existential fears and doubts of faith.