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Practical theology is an academic discipline involving the theological examination of the practices of the church in its worship, pastoral ministry, fellowship, outreach, Christian education, and counseling. Practical theology highlights the fact that all theology is fundamentally practical in nature. It is the process by which theological truth informs and is integrated into every aspect of the life and worship of the church.


Theology (the study of God) is not theoretical knowledge detached from practical applicability. Rather, the word theology is used to express the fact that the truth that affects every aspect of our lives is divinely inspired revelation. There is no aspect of our lives that is to be left untouched by biblical doctrine.

In both the Old Testament and the New Testament, the truths, promises, warnings, admonitions, and encouragements of God’s Word come to bear on intricate aspects of the lives of members of the covenant community. The Apostle Paul explained the central role of Scripture in 2 Timothy 3:16–17 when he wrote, “All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work.” Every part of Scripture has been given by God to produce godliness in the lives of believers. For instance, the Psalms are essentially a manual for practical godliness in every aspect of the Christian life. The moral imperatives of Scripture are founded on the theological indicatives of Christianity. This is seen in the teaching of the Lord Jesus in the Sermon on the Mount and the Lord’s Prayer. Whether it is addressing matters related to food and drink, interpersonal relationships, marriage and divorce, work and rest, pastors and congregants, church and state, missions, education, financial ethics, or suffering, the Bible is an eminently practical book of theological truth for the everyday lives and interactions of believers.

Throughout church history, clerical manuals long held a significant place in the church in regard to practical theology. In AD 590, Gregory the Great wrote his Liber Regulae Pastoralis (The Book of Pastoral Rule) to address matters concerning the conduct of noblemen and pastors in the church. Toward the close of the medieval period, Guido of Monte Rochen’s Handbook for Curates became one of the most popular pastoral manuals in the church. In the seventeenth century, Richard Baxter’s The Reformed Pastor became a standard pastoral manual for ministers. In the nineteenth century, Charles Spurgeon wrote his famous Lectures to My Students. Martyn Lloyd-Jones’ 1969 Westminster Theological Seminary lectures on preaching (which later came to be published under the title Preaching and Preachers) are some of the most widely recognized practical-theological resources for ministers today.

The Protestant Reformation of the sixteenth century occasioned a renewed effort to produce theological works for the benefit of Christians in their quest for practical Christian living. John Calvin intended to produce a short manual on the Christian faith when he first began writing The Institutes of the Christian Religion. His chapter “On Christian Living” has been published numerous times under various titles over the centuries. It captures the essence of Calvin’s practical theology—namely, living and dying for God. Martin Luther also wrote a short book—A Simple Way to Pray—to be a brief manual on Christian living for his barber, Peter. These two works are indicative of many of the treatments of practical theology that sprang from the Reformation.

Included among those works of practical theology from the post-Reformation period is Jan Comenius’ allegory of the Christian life—The Labyrinth of this World. The Puritan movement of the seventeenth century was fundamentally a movement of practical theology. Many of the Puritan theologians were skilled in dealing with practical cases of conscience. One beloved and practical work from the Puritan period is John Bunyan’s The Pilgrim’s Progress, which allegorically tells the story of the Christian life.

In the nineteenth century, Dutch Reformed theologians Herman Bavinck and Abraham Kuyper made significant contributions to the impact of Christianity on the many facets of culture. Building on the labors of the Reformers, Bavinck and Kuyper fueled an application of our theological principles to politics, societal structure, and Christian education. The writings of these two men went on to form the basis for many other works in practical theology in the twentieth century—especially with regard to a renewed emphasis on Christian education.


Theology is the science of living blessedly forever.

William Perkins

The Golden Chain

Theology is the doctrine or teaching [doctrina] of living to God (Jn. 6:68, Acts 5:20, Rom. 6:11). It is called doctrine, not to separate it from understanding, knowledge, wisdom, art, or prudence—for these go with every exact discipline, and most of all theology—but to mark it as a discipline which derives not from nature and human inquiry like others, but from divine revelation and appointment (Is. 51:4, Mat. 21:25, Jn. 9:29, Gal. 1:11-12).

William Ames

The Marrow of Theology

The whole counsel of God concerning all things necessary for his own glory, man's salvation, faith and life, is either expressly set down in Scripture, or by good and necessary consequence may be deduced from Scripture: unto which nothing at any time is to be added, whether by new revelations of the Spirit, or traditions of men. Nevertheless, we acknowledge the inward illumination of the Spirit of God to be necessary for the saving understanding of such things as are revealed in the Word: and that there are some circumstances concerning the worship of God, and government of the church, common to human actions and societies, which are to be ordered by the light of nature, and Christian prudence, according to the general rules of the Word, which are always to be observed.

The study of theology, to the extent that it is true theology, is not sufficient, unless . . . it is earnestly devoted to practical theology and to practice.

Petrus Van Mastricht

Theoretical-Practical Theology