Practical Theology and the Messiness of Life

Stephen Pattison wrote an article entitled, “A Vision of Pastoral Theology.” In the article, he places practical/pastoral theology in the realm of “soft knowledge.” He argues this type of knowledge comes from wisdom, intuition, and mystery. He further argues that practical theology thrives in the “messiness” of life. It is down to earth and real. Here is a helpful excerpt from the article.

Aristotle distinguished between practical reasoning, which helps to distinguish the proper course of action or conduct, and theoretical reasoning, which helps one to arrive at true statements and beliefs (Hampshire 1978, pp.23ff ). Pastoral theologies arise in the sphere of practical reasoning and that they need to engage more of the person than the faculty of reason. They help people to distinguish how they should act and be. More than this, the kind of knowledge which is contained and expressed in pastoral theologies, even in their written form, is transformational knowledge.

Transformational knowledge is soft knowledge.

[It] involves intuition, wisdom, and mystery in contrast to technical control … Transformational knowledge is a ‘peculiar’ amalgam, different from the method- ological knowledge sought by the humanities in their academic and scholarly pursuits. Members of the transformational disciplines are always faced with the ‘messy’ aspects of human life. (Patton 1990, p.70)

Transformational knowledge emanates in large part from the transitional realm of the symbol. Here reason and emotion, conscious and unconscious, intersect and interconnect to generate fundamental, if not necessarily verbally expressible, under- standings, hopes, fears and world views. It is in this dimension that religion operates and from which it gains its importance and significance. Transformational, knowledge is messy. It amounts to informal knowledge, personal knowledge and that elusive thing wisdom: the kind of knowledge which is very difficult to evaluate and assess by any kind of examination process. It arises from people’s experience of living and their dialogue (at all sorts of different levels) with experience.

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