Browning's Fundamental Practical Theology

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This presentation outlines and evaluates Don Browning's vision of A Fundamental Practical Theology. The presentation was prepared by Dr Kevin Smith, the Vice-Principal of the South African Theological Seminary.

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  • With reference to the phrases 'theology must be practical from beginning to end' qualifying that practice is at first 'theory-laden' but must follow the pattern 'practice-theory-practice' (paragraphs #12-15), carries a confusing argument. A practice having a theory 'behind and within' it should not be misconstrued that practice comes first (and ends as last). Both theory and practice are INTEGRAL to each other and should not be dissected nor the other be classified superior than the other in order, rank, or class. One can relatively start from any of the two and relatively end up with any of the two. No starting or ending point, i.e. theory or practice, is exclusively absolute in itself but a relative point that completes the circular whole. Thus, it could be said, that THEORY IMPLIES A CORRESPONDING PRACTICE and could also be presented as THEORY-PRACTICE-THEORY vice versa.
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  • The overall dynamic is reconstructing experience. It’s point of departure is the realisation that our inherited interpretations and practices are breaking down, and need to be reconstructed.The outer envelope is our worldview, our tradition-saturated vision and images of the way the world is. For the Christian, it is the grand narrative of the Bible.The inner core is our tradition-saturated experience, which is grounded in our vision of the way the world really is. Reconstructing experience requires a process of action-reflection-action. We reflect on our present action in the light of our tradition; we develop a new theory of action, informed by a re-examination and re-interpretation of our traditions.
  • Gadamer was concerned to distinguish the human sciences from the natural sciences, disciplines which study objects (in contrast to intentional human subjects) in the natural world.
  • Gadamer was concerned to distinguish the human sciences from the natural sciences, disciplines which study objects (in contrast to intentional human subjects) in the natural world.
  • Paul Tillich proposed a “correlational” approach. He argued that our cultural experience raises questions; we bring these questions to the Bible, which provides answers. It was a one-way correlation: experience raises questions; theology provides answers.
  • Browning's Fundamental Practical Theology

    1. 1. A Fundamental Practical Theology Don Browning By Kevin G. Smith
    2. 2. IntroductionDon Browning’s book, A Fundamental Practical Theology(Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 1991), is a seminal work onpractical theology in the American context. Every student ofpractical theology must have some understanding of Browning’sapproach.Browning outlines his approach to practical theology in theIntroduction and in Chapters 2-3. We are going to survey thoseportions of his book to get a working knowledge of his views ontheology and his approach to practical theology.Don Browning, A Fundamental Practical Theology
    3. 3. Outline1. Introduction to Fundamental Practical Theology2. The Philosophical Foundations of Fundamental Practical Theology3. The Four Tasks of Fundamental Practical Theology4. Evaluation and RecommendationsDon Browning, A Fundamental Practical Theology
    4. 4. From Practice to Theory and Back Again INTRODUCTION TO FUNDAMENTAL PRACTICAL THEOLOGYDon Browning, A Fundamental Practical Theology
    5. 5. Purpose and AudienceBrowning is writing for anyone who has asked, “In what way doreligious communities make sense?” It is for people seeking tounderstand how religious communities exhibit practical reason. Thistells us two things about his book: 1. Browning is interested in religious communities more than in individualistic theology. He believes that communities do theology and exhibit wisdom, and he wants to know how that works. 2. Browning’s target audience is people who are trying to understand religious communities and the type of wisdom that they embody.Don Browning, A Fundamental Practical Theology
    6. 6. PresuppositionsBrowning (1991:2) believes that religious communities (by whichhe means churches or congregations) are communities ofmemory and communities of practical reason. 1. As communities of memory they have history, tradition, and normative texts that inform their beliefs, values, and practices. 2. As communities of practical reason, they engage their ever- changing context in an attempt to remain faithful to the Lord and relevant to the world.Don Browning, A Fundamental Practical Theology
    7. 7. PhilosophiesBrowning draws together several key philosophies, basing hisapproach on them. 1. Aristotle’s practical wisdom (phronēsis) 2. Gadamer’s hermeneutical theory 3. Habermas’s critical theory 4. Congregational studies 5. Practical theology, the beleaguered sub-disciplineDon Browning, A Fundamental Practical Theology
    8. 8. Browning on the Rebirth “ The field of practical theology has beenof Practical Theology throughout its history the most beleaguered and despised of the(Browning 1991:3) theological disciplines. The discipline of theology itself has had few friends, even in the church. To admit in academic circles that one is a theologian has been, in recent years, to court embarrassment. To admit that one is a practical theologian invites even deeper skepticism. To admit in a major university that one is a practical theologian has been to invite humiliation. With the rebirth of the practical philosophies, practical theology itself has been reborn.”Don Browning, A Fundamental Practical Theology
    9. 9. Browning on the Rebirth “With the reemergence of theof Practical Theology practical philosophies, there has arisen a new fascination with terms(Browning 1991:3-4) such as practical reason, practical wisdom, phronesis, practice, praxis, justice, consensus, dialogue. conversation, and communication. This fascination suggests that Western societies are desperate to find ways to make shared and workable decisions about the common good and the common life.”Don Browning, A Fundamental Practical Theology
    10. 10. Approaches to Theology 1. Many theologians define theology “as systematic reflection on the historical self-understanding of a particular religious tradition” (Browning 1991:5). 2. “Barth saw theology as the systematic interpretation of Gods self-disclosure to the Christian church” (Browning 1991:5).Don Browning, A Fundamental Practical Theology
    11. 11. Approaches to TheologyBrowning criticises Barth’s approach for being too one-directional, theory to practice. It leaves no room forhuman understanding, action, or practice indetermining God’s will and purposes (i.e. it is nothermeneutical in Gadamer’s sense). It also means thattheology is only practical by applying theory topractice, so practical theology can only be appliedtheology in this model. (Barth would be representativeof evangelical theologians.)Don Browning, A Fundamental Practical Theology
    12. 12. Approaches to TheologyContrary to Barth’s approach, Browning believes theology mustbe practical from beginning to end. “We come to the theological task with questions shaped by the secular and religious practices in which we are implicated--sometimes uncomfortably. These practices are meaningful or theory-laden. By using the phrase theory- laden, I mean to rule out in advance the widely held assumption that theory is distinct from practice. All our practices, even our religious practices, have theories behind and within them” (Browning 1991:6).Don Browning, A Fundamental Practical Theology
    13. 13. Summary of Browning’s ApproachThis is how Browning sees the process of theological reflectionunfolding. 1. When we encounter a crisis, we begin to ask questions about our theory-laden questions. 2. We take time to describe our practices, so that we can understand the questions raised by the crisis. 3. We take our questions to our normative Christian texts, and start a critical conversation between our practices and our traditions. The two re-interpret each other. 4. We develop, defend, and deploy new interpretations of our normative texts, thus affecting our tradition and our practices.Don Browning, A Fundamental Practical Theology
    14. 14. Summary of Browning’s ApproachThe fundamental difference between Barth and Browning: 1. Barth’s approach studies theory (God’s revelation in scripture and in Christ), and then applies its findings to practice. It has a theory-to-practice movement. 2. Browning’s approach moves from practice to theory and then back to practice. He says, “it goes from present theory- laden practice to a retrieval of more normative theory-laden practice to the creation of more critically held theory-laden practices” (Browning 1991:7).Don Browning, A Fundamental Practical Theology
    15. 15. Summary of Browning’s ApproachBrowning is not proposing a model of practical theology, but avision for doing theology as a whole. He believes all theology isfundamentally practical, and must follow a practice-theory-practice design. He proposes that all theology requires four sub-specialities or sub-movements. 1. Descriptive theology 2. Historical theology 3. Systematic theology 4. Strategic practical theologyDon Browning, A Fundamental Practical Theology
    16. 16. Types of ReasonBrowning makes use of some Greek words that we need to know: 1. Pronēsis: Practical reason to think through real-life problems to answer the critical questions: (a) What shall we do? (b) How shall we live? 2. Theoria: Purely theoretical reason seeking to answer the dispassionate questions: (a) What is the case? (b) What is the nature of things?) 3. Technē: Purely technical reason seeking to answer the how-to question: What are the most effective means to a given end?Don Browning, A Fundamental Practical Theology
    17. 17. Diagram of Browning’s ModelBrowning holds that practical reason has an overall dynamic, anouter envelope, and an inner core. 1. Overall dynamic: the reconstruction of experience (because inherited interpretations are breaking down). 2. Outer envelope: the fund of inherited narratives and traditions (practical reason is tradition-saturated). 3. Inner core: the present experience and praxis of a faith community.Don Browning, A Fundamental Practical Theology
    18. 18. Purpose: Reconstruction of Experience Reflection Outer envelope: inherited narratives Inner Core: present experience Action Action ReflectionDon Browning, A Fundamental Practical Theology
    19. 19. Exploring Practical Wisdom and Understanding THE PHILOSOPHICAL FOUNDATIONS OF FUNDAMENTAL PRACTICAL THEOLOGYDon Browning, A Fundamental Practical Theology
    20. 20. Practical PhilosophyBrowning’s vision of practical theology is grounded in the rebirthof practical philosophy (phronēsis). 1. Research universities focus on theoretical knowledge (theoria) that is applied to solve human problems by means of technical reason (technē). 2. Practical philosophy or reason embraces critical reflection regarding the goals of human action, engaging with the past (tradition) and present (practice) to answer the questions: What shall we do? How shall we live?Don Browning, A Fundamental Practical Theology
    21. 21. Radical Implications• Browning argues that viewing theology through the lens of practical philosophy leads to the conclusion that all theology is practical theology.• “The sub-specialities of descriptive theology, historical theology, systematic theology, and strategic practical theology become movements within a fundamental practical theology” (Browning 1991:36).• All Christian leaders are constantly doing practical theology through dialogue or conversation.Don Browning, A Fundamental Practical Theology
    22. 22. Gadamer’s Thought• Gadamer is a philosopher trying to establish a firm philosophical foundation for the human and social sciences, disciplines which study the meaning of human actions (e.g. history, philosophy, psychology, sociology, and law).• Gadamer believed that all human understanding is acquired through dialogue or conversation. He believed that it is both impossible and unhelpful to be neutral or objective. We achieve understanding by entering into a dialogue in which we both acknowledge and use our pre-understanding to achieve understanding.Don Browning, A Fundamental Practical Theology
    23. 23. Gadamer’s Thought• Gadamer is proposing a hermeneutical approach to research. We reach an interpretation by engaging in a critical conver- sation. We reach an interpretation that is influenced by our pre-understanding, and which does not claim objective or final authority.• In Gadamer’s approach, application is not something that enters the conversation at the end. The entire conversation is shaped by practical concerns that emerge from the current situation.Don Browning, A Fundamental Practical Theology
    24. 24. Browning on the Browning says that Gadamer hashermeneutical natureof science underscored the hermeneutical(Browning 1991:40) and practical nature of all science. Gadamer has “helped us understand how all cultural [human and social] sciences and many if not all natural sciences can best be understood as dialectical movements from traditions of theory-laden practice to theory and back to new theory-laden practices.”Don Browning, A Fundamental Practical Theology
    25. 25. Gadamer’s ThoughtEffective History Biblical InterpretationThe events of the past shape We cannot approach thepresent historical conscious- biblical texts neutrally. Theyness. The past lives in the are already part of our world-present, which is a product of view. They influence thethe past. Our present inter- questions we bring to them,pretations are products of our and the questions we bringpast experiences. influence the answers we see.Don Browning, A Fundamental Practical Theology
    26. 26. A Critical Correlational ApproachCorrelational CriticalThe approach “correlates the Theology is “a mutually criticalconfessional beginning point of dialogue between inter-theology with questions pretations of the Christianshaped both by faith and by message and interpretations ofother aspects of our cultural contemporary culturalexperience” (Browning experiences and practices”1991:46). (Browning 1991:46).Don Browning, A Fundamental Practical Theology
    27. 27. A Critical Correlational Approach• Paul Tillich proposed a simple correlational approach, a one- way conversation in which experience raises questions, and theology provides answers.• David Tracy proposed a critical correlational approach, a two- way conversation in which our interpretations of the Christian message and our interpretations of the present situation interpret each other. They influence and shape each other!• Don Browning embraces Tracy’s critical correlational model, which he also calls the revised correlational model.Don Browning, A Fundamental Practical Theology
    28. 28. David Tracy’s Definition ofPractical Theology “ Practical theology is the mutually critical correlation(Tracy 1983:76) of the interpreted theory and praxis of the Christian faith with the interpreted theory and praxis of the contemporary situation.”Don Browning, A Fundamental Practical Theology
    29. 29. The Four Sub-Movements THE FOUR TASKS OF FUNDAMENTAL PRACTICAL THEOLOGYDon Browning, A Fundamental Practical Theology
    30. 30. The Four Sub-Movements1. Descriptive Theology2. Historical Theology3. Systematic Theology4. Strategic Practical TheologyDon Browning, A Fundamental Practical Theology
    31. 31. 1. Descriptive Theology• The task of descriptive theology is to describe the theory-laden practices that give rise to the practical questions which generate theological reflection.• Descriptive theology analyses the cultural and religious meanings that surround our religious practices.Don Browning, A Fundamental Practical Theology
    32. 32. 1. Descriptive Theology• Descriptive theology uses a hermeneutical methodology. It is a dialogue between the researcher and the subjects; he brings his pre- understanding into the dialogue with their actions, meanings, and pre-understandings.Don Browning, A Fundamental Practical Theology
    33. 33. 2. Historical Theology• “Historical theology asks, What do the normative texts that are already part of our effective history really imply for our praxis when they are confronted as honestly as possible?” (Browning 1991:49)• In other words, in this step we bring the questions raised by our descriptive theology to the word of God. As open-mindedly as we can, we ask what the scriptures really teach concerning our questions.Don Browning, A Fundamental Practical Theology
    34. 34. 2. Historical Theology• For Browning, the normative texts include the scriptures and other Christian classics. Each faith tradition determines what it considers to be its classical or normative texts.• Therefore, Browning’s historical theology covers the traditional disciplines of biblical studies, church history, and the history of doctrine.Don Browning, A Fundamental Practical Theology
    35. 35. 3. Systematic TheologyBrowning’s understanding of systematic theology is different toan evangelical view of it. • Systematic theology is an “effort to investigate general themes of the gospel that respond to the general questions that characterize the situations of the present” (Browning 1991:51). • Through a correlation of descriptive and historical theology, systematic theology seeks a fresh interpretation of the Christian faith relevant to the present situation.Don Browning, A Fundamental Practical Theology
    36. 36. 3. Systematic TheologySystematic theology endeavours to answer two keyquestions (Browning 1991:51-52): 1. Theological: What new horizon of meaning is fused when questions from present practices are brought to the central Christian witness? 2. Apologetic: What reasons can be advanced to support the validity claims of this new fusion of meaning?Don Browning, A Fundamental Practical Theology
    37. 37. 4. Strategic Practical 1. How do we understand thisTheology concrete situation in which we must act?Questions directthinking, and they 2. What should be our praxis inusually arise from this concrete situation?real-life problems thatrequire action. 3. How do we critically defend theStrategic practical norms of our praxis in thistheology seeks to concrete situation?answer four questions, 4. What means, strategies, andculminating in theory rhetorics should we use in thisof action. concrete situation?Don Browning, A Fundamental Practical Theology
    38. 38. 4. Strategic Practical Theology• The fourth question deals with communicative action in service of the gospel, the traditional focus of the final stage of practical theology.• The traditional operational fields of practical theology are still present, including liturgies, homiletics, education, care, and social action ministries.Don Browning, A Fundamental Practical Theology
    39. 39. Summary1. Descriptive theology provides a thick description of religious and cultural practices.2. Historical theology directs the questions that emerge towards the normative texts.3. Systematic theology correlates generic features of the Christian message with generic features of the present situation.4. Strategic practical theology establishes the norms and strategies of concrete practices in light of analyses of concrete situations.Don Browning, A Fundamental Practical Theology
    40. 40. So what do we make of Browning’s vision and model? EVALUATION AND RECOMMENDATIONSDon Browning, A Fundamental Practical Theology
    41. 41. Practice-Theory-Practice• Browning helped to established practice-theory- practical as the standard design for practical theology. He made a strong case for using a practice-theory-practice model.• Evangelicals can certainly use the practice-theory- practice design. Much evangelical theology uses this approach to its advantage.Don Browning, A Fundamental Practical Theology
    42. 42. Practice-Theory-Practice• In my opinion, Browning overstates his position in insisting that all theology must follow the practice-theory-practice design.• Insisting on a practice-theory-practice approach may be compelling for liberal theology, where is there is no normative revelation from God and empirical research is the primary source of knowledge.• However, for evangelicals a theory-practice approach remains a serious option, since it is well suited to expounding the implications of God’s self-disclosure for modern contexts.Don Browning, A Fundamental Practical Theology
    43. 43. Hermeneutical Approach• Browning advocates a hermeneutical approach to theological reflection. This implies that we recognise our pre-understanding and accept that all our conclusions are tentative interpretations, and do not represent the final word on the matter.• I wholeheartedly concur! All theology, and to some extent all science, is hermeneutical in this sense.Don Browning, A Fundamental Practical Theology
    44. 44. Critical Correlational Approach• Browning advocates critical correlational methodo- logy. Our interpretation of scripture (and tradition) guides the reformation of our practice, but similarly our interpretation of practice guides the re- interpretation of scripture.• I partially concur with this, although I think it runs the risk of giving praxis greater weight than we give scripture. Our exegesis of scripture must be primary, although we know our experiences influence it.Don Browning, A Fundamental Practical Theology
    45. 45. Descriptive Theology• Browning argues that theology begins with a thick description of present theory-laden practices, which raises questions for theological reflection. His model allows the thick description to use empirical methods, but does not require it.• I like Browning’s balanced, open approach towards the need for empirical research. A thick description of praxis can be an excellent starting point for doing theology, but often a ‘thin description’ is sufficient.Don Browning, A Fundamental Practical Theology
    46. 46. Historical Theology• Browning believes we must take questions raised by our praxis and experience to our normative texts, and that this process should include biblical exegesis, church history, and the history of doctrine.• Yes, I agree! All theology should include these elements in its process. My approach to exegesis would, of course, differ from his because of our different theological convictions.Don Browning, A Fundamental Practical Theology
    47. 47. Systematic Theology• For Browning, systematic theology is exploring the correlation between themes from the Christian message and our interpretation of theory-laden practices and experiences. Its objective is to develop and defend fresh theological syntheses for the new context.• As an evangelical, I find this vision of systematic theology inadequate. Systematic theology must synthesise all that God has revealed in the scriptures and state the relevance and implications of his revelation for our context.Don Browning, A Fundamental Practical Theology
    48. 48. Strategic Practical Theology• The four questions that Browning proposes that the strategic sub-movement must answer are excellent, and provide a good guideline for the movement from theological formulation to a theory of action in a concrete situation.Don Browning, A Fundamental Practical Theology
    49. 49. ConclusionDon Browning’s book remains a seminal work in the field ofpractical theology, and has much to teach all theologians.His contributions with respect to the two practical portionsof practice-theory-practice model are excellent, as well ashis case for a hermeneutical, critical, correlational, anddialogical approach to all theology, is helpful. Hisperspectives about how to do the central theory formationportion of theology is inadequate from an evangelicalperspective, and needs to be adapted.Don Browning, A Fundamental Practical Theology
    50. 50. Thank you for studying this presentation. THE ENDDon Browning, A Fundamental Practical Theology

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