For Life Abundant: Practical Theology, Theological Education, and Christian Ministry

For Life AbundantBass, Dorothy C., and Craig Dykstra, eds. For Life Abundant: Practical Theology, Theological Education, and Christian Ministry. Grand Rapids, Mich: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 2008. 384 pp. ISBN-13: 978-0802837448

Practical theology attends to such vital questions as these: How might a way of life that is truly life-giving in and for the sake of the world be best understood and described? How might contemporary people come to live this life more fully? How can the church best foster such a way of life for the sake of its own faithfulness and for the good of all creation? How can the church’s ministers best lead and encourage this? What kinds of learning and teaching is necessary and adequate to educate and form ministers who are able to lead and shape communities for such a life?

Dorothy Bass and Craig Dykstra have gathered the thinking and experience of a dozen other respected scholars and ministers to explore such questions in For Life Abundant. These writers understand the goal of theological education to be service to the ministry, which itself is done “to foster discipleship, which in turn exists not for its own sake but also for the sake of God and all creation.”  This collection of essays will be useful to pastors, theological educators, as well as to thoughtful congregational members.

Focusing on the goal (telos) of practical theology, not on its methodology, these essays are arranged in five sections. Part I focuses on “Envisioning Practical Theology.” Bass contributes an essay on “Ways of Life Abundant,” setting forth a vision of Christian life. Dykstra follows with “Pastoral and Ecclesial Imagination,” which itself may be worth the price of the book. Kathleen Cahalan and James Nieman then offer an overview of the field of practical theology.

Part 2 explores “Practical Theology in the Classroom,” offering thinking about the challenges of teaching ministry. Cahalan provides an essay on introducing ministry and integrating classroom teaching and ministry skills. John Witvliet considers what it means to teach worship as a Christian practice and Neiman attends to teaching the ritual practices of liturgy. Bonnie Miller-McLemore closes the section with an essay on embodying “theological know-how.”

Part 3 addresses the topic of  “Practical Theology in the Wider Academy.” Serene Jones writes about the relationship between systematic and practical theology as disciplines. David Daniels III and Ted Smith consider how one might teach history as a practice and its relationship to practical theology. Finally Thomas Long offers a helpful piece dealing with doctoral study in the field of practical theology.

Part 4, “Practical Theology in Ministry,” contains four essays that ministers will find immediately useful. Christian Scharen writes about the realities of learning to do ministry over time, the ways in which one learns to embody practical wisdom. In the words of Dykstra’s opening essay, Scharen is dealing with the development of “pastoral imagination.” David Wood contributes his thinking about the transition between seminary and the congregation and suggests ways in which we might manage those boundaries more intentionally. Peter Marty considers how pastoral leadership is involved in the spiritual formation of the congregations they serve. And finally, Gordon Mikoski evaluates the impact of youth pilgrimages to Israel as a part of forming and educating disciples for abundant life.

Part 5 contains a single brief essay called “In Anticipation,” in which the editors simply “summon” (their word) pastors, educators, and congregations to live into this vision of abundant life for the sake of the world, being lived out in congregations, led by prepared ministers, trained in schools by theological educators that keep the vision before them.

Recommended by Dr. R. Robert Creech, Professor of Christian Ministries and Director of Pastoral Ministries at Truett Seminary