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Doing practical theology

21 March 2014

Alan Wilson finds a much needed clarity in this new guide


Researching Practice in Ministry and Mission: A companion
Helen Cameron and Catherine Duce
SCM Press £19.99
Church Times Bookshop £18 (Use code CT477 )

MISSION and ministry are hot-spots in contemporary theological research. The Church needs to know what is actually going on and why, so that it can then reflect on what God is saying through this. Religion has depths of subtlety and complexities of understanding, awareness, and praxis. How can researchers discover and interpret what is going on and why, and what ought to be?

This book is far richer than a simple how-to text. It will help anyone undertaking postgraduate study, sabbatical projects, articles, presentations, and other explorations of hands-on theology.

Many studies of Christian mission and ministry require classic disciplines of research in social sciences, but this is not enough to produce theological value. More is required than just a description of what seems to be going on by the people concerned.

The writers distinguish four voices that must be heard, mixed, balanced, and assessed - operant (what people actually do), espoused (what they say they do), normative (what was done in the tradition), and formal (theologians' attemptsto produce a whole picture). This approach will shape every stage of a project from design through research to delivery of the finished result.

Researchers are invited to begin by developing self-awareness about the roots of their own interest in their subject, and their motives as well as core research skills. This book does not even get on to the "how-to" gathering and analysis of data until chapter 7.

This excellent practical and theoretical handbook clarifies the whole world of research in applied theology. Using it should produce better-designed projects, with a clearer sense of purpose and use of the right tools, more relevant and carefully handled information, and better meetings with supervisors where these are involved.

Would that it had been available years ago!

Dr Alan Wilson is the Bishop of Buckingham.

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