I've just listened to these words by John Webster. They are part of his preamble to two lectures on discipleship which can be downloaded here. They have been like cool water in a dry and weary land:
When the perception of the abstractness of theology becomes widespread, "Practical Theology" tries to deal with the dissatisfaction generated by academic theology by presenting itself as a kind of corrective move. As a way of directing theology back to its proper concern with Christian action in the church. But whenever Practical Theology detaches itself from exegesis and dogmatics it ends up very quickly losing its own theological rationale. That is, it can turn into a proposal that theology becomes engaged by placing itself, as it were, between the church and the world, listening earnestly to what the world says about itself and then shaping Christian practice in response to that. And that move, I think, is little short of disastrous.
It's disastrous because it does what the church and its theology have no mandate to do, namely it takes the world seriously on the world's terms. On the assumption that the world knows, of itself, where it is and what it is. But taking the world seriously really means not taking it seriously on its own terms. That is, not accepting the supposed self-evidentness of the culture's reading of itself. Taking the world seriously means interpreting the world from the conviction that it is only in the light of the gospel that the world becomes intelligible. And if it's the task of practical theology to reflect on Christian practice it mustn't do so as if it served two masters: the gospel and the world. And it mustn't do so for the simple reason that the gospel either determines everything or it determines nothing. There are not two masters to be served. The gospel bears to us the universal and exclusive Lordship of Jesus Christ and He admits no rivals.
Forget the phrase "Practical Theology". How much of what passes for "evangelical theology" is really the service of two masters? More than this, how much service of two masters is championed precisely as the evangelical way of doing theology?