Praxis essentially means the practical application of a theory or skill. This model is therefore popular in practical theology, where people aim to make social change through theology.
The praxis model is influenced by Marxist thought, such as the idea of being subjects rather than objects of the historical process. It is optimistic that we can learn from the historical process. Reason is coupled with action. Theory is put into practice, which produces new theories. The new theory is a synthesis of the prior theory and results from the practice.
The focus on practical theology, social change and results makes this model ideal for liberation theologies. Here, theology is not a crystalized objective piece of truth. It is a response that develops in context of social change. Liberation theology does not divide between the secular and sacred, it views all human history as an ongoing concern to God.
It often engages theologically with themes, particularly themes of liberation, justice and healing. For example, the story of Exodus and slavery: a theological learning from this history could be that God’s plan is freedom from slavery and oppression (represented by Egypt). An acceptance or ambivalence to oppression returns us to ‘Egypt’, which is not what God intended.
This model can be a clearly defined process. It has even been broken down into steps that are worked through. The model begins with a number of starting points, such as:
- Personal experience
- Group questions
- Social concerns
- A theological concept
There doesn’t necessarily need to be only one starting point. Often many of these will overlap and inter-relate.
The model then employs a series of practical steps to analyse, action and evaluate the theological process at work.
Steps of the praxis model:
This step involves listening to the story at the core of the starting point. It engages with people, culture, a society and listens to their real world stories. What are their concerns? What has been their experience and history? What are their values? What is their present situation? What vision do they have for the future?
The next step broadens our understanding of the situation to encompass the wider context. It is a process of gathering information through other disciplines (e.g. law, social sciences, science), media sources, government and statutory bodies. This information is sorted and analysed to explore what critical questions are being raised, which may lead to expanding into new disciplines or further information.
The third step involves taking the critical questions arising in steps 1 & 2, the information and findings analysed in step 2, and then dialoguing with theological sources. The study brings in Scripture, religious and secular history, and the work of other theologians to begin weaving in theological reflections on the questions raised in the first two steps.
In this step, it is time to start drawing the strands together from the questions raised in the first two steps with the information and insights taken from steps 2 & 3. We then articulate a new theology with God and the chosen issue critically examined. This now forms a new view on how best to act.
The next step is planning how to action this new theology. This could be in terms of personal decisions, group action or involving a whole community. The new theology produces a plan on how to live out a spiritual response to the original issues for the better, focussing on wholeness and wellness.
The last, but not final step, in the process is to evaluate the theology articulated and planned. Is it shaping good practice and theology? Is the action and theory consistent with our perception of God? The evaluation is an ongoing and repetitive process. This is not ‘the end’ of the practice. These six steps could be grouped as one first meta-step towards a process that brings up many new questions. Each new one may start a whole new process, or perhaps just one question or issue will arise from the evaluation that begins about a new working through of the praxis model. It’s a repetitive cycle that seeks to maintain positive change by applying theological discussion to contemporary issues as they arise.
The major pitfall in this model is falling into the gap between reflection and action, where the person conducting the practice gets caught-up in only analysing and theorizing without taking any action. Or conversely they may get so caught-up in acting, they don’t take the time to evaluate progress, re-assess, and articulate and plan new responses as adjustment.
Another pitfall is that the process becomes rigid and inflexible, where the process itself begins controlling the theology rather than the people using it. Life doesn’t always fit into neat, prescribed steps so sometimes the practice will need tweaking to individual situations. As it is a practical model the key focus is always on serving the people using the model, not the people serving the model.
In summary, the praxis model is a method for doing practical, contemporary theology. It focuses on making positive change to individuals, groups and communities in ways that are in line with their faith.