Friday, September 13, 2013

How to Think Theologically (Part 4—Final): Theological Reflection in Community and Spiritual Formation

Chapter 8: Theological Reflection in Christian Community
Any theological reflection on Christian vocation (see previous post) must be rooted in the real-life context of our daily choices and interactions with others. For this reason, Stone and Duke claim that a deliberative theology must also be a critical theology in the sense that it takes critical thinking skills for such a deliberative theology to be effective (or even possible). Specifically, each real-life situation that deserves a theological response must be well described/defined and go through a period of questioning to establish the right course of action based upon the criteria of Christian values. Finally, a decision must be made using the information attained by questioning and analysis. “Critical thinking that stagnates at observation and analysis is self-indulgent. We must decide. Fear of being wrong is no excuse; it is a risk every theologian takes” (p.119). This entire process, according to the authors, must take place under the auspices of the Christian community. “Theological reflection is insufficient if it is done in isolation. Theological reflection occurs in the context of community. Because it is communal, it is also collaborative and dialogical” (p.120). While the question “What is the Christian to do?” may be an intensely personal question, it is by no means individualistic. Iron, as we all well know, sharpens iron (Prov. 27:17).           
Chapter 9: Forming Spirit
               In this chapter, Stone and Duke explore the role of spiritual formation in “enrich[ing], balanc[ing], and inform[ing] our theological reflection” (p.125). We do this, the authors say, through worship and spiritual discipline that helps us mature in our faith. We must also adopt a “trenches hermeneutic” that allows us to prepare ourselves in advance to make deliberative theological decisions for those times in which we are called to act with little time to prepare or critically reflect on our circumstances.
               This was among my favorite chapters of the book, and—according to the Preface to the Second Edition—it was a later enhancement of the text. It was a much-needed, well considered, and worthy addition. The acknowledgement by the authors that we do not always have the luxury of an extended period of critical thought when dealing with theological reflection was particularly helpful. Instead, we must do the reflecting ahead of time as a spiritual discipline. One example that immediately comes to mind is the action taken by the Amish community affected by the school shooting that took place at a one-room Amish schoolhouse in Nickel Mines, Pennsylvania, on October 2, 2006. Gunman Charles Roberts ordered all the boys to leave the school, then bound the girls and executed each of them in the classroom before turning the gun on himself. In the aftermath, two factions of the Amish community visited the family of the gunman independently of one another—one group visited his wife and children while another separate group went to his parents—to offer forgiveness and encouragement. The Amish community at Nickel Mines embodied the spiritual formation of deliberate theology that Stone and Duke describe in this final chapter because they had—in the words of Donald Kraybill—“forgiveness readiness.” It is cases precisely like that of the Nickel Mines Amish that illustrate the redemptive power to be found in a deliberative Christian theology molded by intentional spiritual discipline.

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