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Category: Pastoral and Practical Theology

In a Glass Darkly: The Bible, Refection and Everyday Life

In a Glass Darkly: The Bible, Refection and Everyday Life

In a Glass Darkly: The Bible, Reflection and Everyday Life

Zoe Bennett, Christopher Rowland   SCM Press £25

(978-0-334-05422-1)

 

Moments of honesty and candour can be both refreshing and threatening in equal measure. I recently heard an intelligent and energetic parish priest make a passionate plea for Christians to be more honest about change and decline in organised religious life. The question and challenge was put so positively it was difficult to hear the plea as anything else but creative.

 

There are a number of fundamental theological questions associated with our understanding of contemporary religious experience and practice. This book, by a practical theologian and biblical scholar, reminds its reader of the importance of implementing and practising the fruits of decades of critical reflection on the Bible. We are reminded of the effects of a distorted handling of sacred texts, which lead to inhuman behaviour and broken lives. Religion has as much potential for harm as it has for good.

A further theme embodied here continues to illuminate and stimulate our spiritual curiosity. Art, poetry and music have the power to enable us to understand our human endeavours and give expression to our hopes and fears, our longings and vulnerabilities. In this book Bennett takes John Ruskin and Rowland William Blake and uses the poet and artists experience to dig deeper into their mutual journey of self-discovery as theologians. It is a journey of self-discovery and mutual learning.

The Bible is a core foundation in the Christian life and the chapters of this book model how we might read the Bible in such a way that holds together in creative dialogue with experience of life within our particular context. We see in process of reflection in this book how tradition and experience are inextricably intertwined.

In this commitment to a search for self-discovery and theological truth, we need to be aware of the limitations of tradition and critical of our own seeing and knowing. In this self-awareness both authors continue to demonstrate how we might find in Scripture life, wholeness and salvation.

This wisdom is achieved in and through the authors’ dialogue and reflected creatively in these chapters. There is challenge and a constant demand that we examine our assumptions in the nurture and practice of faith. Criticism, self-examination and a preparedness to be unsettled is a central theme as the text takes seriously Socrates, “For a human being the unexamined life is not worth living.” The reader will need to engage both head and heart to stimulate what might be described as a creativity of suspicion.

 

The starting point is the revelation of St John. We acknowledge the reality of this present world and express our longing for it to be different. The conviction that the present age has never more been in need of the Christian faith runs throughout the reflective contours of these reflections. What might it mean to celebrate the reality that the present order is passing away and a new order breaking in? What kind of church and religious practice might support this radical transformation? Feminism, liberation theology and a shared commitment to put theology to work shapes the quality of each chapter. Theory and practice must be held together if we are to discover a way of embracing exile. We also need Scripture to help us understand the delusions and corruptions of modern society. Reflexivity is part, a crucial part of our discipleship. This is hard work but hopeful work. It is in the words of St Paul (taken as the title) this is to see in a glass darkly.

 

Some of theology has become far too fragmented. Scholars and practioners need to model the process of dialogue modelled here. Theologians working across their academic specialisms of philosophy, hermeneutics, systematics, history and practical theology would do well to find a conversation partner and to see what emerges through friendship within intellectual endeavour.

This book will certainly find its way into reading lists here at Sarum College despite its cost – a gentle plea to the publishers to enable accessibility to such good practical theology!

 

James Woodward

Sarum College and The University of Winchester

 

Bradbury on Practical theology and Pierre-Andre Liege : Book Review

Bradbury on Practical theology and Pierre-Andre Liege : Book Review

Practical theology and Pierre-Andre Liege : Radical Dominican and Vatican II Pioneer

Nicholas Bradbury

AshGate 2015 £65.00 ISBN 9781472418708

 

This is giant of a text from the priest with long experience of ministry, learning, leadership and reflective practice. The coherence and authority of this experience and skill as a reflective practitioner is demonstrated through the ten chapters that explore the life and work of Pierre-Andre Liege. One of the foremost French theologians of the 20th century, Liege influenced John XXIII and Paul VI. He was present during some of the committee work of the Vatican II with both the future John Paul II and Benedict XVI. Bradbury establishes a legacy forged out of struggle, critical engagement with the nature of theology and some innovative pioneering pastoral work. There is an authenticity about this work, which is rooted in decades of engagement, reflection and practice.

Its central thesis is that this French Catholic friar, who died nearly four decades ago has much to teach us about Pastoral theology. The arguments set out in these 10 chapters is all the more compelling as Bradbury applies some of this theological legacy to engage with ministry and theological learning 21st-century Britain. Here is a framework that offers us the opportunity to see the world in the name of the gospel. In order to do this we have to be both inculturated and countercultural.

 

Timothy Radcliffe in the forward offers us this image,

 

‘The church is like a tree. She can only flourish if she is herself, with her own character and life… But the church is only alive if it is interacting with all that is around it, like the tree, open to the air and the soil, in constant exchange with its environment’ (p ix)

A challenging and organising presupposition of this volume is transformation and a commitment to theology as a source for rejuvenating the People of God. It follows that in order to deepen the wisdom of our faith as something which is both pastoral and practical then we shall need to fall in love (again) with theology. This is a significant task as we learn the language of theology and connect it with the struggle to live authentically.

Very few research projects do not have a significant element of personal autobiography. In the introduction, Bradbury explains his journey of faith influenced by the Community of the Resurrection at Mirfield and as a choirboy at Christ Church Oxford. Theological study is influenced by Nineham, Tillich and H.A. Williams and was put to work in testing and demanding communities in South London and North London. As these influences are mapped, the reader notes the fundamental importance of how and where we learn our theology. The process of growing and maturing that takes place across the life-cycle opens up an acknowledgement of our ‘knowing’ as a constant and never-ending process. Bradbury sets a tone in these opening pages of being ready to live with questions and seek always to go deeper into our experience.

Chapter One sets Liege in the context of mid-20th-century French Catholicism and an anachronistic theology largely inherited from the Middle Ages that had become defensive and created a church under siege. Perhaps implicit in this picture is the encouragement to 21st-century European Christians that ironically and paradoxically despite all of the marginalisation and decline of the Church the years from 1930 to 1960 became the golden age for French theology. If we in our day are feeling marginalised, misunderstood or dismissed then what might be the potentiality for theological transformation? Bradbury is drawn into the militant and progressive voice. We learn about a movement of lay people demanding to be taught a realistic apologetic. Rejecting authoritarian prohibitions there was a call for a spirituality, which takes human love seriously.

 

The argument here is that those of us who would wish to develop a systematic and coherent Pastoral theology must be fully immersed in new contexts and practices. What might it mean for us to re-constitute theological soil for new and different practice for human flourishing? What does theological renewal look like? There are some implications here as Bradbury describes the significant and ongoing conflict with Rome (pages 19ff) for the necessary resistance of any centralised authority (in this case the Pope) to control belief or practice for mission and ministry. We need, perhaps to reassess the nature of authority and how it is exercised in order to become more radical, more theological, and more transformational. The context within which Liege wrote was not in any way anti-intellectual or obsessive about social activism. It committed itself to a deeper understanding of theology which liberated its ideas from second-hand constructs locked into doctrinal  armour. The adventure of learning theology was to engage with the sources of the faith so as to be able to know and love them personally.

 

Chapter 2 paints a portrait of Liege the man. His family background, education, Dominican studies, ministry and theology are described giving the reader a sense of the man and his motivations, his church and his drivenness. Here is innovation, a deep desire to make a difference and a theology that manages to be both concrete and experimental. We learn of his work with the Second Vatican Council (p42ff) and something of Liege’s personality, his passionate confidence in God and rootedness in faith. ‘Where was the eloquent witness of joy in life and freedom as children of God who were able to radiate simply because of the knowledge of being immensely loved? ( Liege asks) It follows that it is up to each of us to show the Church as an assembly of free people, concerned with the liberation of the whole being’ (p49).

 

In Chapter 3 Bradbury looks set how theology, and what kind of theology shapes Pastoral theology. He is realistic about both the possibilities and problems associated with getting inside Liege’s thought world and modes of expression. Here perhaps we see some of the foundations of why Bradbury finds the tradition of French Catholic theology so attractive. There is a quality of the training in depth in philosophy (and possibly history too) before theology. This rigorous and lengthy process seems hardly imaginable in today’s academy or church. Bradbury describes a distinctive quadrilateral – the Word of God; faith; theology and the life of the church as set out by Liege. The Section on the description of faith is especially compelling – we learn about a grasp of the nature of faith, which is always and successively seen as conversion, justification, illumination and penetration of the Christian mystery. (Page 66). Faith is also described as knowledge of interiority (page 68). We should also note the originality of Liege, especially as a theologian who used the phrase –People of God – long before its popularisation. We are drawn into an admiration for the argument for a modern, reformed approach to the world. The world belongs to the divine intention and should not be regarded as alien or godless.

 

Bradbury sets out Liege’s pioneering pastoral theology from 1955 to 1977 in Chapter 4. There is something contemporary in this discussion. How do we make theology more practical? (page 81). Our sense of the man is enlarged as we read, ‘for Liege faith was a living, breathing affair; a personal adventure and commitment costing not less than everything. It combined head and heart. It was not an emotional enthusiasm disconnected from thought. On the contrary, it was the fruit of hard philosophical and theological labour enriched with sharp observation of people and nature, a passion for literature and an interest in the human sciences.’ (p77). There is here also some anticipation of some of the realities of 21st Century church life. During this period in the mid-20th century we learn of the conviction that the era of Christianity was over and that it was important to move forward and articulate the gospel to the modern world in different and more credible ways. Traditional Christianity as currently expressed by the church is described as moribund and theology had an inability to communicate, inspiring more fear than love; more negativity and constriction than life and creativity. (p79). Liege expresses a deep desire for human, spiritual and congregational growth.

 

As Bradbury describes this pioneering pastoral theology it is clear that there is a heavy emphasis on content and its relationship to dogmatics. It is always related to action (‘Pastoral theology’s task is to work out how faithfully to adapt appropriately rather than to get stuck in unmoving, fixed positions. It must unite freedom and truth as the spirit is united to history’ (p88)). The inevitable implication for this is the integration of Pastoral and practical theology in every aspect of Christian living in community. We note the radical place of this discipline in building a transformed picture of the church and its very purposes (page 127). This is a Pastoral theology, which has many functions: contemplative and doxological, apologetic, critical, hermeneutic and poetic (p100).

 

Chapter 5 discusses Liege and practical theology in France and Canada since his death in 1979. It is interesting to note that Protestant theologians did not keep abreast of Roman Catholic Pastoral theology. Bradbury argues (page 114) the Church of England’s failure to read the signs of the time and engage critically with its culture is part of its defensive resistance to new and different thinking. There are important and ongoing questions about who does theology and the relationship of power and agency within those institutions that make competing claims about the authority and ownership of the tasks of theological education. Bradbury reminds us that there has been an institutional loss of authority and a general loss of faith as the gap increases between what is official and what people actually practice. (Page 117).

 

Chapter 6 is an impressive contextualisation of Liege in the place of British Pastoral theology as an emerging and developing discipline. The reader is faced with intriguing questions about how we train clergy and what the curriculum might look like. We are asked to reflect on why British practical theology has no equivalent to writing like Liege’s. Bradbury asserts that corporate Christian life and the Church of England seems more a matter of taste or local tradition. There is no corporate catechetics, mission or formation (page 127).

 

Here we see articulated by Bradbury what we might learn from the distinctive vision of Liege – ‘Deep in the Church of England’s mind-set there is a reluctance to act on the corporate nature of belonging to the church. It seems acceptable to belong as a consumer on your own terms to suit your own tastes.….. Learning and mission are not its core activities. Learning is optional.’ (p127).

 

It is worth noting that Bradbury offers a very realistic but often unarticulated view of the role of the writing of Wesley Carr. He critiques Carr’s work and its language as too abstract, too difficult, too theoretical and insufficiently illustrated with concrete examples to be of any practical use (page 141). We listen to a plea for a popular and accessible discourse that can change practice. How can we interpret people’s experience of life in relation to God and thus put them into a divine perspective? The challenge continues when we explore an ecclesiology of Anglicanism which is described as an organisation more based on religion than on faith (page 147). If religious attitudes in Britain are an amalgam of beliefs constructed from upbringing, education and the culture of eclectic secular pluralism then we need a theological revolution with pastoral and practical theology at the heart of the task of learning and making connections.

 

Chapter 7 translates some significant and at times over stated assertions into a fictional narrative about a parish and its life between the years 1948 and 1984. Bradbury demonstrates what putting Liege’s theology into practice might look like. He maps out a programme of teaching, a model of ministry, an approach to witness and discipleship. Bradbury emphasises the importance of the training of the leader. This is a playful, aspirational narrative but one which could be profitably used for theological formation and reflection. Bradbury demonstrates his own ability as a practical theologian in offering a plan of action for praxis.

 

Finally chapter 8 and chapter 9 articulate learning about catechetics and practical theology. How is the lived experience of the church to be one in which Christians are nurtured in faith? How is the call to lifelong conversion into Christ to be realised in practice? How are Christians to relate to the culture around them? What does it mean to be a holy congregation? How is the sacramental life of the church to find practical expression in a congregation and issue inappropriate missionary, Pastoral and political response to the world? (Page 182). Part of the solution, Bradbury is convinced by, is that the Church of England will continue to slowly die if it continues to neglect the shape and content of catechesis. We need leaders, especially bishops who can continue to ask fundamental practical theological questions.

 

Bradbury argues that it is diffuse and needs to recover a heart and a centre.

‘British practical theologians seem willing to let this discipline be a meeting room in which diverse conversations are encouraged. The role of practical theologians is to hold the ring, provide methods, ask questions and contribute some, always fragmentary, ideas from their own, nearly always highly specialised, particular area of interest and research’ (page 190). Bradbury challenges the practical theologian to develop a much more systematic approach, with a controlling centre and clear paths to the periphery. Is it possible to have a systematic British Pastoral theology? This is perhaps the heart of Bradbury’s learning from the work of Liege.

 

In the final section of chapter 9 Bradbury offers what he describes as a plan of action – a proposal for a response to the challenges of the church in the British context. He organises his schema around the following areas of reflection and question: a wholescale review of church praxis; a map of where we are; establishing why the gospel is still good news for today; the organisation of parish life on the basis of theological criteria; the forging of accessible discourse; the rediscovery of French practical theology and finally establishing a vision of what the church is for and why – and how this should be expressed in practice.

 

The final chapter offers a short reflection on Liege’s legacy. Bradbury sums up the radical prophetic approach in this way – ‘to do the wrong thing is a serious as to believe the wrong thing’ (page 203.). This establishes radical criteria for action by attacking the non-theological pragmatism of current catechetics that offer no clear principles or content to practical theology.   Bradbury offers this attractive summary,

 

‘He (Liege) was committed to incarnating the love of God in action. Despite the depth of his loyalty to the church, faithfulness to God as his theology understood God, required him to stay true to his thought and convictions even when they brought him into conflict with the church in terms of theology, church practice or moral teaching. He did not compromise his beliefs for any institution. He was a man of friendship for whom shared eating and drinking were milestones of life and a primary model of celebration.…

British prophets like Trevor Huddleston or Ken Leech are perhaps parallels. But in general the British model of Christian life is more compromised and more domestic. ‘Liege would press practical theologians to face up to a radical question, his abiding challenge to 21st-century church: what form of Eucharistic community living is suitable for Christians in an era of post Christianity?’ (Page 208)

 

There is a comprehensive bibliography of over 30 pages, which indicates the nature, and scope of the author’s readership and scholarship together with a comprehensive index. The questions and challenges that Bradbury faces us with some of the work core to the aspiration of this journal and demands how we integrate our theology into practice.

 

 

Professor James Woodward

Sarum College

 

 

 

 

Conundrums in Practical Theology : Book Review

Conundrums in Practical Theology : Book Review

 

Conundrums in Practical Theology. By Joyce Ann Mercer and Bonnie J. Miller-McLemore, Boston: Brill, 2016. 320 pages. $76. (PBK). ISBN 978-90-04-32423-7.

Reviewed by: James Woodward, Principal of Sarum College, Salisbury and Visiting Professor of Theology, the University Winchester UK

 

All those engaged in learning and teaching will have a system for organising books and resources of information. They may be, inevitably, a number of systems that may range from ad-hoc freedom through to absolute order. I have never had the courage to organise my books according to the colour of their spines but was assured that the academic who followed this colour-guided rule never had any difficulty in finding a book!

Consider what kind of system might enable the section of the library to ‘organise’ those volumes that might fall broadly within the area of pastoral and practical theology. To give a sense of the complexity of this area of theological study, consider the broad headings of volumes that might fall within this section of a library: history and development of pastoral care; textbooks or readers in this area; sociology; psychology; cultural studies; theological reflection; political and public theology; leadership; reflective practice; chaplaincy; ministry and mission; ecclesiology; ethics; self-care and volumes dealing with specific issues (disability, the nature of pain, end-of-life care, etc.).

This review article begins with an acknowledgement of the scope of the field of practical theology. This discipline embraces a number of interconnecting fields. How do they connect? How should practical theology be taught?

It is against this image and these questions that this significant contribution to the literature is reviewed. The book is demanding, informative and fundamentally challenging in its framing of a range of conundrums. The editors and authors are to be commended for consistency and quality across 11 chapters. Practical theology, as we have acknowledged, has a complex identity and a variety of aims and locations. This book seeks to explore how we navigate academic structures that shape and distort intellectual life in this field. It engages our imagination with some arresting images and metaphors. The reader is asked to be a boarder crosser, a boundary walker and even a scavenger that should look for truth in many places.

At heart is this question – what does it mean to be a practical theologian? Mercer and Miller-McLemore gather 11 contributions from American pastoral theologians alongside a Scandinavian pastoral theologian. The areas covered include the theological nature of practice; the use of case studies in practical theological research; the public benefit of scholarship; the nature of reflexivity, normativity and interdisciplinarity in practical theology; racism; the politics and complexity of practical knowledge and the nature of the Roman Catholic contribution to the reframing of practical theology.

The introduction opens up the field by exploring definitions and acknowledging the complicated position and history of the discipline of practical theology. It articulates an ambitious aspiration that hopes practical theologians might be facilitators of change by contributing to the transformation of individual and communal life through putting to work the practices of religious traditions. This narrative holds together a realistic dynamic and tension between academy and context. Pastoral theology involves engagement with the conceptual, the emotional, and the political (3). Good pastoral theology begins in conversation and community. In relation to our sources of information in the work of practical theology, there is a question of naming and even locating the audiences of practical theology. We are asked to consider how far this body of knowledge contributes to the common good in our social and political arenas.

Chapter 1 establishes the importance of experience and practice as a source of theological engagement and knowledge. Theologians in this field must explore how they develop the capacity to show how practice constitutes theological knowledge. A clear sense of distance is maintained between the activity of theological reflection and the work of Christian churches. A broader more outward facing focus should challenge some of the internal contradictions and conflicts of religious institutions. What becomes clear here is the significant distance of thought, culture, and experience between American and European contexts. There are some key questions for us to consider: What is our experience of theology and where and how might we find it boring, irrelevant, or just wrong? How does theology help us or enable us to come to terms with living? How independent should theology be from the church? In what way is theology the servant of the church? (17) This is picked up in more detail in Chapter 3 (The Tension between Scholarship and Service) as Cruz explores the nature of service as empathetic knowing. There is an insightful exploration of the vocation of the reflective practitioner (64–65) with key discussions about ways of knowing and the importance of developing enough intelligence to discern what can be solved and what simply needs to be lived with (79). In this context, the Pastoral theologian needs always to evaluate scholarship and develop the skill of making space for adaptive change in patterns of teaching, learning, and scholarship especially in times of institutional transition (81).

Chapters 2, 6 and 10 by Campbell-Reed, Kaufman, and Turpin highlight the limitations, problems, and difficulties around interpretation. We are reminded by a number of writers in this volume that whenever a story is narrated, there are always issues around power. Our view is limited and interpretation partial. We always only see part of the story. We are asked to consider how far theology runs the risk of self-justification and the extent to which we see the dangers of summarisation – and therefore by implication oversimplification? Campbell-Reed argues that there is a continuing uncritical use of the word theory, which runs the risk of practical theology either overpromising or mispromising what can be delivered. This results in an ongoing maintenance of the split between theory and practice (47).

Turpin offers some useful and practical tools to enable students to reflect on their experience particularly if they are being trained for public ministry. She asks how far meanings are so contextualised to the history of a particular community in time and place that it is difficult to imagine whether it might be translated or related to similar practices elsewhere. Turpin articulates the layers of complexity in shaping an account of local knowledge and describes why this complexity matters both in the context of professional practice and in the ‘production’ of the Christian tradition. It follows that irreducible complexity is a hallmark of the practical wisdom necessary for the discipline. It follows, further, that we need to be observers that are more creative and attentive to the multidimensional realities of lived religion.

In this context, we should attend carefully to the social, cultural, and political challenges posed by the power of racism and the ways in which we devalue and underestimate the diversity and necessity of looking beyond a particular ‘white’ perspective on life. Shepherd explores this in Chapter 9 (Raced Bodies: Portraying Bodies, Reifying Racism) and it has particular relevance in the light of Trump’s election and the decision of the British people to exit the European Union. Here is the core challenge, ‘the vocation of the Christian theologian is to hold tightly the spirit filled, prophetic, critical and creative edge … Our theology must stand with society’s most abject, despised and oppressed. In the twilight of American culture, telling the truth about white racist supremacy is a theological obligation, no matter how cauterizing those truths may be. To speak about theology as truth telling is to accentuate its core responsibility … ’ (245)

In terms of listening to different and too often minority voices, Wolfteich in Chapter 11 offers us a plea to listen more carefully to Roman Catholic contributions and conundrums as she asks how far practical theology has a home in Catholic structures. The reader is reminded about the critical nature of attending to the content of theology as we are asked to explore the development of a theology that moves from life to Christian faith to renewed faith for life. The Roman Catholic tradition has much to offer in this generative task of articulating the content of faith.

The theme of the conundrum (as a puzzle or riddle without an apparent solution, an enigma that baffles, frustrates, and evades resolution) continues throughout the volume but particularly in Chapters 4, 5, and 6. Dreyer (91) reminds the researcher that all knowledge is mediated knowledge, and that there is a constant conflict of interpretation. Bias, researcher subjectivity, and positionality play a role in these interpretations. This is described as a basic epistemological dilemma: ‘the point of this chapter is that reflexivity cannot heal the epistemological wound of researcher subjectivity, bias and personality … Our reflexive efforts will therefore always be trapped between apodictic certainty and perpetual suspicion. This is the conundrum of reflexivity’ (92). Gotto picks up some of these themes as we are asked to appreciate diversity especially in the areas of race and gender. In other words, ‘through whose eyes do we view theology and theological task?’ (116). Researchers should explore the significance of power and privilege within their discipline. Kaufmann (Chapter 6) asks about the nature of normativity. What do we mean when we critique a text as being insufficiently theological or insufficiently normative? He discusses (137) the correlational approach – what should be given priority in a mutual, critical conversation between human experience and theological tradition or normative systematic theology? Where does authority lie? Who decides? Some important connections are made with systematic theology as this chapter asks us to consider the shape and content of our theological anthropology (154)

Finally Chapters 7 and 8, written by the editors (Mercer and Miller-McLemore), explore interdisciplinarity as a practical theological conundrum and the politics of the theory-practice binary. Mercer asks how we are to define interdisciplinarity and in doing so reminds us that practical theology, with its focus on the lived practices of a person and communities within their social contexts, is inherently interdisciplinary, since this kind of work necessitates not only knowledge of theology but also of human personhood alongside social and contextual knowledge. (163)

This takes us into fundamental questions about understanding the nature of personhood and the limits of divine revelation. In dialogue we are bidden to consider that we do not add theology to social science, nor do we add social science to theology. Both are present and interacting in a practical theological analysis of a person or community. Mercer is constantly aware of the complexity of the teacher’s task in enabling students to grasp a complex range of subjects. The skill and contribution of the teacher of practical theology are affirmed, Practical theologians become quite adept, even expert, scanning and selecting the usable element from a much larger canon of literature. We become skilled in the art of collaborating with others who can assist us toward a more appropriate and adequate level of knowledge in a new field we need to employ. (145)

Miller-McLemore reminds us of the modern divorce of academic theology and life (193) adding to the authority of this discipline as one that aspires to empower and transform living and understanding.

This volume of essays is to be commended for its range and scope. The authors are consistently committed to opening up confusing and conflicting problems and questions. Together the volume highlights the state of a discipline in the process, on a journey of discovery and development. Part of establishing our authority within the field of theology will depend upon our ability and preparedness to tackle some of the difficult questions posed here.

I return to those bookshelves and the acknowledgement of the sheer scope of the field and discipline of pastoral and practical theology. This book perhaps encourages us to sit lightly to over defined boundaries and make deeper and more imaginative connections between the disciplines that shape practical theology. While this is not a book for undergraduate study, it is essential reading for researchers and supervisors. It demands close attention and careful reflection. It is the task of practical theology to continue to articulate its conundrums and to attract a range of voices into its life and work.

    Vulnerability and Care: Christian Reflections on the Philosophy of Medicine by Andrew Sloane

    Vulnerability and Care: Christian Reflections on the Philosophy of Medicine by Andrew Sloane

    97805674097751

    I have recently seen at close hand the work a busy acute hospital having to deal with an older person suffering multiple challenges to well-being caused in the main by intense confusion as a result of the Alzheimer’s disease. The result was shocking and frustrating. Although,of course, a one-off situation which was intensified by my own sense of powerlessness and pain at the way this person was treated – I suspect that this experience may well be replicated across the UK. We keep on being told that the NHS is in crisis principally for financial reasons but the central organising question this book suggests that there challenges are also moral : it asks is how we care for vulnerable people in such a way as to deepen compassion and alleviate suffering.

    Fo me, this book came at the right time and Andrew Sloane deserves gratitude and praise for a powerful narrative that asked this question: can the focus of modern medicine change? The implication is that if it does not its very soul is in jeopardy. In the light of my own experience the reader will understand why this plea resonated so deeply and profoundly in my soul.

    To return to the anecdotal –  I remember during my time teaching at the Birmingham University medical school exploring with groups of students how far their ethical teaching and curriculum help them make decisions. Since those teaching days a great deal of attention has been given to public and academic debate about medical and bioethical issues. Those groups of students and young doctors taught me that they relied as much on intuition (I need to respond quickly and so do what I feel is right) as much as the body of knowledge oclassified as medical ethics.  Sloane takes one step back from the issue of the relationship between theory and practice and asks his reader to explore the nature of medicine and its role in human community.

    The  nine chapters seek to put theology to work by offering a framework of Christian philosophical and theological thinking which might enable us to understand the nature and purposes of medicine and its role in a Christian understanding of human society.

    So what does the book do?

    First it presents a description of the contexts in which medicine is practiced in the early 21st century, identifying key problems and challenges that medicine must address. It then turns to issues in contemporary bioethics, demonstrating how the debate is rooted in conflicting visions of the nature of medicine (and so human existence). This leads to a discussion of some of the philosophical and theological resources currently available for those who would reflect ‘Christianly’ on medicine.

    The core of the text attempts to articulate a Christian view of medicine as a moral practice which might be shaped by a Christian social vision and a number of key theological commitments.

    The book concludes with some powerful pedagogical reflections (pp 178 ff ). First Sloane asks that if it is the case that medicine is an expression of a community solidarity with those whose vulnerability is exposed and if its goal is to express appropriate forms of care for the frail then we should rethink how we train doctors. In terms of medical epistemology, the internal goods of medicine and their relationship to other goals always threaten to distort or corrupt the practice of medicine. And in this we all need to take responsibility in relation to our wildly unrealistic expectations about what medicine can deliver.

    A final theme, and possibly to be developed in his future writing lies, in the embodied nature of medicine. If we are ‘knowing bodies’ then doctors in partnership with their patients need to understand what is going on in the body: to listen carefully to the story of our bodies as to discern both what matters and how we might embrace frailty and nurture wholeness. The undue focus on investigations, the obsession with tasks and performance  both detract from the human element of the clinical encounter and (in Sloane’s view) wrongly understand the nature and goals of medical knowledge. This reflects an ongoing interest in a number of public bodies in the UK concerning the medical humanities and how these might be built into a more holistic approach of nurturing both medicine and the medical profession. Medical paternalism and powerful self protecting  professionalism needs to be challenged if the world of medicine is to be re-engaged and transformed. However this will require from us that we reconfigure what medicine can and cannot do for us.

    This is a stimulating and enriching book. It is inevitably stronger on theory rather than practice but its call and argument is clear and convincing.It deserves to be picked up and developed by those of us who seek wholeness and all those professional groups that are tasked to care for those in need.

    I hope to use some of this work in our future learning at Sarum College (www.sarum.ac.uk ) and particularly in the Sarum Centre for Human Flourishing.

     

    James Woodward

    Principal Sarum College

    How do we access the spiritual?

    How do we access the spiritual?

    9781849054973[1]

    Jessica Kingsley Publishers 2015; 280 pages; £19.99 ISBN 9781849054973

    I review this book (the second week of July 2016) when two particular conversations were at the forefront of my mind. The first was the smooth transition between Cameron and May into 10 Downing Street and the office of Prime Minister. What followed was much speculation about who would hold some of the key offices of state including the office of health secretary. This speculation triggered a great deal of social media interest in the health service and especially some of the frustrations on the part of healthcare professionals particularly about the culture of change, resource and the over politicisation   of care in the NHS.

    The second was a conversation about church growth and how we face the reality of diminishing numbers (and perhaps even confidence) in religion today. Both of these areas of thought might take up many pages of a blog but they certainly shaped by appreciation and admiration of this book of 16 essays that explore issues of how we think about and deliver healthcare chaplaincy.

    Let me give you an outline of book. Its editors are leading academics in the area of health, practical theology and chaplaincy studies. In particular Andrew Todd’s work in the Cardiff Centre the Chaplaincy Studies deserves particular respect and admiration for its quality and professionalism.

    The book is divided into four parts. The first part (constructing spiritual care) explores models of spiritual care; discourses of spiritual health care; models of healthcare chaplaincy and how chaplains use the Bible as interpreters in their work. The second part (negotiating spiritual care in public) explores the value of spiritual care and the need for negotiation and persuasion for its value in the public domain; some legal and policy frameworks for spiritual care; the work of chaplaincy in a multi-faith and secular environment and the particular relationship between chaplaincy and nursing.

    The third part (researching spiritual care) offers an overview of methodologies for research in spiritual care; deals with the particularities of research health context; looks at the significance of volunteers in the culture of the NHS and offers a particular process of observing, recording and analysing spiritual care in an acute setting. Finally part four discusses the practice of the spiritual care in the context of suffering; opens up the much vexed question of assisted suicide; digs deep into the care of those living with mild cognitive impairment and offers experience of spiritual care in a children’s hospice.

    The editors provide a comprehensive subject and author index and throughout the work there is a careful structure and system of referencing. While it is almost impossible to provide consistency across a wide range of essays and chapters the editors have succeeded in providing a very useful and significant addition to the literature in this field.

    So this leads to my to opening areas of discussion. The first is developed a little in this book that needs further work. How do we deal with our expectations around care and our experience of care in the NHS? With it’s ever developing technology and increased skill and professionalism is the health service nurturing a culture within which people feel valued, understood and responded to? Put more simply – is the health service looking after people as well as it might ? Are there  some indications that despite our increased investment in resources people feel dissatisfied with the quality of engagement, support and compassion. Perhaps it is inconceivable and impossible to deliver but should we always try to start with the patient and the patient voice when developing a narrative for care? This is of course where chaplaincy is at its absolute strongest – it engagement, understanding and transformative presence in and through the attentive and caring relationship. Chaplaincy needs to beware  of its tendency to detach itself from the patient experience in the ever understandable necessity for organisational security and affirmation. The power is  with the patient! Professionalism is always grounded in the narrative of the experience of illness.

    The second and I admit a less obvious area of church growth is yet another area where chaplaincy may be critical in turning around the way in which individuals and groups access the spiritual (hence my organising title).Chaplains meet people where they are and on their terms within their life experience. This is an opportunity to illuminate, enlarge and connect with the spiritual – especially in times of crisis and difficulty. It may be that chaplains are altogether best placed to keep the rumour of Angels alive through their presence and engagement. Investment in agency and chaplaincy should be a key element to the churches strategy for recovering the pastoral as part of deepening spiritual connectivity and faith.

    This is a very good book and I commend it as a stimulating, resourceful and informed collection of essays on care.

    James Woodward

    Principal Sarum College

     

     

     

    Performing Pastoral Care

    Performing Pastoral Care

    9781785920363

    Making the case for the relevance of pastoral care today, this book explores the role of pastoral care through the prism of music. Using musical analogies, the author provides a new way of understanding and practising pastoral care, grounded in practical theology. Challenging overemphasis on mission, he shows that pastoral care remains essential to the life of the church, especially when engaging with extreme situations such as dying, suffering or war, and considers the role of pastoral carers in the specific pastoral encounter and in the life of the church in general.

    Here is my commendation

    ‘We live in interesting and complex times. Modernity has given us choice and freedom to shape our destiny in many, often competing, directions. The Church is only one place where the shape of human experience is opened up and attended to in our struggle to flourish. This context provides us an opportunity to reimagine how theology and its practice might contribute to well-being. Performing Pastoral Care is a serious and substantial contribution to our understanding of this practice as it calls us all to rediscover our pastoral heart with imagination and creativity. Interdisciplinary in its focus – music and theology both blend and dialogue to provide a stimulating, intelligent and well-organised narrative. The reader is asked to look outwards through a number of lenses and using a variety of methods to engage with the paradoxes and ambiguities of human experience. It succeeds in providing a significant contribution to the literature around music and pastoral theology and its carefully organised chapters offer practical tools for the resourcing of the shapes of pastoral activity and performance. I hope that it will be widely used as part of the ongoing conversation about what might need to be transformed in and through us as we seek to reach out and serve our world and its peoples. I shall be adding it to core reading lists for my students.’
    – Dr James Woodward, Principal of Sarum College