Practical Theology turned ten years old in 2017. Such an anniversary, even a kind of ‘coming of age,’ is worth celebrating. We are grateful to our publishers Routledge Taylor & Francis for suggesting that the Contact Pastoral Trust put together a volume of ten articles chosen from the first ten years of the journal to showcase the growth and development of the discipline in this period. The Trust approached the first editor, Zoë Bennett, and the current editor, Nigel Rooms, to create this volume from the existing corpus of over 180 articles now available online.
We have enjoyed and benefitted enormously from this somewhat daunting task and surprisingly, we have argued very little about what should or should not be included. We will explain that process a little here and then introduce the articles one by one in chronological order of their publication. After that we’ll make some overall observations about what these articles demonstrate for contemporary practical theology and look a little way into the future. Our introductions will consist of some hypotheses about the current state of Practical Theology drawn from the articles we have chosen (and others from the 10 years they naturally connect with). This will cover the developing shape of the field and delineate specific areas that are illustrated by the articles.
The articles we have chosen offer the reader of this volume several, ways into understanding the breadth and depth of practical theology as it has developed in the journal. Many students of theological reflection lament the difficulty their teachers find in explaining what exactly it is – at the very least in this volume we hope there are examples of what practical theology looks like.
So we set out to trawl the ‘back catalogue’ looking for articles that might help us in these areas;
- Showcasing a variety of styles and methodologies
- Interesting and readable (we like to be helped by the author to get to the end of an article)
- A mixture of scholars and practitioners drawn from the academy and the field
- Demonstrating developments in the ten year span we are working with
- Representing authors from the whole of Britain and Ireland with some international presence
- A mixture of female and male voices
- Articles developed from the annual BIAPT conference addresses as well as from doctorates in practical theology
We think we have largely managed this in the collection we have made. Thus we have at least one article from England, Scotland and Ireland and an international contribution, leaving out only Wales. Qualitative and quantitative methods are present and several other approaches are included. There are two conference addresses and an article from a professional doctorate student. We have only a slight predominance of male authors. On these criteria we ended up with only two articles from Volumes 1-5 and eight from volumes 6-10, which we recognise is a little unbalanced chronologically – however we have tried to remedy this somewhat by making reference to earlier related articles where we can in the following introductions.
We wrote these pieces separately and then agreed their content, and we do make comments on them which are our own, so if you, the reader, are interested in who said what Nigel comments on Thompson, Walton, McAlinden, Barnett and Michaelson et. al. and Zoë on Gaffin, Swinton and Harshaw, Paterson and Kelly, Ross with Pratt, and Gorringe and Rowland.
Once we have introduced all the articles we will complete this overview by picking up the themes we have discerned and speculating only a little on what the next ten years might hold.
The reader will notice frequent reference throughout this introduction to BIAPT; The British and Irish Association for Practical Theology. This body (www.biapt.org), founded in 1994, holds an annual conference which many contributors to Practical Theology attend, and has been a key sponsor of the journal. There is therefore an organic connection between the association and the journal, which is clearly reflected in our commentary.
- Article 1
- Article 2
- Article 3
- Article 4
- Article 5
- Article 6
- Article 7
- Article 8
- Article 9
- Article 10
At the start of the life of Practical Theology, as it emerged organically from Contact: Practical Theology and Pastoral Care, the Editorial Board was committed to embracing, honouring and representing in the journal three overlapping forms of theology: pastoral theology, practical theology, and public theology. This was and is important, as there was a fear around that a move to the terminology of ‘practical theology’, allied to a determination that this new journal should be able to carry the weight of being the journal of choice for those in the academic field of practical theology, would alienate the journal from pastoral practitioners, and make it uninteresting and inaccessible to them. Over the last ten years the scene has hugely changed, with both the British and Irish Association of Practical Theology and the journal itself now replete with those who are both practitioners and academically reflective – reflective practitioners and researching professionals, sometimes, but not always, engaged in work for a DMin, DProf or other form of research and writing in practical theology.
Jenny Gaffin’s article from the third issue of the first volume in 2008 feels like a forerunner of this movement. In her article Gaffin considers ‘the experience of developing a lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) Interfaith Project, for the charity Kairos in Soho from 2001-2005’. Firmly and confidently (for all the language of ‘bumbling’!) rooted in her pastoral ministry, she explores this in a deeply self-reflexive way. Here again she anticipates what has become in recent years a key theme in practical theology - critical subjectivity and reflexivity. We now know we cannot leave ourselves off the page, not only because to do so is to ignore our own ideological captivity, but because self-reflexivity produces useful knowledge, as this article so richly demonstrates. Her reflexivity, like the experience of looking at one’s reflection in Anish Kapoor’s Bean in Chicago, forces attention to context, changes, and distortions and does not allow some straightforward reading as if in a simple mirror.
‘Theory’ is a complex notion. Although the roots of the word are in contemplation and clear seeing, it has come to signify in academic circles abstraction, conceptualization and other long words normally also ending in ‘ization’. It does not have to be this way. Totally committed to the particularity of the situation and the ‘complexity of the moment’, Gaffin uses her wide and deep engagement with other writers and thinkers (‘the literature’) not to systematise but to look at things freshly, from a new angle, critically and more deeply. She thus becomes a wiser bumbling pastoral worker, though interestingly she doesn’t use this word, which has become so de rigeur in recent practical theology, with the use of the idea of phronesis and the prominence of ‘Christian practical wisdom’.
One person on whose work Gaffin draws is Jonathan Sacks. In his Templeton Prize lecture at the Annual Meetings of the American Academy of Religion and the Society of Biblical Literature in San Antonio, Texas, in November 2016 Sacks stated:
The solution that worked in the West from the 17th to the 20th centuries namely secularization is not going to work in the 21st century because ours is an age of desecularization. We’re far from being deprived of power. There are many parts of the world in which religion is seizing and regaining political and military power.
He went on to say to the scholars of religion and religious practitioners in his audience that we had something crucial to offer: the re-reading of our religious texts, the recovery of our sense of religious complexity, and the need to think through ‘what it means to live in the conscious presence of difference’. Sitting listening to him alongside two veteran practical theologians, I was struck how pertinent his words were to the task of our discipline – the attention to both ancient text and contemporary context in the life and death situation of difference and violence.
Gaffin’s article offers something significant to this task, not least because its practical location and subject matter concern both sexuality and interfaith relationships. Recent issues of the journal have carried several articles on the former topic (1.2, 2.1, 3.1,10.2 x2, 10.3). Our hope for the future is that interfaith issues, so crucial for our contemporary society, might take a greater prominence, and indeed that practical theologians from a wider variety of faiths might themselves feel comfortable in publishing in our journal.
The Bumbling Pastoral Worker: Theological Reflections on a Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender Interfaith Project
- Volume 1 Issue 3 (2008)
- Jenny Gaffin
Apart from one of the most memorable titles in this series reproducing articles from ten years of publishing Practical Theology there are many other reasons for including Anna Thompson’s excellent article in this book.
As Eric Stoddart, the then editor for issue 5.1 pointed out in the editorial evangelicals, mission, mission studies and practical theology had started a very long way apart, but now were coming together in interesting and creative ways. We suggest that this move is traceable through these ten years of publishing the journal and in our association BIAPT. The increasing openness to what some describe as ‘open’ evangelicals (thoughtful, reflective and critically thinking Christians who retain an emphasis on bible, conversion, cross and activism to follow David Bebbington’s classic definition of the evangelical) in the association and journal is witness to an authentic ‘liberal’ inclusivity as opposed to what sometimes masquerades as liberalism but is in fact deeply exclusive, intolerant and illiberal. Thus elsewhere in this volume we have noted the increased interest over this period in reflection on using the bible as a source of authority in practical theology, while the nature of salvation and researching the effects of our action are part and parcel of what we are about.
In a ‘Soapbox’ article in 2014 (7.2, 144-147) Cathy Ross and I argued for the coming together of missiology or mission studies and practical theology which was then ratified in a deeply practical way in the 2014 BIAPT annual meeting when the equivalent mission studies association within these islands (BIAMS) became incorporated within BIAPT. This was largely because we have witnessed in same period under scrutiny here a waning of interest in British universities in missiology perhaps for the reasons noted above; that it became associated with colonial missionary endeavour which was often (but not always) destructive of many things. We are of course under no illusions about the fragility of practical theology and theology itself within the academy.
What Thompson does in this article is give us a concrete, grounded example of good missiology based on a robust qualitative interview methodology. That it was published in a practical theology journal is important to note, given there are several eligible mission studies alternatives. And this missiology, as Thompson both researches and writes it, is what we might call ‘post-colonial’. She herself recognises the way in which her subjects in the Eden Project are embedded in post-modern outlooks and culture, while remaining faithful to mission as it has been practiced throughout the Christian tradition.
The principle she uncovers in the enthusiastic Eden participants as they take their untested suburban Christianity into what look like ‘god-forsaken’ social housing estates is that in authentic evangelism the evangelist is always evangelised by those others they are sent to. We find this way back in the beginning in story of Peter and Cornelius. The story is so important in the founding of the Christian church it is told twice in Acts 10 and 11 and is really, in my mind the story of the conversion of St. Peter. He is required to attend the house of Cornelius, a gentile worshipper of God to introduce him and his extended family to Jesus and the presence of the Holy Spirit. This is simple and happens without issue, what is much more difficult is how Peter overcomes his innate ‘disgust mechanism’ over the uncleanness of gentiles.
Thus it is that Thompson’s research reveals a move in the Eden participants towards these others who are initially the object of their dreams for ‘revival’. From coming with a ‘received meta-narrative’ they quickly move to a ‘locally constructed personal authenticity’ and from a self-understanding of ‘missionary to neighbour’ (50). Thompson describes how a whole new gospel arises for the new community which emerges from the interaction of the two new partners. The alternative that the two sides may be unable to meet in any meaningful way is ever present; with the missionaries desiring a return to the suburbs with self-justifying cognitive dissonance around what didn’t happen; and the locals left wondering once again about the intervention of do-gooders who never take the time to be with them.
Thompson theorises her findings helpfully towards the end of the article and discovers other important themes that have been taken up in research and literature in the last decade. She notes that form and content are inseparable so gospel and culture cannot be kept apart as so many still attempt. She values Jeff Astley’s ‘ordinary theology’ in those lay Christians who have not been formally theologically educated yet nevertheless can discover robust solutions to knotty theological problems on the ground. She points out, as Sam Wells has so importantly systematised more recently the move from doing things ‘to or for’ others to simply being with them.
Holy Sofas: Transformational Encounters between Evangelical Christians and Post-Christendom Urban Communities
- Volume 5 Issue 1 (2012)
- Anna Thompson
- Volume 5 Issue 3 (2012)
- John Swinton
This article represents a quite specific form of practical writing; it is a detailed account of a particular piece of practice, which explains the rationale for the practice, the history of its development, how exactly it works, and the results of its review after the first year. As such it is substantially useful and helpful to others in similar or analogous practice contexts. The genre, however, does not leave much room for critical self-reflexivity, in a sense strange in a piece so committed to reflective practice. I kept wondering what went wrong when, what flaws and problems there are in this way of working, what, if any, negative responses were offered in the first year review. Maybe none!
This piece is written in a style which bears some serious analysis for those of us practical theologians who write for others to read. Fascinatingly, though it is jointly authored, the reader gets no sense of how this works. It is, however, a lovely example of fast-moving text, full of content, underpinned by scholarship and evidence, and written in an accessible way – note the number of common nouns and the absence of abstract nouns (when these are used later they are always explained straightforwardly).
Discussion of reflective practice in a professional context has been an important theme in our constituency. During the ten years of the journal a significant event was the founding of the Association for Pastoral Supervision and Education (APSE) in June 2009. Volume 2.3 carries the keynote address ‘Supervision as Ministry’ given by David Lyall, a former editor of Contact. Healthcare chaplaincy specifically has been a practice widely represented in Practical Theology, its predecessor Contact and in BIAPT. Over the ten years of this review there have been several articles of different kinds on this topic, and it is a rich seam of reflection for the discipline, fittingly so given the prominence of Anton Boisen and Clinical Pastoral Education (mentioned here) in the development of pastoral and practical theology. The use of the verbatim is well illustrated in this article in the vignette offered.
This ‘vignette’ demonstrates one effective method, in practical theological writing, of bringing concrete and particular realities into the frame. Others which have appeared in our review are accounts of personal experience, drawing on material from others’ autobiographical writing, and the use of interviews. John Ruskin wrote that ‘the greatest thing a human soul ever does in this world is to see something, and tell what it saw in a plain way’ (Works 5.333). Theological reflection, or practical theological research, does not stop with the obligation to see well, but continues with the obligation to tell clearly. So the search for both plain speaking, and for forms in which we may tell what we have to tell in ways which do the work we need it to do in the public realm, is a serious one. Perhaps a journal is one context in which we can learn to do this.
- Volume 6 Issue 1 (2013)
- Michael Paterson & Ewan Kelly
In 2013 the second issue of Practical Theology was devoted primarily to issues of terrorism and counter-terrorism, a matter of enormous ongoing public interest and importance. Eric Stoddart, who as Editor had called for submissions on this theme with the support of the Editorial Board, wrote: ‘The decisions to call for submissions on the theme of counter-terrorism was intended to stimulate practical theological reflection; complementing work already being undertaken in the field of ethics’. Interestingly the contributions are structured dialogically, as befits not only practical theology itself, but also the contested nature of this subject matter.
We have chosen to include in this anniversary edition an interview conducted by an Editorial Board member, Alistair Ross, with Andrew Pratt, retired Chief Superintendent and ‘the most senior figure in community policing and counter-terrorism in the UK’, who was at the time Bishop’s Advisor and Coordinator for Inter-faith work in the Diocese of Blackburn. This article demonstrates how ‘interview’ can offer a rich methodology for practical theology, and the story told offers a thought-provoking example of intentionally chosen incarnational practice.
The interview mode allows the story to emerge, allows the person to emerge, and by its very nature incorporates a critically interpretive stance from the perspective of the interviewer.
This story is the narrating of a personal journey – Andrew Pratt’s journey from teenage faith, through failure to be accepted by a missionary society, through his commitments, adventures and struggles to be the kind of community policeman he felt called to be, to the national influence of his methods. The story is not just individual, but, as all stories are, is contextually located, and engages with his family, the church, the police service, a huge canvass of social context – national and international. And as all story-tellers do, Pratt selects and interprets as he tells, analysing key features of our current national situation in the context of international terrorism. It is through the telling of the story in an analytically reflective way that Pratt is able to convey powerfully to the reader, from his own experience and practical wisdom, some key features of issues behind terrorism and counter-terrorism, and offer a vision of how we might conduct ourselves as a society in relation to these.
The person who emerges is an ‘ordinary’ human being, with deep Christian commitment and with deep compassion for, and interest in, his fellow human beings. The article is entitled ‘an incarnational response’, and what we see is one particular example of how the way we live our lives and the way we treat others may be an incarnation of the gospel. In the story we see the minute particulars: of his visits to India and Pakistan in search of understanding, ‘I became ill twice with something like dysentery. ….I recall standing under a hosepipe at 2am as the only way I could cope with the heat’; and of his interactions with the local community in Blackburn, ‘I had to say to one guy, “ I know you told me about drugs last week but you’ve just beaten your wife up and I need to come and arrest you’”. Some of the ‘minute particulars’ about how the police and the church resisted this inclusive and humanitarian approach by this particular person don’t make easy reading, though I note with some irony that they both wanted to use him in the end, and I note his willingness to offer himself in their service with some admiration.
Finally, the interview mode offers the possibility of complex critical reflection and interpretation from the interviewer. This is not only revealed in the explicit comments by Ross entitled ‘Reflection’ at the end, though these are important as they draw together key emerging issues, and locate these in wider debates in contemporary and historical theological literature. The interviewer is interpretively influential in the choice of the probing questions he asks – those very questions already interpreting what has been said thus far: ‘So where did the police career fit in for you as a failed missionary and a milkman?’; ‘What is it like living in two worlds where your role centres on how these came together?’.
As I have written this introduction to Ross’s interview of Andrew Pratt I have realised just how much practical theological researchers might learn from this article about interviewing, and about critical analysis and interpretation of their findings.
- Volume 6 Issue 2 (2013)
- Andrew Pratt & Alistair Ross
The Practical Theology journal and its association BIAPT exist in the creative and often contested liminal space between the academy and on the ground practitioners (judging not least from the feedback I receive, as editor from readers of the journal). Of course this is not a dichotomy or some unbridgeable chasm, while it is clear that some readers and members of the journal gain their ‘daily bread’ from full-time work in the academy and others as practitioners. Our discipline has to stay in touch with both poles of this unresolvable tension. We include this article in this collection because it connects us with a notable figure in the Practical Theology academy working in Scotland – Heather Walton. Walton notes in the introduction to this article (which was also a keynote address at the 2013 BIAPT conference) that it arose out of her experience as Secretary to the International Academy of Practical Theology (IAPT). The existence of IAPT is worth noting here (http://www.ia-pt.org/) as an association for ‘advanced scholarship in Practical Theology’. We need to constantly relate to such advanced scholarship since while it may not set our whole agenda we would be foolish to ignore the professional (i.e. paid) practical theologians who largely make up its membership and their scholarship.
Walton reflects on several cutting edge questions in the development of the discipline of practical theology in recent years. She compares and contrasts in a very helpful way the approaches made by Empirical Theology and Feminist Practical Theology. While recognising their differences she also notes their somewhat surprising ‘greater unity’ (10). Embodiment in the experience of the everyday is important with emphasis on the divine origin of ‘wisdom, healing and renewal’. Thus phronesis or practical wisdom arising from the work of Don Browning is a concept that deeply holds the two approaches together.
Along the way it is worth noting Walton’s discussion of quantitative and qualitative approaches to research in Practical Theology (8). This is somewhat of a ‘hoary old chestnut’ these days and a question I encounter as editor of the journal regularly as reviewers comment on potential scripts that arrive at the journal’s ‘inbox’. Once again there is no resolution to the dichotomy yet there are more ways of combining the approaches than is sometimes imagined.
Yet Walton is concerned most of all in this article about the ‘intelligibility of the world and the innocence of theology’. So she continues by interrogating the work of Henri Lefevbre and Michel de Certeau in relation to a critique of everyday life and the generation of theology within it. For me Walton presents more ways into the ‘re-enchantment’ of the world which takes us to a ‘hermeneutic of wonder.’ Practical Theology necessarily moves then towards incorporating poiesis – the making of artefacts of any kind, though reconstructed as ‘poetics’ for our own day.
An example of such poetics might be what makes the Channel Four production Gogglebox such compelling and inspiring viewing. Who would have thought that watching people watching television could be of any interest at all? Yet ‘consumers do re-imagine what they receive’ (15). Quoting de Certeau; ‘users make innumerable and infinitesimal transformations of and within the dominant cultural economy’. So Walton makes a claim for the recovery of the poetics of everyday life alongside the generation of phronesis. I believe therefore that our task is much more of a ‘craft’ that is learnt through apprenticeship with a ‘master’ than any other metaphor for the learning process. It requires both close attention to the fine detail and a stepping back to observe the whole and the important and constant dynamic between those modes of working.
Practical Theology therefore incorporates both a taking up of the everyday into divine life following the Orthodox tradition and a kenotic self-emptying into the everyday much practised by the Franciscans.
- Volume 7 Issue 1 (2014)
- Heather Walton
The late Martin McAlinden died too young soon after the publication of this article and we remember him here by including his erudite and suggestive work in this volume. There are several further important reasons for choosing this piece.
We are enormously enriched in BIAPT by the inclusion of Ireland in our geographical reach and those who participate from all denominations there, most especially the Catholic Church. Martin was teaching at St. Patrick’s College, Maynooth at the time of death and this work arises out of his engagement with the state of the Catholic priesthood in Ireland in the early twenty-first century.
BIAPT has historically been a largely Christian theological association and therefore we connect deeply with local churches and the ministry and mission that occurs through them. It seems appropriate then that one of our articles in this collection should include a reflection on priesthood, especially as, in my opinion this work takes us in several directions in and beyond the narrow confines of thinking about the nature of priests.
The first direction we travel in is backwards to the work of Evagrius Ponticus (345CE- 399CE) to the origin of the thinking around what was to become the seven deadly sins. Evagrius, the hermit was, on many estimations an expert in human psychology sixteen centuries before its modern invention (He is well worth a read in a good translation). Evagrius’ expertise is hard won from experience with the desert mothers and fathers and McAlinden picks up his thoughts on the ‘noonday demon’ of acedia. My translation of this important ‘passion,’ as I have reflected further since first reading the article is somewhere between cynicism and boredom. These are peculiarly contemporary passions which can lead to many kinds sin, particularly in religious professionals but also much wider in a secularizing society. Thus McAlinden underlines an important lesson I have learnt and relearnt in recent years. The future of local churches, if there is to be one for us is dependent on the ‘long tradition’ of the Christian faith. This is especially true for Protestant denominations who sometimes are wont to denigrate what happened before the Reformation. Finding a useful future in our past in incumbent on all of us.
Second McAlinden makes a deep connection between baptism, liminality, priesthood, the paschal mystery and the desert. Such a connection is vital for the flourishing, not just of priests, but of whole Christian communities. We live in ‘in-between’ times just as the move to the desert occurred as Christianity became the State religion in the fourth century and now that State-Church settlement is breaking down. The Priestly vocation has always been a liminal one, creating a safe enough holding space in worship for the celebration of the birth, life, death, resurrection and ascension of Christ so that transformation of worshippers can occur. Acedia is a temptation when the liminal movement from separation to re-aggregation gets stuck in the transitional phase. Resurrection cannot occur and only darkness remains. There seems to be no way out.
McAlinden suggests a remedy for this stuckness with a return to the foundation liminal moment of baptism in the priest which connects them with all other Christian disciples. Such an emphasis overcomes the tendency to what I call ‘looking busy because Jesus is coming’ – activism and activity for the sake of avoiding the big hole at the centre of such activity – the question as to what it is all for. Connecting with baptism is about entering into the maelstrom or the chaotic waters, just as Christ himself did through the whole movement of the paschal mystery. This is the only way we might make sense of the decline and even death of Church as we have known it in our current time. To avoid the chaos is to deny our baptism into death and resurrection.
Baptism is also all about community which places the priest fairly and squarely at the ‘service of the priesthood of all the baptized’ (273). Such a stance turns upside down inherited hierarchies and places the leader ‘under’ the community or perhaps to expand that idea; enabling reflective discernment and theology – ‘in, with, to, for, under and against’ the local church, to borrow a phrase from my friend and mentor Prof. Pat Keifert.
Spiritual practices then are at the heart of the renewal of the church for all the baptized and most especially for those in ministerial leadership since they set the ‘emotional and spiritual field’ in which the local Christian community either flourishes or limps along unsure of its future.
Thus McAlinden has left the church with a prophetic legacy in this article. Here is a call to embrace our crises rather than panic or deny them. To return to the foundations of our identity and calling in baptism and to trust the One who raises us to life with a promise of a future and a hope.
- Volume 7 Issue 4 (2014)
- Martin McAlinden
During the period under review in this volume the development of a professional doctorate in Practical Theology in several collaborating Universities in the UK (it goes under slightly different names in each institution – DProf/DPT etc.) has emerged as an important driver of the development of the field. Designed particularly for reflective and reflexive practitioners it has broken new ground and enabled more of the totality of human lived experience to come under the practical theological research ‘microscope’. This article we think is a good example of a doctoral researcher publishing a part of their work in order to place their new thinking ‘out there’ in public and challenge others to take up their interests. Such publishing is important if the individual doctoral researcher is to become part of a ‘community of practice’ and affect the whole.
John Barnett’s interest in dreams and dreaming begins in Inter-faith work in his back home practice (131) when a local Imam asks him about the ‘Christian view’ on dreams. It strikes me that this snippet of information is a vital clue to the future of our field. Newness comes from interactions with the ‘other’ – over the edge of the place where we feel safe and comfortable. Thus begins Barnett’s journey into why dreams have or had lost their power in the West when the rest of the world (and the Christian tradition in some forms) set great store by them. One of the things I am fairly certain about in our current time is that theology cannot be done today without reference to the global South and there is much in this article that draws on the use of dreaming from cultures outside of the West.
Barnett makes a strong case for practical theological work in what is happening when we dream. Not least because dreaming ‘is a normal, almost universal human experience’ (130) and such experience is the raw material for practical theological investigation. In addition since almost everyone dreams the researcher is also, likely a dreamer. This might be perceived as a problem in some branches of research, but not in Practical Theology. We have the resources to work reflexively and to position ourselves so that we can have some clues as to how we are affecting what we observe.
So we are treated to a typology of five possible approaches to Christian dream interpretation and each is subjected to a critical review with challenges for practical theologians to take up. These the therapeutic, communal, realist, charismatic and mechanistic types. There are important crossovers into pastoral care and theology from the therapeutic and liberationist theologians might take an interest in communal dream interpretation. Barnett is helpful in taking Pentecostal and Evangelical Charismatic approaches seriously for the contribution they can make while remaining critical of excesses. Overall here is a tightly argued apologia for engaging theologically in dreams and dreaming.
- Volume 8 Issue 2 (2015)
- John Barnett
This jointly written article is based closely on a presentation given by the authors at the BIAPT conference in 2015. The theme of the conference was ‘Faith in the Public Space: Practical Theology and The Common Good’. These two theologians, neither of them self-identifying as ‘practical theologians, were invited to open our conference with a discussion of the importance of the Bible to our deliberations. What resulted was a discussion of the ‘common good’ shaped by a wide consideration of practice identified in biblical and other historical contexts.
In choosing this article we want to highlight how discussion of the role of the Bible in practical theology has become an important feature of our broadening disciplinary approach in recent years in our constituency, for example not only in plenary sessions in BIAPT, but in the growth of the Special Interest Group on the Bible and practical theology, and in recent publications by its members.
Secondly we have chosen this article because it embodies an interdisciplinary dialogue. Tim Gorringe, as a systematic theologian, brings to the table philosophy (Aquinas, Aristotle, Stoicism), art (Lorenzetti’s Allegory of Good and Bad Government), historical theology (John Chrysostom), the Hebrew Bible and its interpretation by Jesus, and some contemporary economic analysis. Chris Rowland as a biblical scholar offers a reading of the heart of the New Testament as the ‘horizon of hope’, drawing on the work of Ernst Käsemann as well as his own considerable work on the subject, and proposes an understanding of Paul as a contextual theologian and community organiser. The sections ‘Tim on Chris’ and ‘Chris on Tim’ reflect the living dynamic of the debate at the BIAPT session, and allow a critical space within the article itself, as well as an additional richness of material which offers a ‘thick’ resource of analogies and comparisons for development of the theme.
Both Rowland, and later in this issue of the journal (‘Showing and telling: the practice of public theology today’) Elaine Graham, raise the question of whether starting the conference with the Bible was a good idea, given the ‘current conventional wisdom’ in practical theology (Graham) not to begin with the normative and definitive, and how ‘ “life” comes first’ in liberation theology’s biblical hermeneutics (Rowland) . However, I would argue that both Gorringe’s and Rowland’s contributions do put life first, while maintaining a dialectic. Gorringe’s address to the Bible is an exposition of how it is used in life, and how the actors within the biblical narrative inhabited an understanding of God and of text, as he says in his ‘Tim on Chris’, ‘in my view the emphasis on the priority of experience needs to be more dialectical, given the obvious fact that all experience is interpreted, and we interpret within the cultural traditions in which we live’. Rowland explicitly places Paul as a theologian who wrestled with life in the light of his understanding of Jesus: ‘He was an activist, whose energy was rooted in an experience and conviction first and foremost, to which systematic theological reflection contributed, but he writes to negotiate life’. This understanding of the biblical material, as itself originating from a starting point in life, subverts the hoary old chestnut – does life come first or the Bible first? Critical reflexivity becomes the means of negotiation of both.
- Volume 9 Issue 2 (2016)
- Tim Gorringe & Christopher Rowland
It was important we included this article in our reprise of the last ten years since it is almost unique in the good practice it offers as we looked over what has been published. It is, variously, from outside our UK and Ireland context, multi-authored, inter-disciplinary and utilising quantitative data from a nationwide study that included a crossover into the subjects’ interaction with their local church. In addition it deals with the body (that much neglected locus for theological reflection in the West) allied to the concerns of feminism about the wellbeing of adolescent girls. The conclusions the article makes are important to both fields, but especially to the church which was challenged about its approach to and teaching on embodiment as girls are becoming ‘physical, mature and female sexual beings’.
Interestingly there are less articles arising from or about feminist practical theology than one might think in those that we have published in the last ten years – apart from Heather Walton’s mentioned elsewhere in this text I could find only three that specifically mentioned the subject in the title; Mark Godin in 2.1 (2009); Nicola Slee and Helen Cameron in 7.1 (2014); Clare Radford in 10.2 (2017).
The article itself was the second of two studies using the macro-data from research entitled ‘The Health Behaviour in School-Aged Children’ which generated statistics from a wide-ranging survey across Canada. The first article dealt with the health benefits of eating together at a common table at home (7:2, 2014).
Publishing internationally rather than simply from the UK and Ireland base we started from in Contact has clearly been one of the benefits of moving to the format of Practical Theology. In the same period attendance at the annual BIAPT conference has been increasingly international as indeed has been participation in professional doctorate programmes. We expect this internationalization to only increase in the future while not losing touch with our location in Britain and Ireland.
There are four authors across the fields of religious studies and public health sciences for this article and as such it represents good practice in both collaborative research and inter-disciplinary working. In my view too much of our research and learning in theology is overly individualized. Other disciplines including many of the sciences expect research to be conducted in this collaborative manner and I think we lag behind somewhat. It is not entirely clear how the churches were included in the survey data collection in the first place but perhaps the collaborative and cross-discipline working had something to with it.
The other notable aspect of this study is its interaction with a nationally recognised (and regularly repeated) public health study. Given the resources that can be supplied to research at this level and the trustworthiness of the data collection and analysis methods such quantitative studies surely provide fruitful ground for practical theologians. Of course there are limitations that the authors clearly point out and qualitative follow-up work might have strengthened the findings. Nevertheless this article is a rarity in our ten years of publishing.
Diversity, diversification and unifying features in contemporary and future Practical Theology
What struck us most as editors of this volume and in compiling the papers presented here was the sheer diversity of the field – and the ever increasing diversification. We do not expect this movement to change any time soon. Perhaps this is related to the break-up of enlightenment modernity and the consequent fragmentation of societal life – this was the theme of Nicola Slee’s recent inaugural lecture as Professor of Feminist Practical Theology at the Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam. We can only expect to move further away from the settlements of Christendom, the hegemonies of a colonial world and the certainties of the Age of Reason in future years. We will need to pay increasing attention to the forces and factors at play in this fragmentation as many of them may not lead to human flourishing, rather entirely the opposite.
Allied to this fragmentation is the fragility of theology in general and practical theology in particular, noted by Nigel in his comments on Anna Thompson’s piece. Fragility is not necessarily a bad thing – being ‘lean’ may be a healthier condition than being ‘fat’. We should, however, note some key markers of fragility in our discipline. One is precisely the aforementioned erosion of certainties and hegemonies - practical theology will be broken if it takes shelter in old certainties and hegemonies, but how will it weather the storm of change? Recent changes in the constitution of the International Academy of Practical Theology, opening its membership on a much wider front precisely to embrace rather than run away from such erosions, are a sign of strength and new life.
Another fragility is the decline of resources offered to theology and to practical theology in the academy - staffing resources, research resources, and loss of the prominence of being named (departments of Theology and Religious Studies are swallowed up into greater wholes where they may be occluded). Diversity may also be lost in the process of managing resources, as demonstrated by the recent history of theological training in the Church of England. And posts which have traditionally been a rich locus of practical theological reflection, chaplaincies, are vulnerable to cuts in bodies outside the churches. We need resourcefulness to live in the cracks between these moves and to exploit such opportunities as do exist – in this work the critical reflection, and indeed the very diversity, of practical theology may help us. In these ten articles we note diversity as a key element - in the location of research and researchers, methodology, and subject matter.
We live in globalized world and the centre of gravity of the Christian faith has moved to the global South in recent decades, this must change the way we do theology and joining forces with those practitioners and scholars in mission studies has been one way of recognizing this shift. The future is cross-cultural, not least because the world is changing so fast. We should also recognise the contribution of the internet to this movement. It is so ubiquitous now it is easy to forget that even ten years ago the creation of an international journal was just beginning to be made possible given the speed at which communication can happen. All our content – even from the days of Contact is now online and searchable with powerful tools. We therefore expect more internationalizing of those writing for us and the locations for their research.
One of the strengths of practical theology is the diversity of approaches and methods that are available to the researcher. Some might see this as a weakness too, but we think the breadth of articles presented here show that with transparency and reflexivity utilising different methodologies and sometimes combining them lends depth and plausibility to the findings of any research.
We have raised the question in the articles of practical theology in and between faiths other than the Christian and we think this will be an area of increasing interest and research in the coming years. Such a move will no doubt challenge the Christian epistemological foundations of our work and strengthen us overall as we find ways to cross over these religious boundaries while keeping our own integrity.
Which leads us to the question of what unifies, if anything the work we do. We have learnt I think as editors in practical theology that nothing in human experience is outside of practical theological inquiry and we have included examples of that here, for instance in reflecting on autism and in dream interpretation. Thus our common humanity across those boundaries of nationality, gender, sexuality, class and religion that so often divide us is a starting and unifying point for our research.
There are some unities of method in practical theology. While emphases would differ among different authors of articles in the journal, there are some clear commonalities which revolve around critical reflection on the business of living. But this is not only analytical – taking apart what is there to view it in its constituent parts and then reflect on it – it is also synthetic and constructive – bringing things into relation and moving forward.
So we note some consensus around the importance of phronesis and poiesis. Generating practical wisdom for living in this world and ‘crafting’ ways of living authentically and hopefully in human community are the task we set ourselves. We wonder about how we present our poetics in the journal. We have occasionally published poetry itself, but artefacts, music and pictures are more difficult to reproduce in the formats we use. We need to engage more deeply with these questions as a community of learners.
We have greatly enjoyed re-reading this body of work, and re-presenting it to you, the reader. In so doing we may have mis-represented some of our authors. We ask for their forgiveness and assure you, and them, that we are open to correction – perhaps in the next volume of Practical Theology! Through our engagement in preparing this tenth anniversary issue we have not only experienced the diversity of practical theology, but quite straightforwardly have been reminded just how very interesting it is, and how important it is to be confronted by subject matter and ways of doing things which are not our own, which surprise us, challenge us, excite us, and delight us. Thank you to all our authors – to those in this anniversary issue and to every single one who has contributed over these ten years. We look forward to the future ten years and to all our new authors.
- Volume 9 Issue 4 (2016)
- Valerie Michaelson, Tracy J. Trothen, Colleen Davison & William Pickett