Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Sources for theological reflection

Over the next month I am going to be writing course material for the reflective field education course that I run at Carey college. At the moment I am musing and reading on the subject of how theological reflection takes place and what sources we can or should draw on to do so. Here is my list (in no particular order):
  1. Biblical
  2. Theological
  3. (Church) historical
  4. Prayer/worship
  5. Experience
  6. Co-incidence (e.g. certain circumstances co-inciding with a desire)
  7. Pragmatism (linked but not necessarily congruent to co-incidence)
  8. Conversation/Community
  9. Heroes/mentors
  10. Observation of signs
Have I missed any?

For different Christians I think different sources take a more authoritative role in the process of reflection and discernment, and soe are often totally excluded. 1-3 have been the substance of a classic theological education. But I think it is probably fair to say that 4 should probably be paramount regardless of your biases towards the rest. Biblical reflection would then be an indispensible second, but this is tricky as most of us are so bad at this. It would also be interesting to diagram the way each one potentially critiques and moderates the others (e.g. Bible and theology, or prayer and pragmatism). The last two only occurred to me as I wrote the list down - but in my experience these can often be very significant in people's processes of reflection, although 10 is especially frought with issues. By articulating and evaluating the sources we draw upon to reflect theologically we should be able to move towards a more integrated and authentic process, which is a vital key to being an integrated and authentic Christian.

let me know what you think. :-)


  1. Well, looking at it in a wesleyan-quadrilateral sense (Scripture, Reason, Tradition & Experience), wouldn't many of those be under 'experience'?

    ((others add Revelation & Culture))


  2. well the welseyan quadrilatral is, i think, more for the construction of theology rather than theological reflection... two different things. if you define it broadly enough experience covers everything, which is a good point, i intended prior experience rather than what is being experienced in the present.

    culture is an interesting one. is it really something we draw on as a source for theological reflection? hmmmm. i dont know... shouldn't theological reflection helpus transcend the culture rather than slavishly follow it?

  3. ahh... good distinction between contstruction and reflection.

    Re culture, I had Stanley Grenz in mind, on whom Habets had us do an evaluation of his 'community' motif, mine is here (relevant section end of pg4 thru bgng of pg5). He argues for a "tri-a-logue" between "the biblical message, the theological tradition and contemporary culture" not in the sense of handing over the reigns, but in terms of (i think!) trying to benefit from the interaction. The sense is that the dialogue between biblical message and theological tradition will not be as rich as the 'trialogue'...

    your thoughts/concerns?

  4. yes again this is construction, where you aim to treat your theology as a bridge between the the timesless biblical truth on one hand and the culture in which you live on the other. this is contextual theology, whereas theological reflection presupposes that you have already attained some sort of theological system within your context.

    i think you might be right though, there probably is a place for accurate pyscho-social-cultural exegesis as a source for reflection, especially in terms of evaluating the congruence of your ministry intention with its actual effect. this might also fit within obsrvation of signs, prior experience and pragmatism. many of these spheres are overlapping.

  5. Theological reflection might also occur while fasting.

    Of course, you don't really need to theologically reflect if God reveals something to you directly (i.e. supernaturally). Dreams, visions, prophecies, angels etc. However, these events require discernment to know who the message is coming from.

  6. but that would make fasting a method rather than a source.
    presumably if you are getting messages that directly, the process of reflection is being somewhat short circuited - but in my experience this is rare and also not the way God tends to grow us in faith.

  7. @ Jonathan

    In agreeing with your statement that "theological reflection presupposes that you have already attained some sort of theological system within your context" I would have to then disagree with you when you said, "the welseyan quadrilatral is, i think, more for the construction of theology rather than theological reflection... two different things."

    It isn't really different, when you are looking for a source of theological reflection. I mean, how can your search for the "source of theological reflection" not include the sources from which you constructed your basis of theology? Sure, construction and reflection seem to be vastly different in wordly terms, because if you are constructing, let's say a house, you are hard at work, but if you are reflecting on the house you built, you are doing something totally different. But, with theology, you are "building a house", and just because you begin "reflecting" does not signify that you have "completed" your house, because the essence of theology is that you are ALWAYS building your house, and you are reflecting as you are going along. Therefore your sources of constructing theology (like using the "Quadrilateral") and the sources of Theological Reflection coincide.