I recently read an excerpt from a book called “The Art of Theological Reflection” by Patricia O’Connell Killen and John de Beer. I thought I’d share some quotes from the book and some of my notes with you because it got me thinking and you might find it worthy of reflection too.
“What path should I choose to live today? How can I discern a direction? How can I ground my decisions in the values that are important to me? Can I do so without coming to hate those who do not share those values, or is intolerance proof of convictions? Is there a way to find meaning in my life so that my choices do not seem random but reflect an integral pattern? Is the meaning of my life only my private possession or is it connected to others?
“Sooner or later life confronts all of us with situations that raise questions like these, questions about the meaning, purpose, and value of our lives. Life experience invites us to reflect.”
The book goes on to remind us that in the global village we live in and the extensive education we are exposed to, we have a much broader understanding of diverse cultures and religious traditions than the experiences of some of our Christian forebears. The contours of our world do not allow us to simply accept answers to our questions handed down to us by communal or religious authorities. We are called to seek God’s presence through theological reflection, the artful discipline of putting our experience into conversation with the heritage of the Christian tradition.
The book suggests three standpoints for theological reflection. Here’s a summary:
- Standpoint of Certitude: When we operate exclusively from this standpoint we are unable to test a new experience against the view of life that we hold. We make our current interpretation absolute, unchanging, and true. We cram everything that happens to us into that interpretation or deny experience itself. When this becomes our only compass, we [may] miss the very things that we are seeking.
- Standpoint of Self-Assurance: We fear that we cannot count on the people around us. Fed up with the frailty and fallibility of our contexts, how we think and feel now, in each new situation. We choose to be our own compass, map and guide and reject our need for any other.
- Standpoint of Exploration: When we enter into our experience and describe from inside the evidence of our senses, we may find ourselves in a movement toward insight. Following this will lead us on new paths and change our ways of understanding the world and our place in it. Living from this standpoint often draws us into community and our desire and need for companions and for sources of wisdom from outside ourselves that can help us to interpret our experience.
“Theological reflection is the discipline of exploring individual and corporate experience in conversation with the wisdom of a religious heritage. The conversation is a genuine dialogue that seeks to hear from our own beliefs, actions and perspectives, as well as those of the traditions. It respects the integrity of both. Theological reflection therefore may confirm, challenge, clarify, and expand how we understand our own experience and how we understand the religious tradition. The outcome is new truth and meaning for living.”
As my classmates and I reflected on what we read, we discussed the standpoints that seemed to be most prevalent in our own traditions. My class includes people from Catholic, Anglican, Baptist, Unitarian Universalist, non-denominational and United Methodist traditions and we came to the conclusion that we could all learn from one another.
From those of us who claim the Wesleyan tradition, this points us towards the principal factors that John Wesley believed illuminate the core of the Christian faith for the believer. (1) Scripture, (2) tradition, (3) reason, and (4) experience). For United Methodists, Scripture is considered the primary source and standard for Christian doctrine. Tradition is experience and the witness of development and growth of the faith through the past centuries and in many nations and cultures. Experience is the individual’s understanding and appropriating of the faith in the light of his or her own life. Through reason the individual Christian brings to bear on the Christian faith discerning and cogent thought. These four elements taken together bring the individual Christian to a mature and fulfilling understanding of the Christian faith and the required response of worship and service. [Source: A Dictionary for United Methodists, Alan K. Waltz]
Questions for Self-Reflection:
- As I read the descriptions of the Standpoints of Certitude, Self-Assurance and Exploration, where did I find myself? Did the description resonate with me or challenge me to consider another standpoint? Why?
- Do I agree with the four principal factors that John Wesley taught pointing us to what is now called the Wesley Quadrilateral? How well do I include these four factors into my theological reflection?
- How were most of my religious views formed? Have I inherited interpretations from others without examining them for myself?
- If this article challenged me in any way, what are some steps that I might take in my search to be more faithful?
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Claire -Searching for a Way to Be Faithful
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