Thinking Theologically With Adults (March 2009)
By adulthood, we have organized our knowledge and experiences into a worldview—a mental model of what the world is like and what our place in the world is. Our mental models include our understanding of God, the Bible, and faith, as well as how that understanding impacts the way we live. Mental models are akin to the proverbial fish in water—we operate out of our mental models, but they function unconsciously.
The Work of Theological Reflection
Savior . . . Judge. Grace . . . Accountability. Abundance . . . Self-denial. When you consider God or the Christian faith, which of these words express the most important aspect of who God is or what it means to be Christian? What other words would you use? What experiences have contributed to your perceptions?
This is the work of theological reflection—thinking about the intersections between our faith and our daily lives. Dorothy Bass describes theological reflection as learning from "the messy realm where human beings dwell and where Christian life and ministry take place." This process brings to conscious awareness the assumptions that we make as we think about experience in light of our faith and tests the validity of those assumptions. The process also helps us consider alternative perspectives, correct misconceptions, and deepen our understanding of God, self, neighbor, and the world.
Tools for Theological Reflection
There are many tools that facilitate theological reflection. Here is just a sample.
Critical Incident Report—Describe a significant experience from the past few weeks. Include feelings, values, and assumptions related to the experience. Consider what you learned about yourself and about living as a Christian disciple. Reflect on how you might respond to a similar experience in the future.
Daily Examen—To review your day, make note of times when you were aware of God’s presence. Identify things for which you are most grateful, as well as things for which you are least grateful. Thank God for the day and pray for guidance for the day to come.
Scripture and Tradition—The Bible and our Christian heritage are sources for evaluating our experiences. Ask yourself how your thoughts, words, and actions align with the thoughts, words, and actions of Jesus. Consider how the stories of the Bible and the resources of the church inform your life today.
Theological Reflection in Your Congregation
To equip adults in your congregation for theological reflection, consider these questions:
What opportunities for theological reflection are already present in your congregation?
Which settings provide the greatest potential for theological reflection in your congregation?
What resources are needed for equipping adults for theological reflection?
Carol F. Krau is director of Adult Formation and Discipleship at the Discipleship Ministries in Nashville, TN.
For Further Reading:
Becoming a Critically Reflective Teacher. Stephen D. Brookfield. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, 1995.
How to Think Theologically. Howard W. Stone & James O. Duke. Minneapolis, MN: Fortress Press, 2006.
Loving God with All Your Mind: Equipping the Community of Faith for Theological Thinking. Thomas R. Hawkins. Nashville, TN: Discipleship Resources, 2004.
Practicing Theology, Beliefs and Practices in Christian Life. Miroslav Volf & Dorothy C. Bass, Eds. Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans Publishing