Resources for Theological Reflection
Do theology. That’s one of the things congregations can do to help overcome the obstacles that stand in the way of living into a vision of the ministry of all. Or, at least, it’s one of the things suggested in an article in the fall 2004 issue of Congregations magazine, which focused on lay ministry.
In response to that article, a number of readers have e-mailed, asking about additional resources to help their congregations tackle the important work of doing theology. Among the multitude of resources that are available, two books on theological reflection are especially helpful:
- Reflecting with God: Connecting Faith and Daily Life in Small Groups. This 2004 Alban Institute book by Abigail Johnson provides a creative hands-on approach to engaging individuals in theological reflection about their daily life. As the author notes in the book’s preface: “Our most challenging task as faithful Christians is to discern how God is at work in our lives. Through our faith in God as creator and sustainer, we profess our belief that God is part of the fabric of our being, yet naming how God plays that part is difficult. In everyday tasks, decisions, and life challenges, it is not easy to see God’s spirit at work.” This volume offers a most helpful response to that challenge.
- The Art of Theological Reflection. This clearly written volume by Patricia O’Connell Killen and John de Beer guides the reader through the importance of theological reflection, as well as ways to help individuals, small groups, and faith communities enter into that reflection. It also includes an excellent annotated bibliography of resources for theological reflection.
In addition, I have used the following resources with individuals and small groups:
- Becoming a Thinking Christian by John B. Cobb, Jr. (Abingdon Press).
- Finding a Faith that Makes Sense by R. Scott Colglazier (Chalice Press).
- How to Think Theologically by Howard W. Stone and James O Duke (Augsburg Fortress Publishers).
- Why Can’t I Believe?: Struggling with Faith and Doubt by Gaylord Noyce (Chalice Press).
- Why Christian?: For Those on the Edge of Faith by Douglas John Hall (Fortress Press).
Reflecting with God
Naming the Experience: Choosing an event on which to reflect
Choose an event, a moment, a conversation, or a situation. As you recall the event, ask yourself:
- What happened?
- Who was involved?
- What did you say or do?
Exploring the Experience: Finding another layer to the event
To explore another layer in this event, ask yourself:
- How did you feel?
- What challenged, stimulated, or disturbed you?
- What was happening for others in the situation?
Digging Deeper: Expanding your thinking
To discover another layer of reflection, ask yourself:
- What do you think about the situation?
- What core values emerge as you think about this event?
- What values are different from yours?
- What social issues, power issues, or economic issues are at work?
Making Faith Connections: Finding God at work in this event
To make faith connections, ask yourself:
- Where is God present for you in this situation?
- Where is God present for others?
- Does this event remind you of a scripture passage, a hymn, or other resources from your faith tradition?
- What theological issues or themes are present?
- What traditions of our church speak to this situation?
- Are you affirmed or challenged in your present actions or beliefs?
Leaning: Naming your discoveries
To draw out what you learned, ask yourself:
- What questions still linger?
- Were you challenged to change present actions or beliefs?
- What have you learned about yourself?
- What have you learned about God?
- What do you need?
- What will you do now?
Praying: Taking time with God
To conclude your reflection, write a prayer emerging from this event.
From Reflecting with God: Connecting Faith and Daily Life in Small Groups by Abigail Johnson (Herndon, VA: Alban Institute, 2004)
Memories, Hopes, and Conversations: Appreciative Inquiry and Congregational Change by Mark Lau Branson
Branson persuasively demonstrates how concentrating on needs and problems can mire a congregation in discouragement and distract from noticing innate strengths. By focusing on memories of the congregation at its best, members are able to construct “provocative proposals” to help shape the church’s future. Grounded in solid theory and real-life practice, Memories, Hopes, and Conversations is a groundbreaking work of narrative leadership and the first book to apply the principles of Appreciative Inquiry to the lives of congregations.
The Practicing Congregation: Imagining a New Old Church by Diana Butler Bass
The conventional wisdom about mainline Protestantism maintains that it is a dying tradition, irrelevant to a postmodern society, unresponsive to change, and increasingly disconnected from its core faith tenets. In her provocative new book, historian and researcher Diana Butler Bass argues that there are signs that mainline Protestant churches are indeed changing, finding a new vitality intentionally grounded in Christian practices and laying the groundwork for a new type of congregation.