For the Bookshelf: How to Think Theologically

For the Bookshelf: How to Think Theologically

By guest blogger Neil Zahradka, MDiv

While many persons might consider theological reflection to be a practice best suited for religious scholars, Howard Stone and James Duke, in How To Think Theologically, present the case that all Christians should be theologians. In fact, they open their book on the premise that we all engage in the process, deliberately or not. In order to be honest with ourselves as well as truly representative of our faith, development of a system for thinking theologically should be in the forefront of our personal approaches to Christianity. Stone and Duke’s approach is presented in a format that could be used to learn key methods for one’s own faith development or as a method to educate others in this important matter of reflection.

The authors initially present the reader with a distinction between embedded and deliberative theology, making it clear the need to process how a conclusion regarding spiritual matters is drawn. They speak of theology as interpreting, correlating and assessing whether or not one’s views are tenable when compared to what Christianity is supposed to represent. Moving on from a discussion of viewpoint, Stone and Duke present a template to sort and organize life’s complexities based on four key elements taken from Methodist thought: Scripture, reason, tradition and experience. Procedures for applying the template are discussed using practical examples that give the reader a guide for where to start, and which key questions to begin asking, such as how the question at hand relates to the gospel message, the human condition and vocation. Discussion of the process of theological reflection includes recognition of the need to evaluate where one’s gifts fit into the Christian community, and culminates with a discussion of the importance of spiritual disciplines in seeking the influence of the Holy Spirit to form one’s theology.

In one of the few uses of terms one might consider more typical of seminary discussions, Stone and Duke describe their process for theological reflection as a “trenches hermeneutic,” to be used in real life situations that are often blurred in the midst of numerous variables. They stress the importance of deliberative theological reflection that precedes the spur of the moment decisions we must make on a day to day basis.

New seminarians will find How to Think Theologically to be a refreshingly lighter read than many of the other resources to which they will be exposed in the course of theological study. However, the lack of terms that typically salt the writings of professional theologians does not detract from the utility of the book as a resource for any Christian with a serious desire to ground their faith. The book is more than just Sunday school material. For those who have studied faith development, the importance of reflection upon one’s positions on religious belief is obvious; but whether one is in the camp of those in formal study, or more simply have “stumbled” upon the need to determine why they believe what they do, Stone and Duke’s contribution offers a well-structured method for a key component of faith development.

While many persons might consider theological reflection to be a practice best suited for religious scholars, Stone and Duke, present the case that all Christians should be theologians. In fact, they open their book on the premise that we all engage in the process, deliberately or not. In order to be honest with ourselves as well as truly representative of our faith, development of a system for thinking theologically should be in the forefront of our personal approaches to Christianity. Stone and Duke’s approach is presented in a format that could be used to learn key methods for one’s own faith development or as a method to educate others in this important matter of reflection.

The authors initially present the reader with a distinction between embedded and deliberative theology, making it clear the need to process how a conclusion regarding spiritual matters is drawn. They speak of theology as interpreting, correlating and assessing whether or not one’s views are tenable when compared to what Christianity is supposed to represent. Moving on from a discussion of viewpoint, Stone and Duke present a template to sort and organize life’s complexities based on four key elements taken from Methodist thought: Scripture, reason, tradition and experience. Procedures for applying the template are discussed using practical examples that give the reader a guide for where to start, and which key questions to begin asking, such as how the question at hand relates to the gospel message, the human condition and vocation. Discussion of the process of theological reflection includes recognition of the need to evaluate where one’s gifts fit into the Christian community, and culminates with a discussion of the importance of spiritual disciplines in seeking the influence of the Holy Spirit to form one’s theology.

 

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