Monday, March 03, 2014

BookPastor >> "Attentive to God" (Charles M. Wood and Ellen Blue)

TITLE: Attentive to God: Thinking Theologically in Ministry
AUTHORS: Charles M. Wood and Ellen Blue
PUBLISHER: Nashville, TN: Abingdon Press, 2008, (138 pages).

Theology is about being attentive to God, to others, and to ourselves. That is what thinking theologically is all about. Combining their expertise, knowledge, and experience about many aspects of "knowing," "doing," and "being," two seasoned professors and practitioners of Christian ministry come together to offer us a powerful resource for the practice of Christian ministry. The "knowing" gets the ball rolling. The "doing" comes from the authenticity of the "being" and the awareness of all three working together in an integrated fashion is the task of all theologians, Christian thinkers and ministers. From a philosophical angle, the authors begin with Isaiah Berlin's famous phrase: "The fox knows many things, but the hedgehog knows one big thing." After comparing the fox's attention to details and its fascination to details (vision), with the hedgehog's focus on one big thing (discernment), they conclude that we all need a combination of both. Thus, Wood and Blue weave together a multi-threaded perspectives and integrate them under one whole. Working in many triads, they see attentiveness as being God-centered, companions-sensitivity, and self-awareness. They view Wesleyan quartet (Scripture, Tradition, Reason, Experience) through three conditions of authenticity, truth, and "fittingness." They consider Martin Luther's classical three aspects of theological study (oratio, meditatio, tentatio) as a "central organizing insight." One should not let details cloud out one's care for individuals. Neither should one carelessly sacrifice individuals for the sake of the big picture. There is also the three kinds of responses that exemplify Church Ministry: Word, Sacrament, and Order. The "Word" seeks to determine the truth and how the truth can be shown forth. The "Sacrament" seeks to overcome faults so as to bring about reconciliation in Christ. The "Order" looks to bring about the most benefit for people in the light of the redeeming work of God. With that, the authors come up with two sets of triad questions. The first set is a practical set with the student being an outside observer. The second is more personal with the self being an active participant.

Practical Triad of Questions
  1. What is going on in this situation?
  2. How is God involved in what is going on?
  3. What is a fitting response to what is going on?

Personal Triad of Questions

  1. What is going on with you as you consider this situation?
  2. How is God involved in what is going on with you in this process?
  3. How might you respond to what is going on with you?

They put these questions to 19 case studies, believing that while the cases are fictional, they are remarkably similar to several real cases in their ministry encounters. Such a method is a way of believing that life happens when we are making other plans. There is the case of Henry the homeless man whose presence outside a Redeemer Church is splitting up the Board's opinions on what to do. There is the example of a couple who wanted so badly to have their child go through infant baptism even when they are agnostic. The practice of putting money on the rails after Communion is also another case that pits pastor against leaders. Other interesting cases include estate and building logistics; questions about God's Will; relationships with Church members; and even offering a gay man a room in Church are examples of how the most ordinary decisions can become extremely complex.

The various case studies allow readers to put into practice both triad of questions. What will they do as a distant observer? What would they do if they are direct participants of the case studies. Being attentive to God means putting into practice the love of God and neighbour. It means learning to live with the constraints of today with the promises of tomorrow. It means that having all the right answers is not the point. It is in working through the best process with the understanding that it is God who is in control. Obedience to God is primary. Following human principles is secondary. Let me close with this thoughtful paragraph.

"What informs our attentiveness? What shapes our capacity for attending to God, and guides us when we are in particular need of guidance? In keeping with Christian conviction, we should say at the outset that it is ultimately God who does so - that our learning and practice of theology, along with everything else that is good in our lives, has to do with our participation by grace in the life of the triune God, and with our being brought to understand things in the life of Jesus Christ by the Holy Spirit who is at work in us and all creation. When we speak of more proximate resources, these themselves must finally be understood in their God-relatedness, as means by which God is at work on and in and through us." (9)

For the authors, "theological discernment" is about asking the question, "Where is the Lord?" While that may be way too brief for those of us with more sophisticated requirements, it marks a good start to our path of thinking theologically in ministry.

Rating: 5 stars of 5.


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