Darragh on Doing Theology Ourselves

Doing Theology Ourselves by Neil DarraghDoing Theology Ourselves” is an introduction to theological reflection with a contextual approach, written by Neil Darragh in 1995. Darragh is a Catholic parish priest (Glen Innes, Auckland) and educator at the Catholic Institute of Theology, Auckland.

I have found Darragh’s approach helpful in identifying the need for awareness of local issues and their connection with the Christian tradition. He puts his finger on the frustration many have with academic theology – theologians talking with one another in inaccessible language, rather than doing theology with people in everyday ministry and mission contexts. Here Darragh takes the reader through a process of starting from significant action in the local context, identifying issues, pivotal questions and reading the scriptures in that light. No room here for proof texting though. He suggests reading through all of the New Testament when exploring new issues. There’s no use hiding the fact that contextual theology, that is done rather than received, is hard work.

As Darragh himself points out, his approach suits people with a literary individualist streak – people able to focus, read and write for long periods of time by themselves. I would add that it suits people who are able to talk about ‘issues’ for their community. There are major steps required to go from data through to abstract principles that can be applied back to concrete situations.

As a resource for responding to generational change

Darragh introduces the discipline of considering the local context from the perspective of action rather than books. Local leaders are invited to consider their experiences of ministry and mission. This is done in community, not alone. The most effective theological reflection on generational change is done by people who are engaging with one another as members of specific generations. The dialogue that leads to engagement with scripture together is a huge factor in developing integrity in appropriate styles. Assumptions can be aired and tested. Resources can be sought together. Long term study of the Scriptures can be engaged in with the pivotal questions relating to generational change.

Robert Kinast on Theological Reflection Models

What Are They Saying About Theological ReflectionRobert Kinast is Director of the Center for Theological Reflection, Indian Rocks Beach, Florida. He is a leading authority on theological reflection. What are they saying about theological reflection, published by Paulist Press in 2000, explores five styles of theological reflection.

1. Kinast’s exploration of the Ministerial style (training people for ministry) centres around Method in Ministry by James D and Evelyn Eaton Whitehead.

2. The spiritual wisdom style of theological reflection is ‘rooted in the veryday life experiences of believing people’. Kinast here looks at material by Thomas Groome, Patricia Killen and John de Beer.

3. The Feminist style is described as a collective enterprise with many voices throughout the world contributing. Kinast introduces work by Elizabeth Schussler Fiorenza, Elizabeth Johnson, Mary Daly, Sally McFague and Mary McClintock Fulkerson.

4. The Inculturation style of theological reflection encourages participants to reflect in and on their cultural setting. Kinast explores Robert Schreiter’s work, along with issues relating to Hispanic/Latino and African American cultures.

5. The Practical Style of Theological Reflection, as championed by Don Browning, aims for a critical theological reflection on current praxis rather than applying theory to practice. It concentrates on the community of faith and its relationship to larger society rather than the pastor and the pastor’s relationship to the congregation (clerical paradigm).
This easy-to-read book is a useful beginning for getting one’s head around twenty five years of writing on theological reflection as a practice.

Considering Generational Change

The Ministry Formation model of theological reflection helps Christian leaders consider their own response to generational change in wider society and in the church.

The spiritual wisdom approach allows for the possibility that fresh experience may bring new insights to the church.

The Feminist approaches to theological reflection introduce tools such as the hermeneutic of suspicion, the critique of power and the valuing of unheard voices. These can all be applied to the church’s relationship with its emerging generations.

The inculturation approach provides a useful entry point to the consideration of context, both global and local.

Practical theology as a discipline allows for the dialogue between pragmatic considerations and the historical and systematic streams of theology – a useful reality check for both Christian leaders seeking to be both relevant to new generations and true to their shared Christian beliefs.