Wednesday, May 31, 2006

Theologically Reflective Christian Professionals

Journal Article Review

Barns, Ian (2002), Becoming Theologically Reflective Practitioners in Professional Life, Journal of Christian Education, Vol.45, No. 2, September : 7-20

Dr. Ian Barns, Lecturer in Science and technology Policy, Institute for Sustainability and Technology Policy, Murdoch University, Perth, Australia made a refreshing appeal for the need to help Christian professionals to be theologically reflective. This is a need that is long felt by many Christian professionals who are considered laypersons by the church professionals or clergy and by the seminary academicians.

In asking the question why Christian professionals are not theologically formed, Barns was very astute in his observations. It is true that professionals lead busy lives and have heavy workload and it is the training of the profession itself that narrow them down to looking for basic professional knowledge and skills to carry out their responsibilities. This is also carried forth when they face general issues facing their professions. They tend to see in specifics rather than generalities. Theology is seeing the big picture from God’s viewpoint. Another obvious point is that most churches do not offer theological training and those professionals who wanted more have go to the theological colleges. In the past, these have to leave their professions to be allowed to undergo theological training. Recently, there is awareness by theological colleges that there is a large body of professionals out there who are hungry for theological training. There are now evening classes and seminars for professionals.

Barns is interested in the pedagogy of Christian professionals who can do theological reflection in their professions. The desired outcome will be that of a Christian professional who will be personally able to do theological reflection and also be in fellowship with other theologically reflective Christians in the same professions. Barns have suggested 8 key elements to enhance theological reflection. These are:
1. Reflecting on ‘practice stories’p.11
2. Reflecting on the “structural challenges of the profession” p.11
3. Reflecting on the “ethical framework of professional practice” p.12
4. “Articulating the gospel as a framework for public truth” p.13
5. “Living a Eucharistic way of life” p.14
6. “Recovering the vocation of the kingdom of God” p.15
7. “Christian casuity in professional practice” p.16
8. “Fostering Christian solidarities” p.17
These are powerful elements if one is to be able to be theologically reflective. Practice stories are a wonderful tool for teaching, encouraging and motivation. These practice stories should be linked to the Christian Story, the meta-narrative of the redemptive work of God. Only then may it make sense. How does one reflect on practice stories, structural challenges of the profession and its ethical framework? As he has mentioned earlier, professionals are more problem solvers than reflectors. That means there will need to be teaching on how to reflect in his program. Reflection also needs time and solitude. Again in a busy professional lifestyle, how is one to find this time for reflection? It will be interesting to see how Barns resolve these problems in his ‘in situ’ theological reflection professionals approach.

For the 8 key elements to be effective and for a Christian professional to be able to reflect theologically, he or she must have at least a basic theological foundation in order to do so. This is assume a certain level of knowledge of the Bible, systematic theology, cultural imperatives, issues of the profession, hermeneutics, critical thinking and learning, and the ability to integrate all this information through the filter of a Christian worldview. The reflecting professional needs a theological foundation before he or she can reflect. This then becomes a classic chicken and egg situation. Do the professional reflect first, and then become theological informed later or be theological first and then reflect later? Would short courses be able to provide the foundations? What would the other “holistic process for Christian professional development” be?

Would Christian communities be able to help? While professionals may be master in moving between worlds, church professionals often have difficulties moving out of their world. This also applies to programs organised by theological colleges. Such programs are often taught by theologians who may have little or no idea what challenges the professionals face outside the lecture halls.

Can Christian professional bodies help? Often Christian professional bodies or societies are non-reflective. They either look towards the theologians in the seminaries to give them the answers or to other similar bodies to give answers. Again, as a result of their training, they prefer to do rather than to reflect. They are Marthas rather than Marys. That is why historically they have not been very effective in giving a Christian voice in their profession. They have always been reactive rather than proactive.

The paper was written in 2002. It will be interesting to follow Barns’ progress in producing theological reflective lawyers ‘in situ’

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