This semester many of SBC’s students have been out on placement at a variety of places. We’ve had students exploring Chaplaincy in hospitals, prisons, and schools; there’s been many in their home churches as well as new church contexts; and some with para-church organisations. It’s a real privilege to see the full breadth of where the students are reaching and impacting through their College placements. At SBC we recognise the importance of ‘hands-on’ experience and the value of learning from practitioners. The other part of the Work-based Learning module is to introduce the Pastoral Reflection cycle where theory and practice come together and students are encouraged to reflect upon their practice and ask questions such as:
Does my practice need to be changed in light of understanding theology better?
Often when faced with the cold, hard realities of the ‘real’ world we find that what we know in theory is far harder to implement in practice. In the face of suffering how do we hold on to God’s love for the world? In an apathetic world how do our models of evangelism really stack up? We have to let experience inform and update our understanding and theories to be able to engage well with the very people we are called to love.
As well as coordinating the work-based learning module this semester, I was responsible for SBC’s class on the Trinity last semester. One of the interesting interactions in Trinitarian theology is how an unknowable, immanent God is revealed to humanity through His economy – in other words, His actions towards the world. In early Trinitarian theology it was of fundamental importance to let the mystery and transcendence of God have its correct place to avoid making God in the image of humans. In one sense, our experience of God could never fully comprehend the fullness of God – if we started with our human experience we would come up short to explaining the Trinitarian God.
The cycle of theological reflection takes into account both experience / practice and theology / theory and asks how these two interact. It strikes me that there is a delicate balance to be held between ‘making God in our image’ and having a ‘disconnected dysfunctional theology’. The greater danger of this dialectic is to let theology be reduced to asking the ‘what works?’ question and therefore letting practice dominate theory because that is simply the most tangible and accessible option. We must let theology speak clearly and coherently whilst recognising that when we do we realise that it can only but be put into practice. Theology cannot be contained to the pages of a book but leaps out into living a life of love in light of who God is. This is what is at the heart of creation, incarnation, and Pentecost – the immanent, mysterious, transcendent being of God worked out in relation to the world and humanity.
These are some personal reflections upon theology (as opposed to representing the entirety of SBC’s views!) so please do get in touch or comment if you have any ideas to help shape this conversation further – I’d be pleased to dialogue further with you!