Wright, N. (2004) ‘A Time to Reflect’, Accord, Association of Christian Counsellors, Summer, Issue 43, p19.
The ability to reflect Biblically on practice and vice versa is a very important tool for Christian counsellors, supervisors and mentors. This is true whether the focus of reflection is on strategy, policy, decision-making or simply everyday life experiences. Christians have traditionally approached the relationship between theology and practice from one of two ends of a spectrum:
Applied theology, which seeks to understand the Bible first and then apply its teaching to everyday situations, or
Theological reflection, which starts with everyday situations and then tries to make sense of them in light of the Bible.
The former approach is taught and used widely by evangelicals. The latter is less common, mainly owing to a concern that the Bible may be misinterpreted or misapplied to fit the particular nuances of current circumstances. I will present below a simple approach to theological reflection that hopes to address these concerns practically.
We will start with a case example: a client reports feeling nervous about presenting a report to his or her senior leadership team. At first glance, this doesn’t appear to present any obvious theological issues for further reflection and so it would be easy to bypass the Bible at this point and focus purely on emotions or practicalities. If we unpack the presenting statement, however, certain underlying possibilities do emerge.
I might suggest drawing a circle with ‘feeling nervous’ at its centre and then ask the client to draw arrows that lead out from the circle (like a mind-map) to possible causes of his or her nervousness. “I disagree with what I’m being asked to present”, “I’m afraid I might look stupid in front of my superiors”, “I don’t think I’m good at this kind of thing.” To spend time with the client and allow him or her, with minimal prompts, to crystallise those statements that seem most significant is an important first step.
Such statements have all kinds of potential theological implications. For example, the comment, “I disagree with what I’m being asked to present” may raise important questions about personal integrity and relationships with those in authority. “I’m afraid that I might look stupid in front of my superiors” may raise questions concerning identity and security. “I don’t think I’m good at this kind of thing” may raise questions about gifting and calling.
At this stage, having established which causes resonate with the client’s own self-understanding and experience, I might encourage him or her to explore relevant Biblical themes and, where relevant, to look at how others in Scripture handled similar tensions in their lives. It’s important not to ‘force’ the Bible and rather, instead, to allow space to reflect on its truth with openness of mind and heart. Careful study and prayer for wisdom and discernment are critical factors in this process.
Finally, I will ask the client to consider how the revealed theological perspective can or should influence his or her response to the presenting issue. In this way, the client is enabled to move from experience through theological reflection and back into experience again or, in praxis terms, from action to reflection to action. I have noticed that the Spirit of God often uses this process to create profound transformation of both client and his or her circumstances. Jesus, too, encouraged this form of reflection as a means to deepening spiritual insight (e.g. Mk 8:19-21).
For further reading in this area, I have found the following books particularly helpful: Green (1990): Let’s do Theology; Foskett & Lyall (1986): Helping the Helpers; Wesson (1986): Theological Reflection on Practice, in Ballard (1986): The Foundations of Pastoral Studies and Practical Theology; Lyall (1989): Pastoral Action and Theological Reflection, in Willows & Swinton (2000): Spiritual Dimensions of Pastoral Care; Killen & de Beer (1994): The Art of Theological Reflection.