Category: Book Reviews

The Celtic Way of Evangelism, by George Hunter

August 3rd, 2015

Book review submitted by Christopher B. James, Ph.D. Candidate in Practical Theology, Concentrations: Evangelism and Church & Society. Review originally appeared on jesusdust.com

Moral, Believing Animals, by Christian Smith

August 3rd, 2015

Book review submitted by Christopher B. James, Ph.D. Candidate in Practical Theology, Concentrations: Evangelism and Church & Society. Review originally appeared on jesusdust.com

American Evangelicalism, by Christian Smith

August 3rd, 2015

Book review submitted by Christopher B. James, Ph.D. Candidate in Practical Theology, Concentrations: Evangelism and Church & Society. Review originally appeared on jesusdust.com

Everything Must Change, by Brian McClaren

August 3rd, 2015

Book review submitted by Christopher B. James, Ph.D. Candidate in Practical Theology, Concentrations: Evangelism and Church & Society. Review originally appeared on jesusdust.com

Christian America? What Evangelicals Really Want, by Christian Smith

August 3rd, 2015

Book review submitted by Christopher B. James, Ph.D. Candidate in Practical Theology, Concentrations: Evangelism and Church & Society. Review originally appeared on jesusdust.com

Planting Missional Churches, by Ed Stetzer

August 3rd, 2015

Book review submitted by Christopher B. James, Ph.D. Candidate in Practical Theology, Concentrations: Evangelism and Church & Society. Review originally appeared on jesusdust.com

Organic Church, by Neil Cole

August 3rd, 2015

Book review submitted by Christopher B. James, Ph.D. Candidate in Practical Theology, Concentrations: Evangelism and Church & Society. Review originally appeared on jesusdust.com

Mission-Shaped Church

August 3rd, 2015

Book review submitted by Christopher B. James, Ph.D. Candidate in Practical Theology, Concentrations: Evangelism and Church & Society. Review originally appeared on jesusdust.com

Part 1 – Summary: http://www.jesusdust.com/2012/09/mission-shaped-church-summary.html

Part 2 – Book Review: http://www.jesusdust.com/2012/10/mission-shaped-church-2-book-review.html

Practical Theology: A New Approach, by Marcel Viau

August 3rd, 2015

Review by Francisca Ireland-Verwoerd

Marcel Viau is a Roman Catholic practical theologian who has taught primarily in his native Canada and most recently in Fribourg, Switzerland. The rise of practical theology in the Roman Catholic tradition is directly related to the Second Vatican Council with its emphasis on the work of local churches and pastors. This renewed focus gave the impetus for the study of pastoral theology (later called practical theology) as a discipline autonomous from systematic theology, while remaining intimately connected at the same time. Viau sees several reasons for this new way of doing theology. First, the social scientific tools for pastors have multiplied, and the methods of studying the church’s actions in the secular world have diversified. Second, in North American universities, theology–and even more practical theology–does not always have the same credibility as the physical or human sciences. Third, it is not clear whether practical theology as an ecclesial discourse is institutional or experiential. These issues of practical theology’s ways and fields of study, its unconfirmed academic status, and the tension between its institutional and experiential discourse, point to the problem of “the epistemological status” of practical theology (xi). Viau proposes to lay the groundwork for basic research that will address the problem.

For Viau, practical theology consists of constructing discourses on the basis of faith practices of Christians (xv). His basic research then is “a critical study of the conditions surrounding the production of the discourse of Practical Theology,” with the understanding that the function of practical theology is to “produce a discourse that allows our contemporaries to live faith in a satisfactory manner” (ibid.). The goal of this basic research is to “provid[e] Practical Theology with rules of conduct by sketching a basic architecture, thus establishing it as a discipline” (ibid.). Viau’s new approach is concerned with the question of how practical theology works as it attempts “to take hold of and give an account of its practices, in other words as it attempts to produce a discourse” (xvi, italics his).

In this book, Viau lays the philosophical foundations for an epistemology characteristic of practical theology. He defines ‘discourse’ as a “body of utterances” and ‘object’ as “that to which the discourse is linked” (xvii), and then addresses three questions: what is the material out of which the discourse and its object are made? (i.e. experience; chapters one, two, and three); what is the nature of the bond between the discourse and the object? (i.e. language; chapters four, five, six, and seven); and what is the adjustment of the discourse to its object? (i.e. belief; chapters eight, nine, and ten).

In the first three chapters, Viau begins by studying the presuppositions that underlie every discourse. Here he finds the pragmatic strain of Anglo-Saxon philosophy helpful insofar as it does not fall into idealism, nor empiricism, but rather holds to the notion that “the object of this discourse is external to the discourse itself” (3). For a pragmatist, experience is not confined to a mental reality, but it encompasses everything the mental content implies (e.g. sensations or the ideas formed based on the sensations) as a manifestation of the cosmos (23). The knowing of this experience is not a separate act, but a reconstruction of the experience. On the theological level then, ideas about faith cannot be dissociated from experience. Consequently God, as the object of faith, “cannot be understood without the help of experience” (25). For practical theology this means that “the input of experience allows something of the divine nature, especially as it acts upon the world, to be understood” (ibid.). Via the Realism and the Social Behaviorism of John Dewey and George Herbert Mead, Viau concludes that experience is rooted and manifested in an environment. Human consciousness consists of the experience of a phenomenon in the present time. When that experience drives the consciousness to reach out to other human beings, a social context is formed in which the experience becomes ‘common’ (37). The chapter on Signs in Language, in which Viau expounds the behaviorist sign theory of Charles S. Peirce and the semiotic theory of Charles W. Morris, emphasizes the social context in which signs communicate experience.

The next four chapters provide a closer look at conditions under which a discourse can have access to its object. The function of discourse is not to account for the object itself, but for “the events which constitute the framework of human experience” (89). In Viau’s epistemology, this theological ‘real’ is just as real as the scientist’s ‘real’ because of the bond established between discourse and object. Theology is a certain grammar that is used in a particular discourse; it is the way we speak about God and our experiences of God (97). In order to provide a sure philosophical footing, Viau seeks to ground this ‘grammar of faith’ on human nature—a so-called theology naturalized– rather than on a hypothesis about deity (ibid.). How then can we know that which is unknowable? After exploring various philosophical discourses (e.g. by Richard Rorty, W.V.O. Quine, Hilary Putnam) Viau settles on Ludwig Wittgenstein’s term “language-game” to underscore that speaking a language is an activity in which meaning is delineated by its context (112-113). Any number of language-games exists, each within “the social space of a given linguistic community” and the rules of language construction are determined by this community (114). The language-game of theology enables Viau to articulate an epistemology without the necessity of a priori knowledge of the divine.

In the last three chapters on belief, Viau uses the concept of pragmatists that truth is based on belief, to place belief at the heart of a practical theological epistemology. He draws heavily from the work of Charles Peirce and William James, while also referencing R.B. Braithwaite and Donald Davidson. Through their work he concludes that “it will always be impossible to determine a content for belief” and therefore, “the content of religious utterances always remain elusive” (171). However, beliefs can still be known by subsequent behaviors. Religious discourse—as an act of belief—and religious belief are then closely linked (171). In religious discourse a sentence has meaning in so far as the one who pronounced the sentence holds it to be true; it has meaning for the addressee in so far as that one entertains the meaning (188-189). It is true for the addressee when that one assents to the utterance (191). Now a practical theological discourse can develop in which utterances, entertainment and assent take place among other discourses, i.e. in a ‘web of beliefs’ (common sense, scientific, philosophical and religious) (195). Through discourse, addressees integrate the entertained and assented utterances into their own webs of belief by integrating the information and making a decision to act upon the information or not (206).

This book is highly theoretical. Only the introduction, conclusion and an occasional paragraph in each chapter draw the philosophical considerations into the realm of practical theology. In the body of the work Viau set out to lay groundwork for practical theology so that it will have an unassailable footing. His philosophical research is extensive as he discusses various ways in which the issues of experience, language and belief have been treated. The choice for one philosophical framework over the other is guided by his goal to provide tools for a practical theological discourse constructed out of experience.
This foundational work is important for those practical theologies that base their claims on the experience-to-theory model, such as the local theologies of Oduyoye and Isazi-Diaz, and the empirical studies of Van der Ven. In addition, Viau shows that “the truth of a discourse in Practical Theology flows from its ability to set its speaker in motion” (203). This strengthens models that also connect theory with new practices, such as the “practice theology” of Bonnie Miller-McLemore, the “practice to theory and back again” method of Don Browning, and the “proposals for practice” in Mary Elizabeth Moore’s ethnogenic method.

Viau warns the reader that the book is not about the content of practical theology, but about the foundations of its practices (xiv-xv). Yet it is hard to overlook the incongruity of a book on practical theology based on experience, and driving toward action, to consist of almost pure theory. Certain knowledge of theories of epistemology, semantics and the nature of belief is necessary for a good grasp of the book’s content. Moreover, an interest and even passion for the topic is needed to persevere through ten chapters of philosophical explorations. In the context of the fairly recent development of pastoral theology within the Roman Catholic Church, Viau’s work has a place to undergird and even justify the existence of practical theology as a distinct (and yet interconnected) discipline. It seems that Practical Theology: A New Approach is primarily directed towards the guardians of Roman Catholic Ecclesiology and Systematic Theology. The more ‘practical’ theologians may be inclined to leave this book on the shelf.

Sharing Faith, by Thomas Groome

August 3rd, 2015

Review by Francisca Ireland-Verwoerd

INTRODUCTION TO THE AUTHOR
Dr. Thomas Groome is Professor of Theology and Religious Education at Boston College. His main research and teaching interests are religious education (history, theory and practice), pastoral ministry and practical theology. Groome has written numerous books on religious education, some of which are widely used in Catholic and Protestant seminaries, as well as several curricula for the Catholic Church, from K-8 through adult studies.1 The heart of Groome’s philosophy of religious education is his belief that people should be enculturated into the faith, that is to say, the faith should be taught through the practices of the faithful. This principle of “shared praxis” firmly situates the believer in a community of faith, informed by Scripture and tradition, and in conversation with the contemporary world. The conviction that the Church speaks – and needs to speak – to the present situation of human beings, has led Groome to rethink some traditional Roman Catholic teachings, such as the male-only priesthood, the infallibility of the Pope, and the inerrancy of the Bible and Church doctrine, and male-only gender pronouns for God.2

In Groome’s own words: “in many ways, my core commitment as a Catholic catechist over the years has been to bridge this gap and to help myself and others to integrate the two – life and Faith—into lived, living, and life-giving Christian faith.”3 This method echoes the practical theological model of moving from practice to theory to practice. With the attention to lived practice, Groome places his theology firmly within the Catholic theology of the sacramentality of life: “This commitment of mine and of contemporary catechesis to engage people’s praxis—reflection on life—in the pedagogy of Christian faith education reflects the Catholic principle of sacramentality.”4 God’s presence and grace in the ordinary things of life justify the every day life experiences as a source of reflection and conation. Likewise, newly gained wisdom needs to be put into action, for the participants to be true ‘agents’ of their own faith.

DESCRIPTION OF PURPOSE, THESIS AND MAJOR THEMES
In Sharing Faith: A Comprehensive Approach to Religious Education and Pastoral Ministry (New York: HarperCollins Publishers, 1991) Groome argues that Christian religious education as a shared Christian praxis is an overarching approach not only to religious education, but also to pastoral ministry. This book was published eleven years after he first proposed a shared praxis as the “how” of religious education in Christian Religious Education: Sharing Our Story and Vision (1980). Since then, Groome has deepened and expanded his understanding of what “shared praxis” means and does. In Sharing Faith, he gives his readers the revised, “comprehensive” version of his original approach.
Groome divides Sharing Faith into four sections. Part I is centered around the notion of “conation,” by which Groome means the type of knowledge that is grounded in a holistic, epistemic ontology and that encounters the learner as an active agent-in-relationship. In this book, wisdom is synonymous with conation. Groome starts off by revisiting the nature of Christian Religious education throughout Western history and its purpose of promoting the reign of God, lived Christian faith, and fullness of life for all. This threefold purpose and its ontological quality, require a fundamentally different approach to education, namely that Christian religious education is about a person’s re-membered being [reflective and in relationship] in faith, in faith community and in their social and cultural context. Hence Groome’s insistence on conation instead of cognition.

In Part II Groome addresses the approach of shared Christian praxis. The phrase is based on the words praxis, because of his conviction that effective pedagogy takes place through people’s reflection on their own life experiences; Christian, expressing his main intended audience to be those who are “participants in the Story/Vision of the Christian community over time;”5 and shared, indicating partnership/dialogue between teachers and learners, as well as a “dialectical hermeneutics” between the reflections out of people’s own lives and the Story/Vision of the Christian community, i.e. Scripture and tradition.6 Groome lays out the approach of shared Christian praxis as a process of five movements in logical sequence but with overlaps and recurrences; they are more a dance than a step-by-step manual. These movements, corresponding to Avery Dulles’ five categories of revelation, are: Naming/Expressing “Present Action” (movement 1); Critical Reflection on Present Action (movement 2); Making Accessible Christian Story and Vision (movement 3); Dialectical Hermeneutics to Appropriate Story/Vision to Participants’ Stories and Visions (movement 4); and Decision/Response for Lived Christian Faith (movement 5).7 Groome moves intentionally in a circular pattern: helping learners become critically aware of the places where they find themselves, moving into the bigger world of Christianity where Scripture and tradition speak to and are spoken to by the learners’ stories, onto new insight and action. As an apologetic, Groome discusses the nature, rationale and procedures for each of these movements. Every chapter also includes practical suggestions of how to appropriate the movement in one’s teaching, combined with example practices in that chapter’s appendix.

Part III expands the use of the shared Christian praxis approach to Christian ministry by considering all the ministries of the Church through the eyes of education. Groome understands ministry as “initiat[ing] a personal ‘presence with’ people, empower[ing] them as agent-subjects of their faith, and call[ing] them into partnership and community.”8 In that sense, “[t]he whole life of a Christian community functions as its primary curriculum because of the formative power of the symbolic world it constitutes for its people.”9 After an overview of the nature and historical developments of “ministry,” Groome devotes a chapter each to liturgy and preaching, justice and peace ministries, and pastoral counseling. In every case, he defines what the particular ministry is, and reflects on the ‘style’ of shared praxis as an effective way of doing that particular kind of faith-in-action.

In Part IV Groome reiterates and welds together the theological foundations and spiritual requirements inherent in the approach of shared Christian praxis. He does this by way of a personal “Pedagogical Creed.” Although these “articles of faith” are, in a sense, the prolegomena of the book, for Groome they are a “postscript in that [he] could write it only after the work was completed.”10

METHODS, DISCOVERIES AND KEY ARGUMENTS
Sharing Faith is a well-ordered book on religious pedagogy, in which Groome combines the historical and theological development of the issues he addresses, with people’s spiritual/ontological needs and the outcomes desired by educators. Although his method is not based on case studies, he follows the hermeneutical spiral where practice and theory are in constant dialogue with each other. Throughout the book this spiral moves chronologically upward, from the issues’ historical rationale and function to their contemporary application. For Groome, the only “place” to bring life and faith together in a Lived Faith is the here-and-now. Concepts such as epistemology, ministry, [the effectiveness of] liturgy and preaching, [the need for] justice and peace ministries, all require an “overhaul” in order to have the power and authority to speak to people in the church today.

The interesting discovery in Sharing Faith is the extension of the approach of shared Christian praxis from religious education into all practices of the church. Groome takes the renewal of the Catholic Church after Vatican II seriously: his ministry as an educator and an educator’s educator stems from and is dedicated to the idea of the Church as the People of God.11 As he describes it himself,

The Second Vatican Council lamented intensely the separation that Catholics make between their faith and their life. ‘This split between the faith which many profess and their daily lives deserves to be counted among the more serious errors of our age’ (Constitution on Church in Modern World, #43, Abbott 243 [1965]). I vividly remember reading this as a college student and taking it very much to heart […]12

The applicability of shared praxis in more areas than religious education comes from Groome’s experiences of “using shared praxis in a variety of other settings: for adult education and theological reflection, in community renewal and planning programs, in social justice work, in preaching, counseling, retreats, in teaching theology to undergraduate students at Boston College and in teaching fifth-grade CCD.” This in itself is a practical theological method, applied in Groome’s own practice-theory-practice.

The key argument in Sharing Faith is the necessity for a Christian to live reflectively, in community with other people and God, and in dialogue with the Christian Story and Vision. Out of this argument follow Groome’s historical and theological apologetics for his shared Christian praxis, his movements within the praxis, and his application of the praxis to both education and the other ministries of the church.

CRITICAL ANALYSIS
From a practical theological point of view, Groome’s movements of shared Christian practice have much in common with Don Browning’s four movements in his critical correlational approach to fundamental practical theology.13 Browning’s first movement, descriptive theology, names the practices that are under consideration, similar to the ‘naming’ of Groome’s first movement. Browning second movement, historical theology, shifts the focus from theory-laden practices to “the central texts and monuments of the Christian faith,”14 similar to Groome’s second movement when people reflect critically on their own “history.” The third movement of Browning, systematic theology, corresponds in a way to the third movement of Groome, where the Christian Story and Vision are considered as a whole for an appropriate generative theme or symbol in dialogue with the learner’s experience. Browning’s fourth movement of strategic practical theology asks the questions What is happening?, What should be happening?, Why should it happen?, and How will it happen?. This could be seen in conjunction with Groome’s movements 4 and 5 where the dialectical hermeneutic and response to lived faith transform Browning’s strategic questions into action. The similarity between Browning’s and Groome’s approach underscores the practical theological nature of the shared praxis process.

Groome’s practical theological approach is effective, first, in its ability to be apologetic, overcoming people’s hesitancy to this new approach by showing its historical and theological foundations, and second, by proving to be applicable to people’s lives, speaking from and to people’s own experiences. His pedagogical “spiral” enables educators/ministers to identify their own learning as “ontic epistemology” and empathize that this approach could be effective for others too. The effectiveness of Groome’s approach is proven by the use of his material, curricula as well as religious education instruction, inside and outside the Catholic Church. He has been able to root his shared praxis deeply and critically in Scripture and tradition as they speak to today’s Church through his use of three hermeneutics: of retrieval, suspicion and creative commitment.15 In addition, Groome recognizes three sources in tradition: the official church magisterium (of any denomination), the research of scholars, and the sense of its faithful.16 In the context of the US, the faithful of all denominations share the contemporary culture, albeit in great diversity. The sensus fidelium could therefore possibly have more in common with other denominations than the respective official church teachings – for instance, in the case of the position of women. It is no wonder then, that theory-laden practice and practice-laden theory which take the contemporary context seriously, would be able to speak to educators across denominational lines.

As a practical theological text, Sharing Faith does not practice its own method. Where Browning uses three congregational studies as the basis for his theory, Groome speaks in general, without giving readers the “life practice” he sees as lacking. This could be because his book is ultimately on religious education, not on practical theology. In addition, the need for this text is based on the widespread perception that there is a gap between life and faith.17 Groome could, however, have started the book with a case study of religious education that fails to address that gap.

Most importantly, Groome’s ecclesiology is too vague. He describes the church in article 11 as a “community [that] will be an effective symbol of God’s reign…”18 This reign of God is the metapurpose of religious education,19 but he never comes to a description of what that would look like. Especially when seeking comprehensive renewal in religious education and ultimately in the Church, a clear vision of the reign of God as symbol of the church is necessary in order to give direction to renewal. Particularly lacking is the diversity element of the local expression of the reign of God. Worshiping God together with unalike people used to be an eschatological concept; now it is a reality for many congregations. What does diversity do to a “shared” praxis? What kind of dialectic takes place in a multifaceted situation where we need to consider our own story, the Christian Story and Vision and a multiplicity of interpretations, hermeneutics and normative practices? Almost twenty-five years after publication of Sharing Faith, the shared praxis approach needs to be expanded with a thorough discussion of the “reign of God” because we are in the throes of understanding what the global version of God’s reign, layered with multiple diversities, means in our churches and society.

BIBLIOGRAPHY
Browning, Don. A Fundamental Practical Theology. Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 1991.
Flannery, Austin, ed. The Basic Sixteen Documents Vatican Council II. New York: Costello Publishing, 1996.
Groome, Thomas H. Sharing Faith: A Comprehensive Approach to Religious Education and Pastoral Ministry. New York: HarperCollins Publishers, 1991.
______. Boston College, School of Theology and Ministry, Faculty Profile, “Thomas Groome,” Truth Betrayed: Eamonn Keane’s Calumny Against Thomas Groome, http://www.bc.edu/ content/dam/files/schools/stm/pdf/Truth_Betrayed_Keane.pdf (accessed September 12, 2013)
Keane, Eamonn. “Thomas Groome: His Influence on Religious Education Continues,” CatholicCulture.Org, http://www.catholicculture.org/culture/library/ view.cfm?id=6515&CFID=9409265&CFTOKEN=97098098 , (accessed September 12, 2013).
Voice of the Faithful, “Biography of Thomas Groome,” http://www.votf.org/2012Conference/ ThomasGroomeVOTFWebBio.pdf (accessed September 12, 2013)

NOTES
1. Voice of the Faithful, “Biography of Thomas Groome,” http://www.votf.org/2012Conference/ThomasGroomeVOTFWebBio.pdf (accessed September 12, 2013)
2. See for instance, “Thomas Groome: His Influence on Religious Education Continues” by Eamonn Keane http://www.catholicculture.org/culture/library/view.cfm?id=6515&CFID=9409265&CFTOKEN=97098098 (accessed September 12, 2013) .
Boston College, School of Theology and Ministry, Faculty Profile, “Thomas Groome,” Truth Betrayed: Eamonn Keane’s Calumny Against Thomas Groome, 21, http://www.bc.edu/content/dam/files/schools/stm/pdf/Truth_Betrayed_Keane.pdf (accessed September 12, 2013)
Ibid., 22.
3. Voice of the Faithful, “Biography of Thomas Groome,” http://www.votf.org/2012Conference/ThomasGroomeVOTFWebBio.pdf (accessed September 12, 2013)
4. See for instance, “Thomas Groome: His Influence on Religious Education Continues” by Eamonn Keane http://www.catholicculture.org/culture/library/view.cfm?id=6515&CFID=9409265&CFTOKEN=97098098 (accessed September 12, 2013) .
Boston College, School of Theology and Ministry, Faculty Profile, “Thomas Groome,” Truth Betrayed: Eamonn Keane’s Calumny Against Thomas Groome, 21, http://www.bc.edu/content/dam/files/schools/stm/pdf/Truth_Betrayed_Keane.pdf (accessed September 12, 2013)
Ibid., 22.
5. Sharing Faith, 133.
6. See page 145 on “dialectical hermeneutics.”
7. See Sharing Faith, 490 for an overview of Dulles’ five modes of revelation.
8. Ibid., 332.
9. Ibid., 296 (italics original).
10. Ibid., 426 (italics original).
11. Ibid., 322-331.
12. Truth Betrayed, 21.
13. A Fundamental Practical Theology (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 1991), 47-57.
14. Ibid., 49.
15. Sharing Faith, 230-231.
16. Ibid., 231 (italics original).
17. See “Gaudium et Spes, Pastoral Constitution on the Church in the Modern World,” #43. Austin Flannery ed., The Basic Sixteen Documents Vatican Council II (New York: Costello Publishing, 1996), 211.
18. Shared Faith, 444.
19. Ibid., 14.