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A Reply - Of a sort!

Thanks Julie, Ben and Andy for your comments.  To reply in a comment would probably need way too many lines, so I'll try in a post!

Julie - I am sure you could do and pass a PhD if you so desired, and maybe one day you will.  So long as you keep doing theology (as you do) then that's more important than a few letters (says she who could start a shop with all the letters she has!).

Andy - practical theologians of the world unite? Absolutely!

Ben - thanks for making me think.  It may not have helped write my paper (yet) but it has helped nudge my neurons out of atrophy (I think!) :o)

On academic writing - absolutely it needs to be clear, and of the required quality.  A couple of thoughts.  Firstly, there are MASSIVE style differences between the arts and the sciences and my poor, long-suffering supervisors are still trying to teach me to use longer sentences and paragraphs.  I think I'm getting "better" but it is sometimes disproportionately hard work.  A friend of mine (a physicist) is trying to help his son to rewrite his undergrad dissertation in music (which has to be resubmitted).  Said friend keeps complaining that son writes first person, long sentences and paragraphs which he then 'corrects' to third person, bullet points and snappy prose.  More than once I've had to yell 'Nooooooooo' when he tells me this!  Secondly, I certainly did not intend to equate academic with turgid.  I have read some amazingly dynamic, exciting and even outright funny academic writing (not often in PhD theses, granted!) and some dire 'popular' stuff.  I just wonder if there is sometimes a bit of academic snobbery over words which hinders accessibility.  Sometimes it is necessary to use a specific word to capture a precise or nucanced meaning; sometimes I think it comes down to personal preference.  The really, really clever people seem to know which to use when: I'm not one of them.

The really interesting point you raise - I think - is about theological communication.  And this is probably the bit that has been the most helpful in cranking up my grey matter.  As I understand it, central to the concept of practical theology is that theology is 'done' not 'received.'  It is not that theologians 'do' the work and everyone else signs up to a kind of 'end user agreement,' rather it assumes that anyone can, and everyone should, do theology.  That doesn't make academic theologians redundant (at least not yet!) because the work they do acts as a resource for other people to aid their own 'doing' of theology.  Does that make sense?  One of the big differences (in theory) about practical theology is that the theologian or minister is not the expert who teaches others the answers, rather he or she is a participant in the process who brings with them certain knowledge that can inform thinking/praying etc.  This can be quite a challenge for local churches who have been accustomed to seeing the minister as the expert and doctrines as things to learn and appropriate rather than explore and wrestle with.  I did once hear a minister say, in a sermon, that he'd gone to Bible college to wrestle with what scripture meant so that he could tell the people the answers.  Had he taught the people to wrestle with scripture he might have done them more favours, but that's another story!  I guess if I stick with the engineering analogy, then I would be saying anyone can do engineering and everyone should do engineering.  Not everyone will be a professional engineer, but everyone can to some degree master some aspects of engineering and should be able to put it use.

Tomorrow I really will get something written (to add to the 3k or so words I already have) and it will hopefully form the basis of some helpful discussion when I present in 3 weeks time.


  • Maybe I should write like Rowan Williams did in an academic essay - this was in today's Times: "in a church which accepts the legitimacy of contraception, the absolute condemnation of same-sex relations of intimacy must rely either on an abstract fundamentalist deployment of a number of very ambiguous texts, or on a problematic and non-scriptural theory about natural complementarity, applied narrowly and crudely to physical differentiation without regard to psychological structures.”
    I wonder if most congregations would have a clue about what it meant? One of my friends at college had a motto thsat was along the lines of understanding deeply and comunicating simply - I guess that we all need to do PhD or not!

  • Sometimes I think the Arch Bish is at once too clever and too much of an ingenue (how it that spelled?) for his own good. He does write some lovely accessible stuff too - one of my current favourite quotes appearing in all my essays is ‘history is a set of stories we tell in order to understand better who we are and the world we’re in.’

    Williams, R. Why Study the Past? The Quest for the Historical Church. London: Darton, Longman and Todd, 2005. p.1

    Understand deeply - communicate simply: absolutely that's what I'm striving for!

  • OK so the practical theologian is the person who can help others to realise they're doing theology and help them to carry on doing so.

    My favourite example of people doing theology simply and clearly in ordinary language (though not a shining example of good practice on my part) was the three week in depth study I did with D+1's morning service on the social stratification of the Corinthian church and its implications for the way they celebrated the Lord's Supper (based on Theissen's sociological reconstructions). At the end of the three weeks I asked them if anyone could sum up what we'd been talking about.

    Ann, 85, stone deaf and who hardly ever said anything in church got it spot on in 9 words: "We all ought to treat other people the same".

    It wouldn't have got her a PhD, but I think God would have awarded her a distinction!

  • Whoa! The stuff I preach must seem pretty trivial by comparison. I'd give here Ann a PhD - pretty himpressive deduction! (Hafterall no-one puts their h's in the right place around 'ere, least of all in Dibley...)

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