Practical Theology: Charismatic and empirical perspectives
Posted: 27 Feb 2007 @ 00:00
Book title: Practical Theology: Charismatic and empirical perspectives
Author: Mark Cartledge
Publisher: Paternoster Press
Church Times Bookshop £14.99
AS Mark Cartledge understands it, Practical Theology is about faith enquiring of the social sciences — specifically (I infer) sociology and social psychology, and evidently not economics or international relations.
The background lies in the work of Leslie Francis in social psychology; and the theoretical foundations refer back, in particular, to Johannes A. Van der Ven, a major inspiration behind The Journal of Empirical Theology
Plenty of people think sociology and theology don’t mix, but Mark Cartledge takes his cue from liberation theology in so far as it seeks enquiry and reflection about truth in action rather than truth as abstract proposition.
As an Evangelical at St John’s College, Durham, he feels no need to take on all the associated baggage of liberation theology, nor, for that matter, of therapeutic approaches. It is simply that any active Christian engagement with the “life world” needs a reality check, whether it is the spirituality performed in worship or that acted out in society.
Mark Cartledge himself owes much to Charismatic spirituality, but he also believes it can be reflected on, analysed and, if need be, reformed. Transformation and reformation go together.
So, some understanding of social scientific procedures is required; and the first half of his book introduces the reader to the problems of research. Theology is not subordinated to sociology, nor vice versa, because, once one has attended systematically to the narrative, symbols and practices of a community of faith, one can frame questions about how to forward the coming of the Kingdom on earth.
In the second part, the author provides several studies of Charismatic and Pentecostal Churches, set out in a model format of methods, research instruments, appropriate inferences, and theologically informed reflections. Among the key themes are speaking in tongues (considered from a post-modern viewpoint, and by way of identifying the social situations nurturing it); the expanded space available to women, especially with regard to prophecy; the Toronto Blessing; and the difficult issue of whether those who pray for healing with “enough faith” may confidently expect a positive answer.
The average interested reader, who will probably most appreciate the neat summaries of conclusions, will also be sympathetically introduced to the dynamics and atmospherics of the Charismatic world, from classical Pentecostals to the Third Wave and the “faith teaching”.
When Cartledge traces the empirical link between a relative lack of sophistication (combined with an early stage of Christian maturation) and a confidence in the healing powers of prayer, a sense of the demonic, and engagement in spiritual warfare, I find him persuasive. I am interested, too, by what he has to say about the conditions under which speaking in tongues becomes less urgent, and is no longer seen as the defining gift of the Spirit.
Cartledge also provides a judicious appraisal of theories about glossolalia, for example, by Felicitas Goodman and William Samarin, successfully fending off what Arthur Peacocke would call the “nothing-buttery” of an approach that reduces religious meaning to some other, more basic level.
The Revd David Martin is Emeritus Professor of Sociology at the London School of Economics, and Honorary Professor in the department of Religious Studies at the University of Lancaster
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