Theology (SCM Studyguide)
SCM Press £19.99
Church Times Bookshop £18 (Use code CT577
I HAD a mini crisis when I
was appointed as Director of Pastoral Theology at a theological
college, because I discovered that I didn't really believe that the
subject existed. For sure, all theology must be pastoral - since
what is the point in any of it if Christ's sheep are not fed? But
is it actually a subject in itself, especially when its advocates
tend to be po-faced theorists working far away from any pastoral
I am thus not entirely sure
whether this subject is suitable material for a "studyguide".
Assuming, however, that the subject actually does exist, Margaret
Whipp, herself a very hands-on pastor (a hospital chaplain in
Oxford), has done a good job of constructing a syllabus for it.
In the first half of the
book, "The call to be human", she offers a theological account of
human flourishing, including reflection on change, desire, and
In the second half, "The
call to care", she examines specific aspects of pastoral work, such
as the art of pastoral conversation, issues of power and authority,
and the importance of being alert to particular moments.
The book contains some
helpful introductions to important thinkers in the social sciences,
such as those of Erik Erikson on the life cycle or James Fowler on
stages of faith. I was glad to see that the dreaded "pastoral
cycle" has been banished from the syllabus, although the "U-curve"
diagram (on loss, rites of passage, and pastoral moments) seems to
have replaced it.
I was also glad that Whipp
implicitly resists the rather spooky suggestion that leadership in
the Church should now be moving from a "pastoral" to a "missional"
mode, as if Jesus's promise of life in all its fullness or his
command to feed his sheep should now be abandoned in the face of
more urgent priorities.
Just a few minor niggles:
the index looks like a computer-generated word list. For example,
when I checked back to see what the author had said about sin,
virtue, and conversion, I found a string of references, but no
substantive treatment of any of them.
I was sorry that Whipp
appears to endorse "the caricature of the ineffective parson of
yesteryear, who whiled away his afternoons taking tea with
parishioners because he had nothing better to do": what better
thing might he have been doing? Writing a Mission Action Plan?
I also think she is unfair
to St Augustine, unfavourably contrasting his supposed rejection of
the importance of desire with St Gregory of Nyssa, who, in fact,
held the rather extreme view that we could most easily conquer the
cycle of death by ceasing to procreate.
Besides serving as a
standard textbook for those specifically preparing for pastoral
ministry, the book could be used by a parish or deanery group who
wish to explore pastoral ministry under an enthusiastic and
The Revd Dr Edward Dowler is Vicar of Clay Hill in the
diocese of London.