Posts on this blog are based on the following theological reflection cycle. The steps used in this theological cycle are set out below.
The theological reflection cycle is a four part process consisting of reflection on experience, followed by analysis, theological reflection and lastly, action. Typically people will skip one part of the process, either jumping from experience to theological reflection, missing the vital step of analysis, or, from analysis to action without reflecting on Biblical data. We need to richly analyse so that we don’t misquote the Bible. It is also important that we continue to let the Bible interrogate our understanding. If this theological reflection cycle is undertaken with others, the opportunities for growth and learning are further enriched by the different perspectives brought to the table.
Select experiences that elicit emotional responses to reflect on, since these are typically the most fruitful. Ask yourself:
What reactions did I have? Why?
Describe the experience as fully as possible before moving on to analysis.
At this stage ask yourself:
What are the personal, social and cultural issues affecting this experience? What questions do I need to ask? Where can I find the answers?
Explore any cultural, historical or political insights and resources that may shed light on the experience. Interpret the experience in light of any cultural information and theory gained from other sources.
The effectiveness of the next part of the process, the theological reflection, is directly related to how deeply this analysis is done. The quality of our Bible reflection depends on the quality of our reflection and analysis. We need to dig deeply and richly analyse so that we don’t misquote the Bible.
It is important that we continue to let the Bible interrogate our understanding.
In light of the analysis, we need to ask “What in Scripture might help us view this difficulty or find other questions we need to ask?”
I suggest that you don’t jump to propositional passages but rather look for narrative first. When considering Biblical material for theological reflection, it is often better to look for a Bible story or narrative, rather than propositional teaching, since the latter can typically be used to reinforce our presuppositions. If we first select propositional material, we tend select those passages which reinforce our cultural and theological blinkers. In contrast, Bible stories often challenge our assumptions and bring startling insight into a helpful way forward. Since over forty percent of the Bible is narrative, this guideline is not very restrictive.
Stories are often used to teach ideas and abstract concepts in other cultures, so can also be used when interacting with others who are different from ourselves (Lingenfelter and Lingenfelter, 2003: 101).
Storytelling is a much valued means of learning in most non-western traditions. There’s nothing scientific about this way of knowing (also called narrative knowing)… “Narrative knowing is concerned more with human meaning than with discrete facts, more with coherence than with logic, more with sequences than with categories, and more with understanding than with predictability and control”.Merriam, 2007: 185
A Kenyan student says that one can know truth only as it is embedded in a story, because how else can one recognise abstract concepts?… Abraham Lincoln frequently use stories to answer questions. He incensed many of his colleagues because they wanted a “straight” answer. Yet in contexts in which confrontation is dealt with indirectly, the story may be the most effective instructional device.Lingenfelter and Lingenfelter, 2003: 102
After settling on the most pertinent Bible story and reflecting on the lessons that the story brings to the experience, you can also consider proportional teaching.
When selecting a Bible narrative or story, ask yourself:
Are there any similar situations in the Bible?
After reflecting on the story, ask yourself:
What new insights do they offer about this situation and about faith and life in Christ?
What other Biblical teaching is there on this topic?
It is important to pray for the guidance of the Holy Spirit as you reflect on this material. If you are reflecting as a group, share insights. These will often lead you into action.
What actions do I or my community need to take? Who could I share this with?
Take any responses back into the community or communities. These new responses can then elicit a new experience to be reflected upon, and so the cycle continues…
Once a solution has been formulated, it is implemented… and then what has been done is evaluated. Through evaluation, new issues are identified and the learning cycle begins again…. a lifelong learner takes time to reflect on practice, and then changes and adapts in the light of that reflection.Hibbert, 2014: 85
Hibbert, E. and Hibbert, R. (2014) Leading Multicultural Teams. Pasadena, CA: William Carey.
Lingenfelter, J.E. and Lingenfelter, S.G. (2003) Teaching Cross-Culturally: An Incarnational Model for Learning and Teaching. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic.
Merriam, S.B. (2007) ‘Broadening Our Understanding of Learning and Knowing’, in Merriam, S.B. (ed.) Non-Western Perspectives on Learning and Knowing: A Comprehensive Guide. Malabar: Krieger, pp. 173–188.
Schön, D. (1995) The Reflective Practitioner: How Professionals Think in Action. Aldershot, England: Arena.