What is it?
Theology: the study of religious faith, practice, and experience [https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/theology]
Reflection: consideration of some subject matter, idea, or purpose or a thought, idea, or opinion formed or a remark made as a result of meditation [https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/reflection]
Theological reflection is one of those phrases that sounds suspiciously like it might be something inaccessible, too academic, or too specialist for most of us! Something for ministers and preachers perhaps, but maybe everyone else would like to steer well clear. In reality, however, everyone is called to reflect theologically; to engage with their faith thoughtfully, to question and to explore.
We’re reminded of the example of Jacob in Genesis 32, wrestling with God, or the words of Psalm 77:12; “I will meditate on all your work, and muse on your mighty deeds.” No matter what we get up to from day to day, we all share the same calling; to love the Lord our God with all our heart, all our soul and all our strength. How much better will we be able to do that if we dedicate time to thinking about who, or what, God is, what it means to love, and how we engage our heart, soul and strength in that endeavour.
It is also part of our distinctive Methodist heritage. We prize Learning and Caring as one of our four marks of Calling [https://www.methodist.org.uk/about-us/the-methodist-church/our-calling/]; a commitment to growing in faith and learning more about what we believe and why. John Wesley firmly believed in a Priesthood of All Believers; this radical idea that we all could know, experience and wrestle with God for ourselves, rather than relying on leaders or superiors to do it for us. And, really, that is all theological reflection is; striving to know God and the work of God more deeply, dwelling in the Holy Spirit more fully and becoming more like Jesus.
How do I do it?
There are lots of way to reflect theologically, but a great way to start is using the Methodist Quadrilateral which suggests thinking about Scripture, reason, experience and tradition; different tools that God has given us to reflect and engage. Here are some questions you might ask yourself as you mull over a decision or issue:
Thinking about Scripture might include asking:
What does Scripture say about this kind of experience or this kind of issue?
Are there important pieces of context I need to take into account?
Why was this Scripture written; when and by who? Does this impact how we understand it?
Does all relevant Scripture say the same thing?
Are there different interpretations out there? What do commentaries say?
What big Scriptural values and themes do I need to think about?
Using reason might include thinking:
What happened and when? Where did it happen? Are these things important?
Might others understand it in a different way?
What do science, history, anthropology, or other fields of study say about this? Are there different interpretations?
What is the evidence for this claim or assertion? Does it come from a trustworthy or unbiased source? Can I consult experts?
Reflecting on experience means:
How does this make me or others feel?
How can I relate this to my life experience? Does it sound familiar or strange?
If it's unfamiliar to me, might it be familiar to someone else, who I could ask to share their experiences?
Do I feel affirmed, comforted, challenged, condemned, or something else? Are these feelings consistent with what I know about God?
Do I feel the Holy Spirit speaking to me about this?
Thinking about tradition might include:
Does the Church say anything about the issues raised by this assertion? Have these changed over time? Why?
Is the home of a particular intellectual claim (i.e. physics, medicine or psychology) free of its own traditions and ideologies?
It’s easy to practice! Think about an issue that is impacting the world at the moment, or a big decision you have to make, use the questions above to reflect on it theologically and pray for God’s guidance in understanding it afresh. You might like to use this prayer, or one of your own:
Spirit of the Living God,
Be with me and in the midst of me as I think and reflect,
May Your holiness and wisdom guide me
Drawing me closer to You and Your Grace
And making me more like Your son, Jesus Christ.