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The Practice of Communicative Theology
Guidance on sharing ideas about faith in a rapidly changing culture
The Practice of Communicative Theology
An Introduction to a New Theological Culture
Members of a growing international theological movement consider how, in a globalized world, communication about faith can be intelligent and effective. This remarkable book will deepen our conversations and strengthen our communities.
Christian theologians, in their concern for eternal truths have sometimes been slow to recognize the importance of communication. Yet in a religion with revelation as its very core, a grasp of the power of communication is essential. Preachers, group leaders, teachers, and all who are serious about understanding and spreading the Christian message will benefit from the material in this book.
The field-tested chapters include useful diagrams as well as ample questions for group reflection.
Reviews and endorsements
"With this translation and partial revision of their Kommunikative Theologie, Scharer and Hilberath introduce their work on 'Communicative Theology' to an English-speaking audience. Fitting into the larger discussions of communication and theology, this work presents the systematic ideas emerging from and with a methodology grounded in Ruth Cohn’s Theme-Centered Interaction (TCI). For them, the object of communicative theology is a critical reflection on communication against the background of religious and ideological conflicts in a knowledge-based society . . . Communicative theology is an 'anthropologically oriented theology': to its object belongs, on the one hand, the encounter with the communicative God of revelation in God’s de facto communication in history . . . and, on the other hand, the encounter with unstable and broken human experiences of communication in groups, in parishes, in the church, and in society. (p. 139)
'Communicative' in the title refers to both the content of the theological reflection and the method for doing such theology. 'However much theology and TCI remain unmixed in communicative theology, they must not be separated in such a way as to put on the one side theological truth as the contents and on the other the process as method' (p.145).
A group discussion method lies at the heart of this project. Though they come to it only late in the book (in Chapter 6), their reliance on Cohn’s TCI forms the background and backbone of their work. That chapter narrates how they have come to Cohn’s work and provides an introduction to the method (something already described in Communicative Theology: Reflections on the Culture of our Practice of Theology by the Communicative Theology Research Group). This book devotes less time and space to method and more to the development of the theology, showing how communicative theology fits into the ongoing theological project of the church—at every level, but especially at that of the professional theologian and that of the local parish. Both levels benefit from the group approach.
After an introduction by Professor Brad Hinze of Fordham University (who has done more than anyone else to bring the communicative theology approach to the United States), the book develops a communicative theology. Chapter 1 situates it by acknowledging theology as process-oriented. The current theological anthropology approaches make communication a valid point of entry; the theology (or 'speaking of God') in Christianity always speaks of human beings too (p.19). Examining this speaking more closely reveals both God and humanity. This insight also borrows from communication studies (particularly in the media ecology approach) that 'form, medium, and content of communication must not be separated' (p.21). Scharer and Hilberath develop this dual focused approach in terms of the dynamics of theology and the hermeneutics of contemporary thinking.
Chapter 2 examines human beings as defined by communication. The chapter briefly reviews some basic communication theories, highlighting the importance of dialogue and dialogic communication. This chapter unfortunately shows real weaknesses in its understanding of communication; at the same time, the authors write as theologians, not communication scholars. (One can also note a similar weakness—from a communication studies standpoint—in the TCI method, as it has its origins in psychology and psychoanalytic methods. To their credit, Scharer and Hilberath make no claims beyond their method.)
Chapter 3 begins the theological analysis proper, looking first to contemporary society and its rootedness in communication. They identify various splits between speaking of God and a somewhat godless world of communication.
The image of the global village with its boundless communication takes on particularly religious connotations when the new media and the global market invade those areas of human life where faith and religion traditionally held sway. These are the areas of meaning and orientation, of history and the future, of right action and enduring happiness. Stopping to think about modern communication and its religious and ideological implications makes one aware of the degree to which the 'little gods' of boundless knowledge, global communicative ability, and never-ending consumption and replacing the hope of the coming of the 'great God.' (p. 42)
This poses a challenge for theology and for the church, a challenge that both formal theology and pastoral (parish-based) theology must address. Scharer and Hilberath carefully identify this current situation, not only in the terms presented here, but also in terms of science, diversity, community, and power.
Chapters 4 and 5 develop the theme in terms of revelation and church community. Both take the road of systematic theology, but approach the same end by different tracks. Chapter 4 examines the God of Christian revelation and sees God as a 'communicative Being' (p. 64). It reminds the reader of Christian belief about the Trinity, about God’s self-communication, about revelation, and about tradition. Chapter 5 develops a model of church communication as 'communion.' Here they turn to particular models of communication and explore what communion might mean for the church.
As noted above, in Chapter 6 Scharer and Hilberath give a detailed introduction to and explanation of the TCI method. This systematic presentation takes the reader through the various axioms and practices, through common misunderstandings and dangers. While thorough, the chapter remains a bit frustrating, as the reader gets the impression that one learns TCI better through apprenticeship than through reading.
Chapter 7 spells out the application of TCI to theology, showing how it can balance the faith tradition and the 'speaking of God' in the local groups practicing TCI. Each aspect of TCI—the I (subjective concern), the We (the group), the It (the content), and the Globe (the context)—finds a place in theology; in turn, theology and the church provide an authentication for the method. Finally, Chapter 8 provides a kind of transcript of a TCI parish group studing the Nicene Creed.
The overall book presents an important introduction to this creative approach of communication and theology. Because any kind of ongoing reflection on communication and theology shows the marks of its youth, Scharer and Hilberath make few connections to other approaches in this area. Hinze’s introduction mentions several Congresses and one hopes that these will encourage more contact among the small but growing practitioners who wish to bridge communication and theology. This book should prove quite valuable to them.
The endnotes to each chapter give bibliographic references (mostly to German-language materials); the volume contains a brief subject index."
—Paul A. Soukup, SJ., Santa Clara University