Spiritual Affections and the Pastoral Disposition

Author: Sean Gilbert

Gilbert, Sean, 2019 Spiritual Affections and the Pastoral Disposition, Flinders University, College of Humanities, Arts and Social Sciences

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This thesis, Spiritual Affections and the Pastoral Disposition, makes a case that spiritual affections exist in close and defining relation to the Christian life. Moreover, it contends that the gratuitous nature and recurrent movements of divine love welcomed within those called to the pastoral ministry of Jesus Christ is constitutive of gracious and fruitful practice.

The thesis shows that the desirous nature of spiritual affections shapes the pastoral disposition by means of a received grace that is adaptive, imaginative, courageous and wise. In other words, it is from the open and spiritually tended heart of the believer––the pastoral minister in this literary context––that rivers of living water flow (John 7:28). Hence, my research question is as follows: Are spiritual affections, as defined and attested to across a breadth of the Christian tradition, still of vital importance to pastoral ministries in contemporary contexts?

I begin the thesis by engaging with the findings of present affect theorists who challenge long-held anthropological, psychological and philosophical assumptions about the primary roles of cognition and language within any social ordering. I argue that their insights regarding the “autonomy of affect” are invaluable to a theological consideration of responsive spiritual affections in direct relation to pastoral bearing and practice.

Substantively, I explore this thesis topic and its underlying question through selected writings of two pastoral reformers who represent a certain breadth and veracity of thought within the Christian tradition. They are Saint Bernard of Clairvaux (c.1090-1153) and Pastor Jonathan Edwards of New England (1703-1758). After addressing pertinent aspects of their life, thought, biblical inspirations and a specific example of each’s sermonising, I then seek to summarise their religious experience and emergent theology through a shared emphasis on spiritual affections as they pertain to what I describe as the pastoral disposition. I then bring that synthesis into conversation with two streams of contemporary practical theology characterised most notably by Andrew Root and Kathleen Cahalan.

For both Bernard and Edwards, God’s revealed nature is constitutive of an active disposition of mutual, unifying love––namely, the Holy Trinity. This eternally expressive goodness, truth and beauty was, for each, both the energy and attraction of redemptive love operative in the world. The pastoral disposition so framed and defined by God’s relational being is thereby practically expressive due to its dependent nature. My contention, then, is that by virtue of the spiritually affected and orientated dispositions of humility, spiritual longing, listening with the ear of the heart, a wise and discerning bearing, artistic leanings and movements of compassion, pastoral practice in the way of Christ––the Good Shepherd––continues to arise fruitfully and faithfully.

Finally, given that my research method is of a heuristic nature, here meaning an integration of the writer’s own lived experience within and before the designated subject matter, my prose is descriptive, yet also explorative. By this I mean, through the rigour of research and writing, I aim to make better sense of repeated encounters with the God of grace in the midst of my own pastoral calling. Therefore, relevant, yet modest points of existential connection are included throughout. Appendices 1 and 2 are indicative of the integrative journey of life, faith and vocation that the main body of the thesis seeks to reflect in more scholarly form.

Keywords: Spiritual Affections, Pastoral Disposition, Bernard of Clairvaux, Jonathan Edwards, Humility

Subject: Theology thesis

Thesis type: Doctor of Philosophy
Completed: 2019
School: College of Humanities, Arts and Social Sciences
Supervisor: Professor Andrew Dutney