Talking the walk: six contours of an approach to theological reflection for formation

Author: Bruce Hulme

Hulme, Bruce, 2021 Talking the walk: six contours of an approach to theological reflection for formation, Flinders University, College of Humanities, Arts and Social Sciences

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Talking the walk is a pedagogically-oriented approach to theological reflection for formation. It rests on a premise: as we learn to walk our talk (practise what we preach), we must also learn to talk our walk (make meaning of experience). Not all theological reflection models explicitly mine this connection between formation and reflection, nor embrace the anthropological perspective it calls for. So this thesis answers the question: What are the contours of an approach to theological reflection that contemplates and cultivates holistic Christian formation? Talking the walk helps address a widely identified need for theological education to become more holistic and integrated, and encourages practical theology to move towards a theory–practice–persons paradigm.

Covenant epistemology provides the theoretical backbone of the research. Knowing is interpersoned, pledged, transformational, non-linear, unfolding and for shalom. It draws from normative, situational and existential domains. From this epistemological basis the research methodology interweaves postfoundational theology, action research and autoethnography. Talking the walk has a model and a method.

The model underpins the method and has three contours. Trialogue provides the method’s dimensions and dynamics—a three-way, interdependent and unfolding conversation between spirituality and personhood, ministry in context, and wellsprings of theology. Shalom provides the method’s longitudinal direction—God’s fullness in Christ for the cosmos, communities and individuals, embodied in graces such as reconciliation, justice, beauty and wholeness. The Emmaus Labyrinth provides the method’s design. Infused with the metaphors of walking and talking, it creatively juxtaposes the three movements in the Road via Emmaus narrative from Luke 24:13–49 with the three movements of the labyrinth to give the method its interlocking, threefold shape.

The method outworks the model and has three contours. In contemplative conversation we narrate experience then wend our way between clues drawn from the trialogue. With a patient listening we attend to the absence or presence of shalom, and the possibility of God in all things. In imaginative discernment we position ourselves to notice and name any patterns of convergence from that conversation. The imagination can catalyse discernment through imagery to discern the now, and vision to discern the not yet of shalom. In courageous embodiment the mystery of divine–human agency enables our discerned truths to live in the muscle as we receive God’s encouragement in the face of inevitable obstacles. We effect courageous embodiment by cultivating shalom through concrete doing and practices that deepen. The method’s three contours dovetail with covenant epistemology’s conception of knowing as integrating clues (contemplative conversation) to form a coherent pattern (imaginative discernment) and submit to its reality (courageous embodiment).

The thesis concludes with a summary of talking the walk and reflections on its practice, including its application in theological education, emerging theologies for reflection and formation, and its spiritually forming effect. This discussion is supported by a series of appendices which include a critical experience report template and examples, student feedback, and anecdotal evidence of talking the walk’s impact beyond the theological education setting.

Keywords: Christian formation; theological reflection; theological education; covenant epistemology; spirituality, theology, ministry; trialogue; coinherence; shalom; Emmaus; labyrinth; walking, pilgrimage; contemplation; talking, conversation; imagination; discernment; courage; embodiment; cultivation.

Subject: Theology thesis

Thesis type: Doctor of Philosophy
Completed: 2021
School: College of Humanities, Arts and Social Sciences
Supervisor: Graham Buxton