Chapter. 5: The Minister’s Self-Knowledge
"Physician, heal thyself." Those who undertake the care of souls must attain self-understanding. We have seen how the counselor’s inner life is involved in his healing ministry. The pastor can obstruct the work of grace if he does not understand himself or his people. That is why churches, theological schools, and laymen are taking a new look at the preparation of the Christian minister. Have we kept theological study in clear relation to the issues of life? The medical doctor who becomes a psychiatrist must undergo his psychoanalysis. Should there be a comparable requirement for every minister? How should psychological testing and theory come into the course of theological study? Some believe that the theological curriculum, with its heavy emphasis on the traditional disciplines -- Bible, Theology, Church History -- should be radically revised, and that the methods of teaching should be altered to bring the student more quickly to face the question of his faith’s relevance to contemporary life. There is increasing interest in field-work experience, clinical training, and similar methods of providing encounter with living problems in theological study. Our task in this chapter is to see what basic principles are involved in the minister’s achievement of self-understanding, and his growth toward maturity.
The word frequently used to describe what we are seeking here is "self-knowledge." It is a good term, combining as it does the Christian concern for the person with the psychological emphasis upon facing the self. Self-knowledge includes but transcends intellectual understanding. It means recognition of one’s motives, fears, hopes, and habitual reactions. It requires emotional balance, the capacity to face one’s past, confess one’s limitations and capacities, and establish one’s ultimate loyalties. But in a Christian perspective all this is related to man’s knowledge of God. We require a theological clarification of the term "self-knowledge" if we are to have a valid conception of its place in theological education. While we concentrate our attention on the training of the minister, we recognize that the issues we are now considering arise in every Christian life.
I. The Meaning of Self-Knowledge
In a Christian view self-knowledge has three dimensions: it is theological, for the self is God’s creature; it is personal, for each self is a unique center of experience; and it is vocational, because every self has something to do in the world which requires his special contribution and personal decision.
St. Augustine can be our best guide to the theological dimension. He once said that he desired to know but two things, the soul and God. Augustine prays:
O God, who art ever the same, let me know myself, let me know thee. When first I knew thee, thou didst raise me up, that I might see what was there for me to see, though as yet I was not fit to see it.
And again he pleads:
Remain not in thyself, transcend thyself also: put thyself in, Him who made thee.1
To be sure, knowledge of the soul’s relation to God requires something more than theological concepts. It is a knowledge born in the depths of experience from infancy onward. It is clothed with emotion which both reveals and conceals. But the outcome of a genuine self-discovery is knowledge of the soul’s reality and of God’s reality as two poles of one relationship. I intend something by my life, and the convictions which explain or interpret that intention are "theological" whatever form I may use to express them.
It follows that in any education which aids the self-knowledge of the future pastor, we need something more than psychological introspection and analysis. We need to find those conditions which lie partially within our control through which the Word of God given in the creation and in Jesus Christ is opened to the growing mind and spirit.
We should resist, then, any definition of self-knowledge which confines it to the psychological structure of the individual or the group. But we must not separate self-knowledge even in this theological dimension from the issues in the emotional and mental life which psychologists examine. The Apostle Paul tells us little of the inward experience which accompanied his conversion and his life in the new faith; but that his life was one of continual inward probing is clear in every passage of his letters. In his study of Paul, C. H. Dodd gives his judgment that Paul’s spiritual experience and insight show a definite growth from his conversion onward throughout his life.2 Certainly Paul reveals an internal struggle:
I know both how to be abased, and I know how to abound: everywhere and in all things I am instructed both to be full and to be hungry, both to abound and to suffer need. [Phil. 4: 12]
We are troubled on every side, yet not distressed; we are perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; cast down, but not destroyed. [II Cor. 4:8-9]
The term "self-knowledge" would no doubt be quite strange to Paul if taken to mean something confined to his emotional life; but his faith was born and empowered in the depths of personal struggle. "For I delight in the law of God after the inward man; but I see another law in my members, warring against the law of my mind, and bringing me into captivity to the law of sin which is in my members" (Rom.7:22-23).
To put ourselves, therefore, in the hands of God is not to escape the self but to face it honestly. To theologize about God apart from acknowledgment of our bodily and mental feelings is a denial of the truth of the incarnation. God has said his word to us through the person, Jesus, who knew life in this body and mind as we know it. The crucial point is that knowledge of our inner life is in the end knowledge of its meaning, and that is inseparable from the purposes which the Creator has expressed in his creation.3
When we say that self-knowledge is personal, we stress the unique aspect of every human life. I prefer the term "personal" to "individual" here because the "individual" has too often in the modern period been understood as an isolated atom without relations or responsibilities.4 The person is an individual in relation to others; but as a person he is a unique center of experience with his history, perspective, and inward life. Alfred North Whitehead’s conception of life as dynamic process can help us to clarify this view of the person. Whitehead describes our experience as a series of "concretions, that is, moments of new decisions, each with its relations to the past and to the social environment, and yet each with a novel addition from within the subjectivity of the person to the way in which experience takes shape for him, Our creative freedom lies just in that unique grasp which we have of each moment, adding our perspective and shaping the present toward a future which to some degree we interpret in our own way. Our margin of freedom is small indeed in the universe and among the massive forces of human history; but it exists, and constitutes our dignity as spiritual beings.5 Whitehead here has outlined in a metaphysical doctrine what Christian faith has always assumed in its declaration of personal responsibility, the reality of our guilt before God, and the possibility of a new response in faith to the grace of God.
It is true to say that contemporary psychology has helped theology recover the significance of this radical personalism. Psychologists have given us fresh cause to realize that the meaning of all our theological symbols comes to us in relation to the struggle to become mature persons, capable of handling the threats and creative opportunities of life. No one knows what Paul’s "thorn in the flesh" was; but that it constituted something in his private experience which gave him cause for spiritual questioning and battle, there can be no doubt. Each person has in himself that which must be faced, understood, and used, and which is his alone, The Christian pastor must know this, not only as a general proposition, but as an aspect of his self-knowledge. Not only what he believes, but his way of believing, the route which he has taken to his personal convictions, is important in what he brings to his ministry.
Now indeed the Church has always laid stress on the piety, self-discipline, and maturity of its ministers, Consider the following injunction to those who are becoming priests. It is from the liturgy for the Ordering of Priests in the Book of Common Prayer:
And seeing that ye cannot by any other means compass the doing of so weighty a work, pertaining to the salvation of man, but with doctrine and exhortation taken out of the Holy Scriptures, and with a life agreeable to the same; consider how studious ye ought to be in reading and learning the Scriptures, and in framing the manners both of yourselves, and of them that specially pertain to you, according to the rule of the same Scriptures; and for this self-same cause, how ye ought to forsake and set aside, as much as ye may, all worldly cares and studies.
Here are important concerns: a life agreeable to the high calling, studiousness in regard to Scripture, appropriate manners, freedom from distraction. How right these injunctions are! Yet we sense that they leave something out which is vital for pastoral work. They do not, at least in any explicit way, call for that clarification of motive and search for integrity of the self which we mean by self-knowledge. What we are needing here is difficult to express liturgically. Perhaps someday there will be recognition in appropriate language in the form for ordination of ministers of the need for self-understanding and clarification of motives. But the very difficulty of saying this in correct liturgical language sharpens its significance. The pastor is undertaking a discipline which reshapes his individual and private history. He must search the springs of human conduct in himself. Perhaps he learns in a new sense the meaning of the words, "For their sakes I sanctify myself," for sanctification means making whole, and self-knowledge is the difficult road to becoming whole.
It may be objected that to put such stress upon self-knowledge produces a morbid introspection. Are we not forgetting Martin Luther’s agony over this issue and his discovery that the Christian is justified by faith and not by any works, even the work of psychological self-examination? But we can avoid falling here into the error of the pietism which seeks to prove its spiritual worthiness. We need honesty both about our unworthiness and our sense of worth. Each person needs to gain a knowledge of this one self, "Me," what he is in order that he may give himself without pretense in the service of God and his neighbor. And this requires that he explore the dynamics of the emotional and psychic life. Even the doctrine of "justification by faith," which should set us free from excessive self-examination, can become an impersonal symbol and function legalistically in a rigid personality.
No one can assess the amount of harm which well-intentioned ministers have done through lack of understanding of their own psychological needs, hostilities, and fears; but on any fair view it is quite considerable. Let us put the same point positively. When the minister has begun to be released from false pretenses, from unacknowledged anxieties, and is learning the joy of entering freely into the comradeship of the search for the meaning of life with another person, the high potentialities for his becoming a channel of grace may be realized. It is not only the precious good of psychological health for its own sake which is the goal here, but the release of constructive and healing power. And let us add one more quite necessary point. Health is a mysterious entity, especially when we seek it for the mind. It is surely far more than adjustment. The constructively healthy personalities have for the most part known radical inner struggle. We are not asking for personalities neatly grooved. We are asking only how the struggles we have may lead to creative understanding rather than to despair.
There is a vocational dimension in all self-knowledge. We know ourselves through what we do. The Protestant reformers fought for the view that every Christian has a vocation, a calling from God to respond with love and faith and service in the situation in which he finds himself. Vocation in this sense is a fundamental concept in the Christian life, and it will be well to explore its significance for self-knowledge before noting its special implications for the Christian ministry.
Vocation is always a call to action. God, the creator, acts in his world, and seeks our redemption. God’s "being in act" is reflected in man’s bearing of his image. We are creatures for whom to live is to act. The meaning of "action" is to be broadly taken here. It may be the internal act of sustaining courage in the face of fear, or that of concentration upon an intellectual problem. It may be the silent act of moral decision or strenuous participation in history-making forces. But it is through taking part in ongoing life, discovering what it is to succeed and to fail, to be right and to be wrong, and being baffled by the question of what is right or wrong, that we come to possess our souls. Above all, it is in response to the call to action that we find our neighbor. We find him as friend, loved one, enemy, or mystery, but we find him largely through what we do. Human work is an essay in self-definition. We know how our particular kind of work, job, or profession tends to become inseparable from our personality.
Our vocation to respond to the will of God in the concrete situation presents us with dilemmas of every kind. There are the dilemmas in the conflict of duties. The Protestant reformers identified "vocation" too simply with acceptance of one’s place in the social order. Vocation can involve a protest against circumstance as well as an acceptance of it. It is not given to us to know with certainty in every case what is required of us. Indeed maturity is marked by humility about such judgments. The point is that we know ourselves only as we engage in the labor of life, find our capacities in relation to public tasks and private responsibilities, and in the end make some kind of peace with the prospects and the tragedies which attend our lives. The parent makes difficult decisions concerning his upbringing of his children, and discovers himself in making them. One who longs for private peace finds a public responsibility in business or politics. The pure scientist finds himself making H-bombs. The minister who shares all the anxieties and self-doubts of his people finds that they listen expectantly for him to interpret the Word of God. So is the self entangled within the world’s life, and self-knowledge comes through discovering what we have to do.
What this means for the Christian minister is that he must win his self-knowledge as a minister. His vocation must be clarified and he must make terms with what it demands. It is often said that the minister must "learn his role," but that puts the point far too feebly, and indeed wrongly, for the word "role" belongs to the theater, and means a guise and form assumed for a dramatic purpose. Vocation is more than a role; it is a life dedicated, and a responsibility assumed. No one should be playing a role at the point where ultimate things are at stake.
The minister has many tasks: preaching, church administration, liturgical leadership, pastoral care. Indeed one of his problems in attaining self-knowledge is the necessity of coming to terms with so many demands, and the discrepancy between what he conceives as his chief ministry and the preoccupation with "running the church."6 Two points concerning the vocational aspect of the minister’s self-knowledge need special attention.
First, the pastor must work out his definition of what is distinctive in his counseling as pastor. He may see that he possesses no final solution of this delicate problem. He knows that in very many situations the special authority and responsibility of the sacred office are at times best kept in the background. But his vocation is defined by the call of God to speak and hear the word of the judgment and grace which comes from God, the Creator-Redeemer. If this truth about what he is doing remains unclarified either intellectually or emotionally then the unresolved problem will foster an inner conflict and insecurity. He will not know his vocation, and yet he will be pretending to have one. This will not do.
I am inclined to think that the sense of reality about "why I am a minister" develops very slowly. It can hardly be otherwise, for the issues touch the whole of life. Very often original images of what it means to be a minister have to be changed through growing insight and experience. There is the shock of discovering what others, either in the Church or outside it, believe about the minister. There is the silent annoyance at being called "reverend," and the loneliness, about which perhaps we are inclined to romanticize too much, but which still is a real problem. And there do come the crises when in personal need or in the shocks of human history we are given to see with clarity the Form of the Servant asserting its power and are humbled and restored by Him who took it upon Himself.
This leads us to the second requirement. The pastor must be a theologian, and the kind of practical theologian who can keep theological concepts in significant relation to human experience. Man is spirit, and the spirit hungers for God. Man is created for fellowship, and his soul thirsts for the love which sustains, cares, and forgives. The theological skill which is required here is that which can go to the spiritual center of the mass of human feeling and anxiety. It is the capacity to hear and interpret the unarticulated longing of the spirit through the ordinary language and the extraordinary language which people use. It is the wisdom to know when one is dealing with problems which require a medical or psychiatric diagnosis and which are beyond the pastor’s technical competence. This is not to say that there is any human problem where Christian ministry is irrelevant; but that there is no substitute for the technical knowledge and practice of the physician when that is called for.
The pastor needs clarity in his thinking about the meaning of God for human life. The fear of God and the love of God are powerful determinants of emotion, and just for that reason can be easily confused with other fears and loves. God is never remote from his world and from the relationships of persons; yet he is God the Lord, and not a projection of the father image or an unfulfilled wish.
The minister needs theological clarity about the doctrine of God, so also about the doctrine of sin. When someone comes to the pastor feeling cast off from God, human psychology and theological insight must be so fused and skillfully mediated to the person that his way to God may be opened. Here words easily become substituted for reality. In the Christian view of life there is real guilt, not only guilt feeling, yet real guilt can be judged only in confession and prayer, never by psychological analysis or social standards alone. The pastor’s task is to open the way for the person to come to confess his real need for God. That means the pastor must be able to clarify the Christian understanding of man’s relationship to God and yet intrude as little as possible when the other person reaches out toward God. We see why the self-knowledge of the pastor is a complicated structure. He must know and use the great symbols and concepts of his faith and yet never take refuge in them as if they had meaning apart from their bearing on what men do and feel. He should be able to detect the dry accents of cant, and to speak the words of grace and hope without apology when they need to be spoken.
How, then, does anyone acquire some measure of this capacity? If we knew the full answer, life in the Church would be much smoother than it is, most probably it would be quite dull, and theological faculties would not be continually revising the curriculum of theological study. But in theological education we must have the best answers thought and experience will yield, so let us turn to the meaning of theological education in this context.
II. Self-Knowledge and Theological Study
To examine in any detail the many facets of theological education would take us beyond the purpose and limits of this book. A fuller treatment of the problems will be found in The Advancement of Theological Education, the report of the Survey of Theological Education in the United States and Canada published in 1955.7 We are discussing here the theological foundations of pastoral care, and our concern is with how growth in self-knowledge can be furthered in the course of theological study. Every theological faculty knows that the relation between the curriculum and the student’s personal involvement is a subtle matter. No one is proposing a special course in self-knowledge, though experiments in group dynamics may come close to that prescription. What are the principles which can guide us in theological education as we attempt to expound the subject matter which grows out of God’s self-revelation in history, and see this as it bears upon every man’s quest for the meaning of his existence?
Let us begin with the traditional disciplines. The candidate for the ministry studies Bible, Church History, Theology, Homiletics, Church Administration, Christian Education, Pastoral Theology, and so on. There are some who suspect that the enterprise of providing instruction in all these fields inevitably tends to make theological education an abstract and technical process which may never reach the inner life of the person. It is sometimes proposed, especially in the beginning of the theological course, that there should be a deliberate emphasis on the students’ personal quest for faith and truth. He should approach his problems "existentially" rather than give nearly all his energy to the mastery of the academic disciplines.
The crucial point surely lies in how we conceive the study of Bible, Church History, and the other fields. Each represents a subject matter derived from the faith of the Church in its historical expressions. Each presents us with a realm of objective concepts and issues which involve technical, linguistic, and philosophical disciplines. But the meaning of the faith and the tradition is surely just the meaning of human existence. To study the Church’s thought about God as if he does not matter is simply not to understand what we are studying.
It is right that we should ask the student to concentrate his attention very largely on the subjects rather than upon himself. No one should be compelled to engage in continual introspection about his faith. That may inhibit personal growth. We do, however, need to interpret all theological studies in such a way that their bearing upon real questions is kept in view. There is a crisis for the student when he asks just where this great structure of faith bears upon his personal existence. One of America’s outstanding theologians once confessed in an autobiographical essay that his crisis came after he had been teaching theology for five years. Personal tragedy had caused him to face the question whether what he had been teaching was his conviction rather than something not really believed. In good theological teaching we do not try to produce such a crisis, but we should expect it, and try to provide such a conception of the meaning of theological studies that when it comes, it may lead to a matured faith rather than to a destroyed one. What we must make clear is that the minister comes to self-knowledge not as something added to his basic studies, but within them, for they are the objective and significant areas of the faith which he is to represent and serve.
The relation of tradition to present experience is one of the most important aspects of our problem. It is because of the weight, authority, and distance of the past that many students find their study remote from life. There are those who find it difficult to become interested in traditional creeds, forms, and concepts. There are others who readily lose themselves in the past because it offers a refuge from facing the present. For both groups It may be necessary to clarify that dimension of the self which arises out of the past, and which requires us to become ourselves through appropriating the meaning of the past.
To be a self is to share in a community of selves which has a history. In the Church the past comes to us as the deposit left by the experience of people who lived by faith, That tradition offers a fertile soil of meaning in which the soul can grow. We possess ourselves in part by discovering and possessing that past. C. G. Jung’s psychological theory of a collective unconscious stream of psychic life with its archetypal symbols as a dynamic source of each individual experience appears to have highly speculative features; but surely he is pointing to an important aspect of the psychic life. It is noteworthy that Freud makes a similar suggestion when he speculates about the origin of the sense of guilt. Apart from the speculative dimensions of these theories we can recognize the reality of the psychic inheritance. There is a psychological dimension in the power of the "cloud of witnesses" which inspires and strengthens faith. That which is deepest in the self is evoked by its encounter with tradition as the self-expression of the community whose heir the self is.
A clear illustration is afforded by the discovery most of us make that we have inherited our peculiar beliefs and values from a special group. It is a critical point in the theological course when the Baptist, Episcopalian, Methodist, or Quaker discovers that values which he has deemed self-evident have been contributed by a particular tradition and that there are others for whom quite different convictions are just as self-evidently valid. We begin to know who we are when we know what our community has been. So the study of Church History can be regarded as an essay in self-knowledge just as surely as a course in depth psychology. Indeed, Church History may offer a special instance, for perhaps more than most theological subjects it is felt by many to be remote from contemporary concerns. But Church History should be understood as an inquiry into why we now feel and live as we do. One Christian psychologist remarked that he believes the resistance of students to Church History is primarily a resistance to facing themselves. Unconsciously they realize that it means self-discovery.
Let us state the principle, then, that every theological subject can be the occasion for self-knowledge. Experience of theological teachers shows that the answer to the question which subject will become the key to a student’s personal Involvement is quite unpredictable. We tend to learn best where we possess certain skills and can experience some mastery. Not all minds formulate their problems in the same ways. Therefore, in pleading for concern with self-knowledge through the traditional disciplines we are not asking for emphasis upon any particular subject. What is required is a point of view toward theological study which encourages the soul’s pilgrimage toward what the Puritans called an "experimental" knowledge of God’s grace.
Such a conception of theological study proposes no substitute for the patient mastery of the methods and materials of academic disciplines. God’s creation, with all its mystery, is an affair of terrible precision. To discover the demands of technical knowledge is one part of the discovery of what it means to be human.
The reality of doubt is the continuing countertheme to the search for theological knowledge. The community of faith into which the Christian is initiated bears within its collective memory a struggle against doubt, and a continual controversy over the meaning of the faith. It is a prime requirement of theological education that the nurturing religious communities, both school and Church, shall be wise in the handling of many levels of doubt. There is intellectual doubt, which arises from honest questioning of religious belief. This ranges all the way from skepticism as a philosophical perspective to such critiques of Christian belief as the Marxist doctrine of religion as ideological illusion or Freud’s theory of religion as wish fulfillment. There is the perennial issue of the adequacy of the mind to grasp the truth of things. How far does Christian faith permit support from reason and from evidence? This question persists within Christian theology -- witness the centuries of discussion about the "proofs of the existence of God." Engagement in these intellectual issues is part of the real task of theological education and a substantial part of its power to enlist the mind’s full energies.
In our analysis of self-knowledge we can examine here two further aspects of the problem of doubt: its relation to faith itself, and self-doubt as a psychological problem related to faith.
In the Christian perspective, doubt has its profound significance as the antithesis to faith. Faith is more than intellectual assent. It is personal trust and acceptance of the gracious action of God toward us, Faith therefore is meaningless apart from the story of sin and its consequent estrangement. It is we self-centered human beings, caught in our pretense and despair, who must discover what faith means. Doubt, then, has a meaning as radical as faith itself, It is what faith overcomes. It follows that to interpret the rejection of Christian faith as caused by selfishness or badness is a kind of caricature of the truth. Of course our moral failures keep up from accepting the truth of God, but that is exactly where the ultimate problem of faith lies. How is it possible that unbelief can be overcome? He who does not know and confess unbelief in its radical character cannot know what faith really is. The believer has no right to separate himself in moralistic self-righteousness from the unbeliever, looking down upon him as one inferior in moral strength. In the Christian sense, believing involves knowing what real doubt is. No Christian pastor can interpret the meaning of faith unless he knows what faith is up against, and that means unless he has known what it is to doubt,
We see here one reason why theological faculties are often rightly more disturbed by the student who seems to have no religious problems than by the one who does. Certainly we do not try to manufacture difficulties for the Christian life. We do not have to. There are enough questions in life and theology. But there are those who seem to manage to move serenely through a theological course without any profound searching either of the Gospel or of themselves. It is a fair guess that they rarely make good pastors.
When a congregation understands that the minister proclaims no easy faith, but one that he holds only by grace, they may realize the power of the Christian faith to take doubt into itself and see it overcome. Frederick W. Robertson was one of England’s great preachers in the nineteenth century. His sermons conveyed, and still do, a sense of reality in faith which makes us know that here we are on solid ground. Surely Robertson’s power was directly related to his experience in the early years of his ministry of finding his faith almost completely gone. The lonely struggle was intensified by Robertson’s morbid temperament, but it reached the deepest levels of spiritual questioning. For a time his integrity seemed to rest solely on his capacity to hold "it’s right to do right." But the way was gradually opened to the reconstruction of his belief, and it is fair to say that the sense of reality which his hearers found in his preaching, and which still comes through in his sermons in spite of an unfamiliar style, was born in his personal struggle with radical doubt.8
So far we have spoken of the doubt which lies in every man’s estrangement from God. Now we turn to self-doubt. It has many psychological aspects in relation to inferiority feeling, repression, guilt feeling, and self-depreciation as a way of gaining attention. As a psychological phenomenon it is complex and has aspects related to neurosis and psychosis. But we cannot set it wholly apart from the religious problem of faith and doubt because, as we have continually seen, the whole self is involved in the search for faith. In Chapter we stated the theory of the linkage of parts of experience to the whole person, and self-doubt is a case in point. We may be baffled by the world’s evil and the evil in ourselves, and find faith in God difficult quite apart from any psychological sense of inadequacy. Yet since to know God is to know ourselves in our true origin and destiny, the feelings and struggles we have about our identity to enter into the search for faith. Self-doubt as well as an exaggerated self-assurance can be symptoms of sin or occasions for it. Craving for attention, perfectionism, fear for ourselves, all reflect spiritual self-centeredness.
The sins of the community are reflected in its members. Status-seeking, snobbery, collective pride, can increase the potential for neurotic behavior. What we see in an anxious human countenance comes from within the soul, but it also reflects the failure of love of the community. By the same token, peace and poise of spirit are rooted in part in some sustaining community. The strong self is a tree with many roots.
Say, then, that theological schools and churches should be communities in which doubt is both acknowledged and overcome. If we know anything surely about the spiritual climate in which a person can prepare to be an adequate Christian pastor, it is to be found in a community where faith is a living reality, and where people are unafraid of honest confession of doubt in any of its dimensions.
IV. Imagination and Self-Knowledge
In theological education thus conceived, the Bible and Christian tradition will be studied so that the spiritual conflict which they depict is recognized as our personal history. Scripture is a deposit of faith, but it is more. It tells how the faith came to doubting, suffering, and believing men.
The significance of the realm of the imagination in theological education has been heightened by the new emphasis in pastoral care. We read the Scripture with greater insight when we are also being taught by the poets, novelists, and painters. In part this is because the artists are the sensitive portrayers of life as it is. They tell us who it is we have to speak to. But they also lead toward a true self-knowledge by putting in sharper focus the issues of our lives. E. M. Forster’s story, The Celestial Omnibus, brilliantly contrasts the excitement which the great poets, Sir Thomas Browne, Shelley, and Dante, produce in an eager young boy, and the snobbery of one who reads the poets to proclaim his cultural status, but who, being brought near to what they can really show him of the height and depth of life, flees in terror.9 We know ourselves and God, not by the literal fact alone, but in symbolic visions in which the meaning of the facts takes shape. A theological teacher who is engaged in interpreting the relation of Christian faith to dramatic literature once remarked that he found life interesting because it continually reminded him of things in literature!
Even when the formal theological curriculum does not provide it, theological students who are genuinely searching for truth will usually be found reading in the literature of protest, revolt, and spiritual conflict of their time. Albert Camus’ novel, The Fall, is an incisive description of contemporary man in his despair and faithlessness. To discuss this depiction of man’s ruthlessness and degradation with a group of theological students is to see how one of the great modern spirits, who is not a professing Christian, can sharpen to a razor edge the meaning of sin and the emptiness which is its consequence. Although Camus seems to stand with the atheism of Ivan Karamazov, who will not believe in God in a world where innocent children suffer, The Fall is still unintelligible apart from the structure of the biblical faith from which its title comes, and which constitutes its central theme: man capable of love and refusing it. And the novel contains a moving, not altogether clear, passage about the Christ as the one in whom for a brief moment an authentic humanity has appeared.10
Artists see many things, not all of them consistent or true. In particular it is well to remember that the avant-garde is not always at the head of the procession. A sensitive French critic has remarked of modern literature that it seems to be able only to "paint a faithful portrait of the passions." But he who would know himself and his fellows cannot neglect the self-expression which represents to us the hidden currents of life and feeling. Man is a smoldering volcano. Gerard Manley Hopkins was a Christian poet who understood the struggle for self-knowledge in the twentieth century:
O the mind, mind has mountains;
cliffs of fall,
Frightful, sheer, no-man-fathomed. Hold
May who ne’er hung there. Nor does long
Durance deal with that steep or deep . . .11
And a rare Christian novel like Alan Paton’s Cry, the Beloved Country can tell the frightful truth of man’s inhumanity to man and illuminate the whole with the compassion of the Gospel.12
What we are urging is a theological education which by whatever means brings about a continual meeting of the Christian tradition with the significant issues in culture. This is one requirement in an adequate prep~ration for the pastoral ministry.
The community of worship and sacramental life sustains the soul in its quest for self-knowledge and the knowledge of God. Worship does this precisely because it turns attention to God and his acts. It celebrates and renews that relationship to God in which alone is our peace. Any note of superficiality or pretense in worship is a serious defect in the Church or theological school. We learn how to worship through participation in the worshiping community. In the search for self-knowledge there is one aspect of the life of worship which we may single out for attention. That is the place of prayer.
It is well known to theological faculties that students feel a special need for guidance in the private life of devotion and prayer, and that they rarely feel they are given sufficient help in this matter. Prayer may become more difficult when questions about God have become matters of intellectual analysis, and the inevitable season of theological confusion sets in. Personal problems such as self-doubt may create difficulties in the devotional life. One effect of the years of theological study is, in more cases than we might readily admit, a serious upset of the life of prayer, and in some cases very nearly putting it altogether to one side for a time. Yet prayer is the soul’s meeting with its real help in God, and it is the pastor’s privilege to lead the way to a true prayer life. It is good that prayer should not be too easy. Prayer which is not a pious routine but a true opening of the mind and spirit to God shakes us to the foundations of our being.
One secret of reality in prayer is to keep it close to the search for self-knowledge. True prayer is the central moment in which man sees himself as he really is before his Creator. The deepest levels of private prayer, what the Catholics call interior prayer, involve a ruthless honesty and self-disclosure before Him who knows all hearts. To speak of the life of prayer in the religious community suggests at once pious and decorous habit, full of good intentions. All this is proper. In public worship we do not expose all our private emotions. But the personal prayer life is a different matter. It is the one place in life where there is absolutely no use pretending. Prayer is the barren field on which man stands before God, to examine and to renew his final loyalties and engage in battle with the divine claims. Therefore, the very essence of prayer requires our honest thinking about the meaning of our existence. It is real prayer and not merely self-communion when it is undertaken in reverence, gratitude, and openness before that which is greater than ourselves, whatever words or signs we may use. Real prayer seeks what is actual. We remember the bloody sweat in the Garden of Gethsemane.
There is always a danger of self-centeredness in prayer, but more self-centeredness creeps into prayer through the failure to recognize its power to open life fully before God than through any overemphasis upon self-knowledge. A community of prayer ought to be a community of people who have begun to lose their pretenses and who have no need to conceal either their real faith or the hard road by which it is won.
VI. Psychology in the Theological Curriculum
We have left until now the question of the place which the study of psychology, psychological testing, and clinical training have in theological education. One of the widespread movements in theological education in America today, and indeed around the world, is the new emphasis upon supervised training dealing with the practice of pastoral care and courses which will enable the theological student to understand his psychological problems. I am dealing with the theological foundations of pastoral care, and the question of specific psychological methods must be dealt with by those who are competent in this field. What needs discussion, however, is the theological justification for this new emphasis. This lies chiefly in two considerations:
First, there is the principle which has run throughout our discussion of the "linkage" of the various aspects of human experience to one another. Theology by itself never gives sufficient guidance in dealing with human problems, because those problems involve dimensions of experience which have to be understood psychologically. What the psychologist knows about the child’s relation to the mother becomes suddenly illuminating for understanding why a particular person cannot accept the mercy of God. By the same token psychology by itself is never enough, for we are led straight back to the question of who man is and what his life is all about. What the sciences and experimental inquiries of psychology and sociology and the rest tell us about man belongs in the range of the pastor’s concern. He cannot master every field, but he can know something about where the major lines of insight into human behavior are to be found.
The second justification for the emphasis on psychology reflects the situation in which the Church lives in the twentieth century. Too many of the critical questions of modern life have been kept in the background of the Church’s teaching as irrelevant or indecorous. Contemporary psychology has established for many within the Church as well as outside it a new kind of confessional. It has provided a new language in which the emotional life can be discussed. And through counseling, and group dynamics, it has explored ways in which people can find self-understanding. There is, for illustration, the sexual aspect of life which is rarely acknowledged in the usual forms of Church worship, and where on the whole the Church has failed to bring the Gospel to bear with relevance and insight. This aspect of life can be given a forthright examination in modern psychological terms, and it is clear that the discussion leads straight to theological issues concerning the meaning of creation, the relation of body and mind, and the nature of the person.
It is not surprising that many Christian psychologists have an evangelical sense of mission to bring their new knowledge and experience to the reformation of the Church. This sometimes becomes a new sectarianism filled with zeal to save. Such enthusiasm can easily overreach itself. The Church needs the psychological revolution; but this alone will not save the Church. Let us acknowledge, however, that there is in the churches today a probing inquiry by people thirsty for personal release and meaning, and that the psychological movement has had much to do with encouraging and guiding that movement. The psychologist, Erik Erikson, remarks near the close of his book, Young Man Luther, that Luther and Freud each did the dirty work of his generation13 Psychology has helped man to know himself where the Church either has not understood or has walked too timidly. No one has all the answers as to the place of psychological understanding in the preparation of the pastor, but that it belongs, there can be no doubt.
VII. The Pastor’s Pastor
The pastor needs a pastor. Wherever there is a need in the Christian life, the Church has generally evolved some structure to meet it. The institution may become petrified or fall into disuse, but it is there. The bishop is supposed to be among other things, a pastor to his pastors. Some bishops regard this as one of their primary obligations. It is true that the pressure of administrative responsibilities in the modern episcopacy has tended to crowd out this function, as indeed it has tended to obscure the spiritual role of the bishop.14 But there are signs of protest, and a new will to reassert the personal aspects of episcopacy. Similar episcopal functions are found in other church orders. In the free churches which have no bishops, superintendents, conference ministers, and others recognize the need to offer to their brother ministers pastoral concern and care. We are concerned here with the need of the Christian minister to bring his problems to a colleague who can be pastor to him. There are three reasons for this:
There is the need for confession. The head of the Roman Church goes to confession. Protestant churches are rethinking the theology and practice of confession in the light of the role of the pastoral counselor. Whether or not we accept the institution of confession as a sacramental and liturgical form, we know the significance of having our inner being disclosed to a mature and understanding person. This is not a denial of, or substitute for, confession to God, but one human condition for aiding a full confession to God. No one can specify just how or with whom the pastor may find this relationship; but there is wisdom in opening the way to it through a conception of the ministry which allows us to offer this to one another.
The pastor needs a pastor also because he needs the continuing criticism and help which can come from reflecting with other colleagues upon the exercise of his vocation. Too often the minister, whether young or old, escapes the discipline of having his work examined by those who can observe critically and judge constructively. One can say that the Protestant minister usually finds this function adequately fulfilled by his wife, and there is no discounting the significance of this loving and expert criticism. But more than this is needed. It is a cheering experience to sit in a group of pastors who in confidence discuss the problems they have undertaken to deal with, the failures they have made, and listen with good grace to the critical appraisal of their br-other ministers. There is a resource for insight and mutual support in such sharing. The greatest obstacle to it is, I believe, a defensiveness and anxiety about exposing our incompetence. We need the grace to submit our ministry to colleagues who can speak critical truth in love.
Finally, the pastor needs a pastor because the forms of ministry are being altered in the new pressures of the twentieth century. We need mutual help in the inquiry for a more adequate church life. Ministers are asking in a radical way what, as ministers, they should be doing. This "troubled ministry" has received some public attention.15 The concern stems not from self-pity, but from an accurate appraisal of the present task of the Church and the inadequacy of purely traditional forms to meet it. Every function of the ministry -- preaching, teaching, pastoral care -- must be carried on in a new kind of world, shaped by enormous new technological forces, conditioned in scientific ways of thinking, threatened by vast forces of revolutionary political and moral significance. As the minister tries to walk gently in this world, where "lights are dim and the very stars wander," he may find himself so involved in keeping a complex organization running that his margin of energy for reflecting upon where he is headed is reduced to the danger point.16 His essential ministry remains the same, to follow the Servant in bringing His truth and healing to men; but how that is to be done cannot be decided by old habits alone. We need one another’s understanding and pastoral support in the search for a more adequate expression of our vocation.
The aim of ministry is to serve God and his Church, not to fix attention upon ourselves; but without a genuine self-knowledge we get in our own way and in God’s way. We have tried to see self-knowledge as a dimension of the Christian life and of the pastor’s preparation. Now we turn our attention to pastoral care in the context of the Church’s life.
1. Augustine. Confessions, VII. x, n6.
2. C. H. Dodd, ‘The Mind of Paul: I," in New Testament Studies (New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1952), pp. 77-82.
3. John Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion, I, I.
4. Cf. Jacques Maritain, Christianity and Democracy (New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1944), pp. 57 ff.
5. Alfred North Whitehead, Process and Reality (New York: The Macmillan Company, 1936), Pt. II. Sec. I, Sec. 4; Pt. III, chap. I-3.
6. Samuel Blizzard, "The Parish Minister’s Self-Image and Variability in Community Culture." Pastoral Psychology, Oct., 1959: "The Minister’s Dilemma," The Christian Century, Vol. 73, April 25. 1956.
7. H. Richard Niebuhr, Daniel D. Williams, and James M. Gustafson (New York: Harper & Brothers, 1955).
8. The Life and Letters of Frederick W. Robertson, edited by Stafford H. Brooke (Boston, 1865), Vol. I.
9. E. M. Forster, The Celestial Omnibus and Other Stories (New York: A. A. Knopf, 1923).
10. Albert Camus, The Fall, English trans. (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1957).
11. Gerard Manley Hopkins. Sonnet "41."
12. Alan Paton, Cry, the Beloved Country (New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1948).
13. Erik Erikson, Young Man Luther (New York: W. W. Norton, 1958), p. 9.
14. Cf. K. E. Kirk, The Apostolic Ministry (New York: Morehouse-Gorham, 1946).
15. Cf. Wesley Shrader, "Why Ministers Are Breaking Down," in Life, Aug. 20, 1956: comments by Roy Pearson and Daniel D. Williams in Christianity and Crisis, Vol. XVI, Nos. 18, 21.
16. The line is from Gilbert Murray. I am indebted to Wayne Oates for it.