An evangelical theology of Chaplaincy draws on both evangelical tradition and historical roots of chaplaincy. Theologically it must engage both with theologies from above and those from below. The theology must avoid reductionism but rather be open to contributions from other disciplines and allow them to both critique and contribute to theological positions held.
Chaplaincy is not parish based but institution based. The chaplaincy pastoral encounter does not always have faith or a church property providing common ground, but rather an institution (work place, hospital, armed forces, prison or school) or incidents (such as trauma, suffering, illness, and tragedy) provide the point of connection. Christian chaplaincy is not simply parish pastoral care ‘tweaked’. The rules of engagement for a chaplaincy ministry are fundamentally different from parish based ministry, although, both parish and chaplaincy ministries engage in ‘cure’ of souls.
An evangelical theology of chaplaincy will:
· Draw on the evangelical touchstones of Conversionism, Activism, Biblicism, and Crucicentricism.[i]
· Engage with the historic traditions of Chaplaincy and Pastoral Care.
· Draw on the reformed theologies of Calvin, Luther and Augustine that look at the world from above.
· Draw on the Theological Anthropologies that consider faith from below: the perspective of humanity, and engage with the God/man Jesus Christ.
· Draw on the theologies that engage with the narrative and drama of Scripture and philosophical concepts.
· Not lose focus that the primary concerns of Chaplaincy are: the pastoral encounter, the patient as person and the pastor as person. Attention must be paid to all three aspects. The discipline always has at its end, a practical purpose, a real visit. Clinical Pastoral Education is an action/reflection training module that aims to hone and sharpen skills in this area.
· Determine the theological frame that the chaplain brings into the encounter, if affects who the chaplain ‘is’ in the encounter, how they interpret the situation and the care plan that is formulated for the way forward.
· Understand that contemporary terms Chaplaincy and Pastoral Care describe a broad discipline: one far wider than the traditional Christian meanings. This discipline is also called spiritual care and concerns itself primarily with issues of belief and meaning. This public meaning arises from secular concepts that encompasses religion, ecumenicalism, multi-faith dialogue and psychology, sociology and spirituality.
· Enter a dialogue with the pastoral and practical theologians who are actively engaging with the broad definition of spiritual care and engaging with disciplines of psychology and sociology and issues of the infinite, ultimate concerns, suffering, pain, joy, peace, compassion and the limits of human finitude.
Three evangelical theologians who are writing in this area are Timothy Keller a former Professor of Practical Theology at Westminster, Eugene Peterson, Professor of Spiritual Theology at Regent College and Andrew Purves, Professor of Reformed Theology at Pittsburgh Theological Seminary.
Theology of Chaplaincy is not a purely theoretical discipline. It does involve theory, but it is more like an apprenticeship. It involves a repeated, spiralling process of theological stretching. There are times without answers, other times of deconstruction and disengagement before a deeper theological reconstruction as we understand something new of Christ, or ourselves, or another: then there is a further re-engagement. All this is learned. As the chaplain lowers themselves down into the abyss of another’s suffering, the chaplain themselves enters the sufferer’s suffering. Issues that surround human life emerge: pain, suffering, justice, the groaning creation, a fallen broken world, alienation and forsakenness. These can also exist alongside compassion, kindness, image of God, love, light, burden bearing, redemption, forgiveness, peace, joy and eternity. The issues all cut across our common humanity, frailty and flawed morality.
As a chaplain, we see into the brokenness of another’s world we too are confronted with our own brokenness. We understand again our own need of Jesus’ death for us on the cross. We do nothing in our own strength: we are not counsellors, or social workers but simply fellow travellers who have been shown mercy in Christ and, as such, we extend mercy to another. An evangelical chaplain will be concerned that the ultimate need of any person is to see their story completed in Christ, and as such along with listening, silence, compassion and care will seek to share, at just the right time, saving words of Truth that illuminate true life.