by Thomas C. Oden (Theology Today, Apr 1985, Vol. 42, No. 1)

Thomas C. Oden is the Henry Anson Butz Professor of Theology and Ethics at Drew University Theological School. His writings include Kerygma and Counseling (1 966) and Intensive Group Experience: The New Pietism (1972)

“Admittedly all of the major families of disciplines of theological education have at times attempted to accommodate reductionistic historical, scientific, and empirical methods that have in turn attempted to estrange each discrete discipline from the central, integrating spirit of holistic, orthodox Christian theology. All have borrowed methodologies so extensively from the cultural context that they have lost their centers. But no discipline illustrates this more powerfully, dramatically, tragically, and influentially than does pastoral care. “

How can pastoral care become more fully integrated into the American theological school curriculum? Within brief compass, I will attempt to (1) sharpen the issue, (2) present a preliminary proposal of a means of recovery of an improved integration, and (3) offer an assessment of potential modes of impact of the reclamation of classical pastoral care upon curricular cohesion and upon the major families of theological disciplines.
1. One discipline in particular lacks full and adequate integration and inclusion in the theological curriculum: pastoral care. Admittedly there is a sense in which all theological disciplines-biblical, historical, theological, church and society, and practical-lack a fully adequate integration. Given the sociology of specialization and the momentum of professionalization in university disciplines, all theological disciplines have been, for fifty or more years, tending centrifugally toward disintegration, but none more so than pastoral care. Pastoral care is a special case among the theological disciplines of a discrete discipline that has preferred to cut out its own distinctive pathway quite apart from biblical, historical, and systematic theological studies. It emerged during the period of the hegemony of pragmatic methods and influences in theological education when such independence was thought to be permissible and commendable.

Our tentative hypothesis on the possible resolution of this problem is this: The reintegration of pastoral care into the theological curriculum depends upon the rediscovery of an integrated method of theological study grounded in the classical pastoral writers. This will require the examination of the historical development of the Christian pastoral tradition, its assumptions and reflection on soul care, and its practice of care through extremely varied periods of cultural challenges.

(read more)