Notes on Bedford’s Theological Reflection on Discernment

Bedford, Nancy. “Little Moves Against Destructiveness: Theology and the Practice of Discernment,” in Practicing Theology: Beliefs and Practices in Christian Life. eds. Miroslav Volf and Dorothy C. Bass. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans. 2002.

Nancy Bedford presents discernment as a practice that must be informed by the tools of theological analysis and vitally responsive to the realities of the community in which it is practiced. She reflects theologically on the specific experience of a small church community situated in an Argentine barrio as it practices discernment.

I’ve quoted from this paper before, but reread the paper more analytically today. There’s less here that is directly relevant to my thesis than in some other material I’m reading.

Bedford emphasizes that discernment, like all practices, is inherently “ambiguous” and “penultimate”: susceptible to misuse as well as right use; and a means, rather than an end in itself. (159) Her specific church community defines discernment as “figuring out what to do, all together as a church, with the help of God’s Spirit.” (167) As a church community, they are attempting to discern, first,

– What is the calling of our community in response to human needs within it and without?

and secondarily,

– What particular project would be the most faithful way to fulfill that calling?

(170) Would that every church community had the desire and the courage to engage in the same discernment of its charism and the best ways to live it out!

She tells affecting stories of adults being prompted by the questioning of their children to find concrete ways to live up to the beliefs that they teach; I’m struck by the fact that children’s concerns are included at all.

She identifies a set of themes (170-1) that have consistently emerged during the process which I would group as follows:
– interpersonal: empathy; focused, active listening
– analytical: structural analysis; interaction with biblical hermeneutics;
– communal: constructive criticism of the received tradition and past practice; acknowledgment of their limitations (thinking realistically small); the specific local context; ecumenical partnership;
– anthropological: awareness of the tendency towards self-deception
– pneumatological: a sense of being led by the Spirit, and a trust that the Spirit will operate through the interpersonal, analytical, communal, and prayerful practices of the discernment process, to reveal the specific steps that they should take.

I think this article is most relevant to the small church communities which are already attempting to practice mimetic ecclesiology on the ground. The anthropological awareness of self-deception and greed (mentioned in the context of structural analysis) as basic human tendencies has a similar orientation as the anthropological awareness of desire and violence of mimetic theology. The pneumatological orientation is similar to the pneumatological orientation that I believe is necessary for a mimetic ecclesiology.

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1 Response to Notes on Bedford’s Theological Reflection on Discernment

  1. Pingback: Reflections on Jones’ Graced Practices: Excellence and Freedom in Christian Life | Gaudete Theology

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