Critiquing

The role of ethics in pastoral supervision, based on the normative task of supervision, is growing in importance, as described in Chapter 3. Most approaches rely on ethical frameworks, codes of conduct, and positions descriptions or employment contracts for guidance in this function of supervision. Vikki Reynolds centres ethics in group supervision by fostering cultures of critique. Reynolds describes this as ‘understandings of ethics, ethical stances, and collective ethics; understandings of critique, fostering cultures of critique, and promoting dignifying supervisory relationships’.32

Can pastoral supervision include conversations that combine dignity and critique? The Psalmist believed that mercy and righteousness could embrace (Ps. 85:10), but in practice, most pastoral supervisors (parents, pastors, and friends) find it difficult to offer critique while preserving another’s dignity. Effective reflection, according to educational theorists like Mezirow, must have a particular edge: it must be critical reflection. The research and resources on critical reflection is simply enormous and is central to those modalities with a formative and educative focus, such as coaching and mentoring. Beginning with a brief overview of common approaches to critical reflection, I will develop Luther’s central Christological maxim: the cross is the test of everything. What shape does critical reflection take in light of Luther’s theology of the cross? I contend this is probably the most critical (yet neglected) issue for the activity of critiquing in pastoral supervision. Properly interpreted and perceptively implemented, the cross critiquing everything makes supervision fully pastoral.

Critical reflection involves challenging past actions in a way that promotes a style of questioning in the tradition of Socratic inquiry. Critical reflection, in the footsteps of Socrates, uses the power of the right questions to unmask past actions which usually evolves through several stages. The first stage involves the questions that simply establish what happened. For example, too much time in the supervision session can be devoted to such questions by the curious supervisor without leaving time to probe other critical matters, such as motivation (why did you do act that way?), impact (who was affected?), and transformation (what do you need to do differently in future?). Challenged by these kinds of questions, the supervisee is left with nowhere to hide; such questions can be quite unsettling even for a mature and experienced supervisee who must try and explain themselves and their actions. An unsettled supervisee will often quickly progress to the third stage where the deepest questions expose fundamental convictions. These questions imitate the Ignatian spiritual practice of examen (explored in greater detail in Chapter 8) which seeks to unmask previously hidden assumptions, convictions, habits, and life patterns.

Pastoral supervision, as a spiritual activity, via challenging questions—and what they reveal—invites the supervisee to repent. McGrath’s summary of Luther reads like an observation of many pastoral supervision sessions where suffering, weakness, or folly are apparent:

It will therefore be clear that there is a radical discontinuity between the empirically perceived situation and the situation as discerned by faith. To the eye of reason, all that can be seen in the cross is a man dying in apparent weakness and folly, under the wrath of God. If God is revealed in the cross, he is not recognisable as God. Empirically, all that can be discerned are the posteriora Dei. Reason therefore, basing itself upon what is empirically discernible, deduces that God cannot be present in the cross of Christ, as the perceived situation in no way corresponds to the preconceived situation. The ‘theologian of glory’ expects God to be revealed in strength, glory and majesty, and is simply unable to accept the scene of dereliction on the cross as the selfrevelation of God.33

How commonly does Luther’s theology of the cross reverberate and echo in supervision sessions? The supervisee concludes, ‘if God is revealed in situation X (i.e., the suffering of the cross), he is not recognisable as God’. No, Luther would respond with his critique: not recognisable as the god of our expectation. Luther’s proclamation of the crucified and risen Jesus as revealing the true God has been essential in credal, orthodox Christian faith. It is the reason he insisted that the cross was the test of everything. How pastoral supervisors profess the crucified and risen Jesus as revealing the true nature of God is essential to theologically grounded supervision. This must also be the focus of self-critique. Luther, echoing the apostle Paul, maintained that the cross is the test of everything. Critique in light of the cross, as summarised by Alister McGrath, is found in the revealing Jesus, not idle

The revealing Jesus: theology and practice 69 speculation. The revealing Jesus, as observed in Luke 24, is often indirect and obscure even as he reveals himself.34

In discerning their true standing before God, believers realize that they cannot see God’s naked glory but can glimpse only the ‘backside’ of God in Christ’s suffering and death. Because the eternal, impassable God is incarnate in ‘ungodly’ suffering and death, one glimpses God in that which is seemingly not of God. The theology of the cross recognizes that human beings cannot approach God through their own rational and moral resources—though God nonetheless remains the standard by which rationality and morality are measured. While a theology of glory falsely claims to know God from God’s works in creation, a theology of the cross actually knows God from the sufferings of the cross of Christ.35

The idea of rethinking or the act of changing one’s mind is at the heart of biblical repentance. More popular notions of repentance, such as changing one’s direction or allegiance, are the secondary, albeit necessary, consequences of changing one’s mind. What conditions, then, are conducive to supervisees thinking differently about their practice?

 
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