Six Diagnostic Types of Pastoral Care (1/3)

Donald Capps very helpfully outlines models and schemata for effective pastoral action, that I think are very helpful for getting pastor’s to think about the what and why of what they do in a community over which they exercise pastoral oversight.  This post is the first of three that will develop this scheme to show how pastoral care is multi-layered and complex, requiring self-understanding, and avoiding the over-simplification of a one-dimensional approach that can be seen in self-promoting and self-serving distortions of ministry.

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In Pastoral Care and Hermeneutics (a book I discovered by reading Anthony Thiselton’s A Lifetime in the Church and University), Capps first provides six Diagnostic Types for pastoral care approaches (pg. 61-65), using the content analysis of published sermons in six well known preachers, showing that each preacher had a characteristic approach that was common to most if not all the their published sermons:


  1. Theological diagnosis as identifying underlying personal motivations.  This approach comes through the ministry of Catholic priest John Henry Newman, and exposes the personal motives that are responsible for the problems being addressed by the sermon.  Theologically, this approach returns again and again to the judgment that our personal motives are incompatible with the will of God, and the greatest challenge confronting Christians today is therefore to learn to conform their will to God’s.
  2. Theological diagnosis as identifying the range of potential causes.  This approach, employed by John Wesley, explores the whole range of personal and situational factors that might cause the specific problems being addressed by the sermon.  Theologically, this diagnostic approach focuses quite relentlessly, on the issue of responsibility.  It asks, who or what is responsible for the problem? the individual?  the society?  the work of unscrupulous individuals? or unavoidable circumstances of life?  Etc.
  3. Theological diagnosis as exposing inadequate formulations of the problem.  This approach, by Paul Tillich, exposes inadequate formulations  of the problem in order to clear the way for a deeper understanding of it.  Once these deeper meanings have been exposed, it is more difficult to think in terms of “resolving” the problem.  More likely one will need to learn to live with its inherent ambiguity.  Theologically, the issue addressed is grace, which one discovers through relinquishing false securities and vain hopes:  “My grace is sufficient for you.”
  4. Theological diagnosis as discovering untapped personal and spiritual resources.  This approach, through Phillips Brooks, points out that our problem would seem more manageable if we would recognise our vast store of personal and spiritual resources.  Typical problems addressed here include the loss of the visions of one’s youth, the inability to cope with besetting sin or malady such as alcoholism, personal discouragement, or profound loneliness.  This approach must guard against replacing careful diagnosis of the problem with vague optimism.  Theologically, this approach draws on the dual theme of memory and hope.  We are to remember God’s faithfulness in the past so that we live in hope now and for the future in that faithfulness.
  5. Theological diagnosis as bringing clarity to the problem.  This approach by Austin Farrar suggests that the major reason we have difficulty with a problem is that we have not yet got it clarified.  This applies to such things as the supposed conflict between religion and science (which is really the rather shallow but popular “battle between religious extremism/fundamentalism and scientism), suffering and evil (a genuine philosophical problem), and other moral dilemmas confronting Christians in every age.”  This view advises pastoral care that the fundamental problems of Christian faith can be rendered clear and transparent if we have the intellectual and moral courage to address them.  Theologically, this approach persistently addresses the matter of truth:  God is truth, and God is on the side of truth against error and deception.  The search for truth is therefore not an intellectual luxury but a religious and moral obligation placed on those who claim to be seekers after God.
  6. Theological diagnosis that assesses the problem in terms of the deepest intentions of shared human experience.  This approach by Friedrich Schleiermacher sees the problem in light of our deepest human intentions of capacities, such as love, fidelity, courage and compassion.  This approach typically addresses these in family relations, a community’s response to global war and terror, including natural disasters and even the death of a child.  This approach assumes a deep and basic congruity between the Christian faith and humanity’s deepest capacities for sharing one another’s burdens and joys.  Theologically, the central theme in this diagnostic is love, for God’s love is viewed as the deepest divine intention, and human intentions are evaluated for the degree to which they show and reflect love.


The next post, the second of three, will develop the above six schemes and integrate them into three diagnostic modalities:

  1. The contextual model
  2. The experiential model
  3. The revisionist model

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