A Guide to Pastoral Care

Written by R. E. O. White Reviewed By Ian D. Bunting

The Principal of the Baptist Theological College of Scotland describes the pastoral care of individuals under stress as the most relevant, rewarding and Christlike of all ministries. He offers a practical primer in pastoral theology for aspirants to the ministry of the churches. The book proceeds from a consideration of general principles to an account of specific tasks and ends with an introduction to psychology from a Christian perspective.

Mr White defines the Christian cure of souls as ‘the application of Christian theology to pastoral situations’. He distinguishes the work of the pastor from that of the doctor, psychiatrist or social worker. The pastor is concerned primarily with the moral and spiritual problems of men. The author, working from this very traditional understanding of the nature of pastoral theology, proceeds to hedge his advice with much-needed warnings against the accompanying temptations to rush to ill-considered solutions, trite sermonettes and religious self-importance. In fact Mr White shows a deep pastoral concern for the individual. He recommends a simple method in problem-solving which recurs in a number of places through the book: (i) Listen in order to elicit the true proportions of the problem. (ii) Seek agreement upon what precisely is the problem. (iii) Interpret the issues and apply the insights of Scripture. (iv) Discern underlying causes and determine what active steps are called for in order to work towards a solution. In all this nothing must be allowed to obscure the free choice, full responsibility and ultimate detachment of the person being helped.

Most evangelical Christians will probably be very pleased with this book and find it helpful as a work for reference. There are, however, some theological questions which need to be placed against both the author’s definition of pastoral theology and his very individualistic exposition of pastoral care. The idea that you can discern a Christian theology and then apply it to pastoral situations is one which Mr White himself, in the course of his book, is very cautious about recommending. So often the answer is not clear and the Bible does not offer immediately accessible prescriptions. There is no body of Christian knowledge which can simply be applied to the predicaments of men. In his exposition of particular ministerial functions, Mr White combines with his evangelical confidence an appropriate concern that people may discover for themselves the resources of God to meet their need. Maybe a more searching question has to be put against Mr White’s strong emphasis upon the individual as the object of the pastor’s concern. Is it true that this is a biblical understanding of people? Is it not rather the Hebraic-Christian view that a man cannot be isolated from the family and community to which he belongs? The problem of the individual is often the problem of the family and of the community—a fact frequently underlined in both Old and New Testaments.

Ian D. Bunting

Director of Pastoral Studies, Cranmer Hall, Durham, England