David’s PhD thesis was written during the 1980’s with the invaluable help of Professor Jeff Astley, then Director of the North East Institute for Christian Education. Its purpose was to investigate the process of learning by which Christians grow in their faith. By linking the process of revelation, through which Christians are open to God, with the processes of learning, by which all people grow and change, David hoped that the study of learning might throw some light on the nature of revelation.
Developments in both practical theology and in our understanding of the human brain and the processes of learning since then have suggested that the thesis David put forward as long ago as 1989 is largely correct.
1 – Revelation and Self-Understanding
Chapter 1 develops the ‘meta-theory’ by which the study of learning, which belongs to the social sciences, is to be linked with the study of theology. This theory of the relationship between the two is of immense significance for the whole of practical theology.
2 – Interaction Mechanism and Meaning
A study of perception, memory and learning, drawing on the work of cognitive science. The chapter opens up the basic question underlying the study of all human behaviour: do we take the stance of naturalism, with its assumption that behaviour is caused by natural processes, or do we interpret human beings as purposeful agents?
Delving more deeply into the way our minds work, this chapter shows that learning is rooted in bodily mechanisms and integrates thought and emotion.
4 – Knowledge and Personal Identity
This chapter opens up the social dimension of learning, showing that learning takes place in relationships and that it is the search for identity that supplies the primary motivation for learning.
5 – Human Autonomy in the Process of Revelation
Building on the insight that learning is integrally linked with the search for identity, this chapter demonstrates the links between learning and revelation, exploring the work of the Holy Spirit in relation to the human spirit.
Having demonstrated that revelation may legitimately be understood as a process of learning, this chapter explores what this means for the understanding of revelation itself. It makes a significant contribution to the many questions surrounding a theological understanding of revelation.
A final chapter looks in greater detail at some of the philosophical questions underlying the investigation, and locates the thesis in relation to thinkers such as Kant, Wittgenstein and Michael Polanyi.