communicative theologyScharer, Matthias Hilberath Bernd Jochen. The Practice Of Communicative Theology: Introduction To A New Theological Culture. New York: Crossroad Pub. CO. 2008.


The Authors — Matthias Scharer and Bernd Jochen Hilberath

My Reflections

Sharer and Hilberath are two German, Roman Catholic theologians who have adopted Ruth Cohn’s Theme-Centered Interaction (TCI) model as the means of doing theology. This pedagogy comes from a long history of Catholic theology and is rooted, most apparently, in Habermas’ communicative rationality. The combination of TCI and Habermas leads to their label: Communicative Theology.

This book is important for my research on two levels. First, it describes the process I used to facilitate the Research Team meetings during phase one of the project. The interesting fact is that I was not aware of this book when I led those meetings. The process I used was based Peter Block’s Community Building methodologies and my own experience in adult learning forums. Communicative Theology and TCI help give credence to my methodology and help me to articulate better its theological underpinnings.

The second reason this book is important to my research is that it connects the pedagogical methodology to the Trinity. My research question asks how an increased awareness and understanding of the social Trinity might impact the ideation and praxis of spiritual formation in suburban ELCA congregations. Communicative Theology and TCI demonstrate that a communicative methodology is constituted by the relationality of God. It is the image of the communicative God as revealed/demonstrated in the three persons of the Trinity. By using a communicative methodology I am organically and implicitly raising the research team’s awareness and understanding of the social/relational/entangled/communicative Trinity.

My Key Notes from the Book

Communicative Orientations in North American Catholic Theology


tradition of personalism. Dialogical Personalism.
Martin Buber and Gabriel Marcel = the significance of dialogue.
Neo-Orthodoxy of Karl Barth
Catholic rsourcement theology of Hans Urs von Balthasar
Joseph Ratzinger – traced dialogue to Plato and Artistotle
Avery Cardinal Dulles – combined these personalisms with symbolic and sacramental modes of communication in Catholic practice.


20th century interpreters of Thomas Aquinas–Karl Rahner, Edward Schillebeeckx, and Bernard Lonergan.

“Lonergan identified communication as one of eight functional specialities that constitute the theological enterprise within the church: ‘Through communication there is constituted community and, conversely, community constitutes and perfects itself through communication.’ (Lonergan. Method in Theology (New York, 1972), 363)


Robert Schreiter–reflecting on liberation theologians in Latin America and inculturation theologians in Africa and Asia–analysis of concrete practices of communication in the development of local theologies.

semiotic approach to culture:

  • syntactics–the grammar-like rules that function in the relation of signs
  • semantics–the content or meaningn of the message
  • pragmatics–rules that govern communication in the range of meanings

Stephen Bevans.

“For dialogical personalism, the problem of misunderstanding is about overcoming obstacles and limits in knowing another individual and oneself. For the hermeneutical approach, individuals and groups must face recurring misunderstandings of texts and traditions. For these particular forms of contextual theology–Black, Hispanic, Asian, among others–misunderstanding is a question of prejudice against linguistic, cultural, and religious traditions, which contributes to economic and social hardship, and all too frequently results in conflict and violence.” (6)

Thomas H. Groome–drawing on Habermas’ work on theory and practice and Paulo Freire’s praxis-based pedagogy–advanced a “shared Christian praxis” approach to religious education and pastoral ministry.


Paul A. Soukop – six aspects of the communicative process:

  • language (a structured system of conveying meaning);
  • aesthetic experience;
  • creation of culture
  • interpersonal dialogue;
  • sender-receiver or rhetorical communication (the broadcast model);
  • theological analogue, that is, modeling human communication on the divine. (7)

Soukop is concerned that there has not been adequate investigation into the use of new communication technologies.

Outline of Book

  1. Theology as Process
  2. Preliminary Observations about the Communicative Characterr of Human Beings
  3. The “Battle of the Gods” as a Dilemma in a Communication-Conscious Society
  4. The Communicative God of Christian Revelation and God’s Communication in History
  5. The Church as a Community of Communication: The “We” as Gift.
  6. Communication as a Practice of Theological Awareness: The Perspective of TCI
  7. Keeping the Faith Tradition and Implicit “God-Talk” in Balance
  8. A Theme Takes Shape: Drama on the Eve of the Council of Nicea and Drama in the Church Today.

The Theological Question

“The theological question is: what do people associate with God and how do they do it? This way of stating the question calls attention to a pivotal theological insight: There is an inextricable connection between God (or better, what we know of God on the basis of revelation and the Christian tradition) and the actual lives of people. In theological knowing it is not only the what of the faith that counts. The what is inseparably linked to the way in which knowledge coming from God is received and transmitted. In short, it is linked with the how of God’s communication through past Christian tradition and in contemporary life histories.” (34)

Theology is communicative

“Theology is not ‘some thing’ that then is to be communicated; rather, communication is the central content of theology. So communication is neither a thing added or applied to theology nor a substitute for what theology should really be. Theology is itself a communicative event, and when it no longer is this it stops being theology. This thesis, certainly unusual and perhaps jarring to many, presupposs a particular understanding of communication on the one hand and of theology on the other.” (13)

The little gods and the Great God

“The image of the global village with its boundless communication takes on particularly religious connotations when the new media and the global market invade those areas of human life where faith and religion traditionally held sway. These are the areas of meaning and orientation, of history and the future, of right action and enduring happiness. Stopping to think about modern communication and its religious and ideological implications makes one aware of the degree to which the ‘little gods’ of boundless knowledge, global-communicative ability, and never-ending consumption are replacing the hope for the coming of the ‘great God.’ It is a battle between ‘gods’ who satisfy immediate needs and a God who ‘dries all tears’ (Revelation 21:4; cf. Isaiah 65:19). It is a confrontation between the boundless freedom promised to these globally connected in the communication network and the God who communicates God’s self to all people, especially to those excluded from the communication process, who calls all humankind to become one community in the freedom of the children of God. In this new world of global communication, the arguable monopoly of salvation formerly ascribed to the church appears to have been transferred to the media, so that the old adage ‘extra ecclesia nulla salus’ (there is not salvation outside the church) becomes ‘extra media nulla salus’ (there is no salvation outside the media). Such a world obviously needs to reflect on communication from the perspective of the biblical God and God’s communication with people. It is from this theological perspective that communicate theology enters critically into the (post) modern debate about communication, a debate that is growing in importance on the scientific, social, and religious levels.” (42-43)

God as communicative being

“If we look once again toward the God of whom theology speaks, we can further clarify the definition of God as a communicative being.” For the believer, God is a relational being. This is no human invention; rather, it is something made possible by God’s own revelation of God’s self. That is to say, God enters into a relationship with the world as creation and with people as created beings, as sinner and redeemed, and as beings on the way to perfection. Only in this way can we speak about God as relational. Even in Christian theology, we can make no statements about God in and for God’s self. This God in and for God’s self we can meet only as God for us. But we cannot draw the conclusion that God in and for God’s self does not exist. It is really a question of drawing a line to mark the limits of theological reflection and expression. With regard to the concept of communicative theology we can say: it is only because God enters into a relationship with us, because he wishes to be in communion with us and makes contact with us, that we can speak about and with God. We can also add further precision to our description by saying that God is the communicative being par excellence. It is first and foremost God who makes possible communication and community, which keeps us alive. This is our faith in God the creator of heaven and earth, of all things visible and invisible. It is not, in the first place, God’s self-revelation in history that shows God to be the communicative being; this is already manifested by God’s self-revelation as creator.” (65)

My Reflection on this quote: I understand what they are saying, but I want to make one critique. They say that God is “a communicative being,” even further that God is “the communicative being par excellence.” If God is a being–even the being–then isn’t God just one being among many? Might it be more accurate to say that God is being itself and being is communicative, and this communicative being is the ground from which all being emerges. It is the relationality of the divine persons that is the constitutive, communicative being from which all life is created. This is similar to their statement “this is already manifested by God’s self-revelation as creator,” however, in the way that they speak of God as a being, it denotes the image of God as a being creating another being out of the nothing that is outside of God. Then this relational God chooses to relate to the creation.

I realize this is beyond the scope of the intention of this book, but I think it is an important distinction to hone our language to not limit God to a being. The relationality, thus the communicative nature of God is the being, the very fabric of existence from which all that we perceive as the created universe comes. God’s otherness is in the person of the creator, in that the creature is not the divine, thus allowing space for Buber’s I-Thou relationship. Yet, the relationality of the second and third person allows for the interdependency and communicative, on-going creative-redemptive-sustaining process to proceed. This is modeled in the TCI process.

The Paradigm



imageThe “I” as the individual person. This factor is aware of itself and truns to others and to the themed in a given group situation.

The “WE” as the group. This factor represents the relationship of individuals to one another and to the theme of their interaction.

The “IT” as a task or as a theme. This factor singles out the topical concerns to be worked out in the interaction.

The “GLOBE” as environment. This factor influences the group in their relationships and in their working together in both a narrower and in a broader sense.

Buber and Levinas

Martin Buber
describes the human person as a dialogical being. “Buber distinguishes between the ‘basic word’ “I-Thou” and “I-It” with regard to human encounters.” (30)

Levinas – The Importance of Other

The face of the other.

“in opposition to Buber, radicalizes the intersubjective perspective. For Levinas, the ‘face’ of tanother person is the key metaphor for the other. Radically trunign toward the face of the other makes the experience of transcendence ultimately possible. meeting the other is not donfined to an ‘I-Thou” relationship. When the ‘otherness’ of the other is seen, one’s own freedom is questioned. Qyestions of compassion, justice, and mercy also arise.” (31)

These two philosophies come together to demonstrate the communicative nature of human interaction. We do not choose to relate, we are constituted by relationship, yet, the separation of the other causes us to serve the other.

TCI described by the Universtät Innsbruck

The following section is copied from (accessed July 5, 2014)

From the Universität Innsbruck website:

Theme-Centered Interaction (TCI)

Created by Ruth Cohn, TCI is a strictly relational concept of human communication in groups and focuses on the balance between theme, group and individual work in order to work both on relationships and factual problems. This holistic tool of communication aims at stimulating the constructive and healing potential in a person, while being firmly rooted in a community-related conflict formation.

Cohn adopts a strictly relational approach to group communication and represents the balance between the factual and the relational elements in the form of a triangle:

the I as person, facing the theme and the others;

the we of the group members who become a group by facing the theme and by interacting with one another;

the it as a theme to be worked on by the group.

The triangle is surrounded by an area referred to as the Globe, which influences the work directly or indirectly.

Cohn (2004) developed three axioms, twopostulates, and nine auxiliary guidelines, which we explain shortly as follows:


Autonomy: Of an anthropological grain, the first axiom concerns both the independence and dependence (connectedness) as an existential component of being. For Cohn, the individual’s autonomy increases with his/her awareness of his/her connectedness to everyone and everything.

Appreciation: Of an ethical and social grain, the second axiom refers to the value that Cohn places on the human, whereas she finds the inhuman worthless. Cohn tried to call upon a balance between sensitivity and spirituality, feelings and knowledge, rationality and spirituality.

Expanding one’s limits: Of a pragmatic and political nature, the third axiom indicates that decisions can be made freely insofar as they are conditioned by internal and external limits. Conceived in a systemic way, this points to the awareness of universal interdependency as the foundation of human responsibility: “I am not omnipotent, I am not impotent, I am partially potent” (Cohn 2004, 205).

These three axioms give raise to two postulatesin relation to human paradox and conditional freedom:

Be your own chairperson: If you are aware of your internal disposition (I) and the external conditions (Globe) in a relational (We) or factual (Theme) conflict, you can take every situation as an invitation to decide on your own and act responsibly for yourself and others.

Disturbances have priority: In a system, nothing happens by pure chance. There is no division between inside and outside. Therefore, disturbances have to be dealt with priority, whether they come from the I, the We, the Theme or the Globe. Without the prior transformation of the disturbing energy, the flow of the system as a whole will be blocked, distracted or irritated.

Auxiliary guidelines

Authentic self-representation: express statements of fact with ‘I’, not ‘we’ or ‘one’, in order to avoid projecting and obscuring.

Meaningful questions: authentic requests for information can be identified by their personal and clear rationale.

Selective authenticity: it is important to determine if statements genuinely result from a personal value system, or whether they spring from an internalized sense of obligation created by social conventions.

Timely interpretation: interpretations have a content dimension and a temporal dimension. Interpretations that are incorrect or untimely have great potential for disruption and should only be admitted when dismissing them would create an even larger disruption.

No factual generalizations: they interrupt the flow of communication and distract from the specific subject at hand.

No personal evaluations: Only opinions of the other are possible, which have no claim to general validity. Cohn recommends refraining as much as possible from statements of evaluation.

Immediately address side discussions:they occur for a reason and they disrupt the process. Side discussions are indicative of a disruption in the group context. According to the second postulate, addressing disruptions must be prioritized in order to ensure smooth communication flow henceforth.

Only one person speaks at a time: It is necessary in order to ensure that everyone has a complete view of the group.

Clear rules for speaking: the group leader should ensure that there is a clear view of all conversation threads that exist in the group. In particular in cases of conflict it will be necessary to sort through them and to ensure that the most important ones are processed.

Drawing from Cohn, we could find in the guidelines orientation for the elicitive conflict worker to move to the fore the element of the I, We, It or Globe that is receiving less attention. In this manner, homeostasis can be re-established in the corresponding setting.

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