There are four interdependent areas that contribute to “moral formation,” according to Louise Kretzschmar.
Kretzschmar is professor of theological ethics at the University of South Africa; the International Baptist Theological Study Centre in Amsterdam was pleased to welcome her recently as a visiting scholar.
The four areas contributing to moral formation are being, relationships, knowing and doing, she asserted. Each, of course, requires significant unpacking.
At the core of such formation, however, Kretzschmar placed “volition,” the will of the individual, and, for Christian moral formation, such will in relationship to God.
Of course, for people who do not hold the Christian faith, this volitional core can be related to their own “big idea” or faith commitments.
This emphasis on the individual and “volition” would appear to go against some more recent thought and writing, which emphasizes the “communal” and communal practices as core to moral formation.
This communal emphasis can be seen as a reaction to Cartesian Western individualism.
Kretzschmar, however, in some of her articles highlights the danger of community loyalty overriding other “moral” considerations. A pendulum push-back perhaps.
Let me offer my own poor reflection from my recent musical experience and learning.
In music, my knowledge and abilities are limited. I am a grafter, presently working hard at technique on the bagpipes to improve musicality but knowing that musicality is more than technique.
Apparently, at the moment I am a reliable band player. What this means is that when I practice and play with my band, I can lean into the good players and follow their lead in playing particular tunes.
I can play well with them. When I play on my own, however, I do not play as well.
The above can, indeed, be seen as supporting the power of communal practice. The communal practice described above, however, requires good players who can play the tune well without the necessary aid of others. They lead.
If I want to lead and so contribute to the good of the band as more than a “follower” who performs different as an individual, then one of the things I need to learn is to internalize the tune the way it should be played.
By doing so, I can play it that way when I am with the band as part of the community, yes, but also play this way as an individual.
This latter state requires me to practice in a different way – it requires my mind to engage much more consciously with what I am doing as formative.
It requires a conscious and, indeed, individual internalizing and a personal ownership and responsibility. It may also require a strength to hold the tune when others do not.
To play in this way will be for the strength of the band when I contribute. But more than the band is required for this to happen. I need to engage consciously.
So, I actually have a lot of sympathy for what Kretzschmar is arguing in terms of an aspect of volition in relation to something greater (the tune) if the other aspects of being, doing, knowing and relationships are to be formative in a good direction.
In the end, no matter where one places the emphasis, both communal practices and individual volition are essential to moral formation.
Stuart Blythe is rector of International Baptist Theological Study Centre in Amsterdam, Netherlands. A version of this article first appeared on his blog, Politurgy, and is used with permission. You can follow him on Twitter @StuartMBlythe.
Stuart Blythe is associate professor of the John Gladstone Chair in Preaching and Worship at Acadia Divinity College, Nova Scotia.