I've been putting off some promised comments about Dr John Buchner's PhD thesis (University of Western Sydney) for far too long. Some time ago John kindly sent me a copy of The Worldwide Church of God: A study of its transformation in terms of K. Helmut Reich’s theory of Relational and Contextual Reasoning. As the title indicates this is a dense dissertation.
John, a former WCG member who later found a spiritual home among the conservative Anglicans of Sydney, attempts to apply the yardstick of cognitive psychology (as fashioned by Reich) to headquarters employees of the Worldwide Church of God. He draws on Reich's classification system to determine how well these insiders deal with that hoary old conundrum, the trinity. Initially willing to co-operate at a corporate level (i.e. Joe Tkach), the response from individual HQ personnel to the questionnaires was apparently less than enthusiastic, which is understandable as the whole project must have seemed both personally threatening and highly judgmental. I'm not well known for my empathy with church officials, but can certainly understand why some quickly became less than co-operative; it's probably a wonder that someone didn't inform Dr Buchner exactly where he could shove his questionnaire.
Is the end product a worthwhile contribution to the arcane field of WCG studies? Well, I guess that depends both on your perspective and your interests. I've had to wade through some pretty impenetrable stuff in my own theological studies, but I can honestly say that for me this thesis came close to setting a new benchmark.
That said, the thesis is carefully, if not clearly, argued. This is an area in which I have zero expertise, so any comments either positive or negative should be taken with a truck-load of salt. Two observations from the cheap seats:
1. Dr Buchner's work seems to make a number of faith-based assumptions, most obviously on the trinity doctrine.
2. Reich himself, whose work under-girds the thesis, seems to be a fringe figure in his own field. The man seems to be a polymath, studying physics and electrical engineering, working as a particle physicist, writing on religious education and cognitive development, and holding an honorary doctorate in theology. But, as Buchner concedes, "Reich’s work to date has been incorporated in few psychology textbooks." (p. 46)
To do justice to John's work would require a lengthy review, not a single blog entry - or even a series. Here however, for those so motivated, are links to PDF copies of the various sections.
Detailed Chapter Contents, Abstract
Ch. 1 Introduction to the WCG and the Cognitive Conversion of Its Leaders
Ch. 2 Literature review of Helmut Reich’s theory of Relational and Contextual Reasoning
Ch. 3. Relational and Contextual Reasoning related to Christology and the Christian Doctrine of the Trinity
Ch. 4 - Method: the qualitative application of Relational and Contextual Reasoning to the case study
Ch. 5 - Results of Study 1: A review of opposing interpretations of the Trinity as a cognitive construct, and transition from rejection to acceptance of the doctrine, in search of an explanation consistent with Relational and Contextual Reasoning
Ch. 6 - Results of Study 2: Analysis of responses to a survey of Worldwide Church of God leaders in regard to their understanding of the Trinity, in terms of Relational and Contextual Reasoning
Ch. 7 Discussion and Conclusion
References and Bibliography