Chaplains As Doctors Of The Soul -- By: Forrest L. Kirk

Journal: Journal for Baptist Theology & Ministry
Volume: JBTM 09:1 (Spring 2012)
Article: Chaplains As Doctors Of The Soul
Author: Forrest L. Kirk


Chaplains As Doctors Of The Soul

Forrest L. Kirk

Forrest Kirk is a former Navy Commander and current hospital chaplain at a Veteran’s Administration hospital in Oklahoma.

Editor’s Note: This essay was drawn from an unpublished Ph.D. dissertation in Theology completed in 2011 at New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary titled “Chaplains as Doctors of the Soul: Navigating Between the Sacred and Secular While Negotiating a Functional and Ontological Ministry Identity.”

The fragmentation of theology created a cataclysmic ferment from which “Theologia–The Body of Divinity” has not recovered.1 Research, through an analysis of the self-manifested ministry approach of twenty-four chaplains who responded in Larry Vandecreek’s inquiry as to whether professional chaplaincy should be more scientific, uncovered an identity crisis among chaplains and the revelation that a number of chaplains had lost confidence in theology as the primary source to conduct spiritual care and instead have turned to secular disciplines like psychology and sociology.2 A number of chaplains view theology as irrelevant for addressing the human condition in real world settings. A medical center chaplain as a member of the health care interdisciplinary team needs an epistemology that serves as the normative foundation from which one asserts one’s identity and distinguishes chaplaincy from other disciplines. The aim of this summary is to revisit the necessity of a unity of theology for effective spiritual care and present a framework for a recombined synthesis of the theological disciplines in an effort to locate an appropriate foundation for a Christian chaplain’s identity.

The Freedom from Religion Foundation (FFRF) challenged the Department of Veterans Affairs’ (VA) use of chaplains as a violation of the First Amendment Establishment Clause of the U. S. Constitution. The FFRF opposes the VA’s holistic health philosophy that asserts that optimum health is achieved through the maintenance of a biopsychosocial health triangle that includes spiritual care. The VA’s model considers mental, physical, social, and spiritual entities

to be closely interconnected and equally important for wellness.3 The FFRF objects to the VA’s notion, “Good healthcare is incomplete without substantively addressing the spiritual dimension of each patient.”4 The FFRF does not object to chaplaincy in VA hospitals but asserts, “A legitimate role d...

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