DMINLGP

DMin, Leadership and Global Perspectives: Crafting Ministry in an Interconnected World

Posture – Mine and Yours and Toward One Another

Written by: on February 14, 2014

Public theology, civil theology and private theology resemble intersections that connect with one another.  But rather than a convergence of streets into a shared one way space, such as Trafalgar Square in London or traffic roundabouts designed to ease traffic flow in urban spaces, these resemble networks with hubs linking one to the other.  It can be difficult to determine where one ends and the other begins.  This is especially challenging in my own country, the United States of America. Drawing upon the work of David Tracy, Duncan Forrester defined public theology as one “which seeks the welfare of the city before protecting the interests of the Church, or its proper liberty to preach the Gospel and celebrate the sacraments.”[1] To seek the welfare of something and someone other than yourself brings forward the biblical concept of serving.  Jeremiah spoke to the Jewish exiles in Babylon to seek the welfare of the city, to settle, to marry, plant gardens, and pray for the city, for in seeking the welfare of the city they would find their welfare.[2]  Jesus expanded the concept of neighbor in the story of the Good Samaritan.[3] He drew together worship of God with all one’s heart, mind and strength and transformed it by listing the 2nd commandment alongside it, to love our neighbor as we love self.[4] To seek the welfare of another before the welfare of your task or mission requires a change of posture and a new way of seeing and hearing. Forrester rightly recognizes the challenges of such a posture.  Things that were issues and concerns in prior years or even in prior generations may once again raise there head, leaving some bewildered and others scratching their heads, “Some public theologies, or more generally systems of religious symbols, which seem to be challengingly relevant for a time may not disappear so much as go into hibernation and awake centuries later and once more present themselves as guides for construing the world and for action.”[5]  Perhaps this is what is happening within our civil discourse or lack of civil discourse, which may be more closely associated with civic theology.  Just this week I read a post focusing on President Obama’s personal faith in Jesus Christ as his Savior.[6]  The United States is a country that has a conservative political and religious element where such an affirmation is expected.  Max Stackhouse picks up on this sentiment, “Current evangelicalism in the US lacks an articulate political or social theory except for a generalized patriotism.”[7]  The challenge, of course, is that we are a diverse nation in world that is shrinking with technological and global economies.  Christians engaged in public theology, Chris Marshall reminds us, do not need to defend their right to be present; “they only need to defend the credibility of what they wish to say.”[8] But to get public theology “right” we have to recognize that it is contextual.[9]  This again invites us to consider our posture.  It provides us with the opportunity to recognize that context influenced theological praxis in the past; therefore contextual theology is rooted in history and tradition.  Just as I carry certain familial characteristics and resemblances, so does our theology.  Our present experiences, personal, societal and cultural,[10] may affirm or bring our history and tradition into question.  But rather than provide us with a stiff posture of resistance or accommodation, we have an opportunity to embrace the process of what Stephens Bevans refers to as “becoming particular.”[11]  He is referring to the continuing process of incarnation in which “the divinity could become visible and in some way (not fully but in some way) become graspable and intelligible … we have somehow ourselves to continue the incarnation process.”[12] Two years ago my husband and I had an opportunity to live in Melbourne, Australia while he was on a short-term work assignment.  Through a friend’s connection we found our way to worship at Collins Street Baptist Church[13], the oldest Baptist church in Australia.  Inside its white Greek columns we found a generous people, committed to being a church for the city.  Our shared English language had different meanings.  We had to get to know one another.  Our posture was one of observing, listening, coming alongside and joining in. We saw through the ministries and people of Collins Street a strong, yet gracious presence engaging with the city at a place of need in their partnership with Urban Seed[14] and daily provisions for those in the city along with a Sunday evening congregation that included among its gathering some of the most marginalized in the city.  They also are creating a path of civic engagement in step with the city.  They work intentionally to develop and foster relationship. “Conscious on Collins” provides an opportunity to bring civic and faith leaders together on a panel discussion with subjects of mutual concern.  When we were there that discussion centered on sustainability.  Timely, as Melbourne had just been recognized as the most livable city in the world.  By standing with and loving Melbourne, Collins Street is allowing its prophetic voice to be heard by working for the welfare of the city.  What we witnessed through the leadership and people at Collins Street embodied exactly what Clive Pearson seems to be looking for when he asked, “What strategies might best be used for establishing faith’s ‘right to be heard?”[15] We are in a program that intentionally brings us into a global perspective.  After our reading this week I am wondering if we do not need to reframe our understanding of missional.  Bevans referred to José de Mesa’s insight that we need “intraditionality in theology, whereby one comes to a deeper understanding and articulation of one’s own tradition in a conversation with other traditions.”[16]  I am realizing conversation with others is the key.  It is about posture.  Will we receive from the other?


            [1] Duncan B. Forrester, “The Scope of Public Theology.” Studies in Christian Ethics  17, no 2 [2004]: 6,
            [2]  Jeremiah 29. 4-7 “Thus says the Lord of hosts, the God of Israel, to all the exiles whom I have sent into exile from Jerusalem to Babylon: Build houses and live in them; plant gardens and eat what they produce.  Take wives and have sons and daughters; take wives for your sons, and give our daughters in marriage, that they may bear sons and daughters; multiply there, and do not decrease.  But seek the welfare of the city where I have sent you into exile, and pray to the Lord on its behalf, for in its welfare you will find your welfare.” (New Revised Standard Version).
[3] Luke 10:25-37
[4] Shema is found in Deuteronomy 6:4-5 “Hear, O Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is one. Love the Lord our God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind, and with all your strength.” “Love your neighbor as yourself” is from Leviticus 19:18.  Jesus structuring can be found in Matthew 22:37-40: “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all you mind.  This is the greatest and first commandment. And a second is like it: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’  On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.” (New Revised Standard Version).
            [5] Forrester, 6.

            [6] Mark Ellis, “Obama Affirms Jesus as His Savior and Lord, Stands for Religious Freedom,” GodReports, February 6, 2014, accessed February 11, 2014. http://blog.godreports.com/2014/02/obama-affirms-jesus-as-his-savior-and-lord-stands-for-religious-freedom/ “In my life, He directed my path to Chicago and my work with churches who were intent on breaking the cycle of poverty in hard-hit communities there.  And I’m grateful not only because I was broke and the church fed me, but because it led to everything else.  It led me to embrace Jesus Christ as my Lord and Savior.  It led me to Michelle — the love of my life — and it blessed us with two extraordinary daughters.  It led me to public service.  And the longer I serve, especially in moments of trial or doubt, the more thankful I am of God’s guiding hand.”

            [7] Max Stackhouse, “Civil Religion, Political Theology and Public Theology: What’s the Difference/” Political Theology 5:3, [2004]: 279.
[8] Christopher Marshall, “What Language Shall I Borrow?: The Bilingual Dilemma of Public Theology” Stimulus  13, no 3 [2005]: 12.
[9] Forrester, 6.
[10] Stephen B. Bevans, Models of Contextual Theology (Maryknoll, NY: Orbis Books, 2011), 8.
[11] Ibid., 12.
[12] Ibid.
[13] Collins Street Baptist Church: http://www.csbc.org.au/.
            [14] Urban Seed is a non-profit, initially started by Collins Street Baptist Church.  For more information: http://www.urbanseed.org/.
            [15] Clive Pearson, “The Quest for a Glocal Public Theology.” International Journal of Public Theology. 1, no. 2 [2007]: 164.
[16] Stephen B. Bevans, “What Has contextual Theology to Offer the Church of the Twenty-First Century?” in Contextual Theology for the Twenty-First Century, ed. Stephens B. Bevans and Katalina Tahaafe-Williams (Eugene, OR: Pickwick Publications, 2011), 16.

About the Author

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Carol McLaughlin

Carol walks this DMin journey from her locale in Gig Harbor, WA (USA). She is preparing for pastoral ministry in the Presbyterian Church (PC-USA), as well as teaches in the Online Learning Community programs at GFES. Part of the DMin Leadership & Global Perspectives 4 cohort (dminlgp4) her research and dissertation focus is exploring why baby boomers leave the church and what it means for their faith development. The views expressed here are her own.

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