Faithful Untidiness: Christian Social Action in a British City

in International Journal of Public Theology
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Contemporary debates about faith and volunteering raise questions about the relationship between, on the one hand, claims from theological ethics about the sources and forms of Christian action in the world and, on the other hand, claims and assumptions in policy discourse about why people of faith undertake voluntary work. Using findings from a small-scale study of volunteers in a Christian social action organization in the UK, we argue that a narrative- and community-focused theological ethics can offer an important corrective to oversimplified accounts of volunteer motivation, but that it needs to give a theological account of the multiple overlapping narratives and communities that form ethical character, and also of the gratuitous and ‘extraordinary’ nature of voluntary action. In dialogue with Paul Cloke, Nicholas Adams and Charles Elliott, Luke Bretherton and others, we propose ‘sustained untidiness’ as a starting-point for theological descriptions of Christian social action in a multi-faith and secular society.

Faithful Untidiness: Christian Social Action in a British City

in International Journal of Public Theology




Robert Putnam‘Bowling Alone: America’s Declining Social Capital’Journal of Democracy6 (1995) 65–78.


James L. Perry‘Measuring Public Service Motivation: An Assessment of Construct Reliability and Validity’Journal of Public Administration Research and Theory6:1 (1996) 5–22.


Paul Cloke Jon May and Sarah JohnsenSwept Up Lives? Re-envisioning the Homeless City (Oxford: Blackwell2010). See also Paul Cloke Sarah Johnsen and Jon May ‘Ethical Citizenship? Volunteers and the Ethics of Providing Service to Homeless People’ Geoforum 38 (2007) 1089–1101.


John ReaderBlurred Encounters: A Reasoned Practice of Faith (St Bride’s Major: Aureus2005). See also Elaine Graham and Stephen Lowe What Makes a Good City?: Public Theology and the Urban Church (London: Darton Longman and Todd 2009) which draws extensively on Lowe’s work as Bishop for Urban Life and Faith.


Nicholas Adams and Charles Elliott‘Ethnography is Dogmatics: Making Description Central to Systematic Theology’Scottish Journal of Theology53 (2000) 339–64.


Alasdair MacIntyreAfter Virtue: A Study in Moral Theory (Notre Dame: University of Notre Dame Press1981).


See Charles MathewesA Theology of Public Life (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press2007).


See Locke‘Faith as Motivation for Voluntary Action’30.


Adams and Elliott‘Ethnography is Dogmatics’358.


Luke BrethertonChristianity and Contemporary Politics (Chichester: Wiley-Blackwell2010) p. 222 n. 8.


Christopher BakerThe Hybrid Church in the City: Third Space Thinking (Aldershot: Ashgate2007).


See for example Christine PohlMaking Room: The Recovery of Hospitality as a Christian Tradition (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans1999); Luke Bretherton Hospitality as Holiness: Christian Witness Amid Moral Diversity (Aldershot: Ashgate 2009); George Newlands and Allen Smith Hospitable God: The Transformative Dream (Aldershot: Ashgate 2010).


Dietrich BonhoefferEthics (Dietrich Bonhoeffer Works, vol. 6), trans. Reinhard Krauss (Minneapolis: Fortress2005) p. 53.


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