Theological authority is of paramount importance for the future of African American Pentecostal public theology. Largely ignored as authoritative sources by white Pentecostals in the years following the Azusa Street Revival, black Pentecostals were often snubbed by black denominations as well. Consequently, at the traditional table of theological discourse, black Pentecostal pastors have been notably absent. The question of theological authority in black Pentecostalism can be answered, in part, by examining its historically relevant contributions to theology in general, and to black liberation theology in particular. Early social prophetic theologians left a treasure trove of leadership hermeneutics and models for public engagement. This article highlights four pastors who left legacies built on their roles as pioneers in the black Pentecostal movement. The biographic profiles reveal sources of i) historical authority within the broad contours of the black Pentecostal tradition, and, ii). innovative hermeneutics as valid models for engaging public theology.
The #MeToo hashtag and campaign raises important questions for Christian public theology. In 2017, a church sign at Gustavus Adolphus church in New York City connected Jesus with #MeToo through Jesus’ words ‘You did this to me too’ (Matthew 25:40). This church sign offers appropriate recognition of the theological solidarity of Jesus with #MeToo at a metaphorical level, but this article argues a more direct historical connection should also be made. It examines work by Tombs (1999), Heath (2011), Gafney (2013), and Trainor (2014) that go beyond theological solidarity to identify Jesus as a victim of sexual abuse in a more historical and literal sense. It concludes that naming Jesus as victim of sexual abuse is not just a matter of correcting the historical record but can also help churches to address the damage caused by victim blaming or shaming.
After critically reviewing the ongoing development of various publics in public theology, this article attempts to develop an additional public in nonanthropocentric terms in order to ground adequately public theology’s approach to the current climate crisis. Seeking a path between an account of Earth as a commons, with its emphasis on similarity and the diffractive method’s emphasis on the separateness of biodiverse lives, it argues that Merleau-Ponty’s articulation of the flesh of the world provides material for a politically engaged public theology. In emphasizing the separateness of embodied selves in the perceptual fields of embodied flesh, it develops an account of the ecosphere as an ontologically grounding public to correct the limitations of various ‘publics’ as human-centered institutions. In doing so, the transcendence of Earth’s embodied inhabitants is emphasized that conceives of public in terms of the connective tissues of more-than-human bodies.
This article engages the condition of religious apathy in western secular society, drawing on the apparent pessimism of secularization as a creative catalyst for re-imagining the scope of public mission. It first highlights the reality of religious apathy as observed sociologically, and briefly surveys varied missiological responses to western church decline. An alternative response, ‘Radical Inculturated Proclamation’ is then offered, embodying the inherently paradoxical nature of the Gospel as both drastically distinct and culturally embedded within the religiously apathetic western context. This concept is further explored with a nuanced reflection on the intentionally ‘absurd’ idea of self-aware street preaching and the possible implications for creative interruption of contemporary public spaces. Incorporating the perceived inappropriateness of such practices is deliberate, enabling active embodiment of the Gospel’s inculturated radicality within a public sphere with no apparent ears to hear. Such a proposal contributes to public theological engagement by reconstructing the cultural and theological limitations of contemporary kerygmatic expression within a post-Christendom context.
The article argues that Richard Rorty’s idea of edification should be adopted as the central approach of public theology. It begins by outlining Rorty’s definition of edification before exploring the argument in Philosophy and the Mirror of Nature which led to this definition. Various critical responses are then explored, especially the critique by Roy Bhaskar that Rorty’s approach is politically frivolous. It is suggested, however, that the criticism that Rorty is either relativist or unconcerned with ethical agency is unfair. Instead, rather than being concerned with different types of speaking Truth to power, public theologians should be focused on producing novel, unique and eye-catching redescriptions of social and political phenomena.
Some important thinkers have treated Liberation Theology and “Barthian” Theology as incompatible, understanding the latter as an impediment to self-consciously contextual theological approaches. But some proponents of Barth’s theology argue that it is contextual in important ways, and therefore a helpful resource for doing public theology. One way to redescribe the common complaint at the core of all these criticisms, and a way that relates those criticisms to liberation theology more generally, is by saying that they all pertain to the relationship between theory and praxis. The purpose of this article then is to address the relation between theory and praxis in the theologies of two significant practitioners of theology ‘after’ Karl Barth—Helmut Gollwitzer and Eberhard Jüngel—in part by examining their understanding of the relationship between Christianity and socialism.