The 500th anniversary of the Protestant Reformation is significant in many respects, not least in providing an opportunity to revisit Martin Luther’s emphasis on the role of the laity. Yet his legacy of a positive and theologically robust understanding of vocation as located in the everyday world as well as the religious life has only sporadically informed the church’s understanding of lay ministry, and has frequently been frustrated by clericalism and institutional inertia. By revisiting some modern theologies of the laity from the mid-twentieth century, and in dialogue with a recent Church of England report, this article will suggest some ways in which understandings of lay ministry and discipleship might be renewed. A focus on a learning church, education for discernment and a worldly, missional ecclesiology will help to direct the church to a vision of an empowered, confident and theologically literate laity.
The occasion of the Archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams, acting as guest editor of the leftist journal the New Statesman attracted much media comment. Most of this focused on Williams’ criticisms of the right-of-centre coalition government’s advocacy of the ‘Big Society’, intended to shift the balance of welfare provision away from the State towards the community and voluntary sector. A closer examination of Williams’ intervention into the debate reveals it to be part of a tradition of public theology in which Christian teaching informs fundamental principles underpinning the nature of political participation and societal values. In this incident of a church leader and the media, therefore, we have an opportunity to explore in greater depth a continuing debate about the place of religion in what many are calling a ‘post-secular’ society, in which the phenomena of secularization and religious revival co-exist in novel and often contradictory ways.
One of the most distinctive movements within Christian theology to have emerged over the past generation has been the various theologies of liberation which originated in Latin America but which now span a diversity of styles, including feminist and womanist, Black, Asian and lesbian/gay/bisexual and transgendered (LGBT) theologies. All theologies of liberation purport to give a voice to the experiences of those formerly silenced or marginalized by society and/or the Church. This is essentially an issue of power, since one of the authenticating marks of such theologies is the extent to which they enable such groups to move from powerlessness to empowerment. Yet theologies of liberation also represent, potentially, another redistribution of power, by enabling previously excluded groups to bring their interpretations and testimonies into theological discourse. This article examines the background to this intersection of power and knowledge in theology, and asks how public theology might assist such a process of theological empowerment.
This article is a case study in public theology, drawing on the author's experience as a member of the Church of England's Commission on Urban Life and Faith (CULF). Following in the footsteps of the seminal Archbishops' Commission on Urban Priority Areas (ACUPA) report, Faith in the City (1985), CULF aimed to evaluate the future of the urban church and its role in the local community, arguing that the impact of faith-based organizations constituted a major contribution to local community empowerment and well-being. CULF coined the term 'faithful capital' (after Robert Putnam's concept of 'social capital') to express the added value that people of faith contribute to their local communities, and called for wider debate around the question 'what makes a good city?' This article also scrutinizes the Commission's theological method, and in particular its attempt to model a form of 'theology from below'; and in the light of the Commission's findings, poses questions for the future of public theology.