My bullet points summary of this informative article:
Public theology helps the local congregation become a public church that engages the world, not just through a private living faith, but through a faith that is both personal and social. What does it mean for a local congregation to be a public church? It could simply point to church and denominations who perform public theology in its ministries. More importantly, it could help the local congregation, at the grassroots level, be a living witness of what it means to proclaim God’s justice and forgiveness in the world through new ways. E. Dixon Junkin writes that this includes the local church engaging in “revisioning” and “reinventing” the mission of the church. He suggests that part of the work of the church today “consists mainly in learning how to read the changing times and in seeking to create the conditions out of which a new consensus may emerge.” This reinventing the work, and mission of the church, can help the local church look beyond itself to think of the world beyond its doors and local communities.
The church is called to be relevant by being the embodiment of the Gospel “in terms by which people of the culture have learned to understand,” and challenges the culture to proclaim Jesus as the “one who bursts open the culture’s models with the power of a wholly new fact.”
A public theology reminds the local congregation that it has a calling to speak for those who have no voice in the public square. Because of this, the church cannot keep silent. To remain silent means that justice is not being sought, jubilee is not being announced, and it “indirectly assists the existing power structures” maintain the status quo of oppressive actions towards the people of God. If the church does engage in the public square, the public theologian offers the local congregation a warning: it will be costly. It could cost social standing, friendships, or even power. But the cost of discipleship – a discipleship that includes engagement of the world and proclaiming God’s justice – often means that we take up our cross, and do the things we do not want to do.
The local congregation would be wise not to see public theology as an extension of civil religion. Civil religion is what is typically defined as the “beliefs that are commonly held and ritually celebrated with a body politic.” While a local congregation may seek ways to engage in civic celebrations, such as the Fourth of July, a public theology that is only a mirror of civic religion does injustice to God’s word and becomes a powerful supporter of the government’s actions, which may be in contrast with God’s will.
One of the bedrock principles of the United States is the idea that the church and the state should be separate, and neither should attempt to influence the other. This view, which stems from the writings of Thomas Jefferson and interpreted into the First Amendment, has offered a dual kingdom approach to looking at the world, similar to the views shared by Martin Luther, who sees culture and the church in a paradoxical relationship. The church is part of the kingdom of God, while the government and its institutions are part of the earthly kingdom. Both are ruled by God, but have their differences. What results are seemingly separate spheres of existence for religion and for the public square, which influences the role the church can play in discussing issues such as poverty, the sanctity of humanity, the environment, and even the workplace. Even more, because of this valued position…
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