What is Christian Public Theology?

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Public theology tasks Christians to stand up for the oppressed, welcome the stranger, and resist evil (1). It fights segregation and discrimination (2), while also demonstrating Christian convictions in the public square (3).

For the Christian, just as Jesus Christ transforms individuals on a personal level public theology attempts to transform society at the larger level. Christians are to highlight contemporary social issues such as, for instance, the contemporary western culture of mass consumerism in order to demonstrate its misguided nature given that the more material goods one possesses does not factor into the equation of one’s eternal destiny, hence why apologist Tim Keller refers to consumerism as a “counterfeit god” (4).

Public theology further illumines the reasonability of the Christian faith through apologetics, as well as interacts with the public on contemporary issues through the demonstration of Christian values (5). It is a non-violent form of engagement and can be implemented by acting out in public as a form of theater, and is first and foremost the intent to love the enemy with the goal of avoiding additional conflict (6). Although Christians fight for a just cause they are to remain calm and gentle (7).

An example of this engagement was an episode in which Christians, through the act of non-violent civil disobedience, prayed for asylum seekers in an electorate’s office. They were eventually removed by police but were successful in arousing “the conscience of the nation over this injustice.” The group remained non-violent, performed theatrically, and demonstrated what they were convinced are Christian values. This group believed that the gospel message is able to transform a culture and its people.

Public theology is also politically orientated in that a priestly public theology ought to inspire churches to overcome political alienation (8). Bauckham draws on both the Old and New Testament to shed light on how Christians are to view, and engage with, politics in contemporary life. Since many of Old Testament laws, which were specific to ancient Israel, do not apply to Christians today they still have a relevance. Such laws says Bauckham are not “instructions” but still remain “instructive” (9). Likewise in the New Testament Christ’s teachings have political relevance for us today. For example, teachings, such as the Sermon on the Mount, on the topics of anger, murder, giving to the needy, avoiding hypocrisy, and applying wisdom all apply to the current political context.

As noted, public theology is to be performed by Christians with a genuine intention without ulterior motives. This is because of God’s own genuineness, goodness, kindness, and mercy (10). Christian believers and churches are to provide necessities to the poor because they want to embody Christ’s message and change lives, and not because they want fame or prestige from it. Despite good intent, public theology is not expected to be a perfect exercise because human beings are capable of making errors which can lead into failure. The ultimate goal is to remain being a living witness to Christ’s own love and kindness.

References

1. Whelan, J. 2014. Why I prayed for asylum seekers in Scott Morrison’s office. Available.

2. Smit, D. 2007. Essays in Public Theology: Collected Essays 1. p. 148

3. Koopman, N. A Public Theology of Global Transformation in challenging times? p. 2.

4. Keller, T. 2011. Counterfeit Gods: The Empty Promises of Money, Sex, and Power, and the Only Hope that Matters. p. 23-24

5. Whelan, J. 2008. Christian Nonviolent Direct Action as Public Theology. Available.

6. Whelan, J. 2008. Ibid.

7. Smit, D. 2007. Ibid. p. 142.

8. Bauckham, R. 2011. The Bible in Politics, Second Edition: How to Read the Bible Politically. p. 30; Koopman, N. Ibid. p. 12.

9. Bauckham, 2011. Ibid. p. 33-34.

10. Smit, D. 2007. Ibid. p. 142.

 

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