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Transforming Christian Theology

For Church and Society

By Phillip Clayton

Publication Year: 2009

Is there a role for Christian theology in the ongoing transformation of church and society? How can the reflective imperative of Christian discipleship support a transformative vision of the world?

This compact volume offers a way for Christians to reflect deeply on how best to conceive Christian identity, commitment, and discipleship in today's challenged, globalized, pluralistic scene. Growing out of the recent "Rekindling Theological Imagination" initiative and led by esteemed theologian Philip Clayton and his colleagues, this volume seeks to capture and articulate the ferment in grassroots North American Christianity today and to relate it directly to the recent strong resurgence of progressive thought and politics. It argues strongly for a mediating role specifically for Christian theology, conceived first as a life practice of Christian discipleship, and its call has found enormous response from popular audiences in conferences, online, in informal Christian settings, as well as in mainline denominations and the academy.


Published by: Augsburg Fortress Publishers

Title Page, Copyright

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pp. 2-5


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pp. v-vi

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pp. vii-viii

When I was a pastor—and had a pastor’s expense account—I subscribed to the flagship magazine of liberal Protestantism and the flagship magazine of conservative Protestantism. I just wanted to keep up-to-date with both sides. ...

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pp. ix-x

Christian language is alive and well in the churches—and sometimes outside them as well. But deep reflection about this language is in trouble. These pages offer a radical call to pastors and laypeople to transform theology as we know it today. ...

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Introduction: Getting Clear on What You (Really) Believe

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pp. 1-8

When I pick up a book, I wonder about the author: Who is she? What’s her background? More importantly, I want to know: Why did he write this book? What does he have to tell me? What can I learn from him? Life is short, so I want to know these things up front. Presumably you do as well. ...

Part One: Theology for an Age of Transition

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1. Things Have Changed, or “Toto, We’re Not in Kansas Any More”

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pp. 11-15

Over the last years all of us have watched the geography of the American church undergo a radical transformation. It’s almost as if there has been a major earthquake—or, more accurately, a series of major earthquakes—realigning the entire landscape in which we live. It reminds me of pictures of the San Andreas Fault in California. ...

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2. Do Christians Have to Hate Change?

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pp. 16-18

As hard as it can be to cope with it, change is good! The stereotype says that until you’re thirty you make change, and from thirty on you fight it. It’s certainly true that older people tend to be in charge of organizations, and organizations are often the major blocks to change. But the stereotypes don’t quite fit. ...

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3. Why the Answers Must Be Theological (and What That Means)

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pp. 19-26

Every Christian has a theology. For that matter, so does every Jew or Muslim or Hindu. A theology, in the broadest sense, just means what you believe about God (theos). Tragically, theology somehow got turned into a professional sport—a move that produced many of the negative tendencies that we already know from professional sports in America (except for the high salaries). ...

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4. Postmodernity Makes Theologians of Us All

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pp. 27-33

In part 3 we will look at the new social and cultural resources available to genuinely transformative theologies, including the new forms of social networking that led to the election of President Barack Obama. This radical morphing of the American public square won’t go away because technologies never go backwards; ...

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5. Postmodern Believing

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pp. 34-42

Outside of the world of conservative evangelicals, many American Christians seem to have some pretty serious problems saying what it is that they believe with all their heart, soul, strength, and mind. We act as though we’re really unsure what sorts of things (outside of science and common sense) ...

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6. “Everything Must Change”

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pp. 43-48

These new conversations are happening all around us today. They are crucial because the world is changing rapidly and radically. If we’re going to speak and live Jesus’ message in a relevant and powerful fashion, we have to find new ways of going about it. Many of the Christian structures we’ve inherited from past generations aren’t up to the task. ...

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7. Managing Change

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pp. 49-54

Change can be managed—but only when it is acknowledged, accepted, and embraced. Parents, for instance, are constantly managing change, sometimes caused by major transitions in the family’s history (moves, job changes, divorces, deaths in the family), and sometimes by the radical transitions that children go through as they age. ...

Part Two: Theologies That Can Transform the Church

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8. Don’t Give Up on the Church!

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pp. 57-60

As we’ve seen, mainline churches today are facing a crisis greater than at any time since the founding of Christianity in the United States. These churches, once the staple of American religious life, have undergone a steady decline in membership for over four decades, and the situation has now reached a critical point for many mainline denominations. ...

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9. Transformative Theologies

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pp. 61-68

Faced with the challenges outlined in the previous chapter, one is inclined to a rather dark view of future prospects for mainline churches. Here’s what the dark view looks like: the church trains its best and brightest candidates for ministry in seminaries, giving them three years of academic course work and, usually, some sort of internship experience. ...

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10. Learning to Find Your Theological Voice

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pp. 69-78

There’s a widespread misconception that you have to leave your everyday world and go away somewhere in order to work out your answers to questions about religion and faith. In fact, the most common misconception is that you have to go away to seminary. ...

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11. Theology as Telling the Story

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pp. 79-84

Modern assumptions are clearly part of what’s getting in the way of developing vibrant theologies for our day. Remember: in the modern paradigm, one’s beliefs must fit together into a system of propositions—a system that builds up from indubitable foundations through logical inferences to conclusions that should be compelling for all rational agents. ...

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12. Theologies in Action

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pp. 85-93

Theology starts, I’ve argued, with exploring the intersections between my story and God’s story. It includes bringing to the surface the deep assumptions I’ve already made about who God is and testing them against the four sources of Scripture, tradition, reason, and experience. ...

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13. A Theology of Self-Emptying for the Church

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pp. 94-112

Theologies always involve the weaving together of God’s story and one or more human stories. In Christian theologies, Jesus’ life and teaching play a central role in the resulting narrative. We’ve explored in more general terms what theologies are and aren’t. ...

Part Three: Theologies That Can Transform Society

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14. New Partnerships in Christian Activism

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pp. 115-117

Great, so you have a new vision for Christian theology. You are learning to blend your life story with the narrative of God in Christ. You can begin to connect the Seven Core Christian Questions with significant events in your life. And, together with others, you’re ready to sketch a theological vision that has the potential to transform the church. ...

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15. Time to Leave behind Old Liberal/Evangelical Battles

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pp. 118-124

We have chronicled the shift from modern to postmodern ways of thinking. We have seen what it means to practice Christian discipleship using the “Belonging, Behaving, Believing” method, and we’ve contrasted this method with the exclusionary way of thinking that typified the modern world. ...

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16. From Church Ministries to Missional Churches

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pp. 125-131

We’ve made a good start. Subdividing the church into the opposing camps of liberals and conservatives and then allowing them to engage in a fight to the death was a recipe for disaster. However, the rethinking has to go much, much deeper. ...

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17. Social Transformation without “Us versus Them”

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pp. 132-137

Christians still want to make a difference in the world. It’s our calling, and our passion. Yet now it’s a different world than the one for which most of our established ministries were designed. How are we going to transform it if we don’t understand it? ...

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18. Constructing Theologies of the Community for the Community: The Six Steps

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pp. 138-145

In this chapter I offer six steps for developing Christian theologies that support social transformation. In the past, the standard way of describing the task has been to create a theology for Christian involvement in broader society. The trouble is that each of those words carries baggage; the connotations point in the wrong directions. ...

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19. Toward a Progressive Theology for Christian Activism

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pp. 146-156

Now you know how to do it. What do the results look like? How do progressive theologies actually function? What are they based on, and what do they affirm? What can they accomplish? We will close with concrete examples of how a progressive theology can be grounded in Scripture and how it can speak powerfully and prophetically to today’s world. ...

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Part Four: Conversations Worth Having

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pp. 157-160

Transforming Christian Theology does not seek to have the last word. It’s meant to function as the invitation to a passionate dialogue about theology and the way it shapes our life together as individuals and the church. Just because we do not offer a theology for you to sign on to does not mean we don’t have beliefs. ...

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Conversation 1. Choice, Convictions, and Connections

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pp. 161-163

In his upcoming book, American Grace: How Religion is Reshaping Our Civic and Political Lives, Robert Putnam demonstrates how, from the 1990s to today, the polarization and politicizing of religion has led an increasing number of young people to reject religion and its institutions, generally taking the attitude, “If this is religion, I’m not interested.”1 ...

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Conversation 2. Barriers to Belonging

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pp. 164-169

Denominational Christianity in America no longer functions as the thoroughfare of Christianity, or even spirituality, in the ways that it once did. Like the great American car industry in Detroit, the denominations have found themselves no longer to be the only game in town. ...

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Conversation 3. Toward a Progressive Missiology

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pp. 170-174

What’s our mission as the church? Theologian John Cobb believes it to be, “working with God for the salvation of the world.”2 That is one serious task. But to really understand our mission we need to move past a couple possible misunderstandings. ...


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pp. 175-180

For Further Reading

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pp. 181-182

E-ISBN-13: 9781451416053
E-ISBN-10: 1451416059
Print-ISBN-13: 9780800696993
Print-ISBN-10: 0800696999

Page Count: 144
Publication Year: 2009