some definitions: public-, missional-, apologetic theology

October 1, 2008

I have blogged about why I blog a number of times (here and here), it usually comes down to meeting people and being influenced by others. Many bloggers say they blog to find an outlet for thoughts, and I guess that also forms part of my motivation.

It’s 3:50 AM, I’m trying to formulate thoughts for a mini-dissertation, and I have these thoughts which I’m pretty sure I agree with, but which I also know would be impossible to write in an academically substantiated way within the next few days, actually for the next few months. So, this is my gutt feel on some definitions that we will need in the future. This relates especially to chapter 1 of my dissertation.

Public Theology: Theology that has the welfare of the world as its agenda (this is different from making the agenda of the world its own). It theologizes with the public sphere as its primary audience. Church and academy sometimes form a site for doing public theology, but doesn’t determine the agenda or become the primary audience, rather Church and academy is critical partners challenging the views of the public theoligian as he/she/they theologize within the public sphere.

Missional Theology: Theology that has the welfare of the world as its agenda. Although Public Theology could well be seen as part of mission, Missional Theology will more particularly have the Church as audience, and theologize with this audience in mind, but with the agenda which has the welfare of the world in mind. It is not theology for the sake of the church, but theology for the sake of the world. But it is theology that helps the church find its task in working for the welfare of the world. Yes, one of its elements could well be evangelism.

Apologetic Theology: I considered Systematic Theology as the label to use, since I don’t like the word apologetics, but what I have in mind is the early idea of apologetics as being in conversation with the philosophies of the day. With this I have in mind theology that has the classroom or academy setting the agenda. The reigning worldview provide the questions which need to be addressed. Drawing from the richness of its tradition, this form of theology responds to the philosophies of the day, not neccesarily to serve the public or the world, although this might indirectly happen, but in order to seek language which is understandable in a new day.

These three cannot function completely apart from each other. Practicing Public Theology without Missional Theology ends in a churchless theology, which will in the end take Public Theology out of its own theological tradition. Practicing Public Theology without Apologetic Theology in time will leave us without the resource of those who searched in the crucible of the academic conversation for the language which is not needed in the public sphere today, but which will be needed tomorrow.

Practicing Missional Theology without Public Theology leads to an ecclesiocentric theology which do not take the missio Dei seriously, which do not take seriously the fact that the Kingdom is bigger than the church, and that God is working in the world, and theology should play a role in the world, even when the church cannot be visible. Practicing Missional Theology without Apologetic Theology leads to a mission which doesn’t have the ability to communicate its distinctiveness in the world, it has no language which is accesible to the world. It thus have to choose between either talking only inwardly, and thus having to convert anyone before enough common language is available to converse in, or keeping to the secular language of the world, and thus loosing its distinctiveness. Thus we either end up withdrawing from the world, or becoming just another social organization, and not church anymore.

Practicing Apologetic Theology without the other two leads to an ivory tower theology which, although philosophically highly relevant, is not contributing to the welbeing of the world.

Well, I had to get this of my mind, had to formulate my thoughts, and I have this gutt feel that I’m comfortable with this, but I cannot defend it academically.


One Response to “some definitions: public-, missional-, apologetic theology”

  1. Tyler Says:

    Cobus, I like your initial distinctions here. I will find them useful for thinking and practice. I hope your mini-dissertation continues to go well.

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