Sunday, 24 February 2013

Lecture in Adelaide: Rowan Williams and theology in the public square


Tomorrow I'll be heading down to Adelaide to give a commencement lecture for St Barnabas' Theological College. It will be held at St Peter's Cathedral, with a commencement service at 6.30, followed by the public lecture at 7.30. I'll be speaking (gasp) twice, with a homily in the worship service followed by a lecture on "Rowan Williams and Theology in the Public Square." 

For the lecture I'll be suggesting a typology of four main types of public theology:

1. Proclamation (directly presenting the Christian message in the public square)
2. Policy (directly attempting to influence policy or public institutions)
3. Re-description (attempting to show that some aspect of a society or its history is only fully intelligible within a Christian frame of reference)
4. Imagination (a more general attempt to cultivate a rich imaginative vision of the world as seen through Christian eyes)

And I'll try to show that each of these approaches is always pressing towards something beyond itself – towards a public embodiment of the Christian message in particular lives. Here's an excerpt from the last part of the paper:  
To make room for God: that is the final aim of any public theology. To make room for God in human life and room for God in the public square. All our theological speech is gesturing towards this. In the end it is only life itself, a life reoriented around God, that can convey all that Christian faith means. This kind of public engagement is what Williams has called “taking responsibility for God.” In an essay from the new volume on Faith in the Public Square, Williams describes the public religious life as a life that “takes on the task of ensuring a habitation for God,” a life that “offers hospitality to God, so that this place, this identity, becomes a testimony.” Where this occurs, he suggests, one’s life becomes a sign, a word, a living sacred text. It is here that “we begin to learn how to be a sign inhabited by God’s meanings.” And this is what the public square needs most of all: not just more discussion and debate about God, not just a deeper consideration of Christian ideas, but the visible presence of symbolic lives, lives that mean God. 

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