Liveblogging Transforming Theology – Day 2

I’m at the inaugural Transforming Theology gathering: Rekindling Theological Imagination: Transformative Thought for Progressive Action.  Today we’re talking about the church.

9:16am – Harvey Cox, of Harvard, is giving his 5-minute statement.  He thinks there is an epochal shift coming in theology, driven by crises in the economy and environment. “We must live in uncertainty fused with hope.”  We live in a situation analogous to the early Christians, the ending of an age of empire.  What did they do?  They established a network of ecclesiae — gatherings of citizens — and they lived a life of radical sharing, even a communion of goods.  Congregations in this day will need to do the same, and the congregations should transform theology.

9:23am – Delwin Brown says that the progressive Christian students he works with can tell why they’re Christian and why they’re progressive, but they often cannot say why, as Christians, they are progressive.  He admires evangelicals who can articulate their beliefs and social outlook. We have a progressive family of theologies, and academic debates are fine, but we must learn to communicate this in effective ways.

9:29am – Joseph Bracken says we should be involved in multiple tension: bottom-up and top-down; theology and spirituality; old methods and new methods; humble and passionate.  Progressive theologians have been too self-critical and deconstructive and lost the passion.  We need to recover the passion of our perspective and communicate that.

9:37am – Ignacio Casbera says the future of the world in multi-national, multi-ethnic, multi-faith. “I am passionately Christian but realize I have to be conversant in many languages.” He says he is not a Whiteheadian but a Cobbian, and quotes Cobb that we must be “passionate progressive Protestants.”

9:41am – William Dean is asking the panel why there hasn’t been any talk yet about God, truth, and reality.  What persuasiveness does a theologian have with others if the progressive values we promote are not based on some reality.  Harvey Cox responds that he did use the word “God,” and he did quote St. Paul.  The mission of the church, Cox says, is the mission of God. “If we don’t have a solid a conviction that God is active in the world today, tearing down and building up, then we’ve got nothing to say.”

9: 44am – Joseph Bracken: “Metaphysics buries its undertakers.”  The trinity is not a dogma for me, but a philosophical underpinning of the one and the many, and expression of the community of all creation.

9:52am – Donna Bowman is defending Facebook and Twitter, others are skeptical.  Now there’s talk about the “digital divide,” and who is left out in these conversations. Still others say that many homeless people use Facebook every day in public libraries.  Connecting with the marginalized might be even easier in an e-age.

10:03am – Ryan just leaned over to me and said, “I went to a theology conference and a debate over Twitter broke out.” Ugh. There’s some George Bailey going on here: “Why don’t you just kiss the girl instead of talking her to death.”

10:08am – Yes, this was just said, “I will not text my daughter when she texts me.  And she does her banking electronically.  How does she do that?”

10:17am – I just spazed out on the importance of fuzzy-edged Christianity.  Moving beyond bounded set and centered set to relational set.  One of my usual rants.

10:21am – The church is engaged in numerous ideologies — heterosexism, patriarchalism, consumerism. 


10:56am – Roger Haight says that for progressive theology to transform the church, we must recover spirituality.  It can’t be simply academic back-and-forth.

11:01am – Doug Meeks: “Academic theology will not change the church or society.”  All theology must be evangelical. We are failing at teaching our divinity school student theology because they quit reading theology immediately upon graduation.

11:10am – Dawn DeVries says that in the Presbyterian world, theologians and the church are in constant connection.  Theologians are scrutinized by the church, and that can even be stifling to the theological task. (This is obviously even more the case within Catholicism.) Is theology valued in your institution.  Too many think that teaching theology means teaching the orthodoxy of their particular tradition.

11:17am – Monica A. Coleman says that academicians too often are the gatekeepers of the system, deciding who gets in, who gets money, who gets published. And we end up becoming number crunchers.  We must become “gate openers”: the gate must swing both ways; we must have new experiences; we must learn to co-exist with those different from us; we must take our theology out into the public.

11:43am – The conversation following this panel has focused on what we teach in seminaries and divinity school, and how we teach it.  A couple folks have had the guts to say things like, “We theologians spend 10% of our time thinking about others and 90% of the time thinking about ourselves.”

11:46am – Harvey Cox wants to know how we can not be gatekeepers when we’re on admissions committees, faculty searches, etc.  Monica Coleman responds that there are parts of our jobs that we will inevitably hate.  Yet she challenges us to “theologize to the exiles” by theologizing in airports, homeless shelters, libraries, etc.

Now breaking into small groups, then we have lunch, then I’m on the next panel.  I’ll pick up the liveblogging this afternoon.

1:29pm – Doug Ottati says that Augustine, Wesley, Neibuhr and others who have transformed theology have all been readers and interpreters of circumstance. This is not easy — how do we do it? How do we train others to do it? We still need abstract theology, but even Aquinas wrote popular theology on the Apostles’ Creed.  Read Martin Luther on the Apostles’ Creed — you will never forget it.  There is a facility of communication that is fantastic. 

1:33pm – Dwight Hopkins says that how we go about doing these things matters. Barack Obama showed that we’re moving into a new era, and we need to be careful not to stifle that because of our commitment to forms that have worked in the past.

1:38pm – Helene Russell says that progressive theology has a PR problem. There are all sorts of assumptions in popular culture about what it means to be Christian, what it means to be a theologian, and we need a PR campaign to show that there’s more to be Christian than being a conservative evangelical.

1:42pm – Jeanyne Stetton we will transform nothing if we don’t transform the liturgy. We need to get students not to write more papers, but to challenge them to construct new liturgies that are reflective of their progressive theology.

2:41pm – I’m on this panel, so I haven’t liveblogged it.  My comments on the failures of academe struck a nerve, and my endorsement of entrepreneurialism in the theological endeavor really struck a nerve. A long discussion ensued about how theology has been domesticated by the academy.

We’re having another break now…

Tripp Fuller is also liveblogging.

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  • Mike Anderson

    I’m a pastor in Sou Cal, just prayed for two people on Facebook yesterday that i never would have had contact with otherwise. One was in Wisconsin. I remember when email came out people were saying the same..who wouldn’t use email now to communicate in ministry. And what are we doing right now?

  • I think the internet is a mission field. There is no divide…no more so than any communal divide. The internet allows us to cross divides very easily…just as easily as we can establish the same divisions. Let’s stop blaming the internet for the thing that human beings have always done. Does anyone remember the gated community, segregation, or white flight?
    I have my church all over the net. This is how the newer folk have discovered us and explored our life together before they finally darken our doors. You may not like it, but it is now our geography.

  • Your Name

    It reminds me of when people were afraid of guitars and anything modern in worship because they used the argument that the church was selling out to the culture. But there is a huge difference between the message and the means. Paul says I use all means so that I might reach some.
    Jesus taught that the body of Christ, his bride the Church, is not a building but a kingdom which is invisible and yet is growing each day. God will use all means to get His message out to all ends of the earth so every man, woman and child has a chance to encounter the Good News in Christ.
    The Old Roman Catholic view of parish with city blocks has now been replaced but a Global parish which can be accessed through technology. This does not take the place of one on one human encounters of love and grace but has its place in God’s kingdom coming on earth as it is in heaven.

  • Tony, thanks for the shout-out. Yes, the skepticism about social media is vast and pervasive and eminently tiring; your cutting to the chase was most appreciated. Your link to me got garbled; I’m donnadb on Twitter, and you can find my blog at