Do You need a Special Initiative to Do Public Theology (whatever it is)?

Do You need a Special Initiative to Do Public Theology (whatever it is)? May 28, 2021

Here’s the news about Russell Moore leaving the Southern Baptists Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission to join Christianity Today’s Public Theology Project:

Christianity Today was founded by Billy Graham in 1956. In the 65 years since that time, it has served as a flagship publication for the American evangelical movement, serving the church with news, commentary, and resources. It has published the luminaries of each generation, including the theological voices that have shaped evangelical public life and witness. Today it is engaged in efforts to expand its scope, advancing the ideas and stories shaping the future of the church across generations, across communities, and around the planet.

The Public Theology Project will extend and build upon that tradition, seeking to reground and revitalize a beautiful and orthodox public theology for our day. It will convene a broad set of voices on matters of faith in the public square, publish content in multiple media that fleshes out the implications of the gospel for the whole of life, and host gatherings and events. It will also be the main outlet for Moore’s regular writing and his podcast, SignPosts.

What if you don’t need a Public Theology program to perform some kind of conversation with a wide variety of voices in public life? Consider the following list of guests that Al Mohler has had on his podcast, Thinking in Public (full disclosure, this author recently recorded an episode with Dr. Mohler):

James M. Olsen, Bush School of Government and Public Service at Texas A&M University

R. R. Reno, editor of First Things

Benjamin M. Friedman is the William Joseph Maier Professor of Political Economy, Harvard University

Mark Regnerus is professor of sociology at the University of Texas at Austin

Joshua Mitchell, Professor of Political Theory at Georgetown University

Carl Trueman, Professor of Biblical and Religious Studies at Grove City College

Andrew Roberts, historian and author of several bestselling histories and biographies, including Lord Halifax, Winston Churchill, and Napoleon Bonaparte

Glenn Loury, Merchant P. Stoltz Professor of the Social Sciences and Professor of Economics at Brown University

Christopher Caldwell, author of Reflections on the Revolution in Europe: Immigration, Islam, and the West and The Age of Entitlement: America Since the Sixties

Reverend Wilson D. Miscamble, professor of history at the University of Notre Dame and author of American Priest: the Ambitious Life and Conflicted Legacy of Notre Dame’s Father Ted Hesburgh

This is a pretty wide spectrum of authors speakers that in no way reflects a Southern Baptist Index of Books.

Compare that to the range of voices that the CT podcast, Quick to Listen, recruits for its discussions of current events:

Leslie Leyland Fields, a teacher, speaker and the multi-award winning author of twelve books, on Prince Harry and Duchess Meghan’s interview with Oprah

Shirley Mullen, president of Houghton College, on the Equality Act

Jane Hong, associate professor of history at Occidental College, on the shootings of Asian-Americans in Atlanta

Stephen Ko, senior pastor at New York Chinese Alliance Church and formerly a professor of global health and pediatrics at Boston University, on illness and death during Lent

Jay Kim, lead pastor of teaching at WestGate Church in California’s Silicon Valley and teacher-in-residence at Vintage Faith, on evangelicals and vaccination

Mark Yarhouse, a pyschology professor at Wheaton College and the director of the Sexual and Gender Identity Institute, on Transgender legislation and college and high school sports

Robert A. Thomson, assistant professor in the Department of Sociology at the University of Alabama in Huntsville, on the Derek Chauvin verdict

Rachel Anderson, a resident fellow with the Center for Public Justice who leads the Families Valued project, on President Biden’s “Plan for Families”

Rebecca McLaughlin, author of Confronting Christianity and The Secular Creed: Engaging Five Contemporary Claims on Liz Bruenig’s column on being a mother in her twenties

Salim Munayer, executive director and founder of Musalaha Ministry of Reconciliation, on violence in Israel and Palestinian territories

Someone might say that this is an unfair comparison. Just wait and see what CT does with its Public Theology initiative. But what if what CT means by public theology is two or three people, all of whom identify as evangelical, talking about public events? With CT’s brand and platform, certainly the magazine and its related outlets could have been doing public theology well before hiring Russell Moore.

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