Act2 Theological Culture papers
We're wrapping up the series. Get all the highlights!
November 8, 2023
In April 2023, the Act2 Project issued a Call for Papers to hear from people across the Uniting Church about our theological culture. The intention was to cultivate a vibrant and honest conversation across the whole life of the Church about the shape of the theological culture of our Church.
We also sought to stimulate our imagination to what we will need, into the future, to continue to resource, sustain and extend the theological culture for the second act of the Uniting Church in Australia.
The Church’s enthusiastic response to our request exceeded our wildest dreams! Today, as move into the next stage of our work on our theological culture, we have shared no less than 37 papers, provocations and reflections in a variety of different genres and styles drawn from across the breadth and diversity of our Church.
You can access the complete set of all of the papers here, and all of the papers make for a worthwhile read.
But if you’re feeling a bit overwhelmed, why don’t you start with these?
"We have shared no less than 37 papers, provocations and reflections in a variety of different genres and styles"
Rev Dr Sally Douglas, in Say What? The Ineffable within the Theological Culture of the Uniting Church: Origins, Gifts, Shadows, and the Invitation to Intentionality, challenges the notion that Uniting Church theology is hard to pin down and lacking in substance and clarity, suggesting instead that this is by design, because our theological culture has an ineffable texture! Such a theology is not only best suited to “a pilgrim people, always on the way”, but “forged within the transformative encounter with the incarnate, executed, and risen Jesus Christ.” This need not be an evasive stance, and Sally offers three specific invitations to the Church ought to embrace for the sake of seeing an authentic and faithful theological culture into the future, namely: cultivate communities of rigorous engagement, contemplation and testimony.
Matt Julius, in The Triple Inheritance of Uniting Church Theological Culture, suggests that, in order to best “unpick” the theological culture of our Church, we need to take seriously the factors of indigenous dispossession, ecclesial heritage, and the uniting churches’ active participation in Australian society as tributaries to the river system which is Uniting Church theology. In synthesising these, Matt offers five principles to guide the best future of theologising uniting-ly, which involves doing so cosmically, Christ-centredly, creaturely, catholically and confessingly.
In A presence assumed, Rev Dr Sarah Agnew poetically challenges us to reflect on the assumed presence of clergy in our Church. Although acknowledging that this pilgrim people’s embodiment of the Christ’s Body is “a priesthood of all believers”, there is nevertheless “a thread of presence, a dedicated order of two ordained ministries” specifically set apart to be seen, to be looked to, and to hold “the frame with and for the Body, so that it will always be held”.
Joy J. Han, in Our missional and intercultural natures are to be found in the world, offers us important insights into the missional capacity of lay people. She argues this can be better harnessed, not by extracting lay people from their existing circumstances, but by beginning to seriously listen to their experiences in the world. Finally, she also offers some critical reflection on our struggles to be a truly intercultural church.
Rev Dr Seforosa Carroll expands on three terms that have shaped our self-understanding as a culturally and linguistically diverse church: “multicultural”, “cross-cultural” and “intercultural”. Surveying key church documents from 1985 to the present, she acknowledges that these continue to articulate an aspirational vision for Church which “has yet to be fully realized in structure, polity, leadership, mission and ministry”.
In CALDing the Theological Culture in the Uniting Church in Australia, Rev Dr Paul Goh, drawing upon his own rich experience as a Korean-Australian Uniting Church minister, challenges us that we still have significant work ahead of us if we are to be a truly diverse Church at the core. He asserts there remains an asymmetry in our intercultural relationships, which positions the dominant culture as “consumers” rather than “learners”, and doesn’t facilitate true transformational two-way cultural exchange. Looking to the future, Paul hopes instead we will embrace a true “culture of belonging and cultural humility”.
The public discussion that has followed the Act2 Project’s call for papers has indeed demonstrated the vibrancy of our theological culture as a Church! And, no doubt, this rich conversation will continue, in many different ways, into the second act of our Church’s lives.
The Act2 Project will continue to explore theological culture and theological education in Workstream 4 of the project and will integrate its findings into the recommendations offered to the 17th Assembly.