Unpacking our theological culture
The Act2 Project is calling for papers about the theological culture of the Uniting Church. But what is 'theological culture'?
July 5, 2023
By Andrew Johnson, Act2 Project Lead
The 16th Assembly asked the Act2 Project,
“[T]o review governance structures and practices that reflect our contemporary context… (and) further develop theological culture of the Uniting Church in Australia.”
So what do we mean by the Uniting Church’s theological culture? It is not a phrase used anywhere in the Basis of Union or any of the other foundational documents we have as a Church.
"We want to have a vibrant and honest conversation about our theological life"
To support this task, we have developed the following working definition:
“The theological culture of the Uniting Church is that network of practices, institutions and texts which resource, sustain and extend the Uniting Church’s particular conversations, doctrinal decisions and prophetic speech about God, Christ and the world.”
This conversation is not about our theological disagreements or fault lines, but is inviting us to think about those things that resource, sustain and extend our theological life.
As we think about the practices that shape our theological culture, we might think about our worship life, nurtured through Word and sacrament. We have our local life of bible study groups, prayer groups, preaching, discipleship formation activities and witness and service in our community.
We have the voice of our wider Church in the public square, the inter-conciliar shape of our Church, our practices of discernment and consensus decision making and our engagement with the world around us.
As we think about the institutions that shape our theological culture, central among them are our theological colleges and the work they do leading theological conversations, training and forming people for specified ministries and resourcing the Church for the journey of discipleship.
However, our theological colleges are not the only institutions shaping our theological culture. We have a history of publishing houses, publications, conferences and formal and informal groups of intentional theological inquiry and reflection.
There are many texts shaping our theological culture. This includes formal reports and decisions of our councils, our authorised liturgies and books and articles by influential theologians in our tradition.
However, in this information age there are also so many more texts shaping our theological culture – blogs, podcasts, artwork, music, poetry and liturgy drawn from all around our Church and all around the world.
I have highlighted just a few of those things that I see cultivate our theological culture. There are no doubt many more.
We are inviting people from across the Church to offer papers, provocations and reflections on our theological culture. To encourage this conversation we have offered the following questions:
- What is the theological culture of the Uniting Church in Australia?
- What is the theological culture to which we should aspire as the Uniting Church?
- What is distinctive about the theological culture of the Uniting Church?
- What are the practices, institutions and texts which have been most significant in shaping the Uniting Church’s theological culture?
- To what extent is there continuity and discontinuity within our Church of the traditions of those churches that came into Union?
- What are the practices, institutions and texts we will need into the future to resource, sustain and extend the theological culture to which we aspire?
You may want to respond to just one of these. You may want to contribute something more comprehensive, pose new questions or new lenses on our theological culture. We want to have a vibrant and honest conversation across the life of the Church about our theological culture and how we can deepen it in light of our contemporary context.
As we have travelled around the Church we have encountered the richness and diversity of our theological culture and the various practices, institutions and texts currently sustaining it. People are eager to tell us about the new author, podcaster, website, musician or conference.
Others have lamented some of the decline and loss of those practices, institutions and texts which once resourced and extended our theological culture. Some of these were relics of Christendom. However some have left an ongoing gap in our shared life.
While our Basis of Union does not use the phrase ‘theological culture’ it certainly does point us to practices, institutions and texts which will be part of shaping our life together. It also points to the ongoing work that we will do together:
In Paragraph 11 it articulates this ongoing task for us:
“The Uniting Church lives within a world-wide fellowship of Churches in which it will learn to sharpen its understanding of the will and purpose of God by contact with contemporary thought. Within that fellowship the Uniting Church also stands in relation to contemporary societies in ways which will help it to understand its own nature and mission. The Uniting Church thanks God for the continuing witness and service of evangelist, of scholar, of prophet and of martyr. It prays that it may be ready when occasion demands to confess the Lord in fresh words and deeds.”
The work of theology is never completed. It is an ongoing opportunity to explore together these questions for our life. Not to the exclusion of the theology going on within the worldwide Church but rather to have the particular conversations we are called to have within our context and at this time.
You're invited to join this conversation.