I have spent that last two weeks reading and shoring up my familiarity with Creation Ex Nihilo and the Trinity respectively. As fascinating as that has been,  I have to admit that am speculated out. I can only take so much speculative theology. This is part of why I am so happy to be in the field of Practical Theology. The other reason is that I have a real heart for the church.

I love Practical Theology. It is a fascinating field that is in the midst of a significant reinvention of itself. As an interdisciplinary engagement within the academy, it interacts with local faith expressions (like the church) in the hope to mutually benefit both the local church and the academy as a sort of go-between.

One of the major changes in this reinvention comes from the recognition that Practical Theology had not doing its own homework. It had fallen into a stale habit of simply attempting to apply the work of other disciplines. Applications of other’s work is fine at some level, but that is no way to gain credibility within the academy. If you want to be taken seriously in that world, you have to endeavor to innovate and explore – just like everyone else.

John Reader is one of my favorites. In the book Reconstructing Practical Theology: the Impact of Globalization the author examines the impact of globalization on everything from families and spirituality to the economy and ecology. There are two specific aspects of the book that I want to post about today and tomorrow: ‘Zombie Categories’ and ‘why the Eucharist isn’t Enough’.

Zombie Categories

Change can be seen in the categorization used within scholarship, specifically as it applies to fields such as practical theology. Reader borrows the term “zombie categories” from Ulrich Beck to refer to existent categorization that are fundamentally dead but which still limps on refusing to go away quietly. This situation forces us to exist temporarily in parallel worlds both utilizing “old, familiar and increasingly redundant” categories alongside “new, emerging and untested” ones.

Reader examines the historical developments and transitions, quickly surveying from the early church to the professionalism and secularism of the twentieth century. This is why it is so important for contemporary theologian to interact with fields such as psychology, sociology, economics, and even the political. As much as I appreciate and have learned from the Big 4 of Theology (Systematic, Historic, Biblical and Philosophical).

In a quick survey of the territory it is becomes clear that the issues encountered under the heading of globalization are not simply a series of incremental changes to which we must adapt to keep operating. The impact of globalization challenges the very frameworks and concepts that are familiar to the practice of Christian ministry.

I get push-back all the time for saying that we need to reexamine and desperately reinvent the very frameworks and vocabularies with which we engage in ministry.

The concerns of local ministry and pastoral care along with the conduct of worship and the diverse challenges needing to be addressed in any context ask something very distinct from us now. The transient nature of globalization paired with a virtually liquid social structure requires a different set of questions and a unique collection of frameworks to adequately address the challenges of ministry and spirituality in a world where the boundaries are constantly shifting. These concerns are most appropriately addressed by re-imagining internal categories inherent to the tradition, partnered with the resources made available by engaging with “the insights of other disciplines”.

This is not about answering the same old questions in slightly different ways for our new context – this is about asking entirely different kinds of questions about the formation of self, the family relationship, construction of community and the nature of religion.

Tomorrow I want to look at how consumerism forms our concept of ‘self’ and why the Eucharist – no matter how tightly we hold to it or how faithfully we perform it – address what is going on with us these days. But first I needed to state how deep the change is and how profound its impact on us is. Cleverly updated answers to the antiquated questions are not going to cut it anymore.

Something else is needed. Our world is not simply a bigger version of what used to be. When people keep insisting that ‘this’ is just an amplified version of ‘that’ they may be missing the point of what it is exactly that we need to be doing here.  “Doing the same thing Sunday after Sunday” may be the worst idea in the history of the church. It may not be –  but it is sure to kill us while we lie in the very bed that we made for ourselves. 

Originally posted at HBC 

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