We are going to have to agree to disagree about some things. One thing that I would ask (in my generous orthodoxy style) is that we both acknowledge those things that we agree on as well as those we don’t.

The reason that is important is because of something that Phyllis Tickle points out (paraphrase): it is not that former (and maybe dominant) expressions go away, it is that they no longer hold the prime spot and wield the kind of power that they once did. They are all still around however. MP900405058

The interesting terrain that we inhabit in the 21st century is littered with artifacts and occupied by pockets of groups – possible ones that were once in the ascendancy. This is, as I am often saying, the bricolage nature of our cultural/societal environment.

You have methodists who have no idea what the methods were. You have ‘Amish’ fireplace stoves being mass-produced and sold on TV (think about it). You have can still, more tellingly, find actual Amish folks if you know where to look.

Here are two things you need to know:

  1. I come to the theological endeavor as a contextual theologian.
  2. In my context, practical theology and its qualitative methods (interviews, case studies, ethnography) is my chosen approach.

There are several implications of these two things. Unlike Tripp, I don’t do systematic theology.* It is not that I don’t value other branches of theology. In fact, practical theology as a field is in a major renovation, at least in part, in order to join the other 4 primary branches of theology that do their own research and provide their own innovations:

  • Historical Theology
  • Biblical Theology
  • Systematic Theology
  • Philosophical Theology

As my professor Kathleen Greider says:

Practical theologians commonly assert that the primary text of our field is lived experience– diverse persons and communities that are contextually located, inextricably related, and experiencing each other through countless interconnections and interactions.

Almost invariably when I am enduring critique from a conversation partner who is more conservative than myself, it is only a matter of time before they bring up Aquinas. I don’t get the nuance of Aquinas. I didn’t distinguish between the early and late Aquinas. I wasn’t careful to appropriate this or that of Aquinas’ formulations. I didn’t read the right translation of Aquinas. (the same things with Barth and Scotus too) 

What I am saying is that we don’t need to understand Aquinas better or deeper. 

We are to do in our day what Aquinas did in his.

As a contextual theologian I don’t think that is accomplished by obsessing over Aquinas. I’m not saying that we aren’t generous or respectful … I’m saying that Aquinas lives neither where we do nor when we do. He lived in a different context and time.

Call this dismissive if you will but  The Church’s future is not to be found in Europe’s past. I say it all the time.

You may disagree with me about this. That is fine. I’m just telling you where I am coming from since our latest TNT has raised some eyebrows, questions (and hackles) both here and on twitter.


Historic thinkers like Aquinas never saw what I call the 5 C’s of our theological context:

  • post-Christendom
  • Colonialism
  • global Capitalism
  • Charismatic renewal (especially Pentecostalism in the Southern Hemisphere)
  • Cultural Revolutions (from Civil Rights in the 60’s to the ‘Arab Spring’)

Add to those 5 to pluralism, the internet and a growing environmental crisis and you have the 8 things we as theologians need to give great attention and care to. They are the context in which (and for which) we do theology in the 21st century. Go listen to our interview with Grace Ji-Sun Kim if you have questions about this. 

You may want to focus more on the christian tradition (like Augustine or Aquinas) and I would understand that – I view that impulse through a Lindbeckian tri-focal lens. I understand the work you want to do within that cultural-linguistic silo. [I’m having fun in this part for those unfamiliar with my style]


Disagree as we might about the importance of a writer in the 3rd or 13th century – I just wanted you to know where I was coming from and what my focus was.**

 I would love it if everyone would leave a comment and let me know how this sits with you. 


*One implication of that is that when I read systematic theologians I do so though mostly thought trusted secondary sources. Admittedly, I don’t major in primary sources – for reasons I hope are clear in this post. I find scholars who know their stuff like Elizabeth Johnson, John Caputo, Joseph Bracken and Stuart Murray and trust them.

** If you want to read more about my approach check out ‘After MacIntyre’ that I wrote a while ago but never put up on the blog. It will explain my concern about everything from consumerism to hipsters and the radical orthodoxy project.