A fantastic article by Rev Dr Clive Pearson in the NSW publication Insights reflects on the conference: Check it out here. Here's a taster......
The title of this conference — “God is Where?!” — was unusual.
It is much more normal to think of who is God and what kind of God do
we believe in. That shift to “where” is a little peculiar. It is
suggesting a different kind of agenda.
The who and what questions are much more tied to the internal life of
the church and how mission is sometimes (not without problems) tied to
the church. It is, after all, the mission of God rather than the mission
of this all too human institution in which we participate.
The who and what questions invite us to pay more attention to the
inner life of discipleship and membership; the where question is of a
different order altogether.
That point has been very well made by the English Methodist theologian, Clive Marsh.
His Christ in Practice is a study of what he calls an “everyday
Christology”; it is designed to seek out “traces”, “resonances” — hints —
of the Jesus story in the secular, multi-faith society we live in and
which are beyond the walls of the church.
The distinctively Australian nature of the context was informed by a
reading of Gary Bouma’s Australian Soul and a handful of other writers,
including some who have spoken of their life in Australia as being
This business of “where” is in keeping with the emerging discipline
of a public theology/ministry. This synod is the only synod in the
country which through its theological college has committed itself to
this task, which is now freely described as a major “global flow”.
What this designation means is that a public theology is now regarded
as a significant new development around the globe in helping Christians
understand their faith and what is being asked of them for Christ’s
The aim of the conference was to explore the nature and purpose of a public theology.
At one level this way of thinking is a thoughtful protest against the
common tendency to confine faith to the world of private belief (me and
my Jesus, so said Dorothee Sölle) or to the church’s struggle to
These things have their place; they are important but they are only part of the picture.
The intention of a public theology is to work for the common good, the public good, and the construction of a civil society.
David Ford from Cambridge reckons that such a theology is concerned with
the flourishing of all. That has become a frequent refrain for a faith
and ministry in our post-this and -that world.
Those who are committed to this form of theology and ministry are shaped by a host of biblical considerations.
The Bible studies each day were designed to draw out the theme of the
week and put a practical human face on this enterprise. There are a
number of organising texts, like by the question posed by Jesus — who do
people say that I am? — and the call to love one’s neighbour as
oneself. The nagging question here is who is our neighbour?
The public theologian is likely to make use of the biblical themes of
wisdom a great deal. The emphasis is an act of discernment, a capacity
to read the signs of the times and express a Christian faith committed
to mercy, compassion, justice and the care of creation.
It was recognised that part of the public role of the Christian faith
is to secure a voice in the marketplace of ideas within society. That
is not necessarily easy when there is so much suspicion with regards the
Christian faith and in this setting the contemporary follower of Christ
cannot rely upon a privileged space.
There have been too many negative headlines; there has been too much
trauma associated with the effect of the church on the lives of so many
This discipline is one which works with “strangers”; it is interdisciplinary and it relies upon the extension of thin trust.
Such trust occurs where you do not know well or all the other but you
expect them to treat you well as you would them. The making of a civil
society — of any sort — depends upon such trust, writes Martin Marty in
his fine study of Creating Cultures of Trust.
Those visits through the course of the week were designed to
illustrate how a public theology identifies issues of the day which
require prophetic attention. It so happened that they frequently coincided with the daily work and passion of those involved in a diaconal ministry.
What those present seemed to find helpful was being given a
theological frame of reference in which to situate their work and
praxis.They were being given words to name what they do and how it fits into the bigger picture of the Christian hope for the world.They were being invited to be bilingual; meaning being well-grounded
and able to talk within the life of the church and beyond in the public
domain where God is also to be found.
Clive Pearson is Principal of United Theological College,
Lecturer in Theology and Ethics, and Head of School, School of Theology,
Charles Sturt University.