Whitworth Theology Department Annual Newsletter 2018
Jeremy Wynne (2010-present), Assistant Professor of Theology, Director of the Graduate Studies in Theology Program
This spring I taught a graduate course in public theology. If you're not familiar with this relatively young subdiscipline, I think it's helpful to know upfront that in this context "public" can't simply be equated with "political." Whereas the latter starts from the possibilities handed to itby culture – think of the social, economic and legal realities we swim in – and only then asks how the theological life might fit into them, the former approach runs much the opposite direction. Public theology recognizes that the nature of the gospel is such that it must providethe basic contextinto which any of these other cultural realities and concerns can only fit.
Even in matters of the common good, then, the gospel comes first. And the result for daily life is that Christians are empowered to bring the riches of their faith to bear on the most challenging questions we face together as a society. Which questions did we tackle, in particular? I chose four: sport, dementia, consumerism and the racialization of American life. And why? Beyond the urgency of each topic, they're simply a reflection of the areas in which I myself desire to grow. At each point, our guiding question was the same, namely how best to manifest "faithful presence" in our respective spheres of influence.
I realize, of course, that for some of us, especially those who accept the cultural division between faith and reason, or between the private and public realms, this kind of project seems counter-intuitive, or even alarming. But consider the exhortations one finds spread across Holy Scripture: to "seek the welfare of the city where I have sent you into exile" (Jeremiah 29:7); to live in a world where God "sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous" (Matthew 5:45); and to "conduct yourselves honorably among the Gentiles… so that… they may see your honorable deeds and glorify God when he comes to judge" (1 Peter 2:12). Undoubtedly, it is the Spirit of God himself who ultimately re-humanizes us, and precisely because of this, fruitful engagement with culture can become for Christians a matter of real hope and obedience. I'm grateful for our students, who indeed hope for such change; and I'm grateful for the colleagues I see all around me in the theology department, who are rising to such challenges, both in their own teaching and in their daily lives.
Down the road, I will offer an undergraduate version of this course. But, alas, the coming year is full of other good things. At the university, I'll be teaching a seminar on The Triune God, and I‘ll continue to invest in the growth of our graduate program as well as finish up several writing projects. At home, I will be following my son's baseball (he's a smart second baseman) and my daughter's swimming (she's only 11 years old and has a beautiful butterfly stroke right in her pocket).
To wrap up, here are a few of the most significant and enjoyable books I read this year: Beauty by Natalie Carnes; The Moviegoer by Walker Percy; To Change the World by James Davison Hunter; and, to toss in one heavy-hitter, The Trinitarian Theology of St. Thomas Aquinas, by Gilles Emery.
Peace to you.