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Public Theology: The Place for Protestant Pastors and Scholars
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The Place for Protestant Pastors and Scholars
A statement about the primary audiences for this website. Opening discussion of a 'new Protestantism.'

By Ed Knudson

I began this website on Public Theology soon after the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, on the World Trade Towers in New York City and the Pentagon in Washington D.C. Since religiously-motivated political activists had destroyed two of the most significant symbols of the most powerful nation on earth I thought it might be helpful to provide some space in the world where questions of faith and economy and politics can be more seriously discussed. Since I am myself a pastor who has served congregations in both urban and suburban settings across the United States I wanted the website to be a place where pastors can find some help in trying to interpret the events of our times in relation to their preaching and their leadership in the teaching ministries of their congregations. I thought it could be helpful to track what is being said on the Internet, on television, and the print media in various forms and choose items to publish here which could be helpful to pastors who may not have as much time as myself, since I am now retired and no longer have full time pastoral responsibilities. I also hoped to be able to write articles myself to publish here based on the continuing reading I do in the fields of theology, ethics, history, and political theory.

A couple years ago I became fascinated with a notion of "Second-Stage Protestantism." My own denomination, the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, has established formal relations with several other Protestant church bodies in the country, the so-called mainline denominations. Protestants are overcoming theological and ecclesiological barriers among themselves and it may be time for a major rethinking of faith and witness based on our common Protestant heritage. But all these groups are facing uncertainties about the future with seemingly declining numbers. The conservative Catholic-oriented magazine "First Things" has declared the Protestant mainlines to be "dead", of no consequence in the religious or public life of the nation. The old ecumenical organizations have failed to maintain themselves as a strong public witness in the world. And most importantly, a false form of Protestantism has grown up in the last decades, the religious right, anchored by the Southern Baptists and Pentecostalists, which emerged first from one region of the country, the South, as a backlash movement against the racial and cultural changes of the 1960s. The religious right has become a commercialized, Americanized, politicized illegitimate form of religion which no longer represents the historic traditions of the Reformation from which Protestantism traces its roots. What I call the Primary Protestants need to now come together and claim that heritage and provide a public witness explicitly over-against both the religious right and the conservative turn which Catholicism has taken over the last years. We need a continuing confessional, truly evangelical public witness today in the midst of a nation which has lost its own bearings in relation to its own democratic values.

This must be a truly "public" witness so it needs a public name. And there is no better name than the very word "Protestant," a name which carries within it the history and attitude of "protest." The more I think about this the more I am convinced that all of the old mainline churches should begin to conceive of themselves as the new "Protestant Church" in the USA. We need to tie our stories together and connect out mutual identities for the purpose of common mission and witness. When I go about my work of reading and writing I am going to be thinking in these terms. It is a stimulating concept, it stimulates the imagination for what can happen in the local church as well as in judicatory bodies and the wider church.

And I especially invite pastors and scholars to give me feedback on this concept, to write articles for this online journal, to suggest others whom we could invite to participate here. During the Reformation there were various outgrowths of the Protestant movement, some of them became sectarian, oriented only to their own internal life as a community and rejecting the world around them. But the Primary Protestants were all public churches, that is, they saw their mission not in selfish terms, but in taking responsibility for the world about them. These Protestants changed countries in Europe, and they created a new world for themselves called the United States of America. Now a second Protestant manifestation is necessary in the United States, as the Primary Protestants take more responsibility for the future of this country the development of which they have had such influence upon.

Please feel free to participate in the activities you will find here. It is hoped to develop the site in ways most helpful to the participants. Let us know what would be helpful to you.

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Date Added: 7/30/2004 Date Revised: 12/20/2009

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