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Martin Marty's Definition of Public Theology
One way to define the term

A paper of the Association of the Sociology of Religion discusses the role of Martin Marty, the church historian at the University of Chicago, in the phrase "public theology". Though we here at this website think of the phrase in a broader way (the formation of public theologies includes people not involved in the Christian church), it is useful to quote the paper here. Note the motivational aspect of the phrase.

The term "public theology" derives from Martin Marty's (1981) modification of the term public religion, originally used in 1749 by Benjamin Franklin. Marty favored it over Robert Bellah's Vietnam War era retrieval of the generic Rousseau term civil religion.

A sociologist can reconstruct from historical materials a civil religion to ground a moral criticism, say, of the American involvement in Vietnam, but a public theology, closer to experienced religious identities, can challenge citizens in terms of their religious commitment in their specific churches and synagogues and now mosques.

For Marty, the public church concretely exists in the increasingly interfaith-ecumenically open parts of mainline Protestantism, evangelical Protestantism, and Roman Catholicism. When the public church reflexively examines and critiques existing social practices and cultural understandings in the light of its deepest religious insights into justice and the good society, it does public theology.

The "it" of the preceding sentence is becoming less vague and more structurally specific. For example, consider the final document of the 1988 European Ecumenical Assembly of the Conference of European Churches and the Council of European Bishops' Conference entitled "Peace With Justice For the Whole Creation" (WCC 1989). Or the May 1995 report of The Joint Working Group Between The World Council of Churches and The Roman Catholic church entitled "The Ecumenical Dialogue On Moral Issues" (WCC 1989).

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Date Added: 9/23/2001 Date Revised: 9/23/2001

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