Date of Award

Spring 2000

Document Type

Dissertation - Restricted

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)



First Advisor

Hinze, Bradford E.

Second Advisor

Copeland, M. S.

Third Advisor

Dabney, D. L.


This dissertation represents an effort to bring together academic theological reflection and some of my concerns and interests that pertain to the work of pastoral ministry. My reflections on the possibilities for a postliberal theological approach to the task of addressing social and political issues have been profoundly influenced by my work as pastor in two United Church of Christ congregations in the area and by my involvement with two of our denomination's committees on social concerns at the regional and state level. All too often, mainline Protestant denominations have invested too much of their time and energy into the task of passing resolutions and making statements from national denominational offices in support of particular public policy initiatives. However, I am convinced that the most important task for persons involved in justice ministries is to communicate with men and women in local churches: (1) in order to encourage reflection upon the connection between Christian convictions and concern for social and political justice and to make clear the biblical basis for action on behalf of persons who suffer due to unjust arrangements; (2) to organize and facilitate concerted action on the part of committed Christians on behalf of and in community with vulnerable and mistreated persons who are victims of unjust political and economic arrangements. One of my frustrations was the fact that our committees, for all our efforts, did not reach or impact many members of congregations and failed to mobilize men and women for shared action in connection with the social and political issues we emphasized. There are numerous and complex reasons for this problem, but I believe that there is a connection between our difficulties in generating interest in matters of social and political justice and the lack of biblical literacy within mainline Protestant churches. Of course, this is a generalization that is not true of every mainline Protestant congregation and within almost every local church one will find those saints who have lived exemplary lives of self-giving love for others. Nevertheless, mainline Protestant churches, on the whole, have not devoted sufficient attention to the pastoral task of making disciples, of producing women and men whose lives, beliefs, values, and affections are profoundly impacted by the teachings and deeds of Jesus Christ as these are narrated in the Gospels. My fear is that the majority of the members of our churches have been shaped and molded primarily by the consumerism and quest for upward mobility that dominate the ethos of American society. This dissertation is an exploration of the resources to be found within the postliberal theological project that can serve to guide ministers and congregations in connection with these issues. This concern is entirely consistent with the spirit of postliberal theology, since it is claimed that the Christian community is the theologian's primary audience. Postliberals also insist that one of the central tasks of Christian theology is the critical evaluation of any instance of the language and practice of the Christian community for its faithfulness to scripture. One of the most important implications of postliberal theology's cultural-linguistic description of religion for pastoral ministry is the prioritization of intensive processes of Christian formation. The goal would be to immerse Christians into the world of the biblical narratives so that men and women in local congregations view themselves as disciples of Christ and, as a consequence, seek to organize their entire lives around this commitment.



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