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Preaching As A Social Act: Theology and Practice by Arthur Van Seters (ed.)

Arthur Van Seters is Principal and Associate Professor of biblical interpretation and preaching at the Vancouver School of Theology, Vancouver, British Columbia; 1986 president of the Academy of Homiletics; and author of several papers for the Academy on social dimensions of preaching. Copyrighted by Arthur Van Seter, 1988, and published by Abingdon Press, Nashville. This material prepared for religion Online by Paul Mobley.

Introduction: Widening Our Vision

Preaching has extraordinary resilience. At the end of the sixties some were proclaiming the "empty pulpit"; others were experimenting with dialogues or novel forms or "doing sermons."(1) In a culture of television, multiscreens, and laser beams what would become of the pulpit? But now preaching is definitely "in." Publishing houses are producing record numbers of books on preaching and continuing education preaching courses are among the most popular. In addition, through the seventies and continuing in the eighties, TV evangelists have reached vast audiences across North America and beyond.(2)

All of this is true; yet in common parlance "to preach at someone," "to give someone a sermon," or "to sound preachy" are decidedly pejorative expressions. How has preaching overcome this negative stereotype? Does the popularity of the pulpit reflect a new "awakening" to the gospel? Are people in our society looking for the reassertion of authority from the pulpit? Or are preachers just tired of traditional assertive discourse and becoming fascinated with newer indicative, narrative, and imaginative ways of speaking? In this connection, how does the media "preaching" of advertisers, commentators and wide-screen-message films affect sermon listeners in the pews? When these and similar questions are answered. will we also know how our culture is influencing preaching and what effect preaching is having or may have on our culture? This last double question has vexed me (and certainly many others) over the last decade,(3) and has been sharpened by two particular incidents.

Some years ago as a visitor for ten consecutive weeks in a large urban church, I heard consistently lucid, graphic preaching. Biblical texts were explained and concretely connected with the daily lives of the members of the congregation. I found myself drawn into the sermons, but gradually I began to feel uneasy. Something was overriding the "hearing of the Word." Every biblical text seemed to yield a strangely similar message and that message appeared to be shaped not so much by the text as by a certain "sensible" interpretation of culture. At this point I found myself reflecting on the meaning of the Scripture passages as they had been read earlier in the service and invariably that meaning clashed with what emerged in the sermon.

For example, a sermon on the so-called parable of the talents (Matt. 25:14-30) became an occasion for urging attention to God's challenge that we risk. In our society, the preacher said, this meant being competitive with our money-not in a cutthroat way, of course, but as a struggle to develop our God-given capacities. The resultant conflicts from competition were like athletic rivalries; they pushed participants toward higher achievement. They even established a certain bond, or at least respect, between competitors. In the parable, the one-talent servant wouldn't compete and was rejected.

The sermon contained more, related to personal and spiritual development, and was better stated, but I remember being bluntly offended by the one talent being taken from the poorest servant and given to the richest one who already had ten talents. How was this heard by this affluent congregation in a world where the gap between rich and poor seemed to be increasing rather than diminishing?

A second incident happened in Central America. I remember listening to a sermon discussion on the same text by a group of peasants on the outskirts of San Jose, Costa Rica. They heard the gospel in this passage challenging the poor not to be overwhelmed by a sense of powerlessness and fear. The Rule of God was a metaphor that stood against the reigning metaphors of societies organized by monetary arrangements. The parable for them was a heuristic device (not their language!) to awaken a new consciousness among those alienated because their labor was so devalued that they easily gave up. Before God their small efforts, especially when they linked themselves together, could be just as effective as the efforts of those who seemed more powerful. This, they felt, was a parable for the poor, not for the rich. The third servant's passivity was an affront to wake them up.

These experiences set me pondering and my mind went back to the parabolic preaching of Jesus that made the presence of God vivid to his followers.(4) The effect on their lives was profoundly vitalizing and the beginning of a movement that ultimately, in Augustine, gave a new framework for understanding reality when classical culture was in decay.(5) All of this started an avalanche of questions.

• How did Jesus’ preaching of God's rule relate to the society of first-century Palestine?

• How did Augustine interpret that for the crumbling Roman Empire of the fourth century?

• How do we North Americans "hear" this gospel today in our post-industrial world?

• How does the social position of interpreters and listeners affect the concrete interpretation of the Word of God?

• How does the social position of interpreters and listeners affect the concrete interpretation of the Word of God?

• How can preachers discern whether their message is shaped by a theology rooted in Scripture or by a current, commonsense view of reality today, and when are these in conflict?

• How can we as preachers or as pew-sitters become aware of how the dominant perception of the world has affected our own views of ourselves and of our society?

• How do we preach from texts that seem to move against the perspective of the congregation as members of society?

• How can the sermon elucidate the gospel already operative in the actions of the people of God but in ways they have not yet noticed?

These are social questions crying for answers. They are also theologically important.

Social Dimensions of Preaching

Paying attention to the societal dimension of preaching is not new. As Daniel Patte points out, the Apostle Paul was doing this when he applied the gospel in new situations as he introduced it to the wider Mediterranean world. In each case he expressed his preaching "in terms of these new situations," as did the Reformers after him. We too, he adds, need to emphasize those aspects of Paul's teaching appropriate in our "cultural, social, religious and ecclesial setting."(6) Down through the centuries, including our own, preachers have spoken not only to the personal and spiritual needs of congregational members in their social context but also to the spiritual and human needs of these contexts as corporate entities. Furthermore, they have done so reflecting the ethos of their respective cultural situations.

This book is built on this tradition. It focuses on how preaching is shaped by, but also gives shape to, its societal reality. Sometimes it names the obvious. For example, when Fred Craddock distinguishes between listeners as audience and listeners as congregation,(7) that is a social dimension of preaching. A group of people are being viewed as a gathering of strangers in the first, and a community of people who know one another and the preacher in the second. Beyond this kind of naming, the following chapters make deliberate and systematic use of the social sciences to explore various dimensions of the social nature of preaching. In doing this there is no intention to devalue the personal, spiritual, liturgical, and other aspects of preaching. Indeed, this is not a sociology of preaching,(8) but an exploration of how theology and the concrete realities of society are linked in the act of preaching.

The writers of the following chapters make some use of the social sciences to analyze how preaching is related to its societal context. Because of this, some may regard this as a book on "prophetic preaching" designed for "social activists."(9) This is not that kind of book. It is true that several contributors do call attention to the negative impact of individualism in our culture, and some chapters distinguish between preaching that affirms and preaching that calls for transformation. There is an explicit discussion of "prophetic preaching" in the Afterword, but, to repeat, this volume concerns the pervasiveness of social dimensions implicit or explicit in all preaching. Every sermon is uttered by socialized beings to a social entity in a specific, social context and always at a social moment. The sacred texts that ground preaching come to expression in the culture of a community (whether ancient lsrael or the early church). The language of the sermon is socially shaped whether it is traditional or contemporary or a mixture of both. All of this is true regardless of our social awareness, position, or viewpoint. All preaching then is a social act.

A number of factors draw our attention to this development. Among the more important are the following:

1. In the twentieth century we have developed extensive transportation and communication networks so that it is commonplace to speak of our world as a global village-a community where people know one another. Since we are affected by the realities we know, we now feel more and more connected. This is due also to forums such as the United Nations and especially to the post-World War II development of a global economic system.(10)

2. The social movements of the sixties and seventies have radically altered our consciousness of racism and sexism. We have also become more aware of discrimination with reference to such things as class, age, disability, and left-handedness. These have been interwoven with other movements such as the anti-Vietnam protest in the civil rights preaching of Martin Luther King, Jr.(11)

3. The social sciences, long relegated to a secondary position behind science and philosophy (and still secondary in the opinion of some), have risen in prominence and influence in the last several decades. As theologian Gregory Baum has stated with reference to sociology, for example:

Sociology has acquired an extraordinary cultural presence. At the university the language of sociology occupies a predominant place. It is present in the exercise of the human sciences and in the making of university policy. For better or for worse, it has replaced the universality of philosophical discourse. Sociology has penetrated the marketplace and the realm of political debate.(12)

Baum adds that the study of sociology has also been experienced by many as "a liberating intellectual activity" enabling "people of different social, cultural and religious backgrounds to come together in a common perception of the social reality."(13) Since the discipline of sociology originally emerged in the midst of the radical changes in Britain and Europe brought on by the French and Industrial Revolutions, it is not surprising that, with the escalating tensions of our world in this part of the twentieth century, the turn toward this kind of analysis should gain in influence.(14)

But a word of caution is in order here. Linking an analysis of society with the phenomenon of radical change has tended to depreciate the importance of tradition. Edward Shils has argued that the Enlightenment ethos surrounding the French Revolution pitted scientific procedures (and their accompanying rationality) against traditional knowledge and beliefs. The development of social science as a discipline was shaped by this ethos. We need, therefore, to critique this analytic tradition and recover "the traditionality of knowledge" — knowledge has a history; it goes back in time.(15) Analysis is a process of taking things and ideas apart to examine them. Tradition emphasizes the handing on of what connects things, people, and ideas. The social urgency of this shift away from tradition has been made painfully obvious, for example, in the tragic history of North American land claim "settlements" with Native Peoples, because their "traditional" way of life has repeatedly been regarded as backward compared with modern systems of economic development.(16)

4. Increasingly, analysis of society has been deliberately applied to the study of theology (and occasionally theology to the study of society). The historical critical analysis of Scripture has been expanded to include this new dimension, and books and articles have poured forth like a torrent.(17) In the area of theology per se various kinds of liberation, political, and contextual theologies have appeared in bewildering array.(18) David Tracy and Max Stackhouse, among others, have called for a public theology(19) and Dennis McCann and Charles Strain have issued "an invitation: practical theology as public discourse."(20) Preaching as an integrating theological discipline cannot remain aloof. Its time has come.

The Theological Urgency in This Societal Dimension

But preaching is first and foremost a theological act; it is a proclamation of the Word of God. Whatever movements bring to our consciousness the ability to see various social dimensions in the activity of preaching, a commitment to pursue this investigation gains its urgency in theology itself. It is not enough to argue this by the inference that because we influence, and are influenced by, society, society must come into the direct purview of preaching. While it is both true and obvious that people are social beings, there has been a perpetuation of an unfortunate polarity. Individuals have been treated as if they could be separated from their corporate reality. With this separation the world becomes merely a backdrop to God's personal encounter with individuals as though the entire world is profane, no longer part of God's creation.

Is this why some conservative, fundamentalistic preaching which, although enormously popular at present, "makes little attempt to analyze the world" in terms of its social structures? In considering this phenomenon, Robert Bellah asserts that this kind of preaching rightly recognizes that religious experience and belief are powerful. Both intense group life and the demand for personal sacrifice in these church communities are profoundly important; but their stance encourages a withdrawal into privatism, lacks a sense of the common good, and fails to recognize the importance of tradition and history.(21) Theologically, this means circumscribing God within a private sphere, viewing the church as a closed community, and putting a quest for certitude in place of authentic faith.(22)

Those who see religion in this privatistic way, naturally, view preaching as suspect or on tenuous ground when it speaks not only of personal conversion, faith development, and spiritual nurture, but also of political realities, economic arrangements, care of creation, and the like. But such discomfort represents a theological shift that has capitulated to cultural changes in our modern world. The classical view (both Protestant and Catholic) held that theology was "the queen of the sciences," that all knowledge was directed toward knowing God Theology dealt with ultimate questions and all of life. All thought and all that happens on this earth were finally related to God and redeemed by Christ, but with the emergence of the industrial world, mechanistic compart-mentalization separated interconnected parts of society and set religion in a corner. This meant that in some sectors theology was viewed as a matter of private opinion and personal insight or intuition.(23) Since this ethos still pervades much of our Western culture, it is not surprising that pulpit discussion of the public or social sphere should be felt to be inappropriate.

The church, which is the immediate context of preaching, is a distinctively religious and spiritual community. To use David Tracy's language, the church is "a strictly theological reality, a grace from God," a community that stands "under the eschatological proviso of the judgment of God."(24) The church must indeed see itself as a people of God. But, as such, it is also a people, a collectivity. In that it is a voluntary and public association of people, it is a particular "sociological reality."(25)

Preaching to the church is a form of public discourse in which God is recognized as being related to human beings not just individually but in the full context of their existence. The Word of God addresses us in our personal lives and also as members of the larger social world of which we are a part. We may speak of God as personal, but do we also acknowledge God as "fully social and radically present in the world?"(26) This would be more likely if, with Tracy, the "world" is understood as a properly theological reality."(27) To push this further, the gospel calls us to turn away from sin in all its manifestations — personal, of course, but also social and structural — and also demands responsible stewardship against the raping of our natural environment. Faithfulness to the gospel requires that preaching awaken the people of God (and through them the society in which they live) to all of these dimensions. Theology provides an imperative, therefore, to expose hidden political meanings and then to evaluate them in terms of gospel values. "Theology must assume responsibility for its socio-political impact."(28) Preaching, as the vehicle of theological proclamation, is urged by theology to be, among other things, a social act.

The Present Work

For my own part, this volume is rooted in the parish ministry, teaching, and a sabbatical visit to Central America. For ten years preaching was a central part of my pastoral ministry. It was a decade in which I sought, perhaps unsystematically, to involve the congregation in reciprocal processes of hearing the Word of God. For the last fifteen years I have been engaged in the teaching of biblical studies and of preaching with particular emphasis on social hermeneutics. In 1981 my sabbatical included visits to Costa Rica and Nicaragua. During that time all the socializing layers that had buried my lower-class immigrant childhood were stripped away. The God whose love I felt in my family's faith was a God far beyond middle-class values. In the faces of my Latin American brothers and sisters, I felt God's love making living connections that gave new meaning to what I understood to be social. These are some of the formative influences that caused me to initiate the development of this project.

This book is primarily a corporate effort, not only in its production, but also in its conception. It owes its encouragement to the Academy of Homiletics and especially a Research Group within the Academy on "The Social Dimensions of Preaching." The papers and discussions in this group over several years have pursued various aspects of preaching's societal shape and influence. About two years ago I drafted an initial proposal and sent it to fifteen people, mostly in the Academy, but also to a teacher of the Sociology of Religion. The response led me to rewrite the proposal from start to finish.

Those of us involved in the writing of these pages are mostly teachers of preaching, but we represent a variety of theological disciplines and write in different styles. None of us is a social science specialist. What we have written about the social dimensions of preaching arises from our experience, our reflection on society, and some familiarity with selected social science literature. The following chapters should be read as the contribution of theologians in the broad sense of the term. It is to be hoped that this may also stimulate dialogue between theology and the social sciences.

The larger context of preaching can be seen through, and as an extension of, the immediate sacramental context of the congregation. Catherine G. and Justo L. Gonzalez show how we are sacramentally linked across political and social boundaries spatially, and across the generations and centuries temporally. To preach to the community of the baptized is to speak to those who are born again to see the world from a new, theological perspective. This preaching cannot ignore social factors from the wider context: status, stratification, diversity, attitudes toward change, and the influence of quasi-religious elements in our cultural ethos.

"Faith Church" is a community that is discovering how to discern its social world while interacting with its pastor in the formation of the sermon week by week. Don Wardlaw creates this imaginary congregation to concretize his analysis of the congregation as a social reality. He also shows how this community interacts with ancient Israel and the early church as the first recipients of Scripture. In the preaching moment, the social world of the past and the social world of the present come together in the proclamation of the Word of God.

In the biographies of two contemporary preachers whose preaching takes personal and societal transformation with equal seriousness, Edwina Hunter discerns formative factors underlying their perspectives and their passion. For them these factors interweave the social and the spiritual as seen in their experiences of their community of faith, their call to preach, and their spiritual and social formation. Later in the chapter, Edwina, as a former pastor and now a teacher of preaching, reflects on her own socialization and spiritual journey.

The Bible, so central to preaching, was formed in a particular culture, is now interpreted by social beings, and is received by a social community. Walter Brueggemann writes that in every stage of interpretation the textual process is both an act of faith and an act of "vested interests." Sociology can help us uncover these vested interests, and, in the process of proclamation, preachers can become clearer about how particular passages in particular situations call for transformation, or maintain equilibrium. The gospel provides criteria to make this discernment.

The language of preaching is the focus of the last two chapters. Language both reflects our social context and creates new images to expand our perception of our world. Ron Allen examines specific ways in which we use language, and how the genre of the text shapes its thrust; he also offers concrete homiletical strategies. Tom Troeger focuses on the mythic worlds created by metaphor, which he terms "landscapes of the heart," and demonstrates how communal, poetic idiom can speak to an individualistic, technological culture.

Like our social world itself, the various social dimensions of preaching overlap and our perception of them varies. In the Afterword I point to connections and differences between the chapters. While the work as a whole was written from a deliberate, systematic design, it is far from comprehensive. Some suggestions, therefore, of areas for further exploration are indicated, and broader issues such as "prophetic preaching" are elaborated briefly. This analysis on analysis, then, moves toward some synthesis. In the end, of course, analysis, and even synthesis, is not enough. This is at root a spiritual struggle that includes silence, contemplation, and compassion — and after that, preaching.

The Appendix enables pastors, students, and teachers of preaching to probe dimensions of their own preaching and preaching situations by setting out groups of questions. These have been distilled from the chapters as a way of sharpening and applying the analysis of this book. The list may seem overwhelming when taken as a whole, but the busy pastor is encouraged to use it selectively and to engage the congregation in sermon dialogue through the use of these questions.

We read books in different ways. One hesitates to suggest how a book, especially one of multiple authorship, may best be read; nevertheless a few comments may be helpful

First, there is a certain logic to the present order, a looking outward and then inward, a movement from context to person to biblical text and finally to linguistic expression. Is this suggestive of the process of sermon development? Some, of course, might begin with language, or with the text.

Second, those not as familiar with social science disciplines may want to begin by consulting chapter 4, the second section, "The Classic Tradition of Sociology." This section outlines the origins and leading schools of sociology.(29) Finally, each chapter includes a sermon preached on a specific occasion, and is then followed by reflection. Theory and description need to become preaching, but growth in preaching is assisted by reflecting on what one has preached. This is a model that readers may find useful. However, self-reflection is only one component in this process, and the present format in no way diminishes the importance of feedback or reflection from listeners individually or in groups. No sermon is ever finished. Like tensive or metaphorical language it keeps on evoking meaning, feeling, and action. The format of each chapter is intended to encourage growth and new awareness.



1. These include Clyde Reid, The Empty Pulpit: A Study of Preaching as Communication (New York: Harper & Row, 1967), and John Killinger, Experimental Preaching (Nashville: Abingdon Press, 1973).

2. Peter G. Horsfield believes that widespread interest in religious television crested in 1976 with the election of a Southern Baptist to the presidency of the United States and that this phenomenon has manifested "a marked imbalance in the presentation of American religious faith and culture," Religious Television: The American Experience (White Plains, N~Y.: Longman, 1984), xiii-xiv. For another perspective of the TV evangelists, see Perry C Cotham, "The Electronic Church," in The Bible and Popular Culture in America, ed. Allene Stuart Phy (Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1985), 104-36.

3. This hook will not address all of the above questions but they are listed because they are connected with the present theme: preaching as a social act.

4. The question of the social class or classes of first-century Christians has been the subject of considerable analysis and debate recently. See, for example, the articles by Robin Scroggs, John P. Brown, George V. Pixley, Elisabeth Schussler Fiorenza, Luise Schottroff, John G. Gager, and Robert H. Smith, "Sociological Readings of the New Testament," in The Bible and Liberation: Political and Social Hermeneutics, ed. Norman K. Gottwald (Maryknoll, N.Y.: Orbis Books, 1983), 335-457.

5. Lesslie Newbigin, The Other Side of 1984: Questions for the Churches (Geneva: World Council of Churches, 1983), 23-27. Newbigin is drawing on Charles Norris Cochrane, Christianity in Classical Culture (1940) and Michael Polanyi, Personal Knowledge (1958).

6. Daniel Patte, Preaching Paul (Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1984), 13. Actually, the prophets were doing this kind of reinterpretation before Paul and the storytellers before the prophets.

7. Fred B. Craddock, Preaching (Nashville: Abingdon Press, 1985), chapter 5. I am personally indebted to Craddock for suggesting to me the title of this book.

8. This is not to disparage sociological studies of preaching such as those found in a special issue of Social Compass, 27, 1980, 345-438, and in Osmund Schreuder, "The Silent Majority," in Communication in the Church, ed. Gregory Baum and Andrew M. Greeley (New York: Seabury Press, 1978), 11-19.

9. For noteworthy contributions to liberative preaching, see Justo L. Gonzalez and Catherine Gunsalus Gonzalez, Liberation Preaching: The Pulpit and the Oppressed (Nashville: Abingdon Press, 1980); Allan Boesak, The Finger of God: Sermons on Faith and Socio-Political Responsibility (Maryknoll, N.J.: Orbis Books, 1982), especially the introduction, 1-17; and Dieter 'F. Hessel, "Liberating Bible Study and Preaching," in Social Ministry (Philadelphia: Westminster Press, 1982), 93-108.

10. In this connection see David H. Blake and Robert S. Walters, The Politics of Global Economic Relations, 2nd ed. (Englewood Cliffs, N.].: Prentice-Hall, 1983).

11. It is significant, in view of present U.S. policy on Central America, that King's "Beyond Vietnam" sermon delivered some twenty years ago was reprinted in Sojourners, January 1983, 10-16, with a moving commentary by Vincent Harding, "The Land Beyond," 18-22.

12. Gregory Baum, ed., Sociology and Human Destiny: Essays on Sociology, Religion and Society (New York: Seabury Press, 1980), ix. In the introduction, Baum raises critical questions about sociology as a discipline of critical and analytical thought. Indeed, the book is an examination of several influential North American sociologists (Talcott Parsons, Robert Bellah, Peter Berger, and George Herbert Mead) who are "widely used and appreciated at North American universities," xi.

13. Ibid., ix.

14. See Anthony Giddens, Sociology: A Brief but Critical Introduction (San Diego: Harcort Brace Jovanovich, 1982), 4-15, and Peter L. Berger, Invitation to Sociology: A Human Perspective (New York: Doubleday & Co., 1963), 6, 42-48.

15. Edward Shils, Tradition (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1981), 4-10, 21-23. Giddens has written his introduction to sociology with a "strongly historical stress." He adds, "Sociology and 'history' may be ordinarily taught as though they were distinct fields of study, but I think such

a view to be wholly mistaken," Sociology, vi. The importance of tradition will be apparent in several of the following chapters.

16. This illustrates what Shils calls "progressiveness" (Tradition, 1-4). For a penetrating analysis of a classic example, namely, "settlement" of land claims in Alaska, see Thomas R. Berger, Village Journey: The Report of the Alaska Native Review Commission (New York: Hill & Wang, 1985).

17. For examples see the articles in Gottwald, The Bible and Liberation; Norman Gottwald's extensive bibliography in American Baptist Quarterly, 2, 1983, 163-84, and the endnotes in John H. Elliott's review of Wayne A. Meeks' The First Urban Christians, in Religious Studies Review, 11, 1985, 320-35.

18. One thinks of the writing of Jurgen Moltmann, Johann Baptist Metz, Gustavo Gutierrez, Juan Luis Segundo, Rosemary Radford Reuther, James H. Cone, and Douglas John Hall, and general works such as Edward Farley, Ecclesial Man (Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1975), and Roger

Haight, An Alternate Vision: An interpretation of Liberation Theology (Mahwah, N.J.: Paulist

Press, 1985).

19. David Tracy, The Analogical Imagination: Christian Theology and the Culture of Pluralism (New York: Crossroad Publishing Co., 1981); Tracy's contribution to his joint work with John B. Cobb, Jr.,Talking About God: Doing Theology in the Context of Pluralism (New York: Seabury Press, 1983); and Max L. Stackhouse, "An Ecumenist's Plea for a Public Theology," This World, 8, Spring-Summer 1984, 47-79.

20. Dennis P. McCann and Charles R. Strain, Policy and Praxis: A Program for American Practical Theology (Minneapolis: Winston Press, 1985), especially 208-22.

21. Robert N. Bellah, "The Role of Preaching in a Corrupt Republic," Christianity and Crisis, 38, 1978, 321-22. Earlier in this essay Bellah indicates the significant role religion played in the founding of the United States. It provided stability and encouraged social change. Indeed, he says, it is hard to think of any major reform movement "that did not come out of the Christian Church" (though "opposition to reform also came out of the church"), 318.

 22. On this latter point Robert Towler, following William James, distinguishes five cognitive faith approaches: exemplarism, conversionism, theism, gnosticism, and traditionalism; he indicates how each opts for faith or certitude. Faith recognizes the inherently complex and problematic nature of events and experiences, while certitude seeks to escape doubt by ignoring the complex and problematic. The Need for Certainty: A Sociological Study of Conventional Religion (London: Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1984), 105-7.

 23. Cf. Stackhouse, "An Ecumenist's Plea," 47-48. Stackhouse points out that there are two senses in which religion is indeed private. First, it is disestablished by the separation of church and state, and, second, belief and morality are unavoidably personal. But, he adds, this still leaves room for a "worldly theology" that can "set forth a metaphysical-moral vision that can judge, evaluate, guide and put in perspective" various social interests, 48-51.

24. Tracy, Analogical Imagination, 23.

25. Ibid., 21-28. For a discussion of the distinction between "church" and "sect" (in Weber's ideal types) see the Afterword.

26. Hessel, "Liberating Bible Study," 18.

27. Tracy, Analogical Imagination, 23.

28. Gregory Baum, "Three Theses on Contextual Theology," The Ecumenist, 24,1986, 50. In this connection see also the volume of essays that connect spirituality and social compassion, edited by Tilden H. Edwards,Living with Apocalypse: Spiritual Resources for Social Compassion (New York:Harper & Row, 1984).

29. For an introduction to sociology by a sociologist, see Giddens, Sociology. A succinct theological critique of the sociological approaches of Hans Mol (classical functionalism), Max Weber (pluralist/symbolic sociology), and Karl Marx (conflict sociology) can be found in Baum's "Three Theses on Contextual Theology." Michael Fleet has critiqued the work of both Talcott Parsons and Robert Bellah in terms oftheir respective social and political stances, "Religion and Politics: Talcott Parsons," Ecumenist, 18/1, 1979,12-16; and "Bellah's Sociology," Ecumenist, 18/2, 1980,27-32. See also note 12. It is essential that, as theologians and preachers, we read sociology critically and these works, largely from a liberation perspective, provide assistance.























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