Public Theology

BA (Hons) in Theology - Year 1


In the new missional context of the contemporary, post-modern, globalised world, the Church needs a renewed focus on the socially-transformative implications of Christian faith. This unit reflects theologically on the notion of the ‘gospel as public truth’ (Newbigin) and gives an overview of the major themes in the development of theology as a transformative discourse in the public sphere.  Although the unit engages critically with the ideas of leading cultural critics and sociologists, the emphasis throughout will be on the missional implications of public theology with a view to the renewal of culture and the reimagining of the Church.  Students are encouraged to reflect critically on the task of public theology in light of the kingdom of God and the missio Dei.


To present students with a critical overview of significant developments in public theology and to provide a conceptual vocabulary with which to engage in public debate around crucial issues in contemporary social and political life from a missional perspective.


Category of outcome

By the end of this unit students should be able to:

Knowledge and understanding

·         Critically evaluate the meaning and significance of the notion of the ‘gospel as public truth’

·         Elucidate the role of public theology as a meeting place where the ‘existential’, ‘social’, and ‘eschatological’ dimensions of life can enter into open dialogue about matters of deepest concern and meaning

·         Critically reflect on the nature of Christian mission in relation to complex and diverse expressions of public life such as politics, the media and the arts

Intellectual skills

·         Elucidate the transformative application of theological discourse towards the renewal of contemporary public thought

·         Critically evaluate the contribution of leading thinkers to the development of public theology

Practical and Transferable skills; Personal qualities

·      Identify missiological challenges and opportunities presented by Christian participation in the shaping of public thought

·      Recognise points of correlation between the discourses and methodologies of theology and sociology


Assessment task


Weighting within unit


·         An interactive group task, including a class debate on an issue relevant to the topic of public theology


60 minutes





·         An essay



3000 words






Available on which programme(s)?

BA in Theology


1.    Introduction to Public Theology: Key Themes, Concepts and Issues

2.    ‘The Gospel as Public Truth’: Lesslie Newbigin

3.    Public Theology and the Missio Dei

4.    Theological Reflection on Ideology: Missional Implications of Public Discourse

5.    ‘For and Against the Nations’: The Public Theology of Yoder and Hauerwas

6.    Public Theology, Globalisation and Inter-Faith Relations

7.    Public Theology and Politics of Jesus

8.    Public Theology, Modern Science and ‘New Atheism’

9.    Public Theology in an Age of Facebook, Twitter and Mass Media

10.  Public Theology, the Church and the University

11.  Christian Witness to a Post-Christendom, Post-Secular World: James McClendon’s Vision for Public Theology

Teaching method

Interactive lectures, class discussions and group work

Unit materials are available at Spurgeon’s Online to support student learning

Additional eLearning content

Written feedback to students within 15 working days from submission


September 2014

Date of approval (for office use)


Information updated on

December 2015

Indicative reading

Davison Hunter, James, To Change the World: The Irony, Tragedy and Possibility of Christianity in the Late Modern World (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2010)

Graham, Elaine, Between a Rock and a Hard Place: Public Theology in a Post-Secular Age (London: SCM, 2013)

Hainsworth, D. K., and Paeth, Scott, Public Theology for a Global Society (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2010)

Hauerwas, Stanley, Against the Nations: War and Survival in a Liberal Society (Notre Dame: University of Notre Dame Press, 1992)

McClendon, James W., Jr, Systematic Theology: Volume 3: Witness (Nashville: Abingdon, 2000)

Newbigin, Lesslie, Truth to Tell: The Gospel as Public Truth (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1991)

Newbigin, Lesslie, The Gospel in a Pluralist Society (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1989)

O’Donovan, Oliver, The Desire of the Nations (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1996)

Reader, John, Reconstructing Practical Theology: The Impact of Globalization (Aldershot: Ashgate, 2008)

Storrar, William and Morton, Andrew (eds), Public Theology for the 21st Century (London: T&T Clark, 2004)

Taylor, Charles, A Secular Age (Cambridge MA: Harvard University Press, 2007)

Valentin, Benjamin, Mapping Public Theology: Beyond Culture, Identity, and Difference (Harrisburg: Trinity Press, 2002)

Volf, Miroslav, A Public Faith: How Followers of Christ Should Serve the Common Good (Grand Rapids: Brazos, 2011)

Ward, Pete, Participation and Mediation: A Practical Theology for the Liquid Church (London: SCM Press, 2008)

Williams, Rowan, Faith in the Public Square (London: Bloomsbury, 2012)

Yoder, J.H, For the Nations: Essays Public and Evangelical (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1997)

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Public Theology

BA (Hons) in Theology - Year 1
Course Unit 350





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Dr Joshua T. Searle

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