So, if theologians squared off on a reality show, would a brawl endue, like on America’s Next Top Model? Probably not. But Jonathan L. Walton (who, I must say, was very impressive at Claremont last week) takes up the challenges laid before the Transforming Theology group by me and Jack Fitzmier.
Jonathan oversimplifies my statements to the group, but he does get the sentiment right. In the final session, I told the group that they had been outflanked by conservative theologians, and, as a result, have been defined by them. Back in the day of William Jennings Bryan, liberalism was a populist message, but now liberals have become the elites, and conservatives have grabbed the populist mantle.
Further, Jonathan already gets it. His presentation was more of a sermon than a lecture, and the fact that he blogs at the excellent Religion Dispatches (I demand that you all subscribe now!), shows that he is as interested in the e-world as the academy. Even his scholarship focuses on the intersection of church, theology, and television.
In any event, his post wrestles with the challenge before progressive theologians. If there is going to be a recovery, Jonathan will likely lead the charge. Money Quote:
This is why any talk about rekindling theological imagination must
distinguish the difference between being popular and making an
impact. Let’s not forget that the progressive, prophetic tradition has
always made an impact yet has never been popular. Prophets work from
the margins. And their voice, when at its best, is rejected by the
mainstream. This is why progressive theologians should not be pulled
into a popularity contest. Nor should we strive to create a reality
show, “America’s Next Top Theologian.” But we must keep our vocation
ever before us; which may or may not involve tenure and institutional