The New Christians

The New Christians

America’s Next Top Theologian?

rekindlingtheology.jpgSo, 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.  jonathan l walton.jpgIn 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

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Drew Tatusko

posted March 18, 2009 at 4:41 pm

Once again, the response got too large so I blogged about it.
You might find this bit interesting though:
I close with an apropos quote from Umberto Eco in his book Travels in Hyperreality (1983). This is his response to an American inquiry on how he reconciles his academic work with his work writing in populist formats like newspapers:
“My answer was that this habit is common to all European intellectuals, in Germany, France, Spain, and, naturally, Italy: all countries where a scholar or scientist often feels required to speak out in the papers, to comment, if only from the point of view of his own interests and special field, on events that concern all citizens. And I added, somewhat maliciously, that if there was any problem with this it was not my problem as a European intellectual; it was more a problem of American intellectuals, who live in a country where the division of labor between university professors and militant intellectuals is much more strict that in other countries.
It is true that many American professors write for cultural reviews or for the book page of the daily papers. But many Italian scholars and literary critics also write columns where they take a stand on political questions, and they do this not only as a natural part of their work, *but also as a duty*” (pp. ix-x; my emphasis).
In academia, blogging, newspaper articles, etc. do not gain you credit or legitimacy in America. So who among those in both circles feel that public communication of their ideas is a duty, not just something for fun, or an added stream of personal revenue? For Kierkegaard, critique was more than a duty, it was a vocation he received from the calling of God. So where is the next Kierkegaard? That might be the best way to frame the question.

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Julie Clawson

posted March 19, 2009 at 11:49 am

Oh, but a Top Theologian walk-off would just be too fun…

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