Shaping Public Theology, by Max L. Stackhouse

Max Stackhouse has been an influential figure in American theology for almost half a century. He shaped generations of students at Andover Newton Theological School and Princeton Theological Seminary, and he convened groups of scholars who came to grips with the emerging issues of five tumultuous decades. The essays in this volume, drawn from across Stackhouse’s career, provide an accessible and comprehensive introduction to his thought, and they raise provocative questions about how we are constructing what Stackhouse calls public theology today.

Running through the essays is an emphasis on globalization that began early in Stackhouse’s career, as he explains in “A Christian Perspective on Human Rights.” While he was a young faculty member at Andover Newton, his church involved him in dialogues with theologians in India and East Germany. At the time, most American social ethics was narrowly focused on domestic issues of civil rights and racial equality. Stackhouse did not ignore these movements, but he saw them in a context that would transform human rights into a global issue and make economics the driving force in social development. India helped him see the complexity and diversity of social life, and the late stages of Marxism made him permanently wary of systems that define human life by any single set of economic or political concepts.

This experience of complexity and plurality also resonated with his studies at Harvard under James Luther Adams, who did much to introduce the sociological perspectives of Max Weber and Ernst Troeltsch into American religious thought. According to Stackhouse, this complex global reality requires a public theology. He is always careful to say that he borrowed the phrase “public theology” from Martin Marty, but he gives it a systematic content that is distinctly his own.