Excerpt from Critical Social Theory


Setting the Table: The Retrieval of Civil Society
[1] It is no accident that Habermas revised his sociological theory in the early 1990s by attending more closely to civil society. Already before the 1989 collapse of the Soviet Union, Central and Eastern European dissidents were focusing on the renewal of civil society, even in the highly restricted versions in which it existed within the Soviet field of influence. These dissidents raised their fledgling democracies by nurturing churches, unions, neighborhoods, movements, and institutions.1

[2] In the United States, we have lived with civil society for generations. In the decades since World War II, however, ordinary people in their everyday lives have, more often than not, come to take it for granted. The United States's entry into World War II necessitated the cooperation of the two great systems of modern life: the democratic state and the market economy. Our victories in World War II had much to do - not everything, but much - with the successful cooperation of these two systems under the leadership of Franklin D. Roosevelt. The collaborative success of the state and the market in the war effort progressively lured, even seduced, large numbers of ordinary Americans to fixate greatest attention and energies on the so-called real world of economy and state, impoverishing civil society as a valuable public space.

[3] This growing fixation on the democratic state and/or the market economy draws on two of the rival Western heritages formulated over the last two centuries. Each of these intellectual heritages divulges a truth about the pursuit of the good life in the contemporary era, but each does so too one-sidedly.2 The first is the neoclassical republican tradition proposed by Rousseau. This tradition highlights the moral agency of the citizen, which has been a key idea for democratic idealism. In the republican heritage, the constitutional nation-state is of highest worth, and nation-state citizenship is the telos that all moral agency must serve. The most telling criticism of this heritage does not concern constitutional democratic politics. I would argue vigorously that the democratic state is the best form for the modern era. Habermas's analyses of the republican and liberal models of the democratic state, however, help us see the deficiencies that even democracies can perpetuate. Moreover, though the democratic state touches ordinary living, it is not, paradoxically, the everyday life of many ordinary people. Ordinary people spend much of their time and energy earning a living.

[4] Earning a living points to the second great Western heritage: the market capitalist tradition. This heritage spurns the republican fixation on the democratic state and focuses instead on the economy as the source of the good life; the marketplace is of highest worth. With market as the root metaphor, even the moral agency of economic production plays second fiddle to the consumptive path. The autonomous agency of personal, private choice satiates the spirit of the market heritage. Catering to the consumptive, choosing appetite are the entrepreneurs, who, perhaps more than consumers, are the ideal. In this laissez-faire system of classic liberalism, economic production, consumption, and entrepreneurship must remain liberated from the state. Even the democratic state must keep its hands off the economy.

[5] The one-sidedness of the market capitalist heritage shows up in at least two ways. A growing number come to the marketplace with far too few resources to purchase or to produce the goods needed to participate effectively in our globalized economic life.3 Many, and this number is also growing, come to the marketplace with enough or even an abundance of consumptive and entrepreneurial resources, but they do not find the good life. They find, instead, a meaningless, even a "heartless world." Many in this latter group search for a haven from the heartless world of the marketplace, which is usually a cocoon like the nuclear family or the familially fashioned congregation. Ironically, the familially fashioned congregation provides a certain legitimacy for the normalcy of the heartless economy and state. Disturbingly, far too many find the private spaces to be equally, if not more, heartless than the marketplace or the democratic state. Such heartlessness reveals that our private spheres remain fragile and cannot flourish without being rooted in and accountable to the broader moral networks and wisdoms that saturate civil society.4 Furthermore, our private spaces too easily become colonized by the consumptive strategies of the marketplace and by the administrative necessities of the democratic state.

[6] Tragically, neither the republican nor the market heritages makes a theme of civil society, thus their one-sidedness. This fact, coupled with our half-century fixation on either the political or economic sphere, or even on some creative combination of the two, helps impoverish the moral potentiality and political significance of civil society. Finally, an impoverished civil society deprives us of a thriving deliberative democracy, which is essential for overcoming the colonizing effects of both money and administrative power. An enriched civil society extends its deliberative-communicative medium through the political public sphere to provide normative moorings for the state's administrative power. Civil society also extends its deliberative-communicative medium to the economy as a normative source for developing corporate responsibility, citizenship, and stakeholder ethos.

[7] In our everyday lifeworld, we revel in our cultural heritages, coordinate our actions as groups according to mutually reached and recognized norms, and develop individual and social identities. These key features of the lifeworld - cultural embodiment, social integration, and socialization - have both a symbolic-metaphorical-linguistic and institutional dimensions. Civil society as a public space corresponds to the institutional dimension of our everyday lifeworld.5 An enriched, communicative civil society imparts normative resources for a more emancipatory and just deliberative democracy and for a more responsible stakeholder economy, thereby weakening these great systems' colonizing effects. Surely nothing could be more interesting to the prophetic imagination? Further, an enriched, communicative civil society contributes directly to the more private spaces of lifeworld by providing a richer moral milieu than that possible when each individual, family, or heritage tries to stitch together its own moral code. Here, too, prophetic reason finds a vigorous vocation.

The Communicative Ethos of Civil Society
[8] The descriptive account presented above assumes that civil society is saturated with communicative practices. That is not the case. Civil society as a sociological space is far more ambiguous. We need a normative account of civil society and, again, the communicative imagination will be the focus. Habermas's three models of democracy suggest that three different modes of civil society also exist. These modes impinge in different ways on civil society's contributions to the economy and state and to the lifeworld. Moreover, these forms have implications for the Christian prophetic imagination itself. We now examine the agonistic, liberal, and communicative modes of civil society. Historically, the first two forms have dominated the American imagination. Not surprisingly, these modes of civil society have also contributed to its current impoverishment as well as to a more heroic, oracular form of the Christian prophetic imagination.

[9] The dominant practices of the agonistic ethos revolve around a "competitive struggle"- from the Greek agÇn - among rival versions of personal and/or communal moral virtue. Within the public space of civil society, each rival communal tradition presents itself as a pure, self-sufficient, and cohesive totality of virtue. A tradition's moral virtuosity vies for preeminence over other communal traditions by displaying itself as publicly as possible. These traditions strive to gain the acclaim of the majority of citizens, who begin as passive onlookers, continue as active imitators, and finish - at least an elite minority - as admired moral masters. Commonly, despite the differences among rival agonistic traditions, the internal social arrangements are alike in being hierarchically stratified. Commonplace among agonistic traditions is the root metaphor of the head mastering a body. This is the deep-seated Western cephalous tradition, which has various cross-cultural analogues.6 These agonistic practices lead to the dominance of a single agenda of personal and communal virtue along with the diminution, assimilation, or outright elimination of rival communal traditions. Agonistic refers, therefore, to the constellation of practices, forms, and attitudes just described. Furthermore, the agonistic model of civil society remains particularly susceptible to the technological temptations of the now-ubiquitous sound bite. Conventional clichés, simplistic stereotyping, and/or Manichaean scenarios exhaust the moral possibilities. Apocalyptic rhetoric often abounds. Communitarian heritages often promote an agonistic ethos, and so do Christian movements with sectarian slants or catacomb aspirations.7 Ironically, more conventional theocratic traditions, Christian and otherwise, also promote the agonistic mode of civil society.

[10] One advantage of the agonistic model is that personal virtues for practical, face-to-face living are cultivated through the economy and politics, although systems are usually shielded from serious moral-prophetic consideration. While agonistic traditions often exude prophetic rhetoric across the political spectrum, they sunder prophetic insight from rational criticism, thereby retaining no aspiration to bring about serious social change. Here we have all the problems that Tillich perceived and that Habermas uncovered in his critique of negative dialectics. The social costs remain steep. In the modern history of Western societies, the agonistic ethos has corresponded and collaborated with the republican model of democracy. In the longer stretch of Western civilization, agonistic practices have collaborated with monarchic and aristocratic political arrangements. Agnostic practices have also saturated the more monarchic and aristocratic forms of ecclesial imagination and life. There is little surprise, then, that the domination of agonistic practices likewise constricts the prophetic imagination to the heroic, oracular personality or perhaps to the heroic, oracular tribe. But, must the Christian prophetic imagination be so confined?

[11] The liberal ethos of civil society originated in order to squelch the moral elitist and totalizing consequences of the agonistic civil society. In the liberal ethos, moral discourse is subject to the conversational constraint of neutrality whenever a single moral tradition asserts that its moral conception of the good life is superior to others. This constraint of neutrality prohibits not only agonistic "trumping," but also "translating" moral disagreements into a supposedly neutral framework as well as "transcending" moral disagreements by imagining some hypothetical circumstance. Rather, according to the conversational constraint of neutrality, moral traditions must agree not to disagree in public about the things that are most important and, instead, must confine moral disagreements to private spheres. In this way liberalism embeds "repressive tolerance" in the center of its ethos.8 Not only is disagreement privatized, but the very terrain of controverted subject matters is privatized.9 Increasingly, liberal civil society accedes morally relevant issues to the private-sector economy, to lifestyle intimacy, or to a privatized conscience, religious or otherwise. Along the way, the liberal model also privatizes the congregation. By shuttling the potentially most significant moral issues to private spheres, the liberal model trumps other moral formulations. Paradoxically, the practices, forms, and attitudes of the liberal ethos contribute to the withering of civil society itself by reducing it to a buffer zone, ameliorating the market economy's colonization of the lifeworld. By suppressing the moral vigor of civil society, the liberal mode unwittingly leaves the functional rationality of the state too dominant and thereby too unaccountable to public communicative reasoning. Similarly, the liberal practice of conversational constraint consigns the prophetic imagination to private issues and, indeed, aspires to neutralize the publicness of prophetic reason.

[12] Emerging historically in the midst of the two dominant models is the communicative mode of civil society. This innovative model takes its practices, procedures, and attitudes from the paradigm shift to communicative rationality and action. A communicative civil society shares certain features with the dominant models. Like the agonistic model and unlike the liberal model of neutrality, it welcomes and, indeed, accentuates questions of moral truth. Unlike the agonistic ethos, with its characteristic practices of elitist moral display and purist moral trumping, communicative civil society holds that claims to practical moral truth must be redeemed critically through participatory practices. Participatory procedures empower traditions and institutions to have a say in the formulation, stipulation, and adoption of moral norms, or, to use Habermas's terms, in justification and application. Boldly stated, communicative civil society "comes into existence whenever and wherever all affected by general social and political norms of action engage in a practical discourse, evaluating their validity."10

[13] By elevating participatory and communicative aspects, the communicative model eschews the moral elitist, exhibitionist, and totalizing tendencies at the heart of the agonistic model without, however, succumbing to the liberal model of public moral neutrality. A communicative civil society anticipates, even extols, the capacity for creative moral possibilities and overlapping moral insights. This anticipation depends on thick moral traditions becoming socially embodied and mutually engaging according to communicative procedures and by means of communicative practices. A communicative civil society is not, however, naive. Communicative procedures and practices themselves anticipate the manipulations and systematic distortions that accompany the self-interested monologue of any single moral tradition, including moral traditions that include or highlight communicative procedures and practices.11 Moreover, a communicative civil society recognizes the fallibilist character of every communicative moral consensus. By so doing, a communicative civil society always anticipates future argumentation regarding any temporal moral consensus. As Christian eschatological theology puts it, a "not yet" dimension remains in every "already" achieved moral consensus. This is a crucial aspect of the communicative ethos. Finally, the communicative model rescinds the overly rigid boundaries between the public and private and, instead, allows for overlapping terrains of public and private life.12

[14] Along with identifying overlapping terrains, an emerging communicative civil society supplies durable goods, one might say, both to the economy and state and to the lifeworld. A prime moral claim of the communicative imagination is that the search for the common good ought to proceed as a common search for the good.13 In this way, common searching - communicatively imagined - becomes a comprehensive moral good that serves the well-being of other moral goods.14 Accentuating questions of moral truth has practical import. A communicative civil society frequently shares argumentatively tested moral wisdom with the everyday lifeworld. Further, a communicative civil society often spots the colonizing consequences of the instrumental and functional rationalities operating within the economy's medium of money and the state's medium of administrative power. In this way, a communicative civil society ascertains that the great systems also contribute causally to the heartlessness experienced within the everyday lifeworld. In all of these ways, the communicative turn in critical social theory offers insight for the prophetic imagination, thereby enlarging the scope and enriching the field of prophetic reason.

[15] A communicative civil society also has moral import for the great systems. It is essential for a viable deliberative democracy, comparable in importance to the separation and interaction of governmental powers and branches, and generates a reasoned form of public opinion and will. A communicative civil society is also a key companion of an economic system that attends to more than the economic shareholders.15 Finally, a communicative civil society is consequential for establishing, sustaining, and improving the intersections between a materially productive market economy and a deliberative democratic state. Along these intersections among the weightier contributions of a communicative civil society will be to focus questions regarding a just, sustainable, and ecologically productive market economy. These complex issues are crucial for overcoming the colonization of the lifeworld.

[16] All these factors denote a future for the Christian prophetic imagination beyond the heroic, oracular personality or community. The emergence of a global civil society communicatively rooted contains implications far beyond what we can explore in this project. The possible mutual contributions between a global communicative civil society and a communicative prophetic imagination are staggering.

Communicatively Renewing the Prophetic Vocation of Missional Congregations as Public Companions
[17] The return of North American congregations is noteworthy.16 In an unprecedented way, specialists in many fields are taking up a disciplined study of congregations. But congregations are returning not merely as objects of study but, more importantly, as primal and productive centers of theological imagination. A period of lament, especially among mainline denominations, preceded this return. The lament grew out of a widespread malaise associated with empty pews, diminished coffers, loosening of denominational loyalties, confusion of clerical identity, doctrinal uncertainty, and all-out "worship wars," among other things. Precipitating this malaise was a mainline "Christendom habit" that had seduced great numbers of congregations into insular, sedentary, and ancillary modes of existence. For more than a quarter-century, vast numbers of congregations remained satisfied with the past glories and cultural hegemony that they thought they possessed in the 1950s. Many experts were composing dirges for these congregations, some with glee, others with regret.17 The Christendom habit may still persist, but as a shadow of its former self, reduced no doubt to a therapeutics of personal refreshment and fulfillment.

[18] A smaller but growing number of people are taking steps beyond Christendom's assumptions and habits.18 In seeking a new missional ecclesiology in North America, they are confronting the poverty of missional imagination and contesting its inevitability. The Christian prophetic imagination must in a vital way suffuse this innovative missional aspiration. Without the Christian prophetic imagination, this critical retrieval of missional congregations and ecclesial reflection risks replicating the old insular and ancillary habits. I offer the communicative turn of critical social theory as a formidable companion for instilling prophetic imagination in missional congregations.

[19] How can we develop missional congregations as public companions?19 Developing Christian congregations in this way does not envision a return to Christendom, but an immersion in a pluralistic and ambiguous era of many cultures, religions, and irreligions. We can gain clarity about the metaphor "public companion" by situating it within H. Richard Niebuhr's now-classic typology of "Christ and culture," while also keeping in mind Avery Dulles's helpful "models of the church."20 Niebuhr maps five types of the relationship between Christ and culture, which can also be viewed fruitfully as a typology of church and culture.21 At the polar extremes of the typology, he positions "Christ against culture"- imagine that on the left of the chart - and "Christ of culture"- imagine that on the right of the chart. The three remaining types-"Christ and culture in paradox" (the Lutheran type), "Christ transforming culture" (the Reformed type), and "Christ above culture" (the Roman Catholic type)-are positioned from left to right between the two poles. He describes these middle types as the churches of the center, the type on the left pole manifesting itself in the sectarian left wing of the Reformation, for instance, and the type on the right pole in the nineteenth-century liberal Protestant churches in Germany. The metaphor "public companions," especially when embodying insights and practices of the communicative imagination, resonates dissonantly with either the "Christ against culture" type or the "Christ of culture" type. Public companions in the communicative mode provide more prophetically critical engagement with culture than "Christ of culture" imagines and more proactive, prophetic healing than "Christ against culture" imagines. More resonance comes from the ecclesial heritages at the center of Niebuhr's typology. I have found it especially fruitful to gather and revise the fundamental claims made by the "Christ and culture in paradox" heritage.22

[20] We can also gain more access to congregations as communicatively prophetic public companions by situating our metaphor within Dulles's "models of the church." He has five models. The first three are more Roman Catholic-oriented, and the latter two more Protestant-oriented. The Roman Catholic models are church as "institution," as "mystical communion," and as "sacrament." He offers these models as a way to chart the course that Roman Catholic ecclesiology has traveled leading up to and then flowing out of the Second Vatican Council (1962-1965). "Church as institution" summarizes ecclesial doctrine from the late Middle Ages and the Counter-Reformation, culminating in the First Vatican Council in the late nineteenth century. "Church as mystical communion" emerged in the first half of the twentieth century as a way to move beyond "church as institution." This new model was more communitarian and interpersonal than the first model and led to many of the developments of Vatican II, with its focus on church as the people of God and body of Christ. The third model, "church as sacrament," also emerged during the twentieth century and became an orienting doctrine of Vatican II. Because of the long heritage of sacramental theology, this model provides, on the one hand, more disciplined theological reflection to the more metaphorical and biblical intuitions attached to "people of God" and "body of Christ." On the other hand, "church as sacrament" also retrieves certain aspects of "institution," combining them with the communal features of "mystical communion."

[21] The fourth and fifth models are "church as herald," which Lutherans brought to prominence, and "church as servant," favored by Reformed churches. The "church as herald" orients the church around gospel proclamation and toward enacting the gospel in and for the world. The "church as servant" orients the church around divine service in the world. The metaphor of public companionship aspires to embody both models and to do so with the former providing the abundance necessary for the latter. The metaphor also aspires to overcome the privatization that has colonized both models. Various sociohistorical forces have often combined to reduce "church as herald" to an abstract kerygmatic address, either objectifying individual hearers or stimulating individual decisions of the will. These forces also reduce "church as servant" to the habits of a service-sector economy, clinic, or family haven. These reductions have suppressed numerous aspects of Christianity, surely including the prophetic dimension of the Christian imagination. Here I offer the public-companion metaphor only in reference to the prophetic imagination within the servant model.23

[22] The Reformation developed the model of "servant" through its critical theology of vocation.24 Against the individualistic notion of vocation, the concept includes the ways that everyone, knowingly or not, participates in God's public, ongoing work to bring, nurture, and sustain temporal life. In trusting the gospel of Jesus Christ, Christians acknowledge these places, purposes, and institutions as God's creative work on behalf of their neighbors and nations, and themselves as God's companions. Likewise, congregations have a variety of vocations to bring God's creative agency to bear on neighbors, neighborhoods, and nations. Building moral milieus to make life in public communities possible commends itself as one such calling. Civil society is the preferential, though not only, location for this congregational vocation of public companionship, and communicative moral practice is the best ethos for prophetically nurturing the postmodern milieu toward sustainable justice and freedom.25

[23] Congregations participate in the moral life of the community in two ways simultaneously, one practice more internal and the other more external. Internally, congregations have often assisted families and individuals in moral formation, in particular of the young, and this will continue as a prime vocation. As congregations engage in moral formation, they can fall prey to seeing themselves as private Christian enclaves, alienated, isolated, and protected from the truth claims of other moral traditions. In our ever more pluralistic public environment, however, innumerable traditions ask congregations to offer justification, in the sense of ethical grounding, for the moral formation imparted. The communicative turn in critical social theory is a welcome companion as congregations take up the work of moral justification and application. Moreover, God regularly calls Christian congregations, through the prophetic imagination of the biblical heritage, to attend to the sufferings and oppressions of neighborhoods and nations. The normative depiction of deliberative democracy, obtained from critical social theory, helps congregations retrieve and embody the prophetic imagination within North American and global contexts. In all of these ways, congregations exist as meeting places of private and public life.26

[24] In this role, congregations respond with integrity to their more external moral vocation as communicatively prophetic public companions. Today an increasing number and variety of institutions in civil society need public companions to join in encountering the moral meanings latent in contemporary life. This is a risky vocation, because Christian congregations do not have a monopoly on moral wisdom. As communicatively prophetic public companions, congregations become encumbered communities. They become encumbered with the moral predicaments of other institutions and with the colonizing influence of money and power. Christian congregations, however, are no stranger to an encumbered life, to a life of the cross. Herein lies the redemptive moment characterizing every vocation, when encumbered companionship puts a congregation's enclosed centrality to death.27

[25] In summary, certain marks characterize the vocation of the communicatively prophetic, public companion. As prophetic public companions, missional congregations acknowledge a conviction that they participate in God's ongoing creative work. In a communicative civil society, these congregations exhibit a compassionate commitment to other institutions and their moral predicaments and to contesting the systemic colonization of the lifeworld. In these two senses, congregations as communicatively prophetic public companions are thoroughly connected, both to God and to the social and natural world. This vocational conviction and commitment yields a critical and self-critical, and thus fully communicative, practice of prophetic engagement. Finally, as communicatively prophetic public companions, congregations participate with other institutions of communicative civil society to create, strengthen, and sustain the moral fabrics that fashion a life-giving and life-accountable world.

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End Notes

1  For the burgeoning literature on civil society, see John Keene, ed., Civil Society and the State: New European Perspectives (London: Verso, 1988); Michael Walzer, "The Idea of Civil Society: A Path to Social Reconstruction," Dissent 38 (spring 1991): 293-304; Jean Cohen and Andrew Arato, Civil Society and Political Theory (Cambridge, Mass.: MIT Press, 1992); Adam Seligman, The Idea of Civil Society (New York: Free Press, 1992); Robert Wuthnow, Christianity and Civil Society: The Contemporary Debate (Valley Forge, Pa.: Trinity Press International, 1996); Elisabeth Ozdalga and Sune Persson, Civil Society, Democracy, and the Muslim World (Istanbul: Swedish Research Institute, 1997); Tracy Kuperus, State, Civil Society, and Apartheid in South Africa: An Examination of Dutch Reformed Church-State Relations (New York: St. Martin&=javascript:goNote(39s Press, 1999); John Ehrenberg, Civil Society: The Critical History of an Idea (New York: New York University Press, 1999); and Andrew Arato, Civil Society, Constitution, and Legitimacy (Lanham, Md.: Rowman and Littlefield, 2000).

2  See Walzer, "Idea of Civil Society."

3  For one influential analysis of this situation, see Robert Reich, The Work of Nations: Preparing Ourselves for Twenty-first Century Capitalism (New York: Knopf, 1991).

4  Christopher Lasch&=javascript:goNote(39s account of the family, Haven in a Heartless World (New York: Basic Books, 1977), remains flawed precisely because he does not account for the heartlessness of the family "haven" itself, leaving Lasch unable to locate and access the moral resources that families themselves desperately need. See Patrick Keifert, Welcoming the Stranger: A Public Theology of Worship and Evangelism (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 1992), for a trenchant critique of the ideology of intimacy that infects the familially fashioned congregation and for a promising proposal toward the renewal of public congregations.

5  For a more sustained theology of institutions from the Lutheran heritage, see Gary M. Simpson, "Toward a Lutheran &=javascript:goNote(39Delight in the Law of the Lord': Church and State in the Context of Civil Society," in On Being Christians and Citizens, ed. Robert Tuttle and John Stumme (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2001). Also see Wolfhart Pannenberg's theological analysis of institutions in Anthropology in Theological Perspective (Philadelphia: Westminster Press, 1985), 397-416. Robert Bellah and associates correctly portray the difficulty that many Americans have in understanding how much of our everyday lives is lived in and through institutions (see Robert Bellah et al., The Good Society [New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1991], 3-18). Though much is good in this book, the authors do not make civil society a theme. This remains a major flaw in their conceptualization of "the public church," where "God Goes to Washington" carries the weight of their analysis.

6  I can only offer a snapshot of the cephalous metaphor without its highly complex and integrated, nuanced and normed narrative. According to the cephalous tradition most prominent in North America, the body is not bad or evil per se as would be the case in more dualistic, Manichaean versions. Rather, the body is the seat of the passions, which, left to themselves, are out of control, disordered, and un- or misdirected. In the cephalous tradition&=javascript:goNote(39s normative account, the head does not enslave the body. That is, the head does not master the body in order to exploit the body for the head's own benefit. That would be tyrannical. Such enslavement would violate the moral norms of the cephalous tradition. Rather, the head cares for the body by disciplining, ordering, and finally directing its passions for the body's own good. In this sense, the head is often presented as selfless, though not disembodied. A disembodied head would violate the moral norm of the cephalous tradition and indeed would lead to the death of the head and the body. The cephalous tradition often exists in close proximity to different forms of love patriarchalism, though it need not. I am developing a comprehensive critique of the cephalous tradition in a collaborative publication with New Testament scholar David Fredrickson.

7  The most influential contemporary version is that of Stanley Hauerwas and William H. Willimon, Resident Aliens: Life in the Christian Colony (Nashville: Abingdon Press, 1989).

8  Herbert Marcuse&=javascript:goNote(39s notion of "repressive tolerance" represents the classic discussion of neutrality as a liberal constraint (see A Critique of Pure Tolerance [Boston: Beacon Press, 1965], 81-123). See Ronald Thiemann's insightful discussion of neutrality and toleration in Religion in Public Life: A Dilemma for Democracy (Washington, D.C.: Georgetown University Press, 1996), 60-64, 72-80, 159-64. His informative discussion of public reason (121-54) would benefit from our investigations of communicative reason and civil society, and his proposal for revised liberalism is worth considering (95-114). Also see Oliver O'Donovan's criticism of liberalism in The Desire of the Nations: Rediscovering the Roots of Political Theology (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1996). I do have significant disagreements, especially with his immersion in the Western communitarian-cephalous tradition, which lies just beneath his text. The tradition provides significant ballast, especially in his proposal's christological grounding. Still, O'Donovan marshals a wealth of information; especially valuable for the communicative imagination is his retrieval of the open-speech legacy of the fourteenth- and fifteenth-century conciliarist movement (268-70). For a fuller exposition of the conciliarist legacy from the perspective of the history of political theory, see Quentin Skinner, The Foundations of Modern Political Thought, vol. 2: The Age of the Reformation (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1978), 113-23.

9  See Nancy Fraser&=javascript:goNote(39s fuller diagnosis of this liberal dynamic in "Talking about Needs: Interpretive Contests as Political Conflicts in Welfare-State Societies," Ethics 99 (January 1989): 291-313; and in Unruly Practices (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1989).

10  Seyla Benhabib, "Models of Public Space: Hannah Arendt, the Liberal Tradition, and Jürgen Habermas," in Habermas and the Public Sphere, ed. C. Calhoun (Cambridge, Mass.: MIT Press, 1992), 87.

11  Communicative ethics, as Reinhold Niebuhr did, exercises a double focus on human moral resources and self-interested limitations (see especially Reinhold Niebuhr&=javascript:goNote(39s Moral Man and Immoral Society [New York: Charles Scribner's Sons, 1932], xxiv). A fuller Christian, theological account of the communicative moral imagination, which is beyond the scope of this study, would closely connect human moral resources to divine providence and would find a home within Christian approaches to natural law. For a prolegomenon along these lines, see my "Toward a Lutheran 'Delight in the Law of the Lord.' " The subtitle of Niebuhr's book mentioned above is A Study in Ethics and Politics, which manifests the weakness of his account. He fails to focus explicitly on civil society as well as on the communicative access to that space.

12  See note 15 above.

13  Here I adapt Dennis McCann&=javascript:goNote(39s poignant phrase from "The Good to Be Pursued in Common," paper presented at "Catholic Social Teaching and the Common Good," University of Notre Dame Center for Ethics and Religious Values in Business, April 14-16, 1986.

14  For an engaging analysis of democracy and comprehensive goods that critically engages the communicative imagination, see Franklin Gamwell, Democracy on Purpose: Justice and the Reality of God (Washington, D.C.: Georgetown University Press, 2000).

15  See, for instance, John W. Dienhart, ed., Business, Institutions, and Ethics (New York: Oxford University Press, 2000), 227-70.

16  I borrow the phrase "return of the congregation" and important insights from my colleague Patrick Keifert, "The Return of the Congregation: Missional Warrants," Word & World 20 (fall 2000): 368-78.

17  For an insightful account of the history of congregational studies during the twentieth century, see James Wind and James Lewis, "Introduction: Introducing a Conversation," in American Congregations, vol. 2: New Perspectives in the Study of Congregations, ed. J. Wind and J. Lewis (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1994), 1-20.

18  Among this growing number are George Hunsberger and Craig Van Gelder, eds., The Church between Gospel and Culture: The Emerging Mission in North America (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1996); Nancy Ammerman et al., Congregations and Community (New Brunswick, N.J.: Rutgers University Press, 1997); Darrell Guder, ed., The Missional Church: A Vision for the Sending of the Church in North America (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1998); and Patrick Keifert and Patricia Taylor Ellison, Testing the Spirit: Congregational Studies as Interdisciplinary Theology (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, forthcoming). Core theological practices and critical reflection on those practices constitute the thick milieu within which prophetic reasoning is embedded. I cannot in this study examine those constitutive factors of the Christian congregation. Two others who have contributed to this work from the perspective of critical social theory and Roman Catholic christology and ecclesiology are Edmund Arens, Christopraxis: A Theology of Action, trans. J. Hoffmeyer (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 1995), and Paul Lakeland, Theology and Critical Theory: The Discourse of the Church (Nashville: Abingdon Press, 1990). In a forthcoming work with New Testament interpreter David Fredrickson, I employ the communicative imagination to retrieve repressed traditions within christology, ecclesiology, and Christian confessing that constitute Christian missional congregations.

19  I have proposed aspects of this inquiry in three earlier programmatic essays. See Gary M. Simpson, "God, Civil Society, and Congregations as Public Companions," in Keifert and Ellison, Testing the Spirit; "Toward a Lutheran &=javascript:goNote(39Delight in the Law of the Lord' "; and "No Trinity, No Mission: The Apostolic Difference of Revisioning the Trinity," Word & World 18 (summer 1998): 264-71.

20  H. Richard Niebuhr, Christ and Culture (New York: Harper & Row, 1951). I neither rehearse the well-known limitations and problems that accompany typologies of this sort nor offer my own critical reflections on Niebuhr&=javascript:goNote(39s explication, which includes the nontrinitarian way he frames the inquiry. The benefit of well-known typologies is the clarity they provide and the points of reference they establish in a pluralistic environment. See Avery Dulles's reflections on the limits and usefulness of typologies and models in Models of the Church, expanded ed. (New York: Doubleday, 1987), 9-33. Niebuhr himself was aware of these issues (Christ and Culture, 43-44).

21  I note one significant caveat as I employ the Christ-and-culture typology. I use the term culture in this paragraph in the broad sense that Niebuhr himself used it, that is, incorporating a panorama of human reality, including the great institutions and systems that comprise civilizations. Niebuhr notes that his use of the term parallels how New Testament writers often use "the world" (see especially Christ and Culture, 29-32). For an insightful recent consideration of theology and culture, see Kathryn Tanner, Theories of Culture: A New Agenda for Theology (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 1997).

22  Lutheran theological ethicist Robert Benne has employed Niebuhr&=javascript:goNote(39s notion in Paradoxical Vision: A Public Theology for the Twenty-first Century (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 1995). I differ with Benne's helpful exposition because he thinks of "church" in a twentieth-century manner-that is, too denominationally-and does not account for civil society as a pivotal space of public communicative reason and action. I also differ with his ideological choice of targets for shrill rhetoric.

23  Lutherans developed the servant dimensions of church through their critical theology of vocation. Sadly, the theology and practice of vocation among Lutherans too often became individual and privatized. For an innovative contribution to evangelization, which in Dulles&=javascript:goNote(39s typology would appear within the "herald" model, see Keifert, Welcoming the Stranger. The two Reformation models need not be isolated, and ought not be isolated, from facets that the Roman Catholic models attempt to exalt. Reformation theology has enduring contributions to make, especially as it addresses traditionally Roman Catholic formulations out of its own confessional claims regarding the church. Reformation contributions have yet to be made, for instance, in communion ecclesiology. For a provocative contribution from a Baptist perspective, see Miroslav Volf, After Our Likeness: The Church as the Image of the Trinity (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1998).

24  For a Lutheran contribution to vocation within the context of political authority, see my "Toward a Lutheran &=javascript:goNote(39Delight in the Law of the Lord.' " Noteworthy is how the first two generations of Lutherans developed prophetic reasoning by means of their resistance theory. For the best brief summation of the Reformation doctrine of vocation, see Marc Kolden, "Creation and Redemption; Ministry and Vocation," Currents in Theology and Mission 14 (February 1987): 31-37.

25  Behind my proposal for a communicative civil society breathes a doctrine of God and creation, of humans in the image of God, and of the Reformation understanding of sin, evil, and the first use of the law. For preliminary reflections on these issues, see Simpson, "God, Civil Society, and Congregations as Public Companions," and idem, "Toward a Lutheran &=javascript:goNote(39Delight in the Law of the Lord.' " For a handbook on moral deliberation appropriate for public congregational life, see P. Keifert, P. Taylor Ellison, and R. Duty, eds., Growing Healthier Congregations or How to Talk Together When Nobody's Listening (St. Paul, Minn.: Church Innovations, 1999). For a helpful analysis of congregations as communities of moral deliberation in the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, see Per Anderson, "Deliberation, Holism, and Responsibility: Moral Life in the ELCA," address at the annual meeting of the Society of Christian Ethics, Chicago, January 2001.

26  See Martin E. Marty, "Public and Private: Congregation as Meeting Place," in Wind and Lewis, American Congregations, 2:133-66.

27  For my own exploration of the theology of the cross and the communicative imagination, see Gary M. Simpson, "Theologia Crucis and the Forensically Fraught World: Engaging Helmut Peukert and Jürgen Habermas," in Habermas, Modernity, and Public Theology, ed. D. Browning and F. Fiorenza (New York: Crossroad, 1992), 173-205.



© August 2002
Journal of Lutheran Ethics
Volume 2, Issue 8