I have not said anything about God or the transcendent, and little about theology. As a sociologist, I am probably not the most appropriate person to address this subject. But I do think my framework has several implications for theological reflection.
What can possibly be unique about congregations as organization if it is not that congregations are self-conscious carriers of faith? What can possibly be unique about congregational leadership, program, and affiliation, if not that they are self-conscious efforts to embody commitment? I agree with Loren B. Mead's important insight that congregations need to be shaping laity in ministry and equipping lay religious leaders with working theologies (Chapter 2). My hope, however, is that academic theologians could be more directly engaged with congregations in this task. My experience is that they seldom are, and that when they are, they are not very helpful for at least three reasons.
First, Protestant theologians have raised "criticism" to an art form. But they are often short on the empathetic understanding necessary to move from deconstruction to construction. If they want to be truly helpful to congregations, they need to balance their preoccupation with what should be, with some realistic concern with what can be.
Second, theologians tend to thrive on the "simplicity" of abstraction or specialization. In contrast, the reality of congregations is complex and messy. Single issue theology, even with all the positive nuances of scholarly rigor, is of limited value to congregations. To do theology that takes the reality of the congregation seriously, one has to be willing to wallow in ambiguity and imperfection, without becoming paralyzed by analysis or hopelessness.
Third, the theology of congregations is necessarily contextual. The natural home of most academic theologians is the "text" (i.e., sacred scripture and tradition). However, the day in and day out challenge of lived theology is the relationship between "text" and context. Affiliation is most critically, therefore, a relationship between individual, congregation and "text."
Carroll J. W., Dudley C. S., & McKinney W. ( 1986). Handbook for Congregational Studies. Nashville: Abingdon.
Hoge D. R., & Roozen D. A. (Eds.). ( 1979). Understanding Church Growth and Decline: 1950-1978. New York: Pilgrim Press.
Luidens D. A., & Nemeth R. J. ( 1987). "'Public' and 'Private' Protestantism Reconsidered: Introducing the 'Loyalists.'" Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion, 26( 4), 450-464.
Roozen D. A., & Hadaway C. K. (Eds.). ( 1993). Church and Denominational Growth. Nashville: Abingdon.