Living with Jesus: Practical Christologies in Two Boston American Baptist Churches
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This dissertation, an exercise in practical theology, undertakes two tasks. First, it examines how the story of Jesus is appropriated and embodied in the corporate practices of worship and mission (congregational christology) and in the daily lives of ordinary believers (everyday christology) at First Baptist Church in Jamaica Plain and Ruggles Baptist Church in Boston, Massachusetts. Second, it places these practical christologies in dialogue with the academic christology of James McClendon to see what creative and critical insights emerge. A key assumption of the study is that doctrinal reflection is precipitated when the story of Jesus interacts with human stories in both autobiographical and public domains. "Living with Jesus" contends that the understandings of Jesus present in the everyday lives of believers and in a congregation's worship and mission merit the attention of scholars in the disciplines of sociology and theology. This dissertation demonstrates that scholarly research on the visible church, everyday religion, and Christian doctrine pays limited attention to the theologies operative in the everyday lives of believers and congregational practices. A gap exists in scholarly knowledge, which "Living with Jesus" attempts to redress. The empirical results of qualitative research fieldwork are set in the context of historical overviews and contemporary snapshots of First Baptist Church in Jamaica Plain and Ruggles Baptist Church. "Living with Jesus" identifies three types of practical christology operative across the two congregations in corporate practices and the everyday lives of individuals: evangelical christology; exemplarist christology; and prophetic christology. The empirical research shows that for a significant minority of people in the sample, the prevailing understanding of Jesus can best be described as a hybrid christology. By paying attention to McClendon's treatment of the Jesus story and placing the three identified practical christologies in dialogue with his christology, it becomes apparent that each practical christology is simultaneously liberating and limiting. This dissertation argues that evaluating a particular practical christology in relation to the Gospel requires an intentional and disciplined effort on the part of congregations, ordinary believers, and theologians. Questions are proposed to assist further christological reflection on worship, mission, pastoral care, and Christian education.
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