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The Annual of the Society of Christian Ethics

Volume 21, 2001

William T. Cavanaugh
Pages 105-123
DOI: 10.5840/asce2001218

Is Public Theology Really Public?
Some Problems with Civil Society

This paper sketches two ways in which the concept of civil society is currently being used to carve out a space for Christians to be "public," and makes some suggestions of problems that arise from these models. The first way involves the theoretical appropriation of John Courtney Murray's work by authors who advocate a "public theology." The second is a practical application of Harry Boyte's work on civil society which is being appropriated in Catholic schools to advance the public mission of Christian education. Despite differences, this essay argues that, though both seek to create a space for the church which is both "public" and "free," neither succeed. At the end of the paper, suggestions are made of a more adequate ecclesiology of the public.