9780664224981_p0_v1_s600Farley, Edward. Practicing Gospel: Unconventional Thoughts on the Church’s Ministry. 1st ed. Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press, 2003.

The Author

Edward Farley is Professor Emeritus of Theology at Vanderbilt Divinity School in Nashville, Tennessee. He has written a number of books on theology and theological education.

William Edward Farley has distinguished himself as a scholar and teacher in the field of theology.A native of Louisville, Dr. Farley majored in philosophy at Centre and was a member of the Phi Kappa Tau fraternity.

   Ed Farley From Centre, he went on to Louisville Presbyterian Seminary, where he received his bachelor of divinity degree in 1953.  He did his graduate work in philosophical theology at Union Theological Seminary and at Columbia University where he received the Ph.D. degree in 1957.  Dr. Farley later did other graduate work at the University of Basel in Switzerland and at the University of Freiburg.

    His career in teaching has included positions as assistant professor of philosophy and religion at DePauw University, as associate professor of systematic theology at Pittsburg Theological Seminary and, since 1969, as professor of systematic theology at the Divinity School of Vanderbilt University.

    The recipient of several fellowships and awards for his religious scholarship, Dr. Farley is a member of the American Academy of Religion, the Society of Religion in Higher Education and the American Theological Society.

    He is the author of five books in the field of theology, the most recent published by the Fortress Press of Philadelphia.  Dr. Farley has also authored and co-authored many essays and articles in the field, and is considered one of today’s leading scholars.[1]

Main Theme

Farley’s main argument is that theology’s primary task is the critical reflection of particular situations in which humans find themselves in light of Gospel. This task should exist primarily within the local congregation. He develops this argument in four steps:

  1. A long-term trend in Christendom has so narrowed the understanding of the term theology that is has been excluded from the congregation,
  2. Theology names the interpretation of thinking aspect of faith in which situations are subjected to Gospel,
  3. The primary mode of theology is, therefore, the interpretive dimensions of the redemptive transformation of any and all believers,
  4. More specific theological tasks constitute the distinctive situations of ministers and church leaders.[2]


The book is organized into three main sections.

Part One: Practical Theology

Farley critiques the post-Schleiermacherian division of Practical Theology from systematic theology and the development of professional clergy that was its result. He argues that all theology is practical in that it is the praxis of phenomenological interpretation in which all believers participate.

Part Two: Homiletics and Worship

Farley reframes the mode and method of preaching from the bridge model to the narrative/interpretive engagement of the preacher with the situation.

Part Three: Christian Education and Pastoral Care

Christian education of adolescents and adults should not be the propetuation of popular religion, but the equipping of the congregation to interpret their situatedness in light of scripture, tradition, and the world.

Farley’s core thesis is that our current understanding of the nature and task of theology in the West has strayed off course and needs to be recentered in its core task of interpreting human situations in light of Gospel. His thesis is clearly rooted in an Husserlian phenomenological epistemology from which he critiques the rationalistic and dualistic tendencies of the Western Theological academy.

A Phenomenology of Ecclesial Presence

“I argued previously that the older approach to theological study was based on the notion of theology as a habitus that set the requirements and structure of study. While contending that the habitus, theological understanding, be restored as the aim, the telos of theological study. I am now suggesting that a phenomenology of ecclesial presence may yield the divisions of that study.”[3]

Theology’s Third Function

“Those who are not scared off by the many negative connotations of the word ‘theology’ may acknowledge that theological thinking is important to both individuals and congregations. For some the task of this thinking is to remember, confess, explore, and defend the church’s beliefs, its primary convictions. For liberation, feminist, and African American theologians, it means a thinking that exposes the ways both society and church promote unjust social systems and mines the church’s traditions for their world-changing power. These interpretations of theological thinking are not only viable but crucial. At the same time, a third task must be added to these two ways of understanding theology. This task, usually absent in systematic and even practical theologies, shimmer faintly behind the scenes. It pertains to what may be the religious community’s deepest secret, the narrative about itself it never tells. This secret is the unavoidable idolatry religions must embrace when they ‘do their religious thing,’ when they need to grow, create institutions, manifest vitality, enforce their creeds, and articulate their beliefs. If pertains to the essentially idolatrous character of everyday, actual, practicing religion.”[4]

Praxis and Piety

Practicing Gospel

“The new dualism is not a discrete problem to be solved. Almost all dualisms are gains and corrections that, because they are dualisms, themselves call for correction. This correction need not invalidate the chosen life or career undertakings given to one or the other side of the dualism, for instance, political liberation or cognitive/poetic exploration of individuality. The hermeneutic correction is directed toward ways of thinking and understanding. As such, getting beyond the new dualism, that is, correcting the correction, would involve criticism of mere combinations of the two poles. If it is the case that the new dualism hides the derivative status of the poles and obscures the sphere of the human, then the unfortunate consequences of that obscuring will shape life on the two sides. When placed outside the sphere of the reciprocal, knowledge and truth become matters of the individual’s transcendental possibilities or a mere quantified objectivity. Scientists and humanists continue to dispute these paradigms, but if what is in place is the one or the other or even merely both, these paradigms will be the only tools and cognitive frameworks available to those who would work for global or regional liberation or those preoccupied with human individuals. Outside the sphere of the human, faith (and redemption) is a matter of either believing/experiencing or objective deposits of tradition, that is, the salvation of the individual or the salvific effecting of the just society. Valid as they are, they can be combined but never truly related as long as the sphere of being-together remains invisible. Once the reciprocity sphere is grasped as primary, we have the beginning of the end of the new dualism. The future may then have in store for us other corrective dualisms. In the meantime, we need to scrutinize clearly this dualistic hermeneutics that more and more structures current ways of thinking and acting.”[5]


[1] http://www.centrelinkonline.com/s/285/index.aspx?sid=285&gid=1&pgid=592 (accessed August 21, 2013)

[2] Edward Farley, Practicing Gospel: Unconventional Thoughts on the Church’s Ministry, 1st ed. (Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press, 2003), 13.

[3] Ibid.,  27.

[4] Ibid.,  44.

[5] Ibid.,  68.

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