PLT Contributor Nathan Walton Awarded Dissertation Fellowship

“Blessed and Highly Favored”: The Theological Anthropology of the Prosperity Gospel

PLT Contributor Nathan Walton, currently a PhD student at the University of Virginia, has received a dissertation fellowship by the Louisville Institute. Walton is one of eighteen students in the US and the only UVA student to receive the 2017 fellowship.

The Dissertation Fellowship (DF) program assists the final year of Ph.D. or Th.D. dissertation writing for students engaged in research pertaining to North American Christianity, especially projects with the potential to strengthen the religious life of North American Christians and their institutions, including seminaries, while simultaneously advancing American religious and theological scholarship.

Walton’s dissertation, entitled “Blessed and Highly Favored,” will examine the theological anthropology of the prosperity gospel. In an expanded description of the project proposal, Walton writes:

“In this dissertation I examine the Prosperity Gospel, the fastest growing Christian movement in the world. I argue that the theological anthropology of the Prosperity Gospel devalues the poor, sick, and physically impaired. Specifically, the Prosperity Gospel promotes a form of Christian individualism that affirms self-sufficiency as an anthropological ideal in ways that undermine a more socially responsible ecclesiology. Promises of personal financial gain are preferred without adequate attention to the various systemic barriers to socioeconomic equality, and approaches to healing often lack a framework for affirming the integrity of those with ongoing sicknesses or disabilities. While the Prosperity Gospel promotes self-sufficiency in the areas of wealth and health, this dissertation identifies the implications that this form of individualism has for those who remain financially and physically dependent. In response, this dissertation affirms interdependence as a more ethically responsible value than independence and self-sufficiency.

My methodology draws from both qualitative research approaches and theological frameworks. First, I ground my description of the Prosperity Gospel within ethnographic fieldwork among two Prosperity Gospel megachurch communities in Richmond, Virginia. After conducting in-depth interviews, content analyses of sermons, and participant-observation research, I then bring my findings into conversation with the theological writings of Dietrich Bonhoeffer and Martin Luther King, Jr. By drawing from these sociological and theological resources, I tease out the theological anthropology that is articulated in the distinctive speech and enacted in the practices of this influential and quickly expanding movement. In response, this dissertation then offers a more theologically robust and ethically responsible vision of Christian identity and practice that foregrounds the common good and is instructive for the broader church.”

For more information on the fellowship, visit Louisville Institute’s website here.

Nathan Walton is currently a PhD student in the Department of Religious Studies at the University of Virginia. He is also an Associate Fellow at the Institute for Advanced Studies and Culture. Walton was previously a graduate research assistant for The Project on Lived Theology. Walton served as a Summer Internship in Lived Theology mentor for Peter Hartwig in 2014.

To engage in the conversation on Facebook and Twitter, @LivedTheology, please use #LivedTheologyReads. To sign up for the Lived Theology monthly newsletter, click here.

On the Lived Theology Reading List: Born from Lament

Born from Lament, Emmanuel KatongoleThe Theology and Politics of Hope in Africa

All too familiar with the calamities of violence, war, and poverty, Africa is in desperate need of a theology of hope in the form of lament. In his newest release, Emmanuel Katongole advocates this development and explores the rich theological and social dimensions of the practice of lament in Africa through accounts of Christian activism. Introducing lament as a mechanism to mourn and appeal God, Born from Lament is an invitation for all to contribute to a new narrative for the nations.

Reviews and endorsements of the publication include:

“What an extraordinary gift! Emmanuel Katongole helps us see how God and the everyday, lament and hope, Scripture and prayer, church and public life all hold together. Born from Lament is about Africa, yet it speaks to the world. This is a landmark work by one of the most remarkable and transformational theological leaders of our time.” —PLT Contributor Mark R. Gornik, City Seminary of New York

“Katongole in this book redefines the method for doing public theology in Africa and the world church by giving voice to those on the margins. He argues that hope in Africa should be presented not simply as a wish or pious claims but as a light that one can discover in Africa by following stories of faith, courage, and the practice of hopeful living among many African Christians.” —Stan Chu Ilo, DePaul University

“A rich ethnographic and theological analysis. . . . Born from Lament is a refreshing political theology grounded in human practices rather than the sovereignty of the state and its rulers. This compelling invitation to rethink the theology of hope should be on everyone’s reading list.” —Elias Kifon Bongmba, Rice University

For more information on Katongole’s book, click here.

Emmanuel Katongole, a Catholic priest ordained by the Archdiocese of Kampala, has served as associate professor of theology and world Christianity at Duke University, where he was the founding co-director of the Duke Divinity School’s Center for Reconciliation. Katongole’s research interests focus on politics and violence in Africa, the theology of reconciliation, and Catholicism in the Global South. His other publications include Reconciling All Things: A Christian Vision for Justice, Peace and Healing (2008) and The Sacrifice of Africa: A Political Theology for Africa (2010).

For more of “On the Lived Theology Reading List,” click here. To engage in the conversation on Facebook and Twitter, @LivedTheology, please use #LivedTheologyReads. To sign up for the Lived Theology monthly newsletter, click here.

On the Lived Theology Reading List: Organizing Church

Organizing Church: Grassroots Practices for Embodying Change in Your Congregation, Your Community, and Our World, by Tim Conder & Daniel RhodesGrassroots Practices for Embodying Change in Your Congregation, Your Community, and Our World

Amidst a pivotal era of change and mass movements, the church is poised to mobilize congregations with the embrace of community organizing. In their newest release, Tim Conder and Dan Rhodes offer a field guide to fulfill this calling and renew churches as leaders at the forefront of social justice issues. Organizing Church equips faith believers to respond to the challenges presented by the global culture of the 21st century, revitalizing the intersection of faith and action within congregations.

Reviews and endorsements of the publication include:

“In a season of fearful speculation about what the future holds for the Church, I believe more than anything that the future belongs to churches who have deep relationships, strong local commitments, and a community ethic of working toward a beloved community. In other words, I believe the future of the church belongs to churches like Tim’s, churches you will likely never hear about who do the quiet work, day in and day out, of faithful discipleship. Many pastors and faith communities want to be this kind of church; most don’t know how. This book is for them. With clarity of vision and a plethora of practical applications, Organizing Church will guide your congregation toward being an active participant in both personal and communal transformation in your community. I highly recommend this book to pastors, lay leaders, and all followers of Jesus who are looking to reexamine their understanding of church and reclaim its prophetic and transformative role in society.”―Danielle Shroyer, author, speaker, pastor

“J. I. Packer once observed that the problem of evangelical and free churches is they suffer from a ‘stunted ecclesiology.’ If his diagnosis was correct, and I believe it was, then Conder and Rhodes offer the equivalent of an ecclesial growth hormone therapy. The ecclesiology they propose begins at the level of practice and moves to theological reflection. This book should be at the top of the list for anyone seeking to understand what it means for congregations to be the Body of Christ’s continuing presence in the world.”―Curtis W. Freeman, Duke University Divinity School, author of Contesting Catholicity and Undomesticated Dissent

“You think you have heard about white evangelicals in politics. But have you heard this other (very different) story that Conder and Rhodes tell? One of congregations organizing for justice with black and brown sisters and brothers, learning from the IAF and the NAACP, working for justice for all people and creation, participating in bringing the kingdom Jesus preached? The former might win you the White House. But the latter is bigger and more lasting—it points to–no, it is–the Beloved Community. This book is brimming with grace and wisdom and hard work and good cheer.”―Jason Byassee, Vancouver School of Theology

To read more on this publication, click here. Find more information on Rhodes’s current writing project on Cesar Chavez with SILT 16/17: Can I Get a Witness? here. To be directed to the SILT 16/17 initiative page, click here.

Daniel Rhodes is the faculty coordinator of contextual education at the Institute of Pastoral Studies at Loyola University Chicago. His work centers on “The History of the Future: Apocalyptic, Community Organizing, and the Theo-politics of Time in an Age of Global Capital.” Rhodes is interested in political theology, broad-based community organizing, capitalism and Christianity, globalization, sovereignty and governance, and war and peace studies.

Fellow travelers are scholars, activists, and practitioners that embody the ideals and commitments of the Project on Lived Theology. We admire their work and are grateful to be walking alongside them in the development and dissemination of Lived Theology.

For more of “On the Lived Theology Reading List,” click here. To engage in the conversation on Facebook and Twitter, @LivedTheology, please use #LivedTheologyReads. For more details about the Spring Institute for Lived Theology 2016/2017: Can I Get A Witness? initiative, click here.