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Embodied Peacebuilding

Reconciliation as Practical Theology


Leah Robinson

In the areas of peacebuilding and conflict resolution, the word ‘reconciliation’ has often been branded a negative term because it implies a resolution agreed upon by all parties in a given society, which for many seems an unachievable ideal. This book looks at the concept of reconciliation from a theological point of view, analysing its use historically within theology and presenting a new model of a practical theology of reconciliation. Using narrative research, it explores this idea within the context of Northern Ireland and offers valuable insights into the theological use of reconciliation by members of communities based in a conflict zone.
The goal of Embodied Peacebuilding is to establish reconciliation as a prominent concept in the field of practical theology and to give a voice to those peacebuilders who are using reconciliation as a common theme within Northern Ireland.
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Chapter Three: A New Model for a Practical Theology of Reconciliation


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A New Model for a Practical Theology of Reconciliation

Summary of the Debates

The vertical and horizontal debate concerning the theology of reconciliation is the first area of contention in this discussion. The understanding of the social aspect of the theology of reconciliation as an ethical outpouring, a secondary result of personal salvation as opposed to an inherent aspect of reconciliation with God, has caused debates among theologians. There are those theologians, such as Colin Gunton and Jim Webster, who believe that emphasizing a social dimension of the theology of reconciliation will lead to a decreased understanding of the transcendent nature of Christ on earth. On the other side of the argument are those theologians, such as Miroslav Volf and John W. De Gruchy, who see the horizontal aspect of reconciliation as being an undeniable part of the vertical. These theologians believe there is a danger that reconciliation’s social implications will be left to politics while its vertical ideals are exemplified theologically. This has been the case in the history of the church. Or as the Christian ethicist Stanley Hauerwas states: ‘For if what is said theologically is but a confirmation of what can be known on other grounds or can be said more clearly in non-theological language, then why bother saying it theologically?’1

For those on both sides of the debate, the need to place either the vertical or horizontal understanding of reconciliation in a position...

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