Reflections on our theological culture


Robbie Tulip

About the Author

Robbie is Secretary of Canberra Region Presbytery of the Uniting Church, Chaplaincy Manager at ANU, a council member of Kippax Uniting Church and Secretary of the Australian Student Christian Movement. He retired from a career in the Australian Agency for International Development in 2017. He has a Master of Arts Honours Degree from Macquarie University for a thesis on The Place of Ethics in Heidegger’s Ontology. He now mainly works on responses to climate change, and runs a weekly pop jam at Smiths Alternative in Canberra. His email is


What is the theological culture of the Uniting Church in Australia?

The Uniting Church is a wonderful institution, with rich community networks that are profoundly informed by the saving wisdom of Jesus Christ expressed in the Gospels.

The theological culture of the Uniting Church supports gospel values of truth, love and justice that are often neglected in our broader society and in more conventional churches. These values make the Uniting Church a voice of conscience in Australian public life, standing up for the common good against harmful sectional interests and degraded values.

Theological interests range from how worship and pastoral support can provide emotional comfort and healing and identity, across to a more messianic and critical view of theology as calling for cultural transformation. The transformative vision grounded in the theology of our founding churches is expressed in the Basis of Union, “in sole loyalty to Christ the living Head of the Church”. Loyalty to Christ calls us to build an ethical focus on justice and the sacrifice of worldly pleasures in order to hear the call of God.

While the theological culture of the Uniting Church is broadly informed by critical scholarship to a greater extent than most churches, many in the church also have an uncritical acceptance of traditional literal Bible stories and beliefs. Holding tradition and criticism in dialogue and tension, to encourage respect for diversity, is an important part of the life of the church.

The preamble to the Constitution of the Uniting Church is a landmark theological statement of identity and equity through its recognition of the dignity and value of Indigenous cultural traditions, and its challenging call for honesty about history.

What is the theological culture to which we should aspire as the Uniting Church?

Our theological culture should aspire to build up the Uniting Church on a basis of integrity and strong Biblical scholarship. Cultivating a shared vision that integrates tradition with modern scientific knowledge is a difficult but necessary objective. Theology should engage the broader society and the church in dialogue about ethical concerns, imagining what sort of world we want to encourage. The conventional theology of Christendom had an imperial context, with doctrines emphasising political stability and unity, with church subordinated to and allied to the state. By contrast, the emerging theology that we should aspire to is more messianic, bringing a liberatory vision of a transformed world in Christ.

What is distinctive about the theological culture of the Uniting Church?

The heritage of faith from the Methodist, Presbyterian and Congregational traditions creates a unique and distinct culture in the Uniting Church, recognising the importance of ecumenical and interfaith dialogue, open to modern scholarship, and importantly shaped by the encounter between British Christianity and Australia’s Indigenous people. The effort to understand and overcome the racist exclusion and suppression of Indigenous people in colonial culture has brought some humility and repentance into our theological culture, reflected in the strong support for the Indigenous Voice to Parliament.

What are the practices, institutions and texts which have been most significant in shaping the Uniting Church’s theological culture?

Reading the Bible in the context of worship and reflection is the single most significant factor. Attending weekly worship services with the powerful regular ritual practice of communion, singing hymns that express our theological commitments, listening to the preaching of the Word of God and participating in the broader life of the church all create community identity in the Uniting Church and provide the foundation of shared values and beliefs of theological culture.

To what extent is there continuity and discontinuity within our Church of the traditions of those churches that came into Union?

Strong continuity exists in the recognition of the centrality of Jesus Christ as the guide for moral formation. An area of discontinuity is in the gradual shift from an imperial to a messianic vision of Christian identity. As theology has come to emphasise social change over personal salvation, and has increasingly read the Bible in allegorical rather than literal ways, Uniting Church perspectives have also moved from a validation of the wider society to a more critical perspective.

What are the practices, institutions and texts we will need into the future to resource, sustain and extend the theological culture to which we aspire?

Christianity has a vital central message for humanity about how our flawed and limited perspectives can connect to the eternal truths of God. A focus on the Gospel story can enable respectful listening and dialogue with other traditions, working together to find the shared truths needed for reconciliation.