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Faithful Untidiness: Christian Social Action in a British City

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AbstractContemporary debates about faith and volunteering raise questions about the relationship between, on the one hand, claims from theological ethics about the sources and forms of Christian action in the world and, on the other hand, claims and assumptions in policy discourse about why people of faith undertake voluntary work. Using findings from a small-scale study of volunteers in a Christian social action organization in the UK, we argue that a narrative- and community-focused theological ethics can offer an important corrective to oversimplified accounts of volunteer motivation, but that it needs to give a theological account of the multiple overlapping narratives and communities that form ethical character, and also of the gratuitous and ‘extraordinary’ nature of voluntary action. In dialogue with Paul Cloke, Nicholas Adams and Charles Elliott, Luke Bretherton and others, we propose ‘sustained untidiness’ as a starting-point for theological descriptions of Christian social action in a multi-faith and secular society.

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