Jürgen Moltmann, Johann Metz, political theology, torture

The Challenge of Political Theology

Johann Metz constructed his political theology in the aftermath of Auschwitz. As did Jürgen Moltmann and Dorothy Sölle. It seems that today, political theology is reactionary and constructive — reactionary because the church exists in a world that it does not control and constructive because the church must find a way to situate itself within the world. Any theology that does this, no matter how critical it may be, is not sectarian. To be critical of complicity and to try and find our way that lives the basileia is the task of political theology — out of God, theology, and the church, we find our body politic, our social engagement.

With this in mind, I find no shortage of problems that the church must react to, particularly for those of us who are Americans. And yet, the church, or at least the Christians in America, do not seem to see many issues. Consider torture, among the myriad of problems. The National Religious Campaign Against Torture and organizations like it have helped voice opposition to torture. However, I find in some ways that these non-governmental organizations lack a driving force. Simply, they lack the church as they have tried to fit into the state’s categories and therefore lacks the unparalleled force of ecclesial movement. So, how do we respond to this?

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2 thoughts on “The Challenge of Political Theology

  1. “It seems that today, political theology is reactionary and constructive — reactionary because the church exists in a world that it does not control and constructive because the church must find a way to situate itself within the world. Any theology that does this, no matter how critical it may be, is not sectarian.”

    Dave, I’m inclined to split hairs with you here. No doubt political theology is, at least to some degree, fueled by one’s experiences, especially those of severe injustice manifested in torture and violence. I would want to qualify what you say in a few ways, and I’m not even convinced that we are in disagreement. That said, here we go.

    In order for the Church to develop rightly a theology that responds to its particular context in space and time, it must make some prior commitments to govern that development. While the Church is certainly not in control of the world, it would be foolish to say that the church is not, therefore, participating in God’s sovereign work of reconciling the world to Himself. Thus, even an abstracted appeal to the church’s position among world structures and powers ought to not to therefore validate the development of theology that assumes a lack of control. Instead, stability ought to be understood as something that is bestowed upon the people of God by their very participation in the reconciling work of Christ, both in His death and resurrection. That is, the fear of death and the one who holds its power are defeated in self-donation on the part of Jesus.

    In situating itself within the world, the church ought not to rely on its experiences of gross injustice but rather on its participation in the death and resurrection of Jesus. No doubt the intesity of one’s experiences throws the significance of theological commitments into sharper relief, though it’s fair to note that Reinhold Neibuhr also wrote his theology in the wake of World Wars (admittedly from within a significantly different social context). Is the church responsible to find a way “situate itself within the world”? I’m inclined to say “No!”, mostly because that conversation tends to seek a reorganization of theological inquiry around commitments other than the gospel (though often parading around as such).

    Thus, I feel that even a valid political theology must hinge on the exclusivity of the gospel be, therefore, sectarian to some degree. That is to say, it must prioritize the church’s life with Christ as its Head in order rightly to react to gross injustice constructively (to use your langauge). How else are we to have the means to engage complicity with the world unless we actively affirm our participation in a political indentity that is not of this world?

    Whew! I didn’t expect this to be so long…

    I hope that you’re doing well at Union! I’m sorry to have been less active than I’d like to be in listening to your inquiries for your thesis, but hopefully I will be able to allocate more time to engagement with you. I am very interesd in hearing what directions you end up taking!

    Grace and peace.

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