January 24, 2017


Patience, Impatience, and Political Life Today (Paul Dafydd Jones, 1/12/17, Enhancing Life)

What should an academic Christian theologian do in this context? How might his or her work encourage the enhancement of life in unsettled times? Karl Barth, a guiding voice in my research, offered an intriguing answer to such questions in Theological Existence Today!, which was written soon after the Nazis seized power in 1933: 

I endeavor to carry on theology, and only theology, now as previously, and as if nothing had happened. Perhaps there is a slightly increased tone, but without direct allusions: something like the chanting of the hours by the Benedictines nearby in the Maria Laach, which goes on undoubtedly without break or interruption, pursuing the even tenor of its way even in the Third Reich.

A recipe for political quietism? Certainly not. For Barth, a principal task of Christian theology was the toppling of idols, of which demagogic strongmen are an exemplary instance. This does not mean, however, that theologians ought necessarily to busy themselves with literal or figurative hammers. Barth favored a different approach: a style of theological writing that, in refusing to esteem that which is ethically and politically inexcusable, in declining to "normalize" the new status quo, focuses attention on the future that God promises,and provides a thick description of what it means for human beings to turn their backs on sin and commit themselves to realizing the "two commandments" on which "hang all the law and the prophets": love of God and love of neighbor (Matthew 22:34-40). Theological reflection and political resistance, at this point, form two sides of the same coin; they motivate a style of writing that traces the shape of a spiritual counter-world, in order that those who encounter it might - should God so will - play their part in transforming the quotidian in which they exist. To be sure, none of this helps citizens decide how they should vote, or how they should comply (or not comply) with discrete laws, policies, and programs. Yet a theology that can't be easily "operationalized" is a theology that stands some chance of resisting cooptation, and - at least in principle - urges individuals and communities to act differently in the here and now.

Posted by at January 24, 2017 5:34 AM