William A. Walker III

Pastor, Professor, Theologian, Spiritual Director

Category: Theology (Page 1 of 7)

A Theology of Globalization

This is a presentation I gave recently for Church of the Cross here in Austin as part of their “Theology of…” series this Spring.

I’ve also included a kind note from Nick Comiskey, Associate Rector at COTC, that went out to the congregation before the event below.

One of my last pre-pandemic memories took place at Hill House, the Christian study center at UT. I crammed into a small, enclosed room (remember those days?) with under and post-graduate students to hear a lecture by Dr. William (“Bill”) Walker. Bill’s talk was on theology and the drug war. He started with an explanation of the drug war itself with ample illustrations from popculture (my love language). Things got really interesting, however, when Bill explored how the Christian understanding of salvation might relate to the rampant violence and impunity occurring on both sides of the border throughout the conflict.

He asked hard questions: What good news does the Christian faith offer to people suffering as a result of the drug war? How can communities of faith in Texas love their southern neighbors with sensitivity and courage?

Three aspects of Bill’s talk left a deep impression on me. First, the tone. Bill started by acknowledging that part of what it means to be a Christian and reflect on social crises like the drug war is to acknowledge the Church’s imperfect attempts (or outright refusals) to advance God’s justice and righteousness in society. His voice was chastened and prayerful, not triumphant.

Second, he was hopeful. Beginning with the premise that Christians have theological reasons for attending to the voices on the margins of society, he maintained that the kingdom of God is a source of transcendent ant material hope. Despite the checkered history of the Church, the Christian faith offers resources to imagine and work for the righting of the world’s wrongs.

Finally, he discussed very practical ways for local congregations to join God’s work of justice and reconciliation.

As the staff discussed potential speakers for our Theology Of…Christian education series this spring, Bill immediately came to mind. I am especially pleased how the first two offerings – the Theology of Globalization in January and the Theology of Immigiration in February – cohere. I am praying God uses these presentations to increase our neighborliness and hope.

A Book Review of A Theology of the Drug War

This book review of A Theology of the Drug War recently appeared in Princeton Theological Seminary’s Theology Today peer-reviewed journal:

https://journals.sagepub.com/doi/10.1177/0040573620940841a

Here’s a summary quote from the review by Filipe Maia, Assistant Professor at Boston University’s School of Theology:

William A. Walker III’s, A Theology of the Drug War, offers a theological response to the drug war waged along the US–Mexico border. Walker is a lecturer in theology and ethics at Baylor University and director of vocation at Christ Church in Austin, Texas.

A Theology of the Drug War should be considered an important advancement in liberation theologies due to its attention to the drug war as a site that amalgamates myriad oppressive forces. The book contributes to ongoing dialogues that seek to tease out political implications of theological aesthetics, especially in von Balthasar’s work… As a work addressing a pressing contemporary issue, the book is a valuable resource to theology students, researchers, and church audiences interested in liberation theologies, critical engagements with globalization, drug-related conflicts, and US–Mexico relations…

Speaking Event in Austin on March 5th – A Theology of the Drug War

My Book: A Theology of the Drug War

My first monograph, A Theology of the Drug War: Globalization, Violence and Salvation, will be released November 15, 2019. Here is the publisher’s page and Amazon page.

Those who have been following my work for any length of time knows that this has been in the making for a while. I began writing one of the chapters in 2011! With all that’s happened at the border and with theCentral American refuge and asylum-seeker crisis at the southern border of the United States in the past several years, however, a number of updates have been made to reflect these developments. Still, the majority of the book remains focused on trends that have been observable for at least a decade — as far as the economic and political side of the research is concerned. Theologically, my hope is that what I set forth remains sound and timely no matter how the drug war might change.

A less expensive paperback and ebook version should be available soon! I owe a big thanks to many people who I mention in the preface, but I’m especially grateful recently to the those who offered brief reviews and endorsements below and on the book itself.

Overview

This book is a political and theological reflection on the violence and injustice that has taken place in Mexico and Central America since 2006 as a result of the drug war. In order to understand and respond to this conflict in the age of globalization, William A. Walker III combines the work of philosopher Enrique Dussel and theologian Hans Urs von Balthasar to develop a theology of the drug war that transcends both a Eurocentric conception of the world and a merely political account of salvation. Walker also highlights examples of Christian and church-based approaches to practicing neighborliness and resistance to drug trade-related violence, challenging both Christians and non-Christians to participate in the creation of a more just and merciful society.

Reviews and Endorsements:

Under the duress of the current political context, A Theology of the Drug War is a much-needed contribution. Bill Walker goes beyond the reductionist materiality in liberationist analysis and employs decolonial frameworks to unveil problems ignored by superficial readings of the “US-Mexico” drug war. Walker’s transmodern approach to the theology of salvation opens what have been unimagined avenues of inquiry and commitment, not only for our current context, but also for the generations to come. This is a must read for the academic and church guilds interested in decolonial and postcolonial theologies, border studies, American domestic and foreign policy, international relations, Latin-American and Latinx studies, liberation theologies, religion and conflict studies, and global ethics.

Santiago Slabodsky, Hofstra University

What does it mean to speak of ‘salvation’ amidst the horrors of the ‘drug war’ in Mexico? Walker addresses this pressing question, combining acute cultural analysis with sophisticated theological reflections. Drawing on a broad range of thinkers and on concrete examples of nonviolent resistance, Walker presents a vision of salvation that is neither simply spiritual nor simply political, neither simply otherworldly nor simply thisworldly. It is rather Incarnational, illustrating the ways that God suffers not simply with, but for, the victims of exploitation and violence.

William T. Cavanaugh, DePaul University

We are living in a world overwhelmed with global economic forces bigger than ourselves. Even so, Walker unfolds the call of every Christian to solidarity with the suffering. Delving deep into the theologies of Dussel, Sobrino, Moltmann, Balthasar and many others, his Theology of the Drug War sculpts a political theology of both neighborliness and resistance that can shape our churches for this new political moment. Stunning in scope and potent for our times, I see this book as a testament for what could be.

David Fitch, Northern Seminary, Chicago

Perhaps here is the book that many have been missing and waiting for, a political theology of our time and our very day, a theology that is thoroughly theological, not a sociology in disguise, but a theology that is deeply immersed in the sufferings of our globalizing world, especially in its typically North American form, the human sufferings of the drug war along the Mexican border, but also a theology that mediates context and concern in a methodologically sound way proper to theology. Walker has produced a book that is thoroughly theological and thoroughly political, a theology that is neither premodern nor postmodern but transmodern, a theology that integrates the politics of imperialism and eschatology of transcendence, a theology that takes seriously the suffering of the poor in history as elaborated in the ethics and theologies of Enrique Dussell, Jon Sobrino, and Ignacio Ellacuria, but also takes just as seriously the aesthetics of Hans Urs von Balthasar with its emphasis on contemplating things with “the eyes of faith.” I heartily and proudly recommend this book to anyone searching for an inspiring synthesis of faith and politics for our time, a faith seeking understanding in our very challenging and confusing world. A deeply personal, spiritual, erudite, and sophisticated book.

Anselm K. Min, Claremont Graduate University

Loving Resistance: The Possibility of a Non-Violent Theological Praxis of Liberation for the U.S-Mexico Drug War

[A version of this paper was presented at the College Theology Society Annual Meeting on June 1, 2018 at St. Catherine’s University in Minneapolis, MN.]

In Latin America, 1968 saw not only the CELAM Medellin Conference and the eventual birth of liberation theology, but also the Mexican student movements and government-led massacres that followed in an effort to repress these growing protests. In 2014, an eerily similar incident occurred when 43 student protestors went missing in Iguala. Both narco-traffickers and government officials are suspected of being responsible. Hundreds of thousands more have been killed and disappeared in the U.S.-Mexico drug war since 2006, and 2017 was the most violent year in the conflict’s history.

In 2011, five years into the drug war escalation in Mexico, Juan Francisco was found in Cuernavaca bound and suffocated along with six friends. Juan was the 24-year-old son of the famed Mexican poet, Javier Sicilia. It is unclear what led Juan and his friends to this end, other than being in the wrong place at the wrong time.[i] Javier Sicilia is one of Mexico’s most well-known writers, and someone who speaks with great moral authority. Rubén Martinez says in a documentary about Sicilia entitled, El Poeta, that “people listen to poets in Latin America.”[ii] Sicilia announced publicly that, in what would be his last poem, “there is nothing else to say; the world is not worthy of the word.”[iii]

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A Cosmic Moral Influence Theory: The Power of the Atonement for Sanctification in the Theology of Dallas Willard

[I presented this paper at the “Experiencing Life with God” conference at the Dallas Willard Center on May 17, 2018, in Santa Barbara, CA (Westmont College).]

For this paper, I’m mostly attempting to synthesize and constructively build on

  • the first two chapters of the Divine Conspiracy, “Entering the Eternal Life Now” and “The Gospels of Sin Management”
  • The Spirit of the Disciplines, Ch. 3, “Salvation is a Life”
  • his discussion of divine retribution and hell in Renovation of the Heart

But more than any of these sources, the most succinct presentation of Willard’s understanding of the atonement that I’ve found is actually in an interview he did with Gary Moon for the Conversations Journal in 2010, so that’s largely what I’m drawing from for Willard’s thoughts in what follows.

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Transcending and Including the Reformation: A Tribute

[A version of this post appeared on the Missio Alliance blog on November 7, 2017.]

As Christians, we all have our own journeys to go on. And rarely is the path straight. There is progress and regress. I think it’s safe to say the same has been true for the Church throughout its history. One of the best pieces of advice I got as a graduate student in theology was that, no matter how much I may learn, grow, and change, I should always try to make room for the old versions of myself. I’ve also heard it said this way: what we focus on determines what we miss, and while God is always calling us forward, it’s easy to disdain the good things we used to know.

500 years after the Reformation, how does the Church continue to grow and change while still making room for what has come before?

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The Matthew 25 Gathering: A Eucharistic Ecclesiology of Justice and Mercy Contending for Shalom

matthew 25 gathering image[The second ACNA Matthew 25 Gathering took place last week in Phoenix, and I had the opportunity to present. There was a video recording as well, which I will share when it is available.]

It was not my plan to become a pastor, go to seminary, and certainly not to become a professor. I wanted to go to law school, practice public interest or non-profit law and do human rights work in Latin America. A job at International Justice Mission would have been a dream for if you had asked me in college to envision my future.

But as it turns out, I liked the idea of that kind of work a lot more than I was actually cut out for it. Of course, we’re all called to be involved in mercy and justice initiatives in the world in Jesus’s name and for the advancement of the kingdom at some level. I just had to realize that my strength was more in the area of teaching, thinking, and writing first.

So what I’d like to do here is just underscore three things that the Eucharist in particular teaches us about how and why we contend for shalom in an unjust and merciless world. In other words, what is the relationship between the work of seeking justice and shalom, and a specifically Eucharistic understanding of God’s mission in the world to redeem and restore all things?

I want to try to answer this question about Eucharistic Shalom, let’s call it, by just saying a little bit more about how I got here — because I think it will help to illustrate the first part of what I have to say.

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What We’re Missing When We Call Jesus “Teacher” or “Rescuer”

[This is a re-post from Missio Alliance.]

Recently I noticed a little twitter interaction between Tim Keller and Rachel Held Evans. Keller tweeted the following:

To which Evans replied:

Keller replied back:

Evans went on to make a number of other responses, when others chimed in, like:

Fully recognizing, of course, that banter on twitter hardly counts as real dialogue or theological discussion, this exchange is nonetheless revealing. Now, it could be dismissed as just a typical debate between two different streams of Christian thought, one evangelical and the other mainline Protestant. And some might want to criticize the way Evans responded to Keller’s tweet, like she was picking a fight (the snarkiness of “I’m one of those crazy people…”).

Still, I think her last tweet above actually gets at something very important. Evans’ point is not a liberal one. Nor is their disagreement necessarily about atonement theory—say, between penal substitution and moral influence. And I do not think Keller and others like him are dismissing Jesus’s teachings or the significance of following him, either.

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Freedom, Contingency and God’s Suffering Love in the Theology of Hans Urs von Balthasar: The Adequacy of the Analogy of Drama for Imagining the God-World Relationship

The following is a working draft of the presentation I will be making at the American Academy of Religion Annual Meeting in the Open and Relational Theologies session on the topic, “A Wider View of Theodicy: The Place of Sufferers, Mourning, Love, and Lament in Theological and Philosophical Reasoning”:

“The Hegelian babble about the real being the true is therefore the same kind of confusion as when people assume that the words and actions of a poet’s dramatic characters are the poet’s own. We must, however, hold fast to the belief that when God—so to speak—decides to write a play, he does not do it simply in order to pass the time, as the pagans thought. No, no: indeed, the utterly serious point here is that loving and being loved is God’s passion. It is almost—infinite love!—as if he is bound to this passion, almost as if it were a weakness on his part; whereas in fact it is his strength, his almighty love: and in that respect his love is subject to no alteration of any kind. There is a staggering perversity in all the human categories that are applied to the God-man; for if we could speak in a completely human way about Christ we would have to say that the words “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” show a want of patience and a want of truth. Only if God says it, can it be true, i.e., even if the God-man says it. And since it is true, it is also truly the climax of pain. The relationship to God is evidently such a tremendous weight of blessedness that, once I have laid hold of it, it is absolute in the most absolute sense; by contrast, the worldly notion that my enemies are to be excluded from it would actually diminish this blessedness.”

The Journals of Soren Kierkegaard, quoted in the preface of Theo-Drama Vol. 5: The Last Act, Hans Urs von Balthasar

“If God’s nature, theologically speaking, shows itself to be absolute love by giving itself away and allowing others to be, for no other reason than that this (motiveless) giving is good and full of meaning — and hence is, quite simply, beautiful and glorious — the same must apply to [God’s] “making room” for [God’s] free creatures.” – Balthasar, Theo-Drama, Vol. II, 273

In this paper I’d like to propose that Hans Urs von Balthasar’s “theo-dramatic” account of divine and human freedom, on the one hand, and divine experience in humanity’s suffering, on the other hand, can shed light on God’s love for an open and relational understanding of the doctrine of God. For Christian love — both of God and of neighbor — has not only an open and relational quality, but it is also dramatic in that it is embedded in a history the oscillates between freedom and contingency.

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