Category: Theology (Page 1 of 7)
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.
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
[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]
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.
[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?
[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.
[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:
People think a Christian is one who follows Christ's teaching and example, but Jesus is not primarily a teacher. He's a rescuer.
— Timothy Keller (@timkellernyc) December 12, 2016
To which Evans replied:
I'm one of those crazy people who thinks a Christian is someone who follows Jesus. https://t.co/r3KaE75WkS
— Rachel Held Evans (@rachelheldevans) December 14, 2016
Keller replied back:
@rachelheldevans Key phrase in that tweet is "not primarily a teacher." Hope that helps.
— Timothy Keller (@timkellernyc) December 14, 2016
Evans went on to make a number of other responses, when others chimed in, like:
— Rachel Held Evans (@rachelheldevans) December 14, 2016
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.
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.
Reflection on John 19
John tells us that this is all happening on Passover, the annual celebration of Israel’s liberation from slavery, God’s victory over Pharaoh through the Exodus, which was always potentially a politically sensitive time. It isn’t hard to connect a few dots in your mind between Egypt and Rome, in other, if you were in Pontius Pilates place, you never knew when some Galilean hothead would stir up riots against the hated Empire. (Barabbas in Luke’s account as an example of this!)The religious leaders knew this and were taking advantage of it in how they were bargaining with Pilate.
If postmodern theology is to awaken the political imagination of Christian churches and energize them in a subversive and liberating way, then I submit that it must do at least two things: First, it must speak with a depth of theological conviction and fidelity to the Christian tradition in a way that at the same time transcends both modern and pre-modern epistemological strongholds.
And secondly, postmodern theology must recast the church’s mission in a manner that is, while not defined by this, still significantly informed by of a political-economic ethic from the standpoint of the experience of those on the underside of history — which is to say, those who do not benefit from the dominant center of society but rather find themselves on the periphery, in many respects. In particular, when I say underside, I mean those victimized to some degree by euro-american, “colonial-capitalist” history (whether it be on the basis of class, race, gender, sexuality, ethnicity, or what have you).
So, there two challenges for the church — one postmodern/epistemological, the other postcolonial/political-material. And my way of thinking about these two fronts of that the church is facing, is helped by drawing on the work of two major figures: Hans Urs von Balthasar and Enrique Dussel.
Balthasar’s theology, for those who may not know, begins with a theology of beauty — and really it’s an epistemology – an approach to truth and faith from an aesthetic starting point, rather than a propositional or moral one. And then, only after having started with beauty, does he move into what he calls theo-dramatics. Because he’s saying that what is truly beautiful is the key for knowing, inspiring and approximating God’s goodness in the world, shaped by the Christian story: “God’s drama” of salvation history. This also has implications for ecclesiology, which I will touch on briefly below.
The second thinker I’m relying on is Enrique Dussel. Dussel is a contemporary of Latin American liberation theologians (LTs) like Gustavo Gutierrez and Jon Sobrino, but he has really distinguished himself as a philosopher more so than a theologian by seriously and critically engaging modern European and American philosophers of the 20th Century. Specifically he appropriates Emmanuel Levinas but in a more socio-political rather than phenomenological vein, using some of Levinas’s same categories, like exteriority and alterity, to talk about how the most privileged political and ethical perspective is always that of the victim and outsider — the excluded one.
But even more than that, Dussel retells the history of modernity itself, which for him is essentially coterminous with colonialism, in terms of having its origin and defining material moment in the Spanish conquest and invasion of the Americas – in the events of the subjugation, brutality and exploitation of the indigenous people there and what that has continued to mean for Latin American history ever since even well into the 20th and 21st Century. This is how he conceives of history itself from the experience of its “underside,” what he also terms the “subaltern.” Modern Western civilization was built on this imperial “discovery” and the slave-based economy that ensued. The consequences are still being experienced, especially by the governments of Central America in the past 50 years.
But Balthasar is the figure who I believe can guide us — not all the way, but for a while — beyond the modern/post-modern impasse, while also being faithful to the Christian tradition (even though he of course has his blind-spots too). Here’s what I mean: if modernity was guilty of logocentrism, condescension, normalization and universalization by way of trying to smooth out differences, then postmodernity has been prone to paralyze constructive politics in the name of heterogeneity and multiculturalism/pluralism (Rosa Maria Rodriguez Magda). Alan Badiou has voiced a comparable critique of postmodernity by describing it as “communitarian particularism” that “reduces the question of truth (and hence, of thought) to a linguistic form, judgment . . . [that] ends up in a cultural and historical relativism” (Badiou, 2003). And I think von Bathasar’s theology, again, because of both his aesthetic epistemology, on the one hand, and his christocentrism, on the other, avoids the cliff on either side.
In addition, I’m trying to map an ecclesial political theology, which means it will take its departure from the social location of the Christian faith community, rather than principally from the standpoint of state citizenship. For the latter is yet another way that political theology has too often been captured by modernity.
At the same time, these two places or identities – that of the church and the state – cannot be separated. I’m not calling for a neo-anabaptist politic. But Balthasar argues that, in his public ministry, Jesus illustrates how there can be an opening up a horizon beyond the immediacy of the state, indirectly limiting the state by subjecting it to an eschatological critique. Which is by no means an abandonment of the material, but it does signal toward something beyond the material that is always manifesting and incarnating itself in the material. So there remains the indication of a liberation the originates in God, not humanity.
Here’s what this politics boils down to though for Balthasar. In Theodrama vol. 2 he states that:
“Politics concerns [the Christian]: as a “member” of the body of Christ in profound solidarity with each of the Lord’s least brothers [and sisters] and must realize the inescapable responsibility for the conditions under which they live…”
So political power comes in the weakness of that solidarity that the church has with the most vulnerable.
Like Jesus, though, there is a refusal to concede to the “rivalries of history,” for Balthasar. The church cannot grab power or seek to influence it from the top down. And there’s a lot about this that I think we should hold on to. So Balthasar gives us parameters for a Christian ecclesiology, but there is much wanting here in terms of the promise of and cry for liberation from oppression! There’s not enough urgency in Balthasar. So for a political and economic ethic, I turn to Dussel.
It’s worth noting that while he’s not a pacifist, Dussel considers any power taken by the state, rather than power given by the people in their consent, to be illegitimate. Because this would be self-referential power and therefore fetishism.
Dussel accuses both the neoliberal US and the Latin American Left of historically presupposing the necessity of violence against their political opponent – and instead contends that politics is about the continuation of life whose aim is the very preservation of the opponent — through the means of deliberation and delegation, and so on. So Dussel’s is a biopolitics – of the preservation, enhancement and continuation of the life of the political community but also of its very condition for material reproduction: the planet, culture and indigenous traditions!
- So the first of three ethical principles that Dussel follows is a material one, expressed as the obligation to produce life. Its concern is with human bodies and their well-being. This is the source of value for the political community, not production or consumption.
- The second principle, then, is more formal and procedural, as that of discourse ethics (it’s the goal of consensus around moral validity). Bearing in mind the first principle then, discourse here is always carried out with the voice of the underside, and of victims setting the terms of dialogue.
- Third, there is the criterion of feasibility (feasibility of mediations), the question of what can actually and practically be achieved in any given political situation.
These three criteria – material, dialogical and feasible – are co-constitutive of what Dussel judges can finally be called “good.”
Finally, though, I turn back to Balthasar. In his mind, Beauty (aesthetics) is the starting point, and may in fact have the most potent recourse to inciting the Good.
And obviously, for Balthasar, the archetype of beauty is the life-form, and the whole drama of Jesus, the Christ figure, whose beauty is most fully revealed in relief from the ugliness of humanity’s violence that puts people on crosses. So beauty is made known above all in God’s willingness to go to that human, bodily and historical-material, political place of suffering and rejection.
So to summarize all of this: because of the kind of beauty that is revealed for Christians in Jesus (this is Balthasar), there is an ecclesiological call to solidarity, with those who Jesus has solidarity with in his suffering. What Dussel then demonstrates, moreover, is that this solidarity must start with those on the margins. And Dussel’s three principles for political-economic ethics stress that this solidarity is not just a willingness to suffer with, but to suffer for. It is a willingness to resist with and to protest with – not just with but for people, to achieve better conditions for the flourishing of their lives.
As I consider what this theology amounts to if practiced, I imagine that it might reflect several aspects of what political theologian Mark Lewis Taylor calls critical movements of resistance.
Taylor discusses critical movements of resistance as responses to various sufferings and injustices that are being experienced by those on history’s underside as a result of the colonial-capitalist state, in theo-poetic fashion, which is not reducible to the level of political economy (so aesthetics!), but is just as much interested in affecting culture and stirring artistic expression of creative story-telling, dramatic and performative acts of resistance to catalyze a social movement.
So an appropriate Critical Movement of Resistance (CMR) will take broader and deeper forms than mere advocacy for change in public policy, though it certainly includes this. And it will be constituted by at least three visible markings, Taylor says: an 1) owning of agonistic being — solidarity in suffering, sharing in the weight of the world. Second, 2) cultivating of artful reflex, a kind of mirroring or mimicking of the state. Perhaps most powerfully illustrated just biblically in Jesus’ triumphal entry on a donkey, genuine street theater! and thirdly, the 3) fomenting of adversarial political and counter-colonial/decolonial practices, which would need to actually name opponents, call them out, expose them, make evil show itself! Not destroying the opponent, but calling them to repentance! And then attempt to take higher moral ground in an unpredictable and offsetting stealing of the show, beating stakeholders to the stage. It is disruptive and demonstrative, in other words.
This obviously takes strategic planning, vulnerable networking, risk-taking, and in a way that has to be careful not to devolve into sheer aestheticism, and that at least aiming to bring about sustainable, and life-renewing communal activities.