William A. Walker III

Pastor, Professor, Theologian

Tag: Political theology

Striving for the Good in the Face of Uncertainy: The Paradox of Faith and Politics in Kierkegaard and Niebuhr

[My argument in this paper is that Kierkegaard and Niebuhr together, with their notions of faith and justice as paradoxical, provide a political theology that is neither despairing nor presumptuous in its vision for how to strive for the good. This is what I presented at the American Academy of Religion Annual Conference in San Diego this past week. For that reason, it is written more for a talk and is not in final format, so some of the references are not properly cited yet.]

The paradox of politics for Rousseau was the question of, “Which comes first, good people or good laws?”  In other words, how can a democracy be legitimate when the legitimacy comes from the democracy itself which is to be founded? There is always the problem of delimiting the people and deciding who speaks for them. It is never a fixed entity, and certain groups are always excluded. According to Bonnie Honig in her book Emergency Politics: Paradox, Law and Democracy, “…even established regimes are hardly rendered immune by their longevity to the paradoxical difficulty that Rousseau names… the paradox of politics is replayed rather than overcome in time” (EP, 14).

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Explaining the Theological Signficance of my Dissertation

[A few weeks ago I posted my dissertation abstract here (see link below), but was then asked to provide further clarification for what I understand to be the significance, uniqueness and potential contribution of my dissertation to contemporary, constructive Christian theology.  This is how I responded.]

First, as a work of political theology, it is hoped that a Christian soteriology will be expounded here that adequately develops a vision of redemption for the contemporary political and social situation in question on the one hand, but one that is also informed by eschatology – namely, has its criticism and inspiration rooted in an understanding of Christian hope in God’s coming reign through Christ as anticipated in Scripture and the confessing tradition of the Church – on the other hand.  Such an eschatologically-sensitized political theology will also necessarily take its departure from the social location of the Christian faith community, rather than principally from the standpoint of state citizenship.  Only from the eyes of faith, it is believed, can a resistance to violence and suffering be embodied in the spirit of neighborliness.  The object of that faith is taken here to be the beauty and goodness instantiated by Christ (von Balthasar), which is seen most acutely by this Incarnate bearing and overcoming of unjust death (Sobrino).

At the same time, these two places or identities – that of the church and the state – cannot be separated.  Moreover, if different identifies of religious, political or cultural groups are isolated from each other and/or reified, the possibility of neighborly praxis is thwarted (Dussel).  Therefore, and secondly, a notion of identity and discourse as transmodern will help to elucidate how salvation in this conflict can be conceived as both historical and eschatological, ecclesial and political, particular and planetary.  According to Dussel, however, transmodern identity, even if hybridized or pluriversal (a way of talking about solidarity and difference dialectically), is reliable precisely because it is subaltern in nature, or, formed from the view of history’s underside, what for me is a thoroughly Christian theological idea in spite of Christianity’s heritage of imperial complicity.  Thus, it will be necessary to attempt an immersion in the experience of the colonized — not to do a cross-cultural ‘study’, which would still leave us blind to the colonial difference (Walter Mignolo), but to make a contribution to the project of decolonization itself.  For only a decolonized Christian theology is a viable one in the age of globalization.

Of course, various theologies of liberation have explored historical and political salvation from the perspective of the marginalized before.  My concern, however, is that the eschatologies of these theologies have sometimes been either over-realized or anthropomorphized. That is, they have perhaps placed too much hope in political and economic reformation, even if these are nonetheless vital dimensions of any contextual theology (indeed, material relations are assumed here to be the most determinative of any context).  Accordingly then, a more contemplative conception of salvation is needed from the view of existence itself, and from the view of God’s action on behalf of humanity and all of creation as Christians conceive it – not merely as inspiration for social liberation.[1]

Thirdly, as a transdisciplinary project that will engage globalization theories in the area of economics and cultural studies, and that will also be looking at practical examples of neighborliness from an ecclesial perspective, a careful analysis of context is crucial for the success of this dissertation and for its theological significance.  This is because a theology can only truly be significant when it is appropriately contextualized, as all theology is in fact contextual.  Many modern and postmodern theologies have neglected to account for the context of material relations vis-à-vis globalization in the manner that I intend to, and the contribution and relevance to political theology hereby depends on this.


[1] I still presuppose the importance of social liberation for my understanding of Christian salvation, especially as it is expressed from the experience of social suffering by the poor and marginalized.  I am simply suggesting that the example of Christ and the promise of eschatological salvation, preserved by transcendent and not only immanent hope, must also constitute the imagination, expectation and performance of this historical salvation. In this way, it is hoped that Christian theology can be both subversive and peaceful, or non-anxious.

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