This may be my only chance to blog for the week. There some events happening in Denver, CO that I want to pay close attention to. 🙂
As we in the U.S. have these political conventions and the Fall final campaigns for U.S. president (and many other “downticket” races that are just as important in the long haul), I want to articulate that my primary earthly political allegiance is to what I am calling “non-messianic progressive movement politics.” I think this is an appropriate role for Christians or other persons of faith. Yes, I am a registered Democrat, but no my major concerns aren’t with the success of the Democratic Party–except and only as far as, the Democrats are a vehicle for progressive social change. This hasn’t always been the case: The Democratic Party began as the Democratic-Republican Party in the age of Jefferson–progressive on issues like religious liberty, but champions of slavery. As it transformed to the Democratic Party of Andrew Jackson, it became the champion of “ordinary citizens,” rather than just the landed gentry, but only if those “ordinary citizens” were white males. (Every woman and person of color must have very mixed feelings going to annual “Jefferson-Jackson” dinners held by the Democratic Party.) Jackson is not a name that could evoke good feelings for Native Americans, since he is responsible for the Trail of Tears and for increasing the genocidal policies of the U.S. to the earliest Americans/first immigrants. And Jackson’s party was a party which continued to champion slavery. After the Civil War, the Democratic Party fought Reconstruction, mostly fought equal rights for women (Democrats in Kansas and elsewhere sometimes championed voting rights for white women because they hoped it would help keep African-Americans “in their place”), and championed segregation/Jim Crow. During much of this time it was the Republican Party who, despite their otherwise firm support for big business, pushed for the expansion of rights for women and racial minorities. That did not change until 1964-1972.
My earthly political commitments are primarily to movements for peace, for racial and gender justice, justice for persons of all sexual orientations or gender identies, for ECONOMIC JUSTICE FOR THE POOR (which is the largest ethical theme of both Testaments of the Holy Bible, but NOT the major ethical priority of far too many U.S. churches), for the health and integrity of God’s creation, for the empowerment of the marginalized and weak and for checks and accountability for all those who have economic or political power. To the extent that Democrats stand for those things, to that extent ONLY will I support them with my money, time, and vote. I will also continue to help people movements pressure them (and Republicans and everyone else) to be more progressive, more just, than they otherwise would be–and to hold them accountable for their actions. No one gets a free ride, including Sen. Barack Obama (D-IL) whom I am praying will become the next president of these United States.
Such movement politics is non-messianic because it doesn’t expect any political leader or movement leader to save us, not even politically. It expects all leaders to be flawed and to need to be pushed and to be accountable by people movements. It takes a long haul look and, for Christians, figures that the job of Messiah is already filled.
The strategy is one of inside/outside pressure: Electing (flawed, human, frail, but good) good, progressive candidates who want to make strong changes for justice, peace, and ecological integrity–those who work within the system, but also hope to change it for the better. But also continuing to organize people movements outside the system which can go further on their own, can change the terms of debate, and can hold leaders and parties accountable. (Conservatives ought to try this as well. After all, for the first 6 years of G.W. Bush’s presidency, Republicans had control of all 3 branches of the federal government, but made no move to restrict abortions, despite campaign promises to the contrary. I am pro-choice, but I believe the huge numbers of abortions are grossly immoral and that abortion needs to become a rare choice for tragic events. I am glad that pro-lifers have pushed the Democratic Party to put reducing abortions into this year’s party platform–and we need to hold them to it.) As one example, see the Million Doors for Peace Campaign to be held this fall, beginning 20 September. Other examples: The One Campaign against povery used the announcement that Sen. Joe Biden (D-DE) was to be Obama’s running mate to rally members to send Biden a petition to join the One movement and dedicate his energy and position to eliminating hunger and poverty worldwide. (They had done similar petitions to both party platform committees, succeeding with the Democrats, and plan on emailing a petition to McCain’s running mate when s/he is announced–although it is probably Romney.) True Majority is pushing for Democratic candidates to endorse a Next New Deal for a greener, healthier economy from the bottom up with better education for all. There will be a major conference on torture in September, hosted by Evangelicals for Human Rights. And so it goes: not just electing candidates, but pushing them and holding them accountable.
All politicians, even great leaders, need to be pushed by people movements. Abraham Lincoln had to be pushed to give the Emancipation Proclamation–he was far more cautious about ending slavery than he should have been. Franklin D. Roosevelt was originally a moderate alternative to the plutocracy of Herbert Hoover–he had to be constantly pushed to make the New Deal more progressive. Both John F. Kennedy and Lyndon Baines Johnson were originally lukewarm to the Civil Rights Movement (as Eisenhower had been–and Nixon hated it with a passion) and more worried about the way it could alienate whites from the Democratic Party than about true racial justice. They had to be pushed.
This does not make electoral politics unimportant: Progressives have spent the last 8 years trying to contain the damage caused by Bush and I believe that would also be what we would be doing during a McCain presidency. I would rather be working to make important gains for justice, peace, and ecological integrity than working to keep the damage to a minimum.
But electoral politics are not everything. And sometimes, elected officials change–as in the example of California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger (R). I am a Democrat, but I have voted for Republicans before when they were the better candidates, and will again, no doubt. I said months ago that if retiring Sen. Chuck Hagel (R-NE) of Nebraska, one of the few Republicans who voted against the invasion of Iraq and has been a constant voice for ending it, ran and won the GOP nomination and the Democrats elected a hawk, I would vote for Hagel. I stand by that, but it didn’t happen. Hagel didn’t run and the GOP nominated a superhawk–who was once a maverick on other important issues, but has run on continuing Bush’s agenda into the future. Meanwhile, the Democrats, while not nominating their most progressive candidate (Kucinich) or one of the others to the left of Obama (and I now thank God that John Edwards didn’t win the nomination!), did select someone more committed to peace and justice than any presidential candidate since Jimmy Carter in 1976 (who also had his cautious, conservative side).
I hope Sen. Obama becomes President Obama–but if he does, I will work to hold him accountable and if he doesn’t, my commitment to non-messianic progressive movement politics continues. After the Convention, I hope to follow this post up with a reflection on the transnational calling of Christians (as Jews before us) to be a creatively maladjusted minority (“transformed and transforming nonconformists” in Martin Luther King, Jr.’s words) in whatever society we live–rather than either to rule or withdraw.
In the U.S. Presidential election of 1800, President John Adams, the Federalist candidate, ran the first campaign in our history that sought to stir up religious fears as a way to win votes. He painted his opponent, Thomas Jefferson, the Democratic-Republican candidate, as an “infidel Deist,” whose godlessness would destroy the country. (This was hypocritical since Adams was a Unitarian who shared most, if not all, of Jefferson’s religious views and who held the conservative evangelicals whose votes he was trying to win in contempt as ignorant fools. But few voters knew this.) He also used the recent French Revolution, which had an anti-religious dimension since the French Catholic Church had supported the monarchy, as a fear tactic since it was well-known that Jefferson was a friend of France.
At the time, fears that Adams would give special privileges to some churches (especially the Presbyterians) over others caused this fearmongering to fail. The Baptists, Methodists and other evangelicals united around the infidel Jefferson out of fear of Presbyterian hegemony. And, of course, Adams’ warnings about the consequences of a Jefferson presidency did not come true.
There’s a message here about contemporary versions of such religious fear-mongering, but it is probably too obvious to spell out. Hat tip to Bob Cornwall for the video.
A guest-post by Aaron Weaver, Ph.D. student in Religion, Politics, and Society at Baylor University’s J. M. Dawson Institute of Church-State Studies. This post is adapted from his Baylor M.A. Thesis, “ James Dunn and Soul Freedom: A Baptist Paradigm for Political Engagement in the Public Arena.” The son, grandson, and nephew of Baptist ministers, Aaron was a Congressional intern for the legendary civil rights leader, Rep. John Lewis (D-GA) and previously worked for the Baptist Joint Committee on Religious Liberty. He also has the great personal blog, Big Daddy Weave.
“Eternal vigilance is the price of liberty.” This famous phrase characterizes the ministry of Baptists such as Thomas Helwys, Roger Williams, John Leland and others. In the last half of the twentieth century, James Dunn has been the loudest and most aggressive Baptist proponent for religious liberty in the United States. Dunn is best known for his leadership as Executive Director of the Baptist Joint Committee for Religious Liberty, an organization comprised of multiple Baptist bodies that deals solely with religious liberty issues on Capitol Hill. Dunn’s defense of religious liberty and the separation of church and state became one of the pivotal issues in the Southern Baptist Controversy during the 1980s. He was one of the primary targets of the “Conservative Resurgence” or “Fundamentalist Takeover” that ultimately gained control of the Southern Baptist Convention and subsequently defunded the participation of Southern Baptists in the Baptist Joint Committee for Religious Liberty.
James Dunn embodies and articulates a paradigm for Baptist political engagement in the public arena which is based upon the concept of soul freedom: voluntary uncoerced faith and an unfettered individual conscience before God. His vision of religious liberty and separation of church and state is especially rooted in the doctrine of soul freedom. Dunn argues that soul freedom is the cornerstone that precedes and demands religious liberty and separation of church and state for all persons in the political arena. With uncompromising intensity, Dunn defends soul freedom as the historic Baptist basis for religious liberty. Dunn attempts to so identify with the radical component of the Baptist witness to religious liberty that Baptist historian Walter Shurden has called him a modern day “John Leland,” the eighteenth and early nineteenth century’s strongest proponent of a thoroughgoing separation of church and state.
James Dunn: A Biographical Overview
A self-described “Texas-bred, Spirit-led, Bible-teaching, revival-preaching, recovering Southern Baptist,” James Milton Dunn was born in Fort Worth, Texas, on June 17, 1932 to William Thomas Dunn and Edith Campbell Dunn. Dunn began his educational journey in the Forth Worth public school system where he played in his high school’s eighty member symphony orchestra. After a stint at Texas Christian University, Dunn transferred to Texas Wesleyan University where he graduated with a Bachelor of Arts degree in history in 1953. As a nineteen-year-old junior at Texas Wesleyan, Dunn accepted a “call” to vocational ministry. Consequently, Dunn pursued graduate theological training. His educational experience at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary began in 1953. Dunn received his Bachelor of Divinity in 1957 and his Doctor of Theology in 1966. While a seminary student, Dunn served Texas Baptist Churches in several ministerial roles from 1954-1961 including one four-year pastorate. Dunn finished his long educational journey in 1978 as a post-doctoral research scholar at the prestigious London School of Economics and Political Science.
Dunn’s work in the arena of public policy began to flourish when he served as director of the Texas Christian Life Commission (1966-1980). He attempted to “stir the consciences” of Texas Baptists regarding “applied Christianity.” Anchored upon the influence of T. B. Maston and J. M. Dawson, Dunn was involved in developing Baptist viewpoints on issues such as gambling, race relations, Christian citizenship, hunger, and religious liberty. Regarding his approach, Dunn commented, “In some areas-gambling, liquor, pornography-this agency has been hardline conservative. In others-concerns for victims of a rotten welfare system and for bilingual education-we have been wild-eyed liberals.” Dunn was a battler: “You could be wrong but you can’t be quiet. You can’t just shut up and let the other forces that would hurt people have their way.”
James Dunn and Soul Freedom
Ideas such as soul liberty and soul competency that had been trumpeted frequently in Baptist history found a home in the thought and rhetoric of James Dunn. Dunn became the heir of Edgar Young Mullins and those before him who insisted that freedom of the individual conscience and the emphasis upon direct personal experience of God without reliance upon ecclesiastical leaders were at the heart of the best of the Baptist tradition. In fact, Dunn’s work for an unfettered conscience, religious liberty for all, and the separation of church and state was especially rooted in his understanding of soul freedom. While prominent early twentieth century Southern Baptists E. Y. Mullins and G. W. Truett referred to “soul competency,” James Dunn again used the earlier Baptist language of “soul freedom.” Dunn believed, like Mullins did, that soul freedom, the key distinctive of Baptists and their greatest contribution to understanding the Christian faith, was simply the freedom, ability, and responsibility of each person to respond to God for herself or himself. This freedom implied the ability to have a personal relationship to Jesus Christ and the capacity to deal directly with God without a human mediator such as a priest or bishop. This is a gift from God. Throughout his career, Dunn has often described soul freedom as “the fire that burns in the innards of every true Baptist.” According to Dunn, since Thomas Helwys’ bold proclamation that “the king is not Lord of the conscience,” the hallmark of the people called Baptist is that “dogged determination to be free – free and faithful.”
For religious faith to be authentic, Dunn believes, it must be free and cannot be coerced. Citing E. Y. Mullins, Dunn declares that to deny a person direct access to God “is nothing less than tyranny.” The influence of Mullins and The Axioms of Religion on Dunn’s thought is undeniable. Dunn has credited Mullins with investing energy and meaning into the phrase “soul competency” and placing it at the center of a “coherent cluster of beliefs that define Baptists.” Like Mullins, Dunn also affirmed that the biblical revelation clearly pointed to the principle of soul freedom. He also agreed with Mullins that “the voluntary principle is at the heart of Christianity” and consequently “the right of private judgment in religion is a right that lies at the core of Christian truth.” Building on Mullins’ cornerstone that religious experience was the beginning point of understanding divine revelation, Dunn asserted that soul freedom is axiomatic, a self-evident truth “that when seen needs no proof of its reality.”
Dunn believes that soul freedom is based on a biblical view of persons. In the creation account found in Genesis 1:26-27, God called the first humans imago Dei which presupposes freedom. Regardless of how one reads the biblical description of creation, in Dunn’s view, it clearly suggests that all humans are moral beings, capable of responding to God. According to Dunn, whatever else the classical doctrine of imago Dei means, it reveals that persons, made by God, can respond to their Creator. “The roots of freedom are deep within the intimate personhood of God. All true freedom is in a real sense religious freedom. It is that which replicates the Divine in all of us that makes us response-able, responsible and free.”
Dunn’s view of soul freedom is far reaching and extends beyond personal morality and personal faith. As the ultimate source of all modern notions of human rights, it is the cornerstone that precedes and demands religious liberty and the separation of church and state for all persons in the political arena. It is the biblical and theological starting point from which religious liberty naturally follows. According to Dunn, “if we all, in some serious way, replicate God, religious liberty is a moral and social inevitability.”
Not surprisingly, James Dunn’s understanding of soul freedom has not been spared from criticism. Like E. Y. Mullins, Dunn too has been accused of promoting a radical form of unbounded individualism, a faith without authority. Nearly fifty years ago, Winthrop Hudson, an American Baptist historian, stated that “the practical effect of the stress upon ‘soul competency’ as the cardinal doctrine of Baptists was to make everyone’s hat their own church.” Other scholars have followed Hudson’s lead. Curtis Freeman has argued that James Dunn has abused individualism even further by turning “soul competency” into “sole competency.” Freeman claims that Dunn’s popular quip, “Ain’t nobody but Jesus goin’ to tell me what to believe,” quickly devolves into “Ain’t nobody goin’ to tell me what to believe” as the “me” becomes the exclusive arbiter of what Jesus is saying. Other scholars have made sweeping claims against the excessive individualism they find in Mullins and/or Dunn in attempts to chastise Baptists for a poor social ethic or a poor doctrine of ecclesiology.
However, Dunn has repeatedly refuted the criticism of his opponents that soul freedom leads to a hyper individualistic lone-ranger Christianity. He believes that the dichotomy of individual and community is a false one. The choice was not one over the other, but both together. Dunn contends that the desire for Christian community presupposes voluntary faith. According to Dunn, “The competence of the individual before God does not demand and in fact precludes Lone Ranger religion…no matter what critics left and right may say, autonomous individualism…does not mean that everyone’s church is one’s own hat. The longing for community and social Christianity presupposes voluntarism. Without individual autonomy, there can be no authentic community.”
One must remember that Dunn is not a systematic theologian. He is an activist for religious liberty. He has not written about community at length, but he has practiced it. Dunn is no “lone ranger” Christian. His audience is not simply Baptist individuals, but Baptist bodies (local churches and larger Baptist groups). His writings do reveal that he believes genuine voluntary individual faith leads a believer into the life of the church. He expects Baptists to use freedom responsibly and practice local church community. On one occasion, Dunn applauded the early writings of Jim Wallis which advocated an intentional community of communal discipleship. Dunn wrote, “No where have I seen a Baptist church that measures up to the vision of community held up by Wallis. Nor have I known a Baptist church that wouldn’t be a bit frightened by his idealism, nor one that couldn’t use a good dose of it.”
After serving as Executive-Director of the Baptist Joint Committee for 19 years, James Dunn “retired” in 1999 to his home in Winston-Salem, North Carolina where he serves as Resident Professor of Christianity and Public Policy at the Wake Forest University School of Divinity, still pushing for soul freedom, religious liberty, and the separation of church and state.
 Wendell Phillips, in The Home Book of Quotations, ed. Burton Egbert Stevenson (New York: Dodd & Mead, 1964), 1106.
 Walter B. Shurden, “James (Dunn) and John (Leland), Baptist Sons of Zebedee,” in James Dunn: Champion for Religious Liberty, ed. J. Brent Walker (Macon, GA: Smyth & Helwys Publishing, 1999), 109-122.
James M. Dunn, “Being Baptist,” in Baptists in the Balance, ed. Everett C. Goodwin (Valley Forge, PA: Judson Press, 1997), 219.
John Newport, “A Texas-Bred, Spirit-Led Baptist,” in James Dunn: Champion for Religious Liberty, ed. J. Brent Walker (Macon, GA: Smyth & Helwys Publishing, 1999), 18-26. See also James Dunn, e-mail message to author, January 21, 2008. Dunn began his professional ministerial service in 1954, serving as associate pastor at a Baptist church in Celina, Texas for a year and at First Baptist Church in Weatherford, Texas, from 1955 to 1958, and then as pastor of Emmanuel Baptist Church in Weatherford, Texas from 1958 to 1961. In an interview with Dunn, he noted that he was the first pastor of Emmanuel Baptist Church which began with just fifty-eight members and grew to two hundred members in just three years. The growth at Emmanuel included twenty-one baptisms.
James Dunn, telephone conversation with author, January 21, 2008. In 1978, Dunn was a research scholar at the London School of Economics and Political Science. He studied economics under Ian Roxborough and the sociology of religion under Eileen Barker.
James M. Dunn, “Christian Life Commission Report,” Annual of the Baptist General Convention of Texas (Dallas, TX: BGCT Press, 1971), 93-95.
Toby Druin, “Dunn – Off to Washington,” December 31, 1980, 5.
 Known as “Mr. Baptist,” E.Y. Mullins was a well-known Southern Baptist theologian. Princeton Seminary’s J. Gresham Machen described Mullins as the “spokesman not merely for the Southern Baptist Church [sic] or for the Baptist churches of America, but also to a considerable extent for the Baptist churches throughout the world.”
James M. Dunn, Soul Freedom: Baptist Battle Cry (Macon, GA: Smyth & Helwys Publishing, 2000), 63-65.
James M. Dunn, “Separating church, state, good for both,” Report from the Capital 50, no. 11 (November 14, 1995): 2.
James M. Dunn, “Church, State, and Soul Competency,” Review and Expositor 96, no. 1 (Winter 1999): 62.
Dunn, Soul Freedom: Baptist Battle Cry, 64.
Genesis 1:26-27 NRSV. “Then God said, ‘Let us make humankind* in our image, according to our likeness; and let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the birds of the air, and over the cattle, and over all the wild animals of the earth, and over every creeping thing that creeps upon the earth.’ So God created humankind* in his image, in the image of God created them; male and female he created them.’ ”
James M. Dunn, “The Baptist Vision of Religious Liberty,” in Proclaiming the Baptist Vision: Religious Liberty, ed. Walter B. Shurden (Macon, GA: Smyth & Helwys Publishing, 1993), 32.
Dunn, Soul Freedom: Baptist Battle Cry, 7.
Dunn, “The Baptist Vision of Religious Liberty,” 33. See also Dunn, Soul Freedom: Baptist Battle Cry, 65.
Winthrop S. Hudson, “Shifting Patterns of Church Order in the Twentieth Century,” in Baptist Concepts of the Church, ed. Winthrop Still Hudson (Philadelphia: The Judson Press, 1959), 215.
Curtis W. Freeman, “E.Y. Mullins and the Siren Songs of Modernity,” Review and Expositor 96, no. 1 (Winter 1999): 41.
Charles Marsh, God’s Long Summer (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1997), 82-115. See also John Hammett, “From Church Competence to Soul Competence: The Devolution of Baptist Ecclesiology,” Journal for Baptist Theology an Ministry 3, no. 1 (Spring 2005): 145-163. Charles Marsh cited Douglas Hudgins’ as a minister who hid behind soul freedom to avoid addressing the issue of race during the 1950s and 1960s.
James M. Dunn, “Yes, I am a Baptist,” in Why I Am A Baptist: Reflections on Being Baptist in the 21st Century, ed. Cecil P. Staton Jr. (Macon, GA: Smyth & Helwys Publishing, 1999), 46-47.
You can learn quite a bit from good blogs–and not just this one (he said with deep humility). 🙂 So, here, Gentle Readers, are some of my favorite series from blogger friends:
At that same blog, the great series on Jesus and Climate Change. (Byron, who runs the blog, has also done a series on Peak Oil, but has not put up one page to link to on that series.)
My friend, Dan Trabue, has a great series on “The Bible and Economics” on his blog, A Payne Hollow Visit. Scroll down and find the individual posts listed on the left of the blog under the Bible and Economics heading.
David W. Congdon, who runs the great blog, The Fire and the Rose, has several excellent series. Although I am not a universalist (Yet; I’d like to be, but still wrestle with problems it poses), I highly recommend his series, Why I Am a Universalist: A Dogmatic Sketch. I also recommend highly his series, The Heresies of American Evangelicalism. (I should mention that David is a product of American Evangelicalism, including graduating from Wheaton College!)
I have previously recommended Thom Stark’s fantastic series on Romans 13 as a call to nonviolent political activism, not blind obedience to the state or other Powers. I’d also like to recommend his series on Early Christian Nonviolence.
Over at Ben Myers’ blog (which I constantly recommend here, I know), you should not miss the many Propositions by Kim Fabricius. (Kim really needs to get his own blog.) Also Ben’s series on Theology for Beginners which should be turned into a booklet for use in adult education in churches. And, for those who have always wanted to tackle Karl Barth, but have been intimidated by the sheer volume, see Ben’s Church Dogmatics in a Week. (Not that anyone could actually read CD in that time!) The series of guest posts on Ben’s site, Encounters with Tradition, is excellent as is the guest series, For the Love of God (and some Theologians).
So far, we have had guest post entries for recovering the following neglected theologians:
I am expecting guest entries on Georgia Harkness (Methodist theologian and first American woman to become an academic theology professor in a seminary) or Geoffrey Wainwright; British Methodist Richard Watson; St. Isaac of Ninevah (I hope); Baptist ethicist and defender of church-state separation, James Dunn (not to be confused with the British NT theologian, James D.G. Dunn); Lutheran biblical theologian Samuel Terrien; Haitian priest and liberation theologian Jean-Bertrand Aristide (BEFORE he became the president and then-deposed president of Haiti); Fr. Urban Holmes; Brazilian Franciscan and liberation theologian Leonardo Boff (although I didn’t know Boff was neglected–it may show how much liberation theologies themselves are being marginalized, today). Maybe others. Except for Harkness no one has volunteered to write any entries for women, although there are many who could be added to such a list.
I plan to write at least one entry to this series–on Richard Overton, the patron “saint” of this blog. I am holding off on commitments to others in order to see what others submit. But I make the following suggestions for those who might wonder about submitting an entry, but no one comes to mind:
- French Reformed theologian Jacques Ellul
- Ellul’s American “counterpart,” the Episcopal lay theologian, William Stringfellow
- Muriel Lester
- St. Hildegaard of Bingen
- Dame Julian of Norwich
- D. C. Mackintosh
- Gerrard Winstanley, founder of the Digger Movement
- British Baptist John Clifford–who was the Rauschenbusch of the UK, imo
- Paul Lehmann
- Suzanne de Dietrich
- H. Wheeler Robinson
- Dale Moody
- J. Deotis Roberts
- Almost ANY Eastern Orthodox figure
- Fr. Daniel Berrigan, S.J.
- P.T. Forsyth
- Andre Trocme
- Howard Thurman (there is a small recovery of Thurman among African-Americans, but, like most African-American thinkers, he is nearly completely ignored by white Christians–except, in Thurman’s case, by Quakers)
Daniel Schweissing is correct to say, in the comments, that more women and theologians from the two-thirds world need to be included. Some are on the way and I have suggested some others, but let me be intentional in some neglected figures from outside the white, Western, male theological tradition:
- Toyohiko Kagawa (Japan)
- Takashi Yamada (Japanese Mennonite)
- Mercy Amba Odoyuye (Methodist woman–feminist theologian in Ghana)
- Lucretia Mott (19th C. Hicksite Quaker)
- Osadolor Imasogie (Baptist theologian in Nigeria)
- Elsa Tamez (Methodist NT theologian in Mexico)
- Jorge Pixley (American Baptist transplanted to Nicaragua)
- Archbishop Malkhaz Songashvili of the Evangelical Baptist Church of Georgia–and a leader of the nonviolent Rose Revolution there.
- Luís Rivera-Pagán of Puerto Rico
- Letty M. Russell, just deceased pioneer of feminist theology in the USA
- Allan Boesak, South Africa
- Archbishop Desmond Tutu (Ret.), South Africa
Surely many more could be suggested. I have avoided most of the “big names” in global liberation theologies because I hope and pray they aren’t being neglected, but after I received the suggestion for a guest post on Leonardo Boff, I became very depressed at the thought that the Western world has gone back to the pattern of ignoring the Two-Thirds World and its theologians, after such a brief break in that pattern during the ’70s and ’80s. Those of my readers who are in academic theology posts or seminary/divinity school programs, please tell me that is not true!
And those are just the ones who come easily to my mind. I think theology is impoverished by faddishness and needs to recover major voices of the past–recent and farther past. That’s the reason for this series.
A guest post by D. W. Horstkoetter, recent M.A. (Theology and Ethics) from Union Theological Seminary (NY), soon-to-be Ph.D. student at Marquette University, & owner/operator of the theology blog, Flying Farther.
Metz the Man:
I was at a bit of a loss for a theologian for the Levellers series on neglected theologians, but then thought of someone I had never heard of until I had half a class on him at Union: Johann Baptist Metz (b. 1928). Metz is German, from Bavaria more specifically, and like other Germans of his time — Dorothee Sölle and Jürgen Moltmann, his scandal was theodicy. Other than the Holocaust, he also experienced his own brush with death. Conscripted into the Nazi war machine at sixteen, he was sent to deliver a message. He left his company, of more than a hundred boys of similar age, only to return and find them all slaughtered:
Towards the end of the Second World War, when I was sixteen years old, I was taken out of school and forced into the army. After a brief period of training at a base in Wüzburg, I arrived at the front, which by that time had already crossed the Rhine into Germany. There were well over a hundred in my company, all of whom were very young. One evening the company commander sent me with a message to battalion headquarters. I wandered all night long through destroyed, burning villages and farms, and when in the morning I returned to my company I found only the dead, nothing but dead, overrun by a combined bomber and tank assault. I could see only dead and empty faces, where the day before I had shared childhood fears and youthful laughter. I remember nothing but a wordless cry. Thus I see myself to this very day, and behind this memory all my childhood dreams crumble away. A fissure had had opened in my powerful Bavarian-Catholic socialization, with its impregnable confidence. What would happen if one took this sort of remembrance not to the psychologist but into the Church? and [sic] if one did not allow oneself to be talked out of such unreconciled memories even by theology, but rather wanted to have faith with them and, with them, speak to God?1
Metz the Theologian:
Metz is important to theology. He helped form and drive theological discussion. Indicated above, in the two questions from the quote, is his general direction. More specifically, he dwelt on: dangerous memory, anamnesis, hope, Bourgeois Christianity and Anthropocentrism/hominization vs. Messianism and apocalypticism; questions of theodicy, suffering, oppression, and solidarity; carrying on theology after Rahner by putting forward an interruptive, narrative, and historical theology rather than Rahner’s transcendental theology; and a slew of other important points, in post-Nazi Germany.
Metz is still important to theology. He is still very relevant. The Christology and ecclesiology in my thesis on torture is fundamentally Metzian. It is more than a viable alternative to how Christians organize themselves in America today. Most notably, it has teeth. Christ was and is interruptive. The incarnation was interruptive, Jesus living — preaching and acting the basiliea — was interruptive, dying on the cross in the manner he did was interruptive, and finally the resurrection was interruptive. This interruption continues in the body of Christ; the church is to be interruptive.
This next next section explaining Metz deeper is taken from another post:
Metz: Hoping Rightly, Remembering Dangerously, and Solidarity with the Dead
A Christian historical consciousness is radically and diametrically opposed to a “purely historical relationship with the past that not only presupposes that the past is past; it also works actively to strengthen the fact that what has been is not present.”2 Rather Christian historical consciousness – remembering – is a reforming experience; it brings an idea of change, pushing Christians to change not only themselves, but also the surrounding world. “Identity is formed when memories are aroused” and likewise narrative achieves the same ends – we are given a vision of a great past and a brilliant future.3 This idea of a tangible past changes who we are in the present and gives hope to move our current present towards the eschatological hope. Thus the Christian vision of dangerous memory interrupts our conception of the present, by giving an alternate vision of history; we are re-contextualized within a different story, an informative and liberating story. This new and biblical story, informs us on who we are, gives a new identity – practitioners of a social, Christian praxis.
Simply put, envisioning the Christian mission through memories is the beginning of solidarity with the dead. We are made responsive to past suffering through anamnesis, for it is the nature of Christianity to imitate the suffering Christ, as it is also a religion of the oppressed.4 Thus the Christian praxis, attuned to suffering, consistently interrupts the apathetic world through solidarity for and with the helpless and suffering, in the present.5
However, we have lost the “messianic praxis” of “discipleship, conversion, love, and suffering”, because we have accepted the secularized notion of a nationalistic anthropology and hope (both espousing the ideology that humanity will overcome, thrive, and conquer future frontiers).6 With secularized theologies and the forgetting of Christian suffering, the church does not act in its prophetic role to the world; instead of liberating, the ideology holds the globe within Americana’s oppressive custody.7 The secularization of the church through a form of secular hominization has caused us to lose not only the idea of suffering with and for others, but we have also lost ourselves. Thus the American church has ceased remembering the atrocities of Auschwitz, or cannot respond well to current genocides like Darfur, by accepting the hope of American promises.
Metz: Bourgeois religion and Privatization
A Bourgeois religion is dependent on privatization; in order to envision the Messianic nature of Christianity, we must first understand who we are.8 How we see ourselves is less universally governed by the church’s direction or definition, rather, as American’s our most universal understanding as to who we are is fundamentally through individual and nation-state interaction – a privatizing, enlightenment document we call the Constitution. The American Christians needs to realize the influences of the Constitution and understand how the idea of a church is fundamentally a contrary social institution – the body of Christ.9 We can only get to the Christian call when we get past the American Dream and its hopes.10
As a person “the Christian has the responsibility to develop his faith’s relationship to the world as a relationship of hope, and to explicate his theology as eschatology.”11 All of Christianity, not just single Christians, is to be grounded in a “horizon of eschatology,” and more specifically in an eschatological foundation that is primarily a creative and militant.12 Thus the church reveals the Christian forward-looking hope to the world. This revealing is inherently political, as it forms the church according the mission of Christ and moves the church toward declaring the eschatological hope of the kingdom to the world.13
It is the church that stands within the kingdom, as the kingdom’s mission; it is the church that continually interrupts the world’s attempts at self-redemption or self-production through love, sacrifice and solidarity.14 The church is the breaking of the kingdom into the now by visibly crystallizing the intensifying nature of the Christological sacrifice on the cross.15 Thus the church points for the world from the suffering and resurrected past to the future and its hope. Fundamentally, the church interrupts the world, by proclaiming the hope of the future in a revolutionary and imaginative way; the center of Christian life is rooted in the forward-looking, eschatological hope that places Christianity within the kingdom within the world.
With all this in mind, Metz is at best a semi-neglected theologian in America, for a number of reasons:
1. He is Catholic. Now, this is not to infer that Catholics are shunned in the wider theological world, but rather that many a Catholic theologian is in the Catholic world, and whether they are writing for Catholics or theology in general, few, and they’re almost always the same, Catholics are taught in the Protestant world. Its as if the biggest Catholic names slip through (the equivalent Protestants would be someone like Barth). Prof. Dorrien warned me (though not as if it was a bad thing) that getting a PhD at a Catholic school would mean I’d be a part of that world for the rest of my life. Actually, he seemed to imply that it would be my life, and other theological worlds might be hard to come by. There still exists something of a theological barrier derived from the ecclesial difference: case in point, if you want to find (rather than start) a discussion on Metz, you go to the Catholics. If you want to talk about Metz to non-Catholics, often they say, why aren’t you at a Catholic school? Or at least this is my experience. On the other hand, the barrier seems to be thinning and this is no longer an experience for all current theologians. However, I suspect for older, Catholic theologians, from the time when the barrier was much thicker, it is still difficult to be heard in the Protestant world if you weren’t a trouble maker before Vatican II or someone of Rahner’s stature (even though others had the same goal as Rahner in mind, notably his student, Metz). I have a sinking suspicion that this problem between Catholics and Protestants is partly subject to the intra-Catholic suppression of modernism in the early 20th Century, which was relieved later when “the church windows were opened to let the modern breeze flow through,” as the pope calling for a second Vatican council put it. Simply put, taking from the top of Catholic theologians doesn’t make us ecumenical. That’s called tokenism.
2. Metz has a relatively small corpus of work (even some of his chapters have been printed in multiple books), originally written in German, and it has been poorly translated to English. He also mostly did, and does, his work in essay form. Matthew Ashley, a professor at Notre Dame, has recently retranslated a few of Metz’s works, however, it seems like a side project for him.
3. His methodology is unusual. He never set out to construct a system, but instead addresses what he called, “subject concepts.” Matthew Ashley explains, “‘Subject concepts’ are to be evaluated not so much by how they cohere into a system as in terms of their capacity to articulate and undergird the ways that specific person in specific times and places struggle to become and remain subjects: agents of their own histories, persons who recognize the symbols and narratives that make up that history to be their symbols and narratives, rather than an alienating imposition.”
4. Also, any current dissertation I do hear of on Metz is generally one per school, if that, and is always limited to Catholic schools. Simply put, I do not see many people taking his work and running with it beyond a class or two.
Those of us who do know of Metz and recognize his foundational influence that now surfaces in footnotes or as the basis of a book here or there, are the lucky few. It also seems that the older theologians, ones a generation or two back, are much more aware of Metz than students today. When I talked with a well known and highly influential Protestant theologian/ethicist (who taught for a number of years in the Catholic world) about a paper of mine built on Metz and future PhD work including Metz, he said something to the effect with surprise, “I’m glad that people are still reading and teaching Metz. It has become all too rare.” Few theologians are carrying Metz on and his influence is waning as we talk about his less and less.
Interestingly, as time has gone on and Metz wanes, he is still as relevant as ever. The issues he addressed, mentioned above, still prominently exist, if they have not intensified. Metz warrants much more attention than he receives right now, especially if we take seriously ecumenicism, any of the topics he touched on, or simply what it means to be a theologian.
In my book, Metz warrants much more attention than he receives right now, especially if we take seriously ecumenicalism or any of the topics he touched on.
1. The block quote is from A Passion for God, page 1 and translated by Matthew Ashley.
2. Johann Baptist Metz, Faith in History and Society: Toward a Foundational Political Theology, (New York: Seabury Press, 1979) 190.
3. Ibid., 66, 188.
4. Ibid., 52, 71.
5. Ibid., 57-58, 229.
6. Johann Baptist Metz, The Emergent Church: The Future of Christianity in a Postbourgeois World, (New York: Crossroad, 1981) 27 and Theology of the World, (New York: Herder and Herder, 1969) 68.
7. Johann Baptist Metz, Faith and the Future, (Maryknoll, N.Y.; Orbis Books, 1995) 55.
8. The Emergent Church, 12.
9. Theology of the World, 133.
10. Ibid., 146.
11. Ibid., 90.
12. Ibid., 90, 94.
13. Theology of Hope 330, 337, 338.
14. Ibid., 338; Metz, Faith in History and Society, 171.
15. Faith in History and Society, 89.
Okay, I’m still not going to comment on the presidential race again until after the Conventions, but I can’t help pointing out just how much the G.O.P. is in trouble in other races, especially the U.S. Senate. If the Democrats pick up a net gain of 9 seats, they will have a 60 seat majority–and thus be filibuster proof. This isn’t likely, but it isn’t impossible, either. The GOP has only 2 chances for pickups. This is their fault: They had targetted several Democratic senators believed to be vulnerable this cycle, only to be unable to recruit major challengers and/or unable to get them adequate funding. For instance, a senator who runs for president and loses is vulnerable to a challenge for their senate seat in the next cycle–especially if that cycle is only 2 years away. (So, yes, either McCain or Obama ought to expect strong challenges in either ’10–for McCain–or ’12 –for Obama, should he not win the White House.) So, the GOP targetted Sen. John Kerry (D-MA) this time–but they went through EIGHT choices before they found a strong candidate in Jim Ogonowski (R-MA)–who failed to get the required signatures to appear on the GOP primary! Now Kerry is cruising to victory! Even weirder, the GOP could find ZERO candidates to challenge freshman Sen. Mark Pryor(D-AR), whose only competition for reelection now is a Green candidate–in Arkansas!!! So, the only 2 bare possibilities for GOP pickups are South Dakota, because Sen. Tim Johnson (D-SD) had a near fatal brain aneurism in ’07 and is still recovering, and Louisiania, because the Katrina exodus has decreased the number of Democrats in LA and because Sen. Mary Landrieu (D-LA) initially did not handle that crisis much better than Bush. But BOTH of those incumbent Democrats are leading their opponents and looking stronger every day. My prediction: The GOP fails to pick off ANY incumbent Democrats in the Senate this go round.
That means that the Democrats need to add 9 seats to get to 60. The odds seem to me that they will fall just short–57 or 58–and if they get the latter it will be a larger Democratic majority in the Senate than at any time since 1978!! I think any casino in Vegas would give good odds on picking up the top 5 seats:
- VA: Former Gov. Mark Warner (D-VA) who was hugely popular as governor and who will be the keynote speaker at the Democratic National Convention in Denver this month has an ENORMOUS lead over highly unpopular former Gov. Jim Gilmore (R-VA). This is an open seat.
- NM: Another open seat. U.S. Rep. Tom Udall (D-NM) is decimating unpopular far-right Rep. Steve Pierce (R-NM) after Pierce had a very bruising primary campaign.
- AK: Indicted Sen. Ted Stevens (R-AK), the longest serving GOP Senator, is refusing to resign and is now badly trailing Anchorage Mayor Mark Begich (D-AK). The only slim hope for the GOP to retain this seat is if Stevens loses a GOP primary challenge, but Begich is outpolling both of Stevens’ Republican challengers, too. These 3 seats are all but sure wins for the Democrats.
- CO: Rep. Mark Udall (D-CO), cousin to Tom, has a steady 6 point lead over Rep. Bob Schaeffer (R-CO), who was involved with the Abramoff bribery scandal, for this open seat. When one adds in the DNC in Denver and Obama’s lead in the state (coat-tail effect), I think November will see 2 Udalls in the Senate.
- NH: Former Gov. Gail Sheehan (D-NH) is beating Sen. John Sununu (R-NH) of Reagan admin. infamy. (Update: I have been informed that Sen. Sununu may be the SON of the Reagan stooge of the same name. Either way, fmr. Gov. Sheehan is cleaning his clock and adding to the Democratic women in the Senate.)
No one should be surprised to see those 5 Dems sworn into their new Senate seats in January. After that it gets tricky. The other races are much closer, but what makes another 4 pickups (and, thus, the magic number of 60) possible is that there are so MANY competitive races where no one expected Democrats to have much chance.:
MS-B: Because of Sen. Trent Lott (R-MS)’s unexpected resignation (to become a lobbyist, of course!), Mississippi has to field TWO Senate races this cycle. The first one, unfortunately, is safe in GOP hands. Dems failed to recruit a strong challenger for Sen. Thad Cochran (R-MS), with all due respect to fmr. State Rep. Erik Fleming (D-MS) for agreeing to be the sacrificial lamb. Sigh. But in the open seat vacated by Lott, popular former governor Ronnie Musgrove (D-MS) is in a statistical dead heat with ethically-challenged Rep. Roger Wicker (R-MS). If Musgrove can keep this close (as it seems he is), then I think the huge African-American turnout in November (Mississippi has the largest African-American population in the country, 38%), while it won’t be enough for Obama to flip MS blue on the presidential level, probably WILL tip the scales for Musgrove and other downticket races. I think Musgrove will win.
NC: State Sen. Kay Hagan (D-NC) is closing in on Sen. Elizabeth Dole (R-NC) and is being aided by money from the national party. Dole has about a 7 point lead, now, but Hagan’s new ads are very popular. I think Hagan will win.
MN: Comic/commentator Al Franken (D-MN) had some rough going, but aided by new scandals for Sen. Norm Coleman (R-MN), is in an EXACT tie in 2 polls! I think Franken can pull this off, aided by Minnesota’s increasing Democratic turn and Obama’s popularity here. I think Franken will win.
That’s 3 of the needed 4 if I am right.
OR: Sen. Gordon Smith (R-OR) is in the fight of his life against Speaker of the Oregon House Jeff Merkely (D-OR). Merkely should be leading Smith, but the Oregon press seems to be in the tank for Smith. Still, the debates should help Merkely.
KY: I would not have believed it, but businessman Bruce Lunsford (D-KY) is running a very strong campaign against Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-KY), the U.S. Obstructionist-in-Chief (Sen. Minority Leader). This is still a long shot because McConnell is a strong campaigner and Kentucky is NOT Obama territory, but this could be the year we finally “Ditch Mitch!” If Lunsford goes on the attack, turning up the heat on all the McConnell votes against KY families in the last 2 years alone, he could pull this off. One of the smart things Lunsford is doing is concentrating his campaigning in rural KY–because Louisville and Lexington (our only “big cities”) already can’t stand McConnell. If Lunsford can get close to McConnell in the small towns and farms, then the large population centers (where most of KY Democrats live) can push him over the top.
ID: Former Rep. Larry LaRocco (D-ID) is only 10 points behind ethically-challenged, debate-fearing, Jim Risch (R-ID) for this open seat. Idaho is a VERY GOP state, but LaRocco is running a very strong campaign. With extra money and some luck, this could be a squeaker. Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich (R-GA), thinks stopping LaRocco is key to GOP hopes for keeping Dems from that magic 60 number–which shows how scared they are. LaRocco will be debating a conservative independent with a blank podium where debate-ducker Jim Risch should be. I think Idahoans will think twice about why Risch is so afraid to debate LaRocco.
KS, ME (which should be closer, but the print media in Maine is in the tank for Sen. Susan Collins–making her look like much more of a “moderate” Republican than she actually is), GA, OK, TX, and TN are also all competitive races with longshot possibilities for Democratic pickups.
So, if Sen. Obama becomes President, he is likely to have more Congressional backing (Democrats are expected to increase their majority in the House of Representatives by 15-30 seats, too!) than any Democratic president since Lyndon Baine Johnson in ’64. He could get some real, big vision, goals accomplished, like universal healthcare, fighting global warming, switching to green energy, better schools, infrastructure and job creation, etc. On the other hand, if Sen. McCain scrapes out a win (and the race is close enough for this to be possible–although the Electoral Vote calculator still gives Obama a 92% chance of victory), his promises are bankrupt (if the Dems stand up to him). His plan to make the Bush tax cuts for the rich permanent–dead on arrival. Privatizing Social Security? (Yes, he wants to do that!), no dice. He could well be a lame duck on day one–or have to do like CA Gov. Schwarzenegger (R) and change his tune and give in to Democratic demands. (So why vote for McCain? Go with the guy who will have a chance at accomplishing something good!) (McCain could still do damage by appointments and not withdrawing from Iraq and by fiddling away our last chance to stop Global Warming before it’s too late!)
I also expect Democrats to win back control of both houses of the state legislature in Texas (step one–Texas is turning Democratic, but not fast enough to help Obama to the White House this cycle–but maybe in ’12), the governorship of Missouri, and much else.
UPDATE: As former Rep. Tom Delay (R-TX) found out, there are no “permanent majorities.” If Obama wins the White House and the Dems do as well as predicted in the Senate, House, etc., expect the Dems to lose some Congressional ground in ’10. That’s usually the way it works. However, IF they are accomplishing good things, I doubt seriously that the Dems will lose enough seats for the GOP to take back either House of Congress (maybe in ’12). In fact, in the Senate, the Dems may pick up a few more seats and, if they don’t get to 60 this time, cross it, then. Some GOP Senate seats up for election in 2010 are already looking vulnerable to Democrats: 1. AZ: If McCain loses his White House bid, he may retire in ’10. But, even if not, I expect Gov. Janet Napolitano (D-NM) to take his seat from him, she is far more popular than he is and outpolls him in matchups by 20 points. If McCain wins the White House, NM law requires Napolitano to appoint a Republican to replace him until the special election, but that Republican could still be vulnerable to a strong Democrat as the Southwest is moving Democratic. McCain has lost popularity in AZ as he has run for president–especially since he has run against his own record. 2. FL: Sen. Mel Martinez (R-FL) has polled at only 50% approval rating and in hypothetical ’10 matchups, he has lost to Florida Chief Financial Officer Alex Sink (D-FL), Florida’s only state-wide elected Democrat besides Sen. Ben Nelson (D-FL) and polling dead even with popular Florida liberal Rep. Robert Wexler (D-FL, 19th). Retired FL. Sen. Bob Graham (D-FL), who was also a very popular FL governor, also outpolls Martinez should he decide to return to the Senate. I haven’t seen any polling, but I think Rep. Corinne Brown (D-FL, 03rd) or Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D-FL, 20th) could give Martinez a run for his money (or his lobbyist friends’ money). 3. KS: I expect Bush-henchman Pat Roberts (R-KS) to keep his Sen. seat this go round, although fmr. Rep. Jim Slattery (D-KS) is running strong enough that we may be surprised. However, KS OTHER far-right GOP Sen., Sam Brownback (R-KS), has already announced his decision to retire in ’10 leaving an open seat. Gov. Kathleen Sebellius (D-KS) is term limited from seeking a 3rd term as popular Gov. Unless she becomes VP (she was previously rumored to be on Obama’s short-list, but has apparently not made the final cut), she may decide to run for Senate–and I don’t think KS Republicans have a deep bench for strong opponents. 4. KY’s junior Sen. Jim Bunning (R-KY) is far more vulnerable than Obstructionist-in-Chief Mitch McConnell. in ’02, a STRONG year for the GOP, Bunning barely held onto his seat–by telling people that his opponent, Rep. Dan Mongiardo (now Lt. Gov.) “looked like one of Saddam’s sons!” (Yes, that actually worked! Sigh!) Mongiardo may try again in ’10. Or, my first choice, State Auditor Crit Luallen (D-KY), an anti-corruption HAWK who won reelection in ’07 by 70% of the vote, may decide to clean up the Senate! She’d cream Bunning. 4. MO: Sec. of State Robin Carnahan (D-MO), daughter of the late governor/senator Mel Carnahan (D-MO) polls in statistical tie with far-right wingnut Sen. Kit Bond (R-MO). And, with Claire McCaskill (D-MO) having won the Senate in ’06, Jay Nixon (D-MO) leading in his race for Gov. this year, and Obama narrowly trailing McCain in MO polls, it seems like MO is returning to the Democratic fold, so a Carnahan-Bond matchup has a strong chance for Democratic success. 5. PA: Sen. Arlen Spector (R-PA), one of the few TRULY moderate GOP senators left, is old enough that he may retire in ’10. Even if not, Democrats have gained tremendous ground in PA, so Spector could face stiff competition. Current Gov. Ed Rendell (D-PA) might take him on and it has been rumored that TV political commentator Chris Matthews (a moderate to conservative Democrat), is considering a senate run. Both would be strong competition for Spector. I would rather someone more progressive than either Matthews or Rendell, though. Think Rep. Allyson Y. Schwartz (D-PA, 13th). 5. OH: Sen. George Voinovich (R-OH) is high on the list of expected retirees for ’10 (he’d be 74 on election day!), but even if he doesn’t retire and leave this an open seat, he could be beaten. Rep. Tim Ryan (D-OH, 17) polls dead even with Voinovich in hypothetical matchups and Rep. Betty Sutton (D-OH, 13) polls only 2 points lower than Voinovich, 2 years out. If Voinovich retires, this should be a sure Dem. pickup and good chances even if he doesn’t.
Of course, 2010 is a long way off and much could change before then. (Few expected GOP fortunes to drop as much as they did between ’04 and ’06) But there are longterm demographic factors hurting the GOP: They are 91% white in a nation where, by 2042 there will be no majority ethnic group and whites will only be the largest minority (having a national plurality). At the turn of the century, Republicans were making gains among Latinos (the fasting growing ethnic group in the nation) and Asians and small-but-steady growth among African-Americans. But the anti-immigration stance and resurgent racism in much of the GOP has reversed those gains dramatically. Only 27% of the public currently admit to being Republican. New voter registration is strongest for Democrats and Independents. And the GOP is losing the hearts and minds of the American public, especially younger voters, on the big issues. As Protestant Evangelicals and Catholics are becoming swing-voters, again, the once-powerful Religious Right–still wedded firmly to the GOP, is hurting the Republican brandname, too.
Democrats have their own problems and the coming years could see both parties have to make room for the rise of the Libertarians and the Greens. The demographic factors might have seen the current GOP woes become reality eventually, anyway, but the current meltdown was, at least accelerated by President George W. Bush, who has led his party, the nation, and much of the world right over a cliff. I told you so.
If you doubt the level of violence directed at lesbian, gay, bi-sexual, and transgendered persons because of their gender identity or sexual orientation (i.e., hate crimes), then you should check out Unfinished Lives. That’s the name of a project, a blog, and an upcoming book on the unseen and under reported violence against LBGTQ persons. The project director, Dr. Stephen Sprinkle, is Associate Prof. of Practical Theology and Director of Field Education for Brite Divinity School. He is an ordained Baptist minister (at this Disciples of Christ related seminary) and the first out gay tenured faculty member at Brite. I look forward to the upcoming book and find the information on the blog tragic–and compelling in prodding me to do more to seek both increased legal protections against LGBTQ hate-crimes and to create a culture that works against this evil. This is the lynching issue of our era and the church today is nearly as silent as the church during lynchings of Jim Crow America.
D.W. Horstkoetter of Flying Farther is blogging on Race: A Theological Account by J. Kameron Carter. I have this book on my wishlist and, in the near future, I hope to blog more on how deeply racism entertwines Christian theology–not just with fundamentalist or conservative Christians, but also much of the history of liberal Christian theology in this and other countries. Until we address this sickness in our churches more directly, we shouldn’t be surprised at how deeply racism has been affecting our politics. (For a tiny sample of the latter, see this video. )
And Halden has created a strange contest for “Worst Theologian Ever” (and obvious heretics are not eligible for the game), not in the sense of “dumbest,” but in “most destructive to the church.” It’s a tough call; I’m still trying to narrow my initial list of 50! 🙂 But I’m very tempted to go with the early church historian Eusebius for beginning the long, disastrous tradition of theologians fawning over politicians–and, in Eusebius’ case, the dictator Constantine. But there are so many other rivals for the spot!
A Guest Post by Christian T. Collins Winn, Asst. Prof. of Historical and Systematic Theology, Bethel University. Dr. Winn has an upcoming book on the Blumhardts’ influence on the theology of Karl Barth.
and Christoph Blumhardt (1842-1919)
Johann Christoph Blumhardt and his son Christoph Blumhardt would certainly qualify as “neglected theologians.” Both Blumhardts, charismatic pastors from southwestern Germany (Württemberg), managed to be two of the most influential “theologians” of the later half of the nineteenth-century without anyone, at least not anyone in the English speaking world, really knowing about it. But don’t take my word for it, listen to Emil Brunner speaking about the origins of what has come to be called dialectical theology: “The real origin of the Dialectic Theology is to be traced, however, not to Kierkegaard, but to a more unexpected source, to a place still farther removed from the main theological thoroughfare-to the quiet Boll of the two Blumhardts.”
Rhetorical hyperbole you say? Perhaps, but given that not only Brunner and Moltmann, but Karl Barth, Eduard Thurneysen, Friedrich Gogarten, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Oscar Cullman, Paul Tillich and Gerhard Sauter all claim to have been influenced, or at the very least, to have known the thought of the two Blumhardts with some intimacy, a strong case can be made that the “pastors from Boll” had an important role in shaping the theological imagination of one of the most creative generations of Protestant thought in recent memory. This fact alone warrants the Blumhardts far more attention than they have received.
Unfortunately, there has been a dearth of available texts in English. That situation is currently being remedied through a partnership between Wipf & Stock Publishers and Plough Publishing that will produce a multi-volume collection of Blumhardt materials, with the first volumes appearing in 2009/2010. In anticipation of the forthcoming source material, I want to offer a three-fold argument for why the Blumhardts’ deserve our attention. First is what I would describe as the particular mode of their theology, which I will describe as “kerygmatic theology.” The second is to do with some of the particular proposals found in the proclamation of the Blumhardts. And finally, is the particular historical-ecclesial-spiritual-theological nexus that they inhabit. Before turning to these I should offer a brief outline for those of you who have never heard of the Blumhardts.
Johann Christoph Blumhardt became famous in Germany because of sensational events that unfolded in the small village of Möttlingen where he was the parish pastor. According to church documents as well as eye witnesses, for the better part of two years (1842-1843) Blumhardt found himself dealing with a purported case of demonic possession. Gottlieben Dittus, a parishioner, approached him complaining of strange events happening in the night. Blumhardt was initially repelled by the woman. Nonetheless, he would be drawn into a struggle whose dramatic crescendo and dénouement came with the shriek of the alleged demonic power that “Jesus is Victor!” This phrase would become the watchword and theological thematic for both Blumhardts in their respective ministries.
Over time, Blumhardt reflected on this episode in dialogue with Scripture and the tradition of Württemberg Pietism in which he was rooted. In light of his reflections, the phrase “Jesus is Victor” became shorthand for the inbreaking power of the Kingdom of God to liberate humanity from spiritual and physical bondage. Though the elder Blumhardt would increasingly emphasize the social dimensions of the kingdom, it was his son Christoph who would develop this aspect fully. In brief, Christoph Blumhardt came to the conviction that though his father had recovered a hope for the kingdom of God as made concrete in real physical transformation, he had not seen that the full expression of this hope included the transformation of the social conditions of humanity. While for the elder Blumhardt, “Jesus is Victor” had implied the healing of the body, for Christoph it implied the healing of the body politic. In contradistinction to his father, he began to envision the struggle with the powers and principalities in explicitly social and political terms. The powers against which Jesus struggled, and over which he would triumph, were now those structures which oppressed humanity and curtailed human flourishing.
These insights led the younger Blumhardt into the Social Democratic Party, which he would eventually represent in the regional legislature (1900-1906). In socialism, Blumhardt believed that he discerned a hope for a transformed world that was remarkably similar to the hope that the kingdom of God represented, and because the established church had consistently aligned itself with the status quo, Blumhardt argued that the atheist Socialists were more Christian than the Christians. However, after only 2 years of work he began to have serious doubts, not about the ideals of socialism, but rather about the practical platform and turbulent party politics he experienced. Though he would remain committed to socialism until his death in 1919, even remaining a member of the party and continuing to consult leading figures in Swiss socialist circles, Blumhardt became less sanguine about human attempts to bring the kingdom into the world: though they were an imperative, they were nonetheless flawed, awaiting the coming of Jesus to bring their hopes to fulfillment.
The Blumhardts deserve our attention, first, because of the particular mode of their theologizing. The Blumhardts together should be described as “kerygmatic theologians.” This refers first to the lyrical, aphoristic, and sermonic quality of their theological ruminations. The Blumhardts’ oeuvre is nothing more than a vast collection of sermons, table-talk, letters, poetry, hymns, pastoral counseling, biblical commentary, autobiographical and biographical reflection, and a few public speeches. So far as I know, there is no single text written by either Blumhardt that could be described as a theological treatise.
“Kerygmatic theology” also refers to the non-systematic character of their thought. One will find in their work theological themes and theses that stand in dialectical tension with no attempt by either Blumhardt to find resolution, or sometime even recognize the tension. The descriptor “kerygmatic” then, evokes the sense of a loosely connected set of theological convictions that when assembled represent a relatively coherent theology, while at the same time referring to persistent gaps, aporia, and even downright contradictions that reside within the overarching unity.
“Kerygmatic theology” also evokes the practical, earthy everydayness that marks most of their reflection and writing. Their theology was forged in the heat of battle, whether pastoral, political, or personal, which gives it a fresh quality and electric verve that still comes through today. Their thought retains a spiritual intensity that continues to feed those in need of nourishment.
This “kerygmatic” quality gives their thought both provisional and irreducible qualities. The provisional character refers to the constant need for theological supplementation, extension, elaboration and clarification which confronts the reader of their works. The irreducible character was certainly rooted in the peculiar experiences that shaped both their ministries, but should also be applied to the theological slogans by which they sought to crystallize their reflections on those experiences (especially “Jesus is Victor!” and “Thy kingdom come!”). They understood themselves as witnesses of the inbreaking kingdom of God, and their witness and subsequent theological reflection retains its original irreducible character. One either takes it seriously in all its strangeness or one does not.
Both of these qualities serve as invitation to think with the Blumhardts about the kingdom of God, firing the theological imagination, even if we find ourselves revising or moving beyond their thought. This is one of the reasons why these two obscure idiosyncratic figures became objects of fascination and inspiration for many of the 20th century’s theological luminaries.
My second reason for recommending the Blumhardts for consideration is the actual content of their thought. Their theology presents us with a complex of potent thematics that is too varied and interwoven to go into in any depth here. Nonetheless, it includes: a wide ranging consideration of eschatology and the kingdom of God; an illuminating discussion of the interrelation of prayer, human action and the coming of the kingdom; their different approaches to the doctrine of the apokatastasis ton panton [“restoration of all”]; the elder Blumhardt’s reflections on God’s judgment and dynamic nature, his thoughts on the relationship between eschatology, history, and pneumatology, and his pastoral reflections on embodiment and affliction; the younger Blumhardt’s “eschatological Christology”, his critique of Christendom in the context of missions and society, and his theoretical and practical work for a religious or prophetic socialism. All of these themes, and many more, surface across the writings of the Blumhardts, often in such different and illuminating combinations that they continue to provide food for thought.
Finally, the Blumhardts are worth taking seriously because they have been the source of inspiration of widely divergent movements. From Pentecostalism to liberation theology, from dialectical theology to the Keswick holiness movement, the Blumhardts have proven to be figures with extraordinary theological flexibility and fecundity. This makes the Blumhardts worth reading and thinking with not because they provide a foundation on which to build a kind of ecumenical integrated theology. Rather, they are important because they provide a common ground at which many different theological traditions meet, draw sustenance, and find that they have far more in common than not.
 “Continental European Theology,” in The Church Through Half a Century, ed. by S. M. Cavert and H. Van Dusen (New York: C. Scribner’s Sons, 1936), 141.
 “The Hope for the Kingdom of God and Signs of Hope in the World: The Relevance of Blumhardt’s Theology Today,” Pneuma: The Journal of the Society for Pentecostal Studies, 26/1 (Spring, 2004), 4.
This ad will air tonight in the U.S. during coverage of the Olympic Games. Makes more sense than drilling, no?