21 May 2003

there is another king

For months now I've been trying to finish an article on political theology, though unfortunately I have had almost no time to give to it. Here is the introduction:

Introduction

When Paul and Silas were accused by a mob in Thessalonika, among the charges brought against them was that they proclaimed that there is another king, this Jesus (Acts 17:7). Whatever the intentions of the mob may have been, this incident shows us that the Gospel message heralded by Paul was easily and credibly heard as a political message in the context of the ancient world. This was even so when those bearing that message were busy with what we would see as “church work”: proclaiming Jesus, explaining the Scriptures, and baptizing converts.

And yet, in our world, the Gospel is often heard primarily as a message about personal salvation or about distant events in a distant history or the promise of a new kind of spiritual experience. Even where the Gospel leads to political involvement, more often than not it is seen as the intrusion of religion or the church into secular space, either by projecting one’s private religiosity into the public square or by dangerously colluding with the powers that be or by attempting to wrest their power from them.

In the following essay, I will argue that the way things now stand is deficient and that the Gospel does not merely lead Christians to enter into and engage themselves within secular political space. Rather the Gospel is politics, a politics moreover that questions the very constitution of any social space as “secular” or the relegation of politics to that space. The Gospel, thereby, begins to redefine what we mean by “politics.”

I will begin by examining and deconstructing the notion of the “secular” as an artifact of the Enlightenment, noting how it has come to constrain the ways in which Christians and the church have seen themselves as related to the political. In the second half of this essay, I will attempt to sketch the ways in which the Gospel refashions politics around itself through its very message about a new King and new Lord, through the establishment of the church as the center of God’s reign, and through new practices—in particular, baptism and eucharist—which are themselves politically transformative.