Political Theology: a guide for the perplexed, a short summary and overview

Political Theology: A Guide for the Perplexed by Elizabeth Phillips is a short overview of the major trends, conversations, and schools of thought in 20th century political theology. What follows is a list of the key questions dealt with in the text:

Chapter 1: John Howard Yoder (Christians should keep a wary distance from the political world, keep God’s sovereignty central) vs. Oliver O’Donovan (the Biblical prophetic tradition is about regularly calling political leaders to repentance). Augustine (City of God vs. City of Man).

Chapter 2: An overview of “approaches to political theology”–what are some of the key points of disagreement and what kinds of questions are asked.

  • Optimism: Thomas Aquinas and the idea that governments are part of the created order to promote human flourishing
  • Pessimism: Augustine of Hippo and governments are necessitated because of our sinful fallen nature and will always be sinful themselves
  • Covenant: Jurgen Moltmann and the idea that humans proactively enter into covenants to give government power but also remember that they’re ultimately accountable to God
  • Leviathan: Thomas Hobbes and “war of all against all” and humans agree to governments only out of fear of violent death

Generation 1: Political theology in the 20th century that focuses largely on responses to fascism, WW2, critical theory, etc. Liberation theology of Latin America and Black Theology. Public Theology that recognizes that political governments are the key institutions of society and to seek to influence them.

Generation 2: Postliberalism of Hauerwas, the ‘Yale School’ of thought. Radical Orthodoxy of John Milbank. Contextual theologies of postmodernism, Queer Theology, etc.

Chapter 3: What is the appropriate relationship between church and civil government? Should the two be separated or not? Should the ethics and values of one apply equally to the other? Why or why not? Martin Luther, Karth Barth, Dietrich Bonhoeffer.

Chapter 4: What were the politics of Jesus of Nazareth? Yoder’s Politics of Jesus (1972): Jesus was above all else a political pacifist. Reinhold Neibuhr: Jesus taught religious values, but the political/civil realm should have a different set of values.

Chapter 5: What is the role of violence and governmental coercion from a theological perspective? Augustine, Cavanaugh, Elshtain, etc.

Chapter 6: What does theology have to say about liberalism and democracy, especially as it pertains to individualism, freedom, capitalism, equality, etc.? Hauerwas, Rawls, Milbank, Gregory.

Chapter 7: Liberation theologies in response to oppression and marginalization. MLK and civil rights, Ruether and eco/feminism, Althaus-Reid and liberation theology.

Chapter 8: Eschatology–is the world going to get worse and devolve into sin and destruction or continually be renewed toward greater and greater love?

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