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Process Theology as Political Theology by John B. Cobb, Jr.


John B. Cobb, Jr., Ph.D. is Professor of Theology Emeritus at the Claremont School of Theology, Claremont, California, and Co-Director of the Center for Process Studies there. His many books currently in print include: Reclaiming the Church (1997); with Herman Daly, For the Common Good; Becoming a Thinking Christian (1993); Sustainability (1992); Can Christ Become Good News Again? (1991); ed. with Christopher Ives, The Emptying God: a Buddhist-Jewish-Christian Conversation (1990); with Charles Birch, The Liberation of Life; and with David Griffin, Process Theology: An Introductory Exposition (1977). He is a retired minister in the United Methodist Church. His email address is cobbj@cgu.edu.. Published by Westminster Press 1982. Copyright by John B. Cobb, Jr.. This material was prepared for Religion Online by Ted and Winnie Brock.


Chapter One: The Challenge of Political Theology


The main purpose of this book is to develop process theology in a way that responds appropriately to the challenge of political theology. When this is done, I claim, process theology must become a political theology. There is no intention to provide a history of political theology or to introduce the reader to the whole field of recent developments within that movement. Nevertheless, the argument cannot be understood apart from some clarification of how I perceive political theology and its challenge to process theology.

Accordingly, this chapter begins with a brief survey of the history of the term, political theology. Metz, Moltmann and Sölle are introduced in this survey, and in the second section they are presented as three more or less independent embodiments of political theology. In the third section the effort is made to distil a few common features of political theology which can determine the use of the term in the remainder of the book. These clarify also the sense in which process theology is, or should become, a political theology. The chapter concludes with brief comments on the perspective and promise of process theology in its relation to political theology.

I

The term political theology can be traced back to the Stoics. By them it was contrasted with mythical and natural or philosophical theology. Political theology was the expression of those religious practices which served the needs of the state. By those who held the corporate life of the people to be of supreme importance, especially in Rome, political theology was often given pride of place.

St. Augustine criticized this political theology by demonstrating that there are ends beyond the state which it cannot serve. It is the City of God and not the earthly city which constitutes the true end of human beings. The affirmation of this transcendent end undercut the persuasiveness of political theology for the medieval period.

The question of society’s need for religion came to the fore again during the Renaissance and the Enlightenment. Christianity’s claim to a transcendent goal was seen by many as responsible for the destructive strife of the seventeenth century. The desirable religion would be one which served the needs of human community, in short, a political religion, or what Rousseau called civil religion.

The leaders of the Catholic Restoration stressed the importance of religion for society in their argument against the secularizing tendencies of the Enlightenment and the French Revolution. Although at first this argument was used to support a conservative form of Catholicism, as time passed it could also be used to derive norms by which religious beliefs could be judged. Only those which have a positive social function would then be acceptable.1

In the twentieth century, discussion of ‘political theology’ was revived by Carl Schmitt who used the term as the title of a book in 1922.2 In the chapter which also bears this title Schmitt argues for the correspondence in each epoch of the form of social authority and the theological world view. For example, he sees monarchy as correlative with theism and, indeed, the justification of monarchy as derived from theistic ideas. The supersession of monarchy by democracy is correlative with a more immanent conception of God.

Schmitt’s thesis generated considerable debate. Theologians were disturbed by the suggestion that Christian teaching about God must bear responsibility for the particular forms taken by social and political authority. The major respondent to Schmitt was Erik Peterson, whose publications of 1931 and 19353 provided a basis for the rejection of ‘political theology’ by Barthians. Peterson presented Eusebius of Casesarea as the prototype of political theology and argued that the connection between theology and political doctrines of sovereignty is broken by the radical transcendence of God in Gregory of Nazianzus’s doctrine of the Trinity and by Augustine’s doctrine of freedom. Peterson concluded his 1935 essay with a footnote which referred to Schmitt’s work and then stated ‘We have here made the attempt, to prove by a concrete example the impossibility of a "political theology" 4

Nevertheless, the topic of political theology arose again in the sixties, as emphasis on the central importance of the political arena once again became influential in theological circles. In 1970 Schmitt summarized the discussion generated by his earlier book and responded in detail to Peterson’s rejection of political theology.5 In the early seventies a team of scholars sympathetic to Peterson studied the validity and the limits of his rejection of political theology and came to the conclusion that it was too conditioned by the struggle against Hitler to constitute a universal doctrine.6

Meanwhile another group of writings has appeared since the late sixties in which the term ‘political theology’ plays an important role but the debate between Schmitt and Peterson does not set the terms of the discussion. The label is used to refer to a quite different way in which theology can be related to political life. Whereas the earlier political theology sanctioned the status quo, the new political theology called for criticism and could support revolution.7 It is this new type of political theology which has moved out of the German language discussion and become globally important, especially in its connection with various liberation theologies.

Johann Baptist Metz has been the key figure in the new political theology. He first used the term in his lectures in the winter terms 1965-6 8. In his development since then and his leadership of the movement, Metz has been supported and encouraged by Jürgen Moltmann, whose ‘theology of hope’ struck many of the same chords.9 Indeed, Moltmann was quite ready himself to call for a political theology. Even more than Moltmann, Dorothee Sölle has taken up the term ‘political theology’, presenting this as the appropriate direction for development of the Bultmannian school.10 Sölle’s influence in Germany has been chiefly in the church and among young people loosely related to the church rather than in German academic theology. Nevertheless, she has helped to shape the understanding of political theology in the English-speaking world,

Despite the difference between this form of political theology and that which had been discussed earlier, Hans Maier suggested that there are analogous weaknesses. In Maier’s view Peterson’s objections to political theology apply to the new form as well.

The fact that in this case the political positions supported were revolutionary rather than conservative did not remove the negative consequences of the church’s effort to interfere with political life.11

Jürgen Moltmann, on the other hand, emphasized the difference between the new and the old meanings of political theology depicting what had earlier been called political theology as the ideology of political religion, which is the symbolic integration of the beliefs of a people through which they sanction and sanctify their traditions and their ambitions.12 Moltmann strongly supports Peterson in his critique of political theology in this sense.13 It is the task of what is properly called political theology -- in Metz’s sense -- to unmask the pretenses of political religions.

Metz, too, emphasizes the difference between his project and the earlier ones also called political theology and acknowledges the negative weight of using the same term, lie considers the suggestion that he should speak instead of Sozial Theologie, Theologie publique, or simply Kritische Theologie, but he finds these alternatives still less satisfactory. The task is to give a new meaning to ‘political theology’ based on the changes in ‘the category of the political itself in consequence of the Enlightenment’.14 The change is to a partial separation of society from the state which leads to anti-totalitarian consequences.15

II

The three leading figures in German political theology with some of whose writings this book will deal are Met; Moltmann and Sölle. They came to political theology from surprisingly different backgrounds, and these differences have some effect upon their methodologies and doctrines as these are referred to in later chapters. Since Metz is the major conversation partner in this book, more attention to him is in order, but the contrasting journeys of Moltmann and Sölle will be noted.

As a Roman Catholic theologian Metz was schooled in the tradition of transcendental Thomism.16 This school represents the acceptance on the part of Thomists of the basic shift to the subject of knowledge entailed in the philosophy of Kant. It emphasizes with Kant that the world that we know through sense experience and thought is a world that we ourselves construct. Unlike Kant, however, the transcendental Thomists have been preoccupied with the question of being. Here there is an affinity with Heidegger whose philosophy is primarily an inquiry into being on the basis of the analysis of the one who asks the question of being, that is, the human being.

The most important of the transcendental Thomists has been Karl Rahner, and Metz has been very closely associated with Rahner. Indeed, Rahner entrusted to Metz extensive revision in his earlier writings, revisions which show Metz’s distinctive interest and approach. Under Rahner’s tutelage Metz wrote his Habilitationsschrift, a study of St Thomas from the transcendental perspective. Christliche Anthropozentrik.17

In this book Metz argues that the epoch-making shift to anthropocentricity was made already in Thomas himself. The implications of this claim are enormous for the Christian understanding of modern thought. Metz views ‘the modern age as the categorical carrying through of the Thomistic -- Christian form of thought’.18 Accordingly, secularization is to be affirmed from the Christian perspective.

The extent to which Thomas did indeed inaugurate this shift so as to be the source for modern philosophy is debatable. Metz has been accused of reading back into Thomas what he learned from Kant. But this historical point need not detain us. What is important for us is Metz’s own development, and his understanding of anthropocentricity is an important step in his development of a political theology.

He distinguishes between the content of a philosophy and its controlling understanding of being. Much Greek thought, for example, focuses on the human being and is, in this sense, anthropocentric in its content. But it views human beings in an objectifying way because its controlling understanding of being is taken from the objects of experience. For this reason Metz calls it cosmocentric.

In contrast to this he finds that the content of Thomas’s thought is God, and it may accordingly be described as theocentric. But Thomas has turned away from the object of experience to subject- ivity itself for his fundamental grasp of what being is. This constitutes St Thomas as anthropocentric in the sense with which Metz is fundamentally concerned.19

The world does not exist in itself over against human beings. It has its being in and as the self-externalization of human beings. Similarly God is not an object existing above human beings but is the transcendental subjectivity of human subjectivity. "‘To come before God" is at once the highest form of man’s "coming to himself", the fulfillment of his subjectivity.’20

In the mid-sixties Metz concentrated on the understanding of the world. Although the world does not exist apart from human beings, this does not make it a private matter. ‘Every experience of the world takes place within the horizon of shared human existence, not merely in the "private" sense of the I-thou, but in the "political" sense of social existence in community. Thus every experience of the world and the interpretation of the world based on it are inter-subjectively or intercommunicatively grounded.’21 The context for understanding the world is human history.

The theology of the world thus moves directly into political theology. ‘The theology of the world is neither a purely objectivistic theology of the cosmos nor a purely transcendental theology of the person and existence. It is a political theology. The creative -- militant hope behind it is related essentially to the world as society and to the forces within it that change the world.’22

Meanwhile Metz’s way of thinking of God was also changing. In Christliche Anthropozentrik God as the final end of human beings was thought of as the ground and content of future human fulfillment. Hence the note of futurity was present, but it was not central. But when Metz addressed the question of God again toward the end of the sixties he did so entirely in the context of the Christian hope for the coming of God. God is indissolubly related to the realm of freedom and peace that is promised and that comes to believers now as the call to realize freedom and peace concretely in our world.23

A collection of essays written from 1961 to 1967 was published under the title Theology of the World.24 These include an article entitled ‘The church and the world in the light of a "Political theology"’. It was this essay that launched the extended discussion of Metz’s new ‘political theology’.

Already by 1969 this discussion gave rise to a book which also gave Metz the opportunity to reply to his critics.25 In this reply he provides a clearer statement of what he takes as the cardinal features of a political theology than he had included in the initial essay. He identifies three. The first is the task of a ‘theological hermeneutic in the contemporary social context’.26 This can be called a political hermeneutic. Second, the new political theology should be a ‘critical corrective over against a certain privatizing tendency in recent theology’.27 And third, since theology and the church actually have massive political importance, political theology must have a ‘critical function in the church’.28

Jürgen Moltmann followed a quite different, and in many ways more direct, road to political theology. Deeply stamped by his experience as a prisoner of war, he returned to Germany after World War II to study theology. Referring to himself in the third person he writes briefly of how he was shaped during that period:

This student sat at the feet of Gerhard von Rad, Ernst Käsemann. Hans Joachim Iwand, Ernst Wolf, and Otto Weber at the University of Göttingen. There he imbibed the theology of the Confessing Church, inspired by Karl Barth and preserved throughout the years of struggle between the church and the Nazi state . . . We learned the origin of the Christian faith in the suffering of him who was crucified and in the liberating power of the risen Christ . we could withstand the crucifying experiences of life only through faith in the vicarious suffering and death of Christ our brother, and in the freedom conferred by his resurrection. That is what made us so Christocentric. Barth’s theology was simply the first and most enlightening formulation of faith in such experiences. That is why we didn’t become Barthians, but with gratitude went beyond him toward the eschatological, toward the theology of the cross, and toward a politically critical theology.29

It was with this eschatological emphasis within a Barthian matrix of thought that Moltmann encountered the work of Ernst Bloch. He found in Bloch a philosophical conceptuality that enabled him to draw loose ends together and to understand his own intentions. Hence Bloch, and through Bloch the humanistic Marxist tradition, became the second great source of Moltmann’s thought.

From such sources it is not difficult to see how there emerged a ‘theology of hope’. The tendency of Barth’s eschatology to relativize the importance of history by picturing God as above, instead of in the future, had to be overcome. Bloch’s ‘atheism’ also had to be dealt with. But much of the needed work was already accomplished by his Göttingen teachers. It remained for Moltmann to bring the whole together in a new form with the stamp of his own experience and thought upon it.

The term political was not prominent in The Theology of Hope, but the substance was already there. Hence no real change was involved when in the years after its publication Moltmann began to speak of his as a political theology, associating himself closely with the position of Metz.

In 1971 Moltmann published an essay on ‘Political theology in which he undertook to explain it to the English-speaking world. He points out that Christians now have considerable freedom in relation to our own traditions but that we have not attained similar freedom in relation to the political world.

Consequently modern criticism asks about the practical, political, and psychic effects of the churches, of theologies, and of ways of believing. Responsible theology must therefore engage in institutional criticism as it reflects on the ‘place’ of the churches in the life’ of modern society and in ideological criticism as it reflects on itself. It can no longer self-forgetfully screen out its own social and political reality as the old metaphysical and personalistic theologies did . . . Political theology designates the field, the milieu, the environment, and the medium in which Christian theology should be articulated today.30

Alongside and expressive of this understanding of political theology as politically self-critical theology is the view of political theology as hermeneutical. Form criticism has already made us aware of the social setting of our texts. As we become equally conscious of the social setting in which we stand, we can develop a political hermeneutic. ‘We can move from the existentialist and personalistic interpretations of traditional texts to a political hermeneutic of these traditions and from a hermeneutic of pure understanding to an exegesis of traditional religious representations in practical intent.’31

Dorothee Sölle came to political theology from existentialist theology. She studied theology, along with German philology, at Göttingen and Freiburg. Her most influential teachers were Fried-rich Gogarten and Ernst Käsemann. In 1965. the same year in which Moltmann published The Theology of Hope, she published her first book, Christ the Representative: an Essay in Theology after the ‘Death of God’,32 She was impressed, like Metz, with the secularization of modem experience and recognized that this entailed a sense of the absence or "death" of God. She wanted to show how modern people can still find their identity in Christ as their representative.

Two years later Sölle published Phantasie und Gehorsam, translated into English as Beyond Mere Obedience.33 Her movement towards political theology is manifest in this book as she shows how the close association of faith with blind obedience to God, encouraged by much Christian theology, correlates with the obedience to human rulers manifest in Germany in the Nazi period. She calls instead for the strengthening of personal selfhood and the prizing of self-realization and personal fulfillment which express themselves in creative spontaneity and fantasy. In one chapter, placed as an appendix in the English translation, Sölle directly anticipates her future work by arguing that demythologizing or existential interpretation does not suffice. ‘A demythology which does not become an ideological critique reinforces the ideological veil that hangs above our social reality simply because its partial explanations create an elite sense of complete enlightenment.’34

Sölle cannot share with Metz and Moltmann the apocalyptic language which implies that God will eventually bring a universal fulfillment. But this does not lessen for her the importance of what is happening now to human beings in our world. For some years, before dealing directly with the topic of political theology, Sölle was leader of ‘Politisches Nachtgebet’ in Cologne. This was a group which met once a month for political worship, that is, for analysis of particular social crises and reflection and prayer about them, followed by asking what could be done in response.

In 1970 Sölle addressed the meeting of Old Marburgers on the relation of Bultmann’s hermeneutical method to political theology. Her book Political Theology grew out of that lecture and subsequent discussions. In it political theology is pictured as the consistent outcome and development of Bultmann’s critical method derived from the Enlightenment. In the Enlightenment this method was employed politically. Whereas some of Bultmann’s followers have developed a kerygmatic orthodoxy based on identifying the kerygma with a body of fixed doctrines, Bultmann’s intention was to contrast the kerygma to doctrine and to keep all doctrine subject to criticism. This intention is better fulfilled when the full breadth of Enlightenment criticism is recovered. This would involve moving from the existing recognition of the socio-political character of the text in its original setting to that of the socio-political meaning of the text in the contemporary setting as well.

Sölle does not provide us with a convenient list of the essential features of political theology. Where she deals most explicitly with this question she focuses on hermeneutic. She states that political theology is best understood as ‘political interpretation of the gospel’.35 But there are other ingredients clearly indicated.

For Sölle, as for Metz and Moltmann, political theology is essentially critical theology. It is critical of theology and of the church. It is also critical of existing structures of society. Finally, it involves self-criticism, the acknowledgement of how one is bound up in the sin of society and has the tendencies which lead to the most vicious acts. ‘A criticism of society which . . . does not detect and give expression to the capitalist or to the concentration camp guard that is in each of us, but instead creates enemies in hostile projections, I consider political propaganda, plain and simple, and not a political interpretation of the gospel.’ 36

Sölle is as clear as Metz and Moltmann that political theology is not the substitution of political ideas for theology. But she does note that there is a place for a constructive role in relation to the political world. She describes this as ‘projecting innovative models’37

III

There are important theological differences among these three leaders of political theology, and it will be necessary to discuss some of them. But what is striking is that, despite their diverse journeys to political theology, their views of what this is are so similar. All three see political theology as a hermeneutic. All three see it as criticism of church and theology. And although deprivatization is not an express theme of Moltmann and Sölle, it is implicit in their whole programmes.

On one very important point with respect to the understanding of political theology, however, differences do appear. None of them see political theology as merely the expression in the political arena of a theology that in its core is not political. But the question remains whether all theology is or should be political theology, whether the political is the sole horizon for theological work. The critical question is whether personal salvation can be fully subsumed under political salvation.

Sölle is quite clear that today all theology should be political theology. She writes: ‘The theological program that must be undertaken is called "political theology" -- specifically one that understands itself not as a mere component but as the essential formulation of the theological problem for our time.’38 This follows consistently from her view that there is no individual salvation.

Political theology begins with a modified preunderstanding. Its guiding hermeneutical principle is the question of authentic life for all men. This does not mean that the question about individual existence must be suppressed or thrust aside as nonessential. But surely even that question can be answered only in terms of social conditions and in the context of social hopes. No one can be saved alone. Subjectivity is injected into even this process of social understanding, but not for the purpose of seeking understanding, for itself alone; rather it believes in and calls for the indivisible salvation of the whole world.39

This view of the indivisibility of salvation for all is consistently rooted in the conviction that ‘all reality is worldly and inherently social’.40

That political theology is the inclusive form of theology does not imply that there is a lack of interest in individuals. Political theology does not reject the insights attained by existential theology. Indeed, Sölle claims that ‘political theology reveals for the first time the truth of existentialist theology, because it enables and does not merely postulate an existential way of speaking. which also concerns the individual’.41 She illustrates this as follows: ‘It is not enough to criticize property rights . . . so long as we, as "powerless" individuals, are not able to clarify how we are entangled in the general structures, that is, how we profit from the structures and how we conform to the introverted norms that we regard as self-evident -- for example, the norms of achievement, consumerism, reasons of state -- and pass them on to others, even when we reject them privately and verbally.’42 But this existential meaning of the message of political theology clearly does not require the development, alongside political theology, of another, oriented to the individual.

In Moltmann’s case the situation is different. There is no lack of emphasis on the salvation of the whole world, and as in Sölle this is presented in such a way as to bring out its existential meaning. But the treatment of the individual is not exhausted by the existential meaning of the political message. For example, the two concluding chapters of The Crucified God deal respectively with ‘Ways towards the psychological liberation of man’ and ‘Ways towards the political liberation of man’.43 Although Moltmann is very sensitive to the socio-historical context of psychiatry, it does not seem that he wants to subsume the psychological entirely under the heading of the political.

If for Moltmann the political is not the one horizon for all theology, this can be explained by the fact that he does conceive of an individual liberation or salvation as well as the inclusive one. He writes that the ‘inner poisoning of life extends not only through poor societies but through rich societies as well. It cannot therefore be overcome simply by victory over economic need, political oppression, cultural alienation and the ecological crisis. Nor can it be reduced to these realms and dimensions . . . This would remain open in the best of all conceivable societies. It can only be healed by the presence of meaning in all events and relationships of life’.44 " Also ‘the liberation of the believer from the prison of sin, law and death, is brought by God, not by politics.’45 This presupposes a relation of the individual to the corporate quite different from that affirmed by Sölle.

Metz seems to be closer to Sölle than to Moltmann on this topic. To view political theology as one branch of theology alongside others would be, from his point of view, to miss the point. This theology is a new way of implementing the total theological task. In Metz’s words, political theology ‘tries to carry out the same task that Christian theology has always carried out -- that of speaking about God by making the connection between the Christian message and the modern world’. It is not simply a theory of the subsequent application of the Christian message, but a theory of the truth of that message’. It ‘does not aim to be a regional task of contemporary theology as a whole but a fundamental task’.46

If Metz does agree with Sölle on this important point, this is consistent with his anthropology. Metz views the human situation as inherently social. If there is no existence that is not bound up with others, then there can be no salvation apart from the salvation of others. The social or political horizon is truly fundamental for the understanding of all things human.

Nevertheless, Metz’s statements on this point are not quite as unequivocal as 5611e’s. He recognizes a distinction between "the one history of salvation and the many histories of salvation and the absence of salvation of individuals’ although he believes that they merge together without diminishing each other’.47 This could open the way for supplementing the political horizon with a psychological one.

What such supplementation would mean is shown by the work of one of his students, Francis Fiorenza. In his discussion of political theology as a fundamental theology, Fiorenza adopts the view that there is a duality of goals. He affirms that ‘political theology represents only one horizon and not the sole horizon of theology as a foundational theology’.48 He requires, in addition, existential and transcendental horizons. These horizons can be analyzed in reference to their societal and political dimension, but this in no way denies their significance as distinct horizons. The political and the existential are each more extensive than the other. Existential question of birth, life and death transcend the societal and cannot be politically resolved. Nor can every political issue be reduced to an existential question.’49

This view of multiple horizons is plausible, but it is doubtful that it can be attributed to Metz. Metz went to some length in his earlier writings to do away with the transcendental horizon in so far as it could be juxtaposed to the socio-political one as Fiorenza suggests. Further, he would not be happy to set the existential alongside the political in this way. He perceives the existential interest as the heir of Enlightenment individualism. This individualism was bound up with the critical spirit which he strongly commends. But in Metz’s account the individuals of Enlightenment individualism are bourgeois individuals conceived in abstraction from the social circumstances which make autonomy and maturity possible for them. Theology written by and for such individuals fails to deal with the problem of how what they are called to be could become possible for other human beings. It also idealizes a form of individual self- realization that undercuts solidarity with all humanity.50 Metz would probably see a theology which paired existential and political horizons as yielding too much to our bourgeois complacency.

One factor entering into the complexity of this argument is the lack of clear definition of ‘political’. Sometimes all human activity and thought is called political in that it is denied that any of it is free of political consequences. From this it follows that psychological or existential liberation is also political. But political theology, it seems, calls attention to that public effect. Accordingly, the only norms which could be applied to the experience of psychological liberation by the political theologian in the narrow sense would be those of its public or social effects.

Even in the public sphere there is an ambiguity in the use of the term political. Again it is used broadly so that even such apparently non-political activities as efforts to re-think Christianity in the light of discussions with Buddhists can be viewed as political activity. Yet the choice of the term political has a marked tendency to direct attention elsewhere. Those who call themselves political theologians have not been in the forefront of the interreligious dialogue. Some of them, especially Metz, have yet to show much interest in the liberation of women. The emphasis on the ‘political’ directs them to socio-economic and international affairs instead. The breadth of Moltmann’s interests may be one reason that the term political does not appear as the encompassing horizon of his theology, even though he is never oblivious to the political dimension, in the narrower sense, of what he is doing.

For all political theologians theory is in the service of practice. This practice is not, of course, blind activism, It is activity informed by thought. What is important is that thought should not be viewed as an end in itself or as the means for gaining truths which are only subsequently related to action in the world. As Christians we engage in reflection, even quite abstract reflection, because we need to act and to act rightly. This action is, of course, political action.

Furthermore, for political theologians practice is guided and governed by a global perspective. They are citizens not of one country but of the whole world.51 The church and theology are criticized in terms of how they function in the global scene. Political theologians seek the salvation of all humanity.

There is no Christian imperialism here. Salvation is not sought by incorporating everyone into the Christian church. But Christians view the acceptability of their institutions and doctrines in terms of their meaning for the whole human race.

This global perspective contrasts not only with political theologies of the past which correlated theology with the needs of particular states, but also with liberation theologies. These begin with an analysis of some concrete oppression. They mobilize energy for liberation from that oppression. They acknowledge, of course, the global horizon of their ultimate concern, but this does not relate directly to their major task which is to deal with the actuality of a particular social situation.

In this comparison much is to be said for the advantage of liberation theologies. They can have an actual social effectiveness which is largely lacking in political theologies. These latter cannot concentrate energies over a sustained period on a single issue or task. As a result they give the impression of dilettantism. What they can do is to create a climate of support for many different activities of liberation.

IV

Process theology ought to become a political theology. For a few, this political theology may take the form of a liberation theology. But most male white North American process theologians will not become liberation theologians for the same reason that the German theologians are not liberation theologians. As members of the dominant society our task is to become aware of how we, as citizens, as theologians and as churches, share in sustaining and strengthening the structures of oppression and destruction which govern our world. That requires of us the politically self-critical stance that is essential to political theology. It requires also deprivatization of our understanding of human existence and of salvation. It requires that political understanding be brought to the interpretation of the scriptures and of the entire tradition. Furthermore, it requires that we should think for the sake of Christian living and that we should understand our Christian practice in global perspective. Process theology should become a political theology in that it should be fundamentally committed, with Sölle, to ‘the indivisible salvation of the whole world’. 52

Process theology cannot follow Sölle in viewing the political horizon as the only one, but it can learn to share with Moltmann in giving pervasive and central attention to it. The understanding of human beings as indissolubly social is at least as basic for process thought as for either Sölle or Metz. Hence, intrinsic to process theology is a deep sympathy for their emphasis. But the exclusive claims sometimes made would have to be formulated very carefully before process theology could accept them. The tendency of the term political to highlight particular segments of the public world can be approved, because of the importance of these segments, but emphasis must fall also on the importance of relationships between women and men, of resolving misunderstandings between Christians and Hindus, of deepening our understanding of how we are related to other animals, of providing emotional support to a friend in time of crisis.53

The important contributions made to practice by thought which seeks only truth would need to be stressed. We would have to clarify the real and important gains that can be made by limited communities even when the remainder of humanity is little benefited. Since process theologians believe that every individual is immediately related to God, formulations which identify the relationship to God with that to humanity or the hoped-for future would require revision. And since process theology sees human beings as part of a larger community which includes all creatures, the indivisible salvation of the whole world cannot be limited to humanity.

Such qualifications do not constitute a rejection of political theology. But they do show that process theology as a political theology will have distinctive character. It is with this assumption that this book is written. The next chapter examines the rise of process theology within the Chicago school in the light of the need for process theology to become a political theology.

 

Notes

1. For a much more detailed and precise account of the history of ‘political theology’ prior to the twentieth century, see Francis Fiorenza, ‘Political theology as foundational theology’, The Catholic Theological Society of America, Proceedings of the Thirty-Second Annual Convention (Bronx, N. Y.: CTSA, 1977), pp. 147-66.

2. Carl Schmitt, Politische Theologie Vier Kapitel zur Lebre der Souveränität (Munich and Leipzig: Duncker & Humblot, 1922).

3. Erik Peterson, ‘Göttliche Monarchie’, Theologischen Quartals- schrift, Heft LV (1931), pp. 537-64; and Erik Peterson, Der, Mon- otheismus als politisches Problem; ein Beitrag zur Geschichte der politschen Theologie im Imperium Romanum (Leipzig: Jakob Hegner, 1935).

4. Erik Peterson, Theologische Traktate (Munich’ Kösel Verlag, 1950), p. 147.

5. Carl Schmitt, Politische Theologie II: die Legende von der Erledigung jeder Politischen Theologie (Berlin: Duncker & Humblot, 1970).

6. See, for example, Alfred Schindler, ed., Monotheismus als politisches Problem? Erik Peterson und die Kritik der politischen Theologie (Gütersloh: Gütersloher Verlagshaus Ger Mohn. 1978).

7. See, for example, the essays collected under the title Politische Theologie. Tutzinger Texte, No. 7 (Munich Claudius Verlag, 1970).

8. Roger Dick Johns, Man in the World: the Political Theology of Johannes Baptist Metz (Missoula Mont.: Scholars Press, 1976), p. 123.

9. Jürgen Moltmann. Theology of Hope, trans. James W. Leitch, (New York: Harper & Row, 1967).

10. Dorothee Sölle, Political Theology. trans. John Shelley (Philadelphia, Pa: Fortress Press, 1971).

11. Hans Maier, ‘Politische Theologie? Einwände cines Laien’, in Diskussion zur ‘Politischen Theologie’, ed. Helmut Peukert (Mainz: Matthias-Grünewald Verlag and Munich: Chr. Kaiser Verlag. 1969); Hans Maier, Kritik der Politischen Theologie (Einsiedeln: Johannes Verlag, 1970).

12. Jürgen Moltmann, ‘Theologische Kritik der Politische Religion’, in JR. Meta, Jürgen Moltmann. and Willi Oelmüller. Kirche im Prozess der Aufklärung: Aspekte einer neuen ‘politsche Theologie’ (Munich: Chr. Kaiser Verlag. 1970). pp. 11-51.

13. Jürgen Moltmann, ‘Political theology,’ in The Experiment Hope, trans. M. Douglas Meeks (Philadelphia, Pa Fortress Press, 1975), pp. 106-8.

14. Johann Baptist Metz, ‘‘Politische Theologie" in der Diskussion in Diskussion zur Politischen Theologie’, ed. Helmut Peukert (Mainz: Matthias-Grünewald Verlag and Munich: Chr. Kaiser Verlag. 1969), p. 269. (My translation).

15. Ibid., p. 270. A careful summary of the relation of the recent discussion to the earlier one up to 1974 is found in Frithard Scholz, ‘Bemerkungen zur Funktion der Peterson -- These in der neueren Diskussion um Politische Theologie’. in Schindler, op. cit., pp. 170-201.

16. I am indebted to Johns, Man in the World, for the following summary of Metz’s development. He provides a far more detailed account.

17. Johann Baptist Metz’s Christliche Anthropozentrik: Ûber die Denkform des Thomas von Aquin (Munich: Kösel Verlag, 1962).

18. Ibid., p. 124. (My translation.)

19. Ibid., p.47.

20. Ibid., p. 80. (My translation.)

21. Johann Baptist Metz, ‘Welt’, Lexikon für Theologie und Kirche, cols. 1024-5, trans. by Johns in Man in the World, p. 90.

22. ‘The Responsibility of Hope,’ Philosophy Today, 1966, p. 287.

23. ‘Der Zukünftige Mensch und der Kommende Gott’, in Hans Jürgen Schulz, ed. Wer ist das eigentlich-Gott? (Munich: Kosel-Verlag. 1969). See especially pp. 267-75.

24. Johann Baptist Meta, Theology of the World, trans. William Glen. Doepel (New York: Herder & Herder, 1971).

25. In Peukert,Diskussion zur ‘Politischen Theologie’

26. Ibid., P.274. (My translation.)

27. Ibid., p. 275. (My translation.)

28. Ibid., p. 277. (My translation.)

29. Jürgen Moltmann, ‘Foreword’ in M. Douglas Meeks, Origins of the Theology of Hope (Philadelphia. Pa.: Fortress Press. 1974), pp. xi-xii. I am indebted to Meeks for much of this account. See also Moltmann’s autobiographical statement in Experiences of God, trans. Margaret Kohl (Philadelphia, Pa.: Fortress Press, 1980), pp. 6-17.

30. Jürgen Moltmann, The Experiment Hope, pp. 102-3.

31. Ibid., p. 103.

32. Dorothee Sölle, Christ the Representative; an Essay in Theology after the ‘Death of God’, trans. David Lewis (Philadelphia, Pa.: Fortress Press, 1967),

33. Dorothee Sölle, Beyond Mere Obedience: Reflections on a Christian Ethic for the Future, trans. Lawrence W. Denet (Minneapolis, Minn.: Augsburg Press, 1971).

34. Ibid., p. 85.

35.Dororhee Sölle, Political Theology, p. 56.

36. Ibid.,p.92.

37. Ibid., p.76.

38. Ibid., p.2.

39.Ihid., p.60.

40.Ibid., p.67.

41.Ibid.. p.92.

42.Ibid, p.92.

43. Jürgen Moltmann, The Crucified God, trans. R,A. Wilson and John Bowden (New York: Harper & Row, 1974). chapters 7 and 8.

44. Ibid., pp. 334-5.

45. Ibid., pp. 319-20. Moltmann also writes on ‘The theology of mystical experience’, in Experiences of God, pp. 55-80. Although he associates Christian mysticism with a discipleship that is also political, the positive appraisal of contemplation widens the boundaries of political theology.

46. Johann Baptist Met; Faith in History and Society: Toward a Practical Fundamental Theology, trans. David Smith (New York: Seabury Press, 1980), p. 89.

47. Ibid., p. 165.

48 Francis Fiorenza. ‘Political theology as foundational theology’. pp. 146-7 (see Note 1).

49. Ibid., p. 146.

50. Metz, Faith in History and Society, pp. 27-8,

51. Ibid., p. 4.

52. Sölle, Political Theology, p. 60.

53. The broad use of ‘political theology’ here called for ~s taken for granted in The Scope of Political Theology, ed. Alastair Kee (London: SCM Press Ltd., 1978). It is assumed also in "Political theology: a documentary and bibliographical survey" published in WCC Exchange. October 1977.

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