Category: PT Through History

To swipe Oscar Hammerstein’s famous lyric, histories of twentieth-century American religious history – whether academically or popularly-oriented – can’t figure out how to solve a problem like Rousas John Rushdoony, the progenitor and elder statesmen of Christian Reconstructionism.

…Stalin is unique among world communist leaders in at least one respect: he studied theology for five years at the Tiflis Spiritual Seminary, the training college for priests in the Russian Orthodox Church. He did so during a deeply formative time of his life, from the age of 15 to the verge of his 20th birthday (1894-1899). One of the best students, he was known for his intellect and phenomenal memory.

Current crises across the Middle East and other war-torn locations demand careful consideration of war, just war theory, and other tenets of military interventionism. The Christian theologian faces a particularly daunting task in this respect because the eschatological principles of God’s kingdom appear contrary to what might be a faithful Christian ethic in the penultimate present.

Later Calvinist texts, like the famous Vindiciae, Contra Tyrannos, would go further than the Reformer and claim natural law defenses for resistance.[1] I want to contend that Calvin’s principles provided a basis for this kind of argument, even though Calvin did not take this route in his own thinking. And the place to begin this line of argument, I think, is with his comments on the sixth commandment.

…Just considering very recent history, from the Arab Spring to South Sudan to Ukraine, revolution and resistance has been a very real part of our world. The popularity of this idea in cultures spanning the planet gives the political theologian pause. Is the apparent widespread support for this kind of act an expression of common grace, a preservation of the light of practical reason in spite of the fall? Or is it simply an expression of the rebellion bound up in the heart of our fallen species?

There’s a fable I often heard growing up, about a Mennonite man (or Amish or Brethren, depending on where the story is being told) who was asked whether he was a Christian. His response: “Ask my neighbors.” The story encapsulates a certain historicist impulse in the Anabaptist tradition: the commitments we claim matter less than the commitments we embody. I first learned to care about the history of my community for just that reason. We learn who we are by considering honestly how we have lived.

One of the great paradoxes of John Calvin’s political theology can be captured in terms of two of the phrases the reformer used over and over throughout his writings. On the one hand, he emphasized, “the kingdom of Christ is spiritual.” On the other hand, through the kingdom of Christ God is bringing about the “restoration of the world.”

Friedrich Engels is not often given due credit for his distinct contributions to the socialist tradition, let alone to biblical and theological debates. This neglect is as much the case in Western Marxism as it is in China, where I work for a good part of each year. In order to make a small contribution to rehabilitating Engels, I would like to explore what may be called his own Aufhebung of religion….

. . . Here, I focus on Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s theology of friendship. My underlying proposal is that Bonhoeffer’s particular approach to friendship which emphasizes concrete, personal encounter with “the other” in community is uniquely suitable for Christians in an increasingly pluralistic, politically polarized, and techno-social world. My hope is that Bonhoeffers theology and praxis can challenge us to think more deeply and comprehensively about what is required for Christian witness in the 21st century.

Is the Taiping Revolution (1850-1864) the moment when the revolutionary Christian tradition arrives in China? I suggest that it is precisely such a moment, for a number of reasons. These include a radical reinterpretation of the Bible, a thorough challenge to the underlying structures of existing power, a communistic way of life, and the development of a distinctly new religious form.

The Middle Ages were filled with strange, passionate, and fascinating figures, often hidden from our view by the long shadows of the likes of Anselm, Francis, Aquinas, or Ockham. The great theologians earned their influence, of course, but there are also things to learn from some of those to whom history has been less magnanimous. I want to introduce one such figure here: Arnold of Brescia.