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Perspectives on Christ and the Common Life

Luke Bretherton’s highly original and challenging book, Christ and the Common Life: Political Theology and the Case for Democracy (Eerdmans, 2019), surveys the landscape of political theology while questioning certain dichotomies that have characterized the discipline—religious/secular, church/state, and private/public—in order to challenge Christianity to embrace the political dimensions of its very public faith without reducing theology to pragmatic political considerations.

The book’s unconventional yet innovative approach allows certain pressing existential questions to guide the conversation and in the process remind the reader that God-talk and political talk are, and have always been, mutually intertwined. At its best, Bretherton’s conception of political theology brings together the prophetic and corporate dimensions of the Christian faith for the sake of a shared common good in an increasingly pluralist context. Four scholars have been invited to review and critique this important work from a diversity of perspectives, followed by a response from the author.

Symposium Essays

The Underside of Populism

Populism seems to have at least these advantages: it privileges practical reasoning over theoretical; it binds us to place; it recognizes modernity’s political gains; it does not posit reactionary declension narratives; it affirms “common folk;” it avoids elitism…It also gave us President Trump.

Unresolved Tensions: Common Humanity vs. Ethnographic Frameworks

At stake is the very possibility of democratic politics. Without minimizing or devaluing the experience of oppressed and marginalized communities, the way forward—as Luke Bretherton has convincingly argued—necessarily entails nurturing some form of cohesive social vision.

Dreaming of a democracy driven by the preferential option for the poor…

Bretherton’s robust yet flexible understanding of democracy and politics offers the promise of engaging diverse others in constructing the common good for all, with particular care for the destiny of the poor and vulnerable…[but] I need to hear Bretherton witness to how the process of decentering the canon became foundational for building a Christian political theology.

Brethertonian Thinking

According to Luke Bretherton, theologians, in forgetting that prophetic critique presumes eschatological affirmation, have yet to understand what the work of theology comes to.

The Author’s Response

Situated on this eschatological middle ground, political theology must reckon with how we live in a time when the kingdom of God is present, creating moments of transformation and rupture…To speak truthfully, political theology must also speak to the quotidian joys and everyday struggles that make up the ordinary time of our lives.