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Title: The political theology of Karl Barth for an ascendant American evangelicalism
Author: Bailey, J. W.
Awarding Body: University of Cambridge
Current Institution: University of Cambridge
Date of Award: 2010
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This dissertation contends that the dominant religious constituency in the United States, evangelical Christianity, needs a more adequate political theology to anchor its increasing political influence and responsibility in the public square. It notes that the theology of Karl Barth, broadly speaking, has had little direct influence among this constituency, and that Barth’s political theology has had even less so. It argues that a particular reading of Barth’s political theology offers important resources for evangelical participation in public life, and that it addresses key aspects of American evangelical identity in ways that are particularly distinctive, fitting, and generative. Working from David Bebbington’s broadly-accepted typology for evangelical identity the first chapter draws on history and sociology to consider how these characteristics play out politically in an American evangelical context. It suggests, first, that American evangelical activism expresses itself as a markedly optimistic, but at times crusading, belief that Christians should work to see society significantly transformed to reflect the Kingdom of God; second, its cruci-centrism entails a larger soteriology by which the doctrine of election is uniquely taken up by the nation-state of America; third, its conversionist emphasis leads to understandings of social and political influence that remain markedly individualistic versus social, ecclesial, or institutional in orientation, and, fourth, its Biblicism leads it to read scripture with a literalist hermeneutic than can often be arbitrary in application, as well as employed to underwrite a distinctly American geo-politics. Chapter two examines claims that a more Lutheran political theology might be necessary to correct the Puritan-rooted, crusading zeal that continues to characterise American evangelicals in the political realm. Chapter three considers the significant ways the Reformed doctrine of election has influenced America’s sense of exceptionalism, with a particular concern for how such a soteriological doctrine has been used historically to underwrite hubristic military interventions and the violation of human rights. This chapter presents Barth’s doctrine of election, with its universalistic implications, as a possible means to ‘myth modification’ in America. Chapter four focuses on American evangelicals’ tendency to view social change through a conversionist framework. This chapter draws on Barth’s occasional political writings, as well as his discussion of ethics in the Church Dogmatics, to suggest an account of political responsibility that is sympathetic to evangelical concerns while challenging its inadequacies. Chapter five concludes by addressing evangelicals’ concern to approach their theo-politics Biblically. The chapter argues that Barth offers a better way forward than the literalist and at times arbitrarily ‘Biblical’ geo-politics of evangelicals.
Supervisor: Not available Sponsor: Not available
Qualification Name: Thesis (Ph.D.) Qualification Level: Doctoral
EThOS ID:  DOI: Not available