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Reinmuth, Eckart [Hrsg.]
Neues Testament und Politische Theorie. Interdisziplinäre Beiträge zur Zukunft des Politischen. M. Beiträgen v. S. Alkier, L. Bormann, D. Finkelde, K. Joisten, R. Klein, E. Reinmuth, S. Schreiber, G. Straßenberger, Ch. Strecker, F. Vouga.
Stuttgart: Kohlhammer 2011. 229 S. 23,2 x 15,5 cm = ReligionsKulturen, 9. Kart. EUR 29,90. ISBN 978-3-17-021576-4.
David G. Horrell
The essays in this volume derive from an interdisciplinary work-shop held at Rostock in 2009 under the thematic title »the New Testament and the future of the political«. The ten contributors represent a range of disciplines – philosophy, political theory, systematic theology, and New Testament studies – though the majority (six) are from the field of New Testament studies. The essays cover a wide range of topics.
In the opening essay, Eckart Reinmuth outlines a number of examples (from Ephesians, Philemon, Luke, and 1 Peter) that suggest ways in which the New Testament, as a »source text« of our culture, can inform our thinking about »the political« (a broader notion than that of »politics«). The following two essays, by Grit Straßenberger and Karin Joisten, take political-theoretical and philosophical perspectives, and make little direct reference to the New Testament. Straßenberger explores the contemporary possibilities for civil society and democracy in a »postpolitical« age, drawing on the work of Dolf Sternberger, Alexis de Tocqueville and Robert Putnam. Joisten presents the argument that a person lo-cated in a »logos-tradition« (a narrative-based tradition), can »act« – can potentially change themselves and the world – in a deeper sense than someone located in a tradition based on »rationality«.
The next five essays focus primarily on the New Testament. Stefan Alkier compares the Roman eschatology concerning an Augustan golden age with the eschatological perspectives in Paul and Revelation. Stefan Schreiber and Lukas Bormann both focus on the birth narratives in Luke 1–2. Schreiber concentrates on setting this narrative against the backdrop of Roman »golden age« rhetoric (similarly, in some ways, to the essay of Alkier), arguing that the view of Luke as pro-Roman needs serious reconsideration. Bormann persuasively challenges the tendency in much German exegesis to separate the concerns of the New Testament from those of politics (not least under the influence of the Lutheran two realms teaching), arguing that Luke 1–2 is indeed a political text. Christian Strecker, in the longest essay in the book, presents an extensive review of the (largely North-American) discussion of »Paul and Politics«, arguing for a nuanced view of Paul as a tactician, who cannot be seen as simply opposing or (alternatively) accepting the Roman Empire. François Vouga presents a study of 1 Cor 12,1–31 in relation to the contemporary political issue of connecting together universalism and pluralism. Here, Vouga, suggests, Paul offers a model of just such a pluralist-universalist community.
The final two main essays return to the arena of contemporary political and philosophical discussion. Dominik Finkelde explores the differences between the approach of Jürgen Habermas and that of Slavoj Žižek, indicating how, for Žižek, Paul is the »political subject« par excellence, since he exemplifies the possibility of a radical change of perspective, a »catastrophic potential« that for a philosopher like Habermas is too irrational and dangerous, but for Žižek holds out the possibility of real action and change. Rebekka Klein outlines John Caputo’s reading of Paul, which picks up in particular Paul’s idea of »the weakness of God« in arguing for a subversive politics without sovereignty. Finally, Stefan Alkier contributes an »epilogue«, exploring criteria for »good« biblical interpretation, and arguing for a wide engagement with the Bible that takes it beyond the boundaries of Church and University.
There is a wide range of material and perspectives in these essays, and in some cases readers themselves will have to work hard to draw interdisciplinary connections between the New Testament and the political. Yet overall the book does display well the kinds of political engagement with the New Testament possible from both historical and contemporary (political and philosophical) perspectives, and the fruitfulness of drawing connections between these areas of scholarly discussion. It is good to find essays which set the New Testament in the context of Roman imperialism alongside others which explore how the New Testament has been appropriated in some contemporary political philosophy. In terms of the international discussion, it is particularly welcome to find in Strecker’s essay an extensive engagement with the largely American discussion of Paul and empire. Bormann notes that this US-based approach has found little re-sonance in Germany (103–104); and the English-language discussion likewise too often ignores the related German scholarship. Such a situation is unfortunate and ironic given our supposedly globalised and interconnected world, and I hope that volumes such as this will help to foster more international critical engagement. Certainly, in terms of the volume’s aim to show that the New Testament can be valuably engaged in social and political discussion beyond, as well as within, the boundaries of Church and University, it succeeds very well. While the material is diverse, readers interested in the New Testament and political theory will find plenty to stimulate them here.