Every Christian is a Politician

In 1962, the Swiss theologian Karl Barth made his one and only trip to the United States.  The visit was a whirlwind tour, eagerly followed by the media, that saw him deliver lectures at the University of Chicago and Princeton that would be published as Evangelical Theology and even visit San Quentin maximum security prison seven years before Johnny Cash would make it there.  On several occasions Barth spoke out about the wretched conditions he witnessed in American prisons.  He knew a thing or two about prison conditions from his regular preaching to the inmates in Basel. 

During a “Q&A” at Princeton, Barth was asked to elucidate the relation between the “evangelical theology” he had been espousing in his lectures and politics.  Barth responded:

“Now, we also say that Jesus Christ is a King who came once and who will come again.  If we look at the fact that he came, then we understand our sanctification.  He came; and since he came, we are sanctified for the service of this King.  But he will come again: here then we have eschatology.  Christians look forward in hope to the new coming of the same King.  So from both sides—from sanctification completed in Jesus Christ’s death and resurrection on to eschatology or his second coming in glory—Christianity has to do with politics.  If Christians serve the King of kings, then politics is something straightforward.  Thus theology is itself political action.  There is no theological word, no theological reflection or elucidation, there is no sermon and even know catechism for children that does not imply political meaning and as such in two of the world as a bit of political reality.  You cannot believe in the kingdom that came and will come without also being a politician.  Every Christian is a politician, and the church proclaiming the kingdom of Jesus Christ is itself a political reality.”1

  1. Karl Barth, Barth in ConversationVolume 1, 1959-1962, ed. Eberhard Busch (Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 2017), 218.

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