Politics For Discipleship: How A Southern Seminary Professor Is Recovering Baptist Political Theology
Throughout its rich history, Southern Seminary has recognized the growing importance of cultivating a unique political theology for Baptists—one that synthesizes Baptist convictions with their roles as active citizens.
At the heart of Southern Seminary’s mission lies a commitment to equip students with a deep understanding of the theological underpinnings that inform their beliefs, actions, and interactions with the world. Throughout its rich history, Southern Seminary has recognized the growing importance of cultivating a unique political theology for Baptists—one that synthesizes Baptist convictions with their roles as active citizens.
Andrew Walker, Professor of Ethics at Southern Seminary, is one of the trailblazing voices for formulating Baptist political theology for the twenty-first century. Walker co-edited a new book, Baptist Political Theology, with Thomas S. Kidd and Paul D. Miller. The 732-page project united voices from multiple fields to dispel the myth that Baptists have nothing to contribute to political theology.
Walker discussed the book and highlighted Southern Seminary’s role in shaping the Baptist political theology conversation in the following interview. Southern Seminary contributors to the book include R. Albert Mohler Jr., Dustin Bruce, Michael A.G. Haykin, Gregory A. Wills, Tom J. Nettles, Walker, and Cory Higdon.
I interviewed Walker to get the backstory of this work.
How did the book come about, and why is it needed?
The book originated out of a 2019 conversation with my friend Paul Miller. We looked at the landscape and saw that nothing had ever been done that explored what if any, unique Baptist contributions or angles there are to political theology. Authors were chosen for their expertise in the subject areas. Not everyone who contributed is even a Baptist or would agree with Southern Baptists! This is an academic volume, and participation in it does not signal agreement with Baptist theology overall. We wanted historians who could speak to, for example, Roger Williams’ role in the development of religious liberty. It just so happens that one of the best Williams’ specialists is not even Baptist. The book is needed vitally for several reasons. For one, questions of political theology are very active right now. As American secularism runs its course, a lot of Christians are wondering whether Christianity has the resources to pick up the pieces. As Baptists, we think we do. What’s unique and compelling about Baptist political theology is that it is neither authoritarian nor procedural. In other words, A Baptist political theology rejects a heavy-handed approach to political theology while also rejecting the false notion that religion and politics must be kept entirely separate.
What is distinct about a Baptist view of political theology?
A few things come to mind: (1) Baptist political theology will always champion religious liberty at the heart of our witness. Since Baptists believe that the state has not been given the authority to intermingle in religious affairs, Baptists should always argue for keeping the lines between church and state clear. (2) This will doubtlessly inform what we believe government is competent to do—which is to settle affairs pertaining to temporal life, not eternal life. (3) Owing to our democratic polity and congregationalism, we think Baptist political theology vests individuals with political authority that then becomes represented by symbolic leaders who oversee the direction of the church. There’s an analogue to how this works as far as representative democracy is concerned. Baptists eschew authoritarianism of any sort, ecclesiastically or politically. (4) Though not reducible to Baptists alone, we think the ethics from the Bible will have a profound impact on the nation-state. From human dignity to the definition of marriage, we think the Bible is sufficient to speak to all of the necessary component parts that help us live political lives well.
What role does political theology play in Southern Seminary’s mission to train pastors and church leaders?
We should be clear: We don’t think that our primary focus should be on politics for politics’ sake. Politics is merely an instrumental discipline that helps us pursue justice and the common good, which is eminently important to Scripture’s ordination of government. We approach politics from the lens of discipleship. If Scripture calls us to active engagement with the world (and we believe it does), then Christians must absolutely bring those convictions to bear in political life for sake of glorifying God and loving their neighbor.
What would you say to a student considering studying public policy or political theology about Southern?
One of the goals of my teaching ministry is to see a generation of Baptists arise who have a developed sense of what politics is for—which is the just ordering of our societies. We cannot sit on the sidelines, nor can we believe that Christians can just take over society, either. We live in an imperfect and fallen age, which means we must do political theology considering those constraints. Especially at a time when the predominate paradigms for political theology are authoritarian and utopian or mealy-mouthed absenteeism, Baptists must understand how relevant our theology is to public life. We can fight for a positive vision for justice and limiting the scope of the state’s authority while at the same time promoting an ecosystem of liberty within reasonable constraints.
What project are you currently working on?
My next book is Faithful Reason: Natural Law Ethics for God’s Glory and Our Good, published through B&H Academic. It will be a full-length Protestant treatise on both the philosophy and theology of the natural law.