Applying Biblical Texts to Modern Day Issues

George Hunsinger: Author of "Karl Barth and Radical Politics"

Many biblical scholars ascribe to the methods of systematic theology, in which they apply a set of beliefs or outlooks to the teachings of the Bible. By examining the Bible through a specific lens, including those set forth by individual philosophers, political theories, or social constructs, such scholars maintain they can uncover universal messages or themes. George Hunsinger, Princeton Seminary's McCord Professor of Systematic Theology and author of Karl Barth and Radical Politics, takes a different stance. “I like to think systematically,” he explains, “but I don’t try to work Christianity out through a preconceived system.”

Instead, Hunsinger thinks critically about various external disciplines “on the basis of the idea that the New Testament has something unique to say that can’t be arrived at anywhere else,” he says. “The New Testament is telling us something singular, and I try not to let these other areas impose too much.” So instead of applying a lens to the New Testament, Hunsinger prefers to apply New Testament writings to the lens. His research asks, “What can we learn about various schemes and issues through the standpoint of Christian doctrine?” This question has led him to various publications and edited volumes on topics such as the Beatitudes as a self interpretation of Jesus, ecumenism, the theology of Karl Barth, and the role of social activism.

“As I understand Karl Barth,” Hunsinger says, “Martin Luther King is exactly the Christian social activist that Barth had in mind. King identified himself as a democratic socialist.” Hunsinger sees King “as the practical embodiment in our history…of the kind of political vision that Karl Barth thought his theology sponsored.”

In the same way that Hunsinger applies biblical texts to various schemes, he also applies such texts to issues like war. He has been an outspoken critic of many U.S. wars including the invasion of Iraq, and he continues to be active on the antiwar front. He also founded the National Religious Campaign Against Torture in 2006, a nonprofit that brings together people of faith to end torture in U.S. policy and practice, eradicate solitary confinement, stop anti-Muslim bigotry, and end the U.S.-sponsored torture of post-9/11 detainees.

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