The Politics of Salvation


"It’s the economy, stupid!” Or is it?

This slogan from the 1992 Clinton campaign no doubt seems more relevant than ever after the financial meltdown. And there is, of course, a sense in which the dynamics of the global economy are fundamental to the current presidential race. But if economics is changing the political map, the competing narratives of the presidential candidates are being written at quite a different level, one with theological resonances. I am not referring here to the role of social issues such as abortion and gay marriage, which remain important to many voters, or to the comments of Barack Obama’s long-time pastor, which became so controversial earlier this year. Those are all political issues on which various religious communities have taken positions, not theological questions proper.

I am speaking, rather, of the debate about soteriology that has been taking place just below the surface through at least the last three election cycles, and that gained renewed impetus with the nomination of Sarah Palin as the Republican candidate for vice president. Soteriology is the part of theology that deals with the question of how one is saved. As such, it was the principal locus of debate between the Reformers and the Roman Catholic Church in the sixteenth century, with the Reformers arguing that justification is by faith alone and Catholics claiming that faith...

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About the Author

Anthony Mansueto is dean of communications and humanities at the Spring Creek Campus of Collin College in Plano, Texas. In January 2009, he will become associate professor of global studies at Zayed University in Abu Dhabi.