The term "political theology" is often used to denote religious thought about political principled questions.
Scholars such as Carl Schmitt use it to denote religious concepts that were secularized and thus became key political concepts. Furthermore, Benjamin Brown speaks about political theology in terms of religious thought on the classical question of "the good form of government," which is arguably at the center of classical secular political philosophy.
The term political theology has been used in a wide variety of ways by writers exploring different aspects of the Christian relationship with politics. It has been used to discuss Augustine's City of God and Thomas Aquinas's Summa Theologica. It has likewise been used to describe the works of the Protestant reformers Martin Luther and John Calvin.
The recent use of the term is often affiliated with the Carl Schmitt. Writing amidst the turbulence of the German Weimar Republic, Carl Schmitt argued in Political Theology that the main concepts of modern politics were secularized versions of older theological concepts. Mikhail Bakunin had used the term in his 1871 text "The Political Theology of Mazzini and the International" to which Schmitt's book was a response. Drawing on Thomas Hobbes in Leviathan he argued that the state exists to maintain its own integrity in order to ensure order in society in times of crisis.
Some have divided the approach of political theology between a rightist traditional concern with individual "moral reform," such as Clyde Wilcox's God's Warriors (1992) and Ted Jelen's The Political World of the Clergy (1993), and a leftist focus on collective "social justice," such as Jeffrey K. Hadden's The Gathering Storm in the Churches (1969) and Harold Quinley's The Prophetic Clergy (1974).
Kwok Pui-lan has argued that, while Schmitt may have come up with the term and its modern usage, political theologies were likewise forming along very different trajectories elsewhere around the world such as Asia. In China in the 1930s, for instance, Wu Yaozong advocated that a social revolution was necessary to save both China and the world. This would likewise be true of the role of Protestants involved in Korean Nationalism in the early twentieth century.
Many major non-Christian philosophers have written extensively on the topic of political theology during recent years, such as Jürgen Habermas, Giorgio Agamben, Simon Critchley, and Slavoj Zizek.
The influence of Hegel is also evident throughout much of German political theology. This is particularly clear in the work of the Catholic theologian Johann Baptist Metz who explored the concept of "political theology" throughout his work. He argued for the concept of a 'suffering God' who shared the pain of his creation, writing, "Yet, faced with conditions in God's creation that cry out to heaven, how can the theology of the creator God avoid the suspicion of apathy unless it takes up the language of a suffering God?" This leads Metz to develop a theology that is related to Marxism. He criticizes what he terms bourgeois Christianity and believes that the Christian Gospel has become less credible because it has become entangled with bourgeois religion. His work Faith in History and Society develops apologetics, or fundamental theology, from this perspective.
Two of the other major developers of political theology in Germany were Jürgen Moltmann and Dorothee Sölle. As in Metz' work, the concept of a suffering God is important to Moltmann's theological program. Moltmann's political theology was influenced strongly by the Marxist philosopher Ernst Bloch, and both Moltmann and Sölle were influenced heavily by liberation theology, as was Metz. Another early influence was the Frankfurt School of critical theory, especially Walter Benjamin, and the Frankfurt School's broader critique of modernity.
Reinhold Niebuhr also developed a theology similar to Metz in the practical application of theology. During the 1930s, Niebuhr was a leader of the Socialist Party of America, and although he broke with the party later in life socialist thought is a prominent component of his development of Christian Realism. The work by Niebuhr that best exemplifies his relationship with political theology is Moral Man and Immoral Society: A Study of Ethics and Politics (1932).
One of the most influential developers of recent political theology is Stanley Hauerwas, though he considers his work to be better termed a "theological politics". Hauerwas has actively critiqued the political theology of both Reinhold Niebuhr and H. Richard Niebuhr, and has been a frequently critic of Christians' attempt to attain political power and align themselves with secular political ideologies. Moreoever, he has been a severe critic of liberal democracy, capitalism, and militarism, arguing that all of those ideologies are antithetical to Christian convictions.
Political theology in sub-Saharan Africa deals with the relationship of theology and politics, arising from the anti-apartheid struggle in South Africa and nationalist campaigns of the mid to late twentieth century elsewhere. The increasing numbers of Christians in sub-Saharan Africa has led to an increased interest in Christian responses to the region's continuing issues of poverty, violence, and war. According to the Cameroonian theologian and sociologist Jean-Marc Éla, African Christianity "has to be formulated from the struggles of our people, from their joys, from their pains, from their hopes and from their frustrations today." African theology is heavily influenced by liberation theology, global black theology, and postcolonial theology.
Notable thinkers include Itumeleng Mosala, Jesse N. K. Mugambi, and Desmond Tutu.
Christian political theology in the Middle East is a religious response by Christian leaders and scholars to political problems. Political theologians try to balance the demands of a tumultuous region with the delicate but long history of Christianity in the Middle East. This has yielded a diversity of political theology disproportionate to the small size of Middle East Christian minorities. The region's importance to Christians worldwide - both for history and doctrinal authority for many denominations - also shapes the political theologies of the Middle East.
For many Christian leaders, the dominant approach to political theology is one of survival. Many Arab Christians see themselves as the heirs of a rich Christian heritage whose existence is threatened by regional unrest and religious persecution. Their chief political goal is survival, which sets their political theology apart.
At times, Arab Christian leaders have appealed to Christians outside the region through both denominational challenges and broader calls to Christian unity for humanitarian or political aid. In other cases, Christian politicians downplay their faith in the public sphere to avoid conflict with their Muslim neighbors.
In the mid-20th century, many Christians in the Middle East saw secular politics as a way out of their traditional status as a minority community in the Islamic world. Christians played prominent roles throughout the Pan-Arab nationalist movement in the mid-20th century, where their experience with Western politics and generally high educational attainments made their contributions valuable to nationalist governments around the region. One prominent example was Michel ‘Afleq, an Orthodox Christian, who formed the first Ba’ath group from students in Damascus in the 1940s. His belief was that Christians should embrace Islam as part of their cultural identity because nationalism was the best way for Christians to be successful in the Middle East.