The classical controversy between Carl Schmitt and Eric Peterson goes directly to the heart of the matter: What is ‘political theology’ about? Is it a descriptive or normative endeavour, oriented towards history or political influence on contemporary issues? This article explores these questions with reference to Protestant theology, in particular the writings of Martin Luther.
Protestant theology has often emphasised the basic difference between the spiritual and political spheres, but I question the validity of this distinction with respect to Luther’s theology. When Luther enters the political scene, an apocalyptic understanding of friend and enemy tends to dominate his thinking. Furthermore, I discuss whether this is compatible with his metaphysical understanding of the ‘hidden God’ in his majesty, and hence, whether a metaphysical violence is deeply embedded in Luther’s theology, possibly even his understanding of ‘justification by faith’. Finally, I suggest a reconsideration of Luther’s political theology based on the questions raised by Schmitt and Peterson.