Monday, April 7, 2008

my bro on Rev. Wright and Liberation Theology

My brother Chris has a nice essay on Rev. Wright's comments-- in the broader context of Wright's connection to "liberation theology" (LT)...

LT used to be a much bigger deal for the Religious Left in the 1960s and 1970s-- before its economic and political basis was largely undermined. Its primary geographic context had been in Central and South America.

Recently, much media attention has been paid to the sermons of the Rev. Dr. Jeremiah A. Wright (retired Pastor of Trinity United Church of Christ, Chicago, Illinois). Dr. Wright has identified himself as subscribing to Liberation theology.

Many Christians have been scandalized by the content and tone of Dr. Wright's messages which are inspired by Liberation theology. While many are focusing on the political impact of this story, I believe the true value for the Church is to seize this as a teaching opportunity. As we face the 21st century, the Church should take this moment to address the challenges presented by Liberation theology. To that end, in this brief article we will seek to understand what Liberation theology is, and whether it compatible with Biblical theology and Baptist doctrine.

Liberation Theology is a movement among Christian Churches that seeks to correct perceived political and economic inequalities by mobilizing Christians – individually and as a group – to challenge these shortcomings. It is more accurate to speak of "Liberation theologies" since there are different Liberation theology movements among different people groupings.

Liberation theology tends to be targeted to specific groups – hence there are Liberation theology movements among Feminist, Third World, Black, Asians, Hispanic Americans, and Native American groups. The central goal of Liberation theology is the redistribution of wealth and power from oppressive groups to the groups who perceive themselves to be victims of oppression.

In Liberation theology, theology is not about a quest for truth, as it is in traditional Christian practice. Rather the focus of theological study, for Liberation theologians, is the quest for political and economic power. As a result the importance of the classic doctrines of God, Jesus Christ, Revelation (Scripture), Sin, etc., tend to be ignored in the attainment of the goal of the movement. Further, Liberation theology is not above co-opting Christian terms and changing their meaning. Needless to say, this can create a highly confusing state of affairs for someone who is trying to understand the difference between Liberation theology and traditional Christian theology.

In traditional Christian doctrine sin begins in the individual heart and is centered in a person's broken relationship with God. By contrast, Liberation theology defines Sin as the social and political oppression of the poor and disenfranchised. (Who are the "poor and disenfranchised" would be would depend on the particular school of Liberation theology under discussion). As Liberation theologian, James Cone states: "Sin is not primarily a religious impurity, but rather it is the social, political and economic oppression of the poor…"

Obviously, if the major focus of the Doctrine of sin is "the oppressor," can the oppressed fall into a state of sin? The answer is "Yes." In the view of Liberation theology, the oppressed sin when they cooperate with the forces of oppression.

Many activities that would be forbidden by the Bible and traditional Christian teaching – murder, adultery, lying, etc. - are not necessarily considered to alienate a person from God in Liberation theology. Such actions may even be seen as pleasing to God if they further the attainment of the goals of the group seeking power. (For instance, lying about a political opponent would be a "moral" activity if it further the group's quest for power).

Salvation is pictured primarily as liberation from political and economic oppression. As a result, Biblical teachings regarding the Forgiveness of Sin, Jesus' atoning work on the cross, Jesus' resurrection, power to live a new life in Christ, Heaven and Hell, are seen as largely irrelevant or even counterproductive to the goals of Liberation theology. As a result the Biblical doctrines regarding God's salvation of people from the power and penalty of sin are often classified as irrelevant or simply ignored.

In Liberation theology, detailed exploration of the characteristics of God – his Holiness, Love, omniscience, omnipresence, etc. – is disposed of in favor of teaching about God's identification and preference for the oppressed. (Again, who the "oppressed" would be would depend on the particular school of Liberation theology under discussion). In the minds of many Liberation theologians, God distinctly favors specific groups of the oppressed over the concerns of other groups.

When Liberation theology speaks about the person of Jesus Christ, the focus is on how Jesus identified with the poor and suffered at the hands of the powerful (in his death on the Cross).

Jesus' teachings on God, eternal life and his moral teachings are deemphasized. His atoning work on the cross is considered largely irrelevant for the goals of Liberation theology.

In Liberation theology, the Bible is read and interpreted selectively. Passages that speak to economic and political oppression of the poor are emphasized. (Exodus 1-3, the slavery of the Israelites. Isaiah 3:14 and 10:2. Amos 5:11). Passages addressing other key Christian doctrines are seen as irrelevant.

Elements of Liberation theology take their inspiration from Biblical texts and traditional Christian themes. Any detailed study of Liberation theology, however, quickly reveals that the interpretive grid (advancing the perceived needs of their particular group) through which they approach the Bible is the guiding element by which they interpret the Bible. Thus the Bible is not allowed to speak for itself, and becomes simply a tool in the hands of the Liberation theologian and those who follow them.

Liberation theology fails to grasp the whole of the Biblical message of hope and life through Jesus Christ. Coming to the Christian message with a previous commitment (at all costs) to a power struggle on behalf of a particular grouping of people, Liberation theology is incapable of addressing the deeper needs of individual people of other groups and the human race as a whole. While Liberation theology is correct in pointing out how Sinful attitudes and actions can become institutionalized, it fails to comprehend, or take seriously, the radical nature of individual sin and the danger it poses. Liberation theology denies the one true solution to human sin – the Cross and Resurrection of Jesus Christ.

Liberation theology's dedication to class struggle above all things ultimately cheapens human life as it seeks to reduce our vision merely to this world. Further, claiming to elevate the status of a particular grouping of people, Liberation theology ultimately reduces the value of all individuals merely to the role they contribute to Liberation theology's goal for power.

Taken as a whole, Liberation theology is incapable of leading anyone to Jesus Christ and would be wholly incapable of providing the spiritual direction an individual Christian or a Church would need. As such, Liberation theology is not merely "another Christian perspective." Instead, it is the wholesale hijacking of the Christian message for purposes other than what God intended....


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