I’m weary of liberation theology and its many clichés

May 4, 2012

I went to a mainline Protestant seminary at which liberation theology was prominently featured in a number of classes, in a number of different ways. I agree that the message of liberation is at the heart of the gospel, as Jesus says in his first sermon in Luke 4. But I am way too evangelical to divorce “liberation” from its foundation in the atoning work of Jesus’ death on the cross and his resurrection.

What is humanity’s primary problem? That they are oppressed, marginalized, victims of something called “empire”? (Or, conversely, the ones oppressing, marginalizing, and building empires.) Give me a break! Humanity’s problem—our problem, my problem—is that we’re sinners in desperate need of God’s forgiveness and grace.

If it were possible to balance the scales of justice in this world to some heretofore unseen degree of fairness and equality, we would all still need Jesus!

Moreover, isn’t it good news that the poor, the marginalized, the oppressed can still experience the liberating power of the gospel even as they remain in their poverty, on the margins, and in the midst of oppression? Our resurrection hope is both this-worldly and, yes, other-worldly. There’s no getting around it. Call it pie-in-the-sky. Call it the “opiate of the masses.” But that’s just the way it is, and the way it must be—because true justice can never be fully realized in this life. And even if it could, people would still die.

O.K., enough of my soapbox. What prompted my latest outburst on the subject was this hackneyed commentary from the hopelessly mainline Feasting on the Word on John 14:8-17 (25-27). (I’m reading photocopied pages, but this is, I think, Year A. Pentecost Sunday. Page 24.)

The community intended by the text will not be satisfied with bowling leagues, sewing circles, and yoga classes, or even with therapy sessions or Bible study classes, but will be led to do “works” similar to those of Jesus: befriending the outcasts, healing the sick, speaking up for the marginalized, housing the homeless, feeding the hungry, and speaking truth to and about the empire.

And, oh yeah… doing the work of evangelism so that even the outcasts, marginalized, homeless, and hungry might also be saved. Why is there never a word about that?

One Response to “I’m weary of liberation theology and its many clichés”

  1. Tom Harkins Says:

    Completely correct. “If in this life only we have hope in Christ Jesus, we are of all men most miserable.”


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