Survey of Theology: Liberty Baptist Theological Seminary

Thesis Statement

Liberation theology is wrong since it distracts attention from the main tenet of Christianity, which is offering spiritual guidance towards eternal life.

Introduction

Liberation theology has been known as a controversial phenomenon in the theological environment. This theology essentially focuses on the ideas of justice, equality, freedom and liberation. Liberation theology uses a special methodological approach in striving for practical implementation of theological thought in life of a particular society, nation and state. Besides, this kind of theology pays a lot of attention to people in poverty and pain. On the other hand, liberation theology politicizes Christian beliefs by dividing people by their social class, inflames intolerance, and reveals merely political interpretation of Scripture. Meanwhile, liberation theology may lead people astray by offering them false directions. Therefore, it is important to look into this matter for the benefit of the entire Christian community.

 

The current research is aimed at contributing to knowledge in the field because it will concentrate on the aspect that many researches overlook. Theological scholars have tended to present historical, political and social value of the liberation theology. What is more, some authors explore only the relationships between the official catholic doctrine and the principles of liberation theology. Meanwhile, “average” Christians are not engaged in theological debates of the academic environment. They want to know the truth and lead a moral life grounded in their faith and the Holy Bible. Therefore, this research will concentrate on the value of liberation theology for the believers. It would aim at revealing the misleading ideas of liberation theology from the point of morality of the main concepts of the given theology, as well as an applicability of liberation theology to the salvation concept. The expected implications of this research consist in reassessment of the earlier research and in search for a new interpretation of liberation theology in terms of morality and the Gospels’ truth.

The Study Procedure

The research will consist of the introduction section, the main body composed of two parts and the conclusion. The introduction section will present the current situation related to the meaning of liberation theology to the people of faith. It will explain the importance of Christian awareness and ability to distinguish the misleading concepts of the given theology. The main body of the research will cover two main parts. The first part will concentrate on explaining the basis of the beliefs held by liberation theologians. The second part will contain a refutation of the claims held by liberation theologians. The conclusion section will sum up the key misleading ideas of liberation theology, highlight the difference between those ideas and the Biblical notions, and specify how Christ is the model of a moral life to those who seek liberation.

Beliefs Held by Liberation Theologians

According to liberation theologians, Christian practices and beliefs range along a continuous scale, one on every end. On one end of this scale is the kind, which serves the establishment including those in authority. This kind teaches that one will be rewarded in future life. Nonetheless, liberation theologians advocate for the other kind of Christianity, which emphasized showing compassion and leadership to those who face oppression to lead a better life not only in the future, but also in the current perspective.

A number of supporters of liberation theology have interpreted it as a focus on the early Christian church where Christianity was both culturally and politically centralized. The essence of liberation theology is to fight poverty through its supposed source: sin. While doing so, it evaluates the relationship between Christian theology and political activism. In particular, it focuses on human rights, poverty and social justice. For instance, Montero argues that the poor are offered a privileged channel of God’s providence. Other theologians based their social actions on the Scripture. In this way, they describe the mission of Jesus Christ as introducing social unrest, for example in Matthew 10:34, Isaiah 61:1, but not peace. Therefore, this biblical interpretation strives to fight poverty, and the sin that causes it. This is aimed at affecting the mission of Jesus Christ in this world.

Rieger observes that through liberation theology, Christianity struggles against its roots as a response to economic and social problems that humanity faces. The author continues to argue that Jesus himself taught and advocated for social systems and laws, which are also contained in the Torah. These aspects are also discussed in the Gospels and the epistles of Paul.

In his book, Theology of Liberation Guti?rrez tries to facilitate an understanding of history where man is perceived as the one assuming conscious responsibility for his destiny. Yet, Christ as the savior liberates man from sin, which is the basis that causes disruption, injustice and disrupts friendship with other people.

Basing his assumptions on the Bible, Gutierrez explains that God is portrayed as having a preference to those who are marginalized, insignificant, needy, defenseless, despised, and less important. The scholar also asserts that in the Scripture, the poor’s terminology has economic and social connotation, which is derived from the Greek word pt?chos. He stresses that God’s preference implies his universal love, which does not exclude anybody. This preference can, therefore, be understood within this framework. Nonetheless, the scholars such as Gutierrez, focuse more on practicalities than the doctrine. They also read the prophets as condemning injustice and oppression against the poor in the society. They use Jeremiah 22:13–17 to justify their assertions that those who know God must do good to others.

This notion is recapitulated by Smith, who says that God is revealed in the historical facet of liberation theology. It is the perspective and the insightful and fervent participation to reach it that can in fact reconcile God and his word. From the present standpoint, the Scripture is reconciled in the course of the plight of the oppressed and the poor.

Liberation theology, which has its roots in Latin America, approaches salvation from a different perspective. It also bases its beliefs on the actions of the early Christians. Moreover, it understands liberation or salvation as not only concerned with spiritual aspect of humanity but also with social and physical conditions. Through the actions of Christ, God provides universal salvation to all humanity. In this endeavor, God ensures the well-being of individuals, in both physical and spiritual aspects. They assume that it is not possible for a starving person to concentrate on his or her spiritual health.

Liberation theology focuses more on oppression and injustice and teaches that God is interested not only in reconciling all people, but also in liberating them in fullness. It differs from the other evangelistic Christian community who focuses on salvation through forgiveness of the sins. Rather, the all needs of a person should be met. According to Montero, the Gospel is interested in those who are oppressed, marginalized and have low social economic background. These groups of people, which are also called “nonpersons”, seem to be insignificant in the society and they may not be granted basic human rights. First, such groups of people need to be liberated from the living conditions that may be unjust to them. The spiritual salvation is a part of the process. The community members interpret and use the Kingdom of God to communicate and give sense to the reality of oppression, poverty, hope and suffering.

This would involve the whole individual including his or her context since the major part of the Bible concentrates on the marginalized, enslaved and those who are oppressed. In their endeavor to assist poor black women, the West taught them to interpret Mark 5.21-6.1. This passage concerns a woman who was bleeding. The plot is, therefore, reinforced despite the fact that the woman is seeking self-edification. Theology enables individuals to interpret the Scripture for themselves only in this way. In addition, it also shows how the wholeness of an individual relates to the practical and situational needs (Isaiah. 58.6, 7). Hence, the authors assert that the Christian community as part of the salvation plan should acknowledge these aspects.

Countering Liberation Theology

Though liberation theology seems to have no bad motives, it tends to persuade individuals to classify themselves according to social-economic status. In particular, poor individuals have to be induced to think about themselves and their conditions first. Additionally, the poor tend to feel resentment against the rich, while also blaming them for their conditions. As Gutierrez points out, liberation expresses the desire of oppressed people and classes. This underlies the conflictual aspect of economic, social and political process. Therefore, it causes social mobilization, which further inculcates an awareness of social interests, specifically those relating to class.

In their writings, liberation theologians have tried to alter the focus of the religious thought from the concern about the next life to the concern about the next life. The theology has disputed the notion that they are interested in the material progress of man. Nevertheless, liberation theology rejected the traditional preoccupation of the church with matters of morals, faith and getting to heaven while concentrating on the physical aspects.

The theology tends to emphasize earthly things rather than spiritual matters. From the perspective of liberation theology, sin is considered as unjust social structure, which deals with death. However, Pope John Paul II once asserted that all humanism must be focused on humanism; all the other aspects are folly. Leland also affirms that any attempt to satisfy individual needs of people while overlooking the spiritual aspect such as making people despise the rich, use violence against them, or steal from them will only lead such people into the slavery of sin. This progress can only be perceived by a thorough materialistic culture.

Crook points out that except for scholars who employ Marxist theories, the division between the exploiters and the exploited is not clear in the first place. Therefore, all people, poor or rich, are sinners, and pilgrims in the eyes of Christ. In essence, all people regardless of being rich or poor need spiritual sustenance. The kind of unity that really matters is the one that has the spiritual and cultural perspective. This is far removed from economics.

Countering the liberation theology, the critics of this concept have come up with another theological concept, the theology of reconciliation. According to this theology, true liberation is grounded on the reality of the reconciliation between man and God, not only with himself but also with others and all the creatures. In Christianity, there could be no gap between the desire for justice and love for a neighbor. Jesus emphatized with the poor; he also interacted with the rich, whom he endeavored to convert.

The demand for justice expressed by the liberationists is woefully insufficient as a guide for social action. This owes to the fact that liberation theologians express the beliefs in economic terms. For the society, that faces a wide gap of wealth, power, and status, formation of a successful harmonious society will require sacrifice from the rich and forgiveness from the poor. This goal is far more challenging. Mark 10.21 says that “when the rich young man encountered Jesus, Jesus looked at him and loved him. Therefore, Christians must imitate Jesus who knew no boundaries between the rich and the poor.

Despite the careful use of the Scripture to support their beliefs, the liberation theologians have been selective in their biblical motifs (concentrating mainly on the Exodus, liberation and concern about the poor). In essence, it has emphasized some biblical books such as the Gospel of Luke more while ignoring other scriptures such as the Gospel of John. It defines deprivation and oppression in economic terms while politicizing the concept. This is because it is rooted in the theories of Marxism and ignores other manifestations. For example, liberation theology has not been concerned with sexism within its own culture.

This enlightenment also shows the necessity of engaging in consistent renewal and reformation since preoccupation with other activities that are not faith based distracts the church from its endeavor to liberate individuals from sin. Another serious weakness of liberation theology is that it fails to define clearly what violence or killing is. It uses many words to explain structural violence and injustice. However, these theologians have not fully addressed the ramifications of pursuing specific political programs especially in volatile environments. For instance, the guerrilla warfare that was experienced in Latin America in 1960s portrays the catastrophic effect of failed revolutionally uprisings. In addition, these uprisings may also have a negative implication to the local populace. The Nicaraguan uprising, which lead to the death of over 50,000 individuals is another example of the catastrophic consequences of guerrilla-warfare.

Montero explains that spirituality must unravel the new ideology, and cement the excluding systems. In addition, it also ought to contribute to the establishment of new guidelines for new techniques and institutions. The author goes on to forbid any idolizing of historic and human possibilities including those advocated by liberationists. Liberation theology is possibly a form of egotism. It gives an impression that some people have had much more suffering than others, and the life of these others seems easy when compared with that of the poor. It is obvious that happiness and suffering must exist in the world and are found in all kinds of circumstances.

However, liberation theology has reduced the potential of justice or happiness into simple demographic features. This set of beliefs is excessively dependent on the identity of politics, in other words, our specific status cannot be understood by anyone except for us. The ultimate outcome of liberation theology is despair. If people are made to continually think of themselves as poor, it becomes difficult to get challenging tasks accomplished, let alone make these people happy. Moreover, this ideology tends to split communities and individuals into pieces. In case a poor member of the community manages to reach a higher level; he or she is then secluded by the same members of the community. It should also be considered that liberation theology has its roots in communism and Marxism. According to Marxism, the elite is oppressing those who lack. In addition, it stresses that those in need can go to the extent of using violence to take what they need from those who have more.

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In the middle ages when most parts of the world were governed by kings, it was a fact that some poor people could be in that situation because of being oppressed. One of the examples is South America, where most of the people were poor because they were subjugated by rich landowners. Until lately, most of the blacks were poor because of their skin color. However, notwithstanding the fact that these groups of people had been oppressed in the U.S and several other places of the world, this may not be true in the existing perspective. Most of those who are poor today are in that situation due to the fact that they do not work hard, they did not do well at school or because they are negligent.

Liberation theology places more emphasis on the Gospel as it focuses on the downtrodden people who suffer from their oppression and poverty. However, liberation theologians tend to sideline the spiritual aspect of liberation. This approach is certainly problematic: though Jesus Christ had a concern for the poor and in many situations gave them his helping hand (John 13:29), he was particularly concerned with the spiritual aspect of humanity. This is because the main purpose of his coming to the Earth was to save people from sin and eventual destruction.

From another perspective, justification of liberation theology implies justification of some groups of people such as African-Americans as anti Americans and anti racist. In the obvious sense, for Asian Hispanics, the Caucasians and other types of Americans, racism is wrong under any circumstance. It also implies that though the black are not disqualified from vying for any office in their country, it gives freedom to such people to dislike their country, capitalism, white people and other things associated with their country.

One of the chief doctrines of Christianity is that it ought to separate from politics, and the state. Therefore, it is wrong for the church to entangle itself with issues related to politics or economic while its main concern is spiritual welfare.

Conclusion

The careful evaluation of liberation theology proves that it presents a cultural challenge to the real tenet of Christianity. This theology seeks to alter the object to which theology devotes its attention. Liberation theologians seem to reject with disdain the notion that getting to heaven is more important than living in tolerable conditions. Further, this theology tends to change the minds of people concerning the most important things in their lives: gaining material objects or spiritual prosperity.

Liberation theologians have concentrated on establishing social institutions such as churches, schools, literature, artworks and media outlets that convey the belief that material wealth, progress and comfort are the most significant aspects of human life. Liberation theology promotes divisions and envy in the society since it addresses social and economic issues. This does not do much to ameliorate material deprivation. In fact, in creating sincere reconciliation with God, there has to be fraternal consequences. This implies that there has to be a culture of fellowship, sacrifice and austerity.

Liberation theologians insist on creating a higher Christian unity through the common phrase of the preferential treatment of the poor. However, it should be considered that the church imposes a duty on all people, irrespective of their social class. To be sure, liberation theology serves no significant purpose, whether pastoral or theological in meeting one sided, uninformed and malicious attacks upon it, and, of course, with defenses that are equally one sided. This leads to the conclusion that liberation theologians are another self-interest group focused on achieving individualistic goals.

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