Apostasy #3: Liberation Theology
The Third Day of Apostasy
The book of James is critically important for those who wish to discern the errors of our time. James focuses our attention to the various causes and symptoms of “false faith.” He asks “Can that faith save you?” This is the third of a series of twelve apostasies.
[Please note that I am NOT making any claim that particular Christians who are part of these movements are unsaved! Further, many truths may be taught and practiced by those who hold to these teachings. What I am suggesting is that the abuses found in the movements promote apostasy]. The links to the opinions of others may differ from those of my own.
Strike up the music:
On the third day of apostasy, James is warning me… of LIBERATION THEOLOGY, Prosperity Gospel, and of Lib-er-al Theolo-gy.
Keyword(s) from James: Anger does not achieve righteousness(James 1:20)
Teaching: The Gospel of the Oppressed
Beginnings: Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Gustavo Gutierrez
Motto: “Preferential option for the poor”
Influencers: James Cone, Marxism
Mouthpiece: Trinity United Church of Christ
Effects: Politicizing of theology to transform society; violence may be necessary to overthrow oppressive structures
Cultural Icons: The Raised Fist; Occupy Wall Street
Adherents: Some Black Churches, Latin Base Communities
Click here for: A Message to Rich and Poor
I. But everyone must be quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger; for the anger of man does not achieve the righteousness of God. James 1:20.
One of the difficult ideals of Christianity is the theology of persecution. We are told to “turn the other cheek” and to pray for our enemies. We are to be longsuffering when wronged. In this way, we are salt and light to the world. Retaliation for past offenses may not be an appropriate Christian response. What should one do to “achieve the righteousness of God”? James answers: “Therefore, putting aside all filthiness and all that remains of wickedness, in humility receive the word implanted, which is able to save your souls.” James 1:21.
II. There is much to be approved in teaching that has concern for the poor, the oppressed, and those who suffer injustice. It is a mark of true Christianity to be generous and to provide for the needs of the widow, the orphan, the alien and the poor. But the message of the Gospel of Jesus Christ is threatened when concern for the oppressed becomes the gospel. Was it the purpose of Jesus to come and die to save the poor from political oppression? Was this not the incorrect assumption of the disciples? They asked “When would Jesus make Israel free from her Roman oppressors?”
The political zealots of Israel were waiting for a political messiah. It turns out that Messiah came to save us from the deadly oppression of sin. That is the gospel message.
III. Dietrich Bonhoeffer, the Lutheran pastor who was executed by the Nazis taught that it is unacceptable to see a distinction between the earthly and heavenly kingdoms. He promoted situational ethics. In his Letters and Papers from Prison he wrote:
“God is teaching us that we must live as men who can get along very well without Him. The God who is with us is the God who forsakes us.”
He also wrote that “the Christian is identified not by his beliefs, but by actions, by his participation in the suffering of God in the life of the world.” He denied the deity of Christ, believing instead that he is not a real person but rather a “corporate presence.”
Gustavo Gutierrez is a Catholic theologian who coined the phrase “Liberation Theology” in his 1971 influential work A Theology of Liberation. While much of Gutierrez’s teachings align with Catholic Social Teaching (link), the Catholic Church until recently has suppressed the Liberation theologians due to a concern about its tendency toward Marxism and to violence that it has spawned in several Catholic-dominated countries (e.g. Nicaragua). Gutierrez calls for the radical transformation of capitalist societies that misappropriate wealth to the disadvantage of the poor.
IV. One motto of Liberation Theology is “Preferential Option for the Poor.” The focus of this theology is the injustice done to the poor by the wealthy. Since God is concerned with the poor, and since we see so much poverty in the world, Liberation theologians call for changes to political systems to favor the poor.
V. The Theology of Liberation has been especially influential in black churches. One of the original advocates for black Liberation Theology was theologian James Cone. Cone teaches that “white Christianity” has corrupted the truth of Jesus Christ – the Savior of the oppressed. Theology is not seen as universal, but must rather be interpreted according to its social context. Cone writes:
“Either God is identified with the oppressed to the point that their experience becomes God’s experience, or God is a God of racism…. The blackness of God means that God has made the oppressed condition God’s own condition. This is the essence of the Biblical revelation. By electing Israelite slaves as the people of God and by becoming the Oppressed One in Jesus Christ, the human race is made to understand that God is known where human beings experience humiliation and suffering….Liberation is not an afterthought, but the very essence of divine activity.” A Black Theology of Liberation pp. 63-64.
Marxism is a philosophy that encourages public ownership of the means of distribution of goods and services, in contrast to Capitalism in which private ownership controls much of the means of distribution and is characterized by free competitive markets.
VI. Perhaps the most recognized church that promotes Black Liberation theology is Trinity United Church of Christ in Chicago. The church came into the headlines during the 2008 presidential election and the controversy over inflammatory statements made by Rev. Jeremiah Wright. President Obama, a long time church member, addressed the controversy in his speech A More Perfect Union (link). The President also denounced (link) the divisive statements of Wright during his campaign.
VII. There are valid arguments for Christians to engage in politics to bring about change consistent with biblical principles. Unfortunately, Liberation Theology focuses so extremely on the reaction to injustice that it effectively replaces the gospel of Jesus Christ. There is great danger to society when the focus is entirely on the temporal well-being of humanity at the expense of eternal realities. The gospel transcends political affiliations.
Where the gospel is neglected, violence often becomes the mode for attempting change. This year is the 50th anniversary of the riots in Rochester, NY. My mother’s family lived within a mile of the burning businesses. Ten years later I would take the bus from my college campus to visit my relatives. The bus route passed by the area of the riots, and was an urban wasteland. Now fifty years later there is Ferguson. Violence begets hatred, mistrust and sometimes increased oppression.
VIII. There was a game show several years ago called 1 vs. 100. After the global financial crisis and the bailouts of financial institutions in 2008, the one vs. the ninety-nine came into vogue. Disgust for perceived injustice that favors “the one-percenters” led to protests such as the occupation of Wall Street. Click here to see how much you must earn to be among the 1% of the world’s highest earners. I think you will be surprised.
The raised fist (link) is the symbol of resistance against oppression. Another symbol is the “tea party.” One man’s oppressor is another man’s oppressed. I am a CPA, and know many wealthy people. I have clients who work 80 hours in a typical week and make six figure incomes. They go home from work, take their children to multiple activities, and then collapse in front of the TV for a few hours before starting the routine all over the next day. They feel oppressed by a government that takes up to 50% of their earnings while they struggle to afford the $50,000 per year that they pay to send their children to college, as well as pay for their creature comforts. Idolatry knows no class distinctions. Neither does anger, as you can see by watching MSNBC and Fox News.
IX. The history of slavery and oppression of blacks in the U.S. is appalling. Blacks in America were brutalized and marginalized by White authorities. Historically, the Christian churches were part of the problem rather than the solution. The history of discrimination against people of color is a large part of the ongoing problems experienced in black communities. But the effect of a deformed gospel on the black community is another cause, especially of the disintegration of black families. Please take the time to read the article by Ron Rhodes on Black Theology.
It is sad that Christ’s church is perhaps the most segregated institution in America. Whites and blacks must come to understand that racism (going both ways) is not a “Black and White Issue.” This is true with regards to Black Theology and its emphasis on liberation for this life only, and that with the focus only on the oppressors. Liberation Theology fails to look inward (at personal sin and its consequences). It also fails to look outward – in a way that promotes biblical reconciliation.