The early beginnings of liberation theology can be traced to Latin America in the 1960s. The thrust of this movement began as a result of young Catholic and Protestant theologians reflecting on the people’s life of faith within the context of the people’s resistance to oppressive living and working conditions. These liberation theologies speak of God and Jesus as liberators of the poor and oppressed and insist that justice and spirituality work hand in hand. They also reflect on the experiences of women and men who assume co-responsibility with God for their liberation. This article concentrates on Latin America but also indicates links with parallel theologies elsewhere. It should be noted that this liberation theology, officially born in 1968 gave rise to black liberation theology in North America, South African liberation theology, Korean minjung theology Christians for National Liberation in the Philippines.
The theologians at the center of this new theology began their work around the same time as the beginning of the second Vatican Council (1962-65). They began with issues such as the relationship between faith and poverty, and the gospel and social justice, as well as new models of church. In a meeting in Petropolis, Brazil in 1964 it earned the term “critical reflection on praxis.” It is clear that Vatican II inspired and gave guidance to these theologians. The conciliar Decree on the Apostolate of Lay People, Apostolicam actuositatem (§8), encouraged this new wave of Latin American theologians to consider the faith community’s works of charity and justice as a source for theology.
If one looks at the core theme of these various methods of liberation theology, they all share two things in common: the belief that God and Jesus should be viewed as liberators of the poor and the oppressed. Second, justice and spirituality work hand in hand. In other words, your spirituality can be measured by your involvement with justice in the world. If you are not seeking justice for the oppressed, then you are not spiritual. The bedrock principle of liberation theology from its emphasis on love and justice is the option for the poor. This option involves a free commitment by individuals or groups to resist exploitation of the poor and oppressed and to work proactively to change social structures to new ones that protect the dignity and rights of the poor. These Latin theologians took as their point of departure for doing theology, the reality of those who are poor and oppressed.
Norman Geisler writes, One movement to emerge from the new theological climate in Catholicism is liberation theology. Also known as “Marxist Christianity,” its basis is Christian social action aimed at bettering the lot of the poor and oppressed. With this heavy influence of Marxism, liberation theology opens wide the door to a negative disposition towards capitalism. It claims that Democratic capitalism is responsible for the poverty of third-world countries. This attitude creates hostility between proponents of liberation theology and any culture in which democratic capitalism thrives. The pendulum almost always swings to one side or the other. It seems impossible not to notice the rhetoric of men like Tim Keller, Russell Moore, Matt Chandler, and others within American evangelicalism as being on the liberation side of the pendulum. Is it any wonder now that many others recognize the clear Marxist traits on display by men like Keller?
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While Black Liberation Theology arose independently of liberation theology in Latin America, it shares an affinity for the fight against oppression. While Latin American liberation theology focused on class oppression, Black Liberation Theology focused on race, or better, melanin. African American scholars began to reread the Bible in light of the themes of liberation and justice. The third development in black theology is being shaped by the second generation of young black theologians who are seeking to deepen black theology by returning to its sources in the slave narratives, sermons, prayers, songs, and folklore. It is impossible to miss the fact that this theology is not anchored in Scripture but in the historical experience of the black church during a specific period of time. This is no way to do theology.
Notice this: When your pastor preaches about racism, is it focused on white people or does he rebuke all people who harbor hatred in their hearts? The one who does not love his brother does not love God. It matters not if that hatred is because the man is black or because the man happens to be the same color as the man who owned your great-great-great-grandfather. There is no good reason for hatred. How does your pastor talk about this issue? Or, does he not mention it at all?
I now turn your attention to feminist liberation theology. “Feminist hermeneutics are informed by a commitment to the “critique of ideology” (Habermas, Apel). Feminist theology does not seek an objective, disinterested lens, but “in one way or another seeks to depatriarchalize not only the biblical texts but also theological traditions and systems that are based on patriarchal interpretations of the patriarchal texts” (Tate, Handbook, 158). A feminist biblical hermeneutic involves, to greater and lesser extents, a “reader-oriented perspective” (Dockery, Biblical Interpretation, 170).” While there are variations within feminist liberation theology, there are some common features: 1) women’s experience is the starting point; 2) women’s experience becomes a critical principle; 3) the biblical text speaks liberation; 4) the text is understood to be free to carry eschatological hope from God.
There have been three responses to feminist liberation theology over the years. The first is the traditional, orthodox response which has given very little weight to the feminist agenda. This response is shrinking within the evangelical churches. The second response is more of a radical dismissive attitude toward the Bible in full support of a full-on feminist ideology in line with the feminist agenda. The third response is sort of a media via, or middle way. This is a reformist approach that portends to be open-minded about certain issues related to feminist theology and signals a willingness to revisit these issues, as for example, female leadership in the churches.
Notice this: When your pastor preaches his Mother’s Day sermon, notice how glowing and uplifting, and positive his comments are about women, wives, mothers, and even daughters. Compare that to how he deals with men, boys, and sons on Father’s Day. The difference is remarkable. Why is that? What do you think drives that behavior in your pastor or preaching elder? When was the last time you heard a solid, focused, purposeful sermon or lesson on male leadership and female submission?
Finally, I come to another new form of theological method that has been constructed in the last 50 years and that is Queer Theology. Queer theology has the very same concern as its counterparts in class, race, and gender theology: the liberation of the oppressed. In this case, the oppressed are from the Queer community: gays and lesbians. That community has now been expanded to include people who suffer from the mental illness of gender dysphoria. These are women who want to be identified as men and men who want to be identified as women. It includes people who consider sexual attraction to the same sex as natural as sexual attraction to the opposite sex. One proponent of queer theology is Marcella Althaus-Reid, who draws on Latin American liberation theology and interprets the Bible in a way that she sees as positive towards women, queer people and sex. She proposed a theology that centered on marginalized people, including people in poverty and queer people. For Althaus-Reid, theology ought to be connected to the body and lived experience.
Notice this: when you pastor comes to texts that deal with homosexuality, such as the one in Genesis regarding Sodom and Gomorrah, or the one in the first chapter of Romans or 1 Cor. 6:9 what he does with it. Does he run past the current issues without much of a mention or does he stop and camp out on what is a serious threat to the churches today? Just notice what he does and does NOT do.
The overarching theme of liberation theology is the removal of Scripture as the primary source for theology. It isn’t where this theology begins nor is it primarily what informs their beliefs and actions. The concern of none of these theologies as one reads them is not soli deo Gloria. Instead, the concern begins and ends with human beings to one extent or another. God created human beings for his glory alone. All that God does is for his glory. The greatest good, the summum bonum is the maximization of God’s glory.
Note that the work of liberation also began by mixing water and oil, so to speak. Those two do not mix. Catholics and Protestants preach two different gospels with two very different versions of Christianity. The central tenants of Christianity were push to the peripheral while the peripheral was pulled into the center. The gospel of Jesus Christ along with the obvious emphasis on evangelism and a vertical right relationship with God were pushed outward from the center to the peripheral and the peripheral was pulled into the center.
Liberation begins with the plight of the poor and oppressed as opposed to the plight of sinful man who is spiritually poor and in bondage to sin as well as understand the condemnation of God. This way of looking at the world invites all those who are less privileged and convinces them that their specific lack of privilege is really oppression. This is particularly bad in American culture. Now, there are those who live is truly dire circumstances in the world. And the churches ought to be doing what they can to provide as much help as they can. That help is food and water, clothing and shelter as much as it can. These are part and parcel of the good deeds all Christians should be supporting. But this is not what liberation theology is after. It’s goal is much more ambitious than just meeting the basic needs of the poor.
Liberation theology is out of step with the NT theology of suffering handed down by the apostles. The goal seems to be some sort of utopia on earth in the here and now. It confuses the spiritual liberation from the bondage of sin that is a central theme of Scripture with a utopian state in the here and now. Think about it like this: liberation theology does with the Bible’s teaching on liberation what the Jew did with the promise of a coming deliverer. That is the analogy. The error is exactly the same.
It places a burden on Christians that the NT does not place on them. Liberation theology puts the Christian and Christian churches in a position where they are responsible to do something about the social structures in which they find themselves. A black man is shot by LEO and the incident was caught on camera. It happens more than once and all of the sudden, there is a systemic issue with black men being unfairly targeted by LEO. Christians are told that they have to do whatever it takes to change those structures, including protests, marches, speaking out, and even voting for a particular party. Now, just to point out one fact, in 2018, 973 people have been shot and killed by LEO. 396 of those were white and 208 were black. In addition to those numbers, 86 LEO have died in the line of duty in 2018. Videos of police shootings are like looking at the universe through a straw. Questioning the motivation of these movements is obviously something that cannot be avoided because of the sin nature.
Liberation theology is horizontal in its focus rather than vertical. The entire focus is on the man-to-man relationship rather than the man-to-God relationship. In 2 Thessalonians 3:10, Paul says that if a man won’t work, neither should he eat. But he stopped short of instruction any of the churches that it was their duty to change the political or economic structures around the Mediterranean in such a way that everyone would have an equal opportunity to work. That is nowhere implied or even hinted at in the New Testament. In addition to that, Paul gave Timothy rigid instructions for widows who were to be supported by the churches. Suffice it to say that most widows would not make that list. For starters, she must be a God-fearing woman with fruit to prove it. Seems harsh by modern standards. Indeed, it is the modern standards that are no small part of the problem.
The source for all theology is Scripture as opposed to specific cultural settings. This method for doing theology is seen in the racialist controversies, the new #MeToo controversy, and the homosexual attempt to break down the walls of Christianity to accept what is obviously a perversion of nature in the unlawful expressions of homosexual sexual behavior. The Bible is not about how human beings can construct social, economic, and political structures that guarantee the elimination of the poor or that level the playing field so that oppression and inequality are forever removed from human history. It is about the good news that God himself, a perfectly holy God has come to us, and in his coming to us, he has brought salvation, deliverance from the wrath that is to come as well as from the bondage to sin that is presently with us in the here and now. We can be transformed from being slaves of sin to being slaves to Christ. We are both slaves and sons of God. We were oppressed by sin but now we are freed from sin so that we might live to God. We were blind and wretched and poor. But now, because of the work of Christ, we can see, we are comforted, and we are rich in God’s favor. This and only this is the kind of liberation we find in the Bible.
Watch your pastors. Watch how they deal with these issues. Some pastors have come to fully embrace many of the components of liberation theology in the name of being a loving Christian. They push things like adoption and foster care but when the opportunity comes to thunder against the perversions of homosexuality, they are more quiet than not. They rant about slavery and racism, but their focus is on the white guy sitting in the pew. The black racist gets a free pass. On Mother’s Day, moms and wives, and women are praised from one end of the sermon to the other. On Father’s Day, the men get a lecture in how to be better husbands and fathers. The difference is as plain as the nose on your face. These pastors are unduly influenced by the culture. Do your pastor a favor and help him by holding him accountable not only for what he does preach but for what he doesn’t preach.
Liberation theologies of every stripe pervert the Christian movement, transforming it into a socio-political-economic movement for the benefit of the poor, the underprivileged, and the oppressed. People who perceive themselves to be one of those groups join the movement in hopes of what it can do for them in the here and now. There is no supernatural gospel bringing about supernatural change. There is no wrath of God boiling against the rebellious sinner in whose place Christ died. There is no great exchange. Men do not see themselves as getting what they do not deserve in Christ for the bright shining lights of the hope of supposedly getting what they think they do deserve in the here and now by way of equality. Evangelicalism will be swallowed up by this envious and idolatrous monster unless her leaders find a way to put God’s kingdom before their own.
 Thomas L. S.J. Schubeck, “Liberation Theology,” The Encyclopedia of Christianity (Grand Rapids, MI; Leiden, Netherlands: Wm. B. Eerdmans; Brill, 1999–2003), 259.
 Thomas L. S.J. Schubeck, “Liberation Theology,” The Encyclopedia of Christianity (Grand Rapids, MI; Leiden, Netherlands: Wm. B. Eerdmans; Brill, 1999–2003), 259.
 Norman L. Geisler and Ralph E. MacKenzie, Roman Catholics and Evangelicals: Agreements and Differences (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 1995), 464–465.
 James H. Cone, “Black Theology,” The Encyclopedia of Christianity (Grand Rapids, MI; Leiden, Netherlands: Wm. B. Eerdmans; Brill, 1999–2003), 276.
 Carrie Sinclair Wolcott, “Feminist Biblical Hermeneutics,” ed. John D. Barry et al., The Lexham Bible Dictionary (Bellingham, WA: Lexham Press, 2016).