Creative Team Building and Leadership Resources - In our Elements

Sunsets and Liberation

Wednesday, February 20th, 2013

Fellow Passengers: This week’s Promise Passage* (I Kings 17) transports me to a deeply impoverished and mud-plagued suburban slum in Brazil, mid 1960s, where Father Pedro Arrupe of the Society of Jesus had gone on a trip from Spain to celebrate mass. The church in this favela was a patched together, rickety structure, dirt floor, open doors allowing dogs and cats to freely roam in and out. But Father Arrupe found some of the most moving and devoted believers he had ever encountered. He distributed communion to people who had tears running down their faces, and then offered a sermon in dialogue, listening as much as talking, soaking in their experiences and insights. After the service, Pedro Arrupe had an encounter that made a profound impact on him: At the end a big fellow, whose fearful looks could have inspired fear, told me: “Come to my house. I have something to honor you.” I remained uncertain, not knowing whether I should accept or not, but the priest who was accompanying me said: “Go with him, Father; the people are very good.” I went to his house, which was a half-falling shack. He made me sit down on a rickety chair. From where I was seated the sun could be seen as it was setting. The fellow said to me: “Señor, see how beautiful it is!” And we remained silent for some minutes. The sun disappeared. The man added: “I did not know how to thank you for all that you have done for us. I have nothing to give you, but I thought that you would like to see this sunset. It pleased you, didn’t it? Good evening.” He then gave me his hand. As I was leaving, I thought: “I have met very few hearts that are so kind.”  Soon after this visit, Pedro Arrupe took leadership of the Jesuits as he was elected the 28th Superior General of the Society in 1965. Three years later, in a letter to the Jesuits of Latin America, he wrote of God’s preferential option for the poor, a phrase which made its way into Catholic social doctrine and which some scholars mark as the genesis of liberation theology (a theology that Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger worked long and hard to discredit and continued railing against when he became Pope Benedict XVI).

Of course, it’s hard to actually mark the exact beginnings of something like liberation theology, a movement which defined the presence of the church in war-torn and impoverished Latin America throughout the decades of the 70s and 80s, and continues to be one of the strains of Christian practice there and throughout the developing world. The Jesuits could go back and trace an emphasis on human rights and social justice and a divinely inspired preferential option for the poor (although that particular phrase was not used prior to Arrupe) to their founder, Ignatius of Loyola. And Ignatius could trace it back to biblical foundations, to the teachings of Jesus, such as in his inaugural sermon in Luke 4. And of course Jesus would trace it back further, to Isaiah who had prophesied a spiritual outpouring that would bring bring good news to the poor and liberation to the oppressed. And Isaiah could have traced it back further, to the earliest prophets, such as Elijah, who made his own sojourn to a foreign favela to experience communion with a poor widow, a story Jesus included in that inaugural sermon in his hometown synagogue. And Elijah would trace it back to the beginnings of the covenant community, when the Hebrew slaves gained liberation from the Egyptian empire, and made their journey to the land of promise. A theology of liberation indeed has many roots, deep and wide, throughout the history of the faith community.

I am learning a lot about liberation theology and the way it contrasts with traditional missional theologies from my friends in Cuba. In traditional missions, churches in wealthy and privileged countries send aid to help poor and underprivileged countries. My friends in Cuba can recount a long missionary history that went along these patronizing lines and created uncomfortable dependencies. The Cubans are eager to avoid those mistakes as they create new partnerships with churches here. The new partnerships are marked by a common commitment to mutuality. Last year, in a conversation among leaders of the Fraternity of Baptists in Cuba and the Alliance of Baptists in the US, Javier Pérez, president of the Fraternity, spoke of the need for each side of the partnership to be able to recognize and articulate its own poverty, as well as its own wealth. Some poverty, like some wealth, is material, while some is spiritual; some is cultural; some is educational. Having a partnership of respect and mutuality allows each side to come to the relationship acknowledging its need, as well as its abundance, in a mutual sharing and receiving of resources and blessing. Being in a liberation theology centered relationship means that in addition to these personal exchanges, we are also working together to change the conditions that cause these respective poverties. This all reminds me of one of the best and most engaging conversations around politics and theology I’ve ever had, in the home of a Cuban Baptist named Samuel, who lives ten or fifteen miles outside the city of Matanzas. We were on his back porch one Sunday evening, sipping Havana Club and waiting for the beans to finish cooking, talking about the politics of poverty, when he suddenly broke the conversation to lead me to the front porch. We sat in rocking chairs and watched the most magnificent sunset I have ever seen. He said he had been eager to share with me one of his favorite pleasures in life. We sat in silence for a few minutes. I have met very few hearts that are so kind.

How about you? Where does this Promise Passage take you on your journey of faith? Feel free to comment and share with friends on Facebook, Google+, Twitter, email, etc.



  • February 20, 2013 at 3:02 pm

    Question: “What is Liberation Theology?”

    Answer: Simply put, Liberation Theology is an attempt to interpret Scripture through the plight of the poor. It is largely a humanistic doctrine. It started in South America in the turbulent 1950s when Marxism was making great gains among the poor because of its emphasis on the redistribution of wealth, allowing poor peasants to share in the wealth of the colonial elite and thus upgrade their economic status in life. As a theology, it has very strong Roman Catholic roots.

    Liberation Theology was bolstered in 1968 at the Second Latin American Bishops Conference which met in Medellin, Colombia. The idea was to study the Bible and to fight for social justice in Christian (Catholic) communities. Since the only governmental model for the redistribution of the wealth in a South American country was a Marxist model, the redistribution of wealth to raise the economic standards of the poor in South America took on a definite Marxist flavor. Since those who had money were very reluctant to part with it in any wealth redistribution model, the use of a populist (read poor) revolt was encouraged by those who worked most closely with the poor. As a result, the Liberation Theology model was mired in Marxist dogma and revolutionary causes.

    As a result of its Marxist leanings, Liberation Theology as practiced by the bishops and priests of South America was criticized in the 1980s by the Catholic hierarchy, from Pope John Paul on down. The top hierarchy of the Catholic Church accused liberation theologians of supporting violent revolutions and outright Marxist class struggle. This perversion is usually the result of a humanist view of man being codified into Church Doctrine by zealous priests and bishops and explains why the Catholic top hierarchy now wants to separate itself from Marxist doctrine and revolution.

    However, Liberation Theology has moved from the poor peasants in South America to the poor blacks in North America. We now have Black Liberation Theology being preached in the black community. It is the same Marxist, revolutionary, humanistic philosophy found in South American Liberation Theology and has no more claim for a scriptural basis than the South American model has. False doctrine is still false, no matter what name is attached to it. In the same way that revolutionary fervor was stirred up in South America, Liberation Theology is now trying to stir up revolutionary fervor among blacks in America. If the church in America recognizes the falseness of Black Liberation Theology as the Catholic Church did in the South American model, Black Liberation Theology will suffer the same fate that the South America Liberation Theology did; namely, it will be seen as a false, humanist doctrine dressed up in theological terms.

    Comment by Bill

  • February 20, 2013 at 8:54 pm

    Bill, who are you quoting here? Obviously their perspective is slanted. From my understanding and reading, liberation theologians get their ideas about redistribution of wealth from the Bible. Ideas such as the year of Jubilee redistribution of property and the communal living of the early church far pre-date Karl Marx. The movement actually created quite a powerful revival in the base communities throughout Latin America, even as it created great angst and ire throughout the upper levels of the papal hierarchy. Trying to discredit something good by calling it Marxist or communist is an old and tired propaganda technique. The outcomes of good news to the poor and liberation for the oppressed are good and godly, no matter what name you might want to call them or how they might threaten the principalities and powers of this world system.

    Comment by Stan Dotson

  • February 21, 2013 at 5:50 am

    Comment by Bill

  • February 21, 2013 at 8:03 am

    Bill, I’m sure there are many good people associated with, but I wouldn’t consider them in any way experts on Catholic doctrine or liberation theology. Their home base, Calvary Bible College, expressly teaches against ecumenical efforts (churches working together across denominational lines) and they have some odd beliefs in their core values, such as their written belief that “healings, miracles, and the like ceased after the first century.” Therefore, I take their critique of liberation theology with a grain of salt. The opening paragraph statement “it is largely a humanist doctrine” is patently false, as it is a theology rooted in scripture and an understanding of God’s work in the world. I hope you’ll check out some other sources before closing your mind to the Godly and Spirit-filled outcomes that have been accomplished and fulfilled through the practice of liberation theology among poor communities. Insofar as one of the core principles is to challenge the systems that cause poverty and injustice, it is a good thing that African-American Christians in our own country are employing that theology, as their continues to be systemic injustice that discriminates against the black community in our country, and these injustices need a prophetic challenge in order for meaningful reform to take place.

    Comment by Stan Dotson

  • February 21, 2013 at 4:18 pm

    thanks or your advise.. the following is there
    Statement of Faith I would be interested in know what part you may have problems with

    Section 1: The Bible
    We believe the Bible, comprised of the Old and New Testaments, to be the inspired, infallible, and authoritative Word of God (Matthew 5:18; 2 Timothy 3:16-17). In faith we hold the Bible to be inerrant in the original writings, God-breathed, and the complete and final authority for faith and practice (2 Timothy 3:16-17). While still using the individual writing styles of the human authors, the Holy Spirit perfectly guided them to ensure they wrote precisely what He wanted written, without error or omission (2 Peter 1:21).

    Section 2: God
    We believe in one God, who is Creator of all (Deuteronomy 6:4; Colossians 1:16), who has revealed Himself in three distinct Persons—Father, Son, and Holy Spirit (2 Corinthians 13:14), yet who is one in being, essence, and glory (John 10:30). God is eternal (Psalm 90:2), infinite (1 Timothy 1:17), and sovereign (Psalm 93:1). God is omniscient (Psalm 139:1-6), omnipresent (Psalm 139:7-13), omnipotent (Revelation 19:6), and unchanging (Malachi 3:6). God is holy (Isaiah 6:3), just (Deuteronomy 32:4), and righteous (Exodus 9:27). God is love (1 John 4:8), gracious (Ephesians 2:8), merciful (1 Peter 1:3), and good (Romans 8:28).

    Section 3: Jesus Christ
    We believe in the deity of the Lord Jesus Christ. He is God incarnate, God in human form, the expressed image of the Father, who, without ceasing to be God, became man in order that He might demonstrate who God is and provide the means of salvation for humanity (Matthew 1:21; John 1:18; Colossians 1:15).

    We believe that Jesus Christ was conceived of the Holy Spirit and was born of the virgin Mary; that He is truly fully God and truly fully man; that He lived a perfect, sinless life; that all His teachings are true (Isaiah 14; Matthew 1:23). We believe that the Lord Jesus Christ died on the cross for all humanity (1 John 2:2) as a substitutionary sacrifice (Isaiah 53:5-6). We hold that His death is sufficient to provide salvation for all who receive Him as Savior (John 1:12; Acts 16:31); that our justification is grounded in the shedding of His blood (Romans 5:9; Ephesians 1:17); and that it is attested by His literal, physical resurrection from the dead (Matthew 28:6; 1 Peter 1:3).

    We believe that the Lord Jesus Christ ascended to Heaven in His glorified body (Acts 1:9-10) and is now seated at the right hand of God as our High Priest and Advocate (Romans 8:34; Hebrews 7:25).

    Section 4: The Holy Spirit
    We believe in the deity and personality of the Holy Spirit (Acts 5:3-4). He regenerates sinners (Titus 3:5) and indwells believers (Romans 8:9). He is the agent by whom Christ baptizes all believers into His body (1 Corinthians 12:12-14). He is the seal by whom the Father guarantees the salvation of believers unto the day of redemption (Ephesians 1:13-14). He is the Divine Teacher who illumines believers’ hearts and minds as they study the Word of God (1 Corinthians 2:9-12).

    We believe that the Holy Spirit is ultimately sovereign in the distribution of spiritual gifts (1 Corinthians 12:11). We believe that the miraculous gifts of the Spirit, while by no means outside of the Spirit’s ability to empower, no longer function to the same degree they did in the early development of the church (1 Corinthians 12:4-11; 2 Corinthians 12:12; Ephesians 2:20; 4:7-12).

    Section 5: Angels and Demons
    We believe in the reality and personality of angels. We believe that God created the angels to be His servants and messengers (Nehemiah 9:6; Psalm 148:2; Hebrews 1:14).

    We believe in the existence and personality of Satan and demons. Satan is a fallen angel who led a group of angels in rebellion against God (Isaiah 14:12-17; Ezekiel 28:12-15). He is the great enemy of God and man, and the demons are his servants in evil. He and his demons will be eternally punished in the lake of fire (Matthew 25:41; Revelation 20:10).

    Section 6: Humanity
    We believe that humanity came into existence by direct creation of God and that humanity is uniquely made in the image and likeness of God (Genesis 1:26-27). We believe that all humanity, because of Adam’s fall, has inherited a sinful nature, that all human beings choose to sin (Romans 3:23), and that all sin is exceedingly offensive to God (Romans 6:23). Humanity is utterly unable to remedy this fallen state (Ephesians 2:1-5,12).

    Section 7: Salvation
    We believe that salvation is a gift of God’s grace through faith in the finished work of Jesus Christ on the cross (Ephesians 2:8-9). Christ’s death fully accomplished justification through faith and redemption from sin. Christ died in our place (Romans 5:8-9) and bore our sins in His own body (1 Peter 2:24).

    We believe salvation is received by grace alone, through faith alone, in Christ alone. Good works and obedience are results of salvation, not requirements for salvation. Due to the greatness, sufficiency, and perfection of Christ’s sacrifice, all those who have truly received Christ as Savior are eternally secure in salvation, kept by God’s power, secured and sealed in Christ forever (John 6:37-40; 10:27-30; Romans 8:1, 38-39; Ephesians 1:13-14; 1 Peter 1:5; Jude 24). Just as salvation cannot be earned by good works, neither does it need good works to be maintained or sustained. Good works and changed lives are the inevitable results of salvation (James 2).

    Section 8: The Church
    We believe that the Church, the Body of Christ, is a spiritual organism made up of all believers of this present age (1 Corinthians 12:12-14; 2 Corinthians 11:2; Ephesians 1:22-23, 5:25-27). We believe in the ordinances of believer’s water baptism by immersion as a testimony to Christ and identification with Him, and the Lord’s Supper as a remembrance of Christ’s death and shed blood (Matthew 28:19-20; Acts 2:41-42, 18:8; 1 Corinthians 11:23-26). Through the church, believers are to be taught to obey the Lord and to testify concerning their faith in Christ as Savior and to honor Him by holy living. We believe in the Great Commission as the primary mission of the Church. It is the obligation of all believers to witness, by word and life, to the truths of God’s Word. The gospel of the grace of God is to be preached to all the world (Matthew 28:19-20; Acts 1:8; 2 Corinthians 5:19-20).

    Section 9: Things to Come
    We believe in the blessed hope (Titus 2:13), the personal and imminent coming of the Lord Jesus Christ to rapture His saints (1 Thessalonians 4:13-18). We believe in the visible and bodily return of Christ to the earth with His saints to establish His promised millennial kingdom (Zechariah 14:4-11; 1 Thessalonians 1:10; Revelation 3:10, 19:11-16, 20:1-6). We believe in the physical resurrection of all men—the saints to everlasting joy and bliss on the New Earth, and the wicked to eternal punishment in the lake of fire (Matthew 25:46; John 5:28-29; Revelation 20:5-6, 12-13).

    We believe that the souls of believers are, at death, absent from the body and present with the Lord, where they await their resurrection when spirit, soul, and body are reunited to be glorified forever with the Lord (Luke 23:43; 2 Corinthians 5:8; Philippians 1:23, 3:21; 1 Thessalonians 4:16-17). We believe that the souls of unbelievers remain, after death, in conscious misery until their resurrection when, with soul and body reunited, they shall appear at the Great White Throne judgment and shall be cast into the Lake of Fire to suffer everlasting punishment (Matthew 25:41-46; Mark 9:43-48; Luke 16:19-26; 2 Thessalonians 1:7-9; Revelation 20:11-15).

    Comment by Bill

  • February 22, 2013 at 6:16 am

    Bill, I don’t have a problem with conservative theology. It takes all kinds. I thought you might have a problem with their statement that they believe that the Holy Spirit’s work of miracles and healing stopped in the first century with the early church. What I found in a cursory look at their web site that I did have a problem with was their stated opposition to ecumenical efforts, that is, efforts of churches across denominations to find common ground and promote the unity of the body of Christ. I also believe that nothing in their mission statement or their belief statements gives them any credible ground on which to critique liberation theology. They are taking pot shots at something they obviously know little about. Their critique actually contradicts their stated belief that the Bible is infallible and authoritative, for the liberation theologians derive their principles directly from scripture – the Exodus story, the year of Jubilee, the Sermon on the Mount, the early church experience in Acts, etc. Apparently the Calvary Bible College folks want to water down the authority of these passages, and try to assassinate the character of people who find them authoritative for faith and practice.

    Comment by Stan Dotson

  • February 23, 2013 at 11:02 am

    Amen bro. Bill keep being salt and light! great post Bill

    Comment by jim munsey

  • February 25, 2013 at 7:05 pm

    The case against liberation theology

    The late Pope John Paul II was frequently criticised for the severity with which he dealt with the liberation movement.

    His main object was to stop the highly politicised form of liberation theology prevalent in the 1980s, which could be seen as a fusion of Christianity and Marxism. He was particularly criticised for the firmness with which he closed institutions that taught Liberation Theology and with which he removed or rebuked the movement’s activists, such as Leonardo Boff and Gustavo Gutierrez.

    He believed that to turn the church into a secular political institution and to see salvation solely as the achievement of social justice was to rob faith in Jesus of its power to transform every life. The image of Jesus as a political revolutionary was inconsistent with the Bible and the Church’s teachings.

    He didn’t mean that the Church was not going to be the voice of the oppressed, was not going to champion the poor. But it should not do it by partisan politics, or by revolutionary violence. The Church’s business was bringing about the Kingdom of God

    Comment by Bill

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