Thursday, July 11, 2002

At In Between Naps I've been involved in an interesting discussion on the issue of evangelicals gaining ground in Brazil.

Part of the discussion centered around liberation theology and some feel it is to blame for discontent with the Catholic Church in that area of the world. While I do agree that liberation theology has or has had its problems, I think it was a very necessary correction to the blindness of a staid brand of Catholicism that was not seeing the world as it needed to be seen.

The church has now adopted many of the ideas of liberation theology, such as "preferential option for the poor" and the idea of "sinful structures." In fact, the idea of social sin is now gaining ground thanks in large part to liberation theology. Of course, one must unequivocally disavow any allegiance to violence or atheistic Marxism in many liberation theologians, but even then this should be done with care.

I often ask: besides our Lord, which one man has had the most profound effect on the 20th century?

Karl Marx. This man spent countless hours in libraries and was shunned by the intelligentia of his day in both Germany and England, yet his ideas had profound consequences for the 20th century world. I contend that you don't have that much impact unless you have something legitimate to say.

I think much can and has been done in dialog with Marx's thought so I would not encourage an outright dismissal of Marxism.

The roots of liberation theology are actually said to be in a statement made by the South American Bishops in the early 70s, so Guitierrez and Boff are not the founding fathers of liberation theology. And even prior to the Bishops' statement, many agree that the ultimate roots are in the work of many German theologians of the 50s and 60s.

One interesting side note about liberation theology that is hardly known in Catholic circles is that there is a vibrant theological field of black liberation theology. Black liberation theology came about independently in 1967 with James Cone's Black Theology and Black Power. Cone was writing in the south and had no knowledge of Latino liberation theology which was still brewing under the radar in the late 60s. They have different approaches: Cone deals with race, while the Latin American theologians deal with class. Cone is entertaining and provovative and very extreme, but he singlehandedly put the theological issue on the map. But like the South Americans, Cone was influenced greatly by German theologians, especially Karl Barth.

Liberation theology basically centers around the notion of the Kingdom of God. More specifically, that the Kingdom of God is not some utopia that we are looking to fly to when we die, rather, that the Kingdom is here present and we are the ones who will make it happen. For that reason it is incumbernt upon us, i.e., it is our sacred and solemn christian duty to fight sinful structures and establish justice on the earth in the now, not the hereafter. The problem that many liberation theologians have fallen into is that they focus so much on establishing the Kingdom here and now that they have forgetten completely that there is a true future heavenly hope. If both can be balanced, like JPII does, then you do have something powerful.

One last note, Jurgen Moltmann, another very influential Protestant German theologian, in his book The Coming of God, speaks about God's coming. The idea is that God, in Christ, is not necesary coming at some time in the future, so if we imagine the timeline as a train, then God is five stops away and time is destined to meet God, or rather, God will come at that time. No! Moltmann has the Hegelian idea that God comes literally from the future and empties himself out in the world in the present. So when we speak of God's coming, it is not the coming of a later date, but the coming of God into our present.

The idea is that if God is coming into our present then the power of that Kingdom of God is present here and now and not at some future time. I wouldn't subscribe to all of Moltmann's thought, but I do think that this is a very powerful idea and worth Catholics taking a look into.


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