Liberation Theology: Are all the Oppressed Truly Brothers?

Introduction

The three main forms of liberation theology as outlined by Grenz and Olson are Black Liberation Theology, Latin American Liberation Theology and Feminist Theology (Grenz, Olson, 1992). Liberation Theology seems to have had most of its conception in the 1960’s when the world was in a state of class flux. On the world stage at the time were names like Martin Luther King Jr. who is quite fairly credited with putting the human rights movement underway. This means that the context of each of the liberation theologies has to be examined within the context of the 1960’s human rights movement. Grenz and Olson in their critique of these theologies point out that one main thing they all have in common is an overemphasis on the immanence of God and the almost Neo-Orthodoxical way of handling truth that places truth within human experience (Grenz, Olson, 1992).

Black Liberation Theology  

Black Liberation Theology came about in three stages, according to Grenz and Olson (Grenz, Olson, 1992). The first was the development stage from 1966 -1970 and this stage was most caricaturized by a general lack of trust between black and white church leaders (Grenz, Olson, 1992). The second stage was from 1970 – 1977 and this stage was notable for its focus on equality in academics (Grenz, Olson, 1992). The third stage saw the movement shift its focus back to the black church and black denominations (Grenz, Olson, 1992).

There were several unique things about this theological construct. First, this is a very ethnocentric theology; it was designed for black people by black people. This is so much the case that earlier proponents of the theology would later have to go back and rewrite their theses to avoid using white terms to describe a black problem (Grenz, Olson, 1992).  Another unique attribute of this theology was the first real challenge to modern Protestantism in the U.S.

There were certainly some valuable points of the development of this theology. First, it drew the eyes of a sleeping American Protestant church to a very real problem.  In this way this theology was, in it noblest form, much like the late Martin Luther King Jr. This theology also forced many people both black and white to deal with issues like, how can liberation lead to reconciliation or theodicy issues of a suffering people. But with the good points came the bad as Black Liberation Theology also tended to be militant and, rather than seeking reconciliation, often sought to remove its people from the protestant brotherhood (Grenz, Olson, 1992).

Latin American Liberation Theology

Latin American Liberation Theology started out with a meeting of Catholic bishops in Columbia who simply wrote a statement that challenged the status quo about the living conditions of the poor (Grenz, Olson, 1992). Even though this statement had to be revised later, it already was too late because the poor masses seized on their right to overthrow their oppressors; they would use violence if needed (Grenz, Olson, 1992). This reaction gives a vital clue as to the context that this theology has to be viewed through and that context is poverty; for it was the poor that seized on it so ferociously.

There were a few qualities that set this theology apart from others such as, this was a theology of the poor. Black Liberation Theology was focused around a single race but Latin American Liberation Theology took the poor of all races and made them brothers and sisters in the fight for liberty (Grenz, Olson, 1992). Also a prominent feature of this theology was the connection of salvation with socioeconomic change.

The Latin American Liberation Theology did succeed in getting the greater focus of the worldwide church on the needy in 3rd world countries and in doing that it a provided a real challenge to the church not just to help the poor but to define the churches role in shaping the sociopolitical and socioeconomic climates within the nations that it resided. The problems with this theology are nearly the same as of the Black Liberation Theology in that it can be overly militant. The theologians of Latin American Liberation Theology are also know for being separatist in that critiques from the outside of the movement is not really taken seriously.

 Feminist Theology

It is important when talking about Feminist Theology to separate it from both secular Feminism and from any Feminist, woman’s equality, work within the context of traditional theology. Feminist Theology is separate from secular Feminism and intentionally separates itself from traditional theology that it considers to be corrupted by historical patriarchic thinking. The roots for Feminism go all the way back to the pre-civil war abolitionist days, however, the modern emphasis for Feminist Theology seems to come out of the same turbulent 1960’s area that birthed the other two previous liberation theologies.

There are four primary themes that are generally accepted across the various camps: traditional theology is corrupted by historical patriarchal thinking, traditional theology ignores women, women need to become theologians, and a woman’s experience needs to be the sole source for the contemplation of Christian theology (Grenz, Olson, 1992). Feminist Theology defies deeper classification than this because its definition is always shifting  (Grenz, Olson, 1992). However, it is a uniquely gender specific theology. The other theologies talked about previously, for the most part, only wanted to reform traditional theology, however, Feminist Theology, for the most part, wishes the throw traditional theology out and replace it with Feminist Theology. Feminist Theology focuses much on the nature of God wishing to redefine terms like man to be humankind and Father God to be gender neutral or even Mother God.

Grenz and Olson credit Feminist Theology with three major contributions to Christianity by pointing out the dangers in androcentrism, patriarchy, and misogyny (Grenz, Olson, 1992). On the other side of the coin, often in Feminist Theology the androcentrism, patriarchy, and misogyny is replaced with gynocentrism, matriarchy, and misandry.

Conclusion

Perhaps a critique of Grenz and Olson is also a critique of these type of theologies. When writing about theology, Grenz and Olson cast a very big net over Christianity taking in many simply on their claim to be Christian. It is a necessary step to produce a book like Grenz and Olson have. However, Jesus was more picky in those he called brothers and sisters: “Whoever does God’s will is my brother and sister and mother.” (Mark 3:35, NIV). Perhaps these theologies could benefit from taking a step back and having biblical criteria for who is a brother or a sister rather than, with their contexts, making all oppressed brothers and sisters.  Grenz and Olson point out the one fatal flaw with all liberation theologies: “… due to the loss of transcendence, liberation theologies eventually give way to theologies of spirituality” (Grenz, Olson, 1992, p. 210).

References

Grenz, S. J., & Olson, R. E. (1992). 20th-century theology: God and the world in a transitional age. Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press.

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