I have been asked numerous times about the movement called Liberation Theology. What is it and where did it originate? Is it helpful or harmful? Or maybe somewhere in between? This movement actually sprung up in the 1960’s as some Latin American scholars attempted to address poverty and oppression perpetuated by dictatorial governments in various parts of the world especially in Roman Catholic countries in South America.. It certainly sounded like a good cause. Could social change be facilitated and people liberated out of poverty through social justice and personal empowerment helped along by Bible verses? These ideas were introduced in the United States through the writings of Gustavo Gutierrez, ( Dictionary of Christianity in America, pages 648-650). The sad fact is that Liberation Theology has left the Gospel behind. Not only that but it has elevated class warfare to a kind of mandatory sacred doctrine. It has a veneer of the sacred but is secular to the core. Originally it was a hybrid that merged Catholicism with Communism and various other forms of socialism. The message was miles away from the personal and individual spiritual liberation Jesus came to provide.
The view that Liberationists hold is simply an amalgamation of Marxist Communism layered over with biblical themes and words from the Bible while radically redefining those words. One such biblical theme used as justification is the liberation of the Jews in the Exodus under Moses. The Liberationist do not present this as a story of redemption focused on the covenant God, the great I Am, but rather as a schematic for the poorer masses to rise up against the Pharaoh’s of this world. It advocates taking from the rich to give to the poor. It lacks a Passover Lamb and does not offer spiritual redemption. In this Liberation scenario the poor are automatically on God’s side and loved by Him just for being poor. The rich are all villains and enemies of God because they have wealth. This is certainly a misuse of the Bible in the worst way. The very obvious meaning of the Exodus story is that God called Moses to deliver the covenant nation and call them to love, worship and serve Him. Ultimately they would preserve God’s Word and bring forth the Messiah through their lineage.
Of course in the true biblical scenario God extends His love to all both rich and poor alike and invites them to salvation in Christ our Passover. The Liberation Theology movement encourages violence and conflict by the lower classes (as subjectively defined by the leaders) and is constantly crying the theme of social injustice. This is not to say that there is no social injustice in the world but ushering in social justice alone is not the same as bringing salvation in Christ. This movement called Liberation is primarily a horizontal movement whereas true Christianity is both horizontal and vertical seeking to reconcile man with God, (2Corinthians 5:18-21). In the Liberation Theology view there is no original sin and sin itself is redefined as having possessions and wealth while others do not. Share the wealth is a constant theme except for the rulers who get the wealth and dictate to others how to use theirs. A cadre of wealthy rulers managing the masses is only a necessary but temporary event the rulers say until everything evolves into the promised Utopia for all where all will be equal in status. No one would think to question the ruler’s greed. Unfortunately in many instances when someone opposes Liberation Theology they are accused of hatred for the little guy and bigotry as well as racism. They are shouted down as not caring for the underprivileged.
Dave Breese has given us a great explanation and a clear answer to the question, what is Liberation Theology?:
“It is the view that holds that Christ came into the world to be our economic liberator. It asserts that His first purpose was to free the poor and the oppressed from the shackles of economic constriction. In actuality, liberation theology redefines sin. In liberation theology sin is to possess wealth in the face of the world’s poverty. Righteousness is therefore to redistribute the wealth, giving it to the poor. Evangelism is also redefined. It is seen as the announcement of economic liberation of Christ and the invitation to the oppressed people of the world to join in the revolution He now ordains. Liberation theology advances another fascinating rationale. In that possessing money is the essence of sin, it follows that the most sinful system in the world is capitalism. The liberationists then ask, From whence does capitalism come? The answer is of course the United States….although it has lost ground in some places, liberation theology continues to be a serious spiritual subversion within Christianity and a serious threat to the stability of the world. It has been called ‘the greatest threat that the Church has faced in all of its history.’ The emergence of liberation theology makes clear that Marxism moves across the world in many a strange disguise.” ( 7 Men Who Rule The World From The Grave , pages 85-86).
Where Liberation theology takes another very evil and wicked turn is when it feeds vicious hatred of Jews and anti-Semitism. In that poisoned stream all Jews are seen as less than human and poised to take over the world. Then there are forms of Liberation theology that stress that one race is better than another – superior in some way.
Another egregious off shoot of Liberation Theology (with proponents hiding behind the theme of The Third Quest ) is the school of thought that blatantly casts Jesus as coming to organize social revolution and being only a prophet of radical social change. These views are promoted by Gerd Theissen, R. David Kaylor and Richard Horsley. This makes Jesus more a politician than a Savior. Certainly Jesus cared about society and downtrodden suffering people. Social change may occur when a person is born again or a community is impacted by the Gospel but this is only a by product and not the core issue, (See, The Jesus Quest , Ben Witherington, chapter 6 for a full analysis of this flawed approach).
Given the history of so many failed Utopias’s our logic tells us (as well as the Bible) that we are going to have to wait for the coming of Jesus before there is a perfect society and a perfect kingdom on earth. Liberation Theology is not the blessing it is advertised to be but rather is the distorted delusion of fallen men.