A Liberating Theology?

Liberation Theology seems to reinforce a victimology that perpetuates their oppression. It fails to deal with real personal sin while shifting blame to other corporate entities. It militates against true reconciliation. It can be argued that Liberation Theology has a deep compassion for the hurting, the marginalized, the poor, and the oppressed. But Liberation Theology has no exclusive claim to that. Compassion ought to be part and parcel of a robust Reformed view of theology. If it isn’t, then you’re not doing it right. 


In several recent conversations with friends who pastor “Gospel-centred” churches, the topic of Liberation Theology has come up. In the course of these discussion, I came to realize that I was not as familiar with the basic tenets of liberation theology as I ought to have been. I had not actually read any liberation theology. As strains of this theological system make inroads into self-identifying Evangelical and Reformed churches, I figured that I owed it to myself to do research on it. I started by reading Leonardo and Clodovis Boff’s book Introducing Liberation Theology, as well as James Cone’s book A Black Theology of Liberation. I realize that both of these books are dated, but are, nevertheless, representative of this theological system. Most modern derivations of liberation theology are building off the main ideas found in these classical formulations. I also read Anthony Bradley’s excellent book Liberating Black Theology as an important modern critique of Black Liberation Theology.

In a culture where we speak often about things like inequality, I can see the appeal of Liberation Theology. There is a great compassion for the poor and the oppressed in it. But my reading left me with more questions than answers about the usefulness of this theological stream. Given the vows and commitments to Scripture and the Westminster Standards that I, as a minister in the PCA, have made, these are questions that I think have to be answered before one would encourage Liberation Theology as a useful stream of theology for Gospel-centered churches. In order to ask those questions, I want to briefly summarize what Liberation Theology and Black Liberation Theology and then ask these questions with some commentary. These questions will range a number of categories but the two primary and fundamental categories relate to the doctrines of Anthropology (and the related doctrine of Soteriology) and Revelation.

Liberation Theology and Black Liberation Theology

“Liberation theology can be understood as the reflection in faith of the church that has taken to heart the ‘clear and prophetic option expressing preference for, and solidarity with, the poor’.”1 Liberation Theology looks across the world today and sees millions in destitution and in need. It responds by declaring that God is for the poor and the oppressed. If God is for the oppressed, then he is against the oppressor. The opposition to the oppressor is expressed as liberation. This “inner thrust for liberation is not only consistent with the gospel but is the gospel of Jesus Christ” (emphasis in original).2 “It is a radical manifestation of faith that believes in Jesus’ promise of an abundant life, and anything that prevents people from realizing this promise in their lives is not from God, whether it be the state or the church.”3.

Liberation means bringing freedom from economic, political, and social oppressors to the oppressed. As a theological system, it is rooted primarily in orthopraxy, as opposed to orthodoxy. In short, what theology calls you to do is of much greater importance that what theology calls you to believe.

There are strong similarities in Liberation Theology and Black Liberation Theology. Though similar, it should be noted that they are two separate streams that developed independent of one another.

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