If your desire is to practice “pure religion,” and by that I mean caring for orphans and widows in their distress and refusing to let the world corrupt you. James 1:27 Then eventually you will be accused of being communist, marxist, or even a liberation theologist. What is liberation theology?
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.
Entrenched in the Gospel is the idea of “setting captives free.” Luke 4:18 “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim liberty to the captives and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty those who are oppressed.”
Alleviating poverty all together, is, in my view impossible. But that’s no excuse for inaction when it comes to addressing poverty. Look at these 3 quotes from Lesslie Newbigin, in the book “The Open Secret: An Introduction to the Theology of Mission.”
True theology does not begin in the realm of ideas. It begins with praxis.
We have now to listen to the missiology formulated within the consciousness of the Christian who is part of the poor world, a missiology centered in the demand for liberation in the name of God’s Justice.
To “know the Lord” is not a matter of intellectual contemplation or mystical union; it is a matter of doing justice and mercy in concrete situations.
The struggle amongst today’s advocates for the poor is whether or not their situation determines our action and gives meaning to scripture or whether scripture determines and gives meaning to their situation and our actions towards them. In other words, what lens are you looking through to give meaning and purpose to poverty alleviation? Does your doctrine, or theology, determine your action when it comes to the poor, or does the existence of the poor and their situation determine how you interpret and apply your theology?
Liberation theology, in addressing the needs of the poor has not worked. In every attempt to nuance and resurface it, eventually people have come to understand that there is something wrong with it. In fact, here is South America where we live and work with the poor, I’ve seen the results, and it’s not good. It has yet to be realized as ineffective amongst the United States African American communities where the prosperity gospel and liberation theology is gutting those who are already poverty stricken and redistributing what little wealth is had back to the rich.
Someone recently asked me, “How do we minister to the rich?” It’s a great question. Certainly, when it comes to the gospel and sharing with the poor, we must address hunger, health, and oppression, or the gospel becomes meaningless to them. But in the case of the rich who have none of those needs, it’s a battle of ideology. The question is whether theology comes first in both cases.
If we turn to the ministry of Jesus himself, it is of course clear that Jesus shocked the established authorities by being a friend to all – not only to the destitute and hungry, but also to those rich extortioners, the tax-collectors, whom all decent people ostracized; that the shocking thing was not that he sided with the poor against the rich but that he met everyone equally with the same unlimited mercy and the same unconditioned demand for total loyalty. A few questions:
When it come to the poor, does need their determine creed or does our creed determine how we address their need?
What is the difference between setting a captive free and poverty relief?
Do the poor have a better theology of poverty than those with means?
View the first two parts of this series:
 Lesslie Newbigin. The Open Secret: An Introduction to the Theology of Mission (Kindle Locations 1311-1312). Kindle Edition.
Lesslie Newbigin. The Open Secret: An Introduction to the Theology of Mission (Kindle Locations 1306-1307). Kindle Edition.
Lesslie Newbigin. The Open Secret: An Introduction to the Theology of Mission (Kindle Locations 1331-1332). Kindle Edition.