Emerging is really quite liberating

Last week, appropriately enough, the reading for my Theological Methods PhD class was two books by the Black Theology advocate James Cone. This week we were asked to read, and I am giving a presentation on, The Theology of Liberation by Gustavo Gutiérrez.

Gustavo Gutiérrez is primarily interested in Liberation Theology as it relates to Latin America. James Cone writes was is essentially Liberation Theology as it relates to African Americans.

Which means I’ve been pretty well enmeshed in reading theology that advocates significant emphasis on the poor, outcasts, and oppressed. And despite impressions that might come from my mostly conservative voting habits, I really enjoyed reading these works. They are quite good, not only as important works of influential theologies, but also as personally interesting examinations of what is entirely relevant to my own particular theological interests.

Put more clearly and directly, emerging/missional church theology is really a form of Liberation theology adapted to a different context and with certain other twists.

That sentence really doesn’t mean much to most people I realize. Who cares about categories? And who outside of theology schools really wants to know about different forms of theological approaches. Let’s just love Jesus!

Well, really, that’s exactly what it’s about. What does it mean to love Jesus? What is the Gospel? What is Christianity really? Different approaches offer different answers, and Liberation Theology has the particular answer that the Gospel is about ‘a preferential option for the poor’. In other words, God cares about those in need. Not just on a spiritual level. He cares about oppression and hardship and poverty and conflicts in the here and in the now.

This isn’t a return to the Social Gospel of the early 20th century, though it’s often accused of such. Gutiérrez, especially, makes a strong point of connecting justice and liberation with a holistic understanding of sin and holiness.

Emerging Church theology has emphasized a more holistic understanding of participation with each other and with God as well, in rather similar words in fact as I find in both Cone and Gutiérrez. Which is interesting from a couple of directions.

One is that if emerging/missional church theology really is a localized expression of the broader Liberation Theology then there is a great way of examining, critiquing, and honing emerging theology. We can approach it from the same direction and see how the forty years, and much more in some ways, of Liberation Theology has illustrated strengths and weaknesses. The weaknesses are especially helpful in contemporary emerging thought, so as to keep this newer expression from falling into the same traps, and possible losing itself in the same ways as so many other Liberation theologies have done since the 1970s, thus losing their capability to offer real liberation.

It’s also interesting because it’s quite clear that those involved in emerging/missional churches are not, for the most part, an oppressed people group. Often, it’s just the opposite. Those who are leaders, lay and vocational, in church settings, those who have experienced at least a fair amount of privilege and comfort and possibilities in their lives, are not the general subjects of liberation thought.

Indeed, in the emerging church we see the curious twist that instead of being an expression of the Kingdom for the oppressed, it is instead an expression of the Kingdom for those who might have been, or potentially could be, the oppressors. We see the privileged letting go their privilege, the gifted setting aside their ambitions, and an otherwise passionate, engaged population voluntarily letting go what they could assume for the sake of something deeper, and higher, and farther in the Kingdom of God.

I think I’ll keep looking at this some more. Might have some interesting perspectives come out of it.

This entry was posted in academia, emerging church, missional, sins, society, theology and tagged . Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to Emerging is really quite liberating

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *