I finished my paper on liberation theology and emerging church theological method.
It finished up at around 38 pages. So, for that and other reasons, I’m not going to be posting the whole thing.
It got because I realized early in the research process this topic was both personally interesting and it seems like it might contribute to a section of my dissertation. So, I threw in my research (for future reference) and some of my own explorations, hoping that I’ll get a response to these that will help me see how to further develop them (or to toss them out and find some new paths).
Here’s the conclusion to the paper, which I titled “Liberating Theology”:
Liberation theology began when it became evident that while the Catholic Church had a very well-developed theology there were many Catholics whose primary experiences were those of oppression, destruction, alienation, and frustration. This is not an unexpected reality for Christians living in hostile lands where persecution of the faith leads to martyrdom. However, those in Latin America were not persecuted because of their faith, they were oppressed in spite of their faith and because they were poor. This began a renewed study into Scripture and theology that took seriously both experience and revelation. From this, it became evident that there is a preferential option for the poor within the kingdom of God, and that this reality should be pursued not only as a future, heavenly, reality but also as guide for the present mission of the church in this world. The poor were given new emphasis, new hope, new value as liberation theologians reminded the church of its own priorities.
These priorities were not only noticed by liberation theologians who worked among the poorest of the poor. It was also noticed in circumstances almost entirely different—among the middle class churches of North America, Britain, Australia, and other Western nations. These churches of relative wealth and privilege realized their own participation in expressions of dominance and consumerism. Those in the emerging churches began to emphasis community, freedom, and the values of letting go what society said they were owed in order to embrace the values God says they should embody. Two different contexts, the same hope.
These two movements have practical expression in particular forms of church and community life. Even more deeply, these movements share common traits of theology that emphasize holistic application in thought and practice, contextual understanding, and vernacular expression. Rather than being content with a theology that is coherent but does not find resonance within the lives of those who live the faith in this present world, these two movements became critical of foundationalist assumptions and began to develop a theological method that emphasizes both experiences and practices. Those in these movement noticed the ways in which beliefs and experiences did not match up, thus causing friction and damage to the church, to individuals, and to society as a whole. They are willing to forge new forms of both practice and theology in order to respond to these situations of friction, concerning themselves with theological integrity more than theological coherence.
While this approach to theology is not without its own decided areas of weakness, it has become clear that a theology that does not concern itself with the lives of the people can easily become ahistoric, even as it might emphasize theological tradition or Scripture as an apparent source of knowledge. By moving away from the experiences of the people in history or the present, a theology might very well be coherent, but it would no longer be Christian. For God has revealed himself not as the God who makes sense in a systematic way, but rather as the God who brought the people of Israel out of the land of Egypt, liberating them, and forming them to be his people in this world. Jesus is not the one who taught complex philosophy but rather was the one who ministered to the poor and oppressed, who died on the cross, and who rose again—foolishness to the Greeks and a scandal to the Jews. He offered liberation through his sacrifice, and through the gift of the Holy Spirit all the people of God are empowered to participate fully in the kingdom of God’s rule. That is the mission of God. Both liberation theology and the emerging church seek to join in this mission, pursuing holistic transformation in the church and for all of society.