Trinity and Liberation

Much political theology and liberation theologies tend to prioritize the context or the situation, orienting the discussion around specific instances of injustices or specific exhortations to act instead of not acting, to be aware rather than ignorant, to go rather than hide. 

In effect, one’s orientation towards God is perceived, once again, by one’s orientation around such objectified issues, which while different than more traditional and ecclesiastically focused orientations are still motivated by and seeking to motivate others towards specified responses to a specified issue.

In this way, it tends to be the case that the more conservative and progressive expressions of church tend to be very similar, with only the objects of concern and the relevant expected responses on chosen topics determinative for one’s acceptance.    The Evangelical church’s interest in anti-abortion, for instance, is mirrored by the progressive church’s interest in anti-war.  The attitudes and underlying rationality tend to be the same, leading to oppositional behaviors as they either talk past each other or conflict with each other based on their respective judgments about a particular issue.

This certainly can be the case with many new model churches, which if operating in an unreflective mode of reaction often tend to be “bizarro” fundamentalists rather than truly new model communities.[1] A reactionary response to Evangelicalism might appear to be a fresh expression but is in fact is just mirroring the exact same attitudes and approaches, only with different topics being emphasized.

It is for this reason that a comprehensive theology of the liberation of the oppressor cannot merely be about an orientation towards wealth, poverty, rights, violence, or other such issues.  As much as liberation is about such specific topics, it becomes more about doing and performing, a performance that can mimic supposed righteousness without actually signifying real transformation.[2] 

What makes a thoroughly Christian theology of liberation so distinctive is, in essence what makes Christian theology itself so distinctive.  We speak of a God who acts, who is involved, who seeks and calls people towards reflecting his action.  But we also speak of a particular God who exists in a certain way, and in this way of existing liberation is not simply an ancillary trait.

God loves because that is who God is.  God liberates because that is who God is.   Liberation is, then, in Christian theology an ontological category.  It is not something we are called to do, but someone we are called to be.

This is again why liberation has to happen from both sides, as it is all people who must experience liberation in themselves so as to be liberated and liberating people in the midst of their contexts, a liberating people who reflect the liberating God. 

Just as liberation is at the root of who God is as a triunity, so too we discover the roots of the liberation of the oppressor as a new orientation in light of God’s unified threeness. We are, after all, created in the image of God, and it is thus through better understanding the identity of God that we better understand who we are to be.

This is who we are called to be because this is the identity that God is seeking for his people, actively involved in this world to form them into becoming, truly, a likeness of him in this world.

Indeed, this instinct that theology is intimately involved in transformation that led Moltmann to begin his contributions to Systematic Theology with a text on the Trinity, rather than the long hoped for ethics of hope that he had in mind since the early 1960s and which friends and colleagues eagerly awaited.[3]  That ethics had to wait for more thorough theological development, as “everything done and suffered must conform to what is believed, loved and hoped for.”[4]

[1] “Bizarro” was a character created to be a mirror image of Superman, a shadow image, defined by being opposite in every way.

[2] Cf Mt 7:22ff.

[3] See Moltmann, Ethics of Hope, preface.

[4] Moltmann, Ethics of Hope, xiii

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