OceanSide church of Christ

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Victor M. Eskew

            The first time this writer heard anything about liberation theology, he was working nights at Federal Express (FedEx) inMemphis, Tennessee.  The year was 1991.  It was election night in Memphis.  The incumbent, Richard Hackett, was being challenged by an African American named Willie Herrington.  About midnight, the results of the election were announced over the loud speaker:  Willie Herring had defeated Mayor Hackett.  When the victory was sounded, one of my co-workers began to shout the words:  “We are free!  We are free!”  I did not understand the meaning of his words.  Now I know that they were part of an approach to Scripture referred to as “Liberation Theology.”

            Liberation theology dates back to 1955.  Its origin was in Latin America.  Many people in those countries were poor, oppressed, and sickly.  The religious leaders, especially the Roman Catholic priests, were concerned about their plight.  Their concerns directed them to the scriptures.  Scripture was interpreted in light of the social concerns of the people.  The oppressed needed to the liberated.  The poor and downcast needed to be freed from the heavy hand of the government.  The needy and sickly needed to have the opportunity to be themselves.  Basically, the Bible began to be interpreted from a social perspective instead of a spiritual perspective.  “Truth” and “freedom” found in John 8:32 meant “knowledge of present realities” and “freedom from the oppression of the present administration.”

            Since 1955, many special interest groups have taken hold of liberation theology.  In the United States, liberation theology has been embraced by three groups:  African Americans, feminists, and homosexuals.  The members of these groups feel that they have been severely oppressed by the public and by the government.  Thus, they call for freedom, or, liberation.  This writer’s co-worker at FedEx believed that the black community in Memphis had been oppressed by the whites and by Mayor Hackett’s administration.  This young man believed that Willie Herrington would provide freedom from oppression to the black population in Memphis.  Thus, he shouted:  “We are free!  We are free.”

            Liberation theology involves the interpretation of the Word of God.  Those who hold to liberation theology, therefore, quote the Bible often.  It must be remembered, however, that their interpretation begins with the social concerns of the oppressed and not with spiritual realities.  Thus, every aspect of their religion is used to address social injustice, poverty, and human rights.  We have already noted their slant on John 8:32.  Jesus said:  “And ye shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free.”  The truth about which Jesus spoke was the gospel of Christ.  This truth, when known, sets mankind free from sin, Satan, and wrath to come.  This is not how liberation theology views this verse.  Jesus is perceived to be a non-white, social liberator.  “Truth” means “knowledge of those who are oppressing and how the oppression is taking place.”  “Freedom” is liberation from the oppressor and the oppression.  Freedom is the ability to be the person you were really intended to be.

            Another key passage used by the liberation theologian is Luke 4:18-19.  In the context, Jesus is in a synagogue in Nazareth.  The scroll of Isaiah is given to Him.  “And when he had opened the book, he found the place where it was written, The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he hath anointed me to preach the gospel to the poor; he hath sent me to heal the brokenhearted, to preach deliverance to the captives, and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty them that are bruised, to preach the acceptable year of the Lord.”  Those who hold to liberation theology see this verse from a purely social perspective.  Jesus again is viewed as a liberator.  He came to bring relief to the social outcasts and the oppressed.  Liberation theology sees nothing spiritual within this verse.  It involves the liberation of special interest groups who are in bondage to the rich, powerful, and those considered to be “racially superior.”

            The approach of liberation theology toward Bible interpretation is a warped and perverted approach.  Those who use it are described by Peter as being “unlearned and ignorant.”  They “wrest” the Scriptures “unto their own destruction” (II Pet. 3:17).  The ends of their doctrines show just how perverted this approach to Bible interpretation really is:

Jesus is seen as a non-white liberator instead of the Savior of all men.

Political freedom is exalted above the salvation of the soul.

Social reforms are more important than spiritual conversion. 

Personal sin is acknowledged, but it is said to exist because of oppressive political and social structures.

The Bible is interpreted in light of social “class” struggle.

Groups of men are pitted against each other under the descriptive terms of righteous versus unrighteous.  These words really stand for poor versus rich, black versus white, lowly versus the powerful, and moral versus the immoral.

The church is viewed as a political institution designed to assist with political and social reforms.

The pulpit is used as a political platform to incite the masses against the prevailing class, race, and administration that is oppressing the poor.

The pulpit preaches rebellion and insurrection against the oppressors instead of subordination to the higher powers.

Inequality is an evil, except when the special interest groups are in power.

If an individual is part of one of the special interest groups, it is easy to get caught up in liberation theology.  The theology is designed to lift one out of his immediate misery and affliction.  Too, it has the appearance of being rooted in the Scriptures.  However, it is a warped and slanted interpretation of God’s Word that is geared toward the social and economic needs of the masses.

            There is no doubt that God is concerned about the poor.  The psalmist wrote:  “I know that the Lord will maintain the cause of the afflicted, and the right of the poor” (Ps. 140:12).  It is also true that the righteous are called to assist those in need.  “Defend the poor and fatherless:  do justice to the afflicted and needy” (Ps. 82:3).  This being said, it must be understood that the gospel of Christ is not focused solely upon this issue.  In fact, this concern pales in significance to the spiritual plight of mankind.  Any theology that misses this point has missed the aim of God in sending His Son into the world.  “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.  For God sent not his Son into the world to condemn the world; but that the world through him might be saved” (John 3:16-17).

            God has not called His people to be political activists.  He has called us to be preachers and practitioners of the gospel of Christ.  All have sinned and come short of the glory of God (Rom. 3:23).  If something is not done to bring mankind out of sin, God’s wrath will come upon them (Rom. 1:18; 6:23).  The gospel is the power of God unto salvation (Rom. 1:16-17).  It must be taught boldly and continuously to the lost, giving them the opportunity to respond to its call to redemption.  This is the mission of God’s people (Mark 16:15-16).  The poor will be with us always according to Jesus (Mark 14:7).  Their physical plight will end at death.  On the other hand, if mankind’s spiritual condition is not addressed, their eternal misery will begin at death.  Dear readers, let’s embrace a liberation theology that frees man from sin and wrath to come in the realms of eternity.