By Providence Crowder
At certain times throughout history, the Church had failed to side with the oppressed, choosing for erroneous reasons to instead to side with oppressive human governments. They had negated their charge to “dispense justice to the cause of the lowly and poor.”
The Church’s silence on social matters had spoken volumes to those who, like black slaves in America, suffered grave injustices at the hands of ill-willed men. If theology intended to, as Karl Barth has suggested, “apprehend, understand, and speak of the God of the gospel,” then understandably the theological tendencies of the poor and oppressed would be towards the God who dispensed justice to the cause of the poor; they would cleave to Christ the liberator of the world who sets the captives free.
The liberating nature of the words of Jesus that expressed his care and concern for the hungry, depraved, widow, and orphan, have given hope to the hopeless. Liberation theology was birthed out of the aspirations of the oppressed; out of their hopes to change social class structures, instances of poverty, and occurrences of injustice and oppression—all consequences of sin.
Liberation theology had given a voice to the marginalized groups of the world who had, in recent times, became theologians in their own right by emphasizing the socially sensitive aspects of Scripture; “Though you offer countless prayers, I will not listen. There is blood on your hands . . . Cease to do evil and learn to do right, pursue justice and champion the oppressed; give the orphan his rights, plead the widow’s cause” (Isa. 1:10-17). The Second Vatican Council under Pope John XXIII had propelled liberation theology to its heights by challenging the Church to break with its past practices and side with the poor. Yet, the challenge for the Church has continually been to “remember the poor” (Gal. 2:10) without minimizing the gospel to a social justice contract.
Marxism, a Gospel Killer
In their zest for economic liberty and liberation of the poor in the world, Christians have often abandoned the gospel of Christ for “other” gospels—social, prosperity, and liberal gospels. The Church must avoid submitting to the ideologies of “gospel killers” in her plight to care for the oppressed. For example, during the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, various challenges for the church paved the way for philosophies such as Fascism, Socialism, Marxism, and Communism to influence Christian thought—each political system brought about their own perversions of societal justice and economic equality by using governmental power, coercive measures, and oftentimes violence.
Marxism in particular had a huge impact upon Christian theology in the nineteenth century. The concept of materialism is central to the Marxism doctrine. Karl Marx claimed that “The way in which human beings respond to their material needs determines everything else. Ideas, including religious ideas, are responses to material reality.” He further argued that religion was thus, “the result of a certain set of social and economic conditions. Change those conditions, so that the economic alienation is eliminated, and religion will cease to exist.” One of his primary arguments was that religion will exist as long as it meets some economic need in the life of the disenfranchised. Remove the economic need through Communism, a system in which everything is commonly owned and material goods are distributed equally among the people, and religion will cease to exist.
While recognizing that materialism is a very real problem, Christians must guard against the Marxist spirit—killer of the gospel—because it robs the oppressed of true liberation in this world and the next; true liberation is only accomplished in the redemptive work of Christ. Marxism and materialism are synonymous; they both focus on the corporeal and disregard the eternal. Therefore, Marxism is antithetical to the gospel’s message of selfless giving, love, and Christian service in response to the good news of Jesus Christ.
Black Liberation Theology, A Gospel Killer
Numerous theological movements surfaced during the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, each having varying criticisms and interpretations. Modern trends attributed truth no longer to the God of Scripture, but to nature and humanity. Indifference to religion became a worldwide phenomenon. As a result of biblical criticism, a feminist critique of the Bible surfaced in the latter half of the twentieth century. Women had suffered great oppression and mistreatment at the hands of men. Many of these men had used the Bible, particularly the writings of the Apostle Paul, to justify their oppression of women.
As well, black slaves in America were kept under subjection in part by their slave master’s improper exegesis of the Pauline writings. Once freed, blacks sought to rightly read the Scriptures, refusing to exploit the Scriptures to manipulate people as their slave masters had done. Unfortunately, much like their oppressors, many of the marginalized during the modern era began to interpret Scripture through the lens of their social and economic experiences and needs. Some Christians had begun to dwell so much on social issues that they became preoccupied with the existing social conditions and forsook Christian evangelism and discipleship.
For example, black liberation theology was a fruit of the black man’s experience in America. “Black liberation theology began with the life experience of oppression and formulated theology respectively . . . It viewed the Christian gospel to that end.” Black liberation theology sought the dignity and improvement of the physical condition of the black man above all else. Black liberation theology failed to account that “full humanity is achieved through a union with Christ not through any material means, social class, or institutional structure. Christianity was reduced to “a means for poor blacks to achieve upward social mobility and economic liberation.” With liberal theologies such as black liberation, the gospel was no longer Christ centered but man centered.
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