Scot McKnight – The Eight Themes of Liberation Theology

Scot McKnight   roger-olson
Scot McKnight                        Roger E Olson

In a recent post on Patheos, Scot McKnight summarises a recent text of Roger Olson (I think he refers to The Journey of Modern Theology: From Reconstruction to Deconstruction) in which, in the context of his synthesis of modern theology, he deals also with liberation theology. place.

Liberation theology, which also includes feminist theology, as a subdivision, does not have a very good image in Eastern Europe and much of conservative theology, be it Catholic, Orthodox or Protestant/Evangelical. The reason is the  extensive use of Marxist social critique by liberationists, even if they do not usually share the atheistic presuppositions of Marxism or its violent methodology (the revolution) to bring about social change. Of course, there are different versions of liberation theology, from its milder evangelical versions, to the most extreme liberal ones. Of course, those who are critical of liberation theology are usually picking on the extremes, as a means of discrediting this way of doing theology.

I have to confess that I have shared, for many years, these prejudices against liberation theology, until I can personally in contact  with some of its representatives in my World Vision work, and I have realised that, in fact, these people have a lot to offer for theological renewal, especially in the (quite stale, these days) evangelical theological scene.

Here are, according to McKnight, the eight themes of liberation theology, as summarised by Olson:

1. Olson: “The place to begin in understanding liberation theology is at the deepest level—liberation theology’s driving motives. Karl Marx famously said that philosophy before him had attempted to understand the world while his goal was to change it. That approach is common to all liberation theologies—to change society more than understand God. They all think understanding God and changing society go together, but their priority is not intellectual discovery of new thoughts about traditional Christian doctrines. Their priority is promoting fundamental changes in the way society is ordered and that at its deepest levels” (509).

2. Olson: “A second common feature is liberation theology’s starting point, which is praxis…. In the case of all liberation theologies, the praxis from which theology begins and on which it reflects is solidarity with the oppressed in their struggle for liberation, in other words, denunciation and annunciation” (510).

3. Olson: “A third family resemblance of liberation theology is its context. According to all liberation theologians, theology should not be universal in the sense of the same everywhere. How can theology be the same in an affluent, all-white, North American suburb as in a South American barrio or favela where children go hungry and people live in subhuman conditions? Theology should be local, all liberation theologians agree” (511).

4-5. Olson: “A fourth common feature is twofold: God has a ‘preferential option’ for the poor and oppressed, and the poor and oppressed have a ‘privileged insight into God.’ This double-sided principle has been called the “epistemological break” that sets liberation theology apart from every other form of theology” (511-512).

6. Olson: “Sixth, all liberation theologians agree that there is a consciousness of oppression rooted in oppressed experience and that this is both a source and norm for theology. … Out of women’s experience arises what Ruether calls the feminist critical principle: ‘Whatever denies, diminishes, or distorts the full humanity of women is… appraised as not redemptive… [It] must be presumed not to reflect the divine’” (512-513).

7. Olson: “Seventh, all liberation theologies agree that liberation of the oppressed is a work of the oppressed themselves. They cannot and should not wait for the privileged group in society to extend equality; they should take it” (513).

8. Olson: “Eighth, liberation theologians believe that social reform, such as religious political progressives advocate, is too slow and timid. Liberation theology is not the old social gospel; it is revolutionary… 514)

Read HERE Scot McKnight’s post on Patheos.

* * *

On the same website, you may read HERE, also on Patheos, a text by Roger Olson, titled ‘A New Liberation Theology?’, in which he discusses the rejuvenation of liberation theology, especially in Latin America, its birth place. In this post, Olson, lists a number of notable new books on liberation theology. Among these are:

João B. Chaves – Evangelicals and Liberation Revisited: An Inquiry into the Possibility of an Evangelical-Liberationist Theology

Jung Mo Sung – Desire, Market, Religion

Daniel M Bell jr – The Economy of Desire: Christianity and Capitalism in a Postmodern World



Author: DanutM

Anglican theologian. Former Director for Faith and Development Middle East and Eastern Europe Region of World Vision International

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