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Understanding Liberation Theology

Updated on January 27, 2022
Nyamweya profile image

Nyamweya is a Kenyan scholar who has done many years of research on a diversity of topics.

Liberation theology has been known as a controversial phenomenon in the theological environment. This theology essentially focuses on the ideas of justice, equality, freedom and liberation. Liberation theology uses special methodological approach in striving for practical implementation of theological thought in life of a particular society, nation and state. Besides, this kind of theology pays a lot of attention to people in poverty and pain. On the other hand, liberation theology politicizes Christian beliefs by dividing people by their social class, inflames intolerance, and reveals merely political interpretation of Scripture. Meanwhile, liberation theology may lead people astray by offering them false directions. Therefore, it is important to look in this matter for the benefit of the entire Christian community.

The current research is aimed at contributing to knowledge in the field because it will concentrate on the aspect that many researches overlook. Theological scholars have tended to present historical, political and social value of the liberation theology. What is more, some authors explore only the relationships between the official catholic doctrine and the principles of the liberation theology. Meanwhile, average Christians are not engaged in the theological debates of the academic environment. They want to know the truth and lead a moral life grounded in their faith and Holy Bible. Therefore, this research will concentrate on value of the liberation theology for the believers. It would aim at revealing the misleading ideas of the liberation theology from the point of the morality of the main concepts of the given theology, as well as an applicability of liberation theology to the salvation concept. The expected implications of this research consist in reassessment of the earlier research and looking for a new interpretation of the liberation theology in terms of morality and the Gospels’ truth.

The Procedure for the Study

The research will consist of the introduction section, the main body composed of two parts and the conclusion. The introduction section will present the current situation related to the meaning of liberation theology to the people of faith. It will explain the importance of Christian awareness and ability to distinguish the misleading concepts of the given theology. The main body of the research will cover two main parts. The first part will concentrate on explaining the basis of the beliefs held by liberation theologians. The second part will contain a refutation to the claims held by liberation theologians. The conclusion section will sum up the key misleading ideas of the liberation theology, highlight the difference between those ideas and the Biblical notions, and specify how Christ is the model of a moral life to those who seek liberation.

Beliefs Held by Liberation Theologians

According to liberation theologians, Christian practices and beliefs range a long a continuous scale, one at every end. In one end of this scale is the kind, which serves the establishment including those in authority. This kind teaches that one will be rewarded in future life. Nonetheless, liberation theologians advocate the other kind of Christianity, which emphasized on showing compassion and leadership to those who face oppression to lead a better life not only in the future life, but also in the current perspective.

A number of supporters for liberation theology have interpreted it as a focus on the early Christian church where Christianity was both culturally and politically centralized. The essence of liberation theology is to fight poverty through its supposed source: sin. While doing so, it evaluates the relationship between Christian theology and political activism. In particular, it focuses on human rights, poverty and social justice. For instance, Montero argues that the poor offers a privileged channel of God’s providence (517). Other theologians based their social actions on the scripture. In this way, they describe the mission of Jesus Christ as introducing social unrest such as Matthew 10:34 and not peace. Therefore, this biblical interpretation strives to fight poverty, and the sin that causes it. This is aimed at affecting the mission of Jesus Christ in this world.

Rieger observes that through liberation theology, Christianity is struggling towards its roots as a response to economic and social problems that is facing humanity. The author continues to argue that Jesus himself taught and advocated for social systems and laws, which are also contained in the Torah. These aspects are also discussed in the Gospels and the epistles of Paul.

In his book, Theology of Liberation Gutiérrez tries to facilitate an understanding of history where man is perceived as assuming conscious responsibility for his destiny. Yet, Christ as the savior liberates man from sin, which is the basis that causes disruption, injustices and disrupts friendship with other people.

Basing his assumptions from the Bible, Gutierrez explains that God is portrayed as having a preference towards those who are marginalized, insignificant, needy, defenseless, despised, and less important (318). The scholar also asserts that in the scripture, the poor terminology has economic and social connotation which is derived from the Greek word ptōchos. He stresses that Gods preference implies his universal love which does not exclude anybody. This preference can therefore, be understood within this framework . Nonetheless, scholars such as Gutierrez focuses more on practicalities than the doctrine. They also read the prophets as condemning injustice and oppression against the poor in the society. They use Jeremiah 22:13–17 in justifying their assertions that those who know God must do good to others.

This concept is summarized by Smith, that God is disclosed in the historical aspect of liberation theology. It is the context, the reflective and passionate involvement in it that can effectively mediate God and his word. In the current perspective, the scripture is mediated through the plight of the oppressed and the poor.

Liberation theology, which has its roots in Latin America, approaches salvation in a different perspective. It also bases its beliefs on the actions of the early Christians. Moreover, it understands liberation or salvation as being not only concerned on spiritual aspect of humanity but also the social and physical conditions. Through the actions of Christ, God provides universal salvation to all humanity. In this endeavor, God ensures the wellbeing of individuals, both the physical or spiritual aspects. They assume that it is not possible for a starving person to concentrate on his or her spiritual health.

Liberation theology focuses more on oppression and injustice and teaches that God is interested not only on reconciling all people, but also liberating them in fullness. It differs with other evangelistic Christian community who focuses on salvation through forgiveness of the sins. Rather, the whole needs of a person should be met. According to Montero the gospel is interested in those who are oppressed, marginalized and low social economic background. These groups of people, which are also called “nonpersons”, seem to be insignificant in the society and they may not be accorded basic human rights. First, such group of people need to be liberated from the living conditions that may be unjust to them. The spiritual salvation is part of the process. The community members interpret and use the Kingdom of God to communicate and make sense in the reality of oppression, poverty, hope and suffering.

This would involve the whole individual including his or her context since majority of the bible is concerned on the marginalized, enslaved and those who are oppressed. In their endeavor to assist black women who were poor, the West taught them to interpret Mark 5.21-6.1. This passage is concerned on a woman who was flowing with blood. The plot is therefore, reinforced despite the fact that the woman is seeking self-edification. Theology enables individuals in interpreting the scripture for themselves in this one way. In addition, it also shows how a wholeness of an individual relates to the practical and situational needs (Isaiah. 58.6, 7). Hence, the authors assert that the Christian community as part of the salvation plan should acknowledge these aspects.

Countering Liberation Theology

Though liberation theology seems to have no bad motive, it tends to persuade individuals to classify themselves according to social-economic status. In particular, poor individuals have to be induced in thinking about themselves first and their conditions. Additionally, the poor tends to feel resentment towards the rich, while also blaming them for their condition. As Gutierrez points out, liberation expresses the desire of oppressed people and classes. This underlies the confictual aspect of economic, social and political process. Therefore, it causes social mobilization, which further inculcates an awareness of the social interests, specifically that relating to class.

In their writings, liberation theologians have tried to alter the focus religious thought from the concern on the next life to the concern on the next life. The theology has disputed the notion that they are interested in the material progress of man . Nevertheless, liberation theology has rejected the traditional preoccupation of the church with matters of morals, faith and getting to heaven while concentrating on the physical aspects.

The theology tends to emphasize on earthly things than in spiritual matters. In the perspective of liberation theology, sin is considered as unjust social structure, which deals with death. However, Pope John Paul once asserted that all humanism must be focused towards humanism; all the other aspects are folly. Leland also affirms that any attempt in satisfying individual needs of persons while overlooking the spiritual aspect such as making people to despise the rich, use violence against them, or steal from them will only lead such people into the slavery of sin. This progress can only be perceived by a thorough materialistic culture.

Crook points out that except for scholars who employ Marxist theories, the division between the exploiters and the exploited is in the first place not clear. Therefore, all people, whether poor or rich are sinners, and pilgrims before Christ. In essence, all people whether rich or poor need spiritual sustenance .The kind of unity that really matters is one that is on the spiritual and cultural perspective. This is far removed from economics.

In countering the liberation theology, critics of this concept have come up with another theological concept, the theology of reconciliation. According to this theology, true liberation is grounded on the reality of the reconciliation between man and God, not only with himself but also with others and all the creatures. In Christianity, there could be no gap between the desire for justice and love of neighbor. Jesus emphatized with the poor he also interacted with the rich, whom he endeavored to convert.

The expressed demand for justice by the liberationists is woefully insufficient as a guide for social action. This owes to the fact that liberation theologians focus their beliefs in economic terms. For the society, that faces a wide gap of wealth, power, and status, formation of a successful harmonious society will have to require sacrifice from the rich and forgiveness from the poor. This goal is far more challenging. Mark 10.21 says that “when the rich young man encountered Jesus, Jesus looked at him and loved him. Therefore, Christians must imitate Jesus who knew no boundaries between the rich and the poor.

Despite its careful use of scripture in supporting their beliefs, liberation theologians have been selective in their biblical motifs (concentrating mainly on the Exodus, liberation and concern for the poor. In essence, it has emphasized more on some biblical books such as the gospel, of Luke while ignoring other scriptures such as the gospel of John. It defines deprivation and oppression in economic terms while also politicizing the concept. This is because it is rooted in the theories of Marxism while ignoring other manifestations. For example, liberation theology has not been concerned on sexism within its own culture.

This enlightenment also shows the necessity of engaging in consistent renewal and reformation since preoccupation with other activities that are not faith based distracts the church in its endeavor to liberate individuals from sin. Another serious weakness for liberation theology is that it fails to clearly define on what is violence or killing. It spends many words on explaining structural violence and injustice. However, these theologians have not fully addressed the ramifications of pursuing specific political programs especially in volatile environments. For instance, the querrila warfare that were experience in Latin America from 1960 portrays the catastrophic effect of failed revolutionally uprisings. In addition, these uprisings may also have a negative implication to the local populace. The Nicaragua uprising which lead to the death of over 50,000 individuals is also another example of the catastrophic consequences of quarrila- warfare.

.Montero explains that spirituality must not only unravel the new ideology, but cement the excluding systems. In addition, it also ought to contribute to the establishment of new guidelines for establishing new techniques and institutions. The author goes on to forbid any idolizing of historic, and human possibilities including those advocated by liberationists. Liberation Theology is possibly a form of egotism. It gives an impression that many people have had much suffering than others, and all the life of others seems to be easy when compared with the poor us. In obvious sense, happiness and suffering must exist in the world and are found in all kinds of circumstances.

However, liberation theology has reduced the potential for justice or happiness into simple demographic features. This set of belief is excessively dependent on the identity of politics, in other words, our specific status cannot be understood except by us alone. The ultimate outcome of liberation theology is despair. If people are made to continually think of themselves as poor, it becomes difficult to get challenging tasks accomplished, leave alone making these people happy. Moreover, this ideology tends to split communities and individuals into pieces. This is to the extent that in case when a poor member of the community manages to rise into a higher level, he or she is then secluded by the same members of the community. It should also be considered that liberation theology has its roots in communism and Marxism. According to Marxism, the elite are oppressing those who lack. In addition, it stresses that those who lack can go to the extent of using violence in taking from those who have more.

During the middle ages when most parts of the world were ruled by Kings, it may be true that some poor people could have been in that situation because of being oppressed. Another example is South America where most servants were poor because they were being oppressed by the rich landowners. Until recently, majority of blacks are poor because of their skin color. However, despite the fact that these groups of people had been oppressed in U.S and many other places of the world, this may not be true in the current perspective. Most of those who are poor today are in that level because they do not work hard, they did not go to school well or because of being negligent.

Liberation theology places more emphasis on the gospel as being focused on the downtrodden from their oppression and poverty. However, liberation theologians tend to sideline the spiritual aspect of liberation. This approach is certainly problematic concerning that though Jesus Christ had a concern for the poor and in many times gave them arms (John 13:29), he was particularly concerned on the spiritual aspect of humanity. This is because his main concern of coming on earth was to save man from sin and eventual destruction.

In another perspective, justifying liberation theology implies a justification for some groups of people such as African-Americans into being anti Americans and anti racist. In obvious sense, for the Asian Hispanics, the Caucasians and other types of Americans, racism is wrong under any circumstance. It also implies that though a black is not disqualified from vying for any office in his or her country, it gives freedom to such a person to dislike their country, capitalism, white people and other things associated with their country[18].

Among the chief doctrine of Christianity is that it ought to separate itself from politics, and the state. Therefore, it is wrong for the church to entangle itself with issues related to politics or economic while its main concern is on spiritual welfare.


A careful evaluation of liberation theology portrays that it presents a cultural challenge to the real tenet of Christianity. This theology seeks to alter the object by which theology devotes its attention. With disdain, liberation theologians seems to reject the notion that getting individuals to heaven is the most important thing than making them live in tolerable conditions. Further, this theology tends to change the minds of people concerning what is the most important in their lives, gaining material objects or spiritual prosperity.

Liberation theologians have concentrated on making social institutions such as churches, schools, literature, artworks and media outlets convey the belief that material wealth, progress and comfort are the most significant aspect of human life. Advocating liberation theology promotes divisions and envy in the society since it addresses social and economic issues. This does not do much in ameliorating material deprivation. In fact, in creating a sincere reconciliation with God, there has to be a fraternal consequence. This implies that there has to be a culture of fellowship, sacrifice and austerity.

Liberation theologians insist on creating a higher Christian unity through the common phrase of the preferential treatment of the poor. However, it should be considered that the church has a duty on all people, irrespective of their social class. To be sure, liberation theology serves no significant purpose, whether pastoral or theological in meeting one sided, uninformed and malicious attacks upon it, of course with defenses that are equally one sided. This leads the conclusion that liberation theologians are another self interest groups who are focused at achieving individualistic goals.


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