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The Oxford Illustrated History of the Bible A richly illustrated account of the story of the Bible written by leading scholars.

Prospects for the Future

Nigel Dickinson/Still Pictures.

Changes in the world situation over the last decade have had a profound effect on the fortunes of liberation theology. For example, the collapse of the former Soviet Union and Eastern Europe and the electoral defeats of the Sandinistas in Nicaragua (1990, 1996) have created a crisis in the Latin American left and influenced liberationists as well. The hope of a more equitable socio-economic system, embodied for some in the socialist hope, appears to have disappeared before the pressures of a global capitalistic economy. From a very different angle, among those who champion postmodernity, there is a question about whether it is still possible at this juncture in world history to elevate one particular perspective (in this case, the ‘preferential option for the poor’) above all others.

The reaction of liberation theologians to these new political and cultural realities has implications for their use of the Bible. At one level, all feel that the conditions of Latin America require the continued commitment of their theological and biblical work to the cause of the oppressed. The material life of the poor has not improved, perhaps even has worsened in the last few years, and scripture still must speak to that context. Yet, for some there has been a change in tone. Though there are those who still feel somewhat sanguine about the possibility of having a significant impact on the Latin American continent, others are more circumspect and feel that the task ahead must be more limited to small, local pastoral projects.

There are also liberationists who seek to pursue with renewed energy themes that now are emerging with increasing relevancy in the nascent fragile democracies of Latin America—particularly the status and options of women (not totally ignored in the past, but now receiving greater attention), ecology, and the indigenous. Richard, for instance, believes that liberation hermeneutics has much to offer the elaboration of a theology for the indigenous and their struggle for civil and religious rights. Liberationists who desire to explore this area are also considering the appropriateness and the role of the pre-Columbian scriptures and indigenous traditions in these efforts. Nevertheless, the response from the indigenous themselves has not been entirely positive. There is the perception that liberation theology has been most interested in systemic problems of a particular sort and that it has not been sensitive enough to deep cultural and ethnic issues, which can cross class lines and national boundaries in complex ways. Any contribution from liberation theology, though appreciated, can be viewed too as a word brought by those from outside the indigenous communities.

Whatever the precise future of liberation theology and its study of the Bible, it surely will continue to influence how the Bible is read and incarnated beyond its own circles. On the one hand, much of its hermeneutical and biblical work has helped to reshape how some First World biblical scholars now approach the text. Translations from the Spanish and Portuguese, even of journal articles, continue to appear.

On the other hand, liberation theology has forced all of the Christian traditions in Latin America to wrestle theologically and pastorally with the social, political, and economic problems of the context. It has demonstrated the importance and cost of reflecting upon the inescapability of doing theology from a particular point of view and within a defined set of commitments. In sum, liberation theology's way of doing theology and using scripture is an enduring legacy for Latin America and the rest of the world.

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