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liberation theology

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A Dictionary of the Bible What is This? Contains accessibly written entries for topics covering the religious, historical, and social aspects of the Bible.

    liberation theology

    Several Roman Catholic theologians working in impoverished communities in Latin America have emphasized that both in the OT and in the NT injustice and oppression have been condemned in the name of God. They therefore accuse some traditional Western exegetes for failing to recognize that the thrust of the Bible is to assert the option for the poor. The books of Exodus and 1 and 2 Maccabees encourage the oppressed to refuse to submit to their sufferings. Jesus was on the side of the poor and against the exploitations by the rich (Luke 16: 19–31); the first Christians liberated themselves from inequalities of wealth (Acts 4: 32). The Revelation to John inspired readers to engage in a radical transformation of the world by exposing the violence of a system which oppresses its victims. In some countries (e.g. Peru, Brazil, Central America, South Africa) the Bible has been used as the basis for, and justification of, political action on behalf of those discriminated against.

    Liberation theology has not been favourably received by those theologians who detect in it a Marxist analysis of society. They fear that Jesus is interpreted in predetermined categories and made to fit into them, and also that much liberation theology is indifferent to biblical scholarship and to moral theologians' work to reconcile the legitimate aspirations of the poor with society's need for order. Nevertheless, the influence of liberation theology (and movements such as feminist theology which are akin to it) is enormous. There is steady progress in teaching oppressed groups to understand their situation and to change it—a process called ‘conscientization’. An example is the use of the poem in Lam. 5: 1–5 by priests in Brazil to give hope to the poor; if they feel that their own plight is described thus in the Bible, then they too are not abandoned by God. And Isa. 50: 4–9 suggests that their sufferings may even further the purposes of God, and final vindication is assured (Isa. 53: 12).

    One or two theologians in the West have adapted liberation theology to apply to what they call the ‘culture of contempt’ which erodes standards of moral and intellectual achievements. To reverse the ever‐declining value set on high standards of competence and integrity, they welcome liberation theology as offering a challenge to the ideals of a decent, caring society to look beyond its own self‐interest, and not to lose sight of the basic obligation (Jer. 22: 16). Twenty years after he was the sole survivor of an assassination of a group of liberation theologians in San Salvador in 1989, Jon Sobrino described his continuing task in the 21st cent. as ‘to talk about how we can be human in this world, at this point in history. From where we can get hope in what I call the “world of abundance”—Europe and the United States’.

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    Oxford University Press

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