RIP: Otto Maduro (1945-2013)

Word has been moving around the interwebs this morning about the passing of Otto Maduro, and Drew University’s Facebook page just announced his death.  Although I did not have him as a professor at Drew University, I did meet him and sat in some of his lectures and he worked with me as a mentor when I was selected as the speaker at my commencement. I particularly have a deep resepct for the way he connected his scholarly work to the world of lived faith.  He was very active in the AAR and his work with hispanic seminarians and pastors has , and will continue to have, a major impact on their church communities. Read the rest of this entry »

A Brief History of Latin American Liberation Theology

This post is my transcription of a recent lecture by Ted Jennings, with some minor additions, posted with his permission.

Latin America has a unique situation that distinguishes the theology that is done there from the theology that is done elsewhere. In fact, very early on in the development of Latin American liberation theology, there was a book by the Protestant theologian José Míguez Bonino, translated in English as Doing Theology in a Revolutionary Situation. It’s a wonderful book that was published before Gutiérrez. Bonino was involved in the human rights movement in Argentina. He pointed out that what was happening and needed to happen in Latin America, including the kinds of questions that had to be addressed, were fundamentally different from the questions in European theology, even among the political theology of figures like Moltmann, Metz, and Söelle.

The distinctive character of Latin America theology is the hegemony of Catholicism. Until quite recently, the Catholicism of Latin America could be characterized as Pre-Tridentine, that is, the kind of Catholicism that was characteristic of the Late Middle Ages prior to the council of Trent. Read the rest of this entry »

Class on Liberation Theology

I wanted to make a shameless plug for a class I’m teaching at First Presbyterian Church in Arlington, VA on liberation theology. The class starts next Sunday on January 15th from 9:45-10:45, and I anticipate the class will wind down by late April. We will be reading Elizabeth Johnson’s text Quest for the Living God. The text covers important theological developments from various perspectives: political, liberation, feminist, black/womanist, Hispanic, interreligious, process, and ecological. I also am planning on covering other liberation movements that Johnson fails to cover in her text, especially queer liberation theology and a liberation theology of disability. Let me know if you’re interested and I can provide you with more information. Anyone in the DC area is welcome to attend.

Posted in liberation theology, Shameless Promotion. Comments Off

Christianity, Homosexuals, and the Emergent Church

I wanted to direct readers to a recent debate I’ve been having with some folks on the emergent church. I criticize “postmodern Christians” who attempt to overcome the liberal/evangelical divide by offering some third way. Ultimately, I believe the emergent church is a failure because it values tolerance, conversation, and unity over justice. I try to make the case that liberation theology (not process theology or some pseudo-Derridean theology) should be the future of the church. I also make the controversial claim that Christians who support LGBT rights should formally break ties with fellow Christians who oppress and deny LGBT peoples membership to the church. One reader found this rather upsetting because apparently Christ preached peace not division, which would explain Christ’s statement in Luke 12:51: Do you think I came to bring peace on earth? No, I tell you, but division. Here are my latest comments in response to those who found my position offensive:

I’m annoyed that people, who responded to my comment, are aghast that I would consider breaking ties with Christians who oppose LGBT rights an actual option. What’s the greater injustice: denying the admission of LGBT members into the body of Christ or denouncing and parting ways with Christians who actively persecute them? I’m sorry, but I don’t see it as a sin to break unity in the face of injustice. King once said, at the end of his life, to Belafonte that he worried he was integrating African Americans into a burning house. I don’t want the church to be on fire, but it is undoubtedly ablaze with the fires of injustice as long as it denies Christians (gay/straight/bisexual) access to the eucharist. We need to be careful here, and I don’t see pseudo-unity as being preferable to injustice. There are things that merit division. The American church was obviously divided over racial issues, and I doubt many of us would explicitly condone the white supremacy that haunted (and continues to haunt) the American church. We condemn that oppression, yet we’d rather maintain solidarity with fellow Christians who demonstrably deny the teachings of Christ by oppressing LGBT peoples?

I’m curious to hear people’s feedback or others reactions to these comments. This whole fad of post-evangelicalism is fascinating and bizarre to me in many ways. Ultimately, I worry that its counter-identification with evangelicals ultimately over-determines the movement.

My AAR paper: Negri and Gutierrez on Job

[I presented this on Saturday, November 19, under the auspices of the Bible, Theology, and Postmodernism group. I admit that my last couple paragraphs are somewhat self-indulgent, but my audience was forgiving.]

Gutierrez and Negri on Job:
Between Theology and Materialism

Adam Kotsko
Shimer College

For those of us who have been following the burgeoning trend of radical philosophical readings of the Bible, Negri’s Labor of Job may represent something of a breath of fresh air, not least because a major philosopher has finally chosen to focus on something other than the letters of Paul. More significant from my perspective, however, is the fact that Negri brings a voice into this dialogue that has often been neglected by recent philosophical interpreters: liberation theology.

Read the rest of this entry »

Review of Jennings’ Transforming Atonement

Jennings’ Transforming Atonement is an excellent work. Unlike other liberation theologians that generally focus on ethics or politics, Jennings’ political theology of the cross is grounded in Biblical exegesis. In Part I he focuses upon the historical context of Jesus’ ministry and death along with Jesus’ solidarity with the oppressed and the sinners of society.

I want to focus this review on the last chapter of Part 1 and last chapters of Part 2. Many Christians view Jesus’ death as a peace offering to appease a wrathful God that hates us. Jennings argues quite persuasively that it is humanity that needs to be reconciled to God, according to Paul. Humanity is angry and “we are the ones who have a “beef” with God” (128). However, God takes the initiative to reconcile us. God has come in Christ to remove our alienation from God.

In chapter nine, Jennings asks “[w]hat are the implications of the theology of the cross for our understanding of God?” (199). Jennings worries that older formulations tried to protect the Godhead from the death suffered by the Son by insisting that only Jesus’ human nature was impacted by crucifixion. However, this splitting apart of Jesus’ two natures potentially threatens the unity of the Godhead. [That’s why it’s always been no surprise to me that Lutheran theologians have been able to proclaim that God is dead since they tend to err in the other direction away from these Nestorian Christological formulations]. This would contradict the Biblical witness that God was “present in the fate of the crucified Messiah” (203). This splitting apart of the Godhead ultimately encouraged the idea that the Father was “an agent rather than as sufferer” (203) in the death of the Messiah. Jennings then briefly reviews other theologians who have likewise critiqued the idea of an impassible God such as: Whitehead, Bonhoeffer, Kitamori, Moltmann, and Altizer.

Jennings then turns to discuss Heidegger’s famous remark that “only a God can save us” and Derrida’s critique of the sovereign God of onto-theology. Jennings writes, “only with the idea of a nonsovereign God, a vulnerable God, indeed a God who can die, can humanity be rid of the dreams of invincible power that has consigned our history to violence and suffering” (213). Jennings recognizes that his position is very close to Altizer’s gospel of Christian atheism, which is the idea “that God is emptied into history as the coming sociality of mutual care, of justice, generosity, and joy” (214). This coming community is the only thing that can save us.

In the closing chapter Jennings discusses different atonement theories. He argues that there is no orthodox reading of the tradition. He rejects satisfaction metaphors because satisfaction can function as a substitute for justice, not to mention the whole notion is unjust even if Christ’s death was voluntary. Next, he takes aim at forensic metaphors which he believes betray the Pauline distinction between law and justice. Substitution will not do because it underemphasizes the important ethical implications of the cross. Instead Jennings favors Soelle’s idea that Christ represents us temporarily but is not a substitute for humanity. Although he appreciates liberation theologians’ re-interpretation of the patristic tradition, Jennings is doubtful that these new readings share much in common with older ransom models. Finally, the Abelardian theory is inappropriately individualistic and might encourage abuse since God wills Jesus’ death to demonstrate God’s love.

Jennings believes that all three theories have holes and that any sort of attempted synthesis is doomed to fail. What is ultimately sacrificed is “the divine claim and call for justice” (223). Moreover, what mattes is not a theory but “a confrontation with all systems of arrogance and violence, of domination, and death, of privilege and prestige, that holds humanity hostage” (229).

This work is a bold attempt to argue for an updated political theology of the cross. Although I did not focus on the more exegetical chapters, his mastery of Pauline literature is simple amazing. He is able to navigate deftly through the epistles and to demystify so much of the jargon to explain the heart of the Pauline message. Theologically I am drawn to this work as it weaves together quite convincingly two of my favorite theological traditions: radical death of God theology and liberation theology.

Liberation Theology, Satan, and Reconciliation

A couple of months ago I read Douglas’ The Black Christ. This works reviews the history of slave religion and the development of black liberation theology. In the last chapter, Douglas sketches her proposal for a womanist Christology. Something I found interesting in her work was her review of three major black liberation theologians: Albert Cleage, James Cone, and J. D. Roberts.

All three men have different views of theology and reconciliation. However, I only want to discuss the divide that separates Cone from Roberts. Read the rest of this entry »

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