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Six Theses Concerning Freedom in Christ and Liberation:

Liberation in Galatians, Luther, and Liberation Theology
Rudolph H. Blank
Introduction The Greek word eleutheria, which is translated as freedom, liberty, or liberation in the New Testament occurs with greater frequency in Paul's Letter to the Galatians than in any other New Testament writing.1 Maybe that's one of the reasons Galatians became one of Luther's favorite epistles. Luther was enamored with the word eleutheria and the concept behind it. During the heady days after the posting of the Ninety-Five Theses, the great reformer was in the habit of referring to himself not as Luther but as Eleutherius, the free man.2 The Epistle to the Galatians was written in a moment of great passion and turmoil in the apostle's life. Certain unnamed teachers had infiltrated the fellowship of Galatian believers and were in the process of turning them from faith in the Gospel to reliance on circumcision and the Law of Moses. In Galatians 5:1 Paul deliberately

federico Pastor Ramos, La Libertad en la Carta a los Glatas (Madrid: EAPSA, 1977). 2 Roland Bainton, Lutero, trans. Raquel Lozada de Ayala Torales (Editorial Sudamaericana, Buenos Aires, 1955), p. 135.

Dr. Rudolph H. Blank is Director of the Juan de Frias Institute in Valencia, Venezuela.

used emotionally charged liberation terminology to shake up the Galatian believers in an attempt to bring them to their senses. Already in Paul's day "liberation" was a loaded word. In a society where almost fifty percent of the population were slaves, liberation talk was bound to have a strong emotional impact. The last thing a freed slave would desire would be to be enslaved anew. But that's precisely what people do when they turn from justification by faith to justification by the Law. Liberation talk still produces strong emotions today. It is still a loaded word. During the traumatic 1960s, when the Viet Nam War was raging, the world witnessed the birth of many new social, economic, and religious movements. By now, thirty years later, all of these movements have faded awayexcept one. That movement is Liberation Theology. Liberation Theology has not only survived; it has developed any number of offshoots, clones, and mutants. From their Latin American base, liberation theologians have spawned spin-offs in all the major regions of the world. Today, one hears of Black Liberation Theology, Feminist Liberation Theology, Minjung Theology, Dalit Theology, 'Water Buffalo Theology," besides Jewish, Palestinian, and Chicano theologies of liberation.3 The question that presents itself as we survey the growth of all these liberation theologies isWhat is the relation between them and the freedom in Christ in which Paul calls us to stand fast in Galatians 5:1? Is it the same thing, or are Galatians and Liberation Theology talking about two completely different kinds of liberation? What we propose to do in this paper is compare Liberation Theology, especially Roman Catholic Latin American Liberation Theology, with the theology of Galatians in six major areas of concern. In doing this some word of caution is in order. Liberation Theology is admittedly a very controversial and potentially a very divisive subject. It is a subject about which Lutherans have expressed varying shades of agreement and disagreement. The purpose of our International Lutheran Conference4 is to foster unity, cooperation, and partnership, not division. For the sake of Lutheran unity, it would have been easy for me to stress in this paper only those elements in Liberation Theology about which all are agreed. In spite of the many categorical denunciations made against all liberation theologians, there

Otto Maduro, The Future of Liberation Theology (Maryknoll, NY: Orbis, 1989), p.

xvi. This paper was originally written as a study document for the meeting of the International Lutheran Conference at its September, 1993 meeting in Antigua, Guatemala. CONCORDIA JOURNAL/JULY 1994 237

are still many positive things they have to teach us. We could with profit dedicate ourselves to the study of these positive elements without ever getting into the controversial areas. This, however, would not be responsible theology. There also are in Liberation Theologies ideas and concepts which are not only antagonistic and antithetical to Lutheran Theology but to all that historic Christianity has stood for during the last two thousand years. To pretend that such differences do not exist or blandly to affirm that all of liberation theology is compatible with Biblical Christianity would be the height of theological irresponsibility. It is no secret that even within the Lutheran family of churches many ecclesiastical leaders and theological students are uncritically incorporating the perspectives and praxes of liberation theologies into their ministries without seeing the doctrinal, ecclesiastical, and missiological implications of their actions. For that reason alone, a critical evaluation of Liberation Theology is in order. As responsible theologians and Christian leaders we need not only to evaluate contemporary theologies of liberation but also humbly to hear out the evaluations that these theologies make of us and the theological communities to which we belong. Many ecclesiastical leaders categorically dismiss everything that has to do with liberation theologies as heretical, satanic, and Marxist without first asking whether God might be using some to the trumpeting of current liberation theologies to awaken and renew our churches. We need not only to evaluate liberation theologies but ourselves. We must remember that if the worldwide Christian church had constantly lived out the Gospel that it claims to proclaim, there would have been no need for liberation theologies to arise. The first area of difficulty that we encounter as we try to engage with Liberation Theology has to do with our theological presuppositions, with the way we read and understand the Scriptures. Unlike many First World theologians, both Liberation Theology and Lutheran theology believe that the Scriptures are relevant to what is happening in the world today, and for that reason they seek to apply the Scriptures to our individual and corporate Uves. Thesis I. Reformation theologians and liberation theologians operate with two contrasting canons within the canon. A careful reading of Paul's Letter to the Galatians will reveal that the freedom which the Galatians are urged to defend is synonymous with justification by faith. The apostle cannot talk about liberation without at the same time talking about justification by faith. It is

because the Galatian believers have been justified that they are freed from the necessity of securing their salvation through circumcision and the rites of the Mosaic Law. Seeking the security of their sonship through circumcision would be a denial that justification by faith is the only way through which people are freed from slavery and made citizens of the new eschatological Jerusalem which is from above. Only those who have been justified by faith are truly liberated. Those who seek justification in any other way are children of Hagar, sons and daughters born into slavery. In stressing liberation from the Law in his Letter to the Galatians, the apostle Paul is fighting to preserve the Galatians from being led astray by another gospel which is no gospel at all. Any kind of liberation which is not a consequence of justification is not gospel; it is not true liberation at all, but another form of slavery. Thus, in order to understand Paul's liberation language in Galatians, we must see it in the light of what he writes about justification by faith. Justification by faith is the hermeneutical key for understanding liberation or any other major Biblical concept. This is why reformation theologians talk about justification by faith as that teaching upon which the church stands or falls. Those texts which most clearly enunciate what justification by faith means have come to function within the churches of the Reformation as a canon within a canon. They are the touchstone by which all other theological constructs are to be judged. Those texts, especially those found in Romans, Galatians, John, and First Peter, have come to be regarded by Lutherans and other sons of the Reformation as the canon within the canon. In order to understand Liberation Theology we need to bear in mind that Liberation Theology also operates on the basis of a canon within a canon. Liberation theologians, in working with basic ecclesial communities composed of the poor, the oppressed, and the marginalized, have come to believe that God's solidarity with the oppressed and His commitment to their liberation is the heart of the Good News which is proclaimed in both Testaments. This "preferential option of God for the poor" is to serve as a guide to understanding both the Scriptures and human history. Liberation theologians claim that God is to be found in the world today in those situations in which the poor experience liberation, solidarity, and concientizacin (consciousness raising). It is through their experiencing of God's liberating activity among the poor today that liberation theologians have come to believe that the liberating activity of Jesus in the Gospels and the Exodus experience of the oppressed Hebrew slaves are the hermeneutical keys which enable them to interpret the Scriptures, human history, and the place of the church in that history.

Many liberation theologians such as Leonardo Boff of Brazil believe that the leaders of the primitive church who produced our New Testament were concerned to protect the church from persecution by Roman and Jewish authorities. According to Boff, this led the church to highlight those elements in the Jesus tradition that would portray Jesus as a purely religious leader. Such a Jesus would not be conceived of as a threat by those controlling the reins of power. In other words, liberation theologians believe that the words and works of the historical Jesus were subjected to a process of spiritualization by His followers who either did not understand or who were uncomfortable with the political implications of His ministry and mission. In spite of the efforts of the authors of the New Testament to water down the political and social aspects of Jesus' activity, liberation theologians argue that there is still a substantial substratum of materials in the New Testament that testify to the political and social thrust of the original Jesus movement.5 In their reading of the New Testament, liberation theologians seek to separate those texts which reflect Jesus' original liberating praxis from later interpretations of the apostolic church. For example, those texts which present Jesus as a liberator rather than as a Hellenistic savior-god are to be taken as more original and closer to the Jesus of history. Those texts which speak of Jesus as a substitute for lost sinners or as a sacrifice for sin are to be viewed as later interpretations of the church that are not binding upon the faith and practice of Christians in the twentieth century.6 However, those texts which present Jesus as a liberator who has come to establish God's kingdom on earth cannot and must not be pushed to the side. It is these texts that function for liberation theologians as a canon within a canon. Liberation theologians claim that in reading Scripture in this way they are taking the text seriously. They claim that they want to get into the Word and to apply that Word to concrete situations in the lives of people who are living and suffering in our world today. Liberation Theology claims that it does not want to spiritualize but to recover the original meaning of the text which has been obscured and buried by tradition and the interpretations of establishment theologians. Liberation Theology feels that traditional establishment theology has spiritualized away the real meaning of many texts in order to protect the privileges of the dominant elites. Boff, for example, holds that establishment theologians tend to spiritualize Christ's

5 6

Leonardo Boff, Jesus Christ Liberator (Maryknoll, NY: Orbis, 1978), p. 9. Leonardo Boff, Trinity and Society (Maryknoll, NY: Orbis, 1988), p. 119.


command to the rich young man. They say that the meaning of the story in Matthew is that followers of Jesus should be spiritually detached from riches. But this, says Boff, is not what the text says. The text very literally says that the rich should sell their possessions and give them to the poor because unless wealth is given to the poor it is corrupting, idolatrous, and ultimately damning. Gustavo Gutirrez of Peru complains that the Old Testament promises of a transformed earth have been interpreted literally by Jews and spiritually by Christians. This, says Gutirrez, is because for centuries an unbiblical Western dualism has operated within Christian hermeneutics. This dualism has led interpreters of the Bible to busy themselves in searching for a hidden meaning behind the plain sense of the text. This, however, is for Gutirrez a distortion of the Scriptures: "The coming kingdom and the parousia refer to historical, earthly, and social realities. The peace and justice, the love and freedom about which Jesus preaches are not only private realities or internal attitudes, they are social realities, implying a historical liberation."7 Liberation theologians claim that they are working to recover the original message of Jesus which has been watered down, domesticated, and made to serve the interests of the power groups that control both society and church. Liberation Theology wants to liberate the Word of Jesus so that it can function to liberate the oppressed, the poor, the marginalized, and the dehumanized children of God who are daily being crucified by the dominant elites, corrupt power groups, and the national security state. The emphasis given by liberation theologians to the dangers of spiritualizing the Scriptures can well serve us as an antidote to Gnostic and over-spiritualistic interpretations of the Bible. While we say this we must recognize that liberation theologians operate with an anti-spiritualistic bias which has led them to an overly materialistic reading of the Word of God which is ultimately dependent upon a Marxist socio-economic analysis of history and historical texts.8 Such a total rejection of all spiritual interpretations does not do justice to the fact that long before New Testament times the concept of freedom and the vocabulary of liberation were used with a wide assortment of meanings, both materialistic and spiritual. For some Greek philosophers liberation meant being autonomous, being in control of

Gustavo Gutirrez, A Theology of Liberation: History, Politics, and Salvation (Maryknoll, NY: Orbis, 1988), p. 97. 8 J. Emmette Wier, "With the Eyes of Marx," Expository Times 105:7, (Edinburgh: T. & T. Clark), April 1994, p. 206. CONCORDIA JOURNAL/JULY 1994 241

oneself, having dominion over inferior things and over the fear of death. Liberation terminology was used by other thinkers to mean being free from domination by matter, their bodies, or by intermediate spiritual beings. As has been pointed out, Paul uses liberation terminology in a spiritual sense when he exhorts the Galatian believers not to fall into slavery to circumcision and the Mosaic Law. If what Paul is doing is spiritualizing Christ's materialistic teaching about liberation, then this was done in one of the earliest New Testament documents that predated by at least ten years the first published Gospel. The attempt by many liberation theologians to read and interpret the New Testament through a one-dimensional, materialistic, interpretive lens that judges the authenticity of Biblical texts according to their conformity to a preferential option for the pooris bound to produce distortions and misinterpretations of much Biblical material. This is especially evident in those parts of the Scriptures that speak about salvation. We give attention to this aspect of Liberation Theology in our second thesis. Thesis : In Galatians, Paul speaks of justification by faith in Christ as being the only way to salvation. Liberation Theology, however, operates on the basis of a dual plan of salvationone for the poor and another for those who are not poor. Most students of Liberation Theology consider Gustavo Gutirrez to be the founder of the movement, even though we could adduce a number of arguments to question that designation. According to Gutirrez and most other Roman Catholic liberation theologians, there exists in the economy of God two plans of salvationone for the poor and one for the non-poor. According to this scheme, the poor are those who are saved by grace and by faith. Gutirrez talks about the poor as being sinners, but their sins are of a different nature from those of the rich. The sins of the proletariat apparently are not as serious and damning as those of the bourgeoisie. According to Gutirrez, the primary sin of the poor is despair and fatalism.9 This fatalism and despair are produced by the oppression and injustice which the poor suffer because of the sins of the rich. The poor are saved when they believe in the Gospel which is proclaimed to them. However, the

Gustavo Gutirrez, On Job: God-Talk and the Suffering of the Innocent (Maryknoll, NY: Orbis, 1987), p. 97.

content of this Gospel is not that Jesus has freed us from the Law, from sin, and from death as it is in Paul's Epistle to the Galatians. According to Paul faith is to be centered in Jesus Christ, the Son of God who loved me and gave Himself for me. Behind the words "gave himself for me" is all that Paul has said elsewhere about salvation. In Galatians 1:4 the apostle speaks of the Lord Jesus Christ who gave Himself to rescue us from "the present evil age." In 2 Corinthians 5:21 Paul says that "God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God." The very heart of the Gospel is vicarious substitutionary atonement. But this is not what liberation theologians consider to be the Good News. According to most liberation theologians, the Good News in which the poor must believe is that they are not alone and abandoned in the oppression and injustice which they suffer. As with the Hebrews in Egypt, God has heard the cry of His people because God is the God of the outcasts, the marginalized, and the slaves. He is not the God whose Word and authority the rich and the oppressors can use to justify their exploitation of the wretched of the earth. The Gospel is that God has heard the poor and that He is present among them, working even now to establish His kingdom. This kingdom is a truly egalitarian society in which there is justice and in which the struggle between social classes has been eliminated. The poor are justified when they abandon their despair and fatalism and believe in the message of the kingdom. When the poor experience concientizacin (consciousness raising) they come to see that their poverty, misery, and suffering are not the result of original sin, predestination, karma, fate, destiny, the will of God, or their belonging to an inferior race.10 Through believing the Gospel of the kingdom, the poor come to see that their suffering is due to the sins of the rich and the unjust structures which have been imposed upon the poor. Once the poor are converted to this message of the kingdom, they will actively begin to work for the transformation of the world. In this way the poor will become the agents of their own liberation. The poor then are saved when they abandon their despair and fatalism and believe that God is even now at work among them building the kingdom. According to Gutirrez, this faith by which the poor believe in the message of the kingdom is in itself a gift of the grace of God. It is a gift which the poor do not deserve. It is through this faith given by grace that the poor are saved. Thus, Gutirrez claims salvation is both by faith and


Gustavo Gutirrez, We Drink From Our Own Wells (Maryknoll, NY: Orbis, 1984),



by grace. For those who are not rich there is another way of salvation. This salvation is to be encountered in the neighbor, for the neighbor is considered to be a sacrament of salvation for those who are not poor. Traditional theology used to deny that there was any salvation outside of the church, extra ecclesia nulla salus. Gutirrez, however, would rephrase that to read that there is no salvation outside of the neighbor. According to Gutirrez and the majority of liberation theologians, "God is only with us when we love the neighbor." Thus, whoever loves the poor neighbor is already within the sphere of Christianity. One of the favorite texts of liberation theologians is Matthew 25:31-46, in which Jesus proclaims to those at His right hand: "Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me." On the basis of this text, liberation theologians claim that Christ is present in the poor as a sacrament of salvation to the non-poor. It is in the poor, and only in the poor, that the non-poor will be able to find Christ. It is through loving the poor and identifying with them in their struggle for liberation that the non-poor become members of the kingdom of God. In loving the poor neighbor as oneself the non-poor find a gracious God. However, this poor neighbor is not found isolated by social, political, and economic realities. This means that the poor neighbor cannot be loved abstractly. The love of the neighbor is not only a matter of the heart, but of giving oneself to transform the structures of society and the relationships of oppression which deny the humanity of the neighbor. The love of the neighbor in which we meet God is then a love which becomes involved in the transformation of dehumanizing social, economic, racial, political, and cultural realities.11 The stress upon the poor as that sacrament through which human beings may find God and enter into communion with Him has led many liberation theologians to devalue or reinterpret Baptism, the Lord's Supper, and sacramental worship in general. This brings us to our next thesis.

Ibid., 1988, p. 111.


Thesis III: In Galatians Paul declares that believers have been freed from Old Testament ceremonies such as circumcision. According to Liberation Theology, Christ has come to free human beings from enslavement to ceremonial worship, sacraments, and liturgy. The freedom in Christ which Paul proclaims in Galatians is liberating because it frees people to worship God out of a grateful heart and to serve the neighbor out of love. When a person is consumed with a passion to work out his own salvation, he has no time for the true worship of God or the true service of the brother. He is too busy going on pilgrimages, obtaining indulgences, and mortifying his flesh. In the Ninety-Five Theses Luther took aim upon those who refused aid to the needy brother because their funds, their time, and their efforts were all dedicated to the task of gaining merit and buying indulgences. Luther made it clear that such individuals did not purchase salvation but eternal condemnation. By setting us free from the necessity of having to justify ourselves, Jesus liberates us for liberation. He liberates us from having to serve God and the neighbor out of compulsion, fear of earthly punishment, or the terror of eternal damnation. He liberates us to worship and adore God out of pure gratitude and thankfulness. Moses demanded that Pharaoh set God's people free so that they could worship Yahweh and not the gods of Egypt. Christ sets us free to worship God in Spirit and in truth. He liberates us to serve the brother. Service to sin and self would be another form of slavery. Although some liberation theologians like Gustavo Gutirrez stress the nurturing of a devotional and sacramental life, their views are not shared by all liberation theologians. Jon Sobrino, Jos Comblin, and Leonardo Boff claim that one of the priorities of Jesus' mission was to liberate human beings not only from Old Testament ceremonial law, but from all cult, liturgy, sacraments, sacred ceremonies, and prayers. According to these theologians, Jesus freed His disciples from involvement in cultic practices and devotional exercises so that His followers would be free to dedicate their lives and energies to the task of humanizing society and dismantling unjust structures. Leonardo Boff claims that most priests in Latin America spend practically all of their time closeted in their churches reciting masses and performing other sacramental acts when they should be out in the world working for a more just society. According to Boff, priests should be catalysts for humanization and not sacramental technicians. Jos Comblin maintains that the mission of the church consists in humanizing, not in the establishing of a cult, liturgies, or the worship of God. In

Comblin's opinion, Jesus did not practice the religious acts of His people. He instead wanted to emancipate them from cult. Jesus did not participate in sacred ceremonies or recite prayers. He did not visit the synagogue regularly, nor did He participate in the liturgy. Neither Jesus nor His disciples were very religious. They did not belong to any of the religious groups like the Pharisees, Sadducees, or Essenes. They were all laymen.12 Comblin asserts that Jesus acted in this way because God neither wants nor needs worship from anyone. God is not interested in having people converse with Him. He is interested in having us become concerned with the liberation of other human beings. True worship of God is the authentic humanizing of oppressed peoples. The movement of liberation which Jesus began is different from what we call religions. Religions are concerned primarily with God and unconcerned about human beings. Their concern for people serves only as propaganda on behalf of their God. The Jesus movement, on the other hand, is concerned primarily with the humanizing of people, not with God. Comblin would put Christian worship, cult, liturgy, and formal religion in the same basket with the circumcision of the Judaizers. All of these things are for him a form of ceremonial law which helps to encapsulate the church and get God's people concerned about themselves and their relation with God instead of carrying out their real missionhumanizing the world. In a similar vein, Jon Sobrino insists that God's principle concern is not that people worship Him but that they would commit themselves to the liberation of the poor and the oppressed. Sobrino holds that in the original version of the "Great Commandment," which Jesus taught as the sum of the Law and the Prophets, there was nothing about loving God with all one's heart, with all one's soul, and with all one's mind. According to Sobrino, the part about loving God above all things is a gloss which was added by a scribe who misunderstood the intention of Jesus and was concerned that God receive more honor than human beings.13 Sobrino asserts that the only true worship of God is loving and doing justice to the poor. For Sobrino, God is not to be found in the temple, the cult, the sacraments, or the external ethical schemes of the Pharisees.14 The "privileged locale of access to God is the poor." Although God is everywhere, He cannot be found in every place, but only in that place

Jos Comblin, Jesus of Nazareth (Maryknoll, NY: Orbis, 1976), p. 94. Jon Sobrino, Christology at the Crossroads (Maryknoll, NY: Orbis, 1979), p. 170. 14 Ibid., p. 207.



in which He told us He would be. That place is the world of the poor.15 Such a devaluation of worship in favor of service to humanity is not something that originated with liberation theologians. Albert Richtel was saying similar things over a hundred years ago. In fact, Christ's own disciples took Mary of Bethany to task for her sentimental devotion to the person of Jesus when she should have been giving priority to the poor. The fact that Jesus defended Mary and accepted her worship and her costly devotion should serve as a lesson to us that liturgy (leiturgia) is not the enemy of service (diakonia) but its presupposition.16 It is in the Word and the Sacraments that we experience the love and forgiveness of Christ which enable us to love and serve all of mankind. Liturgical worship is no adiaphora for Christians who take the Scriptures seriously, because it is through Baptism, the Lord's Supper, and the proclaimed Word that the Holy Spirit is given to human beings. Without the Spirit there can be no true liberation. Liberation theologians, of course, would also affirm that there is no liberation without the Spirit, but they would disagree that it is only through the means of grace that the Spirit is communicated to human beings. It is this difference of opinion which constitutes our fourth thesis. Thesis IV. Paul holds that the Galatian believers came to possess the Spirit through Baptism and through hearing the Word with faith. Liberation theologians believe that the Spirit is given to all people at birth as one of the gifts of creation. According to Paul's Letter to the Galatians, the life of those who have been liberated and found freedom in Christ is a life which is made possible by the Holy Spirit. This Spirit was poured out upon the Galatians when they believed in the preaching of the Gospel. In Galatians 3:2 the apostle asks "Received ye the Spirit by the works of the Law, or by the hearing of faith?" The Spirit is not something which the Galatians had before the Gospel was proclaimed to them. Speaking of the Galatians in their pagan state, Paul says, "Formerly, when you did not know God, you were slaves to those who by nature are not God." They were slaves to the weak and beggarly elements.

15 Jon Sobrino, Resurreccin de la Verdadera Iglesia (Santander, Espaa: Editorial Sal Terrae, 1984), p. 167. 16 Karl Barth, Church Dogmatics IV:2, trans. G.W. Bromiley (Edinburgh: T. & T. Clark, 1958), pp. 795-796.



It was because the Galatians by nature did not possess the Holy Spirit that the works of the flesh were manifest in them. However, in Galatians 3:27 the apostle declares: "For as many of you as have been baptized into Christ have put on Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither bond nor free, there is neither male nor female: for ye are all one in Christ Jesus." It was through Baptism that these Galatians who formerly were slaves of sin put on Christ. Among other things, the phrase "putting on Christ" means receiving the Holy Spirit and His gifts. The equality which the Galatian believers experience is based on the fact that each one of them received the same Holy Spirit at Baptism. It is not based on social, political, or economic equality but equality in the Holy Spirit. It is quite clear that according the Paul's Epistle to the Galatians, the Holy Spirit is given only through the preaching of the Gospel and through the Sacraments. It is only through this Holy Spirit given in Word and Sacrament that the Galatians can produce the fruits of the Spirit. It is because the Galatians have received the Spirit through the preaching of the Gospel and through Baptism that they can stand fast in the liberty wherewith Christ has made us free. Their lives are under the control of the Holy Spirit, not their own spirit nor other spirits. Those whose lives are not under the control of the Holy Spirit are not free. They are enslaved to other powers that control their lives. In contrast to the view that the Holy Spirit is given only through the means of grace, most liberation theologians hold that the Holy Spirit and His gifts are given to all human beings at birth. According to Gustavo Gutirrez, all people, Christians and non-Christians alike, receive the Holy Spirit, love, grace, and salvation at birth, and not when they are baptized. This is the reason why Gutirrez can talk of creation as already being salvation. Because the Holy Spirit is said to be given to all people at birth, all people are thereby enabled to love, identify with the neighbor, and follow a liberating lifestyle. However in most people this love of the neighbor is latent or dormant within them. The Holy Spirit and His gifts which are dormant within people must be awakened or stirred up by the preaching of the kingdom or concientizacin. In Gutirrez' opinion, although all people have been given salvation at birth, this salvation will do them no good unless it is appropriated through love. Salvation can be lost by refusing to be the Good Samaritan who responds to the cry of the neighbor.17 We can see in all of this that liberation theologians assume that human beings, on the basis of God's grace, given in creation, have

"Gutirrez, 1987, p. 97.


within them the capacity to produce the kind of love of which Jesus speaks in the Great Commandment. This says something about the anthropology of Roman Catholic liberation theologians like Gutirrez, Boff, and Segundo. While they would not deny human sinfulness, they do not see human depravity as being that profound, perverse or pernicious as do Augustine, Luther, or Calvin. This is the reason why it is easier for Liberation Theology to attribute a larger share of evil to political, social, and economic structures. Due to their overly optimistic anthropology, liberation theologians are overly optimistic about the capacity of human beings to build the kingdom of God through the changing of political, social, and economic structures. 18 The overly optimistic anthropology of most liberation theologians goes hand in hand with another characteristic of Liberation Theology: the tendency to interpret all texts relating to the demonic as being symbolical references to structural evil. Evangelical Christians would be much more reticent than liberation theologians about seeing the Holy Spirit as the moving force behind the many new social and political movements that have surfaced in our times. Evangelical Christians believe that new social and political movements can be inspired by the Prince of Darkness as well as by the Holy Spirit. This contrast in viewpoints can be summed up in the following thesis. Thesis V: In Paul liberation is not only from circumcision, sin, and death, but also from occult powers. In Liberation Theology the occult powers are symbols of structural evil. It is well known that Paul's Epistle to the Galatians is his most emotional and passionate apostolic writing. Outbursts like those in which Paul addresses his spiritual children as "foolish Galatians" who have been bewitched are triggered by a father's anguished concern that his children not throw away their freedom and enslave themselves to the powers of death. The freedom that Paul proclaims in Galatians is a freedom which can be lost. The designers and builders of the statue of liberty in New York harbor have portrayed liberty as a lady. Ladies can be assaulted, and their virtue can be lost. Ladies need to be defended and protected. Paul is concerned that the liberty of God's new people be protected and defended.

Gottfried Brakemeir, "Justification by Grace and Liberation Theology," in The Ecumenical Review, Vol. 40 (Geneva: World Council of Churches, 1988), p. 219. CONCORDIA JOURNAL/JULY 1994 249


While Paul in Galatians speaks of freedom and liberty primarily in terms of freedom from circumcision and from the impositions of Mosaic Law, the concept offreedomin Galatians and the rest of Paul's epistles is much wider than just freedom from the Law. The freedom of those who belong to God's new people includes freedom from occult powers. This is especially the case of those Gentile members of the Galatian congregations who formerly worshipped idols and were involved in all manner of occult activity. In Galatians 1:4 Paul greets the Galatians in the name of God the Father and our Lord Jesus Christ "who gave himself for our sins, that he might deliver us from this present evil world." Paul uses this same terminology elsewhere to include the demonic rulers who are part of this evil age. The liberation of which Paul writes to the Galatians is also liberation from Satan; it is freedom from the enemy and his power. In Jesus' parable of the strong man, the Stronger One comes to bind the strong man and take his possessions. The strong man is Satan who as a robber baron has filled his house or kingdom with illegally gotten possessions. These possessions are people who have been enslaved through their participation in idol worship and occult activity. The Stronger One who invades Satan's kingdom to set free his slaves is Jesus Christ. Jesus in His programmatic inaugural sermon in the synagogue in Nazareth quotes Isaiah 61:1-3 and proclaims Himself as the liberator who has come to set free those who are in bondage. Jesus follows up that sermon with a prophetic act which proclaims in deed what His sermon proclaimed in word. Jesus' first act after His inaugural sermon is to set free a person who is in bondage to an unclean spirit in the synagogue of Capernaum. The exorcisms of Jesus are to be understood as evidences of the presence of the kingdom of God, which is breaking into the present age to bring God's liberation to those who are in bondage to the evil ruler of this age.19 One cannot speak of liberation from the Law without at the same time speaking of liberation from Satan andfromthe occult. The powers of darkness can exploit the Law and use it as a tool to hold God's people in captivity to the elemental spirits of the universe.20 In Galatians 4:3-9 the Galatians are accused of changing one form of slavery for another. The same stoicheia (evil powers considered to be related to the stars) that regulated the pagan way of life are also seen to be active in using a misunderstanding and misuse of Jewish Law to enslave the Galatian believers. Legalism and pagan religion are two
19 Clinton E. Arnold, Powers of Darkness (Downer's Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1992), pp. 78ff. 20 Ibid., p. 131.


systems used by the occult powers to deprive God's children of the freedom for which they were created. During Paul's lifetime Stoic writers like Seneca and Manilius averred that all of human life was predetermined by astral spirits and could not be changed by human effort or religious practices. Manilius writes: "Set your minds free, mortal men, let your cares go and deliver your lives from all this pointless fuss. Fate rules the world; everything is bound by certain laws; eternities are sealed by predetermined events." The pagan masses like thosefromwhich many of the Galatian Christians were drawn also believed like the Stoics that human fate was determined by the planets and the stars. But unlike the Stoics, the masses believed that the astral spirits could be propitiated and manipulated so as to change one's fate. One of the gods who was thought to have great power to change fate or destiny was Ephesian Artemis, or Diana, whose devotees caused Paul considerable problems in Ephesus. Artemis, who drew worshippers from all Asia and Galatia, was depicted as wearing the signs of the zodiac as a necklace as a way of showing her power and authority over fate and over astral spirits.21 Millions of oppressed and marginalized people in the time of Saint Paul tried to free themselves from slavery to fate by involvement in the occult, but in so doing they became enslaved to Satan. One way of loosing the liberty of the sons of God is by becoming involved in occult activity. Like Saint Paul, liberation theologians are also concerned to free people from fatalism. Liberation theologians and social scientists are in agreement that one of the greatest contributing factors in the social, political, and economic enslavement of people in the Third World is fatalism. Anthropologists and historians of religion write case studies about the culture of poverty whose members have come to believe that it is their divinely decreed fate always to be at the bottom of the heap. Any attempt to change one's destiny or karma would be disobedience or rebellion against God or the fate-determining powers of this world. Other members of the First, Second, and Third Worlds feeling trapped in a life determined by political, social, and political forces out of their control are trying desperately to change their fate even through it means participation in the occult. In thousands of basic ecclesial communities around the world liberation theologians and their disciples are trying to bring the masses to see that the reason for their poverty, enslavement, marginality, and hunger is not fate, destiny,

21 Clinton E. Arnold, Ephesians: Power and Magic (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1989), pp. 35-39.



original sin, karma, divine punishment, astral spirits, or some form of predestination. It is rather the sins of the dominant elites, the rich landowners, bankers, international corporations, conglomerates, the military, and last but not least, the religious leaders who provide the theological justification for the domination of the poor by the rich. This is what consciousness raising, or concientizacion, is all about. But unlike Paul, liberation theologians do not believe in the existence of occult powers from which enslaved human being are to be set free. Satan and the occult powers are thought to be personifications of unjust and dehumanizing structures which impede the realization of God's kingdom on earth. There are liberation theologians who believe that the legion of demons that was expelled from the Gadarene demoniac were meant to symbolize the Roman legions and their Herodian running dogs. These are the demons that had possessed Palestine and who needed to be expelled. Since it would have been political suicide for the leaders of the early church to include within the New Testament direct attacks on the unjust political structures which Jesus came to undermine, many liberation theologians feels that these attacks have been disguised under the accounts of Jesus' exorcisms.22 However, Jesus' exorcisms today need to be interpreted as justification for the involvement of Christian communities in programs of concientizacion, prophetic protest, and participation in movements dedicated to the overcoming of structural evil. In order to do this, traditional ceremonies, rites, sacraments, liturgies, and festivals which have been used to justify, reinforce, and perpetuate unjust structures must be reinterpreted so that they can function as instruments of liberation and not of oppression. The enslaving doctrines of demons which must be exorcised are those of compulsive consumerism, Reaganomics, exploitative capitalism, and the national security state. According to liberation sociologists and anthropologists people are drawn to the occult and satanic sects because they feel trapped by societal structureshelpless to change the course of their lives. Everything that happens in life seems to be controlled by the great transnational and international corporations, by corrupt political, military and economic elites. All movements of social reform are squashed by the police and the national security state. In many societies these corrupt structures have their existences justified and defended theologically and morally by the state religion or the religious


Walter Wink, Unmaking the Powers (Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1986), p. 43.


establishment. It appears that God is on the side of the unjust structures which enslave society. Subconsciously people are drawn into occult activity and satanic sects as a way of protesting against the unjust god or idol that is used by the establishment to justify its existence.23 According to liberation theologians, the only way to put an end to occult activity is for the church to put into practice the preferential option for the poor. Then and only then will the oppressed masses see that the God of Jesus Christ is their ally and not their oppressor. There is much that we can and should learn from liberation theology about the ways in which political and economic structures can become demonic. There is much that we can applaud and emulate in the work that basic ecclesial communities are doing to overcome the fatalism which has enslaved those who are caught up within the culture of poverty. However, by interpreting all that the Scriptures have to say about demonic forces and occult powers in terms of unjust structures, liberation theologians are overestimating what human beings are capable of doing and underestimating the power of evil. One of the consequences of this overly optimistic anthropology is the overemphasis given to the very real possibility of constructing the kingdom of God through structural change and political and economic programs. Jesus did, however, say: "Howbeit this kind goeth not out but by prayer and fasting." Thesis VI: In Liberation Theology Christ functions primarily as a model or paradigm to be imitated, while in Galatians Christ functions as sacrament and gift The more one reads liberation theology the more one becomes aware that Christ's primary function within that theology is, ironically, not that of liberator, but as a model or paradigm for our own liberating praxis. As in the great Gnostic systems of the second and third centuries in which the Logos comes not so much to set people free as to impart secret wisdom by which souls enslaved in matter may free themselves, so in liberation theology the liberating praxis of Jesus imparts to the enslaved masses the model that must be followed if they are to become the subjects of their own liberation. While the heart and center of Christology in Galatians is on what Christ has done for us,

23 Jean Remy and Emile Servais, "The Functions of the Occult and Mysterious in Contemporary Society," in The Persistence of Religion: Concilium 1981, Andrew Greeley and Gregory Baum, eds. (New York: Herder and Herder), p. 73.



extra nos9 the focus of liberation theology's Christology is on the imitation of Christ. For many liberation theologians, the center of the Gospel message is that we are to imitate Jesus and follow His example in fulfilling the role of the Good Samaritan. According to Leonardo Boff, the Great Commission is not "Go and make disciples of all nations" but "Go and do likewise""Go and be a Good Samaritan to the poor and plundered of the earth."24 Boff holds that being a Good Samaritan in the Third World today involves such activity as the defense and promotion of the rights of the poor. Boff points out that the Scriptures themselves never talk about human rights; they talk about the rights of the poor. Jesus' actions on behalf of the oppressed and marginalized provide us with a model that we are to follow in our struggles to affirm the rights of the poor. Jesus' example shows us that we are to distinguish between bourgeois rights and the rights of the poor. When the dominant elites talk about human rights they give priority to those human rights which are of direct interest to the privileged strata of society such as the right to private property. Boff complains that too often priority is given to such bourgeois rights as freedom of the press, freedom of expression, and religious freedom, while such rights of the poor as the right to decent housing, a fair wage, and an adequate diet are pushed to one side.25 In all talk of human rights there must be a preferential option for the poor because God Himself has such an option. Such a preferential option must not be understood in terms of God loving some people more than others, but rather as that of a mother who loves all of her children, but prefers the one who is ill.26 For liberation theologians, Jesus is the supreme example of the Golden Rule put into practice. Above all else, Jesus through His example shows us what it means to love our neighbor as ourselves. This love of the other is not the external form of the Law, but it is the true meaning of the Law. Therefore, according to Boff, Sobrino, and Comblin, what makes a person right in the eyes of God is his or her openness to other human beings. These theologians affirm that a person can be a true Christian without professing orthodox Christian doctrines, belonging to the church or bearing the name Christian. Wherever true love exists and egoism is surpassed, when human beings seek justice, reconciliation, and forgiveness, there we have true Christianity.

^Boff, 1988, p. 33 25 Boff, 1988, p. 44. 26 Boff, 1988, p. 24. 254

What makes people right in the sight of God is not being washed in the blood of the Lamb, reconciled by the sacrifice of the Son, or justified by faith without the deeds of the Law. It is loving the neighbor that makes us good in the sight of God. However, when loving the neighbor becomes a demand upon which our being right in God's eyes is conditioned, then loving the neighbor becomes a new and alienating law that is capable of putting a tremendous guilt trip upon any person who is really honest with himself or herself and with the kind of love of which we are capable. When love is demanded, love becomes a law. Furthermore, a love which is demanded or forced is not the love of Christ. Genuine love can only flow from gratitude, and genuine gratitude can come only as an unworthy sinner's response to having been washed in the blood of the Lamb and reconciled by the sacrifice of the Son. C. F. W. Walther summed this up in the following quote in which he makes gratitude the basis for Christian ethics: The real good works are works to which gratitude toward God prompts us. Whoever has true faith never thinks of meriting something good for himself by his service. His heart has been changed: It has been softened by the riches of God's love which he has experienced.27 Saul of Tarsus, who became the apostle who wrote the Epistle to the Galatians, was a person who had become transformed from persecutor and enemy of Christ to one completely dedicated to God and to serving the other. Paul was liberated from the Law, from sin, from death, and from Satan to be a truly free person. Paxil used his freedom not as an occasion for the flesh, not in order to serve self, and not in order to be free from God and from his neighbor. Paul, like Luther, used his liberty in Christ in order to become a servant and slave of God and the neighbor. What worked this transformation in Paul and Luther was not the imitation of Christ but the substitutionary and expiatory sacrifice of Christ on their behalf. For Paul and Luther, Christ's incarnation, passion, and death were not primarily models or paradigms to be imitated, but God's action to liberate those who could not liberate themselves. For Paul and Luther, Christ is above all God's gracious gift. He is the supreme sacrament of salvation. In liberation theology Jesus Christ as model and paradigm to be imitated takes precedence over Jesus Christ as sacrament and gift. According to most


C. F. W. Walther, Law and Gospel (Saint Louis: Concordia, 1929), p. 226. 255


liberation theologians, God's kingdom is apprehended more through the imitation of Christ than it is through the reception in faith of Christ's completed work accomplished once and for all in the incarnation, cross, and resurrection. This becomes very clear in the way Leonardo Boff talks about the death of Christ. In the theology of Leonardo Boff, Christ's death has no salvific function. His death was simply the fate of all the prophets. Jesus did not come in order to die for the sins of His people or to offer Himself up as a sacrifice in order to redeem us. According to Boff, the interpretation of Christ's death as a sacrifice for the sins of the world and the doctrine that He had to take upon Himself the whole curse of the Law represent the attempts of Christians to find a meaning which could explain the death of Christ. All of these theories are, for Boff, not part of the Gospel but interpretations of the Gospel. It is clear that Boff does not consider these pious but "mistaken" interpretations to be binding or necessary for faith today.28 Another leading liberation theologian, Jos Comblin, used even stronger language than Boff to deny that Christ's death in some way functions to liberate human beings from sin, death, and the devil. Comblin frankly states: What about the usual picture of the efficacious nature of his death, in which he is punished for our sins so that human beings may attain salvation? This rationalization is frankly horrible. The image of Jesus' meritorious death as "satisfaction" which is based on the feudal notion of satisfaction for injuries is wholly irrational. The whole schema of merit is sheer moralism. It makes salvation something that descends on us, and is based on an abstract principle that is a vestige of paganism.29 For Martin Luther the fact that salvation is something that descends upon us from above or from outside of us is the very heart of the Good News. If salvation is not something that descends upon us, then it is no longer extra nos; it then is no longer grace or gift but the result of our doing. When salvation is no longer Christ's work but our work, then the Gospel has been turned into Law. If Christ did not die as a substitutionary vicarious sacrifice for the sins of the world, why, in the view of liberation, did He die? According

'Boff, 1988, p. 119. 'Jos Comblin, The Meaning of Mission (Maryknoll, NY: Orbis, 1977), pp. 62-63.

to Boff, the Father allowed the crucifixion to take place in order to demonstrate to humankind the depth of His commitment to human liberation and the truth that the way to liberation takes place not through violence but through sacrifice and love.30 What Christ's death does do is serve as a model or paradigm for our liberating praxis. Boff, Comblin, Sobrino, and others emphasize again and again that the primary function of the death of Christ is to serve us as an example of the being-for-others which is intrinsic to the kingdom of God. The message of the crucifixion is that Christians called to human liberation are not to give up hope as they struggle to build the kingdom of God. It tells them that even in disaster, abandoned by friends, and even by the Father, Jesus did not give up; He still believed in the kingdom. So also we are not to give up the struggle; we are to imitate Christ in our identification with the oppressed even if it leads to persecution, abandonment, and death. Christ's death teaches us to love the neighbor and give ourselves for him even if it means martyrdom. Christ's passion, suffering, and death show us how to overcome hatred by love and how to live in the weakness of God in the world. A close reading of the major Roman Catholic liberation theologians reveals that they all present Christ as a norm or example of what it means to be truly human. Christ is He who must be followed and imitated by us if we are to be regarded as sons and instruments of the kingdom. All of the liberation theologians I have investigated specifically reject interpreting the Christ event in terms of a substitutionary sacrifice or atonement. Liberation theologians do not see the cross as a symbol of accomplished redemption but as a paradigm of what we should expect to suffer if we follow Jesus in His liberating praxis. The cross is not primarily a sign of the price paid by Jesus to redeem us from death, hell, and the devil, but a sign of the price which we must be willing to pay as we commit ourselves to completing the liberation begun, but not finished, by Jesus. The Good News of the Gospel does not involve an unrepeatable act of God which decisively changes history and the relationship between God and human beings. The Good News rather consists in revealing to oppressed human beings something which has always been true but which has been hidden from the poor by the dominant elite and their "theological running dogs." What is revealed to the poor in Christ is the fact that God has always been on the side of the oppressed and those who have no hope.


Boff, 1988, p. 119.


According to Liberation Theology, the Good News is that God's very nature compels Him to become involved in history and in historical acts of liberation. In other words, Christ functions primarily as a revealer of that which has always been so. Jesus has not come as a divinely sent savior whose incarnation, death, and resurrection changed forever the course of human history. It is indeed ironic that theologians who have so forcefully rejected Gnostic interpretations of the Scriptures and insisted upon presenting God as "he who acts in history" should so rob the Christ event of its history-changing dynamic and reduce His role to that of a model for human imitation and as a revealer of processes set into motion at the beginning of evolutionary time. In saying all this we must not forget that the stress on the love of the neighbor and the imitation of Christ's love for the other are also basic to the theology of Saint Paul and Martin Luther. But there is a difference. In Luther's theology Christ as example is subordinate to and dependent upon Christ as sacrament and gift; however, in the theology of Boff and other liberation theologians, Christ as example is not only separated from Christ as sacrament but replaces Christ as sacrament. Christ is made to function as Law, a Law which has been separated and isolated from the Gospel. And in the last analysis, any Law which is separated from the Gospel will inevitably come to function as bad news. Those who are confronted by a Christ who is the synthesis of all that I ought to be and am not will produce in me not a liberating love of the other but a severe guilt trip such as that experienced by Simon Peter when he cried out: "O Lord, Depart from me, for I am a sinful man" (Luke 5:8) or Isaiah's "Woe is me! For I am lost; for I am a man of unclean lips and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips; for mine eyes have seen the King, the Lord of hosts!" (6:5). It is only when the Christ as example is accompanied by Christ as sacrament and gift that I can in love take up my cross and follow Him unafraid in sacrificial and voluntary service of the needy, poor, and oppressed neighbor. Conclusion Time does not permit us to pursue our topic any further. In developing the six points or theses above, I find that have been more negative and one-sided in my presentation than I had originally intended. As the reader will note, my problems with Liberation Theology are in the areas of Christology, anthropology, soteriology, and missiology and not so much with its sociological and economic interpretations of the causes of poverty and oppression in the world

today. Although many brush aside these interpretations as so much Marxist rhetoric, it should be noted that the prophetic denunciations of liberation theologians depend as much upon the Old Testament prophets as they do on Karl Marx. In fact, they contain some of the most effective contextualized preaching of the Law that we can find in the world today. On the whole, Liberation Theology is very effective in unmasking human unrighteousness and injustice, both individual and corporate. It is very forceful and compelling in its call for contrition, confession, and satisfaction. According to the Reformers, that is what the Law according to its theological function is supposed to do. We can also applaud much of what liberation theologians have been doing in basic ecclesial communities as they work with the poor in an effort to construct a more egalitarian, just, and humane society. The Law, according to its first or civic function, has this goal in mind. The problem is that liberation theologians are loathe to recognize that what they are doing falls into the category of Law and not that of Gospel. Because of the way in which oppressive governments, both civil and ecclesiastical, have in the name of the Law oppressed the poor, Native Americans, Blacks, and women, most liberation theologians shy away from talking about the Law in a positive way. They claim that the dominant elites have used Thomistic natural law categories to justify the exploitation of the masses. For this reason liberation theologians prefer to refer to their message as the Gospel, God's Good News for the poor. It is as this juncture that Lutherans in dialogue with liberation theologians must object. There is much that is valid in Liberation Theology if we understand it as Law, but this Law dare not be confused with the Gospel. The Gospel of God's forgiveness through Christ's sacrificial love on the Cross is the missing element in Liberation Theology. Although social, economic, and political solutions may for a time be able to change some of the unjust structures which so oppress the poor, these changes will be short lived if they are not accompanied by an internal transformation which only the Gospel can bring about. This is what Liberation Theology most needs if it is to succeed in its goal of transforming society and achieving a more humane, just, and egalitarian world. Because of the deteriorating plight of the poor and oppressed around the world, Liberation Theology in one form or another is bound to be around for a long time. However, many analysts are already writing off Liberation Theology as a force which has any chance of achieving its goals of actually transforming society. If liberation theologians have up until now considered as irrelevant the Gospel of the Atonement that we Lutherans so treasure, we ourselves are as much to blame as they, for we have been very remiss in living

out the consequences of the Good News we proclaim. The most persuasive argument that we could bring to any dialogue with liberation theologians would not be found in a paper such as this, but in works of love, service, and solidarity with the oppressed that flow from hearts that have been transformed by Jesus' cross, His forgiveness, and His love.


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