Systematic Theology: Perspectives from Liberation Theology

It’s been a while since I posted up some books that I have been reading.  And there is still so much I need to catch up with whether it’s for my Masters (which is stuck in transition), book chapters or articles I owe people.

sys_theo_liberation So, I thought I’ll try and get into the groove with this interesting book.  Now the fact is, these posts I put up are never really books reviews.  I think there are plenty of good ones out there.

What I tend to do is to pull out excerpts which has captured my attention or helps propel my imagination forward. Thus, it tends to be more personal and local.

It was nice to "bump" into this book from the local seminary Malaysia Theological Seminary or Seminari Theoloji Malaysia (STM).  It’s the place where I look for stuff I can’t buy 🙂

For starters, I liked the introduction and managed to at least read the chapter focused on Ecclesiology.

The Five Thesis on the "Theoretical Status of Liberation Theology" (pp. 1-5):

Thesis 1: The theology of liberation is an integral theology, treating all of the positivity of faith from a particular perspective: that of the poor and their liberation.

Last Sunday was the first time, I spent a little bit more time on the subject of "prosperity gospel" in one part of the message. The impulse for that is I get the sense that at least for the Church in Malaysia especially the city, most of us have no clue about the plight of the poor and what liberation for them means.  We tend towards spiritualizing our talk about the poor and usually land up just saying how fortunate we are in comparison to them and then end there.  The conversations floating in our heads and often in the space between us tends towards our self-preservation or self-advancement divorced from the wider realities of our "neighbors".

The little theology of liberation I have reflected on shouts to me loud and clear … "Shame on us!".  I was tempted to add some stronger language after that sentence and restrained myself upon second thought. Our hearts are often too hardened that even after exposure to the realities of the poor in Malaysia, we need better language to help us not only think about it, but do something about it. And this "something" must go beyond pity, shame and guilt … that kick is needed, but to take it further long term I found some resource and language from our brothers and sisters in Latin America.

Thesis 2: The primary, basic view point of the theology of liberation, as of any theology, is the givenness of faith; it’s secondary, particular viewpoint, as one theology among others, is the experience of the oppressed.

There are a few ways we begin to get that basic view point. But nothing beats getting up close and personal.  No media presentation can replace being there, talking with people, hearing stories, smelling the environment, genuinely listening.

I confess, I don’t think I can ever fully understand.  Some of my friends who have closer experiences of oppression relate to this theme better.  But, the least I can do is work on the "solidarity" and "empathy" part of the process.  It’s never enough to stay there.  Mind sets need changing, thinking processes reprioritizing, lifestyle adjustments, and so on.  Some friends will go further than what I am capable of at this stage, but I told myself never to be stagnant. If there is no change at all and we go back to status quo, then something is wrong. What are the details of those changes, I think must not be legalistic, but it’s one of those "he who has ears, let him hear" moments.

Thesis 3: The theology of liberation represents a "new stage" in the long evolution of theological reflection, and today constitutes a historically necessary theology.

There are those amongst us who are to put it mildly uncomfortable with any of of "new stage" and worse if the word "evolution" is thrown into "theological reflection".  But I suppose if we take seriously the historical nature of Christianity, we cannot run away from it.  Perhaps, some safeguards are needed so we are not trapped in our own "historical necessity" and keep watch less our blind spots to overtake us. The problem comes often when some have set themselves "above" the rest and condemn the theology of liberation without recognizing their own theology which arose from "historical necessity". 

Thesis 4: The theology of liberation comprehensively integrates ethico-political liberation, which holds the primacy of urgency (and thereby also the methodological, and at times the pastoral primacy), with soteriological liberation, which unequivocally, maintains its primacy of value.

Maybe in the light of where Malaysia is right now, the relevance as well as resource from the theology of liberation comes into play. Of course, this is not a whole sale uncritical transplant from Latin America to where we are now.  Our tendency in Malaysia irregardless of church tradition or background to operate with a "pluck and play" mentality.

For me, side by side with a deep concern in how to live and think as a minority group especially in relation to other religions and Islam in particular, there is a great urgency to have some framework to deal with the socio-political realities right before us.  It’s a lively time which requires a lively response.

Thesis 5: Vis-à-vis other theologies, present and past, the theology of liberation stands in relation not opposition or substitution, but of critical complementarity. Meanwhile, its radical novelty compared with these others is the encounter with the poor as historical subject.

"Critical complementarity" – that’s quite a mouthful! But I think it’s a beautiful phrase 🙂 Having tried to hum with the themes in the introduction of the book, and seeing this having relevance to resource our own thinking, I do think this is but one missing component long overdue in our own contextual Malaysian theologizing. Another top priority is absolutely in relation to other religions as well as ideologies. 

Now, I’m aware that there have been some before me who have already walked this path.  And maybe they were unappreciated or are seen to be "radical".   But if "radical" means going back to the root, then it’s only right to return to this thinking process again. Thinking which leads to acting, and thinking which is birthed from actual experiences, and the cycle continues.

About Sivin Kit

man of one wife, father of four kids
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