Sadly, Christians have not been fully and properly sensitive to all of the oppressed and needy people in our society.
Written in the early twentieth century, The Fundamentals were a series of twelve volumes of articles designed to define the Christian faith against attacks, and people who subscribed to the principles were called fundamentalists. (The word is now often used to describe “fundamentalist” Christians who bomb abortion clinics, “fundamentalist” Mormons who live in strange compounds, and “fundamentalist” Muslims who commit suicide bombings.) Of all of the hundred articles in the series, only one touched on the church ‘s responsibility in a society of need – except for those that discuss evangelism. Have we improved on that lack of emphasis? The church has often not even spoken to “cases extraordinary,” when it was appropriate to have done so.
In the latter part of the nineteenth century, harsh attacks sought to deny the authority of the Bible. It was claimed that the Bible was based on mythology, that Jesus was not the Son of God in any real sense, that His role in history was as a teacher of the moral life, and that Christians and churches were called to be an influence for “good,” however that was defined in society. Man was thought to be inherently good. Two world wars dispelled that view, and out of that background arose what was called the social gospel. Its various viewpoints challenged the Bible. Theologians, seminaries, and their churches affirmed, for example, the following kinds of statements:
1. The Bible is a record of some events, with added mythological meaning that accumulated after the events. The Gospel of John, for example, with a much more developed doctrine of Jesus’ Deity, was written perhaps far into the second century long after John died.
2. The Bible does not contain propositional revelation, because there is no such thing.
3. The Bible is the Word of God written, in the sense that God did some things in history, and then men recorded and interpreted the events.
4. The Bible is not the objective Word of God. It is not the Word of God when it is closed; it becomes the Word of God when it speaks to me in my experience.
J. I. Packer wrote that there are three final authorities in Christendom: Scripture, the church, and reason. He might well have added “experience” since for many people, “what I experience is what is true.” A focus on experience, allows considerable freedom in interpretation and expression.
An Example of Beginning with Experience
In the 1950s and 1960s, there were a number of Marxist movements in Latin America. They sought to gain political and other power for the many peoples in those countries who did not share in whatever wealth there was and had not political or civil power.
The Roman Catholic Church was an active force among many of these poor and deprived peoples. During this time, bishops, priests, and some Protestant scholars developed a Liberation Theology, which affirmed that God and Jesus were on the side of the Marxist revolutionaries and others claiming to seek civil rights for the masses.
While the Church at Rome affirmed the goals to bring equity for the peoples of Latin America, it also spoke against any alliance with godless Marxism and many of the tactics being employed. It affirmed that priests should not personally be involved in political affairs.
Recently. a small notice in a local newspaper bore this title, “Former Bishop Elected President of Paraguay.” The ruling party candidate conceded defeat, “signaling the end of six decades of one-party rule and handing victory to former Roman Catholic Bishop Fernando Lugo.” The article concludes, “News of the Lugo win sent thousands of his supporters into the streets of Asuncion in a massive celebration. Lugo, dubbed the ‘bishop of the poor,’ has vowed to help Paraguay’s poor and indigenous.”
In the United States, this Liberation movement has been supported by “Black Liberation Theology.” Psalm 103:6 and the constant reminders in our news media suggest that something needs to be said about this issue.
Before entering our brief journey into Black Liberation Theology, a few comments seem to be necessary.
1. I apologize to all of you for referring to color, white or black. It grieves me that this theological system is so racially divisive.
2. In recent newspapers, you have perhaps seen references to James H. Cone, a professor of systematic theology at Union Theological Seminary in New York. He is one of the fathers of Black Liberation Theology. I am using his writing, particularly from the 1960s, to define this thought system.
3. A few comments about currently held views. During the past month I have talked with several people claiming to hold to Black Liberation Theology. They are evangelical friends who do not endorse the excesses of Professor Cone. I purposefully am only commenting about Professor Cone at this point.