Liberation Theology: Fossil or Force? -- By: Howard Summers

Journal: Ashland Theological Journal
Volume: ATJ 27:0 (NA 1995)
Article: Liberation Theology: Fossil or Force?
Author: Howard Summers

Liberation Theology:
Fossil or Force?

A Review Article

Howard Summers

Dr. Summers (Ph.D., University of the Witwaterstrand), Senior Lecturer in Religious Studies, University of the Witwaterstrand, Johannesburg, South Africa, is a specialist in liberation theology.


Is liberation theology alive and well or has its death-knell sounded? Judging from the attitudes of some first-world theologians, the answer would seemingly be that liberation theology was but a passing fad. Judging, however, from the number of books on liberation theology emanating from both the third and first-worlds this hardly seems to be the case and, if the demise of liberation theology is at hand, someone has forgotten to tell the numerous writers who continue to publish prolifically on the subject.1 Somehow only those who have experienced life in such places as the favellas of Latin America or the violence-plagued townships of South Africa appear to have any idea of what liberation theology is all about. Certainly those liberation theologians living in poor communities continue their work with no apparent waning of commitment.

Still in its infancy, liberation theology may have taken wrong directions in both methodology and content which need to be corrected but, while it is still too early to calculate its influence (How long did it take before the Reformation got that label?) it has undoubtedly contributed to political change in certain countries.2

Although both the HOW and WHAT of liberation theology may have to be carefully re-thought if genuine liberation (in all its dimensions) is to be achieved, liberation theology remains a challenge to every sincere Christian. Poverty, hunger, oppression, disease and death continue to haunt our world. What is the Christian response to be? Is the church to contribute toward the establishment of a new world order bringing liberation to all humankind? Are there people (hopefully Christians among them) who, in the words of Leonardo and Clodovis Boff, “still have a spark of humanity left for considering the problems of the millions and millions of poor persons, of international justice, of the future for the wretched of the earth”?3 Committed Christians have a choice: either to stand in solidarity with the poor and to

work with them for their liberation or to forget them completely, denying their existence. Liberation theology, warts and all, remains the greatest challenge to churches in the first-world. It is far from “fossiliz...

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