Liberation Theology and Hermeneutical Preunderstandings -- By: Larry D. Pettegrew

Journal: Bibliotheca Sacra
Volume: BSAC 148:591 (Jul 1991)
Article: Liberation Theology and Hermeneutical Preunderstandings
Author: Larry D. Pettegrew


Liberation Theology and Hermeneutical Preunderstandings

Larry D. Pettegrew

Professor of Systematic and Historical Theology
Central Baptist Theological Seminary, Minneapolis, Minnesota

“Liberation Theology,” writes Raymond Hundley, “is quickly becoming one of the most influential and controversial theological movements in the world. Less than 25 years since its birth it has already made its presence known on every continent.”1 To some, this has come as a surprise. Hundley continues,

When I first began my study of Liberation Theology I thought it might be just another fad that would soon disappear like the “death of God” theology and so many others. Such was not the case. If anything, the Liberation Theology movement has expanded tremendously in the past 10 years, converting seminaries, denominations and individual Christians all over the world to its secularized version of the gospel. It is undoubtedly the fastest-growing theological movement in the world today.2

Among other reasons for its popularity is its adaptability. Though liberation theology is primarily a Latin American phenomenon, it is mirrored somewhat in black liberation theology in America, the worldwide feminist liberation theology, and the Black African liberation theology in South Africa.

A major hermeneutical task for liberation theologians (as well

as any interpreter of the Bible) is to seek to fuse “two horizons”—that of the original prophet or apostle, who formulated what he wrote in a particular historical and intellectual context, and that of the interpreter himself.3 “We reinterpret the Bible,” writes Gutiérrez, “from the viewpoint of our own world—from our personal experience as human beings, as believers, and as church.”4

How much should the interpreter be influenced by “his own world”? Should he allow social conditions and theological preunderstandings to be determining factors in his hermeneutics? Key liberation theologians such as Gutiérrez, Juan Luis Segundo, and Hugo Assmann, have concluded that a biblical hermeneutic depends on a preunderstanding that is shaped by praxis. The philosophical values and mindset associated with the Western bourgeoisie, they have argued, distort the message of the biblical text. “Why is it,” asks Boni-o, “that the obvious political motifs and undertones in the life of Jesus have remained so hidden to liberal interpreters until very recently?”

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