Book Reviews -- By: Anonymous
JETS 38:1 (March 1995) p. 93
Beyond Liberation Theology. By Humberto Belli and Ronald Nash. Grand Rapids: Baker, 1992, 206 pp., n.p.
Russell Kirk, doyen of American conservatism, in Reclaiming a Patrimony defined ideology as “political fanaticism and illusion” and “politics made into a pseudo-religion, after the fashion of Marxism, or Naziism or anarchism.” In their collaborative effort Belli and Nash appropriate Kirk’s description of ideology and consider liberation theology, at least in what they term its “old” form, a blend of fanaticism, illusion and pseudo-religion. But according to the claims of their book a new, modified liberation theology has emerged, purged of the most strident ideological baggage that characterized the former version. This, they tout, bodes well for the Church in Latin America.
Their book is constructed upon two primary assertions: (1) that liberation theology is “changing dramatically” and (2) that these “changes are praiseworthy” (p. 7). Sad to say, the latter contention—at least as presented in this volume—proves empty, for scant evidence is marshaled supporting the claim that liberation theology is “changing dramatically.” Certainly Belli and Nash show that some changes have occurred within liberation theology (see e.g. pp. 91, 139). But these alterations are not to the radical extent that would lead observers to discern that this theological phenomenon is in decline.
Belli and Nash provide little that is fresh concerning “old” liberation theology. Even the lengthy introduction (pp. 13-29) is a rehash of major themes and dogmas of old liberationism (containing an effort to define the older movement), a section of pithy word portraits on some of the pivotal figures within liberationism, and preliminary remarks on how the “new” liberation theology came into being. From here the authors recapitulate particular aspects of liberation theology, including not only an historical overview but also chapter-by-chapter discussions of how the old liberation theology blended Marxism, capitalism, the Bible and social theory. Little direct attention, except for chaps. 2 and 8, is actually paid to the “new” liberationism, which supposedly moves beyond the original subject.
Besides having a plodding narrative style, the work contributes little to its subject and is marked by several deficiencies. For example, readers of this Journal will be appalled at the paucity of comment concerning Protestantism in Latin America insofar as liberation theology is concerned. In several sections—pp. 45-54 and pp. 175-196 especially, which, ironically, are supposed to take the discussion beyond the old liberation theology—Belli and Nash yield their examinations completely to Roman Catholicism....
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