Book Review: Liberation Theology for Armchair Theologians

LibTheoTitle: Liberation Theology for Armchair Theologians

Author: Miguel A. De La Torre

Bibliographic info: 180 pages

Publisher: Westminster John Knox, 2013.

With thanks to Westminster John Knox for the review copy.

Buy the book at Amazon.

This is the first book in Westminster John Knox’s Armchair Theologians series that I have had the pleasure of reading. Miguel De La Torre provides us with a short yet accessible primer to liberation theology. Notice the irony that a book on liberation theology – which is focused on praxis rather than beliefs – has the word armchair in the title. I got a little chuckle out of that.

What is liberation theology? The author provides a few succinct definitions throughout the book:

Liberation theology is not a political movement to free the marginalized from oppressive structures; it is a religious movement that strives to bring salvation and liberation to those who fall short of God’s will to live abundant and fruitful lives, whether they be the oppressed who are dehumanized or their oppressors who lose their humanity by reaping the rewards from the social structures that privilege them.

[…]

Liberation theology begins with the poor, the oppressed, the marginalized, the outcast, and the disenfranchised. To do liberation theology is to do it with and from the perspective of those whom society considers as nobodies. Incarnating theological thought among those who are dispossessed roots liberation theology in the material as opposed to simply the metaphysical.

[…]

Liberation theology is a critique of Western political, economic, and social structures from the perspectives of the disenfranchised. Oppression is a theological problem that requires the faithful not just to contemplate, but through praxis, to bring about justice.

The author both defines liberation theology, as well as countering misconceptions that have arisen concerning it (the most common one being that people equate liberation theology with Marxism, which is then equated with Leninist-Stalin totalitarian regimes). He explores such avenues as historical developments in liberation theology (e.g. the Medellín Conference which is considered the birthday of Latin American liberation theology), key liberation theologians (e.g. Gustavo Gutiérrez, Leonardo and Clodovis Boff, Juan Luis Segundo, Jon Sobrino, José Miquez Bonino), and various kinds of Christian liberation theologies (e.g. Feminist, Black, Hispanic, and Asian-American theologies). There is also a chapter on liberation theology as found in other religious traditions (Islam, Judaism, Buddhism, Hinduism, Humanism, and Native Americans). Oddly enough, this chapter also discussed Minjung theology, which is a Korean Christian liberation theology. Not sure why it was in this chapter and not the previous chapter which discussed different types of Christian liberation theologies.

As with other Kindle books from Westminster John Knox, the Kindle edition leaves much to be desired. The chapter headings are a mixture of uppercase and lowercase letters. For instance, the title of the first chapter is “ChAPter one resistance!” After a paragraph of text, the number “1” appears mid-paragraph in the same font as the chapter title. Bizarre. Another peculiarity of the Kindle edition is that the links in the table of contents do not link to the beginning of each actual chapter, but to each chapter section found in the endnotes! Oh yea, and none of the illustrations are in the Kindle version.

Nevertheless, the book itself is a useful little primer on a topic that all Christians should have some familiarity with. And no, if you equate liberation theology with Marxism, or if you got your information on liberation theology from Glenn Beck, then you don’t have a fair and balanced understanding of it. If you are a white, middle-class citizen of a First World country who attends a nice church and you think liberation theology is Marxism (and you shudder every time you hear your pastor mention “social justice”), then I would recommend you purchase this inexpensive little book and expand your mind.

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