Liberation Theology and a Theology of Hope (Part V)

Gutiérrez and Hope

While Moltmann’s Theology of Hope was first being read and debated in Europe, Gustavo Gutiérrez was defining theology as a consideration on the praxis of the poor, publishing his important work, A Theology of Liberation, in 1971. Moltmann’s emphasis on hope was readily incorporated into the work of some liberation theologians and some of what Gutiérrez says about hope bears a striking resemblance to Moltmann’s thought. Gutierrez’s liberation theology has a strong bond with Moltmann’s theology of hope in its interest for present transformative action in conformity with a hoped-for-future. Another similarity to Moltmann, but divergent from most other liberation theologians, is in how Gutiérrez draws upon Ernst Bloch’s understanding of hope (A Theology of Liberation, 123-24). Another parallel between Gutiérrez and Moltmann is seen in how Gutiérrez defines “hope” as an “openness to the God who is to come” (ibid., 204), which sounds similar to Moltmann who argues that hope must always be open to the future in which God finally fully arrives and is wholly present.

Yet Gutiérrez’s adoption of Moltmann’s hope theology was not without its criticisms. For instance, Gutiérrez levels the charge that while “hope fulfills a mobilizing and liberating function in history,” Moltmann’s theology is open to the risk of merely replacing a “Christianity of the Beyond” with a “Christianity of the Future,” weakening the struggle for liberation and freedom in the present (ibid., 124). Contra Moltmann, Gutiérrez argues that real emancipatory hope doesn’t have its basis in a promise from the future but rather develops through the praxis of the poor contending with their present situation and transforming it (ibid., 201-3). Thus, Gutiérrez’s consideration of hope is focused upon a liberating utopia which sees hope as an obligation to a social praxis through which humans become the means of transforming the present into a more just society. He says, “Hope thus emerges as the key to human existence oriented towards the future, because it transforms the present” (ibid., 123). As a corollary to this, the power of the future is seen as an extension of God’s power in the present at liberating the oppressed, directing history towards its full realization and completion. Gutiérrez’s understanding of hope goes beyond the seemingly never-ending and open-ended dialectical analysis of Moltmann.

Gutiérrez argues that it is hope that thrusts society forward by challenging and denouncing the unjust conditions of the present, while seeking and heralding a more righteous future. This understanding of hope is crucial to Gutiérrez’s conception of “utopia” in A Theology of Liberation. While he overtly discusses utopia only in a short section (ibid., 135–40), the role of utopia pervades every other topic that he writes on in that book. At the onset of his discussion on utopia, Gutiérrez clarifies his use of the term as referring to “a historical project for a qualitatively different society and to express the aspiration to establish new social relations among human beings” (ibid., 135). This liberating utopia is the motivation for hope.

This divergence of Gutiérrez from Moltmann in regards to hope is also seen in how he places an emphasis on a temporal hope. He says: “The Kingdom is realized in a society of fellowship and justice; and, in turn, this realization opens up the promise and hope of complete communion of all persons with God. The political is grafted into the eternal” (ibid., 135). Note that Gutiérrez delineates between hope in the eternal and hope in the temporal (political). He also says that: “The hope which overcomes death must be rooted in the heart of historical praxis; if this hope does not take shape in the present to lead it forward, it will be only an evasion, a futuristic illusion” (ibid., 124). Here he lays bare his belief that eternal hope cannot exist independent of a temporal hope that is “rooted in . . . historical praxis.” Further along, Gutiérrez says that “without liberating historical events, there would be no growth of the kingdom [of God]” (ibid., 177).

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