Liberation Theology and a Theology of Hope (Part VI)

Concluding Thoughts

In looking at liberation theology and theology of hope through Moltmann and Gutiérrez, one can surmise that both are political theologies that attempt to orient theology towards the downtrodden of society, albeit from different contexts. There is also an undeniable common thread of Marxism to be found in both their political theologies. Moltmann himself notes that Marxism is used by most liberation theologians, including Gutiérrez, as “an analytical instrument – a way of grasping the situations of the poor in Latin America. . . . Put in simpler terms: Marxist analysis, yes; communist therapy, no!” (Experiences in Theology, 245). This use of Marxism, however, isn’t necessarily true for every liberation theologian, as not all liberation theologians adopt Marxist theory, (e.g., Jon Sobrino seems to deliberately avoid the use of Marxian categories such as class struggle and a classless society in his writings; another example is Hugo Assman).

While both Moltmann and Gutiérrez have used Marxist social theory, both decidedly ditching Marxism’s dialectical materialism and atheism, there seems to be a stark difference in how they base their use of Marxism. Gutiérrez appears to start with Marxist analysis and then seeks biblical verification, though naturally departing from Marxism when it comes to the obvious issues of death and God, etc. Conversely, Moltmann starts with the biblical depiction of the future kingdom of God and then employs Marxism as a critique on how the current way of things is opposed to this future hope. The primary appeal to Moltmann in Marxism (as he found it in Bloch) is its imagination for a better future society, rather than the Marxist strategy for proletarian revolution which seems to be a more useful aspect to Gutiérrez.

Gutiérrez’s understanding and use of “hope” stands in distinction to Moltmann’s; he has not just uncritically embraced Moltmann’s view of hope but has instead only borrowed from it in order to create his own. Gutiérrez’s hope is directed towards a liberating utopia and a plan for a qualitatively changed society that is more just towards the poor. This is different to Moltmann who sees hope as being founded upon the resurrection of Christ and directed towards the ultimum novum, declining to pivot around a more static final objective such as Gutiérrez’s utopia. In short, one could perhaps say that Gutiérrez’s theology reflects a temporal human-based hope, while Moltmann’s theology employs a more future divine-based hope.

Moltmann’s influence on Gutiérrez (and other liberation theologians) is a noteworthy case of theological cross-fertilization between first-world and third-world theologians. Yet, Gutiérrez was wary of not taking too much from Moltmann and Europe, primarily seeing the benefits of hope theology in its critiques of the hyper-individualized gospel and our overly capitalist society, while also coveting the stimulating effect Moltmann’s theology has on political consciousness and engagement.

An adequate theological stance on hope must rest upon sufficient grounds. The eschatological hope of Moltmann that is predicated on the resurrection of Christ and the everlasting faithfulness of God appears somewhat different to Gutiérrez’s more evolutionary optimism, that seems to depend on an extrapolation of the present process, thus providing a less sure hope. In the end, after briefly looking at the role that Marxism and hope play in their respective theologies, one could almost say, to borrow a wordplay from Kayayan, that Moltmann’s theology of hope was effectively secularized in Gutiérrez’s liberation theology, turning it from a theology of anastasis (resurrection) into a theology of epanastasis (revolution)! Naturally, though, Gutiérrez’s revolution would be with bread and wine, not guns and bloodshed.

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