Thursday, January 22, 2009

Theology without Jesus Christ: the World Forum on Theology and Liberation

Sometimes one is reminded that without Jesus Christ, theology is dead. Sometimes one is reminded that in the name of theology some will seek to elevate human sinfulness.

Presbyweb has linked to an article, "Theologians converge on Brazil to envision a sustainable world." The article is about the third "World Forum on Theology and Liberation." These forums are held either before or after the World Social Forum.

This particular Forum will be lead by several well known theologians including a Presbyterian, Dr. Chung Hyun Kyung, Dr. Emilie Townes, and Mary Hunt, an Eco-feminist who spoke to Voices Of Sophia at the Presbyterian 2008 General Assembly. Also, Dr. Leonardo Boff of Brazil will be speaking.

There will be rituals of water, earth and body. These are described:

"Each day the Forum will begin with a moment of prayer. Groups from different parts of the world and different churches, with elements of traditional religions and African, indigenous, Amerindian and Asian cultures, will lead a ritual to invoke God's transforming, prophetic and regenerating presence - in God's many names - on each day of this big encounter."

In the past I have written several postings which include information on both the World Forum on Theology and Liberation, and the World Social Forum, as well as the United States Social Forum. The postings included, Presbyterians Dancing With Karl Marx! Part 1, Presbyterians Dancing With Karl Marx! Part 2 and Presbyterians Dancing with Karl Marx Part 3 .

In one of those articles I highlighted the theology of Dwight N. Hopkins, Professor of Theology at the University of Chicago Divinity School and also a member of Trinity United the Church once led by Jeremiah Wright.

He wrote a paper for the first World Forum on Theology and Liberation. I wrote about his paper, "Theologies in the USA:”

"He [Hopkins] names, what he sees as the most pervasive theology in the US, “neo-conservative theology,” which purportedly understands God as “the open face of aggressive US empire.” (Italics the author) Next is “liberal theology,” which according to Hopkins sees God as “bourgeois rights.” (Italics author) The final category is prophetic theology which the writer states sees God as “Liberation toward the practice of freedom.” Clearly Hopkins’ ideology is not theology (the study of God) nor is it based on scriptures but on Marxism."

There are already some papers for this new forum posted on the web site. Those that I can read, (many are in the language of the presenter), are interesting yet are totally disconnected from theology proper, the study of God, and are instead about socialist ideology.

One of the papers, "Peace Paradigm Shift and Joshua Syndrome" written by Jong Sun Noh, is almost incoherent due to the author's attempt to defend the leader of North Korea , Kim Jong-il, as well as that country's ideology. Her first paragraph on the second page is totally political propaganda:

"The politics is the culture in a form of political music, political mass games, political singing, dancing, paintings, arts, calligraphies, cheering with dancing of half million on the streets of Pyongyang. The formation of culture and the cultural activities is to cheer up the spirit of the people to a goal of solidarity in the system as a whole, one strong fortress against the invading forces of outside."

Another paper points to the true reason for this forum, That is, to use theology to bolster a socialist ideology. In the paper, "On Expanding the Scope of Liberation Theology: Two Theses," by Ivan Petrella, he writes about absorbing liberation theology into all facets of society. Petrella states, "it must become the foundation for other disciplines as well. Economics, law, medical anthropology, political science, sociology and a host of other disciplines could engage in the same epistemological shift with revolutionary consequences for each field."

His final thought is that the theological be divorced from liberation. He writes:

"Perhaps the task is that of disentangling the “liberation” from the “theology” in liberation theology. To work in liberation theology could mean to work outside of it, by finding ways the epistemological shift can infiltrate, subvert, and transform other bodies of knowledge. Here the liberation theologian need not carry the label of “theologian” and works best under a different disciplinary guise. Could the future of liberation call for the dissolution of liberation theology as an identifiable field of production? It would be up to subsequent generations of liberation theologians to turn this vision into a reality."

When liberation theology began in South America it at least had a few anchors, including the person of Jesus Christ. The martyred liberation theologian, Oscar Romero ,wrote:

"It would be worthless to have an economic liberation in which all the poor had their own house, their own money, but were all sinners, their hearts estranged from God. What good would it be? There are nations at present that are economically and socially quite advanced, for example those of Northern Europe, and yet how much vice and excess! The Church will always have its word to say: conversion. Progress will not be completed even if we organize ideally the economy and the political and social orders of our people. It won’t be entire with that. That will be the basis, so that it can be completed by what the church pursues and proclaims: God adored by all, Christ acknowledged as only Savior, deep joy of spirit in being at peace with God and with our brothers and sisters."

Liberation theology has long since moved far away from that stance. When the word of God is by-passed for human ideas and experiences then even an apologist for North Korea, one of the most totalitarian states in the world, can be considered a theologian. When Jesus Christ is rejected by those doing theology then theology will of course die. And only a supposedly utopian but instead dictatorial system will remain.


reformedpastor said...

I'd heard of the World Social Forum, and the participation of the WCC and other Christian organizations in it. But I'd never jeard of the "World Forum on Theology and Liberation." Sounds like the dying gasp of an irrelevant and purposeless collection of intellectual has-beens. Thanks for bringing it to our attention.

David Fischler
Woodbridge, VA

reformedpastor said...

Out of curiosity, I read the "paper" by Noh Jong Sun, who claims to have a Ph.D from Union Seminary in NY and an M.Div from Harvard. I assumed that it was written in Korean and translated by the author into English, which I also assumed he (she?) must have some facility in, to be able to get advanced degrees from American schools. I was astounded both by the translation (which sounded as if it was done by someone with less command of the language than the typical high school graduate), and even more by the content. I'm not being excessively critical, I don't think, to say that such a paper would garner a failing grade in almost any college freshman political science class. I've really got to wonder how a person who could right such rambling, incoherent drivel, full of assertion but utterly lacking in argument, could have made it through the degree programs claimed. Either the author is lying about his/her qualifications, or the schools in question have some 'splainin to do.

reformedpastor said...

That should be "write," not "right"--kind of embarrassing in a critique of someone else's writing, but it's still early in the morning. :-)

Viola Larson said...

Not all of the papers are badly written, but I am surprised by some and felt it must be the attempt, in Noh Jong Sun's case, to see his country and leader as the most important issue.

I have just read another article by him on the web. The writing is much clearer, I think that depends on the Editors and translators. However there is still that sense of incoherence because theological terms are still being used as political words.

Viola Larson said...

Jong Sun Noh may have moved on and now teaches at those universities but on the article I just read this is his bio:

"Jong-Sun Noh has taught at Yonsei University, Soonjun University, and Korea Christian Academy in Seoul. He studied at Yonsei University, Harvard Divinity School, Yale Divinity School, and Union Theological Seminary in New York. Among his publications are Social Ethics and Christianity, First World Theology and Third World Critique, and Religion and Just Revolution."

You can find that at:
Viola Larson
sacramento, CA

Anonymous said...

"Studied at" doesn't mean anything. Could have been a high school summer program.

But it might have fooled an unsophisticated review panel more interested in the country of origin than checking credentials attached to an abstract.

Viola Larson said...


Good point but you need to leave your full name, city and state.
Viola Larson
sacramento, Ca