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The Claims of Liberation Theology

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Liberation theology is a broad and variegated phenomenon. It encompasses a wide range of ways of thinking the faith in the face of oppression. Of course, when one speaks of liberation theology, one is generally using the term in reference to its expression in published form, and this is the sense in which it will most often be used in this essay. But it is important not to lose sight of the rich and fruitful thinking at the "base" level that feeds the professional work through which liberation theology has become known throughout the world.

What unites these three levels of theological-liberational thought? It is the one basic inspiration: a faith that transforms history, or, as others would put it, history seen from the basis of the ferment of faith. This means that the liberation theology of a Gustavo Gutié rrez is substantially the same as that of a Christian laborer in northeastern Brazil. The basic content is the same. The sap that feeds the branches of the tree is the same sap that passes through the trunk and rises from the hidden roots underground.

The distinction between the levels is in their logic, but more specifically in their language. Theology can be more or less articulate; popular theology will be expressed in everyday speech, with its spontaneity and feeling, whereas professional theology adopts a more scholarly language, with the structure and restraint proper to it. It is not hard to see what liberation theology is when one starts at its roots— that is, by examining what the base communities do when they read the Bible and compare it with the oppression and longing for liberation in their own lives.

But this is just what professional liberation theology is doing: it is simply doing it in a more sophisticated way. On the middle level, pastoral theology uses a language and approach that draw on both the ground level and the scholarly level. Truth, in the Bible, includes fidelity, justice, and firmness. To believe is to have confidence, to give oneself to God, to be faithful. God is worthy of faith because he is truthful, for, as the prophets often repeat in the Old Testament, his word is firm and he always fulfills what he promises.

The fulfillment takes place in history, and thus, God appears truthful throughout history. Christ is the fulfillment of the Father's promise which makes us his children in him.   This is according to the acts and words of Jesus. The Father fulfills his promise in the death and resurrection of Jesus.  

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