James Cone, Jesus Christ, & the Perils of Liberation Theology

Liberation Theology violates Scripture and our own confessional commitments.

As I reflect more broadly on our current context, I’ve become convinced of two things: While Southern Baptists do not have a wide-spread problem with Liberation Theology, some lingering questions persist. Secondly, most people in the pew do not know what Liberation Theology is, or why it is worthy of concern and critique. As for me, my concerns over Liberation Theology are long-standing, entrenched, and, evidently, timely. 

 

Theological conflict often occurs in unlikely places. Such was the case a few years ago on the campus of Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary. I found myself hosting a site-visit team from our regional accrediting agency; a visit that on the front end appeared innocuous enough.

Yet, as we convened in the President’s Office, I sensed trouble on the horizon. The conversation started awkwardly, but then it took a turn for the worse. One of our visitors proposed I structure our budget to enhance theological diversity on our faculty by hiring a professor to teach Liberation Theology.

To be fair, she wasn’t particularly hostile nor was she aware how out-of-bounds her suggestion would fall.  She was simply from an altogether different institutional setting and operating from an altogether different theological and cultural framework. I responded that I couldn’t—and wouldn’t—do that because Liberation Theology violates Scripture and our own confessional commitments.

Recently I tweeted an even more abbreviated version of that story. My tweet was occasioned by two things: ongoing questions I’m fielding over Liberation Theology, and, most of all, a student conversation that afternoon. In fact, the second is what prompted my tweet.

The New York Times Strikes Again

New York Times article on these issues recently caused a stir. The pile-on that ensued against Dr. Walter Strickland revealed, once again, the underbelly of social media. When brothers and sisters within our confessional community misspeak or are misquoted, we owe them time to clarify themselves, and Dr. Strickland has now kindly and clearly done that

To seek clarity is not an injustice, it’s a necessity. Parts of the article, at face value, were worthy of concern. I understand why those who read the article without context or personal familiarity with Dr. Strickland might have been alarmed. Dr. Strickland evidently sensed the same and penned an excellent article of clarification.

But, for me, Dr. Strickland’s clarification was altogether unsurprising. All along, my would-be concerns were ameliorated because I know Dr. Strickland, Dr. Danny Akin, and the gifted and convictional colleagues he’s assembled at Southeastern Seminary. All who know them know of their faithfulness to Scripture, to the gospel of Jesus Christ, and to the Baptist Faith & Message 2000.

As I reflect more broadly on our current context, I’ve become convinced of two things: While Southern Baptists do not have a wide-spread problem with Liberation Theology, some lingering questions persist. Secondly, most people in the pew do not know what Liberation Theology is, or why it is worthy of concern and critique. As for me, my concerns over Liberation Theology are long-standing, entrenched, and, evidently, timely. Thus, when asked about it last week, I felt the need to speak publicly on Liberation Theology specifically.

Walking Softly & Speaking Humbly

As one who grew up in the Deep South, I’ve seen racism in its ugliest, most putrid forms. But I must confess, as a white man, I can only see dimly. That’s why on issues of race, I want to listen more than I want to talk. I want to ask questions more than I want to give answers. I want a humble self-awareness that instructs me of my inability to perceive rightly the burdens many of our brothers and sisters—past and present—endure.

More broadly, as it relates to the entire social justice movement, many of us are feeling our way through the conversation, seeking how best to be biblically faithful and pastorally wise. My aim here is not to engage the social justice movement as a whole, nor attendant issues like critical race theory, intersectionality, reparations, etcetera. That’s outside the confines of any one book, much less any one article.

Nonetheless, on the issue of Liberation Theology, we must make sure we stand sturdy. On issues of race, we must speak with humility and grace, but that must not preclude us from speaking with clarity and boldness on issues of orthodoxy.  This brings me to Liberation Theology, why it’s heterodox, and why it all matters.

What’s Wrong with Liberation Theology?

I first encountered Liberation Theology as an undergraduate student at Spring Hill College, a Jesuit institution in my hometown of Mobile, Alabama. Though I was a new believer and lacked a sufficient theological vocabulary and framework to engage it, even then I sensed it was a departure from the gospel of salvation by grace through faith in Christ.

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