Liberation theology gained momentum last century as a liberal alternative to growing Evangelicalism, but without much widespread success. Its themes rooted in neo-Marxist identity politics failed to resonate beyond liberal elites, and liberation theology reached the apex of its limited popularity half a century ago.
Despite its marginal popular appeal, some Mainline Protestant clergy still push liberation theology today. Look no further than the ultra-progressive and perennially shrinking United Church of Christ (UCC). Rev. Kenneth L. Samuel – identified as “Pastor of Victory” at the World Church in Stone Mountain, Georgia – authored a devotion entitled “Lord of Liberation” on behalf of the UCC on October 8.
“Liberation Theology is a lens through which God is understood and related to as the Divine Being who sets us free from the sins of every kind of oppression,” Rev. Samuel wrote. “This understanding of God is especially vital to persons who have historically and systemically experienced bondage… even bondage that has been sanctioned by the church.”
Rev. Samuel said that God commanded the devotion of ancient Israelites as “the Divine Agent of their liberation,” having freed them “economic and political exploitation” in Egypt. Christians should thus feel empowered to live their “best life today” by drawing on God’s salvific work.
Blurring the lines between liberation theology and the prosperity gospel, Rev. Samuel went on to reference feel-good comments by Oprah Winfrey about achieving joy and freedom. Wrapping up his post, Rev. Samuel quoted Jesus Christ: “Whoever the Son sets free, is free indeed.”
This post by Rev. Samuel begs some obvious questions. How is the biblically faithful Gospel of Jesus Christ distinctive from pop-culture self-help voices like Oprah Winfrey and pseudo-Christian prosperity evangelists like Joel Osteen? Is there more to the Christian salvation than achieving liberation from classism and colonial tyranny in this fallen world?
As traditionally understood, the Gospel begins with personal repentance, redemption from sin, and individual spiritual transformation, rather than achieving freedom from worldly burdens. Of course the Gospel has real-world ramifications for pursuing justice. But Christianity is not primarily an economic or political ideology.
If the Good News we preach begins with anything besides receiving personal forgiveness, defeating bondage to sin, and pursuing eternal life, purchased by the atoning blood Jesus Christ on the Cross, then we aren’t preaching the real Christian Gospel. It’s something else.
Only the true Christian Gospel has power to invigorate hardhearted humans with spiritual life. So it’s not surprising that the fastest-declining denominations are those like the UCC, which remain focused on preaching liberation theology and other messages that distort the Gospel.
Perhaps some Mainline Protestants could use a reminder from the Apostle Paul. He warned the Corinthians, lest they had “believed in vain,” against forgetting the substance of the true biblical Gospel:
“Now I would remind you, brothers, of the gospel preached to you, which you received, in which you stand, and by which you are being saved, if you hold fast to the word I preached to you—unless you believed in vain. For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures, and that he appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve.” (1 Corinthians 15:1-5, ESV)