God the Liberator: Theology, History, Politics

Primer on Liberation Theology

god-liberatorLuis Rivera-Pagan is an emeritus professor from Princeton and has contributed some content to the Spanish-language Progressive Christian magazine Lupa Protestante (twitter). I’ve only recently discovered LP and I’m thankful for Google Translate that helps those of us without language skills to read the content.

So imagine my joy to find that one of Professor Rivera-Pagan’s recent articles is an English-language full-length paper on Liberation Theology: Its history and its current incarnations in a variety of theological concerns. I almost squealed with glee after scrolling and realizing it was going to be a long but accessible paper to those used to academic writing. It’s a terrific primer on Liberation Theology and traces its influence on a variety of people groups: feminist, womanist, queer, etc.

Yes, I’m a nerd. But it’s a good article and I’d welcome people more familiar with liberation theology to comment on its accuracy or persuasiveness.

From the paper, here’s what Luis Rivera-Pagan articulates to be the main tenets of liberation theology:


What could be considered to be the main tenets of this theological movement?

1)      The retrieval of the subversive memories inscribed in the sacred scriptures, hidden below layers of cultic regulations and doctrinal orthodoxies, but never totally effaced. A specific hermeneutical and exegetical concentration in the Exodus story as a paradigm of the liberating character of God’s actions, in the prophetic denunciations of injustice and oppression, and in the confrontations of the historical Jesus against the Judean religious authorities and Roman political powers and his solidarity with the nobodies of Judea and Galilee.

2)      A historical understanding of Jesus’s proclamation of God’s kingdom. The kingdom is conceived as referring not to some otherworldly postmortem realm, but to the unceasing hope of a social configuration characterized by justice, solidarity, and freedom. Leonardo Boff and Jon Sobrino perceive Jesus as the Liberator, going back to the semantic roots of the term redemption (the deliverance of a captive or slave). 

3)      The divine preferential option for the poor, the excluded, and the destitute of this world. The church has to become the church of the poor, sharing their sorrows, hopes and struggles. Initially the accent was mainly socioeconomic, but it was gradually widen to include other categories of social exclusion (indigenous communities, racial and ethnic minorities, women).

4)      Theology cannot be reduced to an intellectual understanding of the faith, but must also be a practical commitment for historical transformation. The category of praxis, partly borrowed from Paulo Freire’s pedagogy of liberation, partly an adaptation of Marx’s eleventh thesis on Feuerbach (“philosophers have hitherto only interpreted the world in various ways; the point is to change it”), acquired normative status. History, therefore, as the realm of the perennial struggle against oppressions and exclusions, emerged as the locus for Christian praxis.

5)      God is reconceived not as an immutable and impassible entelechy but, according to the biblical narratives, as a compassionate Eternal Spirit that hears and pays close attention to the cry of the oppressed and whose action in human history has the redemption of the downtrodden and excluded as its ultimate telos. Herein might be located liberation theology’s main theoretical epistemological rupture and reconfiguration: a novel way of thinking about God’s being and action in history. Instead of contriving arcane scholastic definitions of divine essence, God is referred to as Liberator.


I would hope one day that our Hacking Hermeneutic might be considered under Liberation theology, but I think there’s too much privilege in hacking circles to be authentically part of that perspective. Until then, I’ll be content to read articles like this. I hope you enjoy it as much as I did.

LINK: God the Liberator by Luis Rivera-Pagan

Thoughts? Comments?

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  1. Txcon says

    This was a great article – thanks for posting the link. The question the article raised for me but did not address is in the hunt to “retrieve subversive memories in the text,” some of which are directly opposed by a literal reading, do you render the Scripture a Rorschach blot, devoid of any other meaning beyond other than the one sought by the reader?


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