theological reflections at the intersection of (my) perception with reality
Friday, May 2, 2008
Liberation Theology, Allan Boesak and the Gospel
Several weeks ago, coinciding with the anniversary of Martin Luther King Jr.'s untimely death, Allan Boesak gave several powerful addresses, sermons and lectures, at Bethel University. Boesak is often called the MLK, Jr. of South Africa for his personal sacrifice and efforts toward the abolishing of Apartheid and racism. He was, then, a fitting choice to challenge a student body with the implications of the Gospel for our culture.
Often in evangelical circles we speak of The Gospel as if it consists of four propositional statements alone: (1) God is just and righteous, (2) All persons have sinned against God. (3) God sent Jesus as the atoning sacrifice for our sins. (4) If people will repent of their sins, accept Jesus' sacrifice on their behalf, and turn to God in faith through Jesus they can have eternal life. Raised in an evangelical environment all of my life, I assumed that these four statements pretty much summed up the Gospel.
Boesak spoke passionately about "the Gospel," and how South African Black liberation theologians, following in the wake of Martin Luther King's efforts in our own country, attempted (and succeeded, for a time) to facilitate the explosion of the power of the Gospel in their economically and socially unjust society, which was structured around the systemic sin of racism. His continual reference of "the Gospel" in this context impelled me to ask him a question during one of the Q&A times: Dr. Boesak, in your understanding, what, exactly, is "the Gospel"?
His answer was compelling in its brevity. He said (something like), "I'd rather give you Jesus's presentation of the Gospel, from Luke chapter 4:18: The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to preach good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to release the oppressed, to proclaim the year of the Lord's favor.
The "Gospel" literally means "Good news." Boesak, like many liberation and contextual theologians, is pointing out that the message and hope of Jesus must apply to people's lives in the here and now, not just to eternal life out there (somewhere) off in the distance when we die. It is hard to read the Gospels honestly and not admit that Jesus has, in some sense, a "preference for the poor." He didn't come to pamper the rich and coddle high society. He brought hope, healing and liberation to the oppressed.
The recovery of this important aspect of the Gospel, however, needn't force us to lose sight of the work of Christ in the cross and resurrection. Ultimately, whether rich or poor, our hope does not lie in temporal goods (even those considered essentials for living; rather, our hope rests in Christ as the mediator of eternal life, granted through forgiveness of sins and adoption to the family of God. If we forget either side of the coin, we've missed the point of the whole. It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. But there is bondage, potentially, on both sides of death.
I'm a theology professor at Bethel Seminary in St. Paul, MN. I teach about Kierkegaard and postmodernity, theology and contemporary culture, the doctrine of salvation, theological perspectives on evil and suffering, and contemporary issues in the person and work of Christ. I enjoying cracking the mysteries of "Lost" with my beautiful wife, Sara.