Posted by: Dan | May 15, 2006

Good News for Whom?

Liberation theology gives the gospel back its credibility.
~ Leonardo and Clodovis Boff

The proclamation of the gospel is to be a proclamation of good news. After all, “gospel” means “good news”. As contemporary Christians, it is worth asking the question: for whom is our gospel good news?

Within the world in which Jesus lived there were various gospel proclamations in competition with one another. In particular the gospel of Jesus, the good news of Jesus, competed with the gospel of Caesar, the good news of the Emperor. The word gospel, within the Roman Empire in the first century, would be heard as a political term, a term that related to the question of lordship. The Roman empire proclaimed a gospel that said that Caesar was Lord, while the early Christians burst onto the scene proclaiming a gospel that said that Jesus, and not Caesar, was Lord.

Thus, the gospel of Caesar was proclaimed every time the Emperor won a victory. The triumph of Caesar was good news for the elites — the wealthy, the established, the powerful, and the comfortable. Every victory won by Caesar was good news for the status quo.

However, the gospel of Jesus was proclaimed as good news for the poor. The victory won by Jesus was good news for the dispossessed, the helpless, the outcasts, the persecuted, and the sinners. On the cross, Jesus overcome all the brute force and violence of Rome, he overcome the separation that existed between God and humanity, and in his resurrection he revealed that transformation of an unimaginable sort was now bursting into the present moment of human existence. And this news is somewhat disconcerting to the status quo. It reveals that even the powerful must be held accountable, and resisted when necessary. It displays the corruption that goes hand in hand with wealth and comfort, and it asserts that one day the first will be last and the last will be first.

It is this gospel proclamation that the liberation theology birthed in Latin in America has sought to recover. This is why the Boff brothers are correct to assert the liberation theology “gives the gospel back its credibility”. By “credibility” we must not think that liberation theology makes the gospel more culturally relevant, nor must we think that it makes the gospel more pragmatic, rather recovering credibility means a recovery of true Christian identity. Simply put, liberation theology calls all of us Western Christians to stop living as liars. When we honestly embody the gospel of Jesus that is fundamentally good news for the poor, then we will once again be credible.

It saddens me how far the Western Church (and I include myself as a member of this Church) has strayed from this vocation. I had the privilege of listening to Bishop Tom Wright speak on this topic last week (actually, I'm hoping to blog about Wright's seminars and the discussions I was able to have with him but I'll save all that for later), and he too lamented how much of the Church has drifted. Wright compared much of the Western Church to a lighthouse keeper who decides to set up mirrors in order to keep all the light within the house… and then either turns a blind eye to all the ships that crash or the rocks, or blames the ships themselves for being unable to see in the darkness. Instead, Wright said, the Western Church must become like the early Church — God's groaning place in the midst of the darkest places of the world. He used the example of Christian communities in the first centuries that would remain in plague stricken cities — even after the wealthy (including all the doctors!) had fled — and care for the sick and dying, often becoming sick and dying with the others. This, Wright argued, should be the model that our Church seeks to emulate.

And I agree. When the Church embraces the poor, when the Church returns to the ghettoes, when the Church embraces those who suffer from AIDS, when the Church chooses to journey alongside of all those who are in pain, who are abandoned, and who are oppressed today — and genuinely enters into that pain, abandonment, and oppression — then we will once again be a body proclaiming a credible gospel.

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