This was a 3-year program, and earlier this week I submitted my dissertation, which I worked on for the past year. I learned so much over the past three years, but I am also glad to be finished.
The title of my dissertation was “Views on the Perspicuity of Scripture in the Reformation and Patristic Periods, and What They Mean for Theology Today”
Working on my dissertation is the main reason why I have not been writing as much lately on this blog.
Now that I’m done with school, I intend to write more, including several articles based on the topic of my dissertation, in case you’re curious what the “perspicuity of Scripture” is or what conclusions I came to.
I just hope they won’t cancel the graduation ceremony, as a trip to London when I was finished was part of how I got my wife and kids on board with supporting me to do this program!
The deaths of George Floyd and Ahmaud Arbery have led not only to widespread protests against police brutality and systemic racial bias, but have also led many evangelical Christians to pay more attention to the importance of temporal justice as it relates to the gospel.
The following is an essay I wrote as an assignment for a class on Liberation Theology when I was working on my first degree in theology. Several kinds of liberation theologies have been proposed since it was first articulated: Latin American, African American, Feminist, and one I find particularly intriguing: handicapped liberation theology.
What is liberation theology, does it have validity, and is there anything we can learn from it? Hopefully this essay answers some of those questions for you:
An Evaluation of the Key Contributions of Latin American Liberation Theology to Modern Theology
Latin American liberation theology is a distinct form of theology which originated in the Latin American situation of the 1960s and 1970s, particularly in South America. Although it arose from this particular setting, liberation theology has contributed to modern theology by raising significant practical and theological questions for Christians, such as the nature of salvation, the proper approach to hermeneutics, e.g. the starting point and sources of theology, and what the Bible says regarding politics, poverty and oppression.
Liberation theology is unabashedly a product of a particular historical situation. Latin America, even today, is the region of the world with the greatest economic and social inequality, where an elite minority possesses almost all the wealth, and the majority of people live in crushing poverty, with the poor often suffering and dying unnecessarily from lack of adequate food, healthcare and nutrition.
In seeking a solution to this problem, and functioning from an Enlightenment, ‘modern’ view of the the world, attempts were made in the 1950s and 1960s to bring development to LatinAmerica. These efforts did not succeed in improving the lot of the poor masses and many turned to an alternative analysis of the problem: Latin America does not suffer from underdevelopment, but from oppression; the real problem being unjust political, economic and social structures, both within individual countries and between the region and the developed world, that created and perpetuate the poverty and suffering of the great majority of the population.
A major factor in the development of liberation theology was the social teaching of Vatican II concerning human dignity and the need for structural change. Latin American bishops met in Medellín, Colombia in 1968 to discuss the implications of Vatican II for Latin America; the papers adopted by this council became the founding documents of liberation theology. The bishops talked about what Christianity had to say to the poor that had been neglected in the way that the gospel had been presented, and about a link between salvation and liberation from oppression.
The consensus of this meeting was that in many places in Latin America there existed a situation of injustice that should be recognised as ‘institutional violence,’ because the existing structures violated basic human rights; they said that this situation called for ‘far-reaching, daring, urgent changes.’
Other notable influences in the formation of liberation theology are political theology, Marxism, and popular religion. Jürgen Moltmann and political theology in Germany challenged the typical European theologian’s detachment from political objectives, Marxism was used by liberation theologians as a tool of social analysis and philosophy of history, and popular religion brought attention to the cultural specificity of distinct people groups as regards religious practices.
Some of the most influential figures in the formation of liberation theology are Gustavo Gutiérrez, Leonardo Boff and Jon Sobrino. Liberation theology is a diffuse movement, but there are some defining characteristics, most notably its orientation towards the poor and oppressed.
In liberation theology, Scripture is not read from the standpoint of wishing to understand the gospel, but out of the concern to apply its liberating insights to the situation of the poor and oppressed. Salvation is interpreted in terms of socio-political liberation and there is the notion of ‘structural sin’ – the belief that society, rather than the individual, is corrupted and requires redemption. Political, economic and social structures that keep the poor down must be abolished.
There is a fundamental belief that theology is not and should not be detached from social involvement or political action. It is argued that political neutrality is not possible for the church and that to profess neutrality is to support the status quo, which in the case of oppression is to support the oppressors rather than the oppressed. To do so, as the Roman Catholic Church in Latin America did for many years, is to go against God, who, in the words of José Míguez Bonino, is ‘clearly and unequivocally on the side of the poor.’ Thus, if God is on the side ofthe poor, then the church must also be on the side of the poor, and act on their behalf; it is then, from that position of active involvement, that a person does theology. This is the reason why Gutiérrez describes liberation theology as ‘a new way to do theology.’
Whereas classical Western theology regarded action as the result of reflection, liberation theology inverts the order: action (‘praxis’) comes first, followed by critical reflection – thus there is a rejection of the Enlightenment view that commitment to an ideology is a barrier to knowledge. In fact, according to Sobrino, ‘the poor are the theological source for understanding Christian truth and practice’.
One of the ways liberation theology has contributed to modern theology is that it has brought attention to the biblical theme of God’s concern for the oppressed and the vulnerable members of society, which is especially apparent in the Old Testament law and prophets, but is also a theme of the New Testament, e.g. in much of Jesus’ preaching and in the Epistle of James.
In bringing attention to this biblical theme, liberation theology has contributed to the current concern across the spectrum of Christianity for issues of social justice, which, beyond simply giving aid to the poor, are concerned with taking action to change social structures that enable oppression and exploitation of some human beings by others – even by working to change policies to defend and protect the poor, weak, and vulnerable. This is certainly not something completely new to Christianity; others, e.g. John Wesley, were known for their concerns for social justice, but it is certainly a major focus in modern theology, and has influenced Christian views on such topics as civil rights for women, minorities and other people who could be seen to be kept down by social structures.
Closely tied to this is the movement in modern theology away from the Enlightenment view that faith and politics are two separate spheres. Liberation theology has raised awareness of the political nature of faith, and that theology is not just something to be learned, but also something to be put into practice in our particular historical and political settings.
Liberation theology has also contributed to the recognition that all theological reflection takes place in a social context, and therefore different social situations give rise to different theological questions, so that the theological questions that are relevant in one part of the world are different than those that are relevant in another part of the world. For example, whereas Western cultures struggle with issues of faith in their post-Enlightenment context of skepticism, science and technology, other parts of the world like Africa and Latin America struggle with issues of faith in a post-colonial context of poverty, injustice and inequality. Whereas westerners might see defending the supernatural nature of God a pertinent theological issue, it may not be such in a place like Africa, where the supernatural is readily accepted, but where the pertinent theological issue is rather ‘where is the God of righteousness in a world of injustice?’ Liberation theology has contributed to the concept that if the Bible is a universal book, then it has something to say to people in every historical and social setting, addressing the issues they face.
Liberation theology has also shown a new way of doing theology – a new hermeneutic, shaped by praxis as opposed to the more traditional way of doing theology by a detached ‘objective’ determination of theological truth which then shapes ethical thought, which in turn drives practical action. Liberation theology has encouraged us to take more seriously the socio-cultural setting of the Bible and brought attention to the blindness of an interpreter to his or her own set of socio-cultural presuppositions.
Liberation theology does not even claim to be objective, because it begins not only with a situation, but with a particular analysis of that situation. It is in this way that Latin American liberation theology has provided a hermeneutical framework for other forms of liberation theology, e.g. feminist theology and black theology. This is also one of the inherent issues that the Vatican pointed out in 1984 in a document titled Instruction on Certain Aspects of the Theology of Liberation. While it affirmed the ‘preferential option for the poor’ and urged Christians to ‘become involved in the struggle for justice, freedom and human dignity’, it also warned against starting with a revolutionary praxis rather than belief, because to do so means that all contrary ideas are automatically discredited as reflecting the class interests of the oppressors.
This is precisely the disagreement between the proponents of the various liberation theologies: since they begin doing theology with praxis, what do they do with parts of the Scriptures which seem to contradict their beliefs or predetermined analysis of the situation? How does feminist liberation theology deal with verses such as 1 Corinthians 14:34- 35? Since liberation theology begins with praxis, Scripture is not the primary source of theology, therefore the Bible will be interpreted in light of the given agenda and related experiences.
Liberation theology has also contributed to modern theological discussion by stirring up discussion of a number of theological issues, such as the nature of salvation, the significance of the incarnation, what a Christian’s attitude should be towards politics and the government, and the implications of various eschatological beliefs.
Liberation theology does highlight the important biblical theme of God’s care for the poor, but on the other hand, Jesus seems to say that having a good life on this Earth is secondary to the salvation of one’s soul (Mk 8:36).
Liberation theology presents a legitimate protest against the over-spiritualisation of the biblical theme of poverty, but on the other hand, the Bible speaks of the wealth and poverty in regard to spiritual things as well (2 Cor. 6:10, 8:9; Lk. 12:13-21).
Liberation theology stirs up discussion on eschatology as well; is this world doomed and only going to get worse, until it is eventually destroyed and replaced (2 Pet. 3:7-13), or is this world and everything in it being redeemed by God, and any work we do of liberation is taking an active part in the redemptive work of God?
Should we as Christians rightly challenge the governments of the places we live, even if they are evil; should we work for top-down change in social structures – or should we simply seek to be a blessing to the place where we live (Jer. 29:7) and submit to the governing authorities, accepting them as those appointed by God for us? (Rom. 13:1-7) After all, Jesus lived in an oppressed society, but although he could have, the New Testament tells us he did not incite political revolution, nor encourage his followers to do so. However, although liberation theology may have incited such discussions, finding answers for these questions by studying the scriptures is not its main prerogative. Liberation theology is focused on doing theology from the perspective of the poor and oppressed and for purpose of the liberation and empowerment of the poor and oppressed.
In conclusion, Liberation theology was one of the most significant theological movements of the twentieth century; it has irretrievably changed the theological landscape. It has been both a product and a catalyst of modern shifts in thinking. Liberation theology highlighted the liberative nature of Christianity and the biblical theme of the concern that God has, not only for the spiritually poor and oppressed, but for those who are physically poor and oppressed and suffering in this life. It has raised awareness of the social structures that support and propagate oppression and has challenged us to consider how God feels about both our actions and our inactions for our fellow human beings. Liberation theology has discouraged us from viewing life as sterile and compartmentalised, and encouraged us to see it rather as a unified whole, in which areas such as theology, sociology, politics and economics are not separate, but rather intimately related. It has also shown a new paradigm for doing theology, driven by praxis. It has provoked all people who do theology to realize their own cultural blinders and to listen to the cry of the poor and see what God’s word says to them.
Bauckham, R., ‘Jürgen Moltmann’ in The Modern Theologians: An Introduction to Christian Theology Since 1918, 3rd edn, ed. by D. Ford and R. Muers (Oxford:Blackwell, 2005), pp. 147-162
Boff, L., ‘Christ’s Liberation via Oppression: an Attempt at Theological Reconstruction from the Standpoint of Latin America’, in Frontiers of Theology in Latin America, ed. R. Gibellini, (London: SCM Press, 1975), pp. 100-132
Chopp, R.S. and E. Regan, ‘Latin American Liberation Theology’ in The Modern Theologians: An Introduction to Christian Theology Since 1918, 3rd edn, ed. by D. Ford and R. Muers (Oxford: Blackwell, 2005), pp. 469-484
When I left on March 5 to Hungary and Ukraine, there was no recommendation not to travel to those areas – and even now there are very few cases of COVID-19. I am deeply concerned by the threat that this virus poses to the vulnerable and immune-compromised around the world, and am committed to doing my part to prevent the spreading of the virus.
That being said, here is an update on what Mike and I were up to in Hungary and Ukraine:
Expositors Collective Budapest
The Expositors Collective is a growing network of pastors and leaders who are committed to raising up the next generation of Christ-centered Bible teachers and preachers through interactive training seminars and a weekly podcast.
Just last week, the Expositors Collective celebrated two years since our first training weekend in Thousand Oaks, CA!
Since that first event, we have hosted 8 training seminars, the latest being the one in Budapest, which was a bit of a hybrid: as opposed to our usual 2-day format, we condensed it into a 1-day event, which required leaving out some aspects of our usual training.
Budapest was also our first time working in a bilingual setting, as we had people in attendance not only from Hungary, but from surrounding countries, including Slovakia, Serbia, and Romania, as well as students from Calvary Chapel Bible College Europe.
The training went very well, and there is interest for Expositors Collective events in other European countries, as well as for the full 2-day version in Budapest at some point in the future.
Visiting Missionaries & Speaking at Churches
White Fields supports several missionaries around the world, mostly in Eastern Europe. (See: White Fields Missions) On this trip, I was able to visit all of our European missionaries except one, beginning with the Németh family in South Budapest. I had the opportunity to preach at their church, Golgota Dél-Pest. I loved getting to preach in Hungarian again. The video of that sermon is embedded below.
On Monday, March 9, Mike and I flew to Kyiv, Ukraine – where we were met by missionaries and friends: George Markey (senior pastor of Calvary Chapel Kyiv), and Nate Medlong, who serves in Kharkiv, Ukraine with Calvary Chapel Kharkiv and Fostering Hope ministry to children in foster care. Mike then took a train to Ternopil, in western Ukraine to visit missionaries there, and I went to Kharkiv with Nate to spend a few days with him, his family, and people from their church.
I taught the Thursday night service at the church in Kharkiv, after a quick trip up to Kyiv Thursday morning to speak at Ukrainian Evangelical Theological Seminary, where I taught two 80-minute classes on Spiritual Formation.
This past Sunday I taught at Calvary Chapel Kyiv, their last service before the national quarantine began. Video of that message is embedded below as well.
Calvary Chapel Ukraine Leadership Conference
On Friday-Saturday we had 65 Calvary Chapel leaders from all over Ukraine gather in Irpin for the annual leadership conference. This was a time of teaching, training, and discussing leadership principles from God’s Word in order to help us lead our churches well. Click here for photos of the conference.
With the spread of COVID-19, these gatherings are no longer possible or wise, but in God’s providence we were able to hold them while it was still safe and wise to do so.
It was a fruitful time of ministry, and great times of fellowship with people who are doing important work in a place where it is very needed. Please keep the work of these leaders and churches in your prayers that God would bless and use their ministries for His glory and for the good of many people!
The idea for the series comes from James 5:10, where James tells us to “remember the prophets who spoke in the name of the Lord. Take them as examples of patient endurance under suffering.” In this series, we will be looking at a different Old Testament prophet each week, considering their lives and their messages and what we can learn from them.
We are moving through them chronologically, and so began with Amos, an interesting person with an important message. Click here to listen to that message: Amos: Faith that Works
This Sunday we will continue the series by looking at Hosea, a gripping story of adultery and faithfulness which gives us insight into God’s heart.
Resources for Studying the Prophets
Generally speaking, the prophetic books are not well known by many people who even regularly read the Bible. Part of the reason for that is because of the negative tone of some of the books, as well as the feeling that without understanding the context of the books, they don’t make sense.
People have asked me at times what books or materials are good to use if they want to get to know the prophetic books better. Here are my top two recommendations:
I had the pleasure of studying under Gordon McConville at the University of Gloucestershire in England, where he is professor of Old Testament theology. This was one of my text books, but is part of a great series from Inter-Varsity Press and is very accessible to the average reader and also scholarly at the same time.
On the scholarly side, this book tends to get a little bit into the weeds about theological discussions and debates, but the introductions and outlines of the books, their themes and their structures are very good. In other words, you can use it to go as deep as you’re ready to go.
When I first became a pastor, one of my mentors told me, “You’re going to need some books.” He then walked me into the book store at the church we were at and pulled Jensen’s surveys of the Old Testament and New Testament off the shelf and handed them to me.
The benefit to these books published by Moody Press is that rather than being a commentary that tells you information, they instead instruct you about how to ask the right questions. Thus, you are the one doing the exegetical work, or the inductive Bible study, rather than just passively receiving information. They do, however, give you important background information in order to get the context you need, but they also tell you where to go to get that context if it is found in other places in the Bible.
I hope these resources are helpful for you, as they have been for me!
Did you know that the Leaning Tower of Pisa is not the only leaning tower in Pisa? There are actually several leaning towers in Pisa as a result of the soft soil in that area.
Did you know that the Leaning Tower of Pisa originally leaned in the other direction? As the builders saw the tower beginning to lean, they built the subsequent levels with one side higher in an attempt to straighten it out by putting more weight on the one side. It ended up being an overcorrection which resulted in the tower leaning in the opposite direction, in which it currently leans.
The Leaning Tower of Pisa as a Picture of the Importance of Theological Method
In my studies at LST I have been studying the topic of theological method. Everyone who thinks about God or the Bible does so methodologically, although they do so with varying degrees of self-awareness and consistency.
There are 5 universally recognized sources of theology: Scripture, Tradition, Reason, Experience and Community.
The way in which a person orders these, the role they believe each of these play, how much importance or credence they give to each one, and how they believe each relates to the other are the questions that go into play in one’s theological method.
Basically: theological method is about the foundations of how we think about God and the Bible.
What we learn from the Leaning Tower of Pisa is that foundations are pretty important. And what happens if you build on a poor foundation, or don’t take care about the foundation you lay – the mistakes the builders in Pisa made – then you will likely end up with a faulty edifice.
Another thing that can happen if you don’t pay attention to foundations is that, like in Pisa, you will end up trying to save your edifice by trying to compensate or over-correct, in which case you may end up leaning in the opposite direction. As Martin Luther said, many of us are like a drunk man trying to ride a horse, who – upon falling off the one side, resolves not to make that mistake again, so he remounts, careful to avoid falling of on the left, and promptly falls off on the right.
A proper theological method will always be driven by Scripture. Reason is a God-given ability which helps us understand His divine revelation, but one which does have its limits in fallen humanity. Tradition is about recognizing the historic interpretations of the Bible by the Body of Christ, such as the Trinity. Again, tradition is not without its errors either, as it has humanity’s fingerprints on it, so this cannot be what drives our theology either. Experience is effective in confirming what we read in Scripture, but what about when we feel something that seems contrary to what the Bible teaches? In these cases, we are to interpret our experiences by the Scriptures, not the other way around. And our community obviously shapes how we read Scripture, but we are to apply the Scriptures to our times and places rather than changing our understandings of Biblical truths based on present cultural mores. Scripture, God’s revelation of Himself, is the proper foundation.
Here is a short video about the Leaning Tower of Pisa:
I just got back on Saturday night from a 2-week trip, during which I was in NYC, Turkey, Hungary, Ukraine – then a quick jaunt to Southern California, before making my way back home just in time for daylight savings! My internal clock was so confused by that point that losing one more hour of sleep didn’t even register.
Hagia Sofia, Istanbul
NYC from the top of the Empire State Building
The purpose for the European trip was to visit White Fields‘ missionaries and ministry partners in Hungary and Ukraine. I got to spend time with Pastor Jani and others from Golgota Eger, the church my wife and I started back in 2005. We also spent time in Budapest at Golgota Budapest and with the leaders of the Anonymous Ways Foundation which helps to rescue women out of sex-trafficking.
Pastor Jani – Golgota Eger
Pastor Laci – Golgota Délpest
After a few short days in Hungary, we flew to Kiev, Ukraine where Mike and I taught at a Pastors and Leaders Conference for Calvary Chapel Ukraine. Our topic was “movement dynamics” and we gave biblical and practical instruction about leading missional churches for about 50 pastors and church leaders from all over Ukraine.
After church we spent some time with George Markey, one of the pastors of Calvary Kiev, and he shared with us the vision for urban church planting in Kiev – a city of about 5 million people. Their vision is to plant 30 churches in Kiev in 5 years! This year their goal was to begin with 2 church plants, and God has already raised up people for those in the northern Obolon region of the city and in the southern Teremky region. Please join in praying for God’s work in Kiev through Calvary Chapel and for this big vision they have for church planting!
Ternopil and Kharkiv
Sunday evening, three of us got on an over-night train to Kharkiv, the second-largest city in Ukraine, near the Russian border – while Mike and his wife Marika took a train in the opposite direction, to Ternopil in Western Ukraine to visit friends from Calvary Chapel Ternopil.
In Kharkiv, we visited with friends from Calvary Chapel Kharkiv, including Pastor Victor Fisin and Assistant Pastor and missionary Nate Medlong, whose aunt is a member of our church. Nate and his wife Diana are on the front lines of ministry to orphans and children in the foster system in Kharkiv. God is doing great things through their ministry, so please keep them in prayer.
Coffee with friends from CC Kharkiv
CC Kharkiv’s new building
Returning to Kiev, I got to speak to the students of Ukrainian Evangelical Theological Seminary on Tuesday morning, and then we spent time with one of the teachers and the director of the seminary afterwards. UETS is a doing a great work, raising up pastors and leaders from all over the former Soviet Union. They have a strategic partnership with the seminary I am currently attending: London School of Theology (LST), and they have several hundred students attending their many campuses all over Ukraine and one other former-Soviet country. Pray for their work!
While the others from the team came back to Colorado, I had one more trip before I came home: I went to Thousand Oaks, California for the first Expositors Collective – an interactive seminar for young people who have a desire to preach and teach the Bible well. As one of the leaders, I coached a group of young men who had a range of different experiences: from Bible college students to interns, to a staff pastor who sometimes preaches at his church. It was a great event, and one that was geared towards ongoing mentorship. This was only the first of what will hopefully be an ongoing collective to encourage expository Bible teaching in the next generation. For more information, check out expositorscollective.com
Based out of Berthoud, Colorado, Ukraine Orphan Outreach is a local non-profit you should know about that is having a global impact.
UOO works to help the kids who are falling between the cracks in the system, by establishing transition homes for orphans who are aging out of the system as well as helping to facilitate adoptions of older orphans with adoptive parents in the US. They also organize camps and other activities for orphans in Ukraine, to be able to have fun and hear the good news of Jesus Christ.
Religion that is pure and undefiled before God the Father is this: to visit orphans and widows in their affliction, and to keep oneself unstained from the world. – James 1:27
When we lived in Hungary, my wife and I were involved in ministry to orphans, and we saw how difficult life is particularly for kids as they get older and especially when they age out of the system and have to move out on their own.
Here are some statistics from UOO’s website:
12,000 children age out of orphanages every year with no where to go.
70% of the boys are incarcerated after only 2 years of being out of an orphanage.
60% of young girls that age out of orphanages are pulled into sex trafficking.
10% of the children who age out of orphanages commit suicide within 2 years.
Friends of mine here in Longmont have adopted through UOO, a couple from our church met on a UOO mission trip, and through UOO I have made good contacts and friends in Ukraine, including at Ukrainian Evangelical Theological Seminary, where I will be visiting in March when I will be in Kyiv for a pastors and leaders conference.
Sasse is a graduate of Yale and studied in Oxford. He is a Christian and in this address he sounds more like a pastor than a politician. He has served as an elder in his church and on the board of trustees of Westminster Seminary California.
Yesterday I received my letter of acceptance from London School of Theology, where I will begin my postgraduate studies starting this September to get a Master of Arts in Integrative Theology.
I will be studying via distance learning, which means I won’t have to travel at all and will be able to make my own schedule, both of which are important to me since I’m a full-time pastor and have a family at home. I looked into a local school in Colorado, but I prefer the British approach to education. Also, British schools are more affordable than US schools when it comes to studying Christian theology because in the US it is only taught in private universities because of the separation of church and state – whereas in the UK public universities can have theology departments. I would recommend Americans who want to study theology to really consider looking into studying via distance learning in Britain.
I’m excited to go back to school and continue my theological education. It’s been nice taking a year off, but I am ready to get back into it.
Several months ago I met a couple who live in Berthoud, CO who run an organization called Ukraine Orphan Outreach. It was through them that I got connected to people at the seminary, and as it turns out there are several people from Calvary Chapel in Ukraine who work and study there.
I was impressed with their school and its mission: “To strengthen churches and transform society” – as well as the work they are doing to accomplish that. Having an interdenominational evangelical seminary in Ukraine is a great asset to the church here.
The school has many students from outside of Ukraine, and recently they started a second campus of their school in Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan. They also operate several mini-campuses in cities around Ukraine, for people who want to study with them but have difficulty coming to Kyiv.
I’m praying that God uses and blesses the work of UETS to raise up and train many ministers of the gospel to work in this country and the former republics of the Soviet Union.