Thursday, May 27, 2010

The Jesus of the Oppressed

In his book A Generous Orthodoxy, Brian McLaren, one of the founding fathers of the emerging church movement, writes that in his life as a Christian he has encountered and gotten to know several different Jesuses:

For conservative Protestants and Roman Catholics, then, Jesus saves individuals through the cross and resurrection; for Eastern Orthodox followers, Jesus saves the world through the incarnation ; for liberal Protestants and Anabaptists, Jesus saves through his teaching and example. But in addition, Anabaptists uniquely emphasize Jesus' role in connecting and leading a community of disciples. For them the church is not at heart an institution...with hierarchies and policies, headquarters, and bureaucracy. Above all, the church is a continuation and extension of the original band of disciples, a group of people learning the ways of Jesus as a voluntary community.

There is one more Jesus that McLaren has met, a man that is in many ways closer to the Jesus of the Bible and that informs the beliefs and practices of many Christians of the emergent church: "the Jesus of liberation theology."

In my readings and travels (especially in Latin America), I have been exposed to many committed Christians who believe that Marxism and Communism were filling the gap that should have been filled by Christians--Christians who understood the revolutionary social and political implications of the teaching and examples of Jesus, whose gospel was good news to the poor along with a challenge toward generosity for the rich.

Because Christians failed to preach and practice this dimension of the gospel, secular movements arose to fill the gap. Sadly, because these secular movements had ideology without truly spiritual good news, the poor received from these secular movements yet another disappointment and yet another delay in experiencing true liberation. Sadly, because these secular movements often preached that violence could overcome violence, even if they had succeeded in liberating the poor from poverty, they could never have liberated the poor from violence. Nonviolent liberation theology sought to rediscover the Jesus who is the hero to the poor and oppressed, and the prophet who bravely confronts the establishments of power and privilege.


The Jesus of liberation theology, firmly rooted in the struggles of the first century, inspires Christians to continue his work and mission in all centuries throughout history, believing that history is exactly the venue into which God's kingdom comes and in which God's will can increasingly be done.

The Princes of the Catholic Church would do well at this time to study and emulate the example of the thoughtful McLaren, along with others in the emerging church movement (oh, and not to mention Jesus), and turn their attention away from summary judgments and acts of excommunication that make them appear pathetically out of touch with the reality of Christian lives and direct it to the suffering poor and oppressed of their own countries and of countries where poverty and suffering of Christians and non-Christians alike is the main feature of life.

And if, for whatever supposedly valid theological reason, the term "liberation theology" is anathema to "true Catholic teaching," then let's, for Jesus' sake, call it something else.

How about "love"?


  1. All these Jesuses are one. He is all of these things and more. I have mixed feelings about "liberation theology" but it seems that the Church in Latin America does need to be strengthened. I don't know if Rome has been paying much attention to this area of the world. Mark

  2. Thank you for your comment, Mark. I agree that "all these Jesuses are one." What I think McLaren is saying is that each of the denominations has a tendency to claim that its version of Jesus is the "true" version, meaning of course that the other versions are not true or not valid. What McLaren promotes is an ecumenical "conversation" where all denominations sit at the table - actual or metaphorical - and acknowledge that each has a "pearl of great price" to offer.