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A Theological Reflection on Joerg Rieger’s Liberating the Future, part 1

In the economy of mercy; I am a poor and begging man; In the currency of grace; Is where my song begins; In the colors of Your goodness; In the scars that mark Your skin
In the currency of grace; Is where my song begins.
–“The Economy of Mercy” by Switchfoot

Brief Summary

The liberation theologies described in Joerg Rieger’s Liberating the Future can all be categorized as parts of the emerging theologies movement.  Liberationist Christianities are responses to the second reformation that took place on U.S. soil. “In the Americas, liberation theologies have been among the first indigenous critiques of modern reason and its effects on economic and political structures.” [1] Scientific categories in the realms of politics, religion, and economics have all been destabilized by citizens living in the Two-Thirds world, of African/Asian/Latino descent, and of the female gender.  The liberation theological reformation of Christianity, unlike the 16th century Protestant [read: European male] Reformation, will address more issues of the day such as politics and economics along with Christian orthopraxis rather than gory conflicts over ecclesiology, the sacraments, and orthodoxy.[2] Liberation theology is a peculiar version of postmodern thought since it emphasizes the distinct differences of experiences and social location; yet, much of its critique is done outside of Western norms with a special attention given to the colonized and oppressed.

If for much of the 20th century churches were committed to the idol of nationalism, with the divinization of ethnicity and state, then the idol of the 21st century should be referred to as “economism.”  According to theologian John B. Cobb, “economism is a system in which economic values are viewed as primary and therefore as properly determinative if national and international policies with only secondary concerns for other values.”[3] Whereas nationalism caused states to divide themselves according to cultural traditions and racial differences, economism tears apart communities according to personal wealth accumulation and social status.  As a result, nation-states make decisions primarily for economic development.  The results are devastating as a lack of disregard for the poor, women, and children are apparent in the governmental policies of both First World and Two-Thirds World administrations.  Economic analysis, then, becomes vital to understanding the social structures and prevalent norms of a given context.  Susan Brooks Thistlewaite argues, “A powerful false consciousness in the United States draws even the oppressed into voting against their own economic interests [.] […] Unless you do your economic homework, you can’t pretend to be doing liberation theology.”[4] Any theology that preaches about God’s love but fails to address God’s justice can mean nothing more than a theology for the middle class, upholding the status-quo of freedom’s dependence on the slavery of the other.

In contrast to process theology (another emerging theology) which specifically relies on scientific data and philosophy in order to discern how God acts in the world and who God is, liberation theologies find God in the history of liberation movements and in those who have been marginalized by society.  Liberation theologians, in the United States for example, must try to connect the biblical meta-narrative of liberation with the curious historical situation at the beginning of twenty-first century.  The logic of the market economy must be challenged by the supremacy of God’s economy found in Scripture and Christian traditions.  M. Douglas Meeks suggests that we go back to the original meaning of the term economy, oikonomia, or the “relations of human beings for producing and distributing the conditions of life against death.  The biblical traditions borrow this language of economy to speak of God’s most inclusive relationships to creation and understand the church as a peculiar economy in service to what God is doing to redeem creation.”[5] Interpersonal relationships, built on Trinitarian concepts of community and self-giving, are to be the foundation of the Church’s economy rather than laissez-faire free market capitalism.  Liberation theologies are political theologies which aim to Christianize the prevailing religious institutions according to the standards of Christian discipleship our Lord Jesus gave on the Sermon on the Mount.  Christians are called to act in concrete ways according to their specific social location for the causes of justice, peace, and the maintenance of God’s creation.[6] While the diversity of human experience is respected in liberation theologies in order to avoid the colonization of the self onto the other, liberation theologians from all backgrounds could work together to develop a universal theology of life centered on the reign of God and the equal possibilities and conditions of life for every person.[7]

[1] Joerg Rieger. Liberating the Future: God, Mammon, and Theology. (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 1998),10

[2] Ibid, 11

[3] Ibid, 32

[4]Joerg Rieger. Liberating the Future: God, Mammon, and Theology. (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 1998),23

[5]Joerg Rieger. Liberating the Future: God, Mammon, and Theology. (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 1998), 45

[6] Ibid, 63

[7] Ibid, 79-80