New movements in theology


Liberation theology – G Gutiérrez

Liberation theologians think that the message of Jesus was that we should address poverty. They also think that Marx’s economic analysis of society shows that addressing poverty requires addressing the structural causes of economic inequality. So, they conclude that Christians ought to address the structural causes of economic inequality.

This challenged traditional Christianity in two ways:

1: Being influenced by atheistic ideologies like Marxism.
2: The rejection of charity as sufficient for living up to Jesus’ teachings and example in helping the poor.

Liberation theology began in 1964 by young catholic theologians in Brazil claimed that the teachings and example of Jesus show that Christians should work towards addressing poverty. However, the traditional tactic of the Church for that has been charity. Liberation theologians are influenced by Karl Marx, whose analysis of economics claimed that poverty was caused by exploitation of the working class. Workers are exploited because they do not own the means of production. Workers are alienated by working on machines/property belonging to someone else for which a minority of the profits actually go to that worker. This causes a lack of investment and identity with their work for the worker which results in alienation. Marx proposed that radical change to the structure of the economy was the only way to address the root causes of poverty. The problems of inequality and alienation were caused by the private ownership of the means of production, but people could overthrow that system by political revolution. Marx believed that this communist revolution would eventually happen.

Liberation theologians think that truly living up to Jesus’ call to address poverty can only be adequately done if we take into account the economic reality of poverty in today’s world. If we accept Marx’s analysis of our economic situation, then a Christian should be informed by that to understand that helping the poor requires not merely easing the symptoms of poverty through charity but addressing the actual causes of poverty through structural change to our economy and society. Liberation theologians do not typically accept solutions as radical or revolutionary as Marx proposed, but they do accept that Marx was correct that the solution had to address the structural root causes of economic inequality.

Guitierrez only accepted Marx’s critique of capitalism, not Marx’s anti-religious views

Guitierrez thought there were two kinds of liberation. Firstly, social and economic – fixing the poverty and oppression caused by human action, secondly, liberation from sin by reconciliation with God. Guiterrez thought social and economic liberation should come first and then liberation from sin however

Feminist theology – S McFague

Language about God is metaphorical. Sallie McFague argued that the language involved in Christian theology is ultimately a human creation and at best an interpretation of God, but too it is taken as a literal description. God is beyond our understanding, but people overlook that theology must therefore be metaphorical.

“we construct the worlds we inhabit, but … we forget we have done so”.

All language about God is metaphorical, so it doesn’t tell us about God’s true nature. Failing to understand this causes us to turn metaphors into idols, so we end up worshipping metaphors rather than God. McFague claims that theology is “mostly fiction” but that metaphors “can and should enhance and enrich our models of God”, especially in ways fitting “for our time”. Each generation needs to create new metaphors to help deal with the ethical issues they face. The pressing issues of our time for McFague are gender equality and ecological disaster.

McFague’s critical realism: metaphors are about use, not accuracy. God is unknowable. So, the value of a metaphor, construct or model of God is not whether it corresponds to the reality of God, but how useful the metaphor is for life. The value of a metaphor is not its accurateness but its usefulness. The way we assess whether a construct is “meaningful and true” is by whether it is “useful in the conduct of life”.

McFague “stresses heavily the implications of certain models for the quality of human and nonhuman life”.

McFague sees her work as unmasking “simplistic, absolutist, notions of objectivity” in theology. This includes feminist critiques, that images and understandings of God are often based in patriarchal cultural systems.

A successful metaphor, for McFague, is one which gives an impression of an all-encompassing world-view. This is why the maleness of God has been so successful – it establish a powerful world-view – but only for men, though it explains the attraction of men to it. When Christians call God Father, they are using a metaphor which is useful for patriarchy. This is the issue with male language about God.

The metaphor of God as mother. McFague argues that the creation of the world ex nihilo suggests a God distant from creation. She proposes that seeing God as mother would suggest a God more intimately connected to the world. This metaphor is better for our time as it means we should not destroy our environment. McFague thinks that ultimately God is beyond gender – neither male nor female. There are problems with emphasising God as either male or female, she thinks, but the metaphor of God as mother is helpful for our time. Currently, masculine language about God is encouraging of domination of the natural world and the domination of women by men.

McFague draws on the work of Daphne Hampson who argues that the early church suggested the world is God’s body. McFague developed the metaphor of God as Mother and the world as God’s body, to encourage gender equality and ecological care for the planet (ecofeminism). She is not saying that God is a Mother or female, or that the world is God’s body, but that using these metaphors will enable gender equality and love for the planet. If God is called mother, then that says that the world is part of God’s body/ womb. To harm nature would be to harm God. It also suggests women should not be dominated by men because femininity is given value by being associated with divinity.

The metaphor of the world as God’s body involves three metaphors corresponding to three traditional titles, three Christian doctrines, three ethical elements and three types of love.

Mother- instead of the traditional title father. Doctrine of creation. Agape/ selfless love which is the type of love God has for the world.

Lover- instead of the traditional title of Son. Doctrine of salvation. the ethical element of healing- Eros/ desire, the way that God’s love works in the world.

Friend- instead of the traditional title of Spirit- Doctrine of Eschatology. Element of companionship- Philia/companionship- the way humans should act in the world.

Black theology – J H Cone

Cone grew up in a town where he says the white people “tried to make us believe that God created black people to be white people’s servants”. Cone was influenced by Malcolm X who claimed that ‘Christianity is a white man’s religion’. Cone almost left Christianity, but decided instead to try and reform it. Cone was also influenced by the actions of Martin Luther King. He saw the reforming challenge as “how can I reconcile Christianity and Black Power, Martin Luther King Jr.’s idea of nonviolence, and Malcolm X’s ‘by any means necessary philosophy?’”

Cone argued that “theology is not universal language about God … it is human speech informed by historical and theological traditions … for particular times and places.”

Cone thinks theology is contextual – depending on its human cultural circumstances. It is formed dialectically – through the interaction of scripture and human experience. He argued that therefore there is a black theology arising from the interaction of scripture and the black human experience.

The Black Messiah. Cone pointed out that Jesus not only sided with the weak and oppressed but was one of them. God chose to come to earth, not as a rich powerful elite king, but as a carpenter who was put to death by the powerful elite of society. Cone argued that God sides with oppressed people against oppressors, including siding with oppressed blacks against oppressive white people. Jesus is therefore ‘ontologically black’. Not physically having black skin, but at his essence standing for that which is oppressed. Cone suggested parallels between Jesus’ death, where crowds of people chanted for his crucifixion, and the lynching of black people in America similarly encouraged and committed by mobs. Cone points to Jesus’ resurrection after this treatment as being a sign of hope for the oppressed.

Martin Luther King thought Jesus’ teachings on agapeistic love meant black liberation should be based on non-violent reconciliation. Cone disagreed, stating “white appeals to ‘wait and talk it over’ are irrelevant when children are dying and men and women are being tortured”. Cone thought that ‘white churches’ which didn’t oppose racism enough were of the antichrist.



Pentecostal and Charismatic Christianity in the US and beyond

Pentecostalism is a movement in Christianity which emphasises the experience of the worshipper. This is based on the powerful experiences of the early church in ACTS chapter 2, when the spirit of God came down on the disciples allowing them to speak in different languages and to heal.

Pentacostalist services do not follow a written liturgy. They have many different components such as exuberant singing, dancing, clapping, spontaneous prayer, sermons punctuated by impromptu responses, faith healing and speaking in tongues.

Pentecostalism has seen a dramatic growth in Africa, Asia and Latin America. This combined with secularisation in the west has meant that the geographical centre of Christianity has shifted. A large proportion of Christian migrants have come from the Caribbean and West African countries.

Peter Brierly reports that in the UK, from 1998 – 2005, white church attendance decreased by 19% while non-white attendance increased by 19%. From 2005-2012, Pentecostal church attendance increased 30%, accounting for 52% of all churchgoers in London.

UK has many indigenous Pentecostal churches since the beginning of the 20th century. recent migration has introduced even more new denominations.

“the growth of Christianity in the ‘global south’ and of immigrant congregations has made mainline churches in Britain take notice” Rebecca Catto.

Charismatic Christianity.

Migration’s effect on the spread of Christian worship, notably the African Christian diaspora