Humberto Belli is a Nicaraguan, the former editorial page editor of La Prensa, who, after a number of years in exile, returned to his homeland to help rebuild what the Sandinistas laid to waste. He currently serves as the Minister of Education, and is an enthusiastic Roman Catholic. He taught sociology at the University of Steubenville, and is the founder of the Puebla Institute, a center for communication about the situation of the church in Latin America.
Dr. Ronald Nash is a professor of philosophy at the Reformed Theological Seminary in Orlando, Florida, and a member of the Acton Institute Advisory Board. His works on theology, economics, and philosophy are simply too numerous to mention.
The publication of this book by Baker Book House completes its innovation. Baker Book House is a long-time, solid Protestant concern, and in Beyond Liberation Theology they have produced a text that combines the best Protestant biblical theology, with a sensitivity to Roman Catholic ecclesiology. Just about the only thing that could have made this book more ecumenical is to have co-published it with Maryknoll’s Orbis Press.
Rather than here reviewing their text, we thought it preferable to merely introduce its authors (which we have already done), succinctly state their thesis, and, by reprinting selections from their book, permit you to see for yourself what they have to say.
Belli and Nash set out to examine the state of liberation theology.They begin with an introduction and update on all the major players, Catholic as well as Protestant. What they see emerging is a significant shift– in various ways and to differing extents–by many liberation theologians away from the socialistic leanings of the past. They applaud this shift and analyze the economic, biblical, and social mistakes of the past. What emerges is a strong distinction between the “old” liberation theology and the “new” version. Belli and Nash are determined not to surrender “liberation” because, they argue, “no religion in the history of the world has been more concerned with providing human beings with genuine liberation than Christianity.”
This book documents what some may consider as the death of liberation theology as we have know it for the past twenty years or so. Others will see it as documenting a metamorphosis under which this theological endeavor is going, and paving the way for a new and improved version of it.
If Beyond Liberation Theology isn’t the final word on the subject, it ought to be.
With the kind permission of Baker Book House we have printed below some selections from this helpful text.
Regarding Centesimus Annus
“Left-wing Catholics, including a full complement of liberation theologians, have not quite known what to do with such an unabashed denunciation of socialism and what is quite simply the strongest Vatican endorsement of capitalism in history. Not surprisingly, many Leftists have tried to put their usual spin on the document, but the text simply will not support it. Any Leftists who hope to demonstrate from the text that the pope supports zero-sum theories of economic redistribution is welcome to try. …
“The publication of Centesimus Annus finally makes clear what the Vatican has struggled to bring forth in the decade since the pope’s address at Puebla. It is nothing less than the formulation of a new liberation theology, one that rejects totally the means of the old liberation theology but retains its end of offering the poor and oppressed peoples of the world true liberation in every sense of this vitally important word.“ [pp. 53-54]
Three Economic Systems
“Three relatively simple steps could help any reasonable and open-minded person gain a perspective from which to begin sorting these things out. The first step is to recognize that there are actually three economic systems competing for attention in the world. In addition to capitalism and socialism, which still require definition, there is a third system called interventionism, or the mixed economy.…
“The second step is to see that our three words denote not single, fixed positions but a variety of options along a continuum.…The real issue in the dispute among these three positions is the degree of economic freedom each allows.…
“The third step toward sorting out liberation theology’s confusion over economic systems is to recognize that the economies of the United States and the industrialized nations of the West (Germany, Britain, France, Canada, and so on) are really interventionist, not capitalist.” [pp. 95-96]
Implications for Theology
“…Christians meditating on liberation cannot so easily identify economic ambition as a virtue or make rates of economic growth indicators of human liberation.… Liberation theologians need to address what should be meant by a truly liberated society. Otherwise, Christians risk adopting a totally secularized ideal of liberation in which spiritual and human dimensions are sacrificed to the Moloch of material success.
“Nevertheless, in meditating on the causes of poverty and other social evils, Christians and non-Christians alike need to come to terms with the empirical connection between values and rates of wealth-creating productivity. Given the proper qualifications, one could argue that in some cases there may also be a moral connection between some habits and some material and social consequences.…
“Where Christians spot laziness and lack of commitment to the duty of work, they may well speak of the need to liberate people from patterns of belief and behavior that produce oppressive results for both themselves and their descendants. In so doing, activists may broaden the understanding of liberation and make it inclusive of some personal, moral dimensions that relate to work.” [pp. 157-158]
The Importance of Centesimus Annus
“The document [Centesimus Annus] does more than attack Marxism; it also criticizes the modern welfare state.…
“The encyclical makes much of the important but often overlooked distinction between societies (voluntary human associations like the church and the family) and the state, the organization of humans that claims a monopoly on the use of coercive power. Among the inalienable rights of the human person, the pope insists, ”is the ‘natural human right’ to form private associations“ (#7). The modern megastate threatens these voluntary societies in many ways, each of which must be resisted. Modern statists also undermine the operations of a market system.…
“Proponents of the old liberation theology can draw absolutely no comfort from the words of Centesimus Annus; nor can any Marxist or socialist or Catholic/Protestant statist. The social, political, and economic dimension of the pope’s vision of a new liberation theology can be summarized in two words: democratic capitalism. The spiritual side of the new liberation theology is synonymous not with the assorted concessions to theological liberalism and apostasy so prevalent among the old liberation theologians but with the Christian church’s historic focus on the salvation and transformation God offers sinful humans through the redemptive death and resurrection of the God-man, Jesus Christ.“ [190-194]