Thursday, July 06, 2006

Three Quotes from a Liberation Theologian

Jon Sobrino, Christology at the Crossroads: A Latin American Approach (Maryknoll, NY: Orbis, 1978):

"What sort of power is it that really and truly renders the deity present? Human beings automatically think of God as someone who possesses and wields power. Jesus forces people to consider whether that deeply rooted conviction is true or not. In historical terms it is readily apparent that power, left to its own inertial tendencies, tends to be oppressive in fact. So it cannot be the ultimate meditation of God, though human beings might tend to think so" (213-14).

“The cross is not a response; it is a new form of questioning. It invites us to adopt a radically new attitude toward God” (222).

“Without the resurrection love would not be authentic power; without the cross this power would not be love" (261).


Blogger Mark Moore said...

These three quotes affected me deeply. Is it possible that the character of the Father is represented better in the self-abnegaton of Jesus than our theologies of sovereignty and omnipotence? (This is not a question whether the Father has these attributes but whether they best represent his primary character). I have believed for sometime that the Holy Spirit is better represented by what some have called 'shyness', what I would articulate as ‘deference’. Perhaps it is not too far a leap to view the Father that way as well. This, then, might turn our question around, 'Does Jesus look like God?' to 'Does God look like Jesus?' giving more credibility to John 14:9 and Hebrew 1:3.

July 6, 2006 at 5:45 PM  
Anonymous Jacob Paul Breeze said...

Dennis Kinlaw wrote "Let's Start With Jesus" and says similar things. I'm very intrigued by this idea of God looking like Jesus.

It occurs to me that many times we think Jesus' divinity is showcased in his "miracles", or powerful displays. I imagine if I were asked to display my divinity I would pull out the fireworks display. I'm reminded of St. Paul's masterpiece Philippians 2. Jesus did not consider his equal status with God as something to exploit for His own purposes. By the end of that song, it's clear for St. Paul: the clearest picture of God we've ever had was in Jesus' self-abnegation.

Jesus makes us redefine, or better, choose a new referent for our word "god". I think many times we assume we know what "god" means and try and cram him into Jesus...this usually results in a docetic and reductionist Jesus not least. Remember Aladdin? "Great cosmic powers in an itty bitty living space". I think too often we approach His divinity down this road. Perhaps it is far better to look hard at the Jesus of the Gospels and let Him force us to join Thomas in saying "ho Kurios mou kai ho Theos mou".

I'm chasing a rabbit trail in my mind. I wonder if there's a connection with Orthodoxy's Theosis and self-abnegation? Hmmm...

July 6, 2006 at 11:33 PM  
Anonymous Jacob Paul Breeze said...

Sorry for a double comment. I was just thinking about a parallel I've notice in St. Matthew's gospel.


We see Jesus' divinity clearest in the crucifixion.
When we look at the transfiguration we see his humanity.

I think our first instinct would be to say otherwise. I think St. Peter's first instinct would be to say otherwise!!!

St. Matthew appears to be making a parallel
Both times Jesus is on a mountain.
On one mountain Moses and Elijah are on either side. On another mountain two brigands are on either side.
On one mountain a bright cloud envelops.
On another mountain darkness fills the sky.
On one mountain a voice from a cloud says, "This is my Son".
On another mountain the centurion says, "Surely this was the Son".
On one mountain He has bright clothes.
On another mountain he is naked in shame.

We have a mountain of glory and a mountain of shame.

So which time do we find His divinity? St. Peter probably walked away from the Transfiguration thinking, "Yes! That's what the Messiah was supposed to be like". But St. Matthew doesn't end his gospel on the mountain of transfiguration. That mountain is an invitation to hear God's up-side down echoes on the Cross. When Jesus was most shamed and defeated, that's when His divinity was fully expressed.

July 6, 2006 at 11:40 PM  
Anonymous tony said...

...reminds me of something I read in Yarchin for Issues

Does his ethnicity affect his point of view?

July 8, 2006 at 9:32 PM  
Blogger Thom Stark said...


These rare gems from liberation theology (quite Yoderian in fact) illustrate the point I was trying to make in another discussion about the crucial distinction between self-aggrandizement and truthfulness. God can reveal the truth of his sovereignty in all sorts of different ways, the most paradigmatic of which is his refusal (in Jesus) to fight in defense of his name. God's sovereignty is shown most clearly and definitively in his disavowal of power. Indeed, we now are able to understand power itself in a different light. Power is not just power to get things done in the world; power is power to let the truth about the world speak for itself, i.e., through weakness. Jesus came for this very purpose: to testify to the truth, that is, the truth about his Lordship. Jesus saw (though not without great struggle) that the only way to show the truth about his Lordship was to let it speak for itself. Thus the cross is not an unnecessary tragedy that was the result of a miscommunication somewhere. Nor is it the event that precipatated God's "Plan B," i.e., the Church. Nor is it merely the sacrifice necessary for the forgiveness of sins. Rather, the cross is the truth about God's power, and the truth about God's power is not that God doesn't have any, but that power itself is not what we think it is.


July 10, 2006 at 12:30 AM  
Anonymous Jacob Paul Breeze said...

Might I suggest giving a listen to "Jesus, the Cross and the Power of God"? It is given by N.T. Wright (no introduction necessary here I hope).

*Perhaps I appreciate this because of the OVERWHELMING influence and shaping of my life by Wright, but I suspect that this will no doubt challenge you as well as you follow Jesus: particularly while meditating on our current thread.,134/ELC06%20NT%20Wright%20-%20Jesus,%20the%20Cross%20and%20the%20Power%20of%20God.mp3

July 10, 2006 at 1:12 AM  
Blogger Tyler Stewart said...

Your comment brought me worship.

July 10, 2006 at 12:38 PM  
Blogger Thom Stark said...



That post came out of worship so I'm glad it maintained its integrity.


Wright's sermon/lecture is fantastic. The only two things I would question is his interpretation of John 19.11 and the latent constantinianism in his claim that Christians ought to seek to use governmental structures to make the world more just, although I think the latter may be more a product of his slightly askew eschatology than constantinianism itself. Nevertheless, apart from those two qualifications (important as they are), I can say with confidence that Wright is preaching the truth about power.


July 10, 2006 at 2:29 PM  
Blogger Thom Stark said...


I particularly liked two parts of Wright's sermon/lecture. (1) Wright points out that the cross was always a sign of power/victory, only that before Christianity it was a sign of the power and victory of Caesar. (2) Wright makes the connection (implicit in Mark) between James and John asking to be at Jesus's right and left hand and the two brigands at his right and left on the cross. That preaches.


July 10, 2006 at 2:35 PM  
Anonymous Jacob Paul Breeze said...

Hi Thom,

I too loved the lestai/James and John connection and God stealing and subverting the Cross as a symbol of power.

"his slightly askew eschatology". Sounds like Mr. Moore...


July 10, 2006 at 4:06 PM  
Anonymous Jacob Paul Breeze said...

I think it's because he admittedly treats John like a foreign country that he is unfamiliar with.

July 10, 2006 at 4:11 PM  
Blogger Thom Stark said...

That's interesting to me. I wonder if his take would be different if he did more specialized Johannine studies. I think someone should do a study on "authority" in John's gospel and epistles. That's a good place to start.

July 11, 2006 at 10:37 PM  
Anonymous Jacob Paul Breeze said...

I've often wondered this as well Thom (not least because my immediate mentor is a Johannine scholar).

Perhaps a Johannine study of doxa would be approriate as well...

July 12, 2006 at 12:09 AM  
Anonymous Jared Wheeler said...

In John's Gospel "doxa" is used 19 times. Seven times as a referent to recieving praise from men; which Jesus always defers. However, several times in the Gospel Jesus states that God has bestowed glory upon him. In every instance in which "doxa" is used it is viewed as something tangible, not an abstract quality of God. Doxa, as given to Jesus by God, in John seems to be more than just affirmation between memebers of the trinity. In fact Jesus asks God for "doxa" during his great prayer in John 17. John also creates a direct parallel between Jesus' miracles and the collection of "doxa" from God (the wedding at Cana, the resurrection of Lazarus).
Interestingly John doesn't employ "doxa" in any of the three epistles that bear his name. However, in Revelation there is a constant undercurrent of praise in heaven and genuflecting before the throne and before the lamb.
None of this is revolutionary, it might not even be of any worth. Regardless, here it is, whether aid or fodder.

July 12, 2006 at 11:05 AM  
Anonymous Jacob Paul Breeze said...

καὶ ὁ λόγος σὰρξ ἐγένετο καὶ ἐσκήνωσεν ἐν ἡμῖν καὶ ἐθεασάμεθα τὴν δόξαν αὐτοῦ δόξαν ὡς μονογενοῦς παρὰ πατρός πλήρης χάριτος καὶ ἀληθείας

I've been pondering this lately. Regarding derevation, St. John's prologue is a Jewish incarnational masterpiece. The logos tabernacled among us, etc... I know what a claim it is to behold the glory of God, etc...

Yet regarding confrontation, I wonder if Caesar's regime is in mind. Jesus' honor is the same of the true God's: full of grace and truth. Caesar's honor is really no honor at all: full of violence and intimidation.

July 12, 2006 at 1:49 PM  
Blogger Tyler Stewart said...

It would seem that the use of the word μονογενοῦς would indicate that Jesus is on some level subverting empire. This is also interesting if you agree that John's prologue is his gospel "in mini" as they say. John makes some kingly/political statements about Jesus that we don't find in the synoptics. Off the top of my head, Jesus refuses the kingship that the 5,000 try to force upon him after the feeding (Jn 6) and obviously his statements before Pilate. Also, I think about John placing the symbolic destruction of the temple (often referred to as the cleansing) at the beginning of his Gospel. What image(s) do you think John is drawing with the λόγος language? If John is using primarily Jewish categories particularly wisdom and Torah John 1 begins to sound similar to Col 1.15-20 (check out Wright’s article in Climax of the Covenant). Either way the emphases are similar incarnation, monotheism and redemption.

I did a study on John’s use of δοχα in his gospel arguing that John’s use of the term in an honor/shame culture of Jews using OT categories would understand “glory” as God’s revelation culminating in the cross and resurrection of Jesus. This is of course paradoxical that honor could be gained through usually shameful categories, but Jesus redefines the meaning of honor in his cross and vindicating resurrection. On a different note, the honor/shame reading that Neyrey offers in his Honor and Shame in the Gospel of Matthew concerning the Sermon on the Mount is very interesting in relation to authority/ethics.

July 12, 2006 at 2:38 PM  
Blogger Thom Stark said...

Some quotes from Hauerwas's "Jesus: The Story of the Kingdom" in A Community of Character: Toward a Constructive Christian Social Ethic (Notre Dame: University of Notre Dame Press, 1981):

"A christology which is not a social ethic is deficient. From this perspective the most "orthodox" christologies are inadequate when they fail to suggest how being a believer in Jesus provides and requires that we have the skills to describe and negotiate our social existence. . . . By recovering the narrative dimsension of christology we will be able to see that Jesus did not have a social ethic, but that his story is a social ethic. For the social and political validity of a community results from its being formed by a truthful story, a story that gives us the means to live without fear of one another. Therefore there can be no separation of christology from ecclesiology, that is, Jesus from the church. The truthfulness of Jesus creates and is known by the kind of community his story should form" (37).

Hauerwas discusses how Chalcedon might have contributed to an ahistorical account of Jesus. Then he says, "I have no wish to suggest that the language of incarnation is inherently defective, but only that it can provide a warrant for the assumption that one can know who Jesus is or 'what' he was in terms of essences, substances, and natures, without the necessity of in some way knowing Jesus himself—without, that is, being his disciple. . . . The only Jesus we know is already the Jesus of faith, the Jesus created by the church. Some think this is a decisive problem because it seems that the 'real' Jesus is forever lost. But there is no 'real Jesus' except as he is known through the kind of life he demanded of his disciples; that the Gospels display the grammar of such a life should not therefore surprise us. It only makes clear that the demand for 'historical accuracy' is ahistorical insofar as the Gospels exhibit why the story of this man is inseparable from how that story teaches us to follow him. As the Gospels show, only because the disciples had first followed him to Jerusalem were they able to understand the significance of the resurrection" (41-42). . . . For Jesus' universality is manifested only by a people who are willing to take his cross as their story, as the necessary condition for living truthfully in this life. As his cross was a social ethic, so they become the continuation of that ethic in the world, until all are brought within his Kingdom" (44).

"The narrative character of the Gospels is integral to the affirmation of Jesus' redemptive significance. This does not mean that the Gospels are biographies in the usual sense. They are proclamation; but the proclamation takes the form of a story of a man's life. When this is recognized we can understand how Jesus provided a story to determine the polity of the church" (44).

"The Kingdom first and foremost is the claim of God's lordship, his rule over all creation and history. Thus the Kingdom is 'totally and exclusively God's doing. It cannot be earned by religious or moral effort, imposed by political struggle, or projected in calculations. We cannot plan for it, organize it, make it, or build it, we cannot invent it or imagine it. It is given (Mt 21:43; Lk 12:32), "appointed" (Lk 22:29). We can only inherit it (Mt 25:34)'" [45, citing Walter Kasper, Jesus the Christ (New York: Paulist Press, 1977) 81].

"We are required to rethink our everyday sense of the 'political.' For to know the Kingdom through the story of Jesus requires us to believe that the polity into which we are called can only be based on that power which comes from trusting in the truth" (46).

"I continue to doubt, however, if 'liberation' should be the central metaphor to describe Christian life and existence, especially in the light of Sobrino's sensitive discussion of the place of suffering in the Christian life" (233). However, "much of the theology done in our universities ignores its tie with the political status-quo. Such theology is surely in 'bad-faith' when it tries to defeat 'liberation theology' by accusing it of politicizing theology" (234).

Referring to Jesus' encounter with Peter in Mark 8:27-9:1, Hauerwas writes that Peter has learned the name "Christ" and what it means. "But Jesus then begins to tell them that he is not going to be recognized as having such power, but indeed will be rejected and killed. And Peter, still imbued with the old order, suggests this is no way for a savior to talk; saviors are people with power to affect the world. To save means to be 'in control,' or to seek to be 'in control,' and Jesus seeks neither. His power is of a different order and the powers of this world will necessarily put him to death because they recognize, better than Peter, what a threat to power looks like. For here is one who invites others to participate in a kingdom of God's love, a kingdom which releases the power of giving and service. The powers of this world cannot comprehend such a kingdom. Here is a man who insists it is possible, if God's rule is acknowledged and trusted, to serve without power. Jesus this rebukes Peter, who had learned the name but not the story that determines the meaning of the name. . . . There is no truth beyond him: His story is the truth of the Kingdom. And that truth turns out to be the cross" (48).

"Peter had not learned, indeed, could not have yet learned at this point, that 'Christ' cannot be separated from Jesus. For the kind of 'Lord' Jesus is, is revealed finally only on the cross, thus making it impossible to separate the meaning of being 'the anointed one' from his life. Too often the attempt to substantiate who Jesus was by trying to find the meaning of the various titles in the Gospel fails to acknowledge that the titles are given new meaning from the narrative" (237).

Referring to the love of enemy prescrived for Christ's disciples in Matthew 5 and Luke 6, Hauerwas writes, "It is through such live that Christians learn that they are to serve as he served. Such service is not an end in itself, but reflects the Kingdom into which Christian have been drawn. This means that Christians insist on service which may appear ineffective to the world. For the service that Christians are called upon to provide does not have as its aim to make the world better, but to demonstrate that Jesus has made possible a new world, a new social order" (49).

"The way the early Christians put this was simply that with Jesus a new 'aeon' had begun. Such an 'aeon' is not simply a 'worldview' [Thom: This is very important, guys!] but requires that a social world be created in accordance with the new social relations envisaged. Elsewhere I have tried to suggest the Christian story teaches us to see the world differently, but such seeing requires a community is such a vision is to be sustained" (238).

[Thom: In other words, one cannot have a "Christian worldview" unless one is part of the community of Christians that is constituted by the new world order, the new aeon. Thus, having a "Christian worldview" is not believing in the existence of God, in the virgin birth, in the resurrection of Jesus from the dead, etc. Having a "Christian worldview" is not even seeing the violence inherent in the world's political structures. Having a Christian worldview can only be sustained by becoming a part of the polity that is constituted by other-love, truth-telling, and suffering-servanthood. "We act in the world that we see."]

"He is a strange Lord, appears powerless, but his powerlessness turns out to be the power of truth against the violence of falsehood. . . . It is in his cross that we learn we live in a world that is based on the presupposition that man, not God, rules" (50).

"The church first serves the world by helping the world to know what it means to be the world. For without a 'contrast model' the world has no way to know or fell the oddness of its dependence on power for survival. Because of the church the world can feel the strangeness of trying to build a politics that is inherently untruthful; the world lacks the basis to demand truth from its people" (50).

[Note from Thom: At this point, I broke down and cried. For if the above sentence were to be rewritten honestly it would read: Because of the church the world can feel justified in trying to build a politics that is inherently untruthful; for the church lacks the courage to demand of itself that it be truthful.]

"All politics should be judged by the character of the people it produces" (51).

"It is alleged to be incorrect to speak of Jesus as a social ethic. The best we can do is speak of the Gospels as a social ethic. I have tried to show that if we pay attention to the narrative and self-involving character of the Gospels, as the early disciples did, there is no way to speak of Jesus' story without its forming our own. The story it forms creates a community which corresponds to the form of his life. . . . To learn to tell and live the story truthfully does not mean that we must be able to reconstruct "what really happened" from the four [Gospels]. Rather it means that we, like the early Christians, must learn that understanding Jesus' life is inseparable from learning how to live our own. And that there are various ways to do this is clear by the diversity of the Gospels. A truthful telling of the story cannot be guaranteed by historical investigation (though that investigation certainly can be in service to the truth), but by being the kind of people who can bear the burden of that story with joy. We, no less than the first Christians, are the continuation of the truth made possible by God's rule" (51-52).

[Thom: Hauerwas himself didn't point this out in his treatment of Mark 8:27-9:1, but as I read through the text I was able to read it in a way I've never read it before. Here's the text, followed by my (probably very obvious) observation:


Jesus and his disciples went on to the villages around Caesarea Philippi. On the way he asked them, "Who do people say I am?"
They replied, "Some say John the Baptist; others say Elijah; and still others, one of the prophets."
"But what about you?" he asked. "Who do you say I am?"
Peter answered, "You are the Christ.[a]"

Jesus warned them not to tell anyone about him. He then began to teach them that the Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders, chief priests and teachers of the law, and that he must be killed and after three days rise again. He spoke plainly about this, and Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him.

But when Jesus turned and looked at his disciples, he rebuked Peter. "Get behind me, Satan!" he said. "You do not have in mind the things of God, but the things of men."

Then he called the crowd to him along with his disciples and said: "If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for me and for the gospel will save it. What good is it for a man to gain the whole world, yet forfeit his soul? Or what can a man give in exchange for his soul? If anyone is ashamed of me and my words in this adulterous and sinful generation, the Son of Man will be ashamed of him when he comes in his Father's glory with the holy angels."

And he said to them, "I tell you the truth, some who are standing here will not taste death before they see the kingdom of God come with power."


"If anyone is ashamed of me and my words in this adulterous and sinful generation, the Son of Man will be ashamed of him when he comes in his Father's glory with the holy angels."

We've heard this over and over again, but this is the first time I've understood it properly. Usually we take it to mean that if we don't evangelize to people or if we are embarrassed about the fact that we're Christians then God won't accept us either. But this comes right on the heels of Jesus' message that the kind of messiah he is is a suffering messiah. If anyone is ashamed of that kind of life, i.e., of powerlessness, suffering, rather than power and glory, Jesus will be ashamed of him. In other words, unless we live the kind of life Jesus lived— powerlessness instead of power, truth instead of violence, love instead of safety—we will not share in the life of Jesus when it manifests itself in glory. This parallels the Sermon on the Mount, where he spends two and a half chapters describing and prescribing a life of powerlessness before concluding that anyone who does not lead this life will not find life.


July 13, 2006 at 2:20 PM  
Anonymous josh furnal said...


thanks for the quotes, i am sure they are useful.

July 16, 2006 at 3:25 PM  
Blogger Abu Daoud said...

Great quotes. Thank you.

August 2, 2012 at 5:26 AM  

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