Russell Moore on the Liberation Theology of Jeremiah Wright

Russell Moore has an outstanding essay on what should and should not trouble Christians about Barack Obama’s pastor, Jeremiah Wright. This is one you’ll want to read. Here’s an excerpt:

‘What [Obama’s pastor] is preaching is a form of liberation theology, leftover Marxist theory baptized in the narrative of Scripture and applied to a set of political goals. The tenor of the Trinity United Church of Christ ministry is one that is defined by race and politics. The church is “unashamedly black and unapologetically Christian,” it says, and the language of black liberation theology is everywhere in the public presentation of the mission and identity of the church.

‘What is disturbing to me is that too many Christians have been diagnosing the particular political aims of Reverend Wright and his church as though this were the preeminent problem.

‘But what is the root? Liberation theology has been with us since the 1960s, in too many incarnations to count, always offering a version of the same message. The liberation theologians see the Gospel of Christ crucified and resurrected, the message of deliverance from the reign of sin and death through repentance and faith, as too “pie in the sky.” In contrast, liberation theology offers economic and political salvation in the here-and-now, sometimes through pulpit rhetoric and sometimes at the point of a gun. . .

‘There is a liberation theology of the Left, of the kind of politicized movement we see right now in the newspapers and on our television screens. There is also a liberation theology of the Right, one represented by prosperity gospels and grinning consumer Christianity. Both are at heart Mammon worship. The liberation theology of the Left often wants a Barrabas, to fight off the oppressors as though our ultimate problem were the reign of Rome and not the reign of death. The liberation theology of the Right wants a golden calf, to represent religion and to remind us of all the economic security we had in Egypt. Both want a Caesar or a Pharaoh, not a Messiah.’

Read the rest here:

“Why You Shouldn’t Worry About Jeremiah Wright, and Why You Should” – by Russell Moore (The Henry Institute)

36 Responses to Russell Moore on the Liberation Theology of Jeremiah Wright

  1. Brett March 24, 2008 at 11:39 pm #

    Interesting stuff. I’m with Paul here about knowing the context of this. It’s not like it just springs up out of some evil desire, but is the result of years and years of oppression. Liberation theology has some good things to offer, but can also be evil in the process. Just like Calvinistic theology people. Come on, it’s not the label of liberation or Calvinist theology that’s bad, it’s the people who give it different nuances and use it to justify violent behavior and venomous words.

    I’ll have to post more on this later after I read the article again. I personally have no problem with the church’s slogan though. After white people enslaved, beat, and oppressed black people for so long, I believe that gives them a right to push the envelope a little bit in regards to race. Just my opinion though.

  2. Lucas Knisely March 25, 2008 at 7:05 am #

    Whether we acknowledge the context of the cause of liberation theology or not, it is still wrong. Perhaps context would help in refuting it, but it we shouldn’t let it passively dismiss or justify a false gospel. I don’t know Joel Osteen’s “context”, but I know he preaches a false gospel. This new rule about “knowing the context” just dilutes the problem and makes it less offensive.

  3. Joshua March 25, 2008 at 8:58 am #

    Brett,
    I think that any movement in the history of Christianity can show you good and evil. We are imperfect beings, therefore our attempt to understand and reach God are, imperfect.

    I liked the article’s contrast. A lot of the articles I’ve read from the Left and the Right about Wright, support him or damn him. I like that Moore is contrasting it out.

  4. Ferg March 25, 2008 at 9:09 am #

    Lucas, You seem pretty black and white on these things. I figure then that you would say that pretty much most gospels preached are a false gospel, as i’m sure they don’t all agree with your way of thinking. Are you a calvinist or an arminian? if one or the other, then you believe that the other is preaching a false gospel; so would I, however where I think you go slightly amiss, is that you disregard everything else that other way of thinking believes. John Piper drives me absolutely nuts, I really disagree with a lot of his theology, HOWEVER, i don’t doubt his love for Jesus and some of his messages I have learned good truths from. perhaps you could do the same from certain people you disagree with?

  5. Brett March 25, 2008 at 11:07 am #

    Lucas,

    Maybe Calvinism is wrong, maybe Calvinism is a false Gospel. I just am not sure we can dismiss someone’s faith who preaches a type of liberation theology. I don’t know if that’s what you’re doing, but calling it a “false gospel” leads me to believe that way.

  6. D.J. Williams March 25, 2008 at 11:12 am #

    Ferg,

    I know the question was directed at Lucas and I’m sure he’ll respond, but I couldn’t help but wade in here.

    I think the fundamental difference with condemning Wright’s teaching and your example of finding good in the teaching of Piper, whom you disagree with, is the fact that I would hope you would still say that Piper does preach the gospel as presented in Scripture. Whether you disagree with the more Reformed aspects of his teaching or perhaps with his ‘Christian Hedonism,’ I think we can agree that he does proclaim the orthodox Christian gospel of forgivenes of personal sin through the redemptive death and resurrection of Christ. I do not see that gospel present in the teaching of Wright – his gospel is purely socio-political in nature (at least as far as I have been able to find, and I have scoured TUCC’s website, mission statement, purpose statement, some of Wright’s sermons, etc. and found nothing). Thus, I cannot look to him as a consistent source of truth because at the core, he is not preaching the gospel. On the flip side, I can and have gleaned much from Arminian preachers such as Steve DeNeff, even though I would strongly disagree with their soteriological views and other aspects of their theology. There’s a substantial categoric difference between disagreeing on soteriology and disagreeing on the gospel.

  7. Kevin J March 25, 2008 at 11:58 am #

    D.J.,

    I am with you. As long as the death, burial and resurrection of Christ is preached (in relation to the need of repentance and forgiveness) then their gospel is not “false”. Other aspects of the beliefs may not be orthodox but the core message may be.

    We must be careful to proclaim someone is preaching a false “gospel”. However, we can more easily proclaim that we believe other aspects of their “faith” do not seem Biblical.

  8. Ferg March 25, 2008 at 12:12 pm #

    DJ and Kevin, I agree and take your point fully on board. (I do find it a shame that Mr. Piper doesn’t take your view on board in his condemning of Greg Boyd and John Sanders etc. It would be nice if he didn’t call these guys heretics and understood their agreeing on the fundamentals).

  9. Lucas Knisely March 25, 2008 at 2:31 pm #

    Thanks D.J. =) Well played, sir.

  10. Mike March 25, 2008 at 2:34 pm #

    “I do find it a shame that Mr. Piper doesn’t take your view on board in his condemning of Greg Boyd and John Sanders etc. It would be nice if he didn’t call these guys heretics and understood their agreeing on the fundamentals.”

    Maybe you need to ask yourself why Piper doesnt take this view.

    Is it possible that Open Theism presents a different God than the one who is presented in Scripture?

  11. Darius March 25, 2008 at 3:44 pm #

    If Open Theism isn’t heresy (and I’m not saying that it is), then it is about the closest thing to it. Calling God a liar regarding one of his attributes isn’t terribly wise.

  12. Matt March 25, 2008 at 4:36 pm #

    FWIW –

    I listened to an interview on Chicago NPR a few days back with the new head pastor of TUCC’s church, Otis Moss III. The interviewer closed with a question about how he felt that every word he says from the pulpit would be scrutinized. He responded with something like, “I am thrilled that people will be paying so much attention to what I have to say, because people need to be saved and the only hope for that is Jesus Christ. Jesus Christ is the only hope for those who despair in our world.” He then ended by stating how excited he was that so many people would be hearing about the salvific import of Jesus.

  13. Brett March 25, 2008 at 5:04 pm #

    Darius,

    Can you provide textual support for your claim?

  14. Ferg March 25, 2008 at 5:46 pm #

    Lucas,

    “Thanks D.J. =) Well played, sir.”

    Perhaps I’m reading too much into it, but I find that comment a strange one. Is this a competition to see who can present the best case and when you “win” the battle, you give yourself and good self-righteous pat on the back?? If thats the case, I’m out of here. However, if it’s people sharing their thoughts on matters in relation to our heavenly father in a humble way, then lets discuss. I didn’t think it was you and DJ on one team and me on another! Because DJ answered me in a great way, does that mean that you don’t need to respond to something i directed towards you? it’s like you disregard me as a person, because my point was as you would say “defeated”. i would just think that DJ said something true and i appreciate the opportunity to learn from that.

  15. Ferg March 25, 2008 at 5:47 pm #

    Darius…I’m wondering along with Brett where you get open theism calling God a liar. Out of context I could as easily say that the God of John Piper is a murdering rapist, as everything is in his will and he causes these things to happen, even if vicariously.

  16. Ferg March 25, 2008 at 5:51 pm #

    Mike, my point is not one of open theism, it’s one of the fact that Greg Boyd believes in the fundamentals of christianity. I don’t think this is the place to get into dialogue about open theism. I have been seriously asking myself for a long time now why Piper takes this stance and after much searching, I still do not agree with his theology and believe that he infact distorts the God of scripture; but like I said, i’m working through this stuff and it’s my humble opinion, I’m not putting it out there as truth for a hundred people to now come on and annihilate me for disagreeing with Piper!!!

  17. Sue March 25, 2008 at 6:56 pm #

    Listen to the full truth not half truth even if you don’t agree with the facts spoken

    Rev. Jeremiah Wright’s 9-11 sermon in context

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QOdlnzkeoyQ

    Jeremiah Wright’s God Damn America in context

  18. Lucas Knisely March 25, 2008 at 7:20 pm #

    Ferg,

    Not a competition. Well played just means “well said” or “well done”. Don’t worry, brother.

  19. Darius March 26, 2008 at 8:15 am #

    Umm, the repeated mention of God knowing all things in the Scriptures. To say that He doesn’t clearly goes against Scripture, merely because humans can’t fathom how He can know all things. Don’t fit God within the confines of your worldly wisdom.

  20. Paul March 26, 2008 at 9:40 am #

    sorry it took me so long to jump in here, but anyway…

    Lucas in #2,

    the only reason that context shouldn’t matter is if you’re looking to set up straw men.

    In context, Joel Osteen (since you mentioned him) is STILL a snake oil salesman.

    In context, Wright might very well be much of the same. I dunno. I have yet to hear an entire sermon from him (and it’s kinda hard to try to pin an entire ideology on someone over three or four statements. Even someone as quick to judgement as yourself has GOT to realize that).

    No one, in any of these comments, has said that it’d be okay to justify a false gospel. But until you know exactly what Wright is preaching (and that means hearing more than a statement or two, and let’s face it, Denny and Moore and Mohler and Gerson and Medved all have their own axes to grind here), you can’t call it a false gospel, because you don’t know.

  21. Ferg March 27, 2008 at 7:20 am #

    Darius, UM, i never said that God doesn’t know all things there are to know. neither does the doctrine of open theism. understand what you’re “umming” about before you comment like that.

  22. Paul March 27, 2008 at 8:27 am #

    Sue,

    watched the 9/11 clip in context.

    What’s funny is that he was quoting someone else’s views on 9/11.

    But if Fox reports that, they don’t have a story. And if Lucas and company look at that in context, then they actually have to complain about Obama on the ISSUES instead of on the ephemera which make building straw men so much easier.

  23. Trent G. March 27, 2008 at 9:40 am #

    I was just curious if anyone actually intends on interacting with Moore’s article, which is actually the subject of this post.

    But more of the “great white right-wing conspiracy” stuff is fine too.

  24. Paul March 27, 2008 at 9:48 am #

    alright Trent, here goes…

    Wright is not a BLACK liberation theologian. That said, he does believe in liberation theology, which is essentially, a social gospel.

    As long as Christ risen is still preached from the pulpit, I say more power to the social gospel types. While many, many, many too many folk try to get theirs from God and do far too little to help the poor, the elderly and the sick, Wright’s church does just that. And if they do that in the context of “Jesus taught us to do this out of love, and the greatest love is the love found in Christ,” then give me liberation theology well before Calvinism. Frankly, I think that people like Moore use words like Marxism for emotional pull more than realistic comparison.

    And I wouldn’t immediately label the prosperity gospel the right wing version of liberation theology, either politically or theologically. Frankly, I find the prosperity gospel to be far more dangerous, because it gives believers an easy out to deny the gospel (if they don’t get theirs, then God doesn’t exist, God isn’t fair, etc, etc, etc).

    And, sorry Trent, looking at what Fox aired to get everyone in a tizzy, and then looking at what Wright actually said, there’s something to be said for that great white right wing conspiracy as well. Blow it off all you want, it simply proves how much people really want to wear their blinders and see only what they choose to see.

  25. Trent G. March 27, 2008 at 10:06 am #

    “And, sorry Trent, looking at what Fox aired to get everyone in a tizzy, and then looking at what Wright actually said, there’s something to be said for that great white right wing conspiracy as well. Blow it off all you want, it simply proves how much people really want to wear their blinders and see only what they choose to see.”

    This gives me a sense of the rationalism we’re dealing with here. I’m guessing Roswell, New Mexico is involved somehow as well, but what do I know I’m blinded by the clones who have infiltrated our government (and at least one cable news station).

  26. Paul March 27, 2008 at 10:08 am #

    Trent,

    did you watch the full clips?

    can you possibly say that Wright was as inflammatory as Fox made him out to be if you did?

    correct answers: yes, no.

    anything less equals blinders. sorry.

  27. Mark Gibson March 27, 2008 at 10:16 am #

    Wright said what he said and nothing was taken out of context. It sounded to me like he agreed with everything that ambassador said.

  28. Trent G. March 27, 2008 at 10:20 am #

    And just so your informed Paul, the members of his congregation proudly use the label Black Liberation Theology, so you can probably do without the self-righteous indignation. Of course, they could also be blinded by the conspirators…..ooooooohhh…..creepy.

  29. Paul March 27, 2008 at 10:22 am #

    Trent,

    that righteous indignation goes both ways, my friend. I’ve seen you sneer at the left more than a few times.

    pot, meet kettle.

  30. Trent G. March 27, 2008 at 11:14 am #

    Ah yes, you ignore the fact that you spoke out of ignorance and in the process implied that Russell Moore was unnecessarily making this a racial issue (probably because he is part of the great conspiracy) and instead you say, “yeah, but you do it too”. Of course you don’t provide evidence, you just say “more than a few times” (so, I’m assuming you could cite at least four times right, sure you could) because it’s all so much easier when you can chalk everything up to conspiracy theories and anyone who disagrees with you is blinded to the great light of knowledge you possess.

  31. Lucas Knisely March 27, 2008 at 11:21 am #

    Get used to it, Trent. Baseless accusations have become the token form of discourse for some here.

  32. Paul March 27, 2008 at 11:25 am #

    Trent,

    where did I speak out of ignorance? Wright himself has claimed that he got liberation theology from the Nicaraguans, and is not himself a BLACK liberation theologist.

    Again, read, ask, learn, then speak.

    I never once said, or meant to imply that Moore was making this a race issue. I do believe though that this IS a political issue, and let’s face it, many of the folks making a stink over Wright and Obama have more of a political axe to grind than a theological one.

  33. Paul March 27, 2008 at 11:26 am #

    so has circular logic, Lucas.

  34. Lucas Knisely March 27, 2008 at 11:33 am #

    so has circular logic, Lucas.

    I rest my case.

  35. Trent G. March 27, 2008 at 12:04 pm #

    This is what Wright says about a document on his church’s website:

    “That comes out of the perspective of liberation theology and black liberation theology. And I keep asking him, how many books of Cone’s has he read? How many books of Dwight Hopkins? How many liberation theologians does he know?”

    Wright himself, says that the document on his church’s website comes out of the perspective of black liberation theology. I personally know a lot of Arminian pastors who have Calvinistic doctrinal statements on their church’s website.

    Also, please note that Jim Cone is considered the founder of black liberation theology. Now, I realize, as Paul has noted that I have much to learn, but I find it interesting that Wright would recommend reading Cone’s book in order to properly understand his church if he has nothing to do with black liberation theology.

  36. Paul March 27, 2008 at 1:04 pm #

    honestly, Trent, I would too.

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