Sobrino on Faith and Idolatry


Finally, from a Salvadoran perspective it is clear that the true God is at war with other gods. These are the idols, the false divinities—though they are real enough—which Archbishop Romero has concretized for our time in speaking of the absolutization of exploitative capitalism and “national security.” Idols dehumanize their worshipers, but their ultimate evil lies in the fact that they demand victims in order to exist. If there is one single deep conviction which I have acquired in El Salvador, it is that such idols are real; they are not the inventions of so-called primitive peoples but are indeed active in modern societies. We dare not doubt this, in view of such idols’ innumerable victims: the poor, the unemployed, the refugees, the detainees, the tortured, the disappeared, the massacred. And if idols do exist, then the issue of faith in God is very much alive.

I have also learned in El Salvador that to believe in God means to cease having faith in idols and to struggle against them. That is the reason why we humans must make a choice not only between faith and atheism but between faith and idolatry. In a world of victims, little can be known about a person simply because he calls himself a believer or a nonbeliever. It is imperative to know in which God she believes and against which idols she does battle. If such a person is truly a worshiper of idols, it matters little whether he accepts or denies the existence of a transcendent being. There really is nothing new in that: Jesus affirmed it in his parable of the last judgment.

So in order to speak the whole truth one must always say two things: in which God one believes and in which idol one does not believe. Without such a dialectic formulation, faith remains too abstract, is likely to be empty and, what is worse, can be very dangerous because it may very well allow for the coexistence of belief and idolatry.

Jon Sobrino, S.J. “Awakening from the Sleep of Inhumanity,” The Christian Century, April 3 1991, p364-370

Harvey on the Real Problem of Race

Problems with the reconciliation paradigm and the assumptions about difference on which it rests become most clear when we move away from a “universalist” way of talking about race and difference and, instead, bring a “particularist ethic” to bear on the discussion. A particularist ethic recognizes that there is no one shared standard against which we might measure or interpret our experiences of race, nor one to which we may all be held similarly accountable. Rather, we can begin to speak of the “particular” problem white racial identity brings to bear on reconciliation, the particular relationship of white people to matters of race and racial injustice…

Allowing particularity or distinction to be our starting point allows us to analyze and meaningfully discuss the differences between blackness and whiteness, as well as to ascertain the different work required of differently racialized groups in the context of white supremacy.

Another outcome is that the structures, histories, and injustices that result in such particularity – that, in fact, give our identities (and our agency in response to those realities) distinct meanings – become central in our attempts to envision and work for racial justice… given the construction of race and US racial history, only a particularist ethic is able to support the kind of understanding imperative for meaningful and effective responses to our actual racial situation.

Racial division is a real problem… but the racial problem… is not separateness itself. And togetherness is certainly no solution. Separateness is merely a symptom. The real problem is what our differences represent, how they came to be historically, and what they mean materially and structurally still. Racial separateness is evidence of the extent to which our differences embody legacies of unjust material structures. Racial separateness is a to-be-expected outcome of the reality that our differences literally contain still painful and violent histories that remain unredressed and unrepaired. Racial separateness reveals that our differences are the very manifestation of ongoing forms of racial injustice and white supremacy…

Racism and racial injustice are actual material conditions that shape all of our lives and mediate all of our relationships with one another. These material conditions, which began in an era of enslavement and continue powerfully still today, are the source of our alienation from each other. Loving difference without addressing these conditions as a way of demonstrating that love is a recipe for failure…

As important as genuinely appreciating difference may be for an array of other reasons, setting our souls right can be done only through justice-filled engagement with and responses to those very same structures that racialized our human bodies in the first place and continue to racialize us on a daily basis.

Jennifer Harvey, Dear White Christians: For Those Still Longing for Racial Reconciliation, pgs. 59-61.

Newbigin on the Open Secret of Gospel Stewardship

One of the most common metaphors used in the New Testament to describe the relation of the church to the gospel is that of stewardship. The church, and especially those called to any kind of leadership in the church, are servants entrusted with that which is not their property but is the property of their Lord. That which is entrusted is something of infinite worth as compared with the low estate of the servants in whose hands it is placed. They are but mud pots; but that which is entrusted to them is the supreme treasure (II Cor. 4:7). The treasure is nothing less than “the mysteries of God” (I Cor. 4:1), “the mystery of the gospel” (Eph. 6:19), “the mystery which was kept secret for long ages but is now disclosed and… made known to all nations… to bring about the obedience of faith” (Rom. 16:25-26). It is “the mystery of his will… to unite all things in him” (Eph. 1:9-10). It is the open secret of God’s purpose, through Christ, to bring all things to their true end in the glory of the triune God. It is open in that it is announced in the gospel that is preached to all the nations; it is a secret in that it is manifest only to the eyes of faith. It is entrusted to those whom God has given the gift of faith by which the weakness and foolishness of the cross is known as the power and wisdom of God. It is entrusted to them not for themselves but for all the nations. It is Christ in them, the hope of glory.

Lesslie Newbigin. The Open Secret: An Introduction to the Theology of Mission (Kindle Locations 2551-2560). Kindle Edition.


Mary said,

“With all my heart I glorify the Lord! 

In the depths of who I am I rejoice in God my savior.

He has looked with favor on the low status of his servant.

Look! From now on, everyone will consider me highly favored because the mighty one has done great things for me.
Holy is his name.

He shows mercy to everyone, from one generation to the next, who honors him as God.

He has shown strength with his arm. He has scattered those with arrogant thoughts and proud inclinations.

He has pulled the powerful down from their thrones and lifted up the lowly.

He has filled the hungry with good things and sent the rich away empty-handed.

He has come to the aid of his servant Israel, remembering his mercy, just as he promised to our ancestors, to Abraham and to Abraham’s descendants forever.”


A KY Farmer on What It Means to Be Human

During my days as a student pastor in rural Kentucky, I learned a great deal of theology that I did not find in the books I was reading at school. My teacher was an elderly deacon who had spent his life working the soil, loving people, and being a faithful church member. Often he would lead in prayer in morning worship, and we knew to expect one phrase, in particular. He would always ask God to help us “remember where we came from,” “how much we’ve got to do,” and “how much we need one another to do it.” I think his prayer offers a good summary of what it means to be human.

Molly T. Marshall, What It Means to Be Human

Linthicum: Shalom is Our Mission

In the final analysis, we are not called to build bigger or better churches, to prepare disciples or even to win people to Jesus Christ, though these are all important and strategic elements. We as the church are to focus on working for the realization of the shalom community in our political, economic, and religious life together. That mission of proclaiming the vision and doing whatever we can to move this world toward “becoming the kingdom of our Lord and His Christ” is the essence of what we Christians are to be about.

Robert Linthicum, Transforming Power, p. 40

While I agree with most everything Linthicum writes about shalom, I think he’s at risk of breaking the eschatological tension of shalom when he calls it an “achievable” society. He doesn’t define “achievable” but he needs to. Shalom is achievable only as an eschatological reality that we experience as a gift of the Spirit in brief fits and spurts, foretastes that leave us wanting more, until the day of the Lord comes and brings all things to their fulfillment, when God will be all in all. The language of “achievement” also contradicts Linthicum’s previous statement about shalom being a gift of grace. Gifts are not achieved. Yes, we have much work to do, but all our work towards shalom is meaningless apart from the power of the Spirit who is leading all creation on the reconciling way of Christ to be at home in the boundless love of God.

Just Call Me Friend

This is my commandment: love each other just as I have loved you. No one has greater love than to give up one’s life for one’s friends. You are my friends if you do what I command you. I don’t call you servants any longer, because servants don’t know what their master is doing. Instead, I call you friends, because everything I heard from my Father I have made known to you.

John 15:12-15


At the Last Supper, Christ was telling the disciples those things of greatest importance. It was His final opportunity to communicate the central values of the faith. “No longer do I call you servants,” He said, “for a servant does not know what his master is doing; but I have called you friends, for all things that I heard from My Father I have made known to you” (John 15:15). Finally, Christ said you are not servants. You know the Father’s heart. You know the inside story. You are friends. Perhaps beyond the revolutionary Christian mandate of service is that final revolution, the possibility of being friends. Friends are people who know each other, who care, respect, struggle and are committed through time. Christ’s mandate o~be friends is a revolutionary idea in our serving society. Why friends rather than servants? Perhaps it is because He knew that servants could always become lords but that friends could not. Professional servants may operate on the assumption that “you will be better because I know better,” but friends believe that “we will be better because we share in each others’ lives.” Servants are people who know the mysteries that can control those to whom they give “help.” Friends, on the other hand, are free to give and receive help from each other.

Robert Lupton, Compassion, Justice, and the Christian Life: Rethinking Ministry to the Poor, p. 67

Costas on Christmas

Costas, OrlandoAfter the incarnation, any talk about God must have the man Christ-Jesus as a fundamental referent. It was this fact that led Karl Barth to state: “Man has become the measure of all things since God became man.” In other words, since God has become human in Jesus Christ, revealing not just his true self but the true identity of man, the fundamental issue of theology has ceased to be “who is God” and has become instead “who is the true man.” Hence we can assert that theology has become a contextual discipline since the incarnation of God in Jesus of Nazareth

…it must also be true that Jesus Christ is today one with the outcast and oppressed of the earth. Wherever there is oppression, there is the Spirit of Christ incarnated in the experience of the oppressed; there is God contextualized in the present history of the non-persons of society

…Instead of feeling threatened, we should see in the incarnation of Christ among the destitute a reminder of the scandal of the gospel and the radical nature of conversion. The good news of salvation does not come to us via the wise and mighty, but rather by way of the ignorant and downtrodden (I Co. l:18ff). Neither is the call to conversion an invitation to sooth our guilty consciences, to reinforce our privileged status and to give us strength to continue to be part of an oppressive social system. It is rather an invitation to put our trust in the Lord and Saviour of the poor and the oppressed, to turn from our personal sins and from our alliances with the oppressive structures of this world, to join the struggle of God’s kingdom against the forces of evil — of injustice, exploitation and repression.

Orlando Costas, “Contextualization and Incarnation,” Journal of Theology for South Africa


Oliver on Serving the Poor

Jesus doesn’t have any good news for those who serve the poor. Jesus didn’t come to bring good news of the Kingdom to those who serve the poor; he brought Good News to the poor. He has nothing to say to other saviors who compete with him for the position of Messiah, or Redeemer.

Jesus’ agenda only brings a message for those who recognize themselves as poor, naked, hurt, tired, overburdened, needy and hopeless. As for the rest, his agenda has little or nothing to offer.

The only way to remain with the poor is if we discover that we are the miserable ones. We remain with the poor when we recognize ourselves, even if well disguised, in him/her who is right before our eyes. When we can see our own misery and poverty in them, when we realize our own needs and our desperate need to be saved and liberated, then and only then will we meet Jesus and live life according to His agenda.

God is not manifest in our ability to heal, but in our need to be healed. Finding out this weakness of ours leaves us in a position of having nothing to offer, serve, donate, but reveals our need to be loved, healed and restored.

Claudio Oliver, “Why I Stopped Serving the Poor”