Since the 1960s, Latin American liberation theologians have argued that the church must make the poor’s struggle for justice a priority. They have argued that the mission of the church must be understood in the light of historical struggles for liberation. Some even turned to Marxism for insights. How is liberation theology faring today?

C. René Padilla is an evangelical who knows. He worked with the International Fellowship of Evangelical Students for 22 years, and he now serves as general secretary for the Latin American Theological Fraternity. CHRISTIANITY TODAY project editor Thomas Giles spoke with Padilla about the status and future of liberation theology in Latin America.

What are the basic principles of Latin American liberation theology?

Liberation theology in Latin America has developed mainly in Roman Catholic circles in the last 30 years as a response to poverty and injustice. Its proponents believed that theology had become too unrelated to people’s real needs. They wanted to make the gospel more relevant to society.

How do theologians do that?

They encourage liberation from oppressive economic and ecclesiastical structures. Latin America’s poverty, they argue, is not the result of culture, but of unjust economic relations. At the time of the conquest and colonization, Spain and Portugal exploited Latin America’s resources; later, the same thing was done by such world powers as England and the U.S.

When they keep power out of the hands of the common people, church structures also reflect that oppression; they alienate rather than liberate. So the task is to make the church less hierarchical and to allow people to become active participants.

From a biblical standpoint, what are liberation ...

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