In this last post of six we draw some conclusions regarding Gutiérrez’s spirituality.
Conclusions: Strengths, Weaknesses and Legitimacy
With regard to biblical interpretation, Gutiérrez and other liberation theologians should be commended for some of their insights into socio-political aspects of Scripture. However, Gutiérrez’s prior commitment to critical reflection on the plight of the poor produces a ‘vicious’ hermeneutical circle which is anything but critical. In making the text secondary to modern socio-political context in the interpretive process marginalises the other dynamics of Scripture. Thus Gutiérrez moves to the opposite extreme of those who he criticises for over-spiritualising the claims of God’s action for humankind; he over-materialises the work of God. Gutiérrez is not alone in this, but contrary to contextual and materialistic theology’s claim to legitimacy in the light of the hermeneutical circle, such approaches tend to produce thin interpretations because they reflect back preunderstanding rather than understanding.
We can therefore conclude that Gutiérrez’s commitment to the poor, prior to Scriptural engagement is problematic. We have, however, also noted that there is a strong case for Scripture presenting a ‘preferential option for the poor’. This principle cannot, however, legitimately carry the epistemological freight that Gutiérrez gives it. This is not to suggest that the Western Church has fully taken up the call of Scripture in tackling the ethical and socio-economic issues that all too often ensure the poverty and suffering of so large a portion of the world’s population. Nor can we suggest that mission to the poor and marginalised has always been appropriately contextualised.
Whilst Marxist social analysis demonstrates clearly that the plight of so many of the world’s poor is a product of the economics promoted by the richest nations, it carries other aspects of association which are undesirable such as the singular focus on socio-political matters which when used as an interpretive lens leave other dynamics out of focus. A critical analytical tool needs itself to be self-critical.
Gutiérrez’s spirituality unfortunately, and unwittingly, falls into a trap of a very different theology, the so-called prosperity gospel. Both promise too much in the now. All too often the Western Church has tended to the opposite extreme, accepting the status quo uncritically and making biblical hope only a future hope that has made both these alternatives so popular. A biblical spirituality needs to do justice to the dynamic breadth of salvation which includes social justice as a dynamic of mission. Biblical spirituality is not based on a movement entirely within history with man as its agent; rather, it is a future hope which breaks into the present by the God of grace equipping his servants.
Gutiérrez argues that theology and spirituality should be coherent with one another and we commend this wholeheartedly. For Gutiérrez both theology and spirituality are also lived out, they are practical rather than internal and/or passively reflective. This spirituality echoes the challenge of the prophets in that they didn’t chide any lack of theoretical theology but rather the lack of a lived theology that failed the orphan, widow and stranger (see, for example, Deuteronomy 10:18; 24:17-20). In this way Gutiérrez’s life and message are a profound prophetic challenge to us.
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