Among the many discussions that ensued after Nate, Ry, and I posted Kingdom-World-Church, one of the more interesting ones (to me) involved the precise nature of the relation between our theses and Liberation Theology. That there was some important connection was clear from the theses themselves, both in the citations and content, especially regarding the church as the church of/for/with the poor. But questions were raised regarding whether or not the affinity between the project the three of us are undertaking is engaged with Liberation Theology in more than a merely apparent manner.
A thorough exploration of the connection between this project in Liberation Theology will certainly be made clear in the course of the future developed work, but for now, it may be helpful for us to take note of this passage from the first pages of Leonardo Boff’s Church: Charism and Power, which, please note, none of the three of us had encountered prior to our writing of the theses:
Kingdom-World-Church [this is the actual subtitle!]
In order to go beyond mere phenomenological analysis, we must identify the theological poles that enter into our understanding of what it is to be Church. The Church cannot be understood in and of itself because it is affected by those realities that transcend it, namely the Kingdom and the world. World and Kingdom are the two pillars that support the entire edifice of the Church. The reality of the Kingdom is that which defines both the world and the Church. Kingdom–the category used by Jesus to express his own unique intention (ipsissima intentio)–is the utopia that is realized in the world, the final good of the whole of creation in God, completely liberated from all imperfection and penetrated by the Divine. The Kingdom carries salvation to its completion. The world is the arena for the historical realization of the Kingdom. Presently the world is decadent and stained by sin; because of this, the Kingdom of God is raised up against the powers of the anti-Kingdom, engaged in the onerous process of liberation so that the world might accept the Kingdom itself and thus achieve its joyous goal.
The Church is that part of the world that, in the strength of the Spirit, has accepted the Kingdom made explicit in the person of Jesus Christ, the Son of God incarnated in oppression. It preserves the constant memory and consciousness of the Kingdom, celebrating its presence in the world, shaping the way it is proclaimed, and at the service of the world. The Church is not the Kingdom but rather its sign (explicit symbol) and its instrument (mediation) in the world.
These three elements–Kingdom, world, and Church–must be spelled out in their proper order. First is the Kingdom as the primary reality that gives rise to the others. Second is the world as the place where the Kingdom is concretized and the Church is realized. Finally, the Church is the anticipatory and sacramental realization of the Kingdom in the world, as well as the means whereby the Kingdom is anticipated most concretely in the world.
There is a danger of too close an approximation, or even identification, of the Church and the Kingdom that creates an abstract and idealistic image of the Church that is spiritualized and wholly indifferent to the traumas of history. On the other hand, an identification of the Church and the world leads to an ecclesial image that is secular and mundane, one in which the Church’s power is in conflict with the other powers of the world. And there is the danger of a Church centered in on itself, out of touch both with the Kingdom and the world, such that it becomes a self-sufficient, triumphal, and perfect society, many times duplicating the services normally found in civil society, failing to recognize the relative autonomy of the secular realm.
These dangers are theological ‘pathologies’ that cry out for treatment; ecclesiological health depends on the right relationship between Kingdom-world-Church, in such a way that the Church is always seen as a concrete and historical sign (of the Kingdom and of salvation) and as its instrument (mediation) in salvific service to the world.” (pp. 1-2).
Now, I should say that we would probably need to qualify what we mean when we speak of the church as the “mediation” of the kingdom in the world, but the affinity between Boff’s account here and the account we have gestured towards in the theses should be more than apparent in this quote. The point, if it needs to be said, is that for us, a sustained re-engagement with Liberation Theology is much, much more than merely a surface-level, or apparent concern. Indeed, one of the key concerns we have about about the state of much of contemporary ecclesio-concentric theology is the way in which it relies on a sort of back-door rejection of the specific concerns and critiques of Liberation Theology in favor of exalting ecclesial and sacramental practices cast in theopolitical verbiage (e.g. Bell’s Liberation Theology After the End of History and Cavanaugh’s Torture and Eucharist).