Liberating Lutheran Theology: Freedom for Justice and Solidarity in a Global Context. By Paul Chung, Ulrich Duchrow, and Craig L. Nessan. Minneapolis, Minn.: Fortress Press, 2011. 292 pp. $33.00 (cloth).
Liberation theology is venturing remarkably creative conversations with traditional voices. A number of liberative traditions - feminist, queer, black, Latin American, African, and Asian - are re-interrogating the value of classical Christian theologies and reconstructing radical theopolitical possibilities from those very resources. Liberating Lutheran Theology, in its critical collusions of the sixteenth-century reformer Martin Luther and contemporary liberation theologies, is a welcome contribution to these kinds of conversations and offers insightful theological critiques of oppressive global economies.
The book is a collaborative effort, woven together by theologians Paul Chung of Luther Seminary in Minneapolis, Ulrich Duchrow of the University of Heidelberg, Germany, and Craig L. Nessan of Wartburg Theological Seminary in Dubuque, Iowa. As such, the authors observe, "This book is an international collaborative effort to bring the resources of Lutheran theology to address the economic and cultural challenges of the twenty-first century" (p. viii).
Particularly key to this volume is a reexamination of Luther's political thought. Scholars often claim that Luther's theological writings on vocation and Lutheran ethics in general are riddled by a tendency to preserve oppressive status quos. Chung, Duchrow, and Nessan seek to offer a corrective. They write, "Instead, set free by the Gospel, this is an interpretation of Luther's theology that engages the reality of poverty, hunger, and oppression as the most urgent theological issues in the contemporary world" (p. viii). The style and substance of Martin Luther's theology, then, becomes a site of economic and political transformation.
The book itself is structured into three main sections, each written by a different author and each grounded in a geographical-contextual transversal. In part one, "Latin America/North America/Europe," Craig Nessan meditates on the complex relationship between Latin American liberation theologies and their critiques of Luther's writings about the "two kingdoms." Exploring these critiques and pointing out the potential for harmful dualisms in two kingdoms thinking, Nessan argues that "by making explicit that God employs two distinct strategies in God's mission of establishing the one kingdom of God, a framework is constructed that avoids the prevalent dangers and misunderstandings that have plagued modern interpreters of Luther's thought" (p. 51). The theology of justification, Nessan continues, provides a theological motivation for justice in all areas of life at once.
Part two, "Asia/Europe/North America," continues a Lutheran meditation on economic justice by Paul Chung. Here, Chung links economic critiques, Lutheran theology, and Dietrich Bonhoeffer's resistant "Confessing Church" with Buddhism and Asian minjung theologies. The inculturation of the gospel is read as a call to be involved in God's continuing creation. Especially insightful in this part is Chungs reading of the communio sanctorum with Asian ancestral pieties. Throughout this section, Chung works with deep attentiveness to our multireligious and multiphilosophical contexts.
Finally, in part three, "Europe/North America/ Asia," Ulrich Duchrow examines the violence of Western imaginaries in the formation of economic empire and globalization. He explores Martin Luther's and John Calvin's critiques of "the individual profit-making mentality of early capitalism" (p. 175). And he opens these discussions into critical conversation with non-Western figures such as Mahatma Gandhi and African voices through 'The Dar es Salaam Statement. …