From Conflict to Reconciliation: Discipleship in the Theology of Jon Sobrino

By Valiente, O. Ernesto | Theological Studies, September 2013 | Go to article overview

From Conflict to Reconciliation: Discipleship in the Theology of Jon Sobrino


Valiente, O. Ernesto, Theological Studies


THE CHRISTIAN FAITH, STRIPPED TO ITS CORE, rests on the conviction that in Christ God has reconciled the world to God's self. (1) This is the good news that the gospel proclaims and that Christians are called to embody. While reconciliation has been a central theme of Christian faith since apostolic times, Christian understanding of what reconciliation means has expanded over time. Traditional Protestant and Catholic approaches to the subject often stressed the enmity between God and humanity. This emphasis, as German theologian Geiko Muller-Fahrenholz notes, has "tended to address only the sinner and lost sight of the many who were 'sinned against.'" (2) In other words, attention to reconciliation between God and the individual has been accompanied by a neglect of the social dimensions of reconciliation and, by extension, its political implications.

More recent theological reflection has sought to appropriate God's reconciling work as a model for how human beings are called to relate to one another, overcome their conflicts, and seek reconciliation among themselves. In the last 20 years, particularly after the achievements reached by the South African Truth and Reconciliation Commission in the late 1990s, Christian theologians have increasingly turned their attention to the interpersonal, social, and political aspects of reconciliation. (3)

Yet, in spite of numerous social conflicts in Latin America that have given rise to the need for reconciliatory efforts, reconciliation has been a thorny subject among Latin American liberation theologians, and little has been written on it from a liberationist perspective. (4) This may stem in part from a reluctance by liberationists to engage a theme that has often been misused in the continent. The notion of reconciliation was enlisted by those in power in numerous nations to bolster political amnesties that protected human rights violators at the expense of justice. (5) Moreover, some Latin American bishops have proposed as an alternative to liberation theology a theology of reconciliation that endorses the perpetuation of the same social conditions that caused the conflicts while ignoring the need for structural change. (6)

Nonetheless many of the major themes addressed in theologies of reconciliation have been central to Latin American liberation theology since its inception. This article examines, from the perspective of Latin American liberation theology, the challenge to reconciliation posed by entrenched social conflict. It argues that Jon Sobrino's Christology offers the basis for a Christian spirituality of reconciliation, one that empowers the human person to engage the challenges of a conflicted reality with honesty, hope, and faith in God's reconciling promises. While prioritizing the contribution of the victims in the process of overcoming enmity, Sobrino's approach also envisions a Christian praxis that upholds the need for both personal forgiveness and the social restoration of justice without favoring one value at the expense of the other. (7)

To build this case, I identify the basic criteria for a Christian spirituality that effectively addresses deeply-rooted socioeconomic injustice. The second section explores Sobrino's approach to spirituality and to the particular spirit that he insists should guide the human person's engagement of reality. This initial treatment of his understanding of spirituality provides the foundation for the final section that builds on his Christology to identify the contours of a discipleship of reconciliation.

FEATURES OF A CHRISTIAN SPIRITUALITY AS CONTEXTUAL

Any authentic expression of Christian spirituality will contribute to healing historical reality and fostering reconciliation among human beings and with God. But a spirituality that defines itself as a Christian spirituality of reconciliation must explicitly attend to the demands that ensue from situations of injustice, oppression, and enmity. …

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