Eschatology in Latin America – an Excerpt from Theology without Borders

The following is an excerpt from Theology without Borders, by William Dyrness and Oscar García-Johnson.

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In many places in Latin America, the daily challenge to survive in a context of violence and poverty makes it difficult to imagine a better future. How can a people who have suffered so much at the hands of foreign conquerors and who continue to experience grinding poverty imagine something better?

Cover ArtFélix Palazzi, in his discussion of Jon Sobrino’s theology, frames this difficulty in these terms: How does one understand any future, indeed any way of thinking about human dignity in the present, amid the daily struggle to survive? How do we announce any meaningful “irruption of eschatology” within the framework of this history? As Oscar has often reminded us in these pages, the theological difficulty here is to understand this history, one that is so foreign to most Western Christians, as a place where God is at work, as a locus theologicus.

This may be especially difficult in Latin American discussions of eschatology. As Willie Jennings has pointed out, the ideology of conquest brought with it an implicit understanding of eschatology as the end of history. What the conquest brought to Latin America, he argues, was theorized as a new creation, a creation ex nihilo. Jennings summarizes the character of this project in Latin America as follows: “Detached from the land, oblivious to the ongoing decimation of native ecologies, deeply suspicious of native religious practices, and most important, enclosed within Iberian whiteness, the performance of Christian theology would produce a new, deformed, and deforming intellectual circuit.”

Unaware of their own dependency on indigenous (European) narratives, eschatology, for both Catholic and Protestant missionaries, was often portrayed in terms of a break with the past. But if God’s project involves a break with the past, what do we make, theologically, of a present that presses in on us with such painful immediacy? What hope can we find in these circumstances?

In a powerful description of the Christian understanding of hope, Salvadorean theologian Jon Sobrino puts forth one possible answer: announcing the presence of the reign of God in Jesus Christ. But Sobrino insists the hope Christ brings is not a generalized hope for some utopia—like that of Plato or Thomas More, which do not really exist. It is a specific hope that addresses the particular suffering of the poor.

The liberation that Christ brings does not open up some ideal world “but is more modest, though more human and more necessary and urgent: that a just and dignified life for the poor comes into being, such that the very real cruelty and its suffering does not have the last word.” This hope arises from a particular experience of the biblical God who sees those who suffer, hears their cries, and through various historical events and signs loves and defends them. This gives believers strength to oppose all that Sobrino calls the “anti-kingdom.”

©2015 by William A. Dyrness and Oscar García-Johnson. Published by Baker Academic. Unauthorized use of this material without express written permission is strictly prohibited.

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