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The Poor in Liberation Theology: Pathway to God or Ideological Construct?

The Poor in Liberation Theology: Pathway to God or Ideological Construct?

By Tim Noble. Sheffield, U.K.: Equinox Publishing, 2013. Pp. xii, 244. 60 [pounds sterling]/$99.95.

Tim Noble studied in Brazil from 1991 to 1994, and today he teaches liberation theology in Prague. The Poor in Liberation Theology is an abridgment of a thesis arising from "a practical frustration which has led to a theoretical questioning" (p. 1): frustration he experienced with pastoral agents who idolized the poor, leading him to question how the poor might be allowed to be iconic without their being idolized. He examines definitions of the poor in the Bible and in liberation theology as the downtrodden, the victims of unjust structures, and those treated as nonpersons. God's preferential, not exclusive, love for them is his free choice.

Liberation theologians use the concept of idolatry to describe capitalism. Here Noble draws on the work of Pablo Richard, who finds two understandings of idolatry in the Old Testament: reducing God to the material so as to control his power, and worshiping of false gods (43). The latter appears when we absolutize money, the market, or progress, each of which promises false utopias. Liberation, a utopia, is necessary as the driving force for change, but it must be linked with eschatological hope to avoid becoming an ideology (54).

Noble introduces Emmanuel Levinas's emphasis on the other, as well as Jean-Luc Marion's analysis of how concepts can be idolatrous. Levinas critiques ontology where "the other person ... is not allowed to retain his alterity but is reduced to a version of the 'I'" (75). Marion warns that we cannot think of God in the sense of comprehending him (89). Finally, Noble argues that Clodovis Boff offers a method that allows the poor to remain other and iconic (150). In each of the three moments of the method--the socioanalytic, the hermeneutical, and the dialectical--he finds safeguards to avoid idolizing the poor. The book is challenging, difficult, and rewarding.

Neil Collins is a Columban Missionary. After many years with Basic Christian Communities in Mindanao, Philippines, he is writing the history of the Columbans.

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Author:Collins, Neil
Publication:International Bulletin of Missionary Research
Article Type:Book review
Date:Jan 1, 2014
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