Liberation theology gets one truth correct about the gospel, which is that Jesus identifies with the oppressed. But there are two major issues with liberation theology’s understanding of this concept. First, though Jesus does “identify” with the oppressed in a sense, yet the cross is emptied of its power when it is seen merely as a symbol of camaraderie with oppressed people. Liberation theologians believe that the cross is symbolic of Jesus’ identification with oppressed classes: either victims of racial, religious, and economic oppression. It is similar to the notion that lurks within liberal theology that Jesus’ sufferings are simply His public statement to the world that certain social ills are wicked. And while, certainly, at the cross of Jesus we see the height of religious, racial, and political oppression, yet the cross itself is not meaningful merely with this insight. Instead, as Paul puts it–the cross is the power of God unto salvation–not merely unto elevation or liberation from certain material evils. And so this is the reason why, first, liberation theology is largely flawed in its description of the cross: it ignores the main purpose of the cross: salvation from the condemnation of sin.
Second, liberation theology is flawed in its understanding of the oppressed in that it misidentifies the oppressed persons for whom Jesus died. Jesus’ death was for those oppressed by the power of sin, Satan, and the fear of death. Jesus did not die to create economic equality in this world. He did not die to create perfect race relations in this world. He did not die to teach the equality of religions. No, He died to purchase a peculiar people from the wrath of God, and to restore them to fellowship with Him. Only in this context, again, only in THIS context of redemption from wrath, is there any hope of secondary effects: that of racial reconciliation, economic generosity or sharing, and religious peace. Paul’s teaching that we, though many races, though male and female, are also one in Christ, first necessitates that we be in Christ for salvation from sin. The example of the early Church in sharing our resources, in creating economic equality, necessitates that we first be disciples of Jesus Christ. God’s revelation of a sheet holding unclean foods was given to Peter, a follower of Jesus, compelling him to share the good news of Jesus’ saving grace to those of other ethnicities and religions. By misidentifying the oppressed persons for whom Jesus died, liberation theology bankrupts the cross of its power. It first obfuscates the gospel by ignoring the truest plight of man (the effects of sin), and by keeping people from truly trusting Jesus for salvation it also keeps them from additional benefits of the gospel.