Theology is a matter of life and death. Theology has resulted not only in suffering, but in massive loss of human life through the endorsement of empire, colonialism, slavery, sexism, and class hierarchies. However, theology has also sustained life by envisioning and supporting egalitarian communities, the liberation of slaves, the liberation of women, the end of empires and colonialism, and even the end of class divisions that once seemed inevitable. Today, theology needs to decide again whether it will serve life or death.
For too long mainline theology has taken for granted power structures, including the workings of politics and economics. As a result, it has unwittingly endorsed the way things are. Inspired by the alternative power of the gospel, rethinking theology demands that we investigate how the status quo power flow often perpetuates death—not only of the death of humans but also of nature. The investigation of this power flow pursues a constructive purpose insofar as it opens our view for alternatives that exist already, but which need to be nurtured and developed further. In this way, rethinking theology not only transforms itself but also the world.
Throughout the history of Christianity, there has always been a deep relationship between theology and economics. Repeated and worsening economic crises challenge theologians and Christians to rethink that relationship. How we structure our economies deeply influences how we think about and relate to God and other persons. Likewise, our thoughts about and relationships with God and other people shape how we construct our economies.
A Christian commitment to economic justice is about fundamentally opposing those practices and social structures that exploit people. Charity alone is not enough to bring about economic justice. Theology must inspire people to take up sides with the growing number of persons who are not benefiting from the top-down economic structures that benefit only a few.
From its inception, Christianity has been shaped by empires.
Jesus was born under the Roman imperial occupation and governance of Palestine; when he was an infant, his family had to flee to Egypt to avoid the imperially appointed ruler, Herod Antipas. Jesus was crucified by the Roman Empire as a threat to imperial stability.
Christian traditions developed within imperial contexts from the Roman and Byzantine Empires to the high colonial empires of nineteenth-century Europe, often with the dominant church authorities in alignment with the imperial powers. Theology has been deeply influenced by the various forms empires have taken throughout history, but empire has never been able to completely control theology. There are always theologies that resist imperial ways of life and promote alternatives.