LIBERTY TO THE CAPTIVES: Our Call to Minister in a Captive World. By Raymond Rivera. Foreword by Jim Wallis. Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 2012. Xii + 160.
It is a truism that conservative theology goes with conservative politics. That may be true in middle class suburban communities and congregations like the one that I inhabited during my late teens and early 20s, but it’s not necessarily true in Hispanic or African American communities. In these communities a strong commitment to social justice is often combined with evangelical theological commitments. Experiences of oppression, discrimination, racism, and economic marginalization can eventuate in a theology of liberation that calls not just for charity but for systemic restructuring of society.
In Liberty to the Captives Raymond Rivera, a Pentecostal pastor and social activist, offers a vision of the church engaged in prophetic social engagement. The theology is, as one might expect from a Pentecostal preacher, is quite traditional evangelicalism. For those like me who live in a more liberal (post-liberal really) theological environment Rivera took me too close to old theological haunts than perhaps I was comfortable with, but at the same time he makes it clear that the God of his Bible is committed to justice for all (well, except for LBGT folks). He’s not supportive of marriage equality or abortion, but that doesn’t keep him from allying with those who do. His politics is near leftist but he seeks to keep non-aligned with political parties.
This is a book for Christians, especially evangelical ones, who sense that God desires to bring hope and redemption to their communities. He challenges Christians reticent to step outside their comfort zone to recognize that God is already out there ahead of them working for justice, liberating the captives, and inviting us to join in the work of God ministering to and with a world crying out for the freedom only God can bring.
Though a longtime pastor, Rivera also offers a testimony of a life completely turned around – moving from gang member to Pentecostal preacher and then to a Reformed Church of America pastor. Throughout the book, Rivera weaves his own story with the biblical story to offer a compelling call to service. Based on over forty-five years of serving as pastor of inner-city churches, Rivera's inspiring vision challenges all Christians to think again about how their faith should lead to social action and defense of society's most vulnerable people.
The book is full of practical advice about how holistic community-based ministry can bring transformation, healing, and liberation from captivity. In Liberty to the Captives Rivera encourages Christians to respond to God's call by ministering wherever God has placed them. I believe this book will be of use to two specific groups. First, conservative Christians who believe that God isn’t in the social justice business (remember Glen Beck) need to read this. Rivera makes it clear that God stands on the side of the poor and the marginalized, not corporate interests. I think that liberal/progressive Christians can find value here as well. Too often those pursuing social justice ministries conclude that those with conservative theologies aren’t possible allies. Reading this will disabuse them of this myth.
I will admit that at times I found Rivera a bit too self-referential. His lists of accomplishments make it almost seem as if he had superhuman strength and endurance. That being said, it is a compelling read.