The Poet, The Warrior, the Prophet
Norwich, UK: Scm Press, 2002. 175 pp.
With this review, I have two purposes: first, I want to bring to the English-speaking audience, a rather important piece of a forgotten history of theology in Latin America, lived by one of the main names and one of the precursors of liberation theology in Brazil/Latin America, Rubem Alves. Second, I’d like to offer some words on the re-print of this rather unknown book The Poet, The Warrior The Prophet, by Scm Press.
Prof. Rubem Alves is a Brazilian theo-poet, educator and storyteller, a former Presbyterian minister that has deeply shaped the history of Protestantism in Brazil, both by his own history in the last fifty years of the twentieth century and by his diverse writings – his book “Protestantism and Repression. A Brazilian Study Case”, published in English by Orbis Books, for instance, is still a landmark in the analysis of the Protestantism in Brazil. In 1963, Alves joined the Advanced Religious Studies at Union Theological Seminary in New York City and then got his masters degree in sacred theology at the same school. In 1964, when he went back to Brazil to be a pastor of a church in the countryside of his own state, Minas Gerais, Brazil, he was taken by the military dictatorship and Alves became an enemy of the government, mainly because his beloved church, the Presbyterian Church of Brazil, denounced him to the dictators as a dangerous thinker. The church leaders at that time were aligned with the military and helped the government to get rid of the dangerous minds. Notwithstanding, helped by the Presbyterians of the North side of America, he came exiled to US where he did his PhD at Princeton Theological Seminary. His dissertation’s title was named: Towards a Liberation Theology. He tells us in the preface of the Brazilian publication that this idea of liberation was totally unknown at that time and the dissertation committee asked him to rewrite it all in one more year. It was Richard Shaull, his mentor, who did not let it happen. Later, a Roman Catholic editor was interested in his dissertation and wanted to publish it. His only condition was to change the title because nobody would know what liberation theology would be. Influenced by Moltmann’s theology of hope, the book was then published with the following title: “A Theology of Human Hope”, which had the germs of the agenda of liberation theology. Harvey Cox wrote the preface of his book and said that theology in the north should from now on, do theology with theologians from the south part of America and not about them anymore. It might be a surprise for many people to know that it was a Protestant theologian who started the whole movement of the Latin American liberation theology. His book was written before Gustavo Gutierre’s “Liberation Theology” and set the tone for what would be developed later. Later, Alves became a good friend of professors James Cone and Walter Wink, forming, in professors Alves own words, the “three musketeers” of Union. Since he went back to Brazil, Alves walked many paths in his academic life and now is actively working with education, having several books published, including children stories. Regarding “The Poet, The Warrior, the Prophet”, this book is Alves exhilarating work on the border where theology and poetry meet. When you see the re-print of the book, don’t judge it by the cover, which could not be worse. In this book, Alves pursues a theo-poetics, freeing theology from any attempt to be locked within the cages of the orthodox discourses. He draws freely from the works of Gabriel Garcia Marques, Albert Camus, Freud, M. C. Echer, Octavio Paz, Saint Augustine, Bonhoeffer, Feuerbach, many poets and Brazilian writers to weave his understandings of the word made flesh and love through a wide range of sources, such as poetry, politics, cooking, beauty, theology, alchemy, memories and desires. Theology for him takes the form of playing with words as the attempt to understand the mystery of God, this unnamable name. Alves’s book opens up the horizons of the general reader and the theologian in special and takes us all into unexpected places, offering us exciting possibilities for curious dialogues and unpredictable results. From the hand and heart of one of the first and main Latin American liberation theologians, we receive this passionate account on God and life, an account that still carries an utopian horizon for a new world, a world of poetry, of magic, of beauty and of liberation.
This book review was originally published at USQR: Union Seminary Quarterly Review Volume 57 Numbers 1-2, (2003): 151-152.
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