Archive for the ‘Cone’ Category

Pannenberg – Systematic Theology Volume 3 (Part IV)


Here are some reflections:

1) Cone and Black Theology – Pannenberg believes Cone’s black liberation theology (and other variants of liberation theology) are all examples of “secularizing belief in election” (521). There is a major danger that a “hubris that brings down historical disaster, the judgment of God in history” (521). We witnessed a similar critique of Boff and the idea of the Kingdom of God at the beginning of Volume 3. It appears that Panneberg’s anxiety is that these theologies are not eschatological enough and run the risk of putting too much agency into the hands of fallen humanity. I really think Pannenberg is quite uncritical here, and one wonders about the political import of Pannenberg’s systematic theology, which is woefully apolitical (read conservative). Why he could not be more leftist like Moltmann who shares many of Pannenberg’s similar theological convictions, despite some significant differences?

2) Eschatology and Pneumatology – Pannenberg understands the two having a strong connection since the fulfillment of eschatology is contingent upon the action of the Spirit. We have to be careful to not merely view eschatology as being a futural event because it “is also at work in our present by the Spirit” (553). The Spirit is always already at work in bringing about reconciliation in the present moment for the sake of a final consummation

3) Salvation and the Unreached – Pannenberg acknowledges that a personal relationship with the Christ cannot be the “universal criterion for participation in salvation” (615). If we are to take seriously the proclamation of the universality of God’s love we have to admit that some people cannot be judged based upon that Christological criterion. Rather, Pannenberg believes that parables like the sheep and the goats suggest that what counts is “whether their individual conduct actually agrees with the will of God that Jesus proclaimed” (615). Amen.


Cone on Liberals


“The liberal is one who sees “both sides” of the issue and shies away from “extremism” in any form. He wants to change the heart of the racist without ceasing to be his friend; he wants progress without conflict…Black people know who the enemy is, and they are forcing the liberal to take sides. But the liberal wants to be a friend, that is, enjoy the rights and and privileges pertaining to whiteness and also work for the “Negro”. He wants change without risk, victory without blood…His favorite question when backed against the wall is “What can I do?” One is tempted to reply, as Malcolm X did to the white girl who asked the same question, “Nothing.” What the liberal really means is, “What can I do and still receive the same privileges as other whites and – this is the key – be liked by the Negroes?” Indeed the only answer is “Nothing.” However, there are places in the Black Power picture for “radicals,” that is, for men, white or black, who are prepared to risk their life for freedom. There are places for the John Browns, men who hate evil and refuse to tolerate it anywhere” (James Cone, Black Theology and Black Power, P 27-28)

Cone Interview


Check it out.

Cone on King


Excellent lecture. He offers a nice critique of the bastardization of Martin Luther King’s legacy.

Also, I’m excited that Cone’s long awaited book The Cross and the Lynching Tree is due out this September.

Isasi-Diaz’s Mujerista Thelogy


I just finished Isasi-Diaz’s work of liberation theology from a Latina perspective. I found the text to be fairly solid, and I wanted to highlight some important ideas I learned from her work.

First, in her work she refers to the Kingdom of God as the Kin-dom of God. She makes this move for two reasons:

A) Kin-dom doesn’t imply the patriarchy inherent in kingdoms
B) She doesn’t believe that emphasizing the reign of God gets us out of the problem because it still implies an order that is hierarchical and elitist.

She believes an emphasis on the Kin-dom obviates these issues by stressing the daily reality of us as equal brothers and sisters in Christ. This certainly aligns with Jesus’ pronouncement in John’s Gospel that his disciples are now his friends.

Second, I really appreciated her usage of the term la lucha (the struggle) for a constructive mujerista anthropology. This emphasis on la lucha resits the temptation to “encourage a certain masochism” (132). She writes that she found Latinas ability to “deal with suffering without being determined by it” (129), encourages Latinas to resist the church’s abusive and harmful glorification of suffering. Finally, she argues that she cannot worship a God who condemns Jesus of Nazareth to suffer.

Finally, regarding mujerista hermeneutics Isasi-Diaz writes:

“For Hispanic women the palabra de Dios is not necessarily what is written in the Bible, but refers to the unflinching belief that God is with us in our daily struggles” (158).

Also, she argues that “Hispanic women’s experience and struggle for survival, not the Bible, are the source of our theology and the starting point for how we should interpret, appropriate, and use the Bible” (149).

Both of these points remind me of Cone’s argument in his early works that a God who is not completely in solidarity with the needs of the black community ought to be killed. Many white Christians often find this to be very selective and convenient approach to the Bible. We white Christians read the Bible for what it is without misconstruing it for our own ideological needs. But doesn’t the fact that so many Christians live in the world without being challenged by the demands of Christian discipleship, in fact, suggest that we too want a God that is absolutely identified with the needs of white middle-class Americans. At this point, some might say: both communities use religion for ideological purposes so how can we say which group’s hermeneutical approach is right. The obvious problem with this idea is that the God of covenant with Israel and Jesus of Nazareth was unequivocally on the side of the disempowered, the despised. So African American and mujerista theologians are completely in the right to argue that they ought to ignore or even slay a God who has not given herself to be in absolute solidarity with these respective communities.

Althaus-Reid’s Indecent Theology Part I


I’m going to be writing three posts on Althaus-Reid’s Queer God and Indecent Theology. The first two posts will focus on the Indecent Theology, and I’ll post another on the Queer God.

Indecent Theology is a courageous book, an ethical book, and ultimately a profoundly offensive book of liberation theology. But aren’t all the greatest theological works profoundly offensive? What I found to perhaps to be the most enjoyable part is the irreverent wit of Althaus-Reid. She lambasts systematic theology and liberation theology for turning a blind ear to the theological issues of women and the LGBTQ community. I want to highlight some choice quotes and offer some reflections. I stress the ethical nature of this book as well because Althaus-Reid recalls her great apprehension of publishing this text expecting all sorts of critiques and loss of friendship. Fortunately, for us, she had the courage to publish the manuscript.

“Indecent Theology works here as a coming-out process which consists of simply doubting a traditions of sexual presuppositions, a process that being public can have transformative political implications” (69).

A truly indecent theology will be forced to rethink the many tacit sexual presuppositions that remain overlooked in Systematic Theology.

“Why should it horrify people to talk about God the Faggot, since (a) sexuality belongs to the order of the public domain in Christian theology and (b) God is as unstable a category as sex itself (and cannot be fixed with certitude for ever)? If God or Jesus Christ cannot be called faggots it is simply because we cannot see the divine outside the reductive structures of a Systematic Sexual Theology which knows little about love outside decent regulatory systems of controllable sexual categories. The point is that what cannot be made indecent in theology is not worth being called theology because it will mean that ‘God’, ‘Jesus’, and ‘Mary’ only may have meaning in a determined heterosexual economic systems” (68-9).

My initial reaction to this passage was severe discomfort. I think in many ways it mirrored my experience of reading Cone’s A Black Theology of Liberation. His call for a God that is ontologically black upset my implicit racist conceptions of God. The prophetic tone of this book is one that demands great attention. I suspect many orthodox theologians will simply dismiss it out of hand as being improper theology (of course this is exactly the point of an indecent theology). This is road is an easy one to take, a road that allows theology to remain deaf to the reflections of a queer theologian. Orthodox theologies will run to Paul in Galatians to declare the equality of all those in Christ Jesus while simultaneously silencing the queer voices hoping to do theology from the margins.

On the Marketability and Obtuseness of Liberation Theology

“I even found myself in the situation of being called on to be a part of a popular Bible study group for the benefit of a bishop from abroad visiting Buenos Aires. It was like one of Gary Larsson’s cartoons, the one where the squirrels are preparing to beg for food from a man in the park: ‘Now, try to look cute, and you Carl, stop smoking.’ I remember the absurdity of that bishop addressing me with the evident satisfaction of a man talking with a native woman whom he presumed was illiterate, simple and poor but with a strong faith. In fact, I was a university student and if I was very poor, it was not through the lack of a job (I had two at that time) but hyperinflation. Moreover, I was an indecent woman” (26).

I felt convicted while reading this passage. Colonial theology loves to romanticize the faith of third world Christians presuming they have childlike faith. Theology often falls prey to reducing the Other to a quaint, simple Other who holds strongly to the church’s teaching despite the daily oppression s/he faces. Theology fails to recognize that these Christians have faith that is vibrant, searching and intellectual.

Referring to Boff’s work Ecclesiogenesis, she writes “[w]hen translated it must have been a delight to Europeans but many people in Latin Ameica were aware of the romanticism infiltrating our supposedly materialistic theological reflections. Sex was out of the question, but a sexual shadow covers many triumphant writings with doubts and ambivalence. Not only did ‘the poor’ subsume women, it also subsumed lesbian, gay, transgendered and bisexual people. The reality of the old traditions of Latin American poverty such as incest and abuse of girls in their communities were ignored. Abortions in the back street (or at home with a knitting needle), a common cause of death amongst poor women, was not on the agenda of the theologians although it was part of the life of the communities. The poor, as in any-old fashioned moralising Victorian tale, were portrayed as the deserving and asexual poor” (30).

Again I was struck by the brilliance of this quote. Althaus-Reid challenges the many facile assumptions theologians have of Latin American Christians as faithful and puritanical. Yet unfortunately many never stop to consider the vast diversity of Christianity in Latin America. We prefer to speak of them in these monolithic terms such as the ‘poor and oppressed’ without recognizing the inherent violence in this clumsy terminology.

I’ll post more reflections tomorrow on Indecent Theology that focuses on her critique of Christology and Mariology.

James Cone and Cornel West at AAR


This is a really great video and is a tribute to America’s greatest theologian James Cone and his black liberation theology. Cornel West feeds him questions, and Cone shares his history and theological development. Something that struck me is when West rightly claims that Cone is actually grandfather of liberation theology. He was writing his books on black liberation theology two years before Gutierrez published A Theology of Liberation.

Quotes from Cone


I posted this lecture a couple of months ago, but just tonight I was able to listen to it:

Here are some quotes:

“The classic Christian view of the cross claims to know too much about how salvation is accomplished and thus removes the element of mystery in our understanding of salvation. The cross therefore needs to be rescued, that is liberated from the superficial piety of Christians because their transformed cross blinds them from seeing the true meaning of the one who was crucified on Calvary’s hill. Unless the cross and the lynching tree are seen together there can be no genuine understanding of Christian identity in American and no healing of the racial divide in churches and seminaries as well in the society as a whole. I know that the cross and the lynching tree are not comfortable subjects to talk about together. Who wants to think about lynched black bodies in church worship or when doing a theological reflection of Bonheoffer’s question of who is Jesus Christ for us today. This is exactly what I contend what the gospel requires Christians to do, especially preachers and theologians. I claim that no American Christian, white, black, or any other color, can understand correctly the full theological meaning of the American Christ without identifying his image with the re-crucified black body hanging from the lynching tree.”

“The gospel is not derived from this world because it is not a human word, not a pious feeling, or sophisticated idea that comes from the intellect.”

“The gospel is God’s message of liberation to an unredeemed and tortured world. The word of God is also offensive. It is not a word we want to hear even thought we say we do, God’s word is not a popular word, not a successful word, not an entertaining word, the gospels is the word of the cross, a lynched word hanging from a tree.”

“When one considers how corrupt and misguided Christian preachers and theologians have used the cross of Jesus to oppress marginal people, especially women and children, urging them to be passive and accept their suffering in the home, church, and society. When I hear all that, who can blame womanist and feminist theologians for saying no more crosses for me?”

“God’s cross is the most loving symbol of God’s solidarity with the least of these.”

“Christ is black because he is made black through God’s loving solidarity with lynched black bodies, and divine judgment against the demonic forces of white supremacy. Like a naked black body swinging on a lynching tree, the cross of Christ was an utterly offensive affair, obscene in the original sense, subjecting the victim to an utmost indignity and torture. A crucified Jesus and lynched black bodies were not pretty objects to look out, that’s why Christians transformed the cross into a sacred fashion symbol and seldom show images of lynching, but the trauma of lynching lives on in the blood and bones of black people.”

“Jesus did not want to die on the cross, and blacks did not want to be lynched and hung on a tree, but the evil forces of the Roman state and white supremacy in America willed it. Yet God took the evil of the cross and the lynching tree upon the divine self and transformed both into the triumphant beauty of the divine. If American has the courage to confront the great sin and ongoing legacy of white supremacy with repentance and reparations then there is hope beyond the tragedy, hope for whites and blacks and all human kind, and hope beyond the lynching tree.”

Cone on the Cross and Lynching Tree


Here’s Cone’s controversial speech he delivered at Harvard three years ago, uncomfortable but as always provocative and inspiring.

Liberation Theology Part I


I’m switching directions to move onto a short series on liberation theology.

In my opinion, liberation theology offers the most exciting and opportunity for the future of theology. Whether it be feminist, Latin American, Asian, black, womanist, or queer theology they all argue for the centrality of justice and God’s concern for the marginalized in the Biblical narrative. I want to visit in this short piece black theology and womanist theology. James Cone’s black liberation theology was probably best explicated in his brilliant work God of the Oppressed. This work is foundational for liberation theology and remains my favorite book in this genre. He rescues resources from the African American experience such as the blues and old folklore to discuss how liberation from oppression was at the heart of black spirituality. Here, the exodus narrative carries much weight because of God’s vindication of the enslaved offering hope to slaves struggling against the white slavocracy. Likewise he discusses the importance of justice that was emphasized by Jesus in his proclamation of the coming Kingdom. Cone believed through the revelation of Jesus, God had disclosed Godself as being one who cared passionately for the freedom of the downtrodden. (Side note: In an interview he gave, Cone said that the cross often translates poorly to American Christians because we have no parallel in our culture. He argued that that to redeem the meaning of the cross our best analogy in American history would be the lynching tree. I thought that was fascinating, and I hope he publishes a work on this).

Delores Williams’ provocative book Sisters in the Wilderness continues along similar lines of black liberation theology but differs at crucial aspects. She first notes that black women have either been silenced by the patriarchy of black liberation theology (not even King was immune from this) or their struggles has been universalized by white feminists. Jacqueline Grant said this about feminist theology, “Which women’s experience is the source of theology? Further, one could ask, how do these experiences impact the direction taken in one’s theological perspective? Is it the experience of the daughters of slaveholders or the experience of the daughters of slaves?” Womanist theology thus stands in an awkward position with regards to both liberation movements. Williams believes the best paradigm for the black woman’s experience is Hagar. Hagar likewise occupied a difficulty position in the Bible. She was Sarai’s slave and bore Abraham’s first child, Ishmael much to the disdain of her mistress. Because of her mistreatment at Sarai’s hand, she flees to the desert for freedom while pregnant. However, she quickly finds herself in great peril. Yahweh comes by her side and demands that she returns to her slave quarters and obey her mistress. This is a God of liberation? The odd thing about Hagar and God’s conversation is that she refers to God as El (akin to Allah for Islam). Notice, she refuses to address God as Yahweh, the God of her oppressors.

Williams recognizes the obvious themes of liberation in the Bible. However, she suggests that if we read the Bible from a different perspective than from God’s elect people, tyranny not liberation would be a central theme. Thus by reading the Bible from the vantage point of Hagar or the Canaanites we have to ask how fair of a reading is it to say liberation is the consistent motif. This is the question I want to ask. How do we balance the particular and the universal in Christianity? It’s obvious that the God of universal love is not always manifested in the Bible, but rather the God of a specific people who yearns for their freedom from injustice and sin. Likewise, we must too recall that Jesus did not go on a world tour to proclaim the coming Kingdom. He interacted almost exclusively with Jews in Palestine, with some obvious memorable exceptions.

Recall this story in Matthew 15:23-28:

“But He did not answer her a word. And His disciples came and implored Him, saying, “Send her away, because she keeps shouting at us.”
But He answered and said, “I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.”
But she came and began to bow down before Him, saying, “Lord, help me!”
And He answered and said, “It is not good to take the children’s bread and throw it to the dogs.”
But she said, “Yes, Lord; but even the dogs feed on the crumbs which fall from their masters’ table.”
Then Jesus answered, “Woman, you have great faith! Your request is granted.” And her daughter was healed from that very hour.

Now, of course this is another example of Matthew attempting to paint Jesus as the Christ who is fulfilling the Scriptures, barring that we must ask about the partiality of God. Liberation theology has a controversial position that advocates God’s preferential option for the poor, which I believe is completely scripturally accurate especially if one reads the prophets. We could easily add God’s partiality in general, especially for his elect people.

My question is this: how does one reconcile God’s supposed universal love of man with his blatant partiality? Perhaps our understanding of love is too close to tolerance and should be focused more on the singular as opposed to the universal (a la Kierkegaard). Again, this perhaps the meaning of my favorite expression of Jesus where he says he has come to bring the sword not peace, and he demands that we hate our family to be worthy of the Kingdom. Perhaps we must hate or exclude our general commitments for the singularity of our neighbor akin to how God prioritizes the needs of the Hebrews over the Egyptians or the oppressed over the oppressors. One more question. I believe that the love of one’s neighbor is a love akin to what Levinas suggested that the face of the other calls us to infinite responsibility. So if Christian love is an imbalanced love that is wholly committed to the neighbor (and hence not a flighty universal love), how can we balance that with a love that motivates us to fight for the liberation and salvation of the oppressed (especially if one lives in America where one’s neighbor is usually free)?