Monday, December 08, 2014

A GREAT READ

You owe it to yourself to buy and read "Bonhoeffer's Black Jesus" (Baylor University Press) by Reggie L. Williams. This short book is not an quick or easy read. It is chocked full of thought-provoking insights that Bonhoeffer gleaned from his year at Union Theological Seminary (NY), and especially his association with Abyssinia Baptist Church in Harlem. Bonhoeffer left America a different person than when he arrived. He was now a Christian! Without his Abyssinia experience, Bonhoeffer would not have stood with the oppressed Jews of Germany during WWII.


THE FERGUSON GRAND JURY AND JUSTICE

Was justice served in Ferguson? Most likely not. Here's why:

A grand jury is tasked with one job only-to determine if there is enough evidence of criminal conduct to warrant a trial for the accused. As such it is the prosecutor's job to present convincing evidence to indict on a specific charge. He is not there to present the defendant's case.

If the grand jury decides to indict, then the accused will get his day in court to present evidence to exonerate himself.

In Ferguson, however, prosecutor McCulloch did not bring a "specific" charge. He simply presented his case without giving the jury any clear-cut instructions what to do with the evidence. They actually had five different options. This has led many legal experts to say McCulloch was actually trying to avoid a prosecution.

In fact, McCulloch sought to discredit eye witness accounts who said Michael Brown was murdered. As such he became an advocate for the accused rather than his prosecutor before the grand jury.

Prosecutors usually make such compelling cases that the grand juries rarely fail to indict. But not in this instance.

Is it possible that McCulloch wanted the accused to go scot free?

Some critics have said, "yes" because McCulloch’s father, a police officer, was killed in the line of duty by a black suspect.

This grand jury trial was flawed from the start.

Officer Darren Wilson shot unarmed Michael Brown six times. The grand jury should have indicted. Then Wilson, innocent until proven guilty, would have gotten his day in court to defend himself of all charges before his peers

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Chapter 3 “The Meaning of Revelation” in A Black Theology of Liberation by James H. Cone.



My Thoughts:

In this chapter Cone examines the nature and purpose of “revelation,” i.e. God’s self-disclosure. After tracing the concept from Barth and Tillich to Kierkegaard and Bultmann, Cone lays out his own understanding of revelation. He concludes that revelation: 1) is a manifestation of God in history and 2) occurs on behalf of the oppressed. Revelation and liberation are inseparable. He writes:

“There is no revelation of God without a condition of oppression which develops into a situation of liberation. Revelation is only for the oppressed of the land. God comes to those who have been enslaved and abused and declares identification with their situation, disclosing to them the righteousness of emancipation”

The ultimate act of God’s self-revelation is the Christ event.

The Scriptures, according to Cone, witness or tell the story of God breaking into time and liberating his people; hence, revelation embodies a political dimension. History is the arena where revelation takes place.

Cone sees the Black Revolution of the 60s and 70s, especially as manifested in the “Black Power” movement as an act of God’s revelation. He affirms that all human acts taken against the powers that enslave, even acts of violence, are acts of God.

Addressing the issue of epistemology, Cone states that revelation is perceived only through the eyes of faith. Oppressors do not recognize God’s revelation. Faith is saying “yes” to God and “no” to oppression. Blacks above all, at least in America, have eyes to see. Whites, for the most part, are blinded. Revelation, therefore, in the American context, is a Black event.

Cone’s theological knowledge shines forth in this chapter. But it will not be appreciated by all, especially among Anglos from conservative backgrounds with little or no understanding of liberation theology who happen to stumble upon the book. They will likely see it as a revolutionary call for Blacks to rebel against the establishment and to justify it as an act of God’s will. Whites, however, are not the intended audience. This is a Black theology written for African American readers.

No doubt Cone went too far in identifying violence as an acceptable response to oppression. But one must realize this book was written in 1970. Over four decades have come and gone since Cone put pen to paper. Martin Luther King armed with his philosophy of non-violent resistance has won the day.

This chapter is essential to Cone’s formulation of a Black theology. It stimulated my thinking. I can’t wait to speak with Cone at this year’s SBL meeting and see how his thinking has evolved over the years.

Next week, I will interact with chapter 4.

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Installment 2 -- A BLACK THEOLOGY OF LIBERATION by James H Cone

Free of a very hectic schedule for the past two weeks, it is time to continue interacting with this classic work. In chapter 2, Cone says the "sources" and "the norm" of Black theology find their root in the Black experience. This means that when Whites speak to Blacks about the gospel they present it in light of the social, political and economic perspective of Whites. As such, they speak from the historical position of the oppressor rather than the oppressed.

Jesus, on the other hand, sided with the downtrodden and marginalized. Therefore, we should view him as "Black" and not "White," i. e. one who stands with the oppressed and offers them hope of liberation.

Cone says the purpose of Black theology is to make sense of the Black experience. For Cone, writing in the 1970s, this meant more than release from sin and the promise of heaven, but political, social and economic opportunity as well. While he recognized Martin Luther King's contributions, Cone believed that violence can be a effective tool to bring about liberation. One wonders whether Cones still holds this position 40 years later.

Cone identifies revelation, scripture and tradition as "sources" for Black theology. His then defines "norm" as the hermeneutical principle by which one interprets the sources. As such, we must read Scripture through the lenses of those who gave it and those who received it--namely the oppressed. Any other reading distorts its meaning and relevance. We must not read Scripture from the perspective of the Egyptian taskmasters or Roman imperialists.

The problem of course is that in time the oppressed become the oppressors who distort and use the Scripture to support their own ends, e.g. the "Christian" slave owners in the pre-Civil War era.

This has been a good chapter, and is especially relevant since hermeneutics remains at the center of most theological controversies in the 21st century.



Thursday, July 17, 2014

Immigration Makes Salvation Possible

Jesus was an immigrant. He and his family left their homeland and crossed the border into Egypt in order to escape Herod's hit squad. 


Had Jesus not escaped, He would have been one of the innocents who was murdered.


This means that immigration played an essential role in salvation history.


In fact, others in his ancestral line were immigrants who advanced salvation history. Think of Naomi and her family who moved to Moab, where her son married Ruth. Then the widowed Ruth, in turn, migrated to Bethlehem where she met Boaz and gave birth to Obed, the grandfather of King David, who fathered the royal line leading up to Jesus.


Without immigration there would have been no messiah and no salvation.

Thursday, July 10, 2014

A KINGDOM APPROACH TO A CRITICAL PROBLEM

People everywhere are debating about the influx of illegal minors crossing the Texas border. Should they be allowed to stay or should they be sent back to their respective countries?

How should the church address the issue?

First, the churches in America represent the Kingdom of God and not the United States.

Second, the churches must follow the Scriptures, regardless of what the courts, Congress or the President decides. This means churches should open their doors to the strangers and foreigners among us. We should find homes for the migrant children; feed and clothe those who cannot fend for themselves.

The Scriptures are clear that Israel was to care for foreigners and aliens in their midst because they were once in the same boat in Egypt.

Here are a few of the many scriptural references:

“You shall not wrong a sojourner or oppress him, for you were sojourners in the land of Egypt.” Exodus 22:21 ESV

“When a stranger sojourns with you in your land, you shall not do him wrong. You shall treat the stranger who sojourns with you as the native among you, and you shall love him as yourself, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt: I am the Lord your God. Leviticus 19:33-34 ESV

“If your brother becomes poor and cannot maintain himself with you, you shall support him as though he were a stranger and a sojourner, and he shall live with you. Leviticus 25:35 ESV

“He executes justice for the fatherless and the widow, and loves the sojourner, giving him food and clothing.” Deuteronomy 10:18 ESV

“You shall allot it as an inheritance for yourselves and for the sojourners who reside among you and have had children among you. They shall be to you as native-born children of Israel. With you they shall be allotted an inheritance among the tribes of Israel.” Ezekiel 47:22 ESV

“Thus says the Lord of hosts, Render true judgments, show kindness and mercy to one another, do not oppress the widow, the fatherless, the sojourner, or the poor, and let none of you devise evil against another in your heart.” Zechariah 7:9-10 ESV

“Then I will draw near to you for judgment. I will be a swift witness...against those who oppress the hired worker in his wages, the widow and the fatherless, against those who thrust aside the sojourner, and do not fear me, says the Lord of hosts.” Malachi 3:5 ESV

Should the church do any different?

Jesus said, “For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me.” Matthew 25:35 ESV

The writer of Hebrews exhorts, “Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for thereby some have entertained angels unawares.” Hebrews 13:2 ESV

The church needs to be proactive. Consider bringing this critical issue to your church board. Suggest that it adopt one of these little strangers in our midst. There are people in our congregations who are willing to open the doors of their homes and hearts. This is an opportunity to do something that is part of God’s kingdom agenda (Luke 4:18‒21).

When the lost in your community see the love of God in action in real time, they will get a glimpse of the Kingdom. 

Tuesday, July 08, 2014

The Gospel of the Kingdom Solves the Problem of Syncretism on the Mission Field

I just had a good email conversation with Mike Boyett, a pastor in Mississippi and former missionary about my book “Heaven on Earth” and its practical implications for missions and church discipleship. He said that while he was on the mission field he became “very concerned with what was being proclaimed and believed as the Gospel. I began to realize that what was being lived out—the dependency, the syncretism, the sacred/secular divide—was the inevitable consequence of what was taught (or not taught) by the missionaries. As I focused my reading to deal with many topics related to issues we were facing there, I developed a deep concern about how we were "packaging" the gospel message and the tragic neglect (or ignorance) of the Kingdom message that permeates all the Scriptures. I simply couldn't square our message with the sermons the Apostles preached in Acts nor the literary agenda of the Gospel writers.”

His mention of syncretism caught my attention. “Of course,” I thought, “a gospel that deals totally with the future has no relevance for the present situation. The natives will simply incorporate Jesus into their pantheism of gods.”

I wrote him back, and Mike elaborated on the issue, which I believe is so important that I thought you would like to read it too. His ideas are well thought out and clearly stated. His comments are packed with meat, so be prepared to put on your thinking caps. Here they are:

“The reality is that if the trajectory of history, contrary to much salvation preaching today, is from heaven to earth (the Word became flesh, the New Jerusalem comes to earth) rather than away from earth to heaven; and if the eschatological vision is the healing of the nations (Rev. 22:2) rather than simply innumerable souls being saved and gathered in heaven, then this has huge implications for the mission of the church. It cannot be reduced simply to sermons and sacraments. People have to eat and work and marry and bring up children and govern their communities, etc. But the implications of the soul centered, heaven oriented message that has been taught to the nations in a hurry (often in a race to "reach" an arbitrary percentage of the population so Jesus will have to hurry up and rapture us) leaves the people wondering if God has much to do with the rest of life till we die. The transformation of culture is talked about but has no real place in the systems of theology that are pre-packaged in the West for mass-distribution abroad by short-term missionaries who are ignorant of the cultures they are in the midst of (I'm actually not as cynical as this sounds).

“Your reference to the end-time Jubilee (page 191) has implications for the priorities and concerns of the people of God today. If we do not have a message that is good news to captives of all sorts and hands that serve them in their need, then, for the perplexing issues people face in this life, they will simply resort to the ways their people have always handled them. Syncretism becomes almost inevitable. Christianity secures for them insurance for life after death, but the ways of their people practiced unthinkingly for generations provides the way to make sense of this life and sort out its problems.

“The eschatological vision given to us in Revelation not only celebrates racial diversity (Rev. 7:9-10), but cultural diversity as well. I simply love the picture of the New Jerusalem where the "nations walk and the kings of the earth will bring their glory into it.... They will bring into it the glory and honor of the nations (Rev. 21:34-26). This seems to imply that the unique cultures and cultural artifacts of the nations are in some measure transformed and brought as tribute to the Great King. In other words, when the Kingdom of God is embraced as good news, the peoples of the nations, at least in some measure, intentionally and uniquely attempt to craft their life, even in this present age, so as to have an offering to bring to their King. This strikes me as something like the fruit, the overflow of the blessing of Abraham. Syncretism, on the other hand, seems to be about survival in a world full of competing gods and rival kingdoms. Therefore, a compelling, holistic vision of the Kingdom of God contextualized, proclaimed and celebrated as good news, and put into practice is the only hope for the healing of the nations.

“This is simply common sense application of what you wrote.”

These comments were Mike’s reflections on reading HEAVEN ON EARTH: Experiencing the Kingdom of God in the Here and Now.” I hope you will get a copy of the book and give it to your favorite pastor or missionary.

Friday, July 04, 2014

WHAT DOES THE FOURTH OF JULY MEAN TO YOU?

Three groups of settlers came to America: 1) a contingent of 1,500 soldiers from Spain, representing the Spanish government and the Roman Catholic Church landed in 1565 on the northeast coast of Florida and founded the city of Saint Augustine. Their goal was exploration and the prorogation of the Catholic faith; 2) Representatives from the London Company and the Church of England settled in Jamestown, Va in 1607. They were the first to import African slaves to the continent; 3) the Pilgrims arrived in the 1620 and settled the Plymouth colony. They came to escape persecution from the Church of England for their non-conformist beliefs and to secure religious freedom. 

These three groups claimed land for themselves, displacing Native American tribes-often by means of force-that previously lived there.

Each group was a part of a different Christian tradition, but one that was not friendly to the other. Over the next 150 years the religious landscape changed in the colonies with the formation of new movements, sects and denominations such as Unitarians, Baptists, Methodists, Quakers, etc. The land in Florida remained predominately Catholic. But in 1763 England gained control of Florida in exchange for Havana, Cuba, which it had captured from Spain in the Seven Years War (1756-1763).

As people moved and migrated, the American colonies became a hodgepodge of religious expressions. The whole while the slave population exploded.

When the colonists declared independence from England, successfully fought the Revolution and eventually ratified the United States Constitution, they guaranteed "the blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity." Unfortunately this freedom did not extended to slaves, who were not viewed as persons but property. In fact, "the blessings of Liberty" gave citizens of American the right to own slaves.

On this Fourth of July those of us who are Anglo must never forget that the ancestors of our African American friends, relatives and neighbors had to struggle for nearly 200 more years before the promises of the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution were applied to them.

Which of these groups do you consider your forefathers? Colonists? Slaves? Native Americans? How you answer this question will likely influence how you celebrate Independence Day?