Monday, March 19, 2007


A new issue of Criswell Theological Review (Spring 07, 4.2), dealing with "War and Peace," is edited and ready for printer. It features articles by Daryl Charles and Richard Land, Stanley Hauerwas, and others who tackle various aspects of just war theory and pacifism. You can order a copy online at via Paypal.

I have included a review on Cecil Wayne Cone's book The Identity Crisis in Black Theology. Here is a preview:

The Identity Crisis in Black Theology. By Cecil Wayne Cone. Nashville: AMEC, 2003, 140 pp., $20.00, hardcover.

This is a revised and expanded edition of Cecil Wayne Cone’s 1975 book of the same title, originally written as a response to the burgeoning Black Theology movement of the late 1960s and early 1970s, which was founded ironically by his famous brother, James H. Cone, the Griggs Professor of Theology at Union Theological Seminary (NY). Cecil Cone constructively critiques the ideas of his brother and those of other key spokespersons for the movement.

According to the author, all attempts to develop Black Theology apart from understanding or considering the “black religious experience” produce little more than fanciful and at times, radical social and political theories. Cone describes the essence of the black religious experience as “an encounter with an Almighty Sovereign God” that results in conversion (p. 75).

In chapter 1 Cone briefly traces contemporary black theology back to the late 1960s and introduces us to three key thinkers—his brother James Cone, Joseph Washington, and J. Deotis Roberts, whose writings he will critically examine in later chapters.

In chapter 2, entitled “Black Religion: The Foundation of Black Theology,” Cone demonstrates that Black Theology begins and ends with God. Even in Africa, blacks had an awareness of a creator god. After being enslaved and brought to America, they were introduced to Christianity. White slaveholders initially wanted to evangelize their slaves, possibly thinking this would turn the “heathen” into more docile subjects. Instead, biblical teaching introduced the slaves to the Israelites who, like themselves, had been oppressed by tyrannical masters. Through the preaching of the gospel, masses were converted and experienced an inward freedom from the bonds of sin. Though still slaves in the flesh, they were a new creation and no longer defined by the slave system but by their relationship to God. They viewed Jesus as their Deliverer and King who would one day also set them free from physical oppression. While waiting for this promise to be realized, they sang praises to God for present salvation, addressed their questions and complaints to Him, and when faced with untold hardship and even death, they followed Christ’s example, knowing that resurrection lay ahead.

There were exceptions. In 1831, Nat Turner, a recent convert and zealot, believed God had called him to lead an uprising against the whites in Virginia, which resulted in fifty-one people being killed. Turner was tried, convicted and hanged. As a result, many slaveholders kept their slaves from attending church or reading the Bible, fearing such practices would motivate others to rebel (p. 56).

Chapters 3 through 5 examine the ideas of three leading black theologians. In chapter 3, Cone interacts with James Washington, the author of several Black Theology books, and challenges him on three points. First, his premise that black religious organizations are mere imitations of white religion (p. 70); second, his attempt to reduce black religious experience to a quest for social, economic and political freedom, along with his failure to grasp its supernatural and conversional aspects (p. 74); third, his call to develop a theology of Black Power (pp. 78–79).

Cone delays his sharpest criticisms until chapter 4, where he takes on his brother James Cone. He admits that “the sound and tone” of his brother’s early writings are “that of an angry black militant,” who equates blackness with Christ and whiteness with antichrist (p. 81), and calls upon blacks to embrace “Black Power,” a term first coined by Adam Clayton Powell in 1965 and popularized a year later by Stokely Carmichael (p. 83), which eventually came to mean blacks separating from whites. “The overriding motif of Cone’s work is that of liberation.” (p. 81) Cone’s “Black Power,” which he equates with Black Theology, is zealotry at its worst, and calls for armed violence and revolution. Black Theology, he asserts, “came into being when black churchmen realized that killing slavemasters was doing the work of God.” (p. 88) It is exactly here that Cone deviates from the Scriptures. He would prefer Moses kill the Egyptian soldier than depend on Yahweh for deliverance.

The difference between authentic Christianity and Black Power can be seen in the way Jesus faces the cross. Rather than raising a sword of self-deliverance, He trusts God, knowing His Father may choose to send a myriad of angels to deliver Him from crucifixion or may choose to raise Him from the dead.

This does not mean that James Cone gets everything wrong. He recognizes that Western, post-Constantinian Christianity has veered far from its origins and has distorted the gospel. Unfortunately, he has little to replace it with except revolution. Cecil Cone closes the chapter on his brother with the hope that he will rediscover the black religious experience of his youth, one which is infused with the supernatural and leads to conversion (pp. 98–99).

While this reviewer found little upon which to disagree with J. Deotis Roberts, Cone finds two points of contention. First, he calls Roberts to task because he calls upon blacks to view Jesus as the universal messiah, not merely as a “black Jesus.” Second, he believes Roberts’s view that reconciliation and intercommunication between blacks and whites constitute “the primary task of Black Theology” again missing the essence of the black religious experience.

When Cone and other black theologians speak of a “black Jesus” they do not mean that the historical Jesus was a black man, but that he stood with the blacks, not the white oppressors. This implies that salvation for whites must also come through the “black” Jesus, not through a Jesus of their own making, who has little semblance to the Jesus of the Bible. The “black” Jesus offers hope of liberation to the oppressed of the ages, which is accomplished through supernatural intervention and not through political struggle or man-made schemes.

Though not mentioned, a question that begs to be answered is, “When slavery ruled in the South, where were God’s prophets? Why were there so few dissenting voices in the church?”

This book is essential reading for those not familiar with Black Theology and for those who wish to understand it from a scriptural and historical perspective

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