Interacting with God of the Oppressed 1 — Working through the Prefaces

I am working my way through James Cone‘s God of the Oppressed. Come join me on my journey as I learn about Black Liberation Theology.

*********

Great Quote:

In the 1975 preface to GotO, Cone writes,

Theologians do not normally reveal the true source of their theological reflections. They often tell us about the books that are similar and not so similar to their perspectives, but seldom do they tell us about those non-intellectual factors that are decisive for the arguments advanced on a particular issue. More often than not, it is a theologian’s personal history, in a particular sociopolitical setting, that serves as the most important factor in shaping the methodology and content of his or her theological perspective. Thus theologians ought to be a little more honest, and let the reader know something about those non-intellectual factors that are so important for the opinions they advance. (pg xix)

Wahoo! I get to start my reading with actually agreeing with Cone!

Random Reflection:

In the 1997 preface, Cone applies the above to his own theology and writes,

I still regard the Bible as an important source of my theological reflections, but not the starting point. The black experience and the Bible together in dialectical tension serve as my point of departure today and yesterday. The order is significant. I am black first – and everything else comes after that. (pg xi)

This upfront methodology has me asking myself the question: Is there an order or hierarchy to the factors that influence my theology?

No doubt my being: a Canadian, a woman, coming from a non-Christian home, and being born in the post-modern age, all influence my theology.  But I can’t say that there is an order.

I’d like to say that the Bible comes first in informing my theology, but in all honesty it probably doesn’t.

 Intrigued and Want to Find Out More:

What will be interesting to explore further is Cone’s Christology.  In the preface, Cone says that Jesus is not the only revelation of God.

No longer can I do theology as if Jesus is God’s sole revelation.  Rather, he is an important revelatory event among many. (xiv)

Of course, my brain immediately took me to Barth (don’t mock me, it’s valid as Cone did his thesis on Barth), and how different Cone’s approach is.  For Barth, Revelation is Jesus.  Granted, Barth talks about the three-fold nature of Revelation: Revealed Word–Preached Word–Written Word, but ultimately, it all comes back to Jesus, and Jesus alone.

 

Enhanced by Zemanta

24 thoughts on “Interacting with God of the Oppressed 1 — Working through the Prefaces

  1. Rod of Alexandria

    “I’d like to say that the Bible comes first in informing my theology, but in all honesty it probably doesn’t.”

    Dun dun dun!

    I would venture to say that Cone is influenced primarily by his Christian experience, and the practices passed down from the Black church. Hence, he relies heavily on Christian tradition and scripture. Plus, black Americans practice other religions than Christianity. Religious particularity along with diversity within cultures is key to understand here.

    Reply
  2. Brian MacArevey

    Nice! I was planning on blogging through this book after I finish my current book/series (probably won’t be for a couple of months though…we’ll see). Thanks for your thoughts. I’ll be interested in keeping up with your posts.

    Reply
  3. Theology Samurai

    So, Cone admits up front that he’s not a Christian? And you don’t get your theology first from the Bible?

    Ok, so this isn’t a Christian blog? So, what are y’all doing here? Just like exploring Christian themes and think Jesus was a great guy?

    Reply
    1. Rod of Alexandria

      Oh where to begin.

      Cone isn’t a Christian? Where could you have possibly gathered that from this quote. He begins his examination of theology from his black experience, which includes his religious experience.

      Perhaps you should read the book before coming to such accusations.

      I have read it 3 times, and his rebuttal against atheism with his belief of the Resurrection (in this very same book) is very Christian.

      And this is a Christian blog. Read the About page.

      Reply
      1. Theology Samurai

        A Christian blog that doesn’t get it’s theology first from the Bible? Terrible starting point already. We don’t get our theology from our ethnicity first. I may be Hispanic, but I’m a Christian first. My racial identity and my hispanic experience may affect the emphasis of my theology in certain areas, but not to the degree Cone intimates in the quote.

        Reply
        1. Amanda Mac Post author

          What I was trying to say, is that while I would like to say that all of my theology comes directly from the ‘plain truth of the Bible’, there is so much more involved in theology than ‘the Bible says it, I believe it, that settles it.’
          Coming from a Wesleyan tradition, I believe there is merit in the Wesleyan Quadrilateral: where Scripture, experience, reason and tradition all play a role together in theology.
          I also know that there is a danger to theology, where we say ‘this is what the Bible says to prove my theology’ when in fact I have just wrenched Scripture out of its context to make it fit what I want.
          Each generation, each culture reads Scripture, and through the Holy Spirit, our theology, philosophy and culture are critiqued, redeemed and sanctified through our continuous reading of Scripture.
          Theology in the 1st century AD doesn’t look exactly like theology in the 15th century, or 17th century or 21st century because there are different questions being asked, different social and political issues to be addressed, and because with each subsequent generation we have that much more tradition behind us to help guide us in answering questions.

          Reply
          1. Theology Samurai

            In the main, I agree with you. However, are you not assuming that each century’s theology is equally valid and biblically accurate? Do we not have a better understanding of the questions that were being asked in the 1C, 15th, or 17th? Do we not have the advantage of hindsight, and 2000+ years of guidance by the Holy Spirit?

            If you believe in the use of Scripture, tradition, reason, and experience, should you not use them to filter out racial and cultural biases that are twisting your (and mine) understanding of the Bible? It seems like Cone is embracing experiential and racial bias, not rejecting it….

        2. Rod of Alexandria

          Cone does not separate his religious experience from his cultural experience.

          Plus, Cone does not admit it, but he is a Christian theologian through and through. Otherwise he would not use paradigms such as Christology, etc.

          But thats beside the point. Its obvious you havent read God of the Oppressed, otherwise you wouldnt have comment in such a grandstandish way.

          Theology is not done by God or the Bible, as if the bible was a person. Its done by human beings, and we have limits and contexts in which we come from and from which we do theology.

          Cone is not asking that we supersede the Christianities of the past, say like the Reformation, but that we take these theologies in their historical context. Not all protestants have the same Mariology as Calvin and Luther. So, its ridiculous to say we theologians do not have historical contexts.

          Reply
  4. Charles

    “If you believe in the use of Scripture, tradition, reason, and experience, should you not use them to filter out racial and cultural biases that are twisting your (and mine) understanding of the Bible?”

    Race and culture are inextricable components of the “experience” and “tradition” components of the aforementioned quadrilateral.

    Reply
  5. Theology Samurai

    “Theology is not done by God or the Bible, as if the bible was a person. Its done by human beings, and we have limits and contexts in which we come from and from which we do theology”

    Theology is revealed by God in the Bible. Human beings don’t get to mix theology together like a salad, a little racial bias here…a little cultural bias there. We need to be aware of our contexts and limits in all of our theological pursuits, not interpret the Bible through them.

    Using paradigms like Christology, etc. doesn’t make Cone a Christian theologian. Cults use similar paradigms.

    I have not read “God of the Oppressed” because what I have read of Cone I don’t find very compelling or useful.

    I never said we don’t have a historical context. We do. And we have a bird’s eye view of the historical contexts behind us….

    Reply
    1. Rod of Alexandria

      “Using paradigms like Christology, etc. doesn’t make Cone a Christian theologian. Cults use similar paradigms.

      I have not read “God of the Oppressed” because what I have read of Cone I don’t find very compelling or useful.”

      uh humm…. someone’s lookin’ to troll.

      “We need to be aware of our contexts and limits in all of our theological pursuits, not interpret the Bible through them.”

      Yah, I’ll believe that when I see it actually happen. It just doesn’t.

      I’m with Charles, culture/race all go under the Quadrilateral of Experience/Tradition. You’re ignoring the fact that humans interpret Scripture and have done so for well over two thousand years. It’s in the act of interpretation that our biases and cultural milieu are exposed. I don’t think you have quite grasped that yet, or remain to be purposefully in denial.

      At any rate, all of the Church Fathers found their cultures useful in communicating the Gospel. I don’t see any difference between Clement of Alexandria using Middle Platonist philosophy, referring to Greek and Roman plays, and even unknown Christian texts (extra-canonical) to defend the faith, if you will, and to protest against things like Egyptian brothers and sisters marrying each other. In the same way, Cone relies on dialectics and his experience in his culture to fight against racism and oppression.

      Good luck finding a theology that comes out of a vacuum or drops from the sky.

      Reply
      1. Theology Samurai

        “uh humm…. someone’s lookin’ to troll.”

        I’m not sure what you mean. It’s trolling if you haven’t read the book under discussion? I’m addressing my comments to the quote from the book, and the comments in the combox

        “Yah, I’ll believe that when I see it actually happen. It just doesn’t.”

        It’s the goal. You can’t reach the goal if you have no intention of aiming for it.

        “Good luck finding a theology that comes out of a vacuum or drops from the sky.”

        Since God works through history, I don’t expect it to drop from the sky in the sense you mean, however, in another sense theology does drop from the sky, does it not?

        Reply
        1. Rod of Alexandria

          “I’m addressing my comments to the quote from the book, and the comments in the combox”

          You are? So you are seeking to understand what Cone (and we) are arguing about theology, being contextual, rather than just accusing us of not being Christian? Because the latter would be trolling, which is what you were doing (your comment about cults using paradigms– as well as you questioning our salvation–“Just like exploring Christian themes and think Jesus was a great guy?”–definitely a troll move).

          For clarification, I don’t know where your definition of Christian comes from, but mine comes from passages such as Romans 10:9, that we believe on Christ, and him Risen. Anything outside of that, I consider at least, to be a non-essential. Like I said before, Cone affirms the bodily resurrection of Christ: http://politicaljesus.com/2011/06/15/james-cones-response-to-william-r-jones/

          If one affirms Christ as risen, there is no way we can deny God’s goodness. That is his argument that he uses later in God of the Oppressed.

          “Since God works through history, I don’t expect it to drop from the sky in the sense you mean”

          You could have fooled me.

          Again, I gave you concrete examples, and I could go on with theologians in history who used cultural references ( I mean, since all of them did). The onus is on you, sir, to find me one theologian who was not a product of his culture, or socially formed by his environment.

          “another sense theology does drop from the sky, does it not?”

          For Muslims, it does.

          For Christians, God is here in the world, interacting with humanity, working to live in covenant with us (relationship, friendship). For us Gentiles, we can only know theology through the story and history of the Jews in the Old Testament and in God Incarnate, Immanuel, God with us–Christ Jesus.

          Reply
    1. Rod of Alexandria

      I dont believe so.

      What I am trying to say is that God is responsible for both the good and bad in culture. If Genesis 1 is correct, and everything God created is good, I believe that includes culture as well. I believe that God can work in and through culture to get the Good News across.

      Reply
      1. Theology Samurai

        If everything God created is good, then how is God responsible for the “bad” in culture? Some aspects of culture are sinful because culture is made up of fallen men. God can certainly use culture to get the Good News across, and we must endeavor to understand Scripture within it’s historical context, but Cone is all wet when he says:

        The black theologian must reject any conception of God which stifles black self-determination by picturing God as a God of all peoples. Either God is identified with the oppressed to the point that their experience becomes God’s experience, or God is a God of racism…. The blackness of God means that God has made the oppressed condition God’s own condition. This is the essence of the Biblical revelation. By electing Israelite slaves as the people of God and by becoming the Oppressed One in Jesus Christ, the human race is made to understand that God is known where human beings experience humiliation and suffering…Liberation is not an afterthought, but the very essence of divine activity. (A Black Theology of Liberation, pp. 63-64)

        Perhaps I’m misunderstanding him, but I’m open to correction.

        Reply
        1. Rod of Alexandria

          The bad in culture is the perversion of the good; that means it is capable of being transformed for God’s purposes rather than just remaining unredeemable.

          There is not one theologian that I agree with 100% completely. For Cone, as I have posted elsewhere, “blackness” is a symbol, it is not a race, but a condition of being oppressed. That being said, I have problem with Cone’s view of what a “symbol” is, and even the idea of God as a symbol. This idea is passed down from neo-orthodox theologian Paul Tillich. Certainly liberation is part of the biblical narrative but it is not the entire message. I think its more about reconciliation, which Cone has a different idea about, but in context, Cone is writing in the late 1960s/early 1970s during the Law and Order era of Richard Nixon. It is an intellectual response to that situation (race riots, poverty, war, political corruption, etc)

          Reply
          1. Theology Samurai

            “There is not one theologian that I agree with 100% completely.”

            Me neither, but I’d rather spend my time studying the work of theologians with whom I at least agree more than 15% of the time.

            So many books, so little time. Cone doesn’t hit my reading list any more than Schleiermacher does. Anthony Carter presents a better case for racial and cultural contextualization of theology….

  6. Pingback: Now Available: James Cone’s Latest book, The Cross and the Lynching Tree | Political Jesus

  7. Pingback: Interacting with God of the Oppressed 4 — The Social Context of Theology | Political Jesus

  8. Pingback: Interacting with God of the Oppressed 5 — What is the Good News? | Political Jesus

  9. Pingback: Top 6 Posts from 2011 | The Resist Daily

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *