In chapter four, Cone tours the Scriptures to introduce us to the God who liberates. Cone contrasts the god of Greek philosophy, who is distant and uninvolved, with the God of the Bible, who is actively involved in the history of the world. In the Old Testament, “God’s revelation is inseparable from the social and political affairs of Israel.” (pg. 57).
The story of God’s acting in the affairs of Israel starts with the Exodus. Here, God liberates Israel from slavery and covenants to be their God. The rest of the Old Testament narrative is the story of how Israel forgets or remembers the God who liberates and the consequences when they disobey the covenant, or blessings when they remember the covenant.
Cone argues that the Old Testament writers (particularly the prophets) are united in their belief that God is completely committed to justice for the poor and weak (pg. 65).
Cone then turns to the New Testament and outlines how Jesus is both the continuation and completion of the Law and the Prophets (pg. 66).
Jesus’ mission, as Cone sees it, is summed up in his Lordship and Servanthood and these represent, “the establishment of justice through suffering” (pg. 69).
Cone emphasizes the texts that demonstrate that Jesus is on the side of the poor. (Luke 4:18-19; Luke 7:22; etc). As such, the Incarnation is that “God in Christ comes to the weak and the helpless, and becomes one of them, taking their condition as his own and thus transforming their slave-existence into a liberated existence” (pg 71).
The message of liberation that is at the heart of the Incarnation cannot be understood, nor is it good news for the oppressor. It is offensive to them. Indeed, only the poor and weak can truly understand Jesus’ words, “Come to me…and I will give you rest…” (pg. 71)
So who are the poor? Cone rejects all attempts to spiritualize the poor. He argues that scholars from the affluent cultures are guilty of minimizing “Jesus’ gospel of liberation for the poor by interpreting poverty as a spiritual condition unrelated to social and political phenomena” (pg. 72). The gospel, ultimately “excludes those who stand outside the social existence of the poor” (pg. 73).
So what does this mean for theology?
Cone summarizes four implications of this understanding of the gospel:
- “There can be no Christian theology that is not social and political…” (pg 75).
- “Theology must be prophetic…” (pg. 75).
- “Theology cannot ignore tradition…” (pg. 75).
and the big one, 4. “Theology is always a word about the liberation of the oppressed and humiliated. It is a word of judgment for the oppressors and the rulers. Whenever theologians fail to make this point unmistakably clear, they are not doing Christian theology but the theology of the Antichrist” (pg. 76).
While Cone is right to emphasize social justice and Jesus’ mission to the poor and weak and down-trodden, has he taken it too far? How poor is poor? How do we compare the poor? The poor in North America are rich compared to the poor in South America or Africa or Asia. Does that mean that the Gospel is more for the poor in one culture and not another?
Should there not be an element of spiritualization? If Jesus came to save the whole world then are we not all poor, weak, down-trodden in some way, be it physically or spiritually?
I can’t help but wonder if Cone is presenting a modified version of election, wherein the Gospel is only for certain people at a certain time in a certain situation. In which case, in many ways it looks like this “good news” is not for me. Indeed, being a white female living in North America, I am not poor or oppressed compared to so many others in the world. What does this mean then? If Jesus’ good news is for the poor and the oppressed, then did I not actually receive it?
Jesus’ call that I experienced was not merely a call to discipleship, to come and take up my cross and follow him. It was a call to freedom, a call to being liberated from sin and doubt and despair and a crappy childhood. And it is because of that personal call to liberation that I am able to, in turn, take up my cross, to follow Jesus, to not take the side of the oppressors, and to preach freedom and life to the outcast, the poor, the prisoner and the helpless. If I had not experienced it in my own life, no matter how ‘spiritualized’ it was, my testifying to the liberating power of the cross would be hollow.
- New Series: Me and Black Liberation Theology (politicaljesus.com)
- Interacting with God of the Oppressed 1 – Working through the Prefaces (politicaljesus.com)
- Interacting with God of the Oppressed 2 – The Importance of Experience (politicaljesus.com)
- Interacting with ‘God of the Oppressed’ 3 – Defining Truth (politicaljesus.com)
- Interacting with God of the Oppressed 4 – The Social Context of Theology (politicaljesus.com)