Thursday, September 01, 2005

Black Liberation Theology

I have always been curious about the practices found in the African-American churches. Besides watching television dramas and movies depicting black churches, I have not actually seen African-American church services in the flesh. Since I am unlikely to step foot into a black church, I thought I should do a little web research on this particular aspect of Christianity. That's when I discover a theological branch of Christianity called black theology.

Black theology is a form of liberation theology. According to Dr. C. Matthew McMahon in the article "An Overview of Contemporary Theology," liberation theology is concerned with "eliminating oppression mainly in third world countries with the idea that only divine intervention can escalate the 'liberation' of such oppressed people." He also wrote, "Liberation theology is basically anti-orthodox in every area of theology. They deny the Sovereignty of God, the deity of Christ, original sin, imputation, justification by faith alone, and utilized a free spirited liberalism as their foundational theological viewpoint. This theology has infiltrated most socially oppressed countries such as those throughout Latin America, Africa, and Asia."

In another article "An Investigation of Black Liberation Theology," Dr. H. Wayne House wrote, "black theology (and liberation theology in general) seeks to speak to 'this-world' problems, rather than 'other-world' issues; to concrete circumstances, rather than abstract thought; to the sinfulness of man's plight in a ghetto rather than sin in man's heart; and to a savior who delivers man from earthly slavery, rather than a Savior who saves man from spiritual bondage. This is black liberation theology in a word."

There are several disturbing characteristics of black theology written in the articles I have found. They are:
  1. The Scriptures are not regarded as the supreme authority
    James Hall Cone, who is described as "one of America's best known architects of Black theology" sees the "black experience" as the fundamental starting point for ascertaining theological truth. The "black experience" is the experience of oppression in a white racist society. Any theology that tries to play down this theme of oppression will be rejected. This is unlike classical Protestant theology, which regards the Bible as the supreme authority in matters of faith and practice.

  2. Christian concepts about God are ignored
    Black theology is not interested in arguments about the person of God, the Trinity, His supreme power and authority etc. Instead, black theology is only concerned about discovering a God who will involve Himself in the "black experience" and deliver them from oppression. Dr. H. Wayne House wrote, "the image of God as all-knowing and all-powerful is too familiar for comfort from a background of slavery, This kind of God is too similar to the white oppressor. Concepts such as 'God is love' or 'God is freedom' have more meaning for and are more acceptable to the oppressed."

  3. Jesus Christ is perceived as a political leader
  4. Jesus is viewed as "black." Unlike traditional theology that views Jesus as the "Lamb of God" who takes away the sins of the elect, Jesus is regarded as a revolutionary black leader who "sought to free Israel's black Jews from oppression and bondage, dying, not for the eternal salvation of the individual, but for the rebirth of the lost Black Nation." (Dr. H. Wayne House)

    Black theology does not just view the resurrection of Jesus Christ as oriented towards a heavenly future hope, but sees it as an earthly future hope that symbolizes freedom for those who are suffering from oppression. Therefore, "Christ as Savior is seen basically in political terms, with His intrinsic nature and spiritual activity receiving little or no attention." (Dr. H. Wayne House)

  5. Salvation is viewed as deliverance of the oppressed from the oppressor
    Life in heaven is not a big concern for black theology. What really matters is the chance to enjoy the opportunities and physical freedom on earth. Salvation is physical liberation rather than deliverance from the sinful nature. Black theology is not concerned with the doctrine of total depravity. James Cone comments on this view, "If eschatology means that one believes that God is totally uninvolved in the suffering of men because he is preparing them for another world, then Black Theology is not eschatological. Black Theology is an earthly theology!"

  6. There is a strong humanistic view of Man
    Black theology does not view Man in a pessimistic sense where Man is unable to overcome his sinful nature on his own. Black theology is about physical oppression that the black man must overcome. James Cone believed that to achieve freedom, violence is unavoidable. Dr. House wrote, "The belief that man is able to solve his problems makes one wonder if anything really would be lacking in black theology if there were no God or Christ."

  7. The rich and poor are seen as opposites
    Black theology has this view that to be oppressed and poor is to be a child of God. The rich are seen as automatically excluded from the kingdom of God. God is viewed as being primarily for the poor over against the rich in society.

  8. Black theology does not transcends culture
    Unlike orthodox Protestant theology that is able to universally address different cultures and situations, black theology is basically about the plight of the black people. However, the message of the gospel of Jesus Christ is designed to be preached to everyone, not just the oppressed. In this context, black theology is unable to adapt to different situations around the world.
To understand more about black theology, there are a couple of good reference materials found in the following links:
  1. An Investigation of Black Liberation Theology, Dr. H. Wayne House
  2. Black Theology, Black Power, and the Black Experience, Dr. Ron Rhodes
  3. Is Christian Orthodoxy Strong in the Black Church?, Dr. Jerry L. Buckner
  4. Black Preaching Styles, Geoff Alexander
  5. Black Theology, Wikipedia
  6. James Cone, Wikipedia
  7. An Overview of Contemporary Theology, Dr. C. Matthew McMahon


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Just as there are many kinds of ways that people practice Christianity, then you need to visit many Balck churces to see how christianity is practiced. Forget what you see on televison. Moreover, before there was Black theology, there was the negro spirituals. The Negro Spiritual was a working Theology , such as "were you there, when they crucified my Lord?". Restudying the Negro Spirituals can help uunderstand Black theology.

2/10/05 4:00 AM  
Anonymous keith said...

Yeah, anonymous is right. Just as there's plenty of "White" theologians whose views are not echoed in most "White" congregations (think Paul Tillich), there's a big break between Cone, etc., and the African-American church at large. If you really are curious about African-American church practices, don't read books and articles. Go to an African-American church!

You also don't seem to understand that "contextual theology" (which Black theology is) is not meant to transcend culture, but to adapt the gospel message so it speaks directly to a certain cultural situation. We may dislike that the rich seem automatically excluded from the kingdom of God, but that's because in the White cultural situation, we don't take Mark 10:25 very seriously. We emphasize justification by faith alone which makes us feel okay in our middle class comfort. We don't have to repent of our racism; we can sit in our ivory towers and judge theologies while 25% of African-American young men rot in jail. (And we can say that it's their own fault for being born with a skin color that earns one no favors in this country.)

4/11/05 9:57 AM  
Anonymous keith said...

Sorry for the rant. Just realized that you are in Singapore. How could you go to an African-American church? Please redirect my rant to my fellow White middle class Americans.

I'd be interested to see you write about Asian contextual theologians like C. S. Song.

4/11/05 10:01 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I have read the statement of belief. I am also a believer who has also received the forgiveness of sins by believing that Jesus Christ, the Son of God, Died for my sins, and rose from the dead on the third day.

I agree with your statement of faith but I have a problem with one item - that of election. I believe ( or thougth ) that God's election was based upon him chossing those whom he know would accept His Son.

You make it sound as if some people have already been dammed to hell.

The doctrine of election is a terribly difficult doctrine to deal with, that some people have been chosen for hell.

21/3/08 9:21 AM  
Blogger mmarley said...

Friend - I agree with those who have previously posted and I am sure that I don't need to encourage you as one who seems astute in theological understanding - to check your sources and only take Wikipedia at a grain of salt. I would challenge you to read some of the liberation writers, Gutierrez, Boff, Cone, Bonio - for yourself. Get the context, get the back ground - then make your judgements. Otherwise, in the end, you simply sould ignorant over your lack of study in these areas. Maybe liberation theology isn't what you believe should be sided with European dominant theology - but it does still stand with orthodoxy- the incarnation & the trinity- despite what you might find. What matters to the liberation theologian, however, is where your emphasis lies.

I agree with your other writers...Go to different churches and see what you think..

30/3/08 9:12 AM  

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