According to some Christian outlooks we were made for another world. Perhaps, rather, we were made for this world to recreate, reclaim, redeem, and renew unto God's future aspiration by the power of His Spirit. - R.E. Slater
Our eschatological ethos is to love. To stand with those who are oppressed. To stand against those who are oppressing. It is that simple. Love is our only calling and Christian Hope. - R.E. Slater
Secularization theory has been massively falsified. We don't live in an age of secularity. We live in an age of explosive, pervasive religiosity... an age of religious pluralism. - Peter L. Berger
Exploring the edge of life and faith in a post-everything world. - Todd Littleton
I don't need another reason to believe, your love is all around for me to see. – anon
Thou art our need; and in giving us more of thyself thou givest us all. - Khalil Gibran, Prayer XXIII
Be careful what you pretend to be. You become what you pretend to be. - Kurt Vonnegut
Religious beliefs, far from being primary, are often shaped and adjusted by our social goals. - Jim Forest
People, even more than things, need to be restored, renewed, revived, reclaimed, and redeemed; never throw out anyone. – anon
Certainly God's love has made fools of us all. - R.E. Slater
An apocalyptic Christian faith doesn't wait for Jesus to come, but for Jesus to become in our midst. - R.E. Slater
Christian belief in God begins with the cross and resurrection of Jesus, not with rational apologetics. - Eberhard Jüngel, Jürgen Moltmann
Our knowledge of God is through the 'I-Thou' encounter, not in finding God at the end of a syllogism or argument. There is a grave danger in any Christian treatment of God as an object. The God of Jesus Christ and Scripture is irreducibly subject and never made as an object, a force, a power, or a principle that can be manipulated. - Emil Brunner
Ehyeh Asher Ehyeh means "I will be that who I have yet to become." - God (Ex 3.14)
Our job is to love others without stopping to inquire whether or not they are worthy. - Thomas Merton
The church is God's world-changing social experiment of bringing unlikes and differents to the Eucharist/Communion table to share life with one another as a new kind of family. When this happens we show to the world what love, justice, peace, reconciliation, and life together is designed by God to be. The church is God's show-and-tell for the world to see how God wants us to live as a blended, global, polypluralistic family united with one will, by one Lord, and baptized by one Spirit. – anon
The cross that is planted at the heart of the history of the world cannot be uprooted. - Jacques Ellul
The Unity in whose loving presence the universe unfolds is inside each person as a call to welcome the stranger, protect animals and the earth, respect the dignity of each person, think new thoughts, and help bring about ecological civilizations. - John Cobb & Farhan A. Shah
If you board the wrong train it is of no use running along the corridors of the train in the other direction. - Dietrich Bonhoeffer
God's justice is restorative rather than punitive; His discipline is merciful rather than punishing; His power is made perfect in weakness; and His grace is sufficient for all. – anon
Our little [biblical] systems have their day; they have their day and cease to be. They are but broken lights of Thee, and Thou, O God art more than they. - Alfred Lord Tennyson
We can’t control God; God is uncontrollable. God can’t control us; God’s love is uncontrolling! - Thomas Jay Oord
Life in perspective but always in process... as we are relational beings in process to one another so life events are in process in relation to each event... as God is to Self, is to world, is to us... like Father, like sons and daughters, like events... life in process yet always in perspective. - R.E. Slater

Saturday, July 11, 2020

Why Women May Speak, Lead, and Teach in the Church




Junia Is Not Alone,* and Neither are Plenty of Others:
Women and Leadership in the New Testament

by Allan R. Bevere
October 22, 2019

John MacArthur is at it again. In a recent conference, MacArthur reiterated his view that the New Testament is clear that women should not serve as pastors or in any leadership roles above men. (You can listen to his comments here.) But is it so clear? Actually, I believe it is clear, but in favor of women in church leadership.

I am going to give a quick fly-over of the pertinent passages that speak to women in ministry, but first let me make what I think is a crucial observation. All too often in making a case for or against this or that issue in looking at the Bible, we can narrowly focus on one or two passages of Scripture that seem to settle the question. The problem with such an approach is two-fold: first, it fails to understand those passages in their larger canonical context, in this case the canon of the whole New Testament. Second, and related to the first, is that when the passages in question are seen in light of the larger canonical context, a different understanding of particular Scriptures can emerge. In the case of women in leadership, the three passages often used to deny a place for women in ministry are 1 Corinthians 11:1-16, 1 Corinthians 14:33-40, and 1 Timothy 2:8-15. I will deal with these Scriptures in due course. Before that, I want to do a quick fly-over of the relevant New Testament passages that give us the larger picture of the question at hand.

The Gospels:

Mary and Martha (Luke 10:38-42)-- in the well-known story of Martha running around the kitchen practicing hospitality for Jesus and her other guests, she complains that Mary is not helping but rather sitting at Jesus' feet listening to his teaching. When the focus of this text is on Martha's complaint, what can be lost is that Rabbi Jesus is allowing and even commending Mary's posture as a disciple. Only disciples of the rabbi were permitted to sit at his feet, and that honor was reserved for men alone. It is reasonable to assume that if Mary was permitted to be a disciple, she was expected at some point to carry on his teaching to those around her. What Jesus is doing here is a radical reorientation of social convention.

The Samaritan Women (John 4:1-42)-- The first surprise of the story is that Jesus addresses a women and a Samaritan, something that no Jewish male in the first-century with any self-respect would do. The Samaritan woman herself is shocked that Jesus would even initiate conversation. After this encounter, the woman (I wish she had been named) returns to her villages and tell of her conversation with Jesus. John tells us "many Samaritans from that city believed in him because of the woman’s testimony..." (v. 39). Many from her village became disciples because of her preaching.

The Women at the Tomb (Matthew 28:1-10; Mark 16:1-8; Luke 24:1-12)-- I am excluding John's resurrection account because I want to deal with Mary Magdalene separately. All four Gospels are in agreement that female followers of Jesus were the first to hear of the resurrection of Jesus and the first to proclaim it to Jesus' male disciples. If one were trying to invent a fable of the resurrection of Jesus in first-century Judaism, having women as the first witnesses to resurrection would not be the way to tell the story. In first-century Judaism, women were generally considered to be unreliable witnesses, and this was especially true in Roman culture (cf. Luke 24:11). So, why do all four Gospels tells us women were the first witnesses? Because that's the way it actually happened. With the differences in the resurrection accounts, this is the one detail on which all four agree.

Interlude:

It is important to note that when Paul offers the nutshell of the gospel in 1 Corinthians 15:1-11, the women are conspicuously absent.

For I handed on to you as of first importance what I in turn had received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the scriptures, and that he was buried, and that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the scriptures, and that he appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve. Then he appeared to more than five hundred brothers and sisters at one time, most of whom are still alive, though some have died. Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles. Last of all, as to one untimely born, he appeared also to me (vv. 3-8).

I do not believe that Paul purposely omits this detail, as he says at the outset, "For I handed on to you as of first importance what I in turn had received." But what seems to have happened in the two-plus decades after the event of Easter is that the women attested to in all four Gospels have dropped out of the basic proclamation-- perhaps for evangelistic reasons in contexts, both Jewish and especially Gentile, where the testimony of women was not respected. This is only conjecture, but it does make sense of the omission.

Now back to the task before us.

The central claim of the Gospel is that Jesus was raised from the dead. If the tomb was not empty, if Jesus' bones are still somewhere on the outskirts of Jerusalem waiting to be found, then Christianity is indeed nothing more than a hopeful fable unmoored from reality. It is the critical and essential claim of the Gospel-- and God entrusted that initial proclamation to women. They were the first preachers of the resurrection of Jesus.

Mary Magdalene (John 20:1-18)-- Two things of note in the story of Mary Magdalene at the tomb: First, when she recognizes the risen Jesus, her exclamation is "Rabbouni," "rabbi" or "teacher." This was a title of respect from a disciple, a student to one's teacher. Second, Jesus tells Mary to go and tell the men-- his male disciples-- of her encounter. Once again, we see the role of women as the first preachers of the resurrection. (It is interesting to ask why the risen Jesus did not appear to Peter and the beloved disciple when they were at the tomb.)

The Book of Acts:

The Day of Pentecost (Acts 2:14-21)-- With the coming of the Holy Spirit comes the fulfillment of the words of the Prophet Joel-- "You're sons and daughters will prophesy" (v. 17). The Greek word "prophesy" (προφητεύσουσιν; prophēteusousin) means proclaim or preach. In the Didache (100-120 A.D.), an early manual of church discipline and order, the traveling evangelists are referred to as prophets. In Revelation 11:3 the two witnesses "prophecy or "preach" wearing sackcloth. One cannot miss the echos of the Old Testament prophets. In these last days, daughters as well as well as sons will preach the gospel. To exclude our daughters from the call to preach is to reject the work of the Holy Spirit in these last days.

Not only that, Peter quotes Joel that even the lowest of those on the first-century social status totem pole will receive the Holy Spirit and preach-- "Even upon my slaves, both men and women, in those days I will pour out my Spirit; and they shall prophesy" (v. 18). Throughout the book of Acts we see that the coming of the Spirit results in proclamation and the gift of the Spirit is no respecter of social status or gender roles.

Paul's Letters:

Romans (16:1-16)-- There can be no mistaking that the Roman Church had women in ministry working alongside the men, but let me mention three in particular.

First, in verse 1 Paul mentions Phoebe who is a "minister" or a "deacon" (διάκονον; diakonon). It is not clear if at this point in the history of the early church whether a deacon is a formal church office, but Phoebe participates in the list of leaders Paul mentions; and she is mentioned first and singled out as a diakonon. It is also highly significant that in 15:8, the Apostle refers to Jesus as a diakonon. Moreover, it is obvious that Phoebe is the bearer of this letter to the Roman Church. If Romans is a draft of Paul's defense of his gospel before the leaders of the church in Jerusalem, as Richard Hays suggests, then Paul has entrusted this singularly important epistle to someone who has to be a trusted leader.

Second, in 16:3-4 Paul writes, "Greet Prisca and Aquila, who work with me in Christ Jesus, and who risked their necks for my life, to whom not only I give thanks, but also all the churches of the Gentiles" It is important that Prisca is mentioned first. In that world, the names of persons are listed in order of significance as in the Gospels when the writers often list in order Peter, James, and John (e.g. Matthew 17:1-2). In the Book of Acts, Peter emerges as the leader of the Apostles. Moreover, in Acts 18:18, Prisca (here Priscilla) is also mentioned before Aquila. Has Priscilla taken the lead in the couple's ministry? It is true that in 18:1-2 Aquila is given priority and mentioned first "with his wife Priscilla." Traditional gender roles are not completely rejected in the New Testament, but women in leadership in Roman Church does not conform to traditional conventions.

Third, and perhaps most important is Junia. "Greet Andronicus and Junia, my relatives who were in prison with me; they are prominent among the apostles, and they were in Christ before I was" (16:7). Notice that Paul refers to Junia (a female name) as "among the apostles" (ἀποστόλοις; apostolois). Apostolic ministry eventually expanded beyond the original Twelve. Moreover, Junia was in prison with Paul. Can it be doubted that she was there for the same reason Paul was-- proclaiming Christ crucified and risen? From the witness of the New Testament, it was church leaders who were arrested and subjected to punishment, which makes strategic sense. To stop an undesirable movement, cut off the head and the rest of the body will die.

Those who argue that Junia was a man-- Junias-- do not have the manuscript evidence on their side. The first reference to Junia's gender outside the New Testament comes from Origen (c. 185-254) who confirms she was a woman, possibly because there were those in his day uncomfortable with that truth and sought to obscure it. In other words, there would have been no debate over Junia(s) gender a century or two later if she had been a he.

Galatians (3:28)-- "There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female; for all of you are one in Christ Jesus." While this passage does not directly address leadership roles, it is another affirmation that in Christ, such stations in life should not be the basis for a church hierarchy. The main issue in Galatians is that there are some Jewish Christians who want to force Gentile converts to practice "the works of the law," that is, those identifying practices that marked out Jews as God's people from everyone else-- circumcision, kosher laws, Sabbath and holy day observance. For Paul, this relegates the Gentiles to second class status within the new covenant in Christ. So Galatians 3:28 is an affirmation of the irrelevance of these distinctions as a hierarchy within the church. To say that there is no "male and female," (and note that it is and not or) is to say that gender is not a determinative of equality and therefore hierarchy within the church. If there is to be no second class status based on these distinctions, it is reasonable to assume that such distinctions are of no account in the leadership of the church as well.

Philippians (4:2-3)-- Euodia and Syntyche (feminine names) are not getting along and that is causing enough of a rift in the church that Paul feels the need to briefly suggest they work things out. Paul refers to them as co-workers and "have struggled beside me in the work of the gospel." They are also mentioned with Clement, a man who is a co-worker as well.

Colossians (4:15)-- Paul says very little about Nympha other than there is a church that meets in her house. Whether her husband was an unbeliever or she was widowed we do not know. But hosting a congregation in her household would have made her "the house church leader and patroness."

We now come to three passages often used to exclude women from leadership.

1 Corinthians (11:1-16)-- It certainly appears that Paul affirms traditional gender roles here, but we should not expect it to be any different. Nevertheless, nowhere does the Apostle exclude women from leadership. Indeed, in verse 10 Paul states that a woman's veil in prayer is "a symbol of authority on her head." Moreover, there is also an equal kind of reciprocity that Paul affirms between men and women. "Nevertheless, in the Lord woman is not independent of man or man independent of woman. For just as woman came from man, so man comes through woman; but all things come from God" (vv. 11-12). This reciprocity is "in the Lord," as believers in their roles relate to fellow believers. Could it be that the maintaining of traditional family roles was for the sake of evangelism to unbelieving Jews and Gentiles, who had a particular understanding of household management, rather akin to Paul's concern for Christians not behaving in ways that cause others to stumble (1 Corinthians 10:23-33)?

In distinguishing between gender roles, Paul is affirming that women are in the church, in the covenant as women, on their own status (not as under the old covenant where women were included by virtue of the men because of circumcision). As it has been noted, "In worship they are to be their true selves; this also means... that women were not to copy men but to be women in their public ministries."

(14:26-36)-- Women should be silent in worship, but why and when? The context of chapter fourteen is about order in worship. In reading up to chapter 14, we know that women in Corinth are participating in worship, which also means speaking publicly. Here Paul's admonition of silence concerns the fact that in this context women, who were not granted the kind of education enjoyed by men, were apparently disrupting worship by asking their husbands to explain what they did not understand (perhaps during the sermon). They are not scolded for wanting to learn. They are reminded that there is a time and place appropriate for learning.

1 Timothy (2:8-15)-- Three things: First, while in other places Paul seems to reinforce traditional gender roles, here he does the opposite. Men do not have to be stoic tough guys in worship. They can and should lift "up holy hands without anger or argument." It's OK to worship and get caught up in the Spirit. In insisting that women dress modestly, Paul is not concerned with the women of the congregation turning on the men by dressing provocatively. To the contrary, women do not have to settle for being (to use modern phraseology) "trophy wives," whose purpose is only to be beautiful to look at in worship. They have more significant roles to play in the church.

Second, women are to "learn in silence with full submission." While this admonishment grates against our twenty-first sensibilities, it must not be missed that the women are permitted to learn, just like Mary sitting at the feet of Rabbi Jesus. This does go against conventional roles for women. Women are to learn silently so they might at some point be able to teach when ready. The verb translated "permit" is in the present tense and should be rendered "I currently do not permit a woman to teach or to have authority over a man." This prohibition is temporary. Moreover, Paul may be trying to keep the church from going down the road of a female-run pagan cult. Tom Wright states,

There are some signs in the letter that it was originally sent to Timothy while he was in Ephesus. And one of the main things we know about religion in Ephesus is that the main religion – the biggest Temple, the most famous shrine-- was a female-only cult. The Temple of Artemis (that’s her Greek name; the Romans called her Diana) was a massive structure which dominated the area; and, as befitted worshippers of a female deity, the priests were all women. They ruled the show and kept the men in their place.
Now if you were writing a letter to someone in a small, new religious movement with a base in Ephesus, and wanted to say that because of the gospel of Jesus the old ways of organising male and female roles had to be rethought from top to bottom, with one feature of that being that the women were to be encouraged to study and learn and take a leadership role, you might well want to avoid giving the wrong impression. Was the apostle saying, people might wonder, that women should be trained up so that Christianity would gradually become a cult like that of Artemis, where women did the leading and kept the men in line? That, it seems to me, is what verse 12 is denying. The word I’ve translated ‘try to dictate to them’ is unusual, but seems to have the overtones of ‘being bossy’ or ‘seizing control’. Paul is saying, like Jesus in Luke 10, that women must have the space and leisure to study and learn in their own way, not in order that they may muscle in and take over the leadership as in the Artemis-cult, but so that men and women alike can develop whatever gifts of learning, teaching and leadership God is giving them.

Third and finally, Paul writes in 2:15, "Yet she will be saved through childbearing, provided they continue in faith and love and holiness, with modesty." The reference here is to Genesis 3:16:

To the woman God said,
"I will greatly increase your pangs in childbearing;
in pain you shall bring forth children,
yet your desire shall be for your husband,
and he shall rule over you."
Are Paul's words based upon the curse or upon the undoing of the curse? Some have read this in the first way-- that the task of women is primarily to bear children and be subordinate to their husbands as a result of the fall. But it can also be read, and I think better, as Paul's belief that the curse of pain in delivering a child and being ruled over by her husband are being undone in Jesus. For Christians, we do not live under the curse and all that comes with it. We have been freed from it. So, I think Paul's words are conceptually more akin to, "Women will be kept safe in their childbearing (the curse notwithstanding) and must remain in faith and love and holiness, with modesty (not conforming to men's images of them).

Even though Jesus has undone the curse of sin, we still live with its effects. I think this is why we see the tension in the New Testament between affirming traditional gender roles and yet moving beyond them. How do believers live as citizens of the Age to Come when This Age is still very much alive and well? It is not always easy to know.

I am not suggesting there are no difficulties with these last three passages that need to be untangled, but when viewed in the context of the New Testament canon, it is obvious they must be seen in light of what is affirmed throughout-- women had an important place in the first decades of the church and participated in its leadership as apostles, disciples, teachers, and evangelists.

In thirty-five years of pastoral ministry, I have become a better pastor because of my female colleagues in ministry; and I rejoice to be a co-worker with them.

Junia is not alone. Thanks be to God!

- ARB

*The main title of this post Junia Is Not Alone is taken from the title of an ebook written by Scot McKnight.

Homebrewed Christianity - An Eight Week Course Introducing Black Theology

an online reading group and exploration

"I Can't Breathe!"

Black Theology

Disrupting & Revitalizing the World

w/ Dr. Adam Clark & Dr. Tripp Fuller | August 2020




An Eight Week Course Introducing Black Theology






8 Weeks + 4 Deep Dives + 4 Special Sessions + Readings + Online Community




“Racism is a profound contradiction of the gospel. No one can be a representative of Jesus and treat others as subhuman. There can be no compromise on this point. Any theology that does not fight white supremacy with all its intellectual strength cancels its Christian identity”  - James Cone

White supremacy is America’s most cherished heresy. It is a theological error entailing the death and domination of black bodies. The White Church has not simply been silent and sidelined in the march toward liberation, but an ideological ally and institutional accomplice of supremacy culture. George Floyd’s last words as he was murdered by the State, “I can’t breathe,” ignited a collective gasp in which a larger multitude and diversity of citizenry had the scales fall off their eyes and found their lips and lungs reanimated to speak, “Black Lives Matter.” 

For some this is a new shout and for others it is too familiar. If black lives matter our life as a species and a church, then it is time to listen to the voices who have already been speaking and living this gospel proclamation. As James Cone, the Father of Black Theology said, “There can be no Christian theology that is not identified unreservedly with those who are humiliated and abused. In fact, theology ceases to be a theology of the gospel when it fails to arise out of the community of the oppressed. For it is impossible to speak of the God of Israelite history, who is the God revealed in Jesus Christ, without recognizing that God is the God of and for those who labor and are overladen.” We hope this online class in Black Theology is disrupting and revitalizing.










We are extremely excited about both the content and the format of this class. Each of the elements are intended to provide all the resources necessary for the engaged nerd like yourself to wrestle deeply with a powerful tradition and texts.

The aim of this course is to explore four major themes that shape Black Theology. Black Theology is critical thinking about the framing stories and interpretive structures that organize and give meaning to black life. It is a way of framing Christian faith through the goal and practice of liberation. As we dig into each of the four themes we will examine a number of short reading selections, receive lecture from Adam in conversation with Tripp, hear from a different special guest scholar, QnA time, and engage the community in the online group.

Can't join live? Want to save the content for later? No problem! ALL THE CONTENT OF THE CLASS WILL BE RECORDED AND SHARED AS BOTH AUDIO and VIDEO TO THE CLASS. SO go ahead and join.




The Four Major Themes of Our Reading




Is Christianity a White Man’s Religion? Can Christianity be separated from Empire?




How is Black Theology conceived as a theology of liberation? What are its sources and norms?




What is the significance of Hagar to black women’s experience? What is the Womanist critique of the Cross and turn towards the ministerial vision of Jesus?




Who is Christ for us today? What is the connection between the cross and the lynching tree?






Meet Adam

Dr. Adam Clark is Associate Professor of Theology at Xavier University. He is committed to the idea that theological education in the twenty first century must function as a counter-story. One that equips us to read against the grain of the dominant culture and inspires one to live into the Ignatian dictum of going forth "to set the world on fire." To this end, Dr. Clark is intentional about pedagogical practices that raise critical consciousness by going beneath surface meanings, unmasking conventional wisdoms and reimagining the good. He currently serves as co-chair of Black Theology Group at the American Academy of Religion, actively publishes in the area of black theology and black religion and participates in social justice groups at Xavier and in the Cincinnati area. He earned his PhD at Union Theological Seminary in New York where he was mentored by James Cone. 




Meet Tripp

Dr. Tripp Fuller is a Postdoctoral Research Fellow in Theology & Science at the University of Edinburgh. For over 12 years Tripp has been doing the Homebrewed Christianity podcast (think on demand internet radio) where he interviews different scholars about their work so you can get nerdy in traffic, on the treadmill or doing the dishes. Last year it had over 3.5 million downloads. It also inspired a book series with Fortress Press called the Homebrewed Christianity Guides to... topics like God, Jesus, Spirit, Church History etc. Tripp is a very committed and (some of his friends think overly ) engaged Lakers fan and takes Star Wars and Lord of the Rings very seriously.



James H. Cone - Black Theology & Black Power


James Cone at a theology conference in Detroit in August 1980 | NCR photo/Stephanie Russell


"There is no future for America without black people," Cone concludes, echoing Baldwin's warnings. "The identity of America and black America is inextricably bound together." - James Cone

"Black people are not a fad. We are not going anywhere, and no one can speak for us. That includes white theologians." Black theology, he told the reporter, "is nothing but black people speaking for themselves about God and the meaning of their struggle for dignity in the United States." - James Cone

Black Lives matter (BLM) has become a derisive acronym used by white christians accusing our sisters and brothers of unworthy beliefs and subversive activities. Let's set the record straight by going to the source, that of Black Liberation Theology. A theology teaching liberation from oppression, tolerance under abuse, clarity over lies, and humility against unholy white or religious power. Black Theology is a study of the gospel of Christ against the injurious teachings of whiteness allied with Empire. - re slater

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James Cone's memoir recounts journey
as pioneer in black theology

by Chris Herlinger
Dec 5, 2018


James H. Cone encouraged his students at Union Theological Seminary to find their voices, saying whether "theologians acknowledge it or not, all theologies begin with experience." That was a touchstone of Cone's teaching, and those of us lucky to have had Cone as a professor will hear his impassioned voice throughout his often-moving memoir, Said I Wasn't Gonna Tell Nobody.

Unfortunately, the circumstances surrounding the book are uniquely sad. This is Cone's last work, and the reaction of Union students and alumni to his death in April from cancer at age 79 was uniformly one of disbelief: Cone's energy for teaching never flagged.

A formidable figure in life, Cone leaves a considerable legacy:
  • as a pioneering figure in the development of black theology;
  • as mentor to several generations of black theologians and preachers;
  • and as someone who worked across boundaries to find common cause with other liberation theologians, such as Gustavo Gutiérrez.

Fortunately, Cone received some much-deserved acclaim before his death. He was named a fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, and was also honored with the Grawemeyer Award in Religion for The Cross and the Lynching Tree, a deeply personal work exploring the history and legacy of lynching in America.

A prophet to the American church, Cone constantly reminded white Christians that racism was a sin — and that the theology he helped develop during 1960s and beyond was a needed corrective, even if few whites paid attention or heeded his message.

"God created Negroes black, which must be good," he writes about his initial work. "White people defamed blackness and that's evil. Jesus came to liberate blackness from whiteness."

Cone focuses his memoir on his theological journey, and Said I Wasn't Gonna Tell Nobody may be the best single introduction to Cone's theology. But personal observations make this last work engaging and poignant. Cone acknowledges shortcomings and fears, saying his journey was often lonely, particularly during his early career.

"I was on my own," he recalls. During that period there was, as yet, "no black theologian I could talk to about what I was trying to do." He writes that "a pit of loneliness" remained with him throughout his career.

A suggestion by mentor C. Eric Lincoln of Cone "jumping" from Adrian College in Michigan to Union Theological Seminary — the most prominent liberal Protestant seminary in the country, and the one-time academic base of such dominant figures as Reinhold Niebuhr and Paul Tillich — was almost too much to contemplate. "You must be crazy," Cone told Lincoln.

But in 1969, Cone made the jump, and Union became his home for nearly 50 years, though not without moments of pain and discordance. Especially early on, white colleagues remained skeptical of Cone's mission, suggesting that black theology was a momentary fad.

A Time magazine reporter asked Cone the "fad" question, and Cone recalls his response: 

"Black people are not a fad. We are not going anywhere, and no one can speak for us. That includes white theologians." Black theology, he told the reporter, "is nothing but black people speaking for themselves about God and the meaning of their struggle for dignity in the United States."

That struggle for dignity was no abstraction: In a telling but troubling anecdote, Cone recalls someone changing the sign on his office door at Union from "Dr. Cone" to "Dr. Coon."

Cone learned from his Union students. He welcomed the challenge from a gay white student who once told him, "Dr. Cone, you don't know a God damn thing about the gay experience!"

He also welcomed the challenge from black women who felt black theology, as well as white feminist theology, did not adequately speak to their lives. "I didn't have the experience of knowledge to really hear what I needed to hear," Cone acknowledges.

Even with the book's well-deserved focus on theology, there are times I wanted the memoir to have cast a slightly wider net. Barack Obama is mentioned only in passing, and it would have been interesting to hear Cone speak more about our first black president. (After Obama's re-election in 2012, I asked Cone if I could interview him for a reaction story about the prospects for Obama's second term. Cone politely turned me down, and didn't say why.) 


Still, the memoir contains many gems: Particularly fine is a chapter on James Baldwin that, achingly, might have been the basis for a separate book had Cone lived longer. Cone calls Baldwin "my most challenging and important interlocutor."

As it is, Cone wrote an acclaimed study of two other dominant figures in his life, the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. and Malcolm X, and he fashioned a memorable course at Union exploring the two men's lives and legacies. Later, Cone also taught a course on Baldwin.

Of Donald Trump, Cone says nothing. But then he didn't have to. "The cry of black blood that I heard in Detroit (1967) more than fifty years ago is still crying out all over America today," Cone writes in the book's conclusion. "White people didn't hear it then, and they still don't hear it today."

But Cone knew that, someday, white Americans had better hear it.

"There is no future for America without black people," Cone concludes, echoing Baldwin's warnings. "The identity of America and black America is inextricably bound together."

*Chris Herlinger, international correspondent for NCR's Global Sisters Report, was a student of James Cone while attending Union Theological Seminary from 1991 to 1993, earning a master's degree.

**This story appeared in the Nov 2-15, 2018 print issue under the headline: Cone's memoir recounts journey as pioneer in black theology.

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“Racism is a profound contradiction of the gospel. No one can be a representative of Jesus and treat others as subhuman. There can be no compromise on this point. Any theology that does not fight white supremacy with all its intellectual strength cancels its Christian identity” - Dr. James Cone



“There can be no Christian theology that is not identified unreservedly with those who are humiliated and abused. Theology ceases to be a theology of the gospel when it fails to arise out of the community of the oppressed." - James Cone

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Amazon Link

"As Martin Luther King said, we must learn to live together as human beings, treating each other with dignity and respect, or we will perish together as fools. There is no other choice. I choose life."
James H. Cone is widely recognized as the founder of Black Liberation Theology-- a synthesis of the Gospel message embodied by Martin Luther King, Jr., and the spirit of Black pride embodied by Malcolm X. Prompted by the Detroit riots and the death of King, Cone, a young theology professor, was impelled to write his first book, Black Theology and Black Power, followed by A Black Theology of Liberation. With these works he established himself as one of the most prophetic and challenging voices of our time.
In this powerful and passionate memoir-- his final work-- Cone describes the obstacles he overcame to find his voice, to respond to the signs of the times, and to offer a voice for those-- like the parents who raised him in Bearden, Arkansas in the era of lynching and Jim Crow-- who had no voice. Recounting lessons learned both from critics and students, and the ongoing challenge of his models King, Malcolm X, and James Baldwin, he describes his efforts to use theology as a tool in the struggle against oppression and for a better world.
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Amazon Link

The classic work of Black Theology—still relevant and challenging after 50 years—with a new introduction by Cornel West First published in 1969, Black Theology and Black Power provided the first systematic presentation of Black Theology, while also introducing the voice of an African American theologian who would shake the foundations of American theology. Relating the militant struggle for liberation with the gospel message of salvation, James Cone laid out the foundation for an interpretation of Christianity from the perspective of the oppressed that retains its urgency and challenge today.

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Amazon Link

This groundbreaking and highly acclaimed work examines the two most influential African-American leaders of this century. While Martin Luther King, Jr., saw America as essentially a dream... as yet unfulfilled, Malcolm X viewed America as a realized nightmare. James Cone cuts through superficial assessments of King and Malcolm as polar opposites to reveal two men whose visions are complementary and moving toward convergence.

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books by james h. cone

  • Risks of Faith: The Emergence of a Black Theology of Liberation, 1968-1998 (1999, ISBN 0-8070-0950-4)

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James H. Cone

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James Hal Cone (August 5, 1938 – April 28, 2018) was an American theologian, best known for his advocacy of black theology and black liberation theology. His 1969 book Black Theology and Black Power provided a new way to comprehensively define the distinctiveness of theology in the black church.[15] His message was that Black Power, defined as black people asserting the humanity that white supremacy denied, was the gospel in America. Jesus came to liberate the oppressed, advocating the same thing as Black Power. He argued that white American churches preached a gospel based on white supremacy, antithetical to the gospel of Jesus. Cone's work was influential from the time of the book's publication, and his work remains influential today. His work has been both used and critiqued inside and outside the African-American theological community. He was the Charles Augustus Briggs Distinguished Professor of Systematic Theology at Union Theological Seminary until his death.[16]

Life and Career

Cone was born on August 5, 1938, in FordyceArkansas, and grew up in the racially segregated town of Bearden, Arkansas.[17] He and his family attended Macedonia African Methodist Episcopal Church. He attended Shorter College (1954–1956), a small AME Church junior college, before receiving a Bachelor of Arts degree from Philander Smith College in 1958, where he was mentored by James and Alice Boyack. In his 2018 memoir Said I Wasn't Gonna Tell Nobody, Cone wrote that they were the first whites he met who respected his humanity. Although he had decided against parish ministry, their advice led him to obtain a Bachelor of Divinity degree from Garrett–Evangelical Theological Seminary in 1961, and Master of Arts and Doctor of Philosophy degrees from Northwestern University in 1963 and 1965, respectively. He was shocked to learn that most northern whites would not treat him with respect like the Boyacks. Yet he was excited to learn of unfamiliar theologians, controversies and biblical study methodologies. At the urging of and with support from the white theologian William Hordern at Garrett he applied and gained acceptance into the doctoral program in theology.
He taught theology and religion at Philander Smith College, Adrian College, and beginning in 1970 at Union Theological Seminary in New York City, where he was awarded the distinguished Charles A. Briggs Chair in systematic theology in 1977. In 2018, he was elected as a fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences.[18]
Cone and his wife, Rose Hampton, married in 1958 and divorced in 1977. They had two sons, Micheal and Charles, and two daughters, Krystal and Robynn. In 1979, Cone married Sondra Gibson, who died in 1983. He died on April 28, 2018.[19][20][21]

Theology

Hermeneutics

Cone wrote, "Exodus, prophets and Jesus—these three—defined the meaning of liberation in black theology."[22][page needed] The hermeneutic, or interpretive lens, for James Cone's theology starts with the experience of African Americans, and the theological questions he brings from his own life. He incorporates the powerful role of the black church in his life, as well as racism experienced by African Americans. For Cone, the theologians he studied in graduate school did not provide meaningful answers to his questions. This disparity became more apparent when he was teaching theology at Philander Smith College in Little Rock, Arkansas. Cone writes, "What could Karl Barth possibly mean for black students who had come from the cotton fields of Arkansas, Louisiana and Mississippi, seeking to change the structure of their lives in a society that had defined black as non-being?"[23]
Cone's theology also received significant inspiration from a frustration with the black struggle for civil rights; he felt that black Christians in North America should not follow the "white Church", on the grounds that it was a willing part of the system that had oppressed black people. Accordingly, his theology was heavily influenced by Malcolm X and the Black Power movement. Martin Luther King Jr. was also an important influence; Cone describes King as a liberation theologian before the phrase existed.[24] Cone wrote, "I was on a mission to transform self-loathing Negro Christians into black-loving revolutionary disciples of the Black Christ." Nevertheless, "The black church, despite its failures, gives black people a sense of worth."[25]

Methodology

His methodology for answering the questions raised by the African-American experience is a return to scripture, and particularly to the liberative elements such as the Exodus-Sinai tradition, prophets and the life and teaching of Jesus. However, scripture is not the only source that shapes his theology. In response to criticism from other black theologians (including his brother, Cecil), Cone began to make greater use of resources native to the African-American Christian community for his theological work, including slave spirituals, the blues, and the writings of prominent African-American thinkers such as David WalkerHenry McNeal Turner, and W. E. B. Du Bois. His theology developed further in response to critiques by black women, leading Cone to consider gender issues more prominently and foster the development of womanist theology, and also in dialogue with Marxist analysis and the sociology of knowledge.[26]

Contextual theology

Cone's thought, along with Paul Tillich, stresses the idea that theology is not universal, but tied to specific historical contexts; he thus critiques the Western tradition of abstract theologizing by examining its social context. Cone formulates a theology of liberation from within the context of the black experience of oppression, interpreting the central kernel of the Gospels as Jesus' identification with the poor and oppressed, the resurrection as the ultimate act of liberation.[27][page needed]
As part of his theological analysis, Cone argues for God's own identification with "blackness":
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.[28]
Despite his associations with the Black Power movement, however, Cone was not entirely focused on ethnicity: "Being black in America has little to do with skin color. Being black means that your heart, your soul, your mind, and your body are where the dispossessed are."[29]
In 1977, Cone wrote, with a still more universal vision:
I think the time has come for black theologians and black church people to move beyond a mere reaction to white racism in America and begin to extend our vision of a new socially constructed humanity in the whole inhabited world ... For humanity is whole, and cannot be isolated into racial and national groups.[30]
In his 1998 essay "White Theology Revisited", however, he retains his earlier strong critique of the white church and white man for ignoring or failing to address the problem of race.[31]

Early influences

Cone credits his parents as being his most important early influences.[22][page needed] His father had only a sixth-grade education but filed a lawsuit against the Bearden, Arkansas, school board despite threats on his life. White professors of religion and philosophy, James and Alice Boyack at Philander Smith College aided his belief in his own potential and deepened his interest in theodicy and black suffering. He found a mentor, advisor and influential teacher in Garrett scholar William E. Hordern. Professor Philip Watson motivated him to intensive remedial study of English composition. Classmate Lester B. Scherer was a great help in this. Scherer volunteered to edit manuscripts of Cone's early books while Cone's wife Rose typed them, yet Cone complained that neither understood him.[32] Cone wrote his doctoral thesis on Karl Barth. A 1965 breakfast meeting with Benjamin Mays, president of Morehouse College in Atlanta, convinced him that teaching and scholarship were his true calling. The sociologist C. Eric Lincoln found publishers for his early books (Black Theology and Black Power and A Black Theology of Liberation) which sought to deconstruct mainstream Protestant theologians such as Barth, Niebuhr and Tillich while seeking to draw on the figures of the black church such as Richard Allen (founder in 1816 of the AME Church), black abolitionists ministers Henry Highland Garnet, Daniel Payne, and Henry McNeil Turner ("God is a Negro") and Martin Luther King Jr., Malcolm X, James Baldwin, and other figures of the black power and black arts movement.[22][page needed]

Criticism

Womanist critique

Womanist theologians, such as Delores Williams, have critiqued Cone for both male-centered language and for not including the experiences of black women in his sources. Williams, in 1993, acknowledged in a footnote in her book Sisters in the Wilderness, that Cone has modified exclusive language for the reprinting of his works and acknowledged the issues with the previous language. However, she argues that he still does not use the experiences of African-American women in his method, and therefore still needs to deal with the sexism of his work.[33]

Other scholarly critiques

Other critiques of Cone's theological positions have focused on the need to rely more heavily on sources reflecting black experience in general, on Cone's lack of emphasis on reconciliation within the context of liberation, and on his ideas of God and theodicy.[34] Charles H. Long and other founding members of the Society for the Study of Black Religion were critics of Cone's work. Long rejected black theology contending that theology was a western invention alien to black experience. Others objected to his endorsement of Black Power, lack of interest in reconciliation and concern with scoring academic points.[35]

Political commentary and controversy

Aspects of Cone's theology and words for some people have been the subject of controversy in the political context of the 2008 US presidential campaign as Jeremiah Wright, at that time pastor of then-candidate Barack Obama, noted that he had been inspired by Cone's theology.[36][better source needed]
Some scholars of black theology noted that controversial quotes by Wright may not necessarily represent black theology.[37] Cone responded to these alleged controversial comments by noting that he was generally writing about historic white churches and denominations that did nothing to oppose slavery and segregation rather than any white individual.[citation needed]
Hoover Institute fellow Stanley Kurtz, in a political commentary in National Review, wrote:
Cone defines it as "complete emancipation of black people from white oppression by whatever means black people deem necessary." For Cone, the deeply racist structure of American society leaves blacks with no alternative but radical transformation or social withdrawal. So-called Christianity, as commonly practiced in the United States, is actually the racist Antichrist. "Theologically," Cone affirms, "Malcolm X was not far wrong when he called the white man 'the devil.'" The false Christianity of the white-devil oppressor must be replaced by an authentic Christianity fully identified with the poor and oppressed.[38]

Educator

After receiving his doctorate, Cone taught theology and religion at Philander Smith College and Adrian College. At the urging of his mentor, C. Eric Lincoln, Union Theological Seminary in New York City hired him as assistant professor in 1969. He remained there until his death in 2018 rising to assume an endowed full professorship. Cone made significant contributions to theological education in America.[39] Prior to Cone's arrival in 1969, Union Theological Seminary had not accepted a black student into its doctoral program since its founding in 1836. During his career there, Cone supervised over 40 black doctoral students. These included Dwight Hopkins and some of the founders of womanist theology Delores WilliamsJacquelyn Grant, and Kelly Brown Douglas. He delivered countless lectures at other universities and conferences.

Works

See also

References

Footnotes

  1. ^ Kalu 2006.
  2. ^ Haney, Mark (May 3, 2018). "Former Adrian College Professor, Author Remembered"Lenconnect.com. Adrian, Michigan: GateHouse Media. Retrieved March 9, 2019.
  3. ^ Begg 2007, p. 323.
  4. ^ J. H. Cone 1965.
  5. ^ Roberts 2004, p. 424.
  6. ^ Pinn & Cannon 2014, p. 11.
  7. Jump up to:
    a b McAlister 2018, p. 125.
  8. ^ Begg 2007, pp. 319, 321.
  9. ^ "Dr. Cain Hope Felder". Washington: Destiny – Pride. July 2011. Retrieved March 11, 2019.
  10. ^ Hendricks 2006, p. xi.
  11. ^ Moore 2013, p. 7.
  12. ^ Begg 2007, p. 321.
  13. ^ Steinfels, Peter (October 29, 1989). "Conference on Black Theology Unites Scholars and Pastors"The New York Times. Retrieved March 11, 2019.
  14. ^ Alberts, Hana R. (April 28, 2008). "Rev. Wright Reclaims the Spotlight"Forbes. Retrieved March 10, 2019.
  15. ^ Wilmore 1999, p. 234.
  16. ^ "James H. Cone". New York: Union Theological Seminary. Archived from the original on September 30, 2011. Retrieved March 10, 2019.
  17. ^ Burgess & Brennan 2010, p. 38; Burrow 1993, p. 61.
  18. ^ "Dr. James H. Cone Elected to the American Academy of Arts and Sciences"Sojourners. April 20, 2018. Retrieved April 28, 2018.
  19. ^ "In Memoriam: Dr. James Hal Cone". New York: Union Theological Seminary. April 28, 2018. Retrieved April 28, 2018.
  20. ^ Vultaggio, Maria (April 28, 2018). "Who Was James Come? Founder of Black Liberation Theology Dies"Newsweek. Retrieved April 28, 2018.
  21. ^ "James H. Cone, Founder of Black Liberation Theology Dies at 79". NPR. April 28, 2018. Retrieved April 28, 2018.
  22. Jump up to:
  23. ^ J. H. Cone 1997, p. 3.
  24. ^ Burrow 1994, pp. 13–16.
  25. ^ J. H. Cone 2018, p. 94.
  26. ^ Burrow 1994; cf. P. Williams 1996.
  27. ^ Antonio 1999.
  28. ^ J. H. Cone 2010, p. 67.
  29. ^ Cone, James H. Black Theology and Black Power. p. 151. Cited in Schwarz 2005, p. 473.
  30. ^ Ferm, Deane William (May 9, 1979). "The Road Ahead in Theology – Revisited"The Christian Century. Chicago. p. 524. Retrieved March 10, 2019 – via Religion Online.
  31. ^ J. H. Cone 1999, pp. 130–137.
  32. ^ J. H. Cone 2018, p. 70.
  33. ^ D. S. Williams 1993, p. 269.
  34. ^ Singleton 2002, p. 92 (citing especially C. W. Cone 1975D. S. Williams 1993Roberts 1971Jones 1998).
  35. ^ J. H. Cone 2018, p. 86.
  36. ^ Video: Jeremiah Wright discusses his Cone inspiration and Black Liberation Theology on YouTube.
  37. ^ "Diversified religion: Barack Obama's former pastor's remarks spur consideration". Archived from the original on August 6, 2005. Retrieved July 4, 2009.
  38. ^ Kurtz, Stanley (May 19, 2008). "'Context,' You Say? A Guide to the Radical Theology of the Rev. Jeremiah Wright"National Review. Archived from the original on March 23, 2009. Retrieved March 10, 2019 – via MyWire.
  39. ^ J. H. Cone 2018, pp. 117–124.

Bibliography

Antonio, Edward (1999). "Black Theology". In Rowland, Christopher (ed.). The Cambridge Companion to Liberation Theology (1st ed.). Cambridge, England: Cambridge University Press. pp. 63–88. ISBN 978-0-521-46707-0.
Begg, Rashid (2007). "American and South African Socio-Historical Liberation Theology Reciprocative Influences". Scriptura96: 316–325. hdl:10520/EJC100852ISSN 2305-445X.
Burgess, Marjorie; Brennan, Carol (2010). "James H. Cone". In Jacques, Derek; Jorgensen, Janice; Kepos, Paula (eds.). Contemporary Black Biography82. Detroit, Michigan: Gale. pp. 38–41. ISBN 978-1-4144-4603-5ISSN 1058-1316.
Burrow, Rufus, Jr. (1993). "James H. Cone: Father of Contemporary Black Theology"Asbury Theological Journal48 (2): 59–76. ISSN 2375-5814. Retrieved March 9, 2019.
 ———  (1994). James H. Cone and Black Liberation Theology. Jefferson, North Carolina: McFarland & Company.
Cone, Cecil Wayne (1975). Identity Crisis in Black Theology. Nashville, Tennessee: AMEC.
Cone, James H. (1965). The Doctrine of Man in the Theology of Karl Barth (PhD thesis). Evanston, Illinois: Northwestern University. OCLC 25946351.
 ———  (1997). God of the Oppressed. Maryknoll, New York: Orbis Books.
 ———  (1999). Risks of Faith: The Emergence of a Black Theology of Liberation, 1968–1998. Boston: Beacon Press. ISBN 978-0-8070-0950-5. Retrieved March 10, 2019.
 ———  (2010). A Black Theology of Liberation (40th anniversary ed.). Maryknoll, New York: Orbis Books. ISBN 978-1-60833-036-2.
 ———  (2018). Said I Wasn't Gonna Tell Nobody: The Making of a Black Theologian. Maryknoll, New York: Orbis Books. ISBN 978-1-62698-302-1.
Hendricks, Obery M., Jr. (2006). The Politics of Jesus: Rediscovering the True Revolutionary Nature of the Teachings of Jesus and How They Have Been Corrupted. New York: Three Leaves Press. ISBN 978-0-385-51665-5.
Jones, William R. (1998). Is God a White Racist? A Preamble to Black Theology(2nd ed.). Boston: Beacon Press. ISBN 978-0-8070-1033-4.
Kalu, O. U. (2006). "James Cone's Legacy in Africa: Confession as Political Praxis in the Kairos Document". Verbum et Ecclesia27 (2): 576–595. doi:10.4102/ve.v27i2.165hdl:2263/2603ISSN 1609-9982.
McAlister, Melani (2018). The Kingdom of God Has No Borders: A Global History of American Evangelicals. New York: Oxford University Press. ISBN 978-0-19-021342-8.
Moore, Basil (2013). "Towards a Black Theology" (1971) and "Learning from Black Theology" (2011) (PDF). Charles Strong Memorial Trust. ISBN 978-0-9804379-4-2. Retrieved March 11, 2019.
Pinn, Anthony B.Cannon, Katie G. (2014). "Introduction". In Pinn, Anthony B.Cannon, Katie G. (eds.). The Oxford Handbook of African American Theology. New York: Oxford University Press. pp. 1–11. doi:10.1093/oxfordhb/9780199755653.013.0035ISBN 978-0-19-975565-3.
Roberts, J. Deotis (1971). Liberation and Reconciliation: A Black Theology. Philadelphia: Westminster Press.
 ———  (2004). "Black Theology". In Hillerbrand, Hans J. (ed.). The Encyclopedia of Protestantism1. New York: Routledge. pp. 422–425. ISBN 978-0-203-48431-9. Retrieved March 11, 2019.
Schwarz, Hans (2005). Theology in a Global Context: The Last Two Hundred Years. Grand Rapids, Michigan: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company.
Singleton, Harry H., III (2002). Black Theology and Ideology: Deideological Dimensions in the Theology of James H. Cone. Collegeville, Minnesota: Liturgical Press. ISBN 978-0-8146-5106-3.
Williams, Delores S. (1993). Sisters in the Wilderness: The Challenge of Womanist God Talk. Maryknoll, New York: Orbis Books.
Williams, Preston (1996). "Review of James H. Cone and Black Liberation Theology, by Rufus Burrow Jr". The Journal of Religion76 (1): 137–138. doi:10.1086/489766ISSN 1549-6538JSTOR 1204316.
Wilmore, Gayraud S. (1999). "Black Theology at the Turn of the Century: Some Unmet Needs and Challenges". In Hopkins, Dwight N. (ed.). Black Faith and Public Talk: Critical Essays on James H. Cone's Black Theology and Black Power. Maryknoll, New York: Orbis Books.