A New “Black Theology” without the (Dis)qualifying Adjective
Christian Century has an engaging article reviewing three recent works by African-Americans giving a theological account and critique of traditional theology and “race.” I mentioned one of those works yesterday: J. Kameron Carter’s Race: A Theological Account. But the article also reviews two other important books along these lines: Brian Bantum’s Redeeming Mulatto: A Theology of Race and Christian Hybridity (Baylor University Press, 2010) and Willie J. Jennings’ The Christian Imagination: Theology and the Origins of Race (Yale University Press, 2010). The article, “The New Black Theology: Retrieving Ancient Sources to Challenge Racism,” is well worth the read.
One of the things that caught my attention and encouraged me was the review’s highlighting of the fact that each of these authors reach back into pre-Enlightenment Christian tradition for resources to reformulate “race” and challenge racism. That methodology is encouraging in its own right, but it’s all the more heartening since each of these men stand somewhat close to Cone’s school of Black Theology. Hence the reviewer’s speculation about the emergence of a “new Black Theology.” Such an emergence, representing a re-appropriation of classic Christian sources rather than a rejection of them (a la Cone), would be a huge move toward theological health. I suspect there would still be tendencies and conclusions we’d all differ on at places, but re-centering Christian dogmatics and tradition significantly improves the viability of “Black Theology” as unqualified theology.
If you’re interested in thinking more along these lines, I’d encourage a read of the article/review. Here are the final three paragraphs:
In other words, black theology is reclaiming the theological tradition as its own and, under the banner of orthodoxy, taking on all comers. By rethinking the Enlightenment’s promises of enlightenment and rearticulating racial existence in the language of the church’s most sacred doctrines, black theology is now (or once again) making a case that cannot be denied. The debate is no longer fixed on racial identity politics (a quagmire from which none can escape); rather, it takes place on the level playing field of orthodoxy.
The new theology reminds us that it was a mistake to call black theology “black theology” in the first place. Consistency at least would have required that European theology equally bear the burden of qualifications (“colonizing theology”). To be sure, patronizing name-calling allowed black theology to develop its own voice in its own time, just as the segregated black church developed its own styles, saints and stories. But because the margins were managed by white theologians, those voices were heard by whites, and when heard they were regarded as less than equal and so were not allowed to challenge white hegemony and help white theology be anything other than white theology.
Accordingly, the new black theology is best described as the new theology, no (dis)qualifying adjective necessary. In it we see Christian theology at long last incarnating the material conditions whereby the good news becomes good news.