Black Theology for Black History Month

Posted: February 19, 2011 in Uncategorized

Black Theology?!?!? Yes. Theology is not God. Theology is people speaking about God. This means that it can be formed and shaped by a variety of perspectives. One perspective that most do not know about or have a misunderstanding about is the African American or black perspective. I have had the privilege of studying black theology under a great teacher Dr. Ralph Watkins at Fuller Theological Seminary. This class stretched me and pulled me in very good ways. In honor of Black History Month I am going to publish my take on black theology from it’s sources in the cultural and religious roots of Africa, the faith tradition of African Americans, the emphasis on scripture and revelation, and the social/analytical tools and political praxis of prophetic Christian thought:

The sources of black theology are the cultural and religious roots of Africa, the faith tradition of African Americans, the Black Hermeneutical school’s emphasis on scripture and revelation, and the social analytical tools and political praxis of prophetic Christian thought. All of these sources combined inform the definition of black theology which is a multifaceted interpretation of Christianity as a black struggle against oppression and an unwavering faith in the liberating activity of God. First, the sources of black theology and their purpose will be explained. Next, the definition of black theology will be given in light of its sources. Lastly, an agenda shaped by black theology will be given for Christian ministry.

The first sources of black theology are its African cultural and religious roots. These sources of black theology help to correct culturally constructed Western Christianity with its blind spots and biases. In Tribal Talk, Will Coleman digs into the West African roots of slave religion especially how the ancestral memory of the Vodun influenced the cosmology, epistemology, mythology, and ontology of African American spirituality. This approach shows that African slaves did not come to the United States as blank slates but had their own religion, theology, and spirituality. Going back even further in history than Coleman, Oden’s book, How Africa Shaped the Christian Mind challenges the assumption that Christianity is a Western religion that is foreign to African soil. In reaching back to the patristic period he provides a link between Africa and Christianity that has previously been muffled. One of the important concepts that stand out in Oden’s book is that the early Christian church of Africa was a church of the persecuted and martyred who were influenced and energized by a unique understanding of the Hebrew and Christian stories of oppression and liberation. In this light, early African Christianity can be seen as a “countercultural, risk-laden, sacrificial, pre-Constantinian struggle for integrity in the face of overwhelming political power.”1 Although the relationship of West African traditional religion to early African Christianity and Early African Christianity’s relationship to the rest of the African Diaspora remains to be investigated; the sources given by Coleman and Oden are a much needed contribution to Black Theology. To be continued……..

  1. Steve S says:

    Good stuff brother…

    Theology is necessarily a project situated within a cultural context (by virtue of the fact that it is a human project, and all humans exist within a set culture), because of this we must have conversation partners from other cultural contexts. It is the lack of conversation partners from outside the western Church that has lead to so many of the problems in the American church.

    I got to hang out with a friend of mine (Harvey Kwiyani) at the Vineyard Scholars conference in Seattle this past month. Harvey is a native of Malawi who is currently planting a Vineyard Church in St Paul MN. The paper he presented at the conference was about African perspectives on Kingdom theology…

    good stuff.

    • mayotron says:

      Hey Steven,

      African perspectives on kingdom theology. Sounds like my kind of stuff. I believe it is the lack of understanding from other cultural contexts that blinds us in whatever culture we are in. The understanding was lost at Babel but the groundwork was laid for recovery at Pentecost. I think we tend to forget that those early church councils gave us understanding from a particular cultural vantage point and there are other vantage points although the truth about Christ still remains our highest aim when speaking theologically.

      I actually wanted to go to that Vineyard Scholars conference…but it was taking place my daughter’s birthday weekend. All you have to do is become a member in order to read the papers?

  2. i read william dyrness’ learning theology from the third world years ago, and it set me on a journey to learn from theologians from africa, asia, latin america…now you’ve gone an introduced me to more to learn from…i definitely want to check out the coleman book!

  3. mayotron says:

    @Steven-I actually am about to take Dyrness’ online class sometime before the year is out. Coleman is great because he shows how black Christianity in America is very African. Some would even say syncretist. Soon my teacher Dr. Ralph Watkins is going to put his book out that even goes further back than Coleman. Very groundbreaking stuff!

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