Dave Horstkoetter has a send-up of blowhard and all around terrible human being, Glenn Beck, and his comments about James Cone and black liberation theology at The Other Journal. Check it out.
Category Archives: Black Theology
The Princeton Theological Review has issued a call for papers for their upcoming issue, the focus of which is on theology and race. In particular they are looking for articles engaging J. Kameron Carter’s recent (and excellent) book, Race: A Theological Account. A worthy endeavor indeed, as I think this is one of the most important books to come out last year and will totally change the landscape of black theology and any theological approach to racial issues. Here are a couple paragraphs from my own review of the book, which appeared in Neue Zeitschrift für Systematische Theologie und Religionsphilosophie in the regular review column on British and American theology that Paul Metzger and I write together every year:
What lies behind the modern problem of race is what Carter identifies as the theological problem of whiteness. What he means by this has nothing inherently to do with pigmentation, but rather with the structure of supremacy that was built into the fabric of Western culture under the conditions of the modern racial imagination. What the theological problem of whiteness fundamentally names is the way in which the Oriental other (figured archetypally as the Jew) came to be racialized over-against the givenness of Occidental Christian reality. Carter makes this particularly clear in his discussion of the racial theory of Kant (pp. 89-95). In his taxonomy of races, it becomes fundamentally clear that white Europeans, while technically a race, are for Kant truly the specimens of humanity-as-such. The racialized others are only human insofar as they are, in varying degrees, connected to white humanity.
This racial imagination yields understandably heretical theological conclusions, especially in regard to the Jewishness of Christ. As Carter shows, must Western theological imagination came to cast Christ precisely not as Jewish but as a figure of the Occident, whose proclaimed salvation is precisely deliverance from the sort of mucky particularity that characterizes the Jewish race over against the universal and rational religion of Western Christianity. And here we come to the crux of the issue at play in Carter’s account: the modern racial imagination is at its core a christological heresy that seeks to establish the universality of whiteness over against all other forms of racialized flesh. This is also where certain elements of Black liberation theology have failed to go far enough according to Carter. For programs like those of James Cone, the problem is that in their attempts to exposit the theological importance of blackness, the theological structure of whiteness is simply left in its place (pp. 191–93). The proper response to this situation is, for Carter, a return to certain classical Christological sources and theological sources within the Afro-Christian tradition which offer a distinctly non-racial way of reading Christ’s Jewish particularity. As Cater notes, Christ’s Jewish flesh is fundamentally not racial flesh at all, for biblical Israel is not a race, but God’s covenant people. Christ’s flesh is not racial but irreducibly covenantal (pp. 30–31). As such, salvation as given in Christ is precisely salvation from whiteness, from a theological structure of antagonism that reduces our interhumanity to the polarities of hegemony and counter-hegemony.
I have waited for this book expectantly for the last five years or so. It looks to be more than worth it. I just recieved my copy of Race: A Theological Account by J. Kameron Carter today. I will be sure to blog about it when I have read it, but for now I don’t want to steal the thunder from David Horstkoetter, who has already done a great job writing two posts on the book. If you care about issues of theology and racialization in the contemporary world, you simply must read this book. It will, I think, quite literally change everything related to theology and race. For a taste of Carter’s earlier work, here are a couple samples.
Here is the book description from the publisher:
In Race: A Theological Account, J. Kameron Carter meditates on the multiple legacies implicated in the production of a racialized world and that still mark how we function in it and think about ourselves. These are the legacies of colonialism and empire, political theories of the state, anthropological theories of the human, and philosophy itself, from the eighteenth-century Enlightenment to the present.
Carter’s claim is that Christian theology, and the signal transformation it (along with Christianity) underwent, is at the heart of these legacies. In that transformation, Christian anti-Judaism biologized itself so as to racialize itself. As a result, and with the legitimation of Christian theology, Christianity became the cultural property of the West, the religious ground of white supremacy and global hegemony. In short, Christianity became white. The racial imagination is thus a particular kind of theological problem.
Not content only to describe this problem, Carter constructs a way forward for Christian theology. Through engagement with figures as disparate in outlook and as varied across the historical landscape as Immanuel Kant, Frederick Douglass, Jarena Lee, Michel Foucault, Cornel West, Albert Raboteau, Charles Long, James Cone, Irenaeus of Lyons, Gregory of Nyssa, and Maximus the Confessor, Carter reorients the whole of Christian theology, bringing it into the twenty-first century.
Neither a simple reiteration of Black Theology nor another expression of the new theological orthodoxies, this groundbreaking book will be a major contribution to contemporary Christian theology, with ramifications in other areas of the humanities.
This is absolutely necessary viewing by those that wish to understand the recent controversies about black liberation theology in current American political discourse. Reverend Wright should be commended for his courage and prophetic stance in a culture of amnesia which continues to avoid telling the truth about its own history.
In most theological interchanges the thing that seems most clear to me is the haste in which theological discourse, rejoinder, and response takes place. This is perhaps magnified in theological discussions through mediums like blogs, but it also appears throughout the history of theological discourse. In most theological discussions, when someone objects to a statement put forth by another, I often find myself looking first, not so much at the content of their of objection(s) but rather at the speed as which such statements are made. It seems to me that most theological debates have little or no space or time for lingering to consider the force of alternative claims and construals that may confront us in the the theology of others.
A great example of this is the way in which white affluent Christians in America tend to engage liberation theology. Lately this rather stark and shocking quote from James Cone has been trotted out in the media:
Black theology refuses to accept a God who is not identified totally with the goals of the black community. If God is not for us and against white people, then he is a murderer, and we had better kill him. The task of black theology is to kill Gods who do not belong to the black community … Black theology will accept only the love of God which participates in the destruction of the white enemy. What we need is the divine love as expressed in Black Power, which is the power of black people to destroy their oppressors here and now by any means at their disposal. Unless God is participating in this holy activity, we must reject his love.
The responses to this statement are always immediate and rapid. This is racist! This is ideological! Where is forgiveness? The objections to a theological statement that is so clearly other to the experience of white Christians are instantaneous and without hesitation. However, this is precisely where actual theological discourse is shut down. Because there is not space to linger and allow the intrusiveness of Cone’s statement to potentially impact us or call us into question, there is no actual dialogue. In fact, I would go even further and state that the very haste in which we rush to shut down statement such as this actually diminish our ability to proffer truly constructive objections, questions, and critiques. By not allowing these statements to linger in our consciousness, to upset us, to call us into question we lose the ability to meaningfully critique, argue, and discuss them helpfully.
So, if this is the case then it would seem that an essential mark of fruitful and indeed, truly Christian theological discourse would be that such discourse allows the statements and protests of the other to linger, the persist and to to take root in us. Only by entering into the the thought of the other may we then have the kind of meaningful disagreements that make up fruitful theological disputations. In evaluating theological discussions, then, we should perhaps look, not so much to what objections are lodged, but rather at the haste and the ease by which such objections are put forth. The test of authentic theological discourse may well be our willingness – or not – to practice the patience of making it difficult to objecting to one another in our pursuit of right doctrine.
With all the recent media attention being given to black liberation theology, I am overjoyed that at long last J. Kameron Carter’s book, Race: A Theological Account is set to be out this September. I have literally been waiting for this book for about three years. I’m sure it will be worth the wait. Here is the blurb from the publisher:
“This groundbreaking monograph promises to open a new chapter in black theology. J. Kameron Carter argues that black theology’s intellectual impoverishment in the Church and the academy is the result of its theologically shaky presuppositions, which are based largely on liberal Protestant convictions. He critiques the work of such noted scholars as Albert Raboteau, Charles Long and James Cone, and argues that black theology must rebuild itself on completely new theological foundations. He lays these foundations by means of a remarkable synthesis between African-American religious history and Christian orthodoxy. Carter urges black theologians to look back beyond the Enlightenment and the rise of race theory, and to bring patristic Christology into conversation with the modern construction of race and being. He himself draws primarily on the writings of Irenaeus of Lyons, Gregory of Nyssa, and Maximos the Confessor in constructing his innovative Christology.”
For those that have been confused by the rather muddled and frenzied discussions in the media lately about Barak Obama, Jeremiah Wright, and race relations in America, allow me to heartily recommend the various discussions of these things by my friend David Horstkoetter. David is a student at Union Seminary who has studied under James Cone and has a passionate interest in race and theology, and black thelogy in particular. He has blogged extensively about the current discussions, including some very helpful comments by J. Kameron Carter which clarify elements of this hoopla very well. I highly commend David’s critiques of the innane conservative backlash against Rev. Wright’s willingness to speak the truth about race in America. They are right on the money.
Christ’s life, which culminates in “the hour” of his passion, is the pneumatological foil to Genesis 11, the foil that reverses creation’s selfenclosure, first and ultimately, over against God and, second, but no less importantly, over against itself. Israel is crucial in effecting this reversal, for she is elected by God to mediate creation’s re-creation. Through Christ, the seed of Abraham, the world in its entirety becomes conscripted into Israel’s destiny in and for the world. Israel’s destiny is not, nor has it ever been, closed in upon itself; it is not solipsistic. Rather, her election is to be herself precisely by being more than herself, which is to say, by being for the world. Israel is called and chosen to be a non-nationalistic nation, a different kind of people—the people of God. This non-solipsistic destiny is brought to fruition in Christ, who is at once child of Israel and Son of God/Son of man. He is most truly the former as he is most fully the latter, inaugurating a New Covenant economy to the extent that he disrupts the logic of cultural and political nationalisms and identities. Having disrupted this faulty performance of language and therefore of identity, Christ re-performs it and, through the momentum of his life, draws creation into the grandiloquence of his re-performance. Such is the “pentecostalization” of the world. To be drawn into Christ’s incarnate, “passion-ate” way of existence is to be schooled in a new mode of speech and identity.
Christ’s cry of dereliction on the Cross anticipates the full “pentecostalization” of the world; indeed, it prefigures certain aspects of the miracle of languages in Acts 2. Note that the poverty or powerlessness of language signified in the cry is the very means by which Christ seizes anew the wealth of language and so re-articulates and redeems the meaning of identity, dignity and peoplehood. His life of linguistic dispossession, impoverishment, and powerlessness draws creation into the kenosis of the Logos. In this way he grants to creation a new, inflamed, Pentecostal tongue. Creation is now given “spiritual” ears to hear in Christ the language of God’s triune love. The surprising feature of this hearing, however, is that it is discerned precisely in and as the various languages (logoi) of creation itself. Creation hears the divine language by being swept into the embracing overabundance of God’s Logos, which at once creates the world and “passion-ately” releases itself into the world so that God might accompany creatures in their journey back to God and hence toward self-realization. The story of God’s journey with God’s creatures occurs, then, in history—the history and flesh of Israel, which culminates in Jesus of Nazareth. For in Jesus God has brought Israel’s history to an irrepeatably unique pitch, whereby Christ becomes translated into the languages of all nations. In brief, what emerges within this new economy of divine love is a self that is known in, through, and as another—a transformation which entails a re-imagining of identity on both personal and cultural levels. All of this means that the destiny of a given nation, its sense of peoplehood, is bound inextricably in Christ to the destinies of other nations and their sense of peoplehood. Indeed, this sense of “co-peoplehood” or “inter-nationalism” is theologically rooted in the unfolding of Christ’s existence in history as an eschatological movement towards the Kingdom of God, an unfolding in which the church haltingly and imperfectly, but for all that no less truly, participates.
J. Kameron Carter, “Race, Religion, and the Contradictions of Idenity: A Theological Engagement With Douglass’s 1845 Narrative”, Modern Theology 21:1 (January 2005): 57-58
I realize that my theological limitations and my close identity with the social conditions of black people could blind me to the truth of the gospel. And maybe our white theologians are right when they insist that I have overlooked the universal significance of Jesus’ message. But I contend that there is no universalism that is not particular. Indeed their insistence upon the universal note of the gospel arises out of their own particular political and social interests. As long as they can be sure that he gospel is for everybody, ignoring that God liberated a particular people from Egypt, came in a particular man called Jesus, and for the particular purpose of liberating the oppressed, then they can continue to talk in theological abstractions, failing to recognize that such talk is not the gospel unless it is related to the concrete freedom of the little ones.
James Cone, God of the Oppressed, 126.
In a recent post, I referenced the Duke Divinity School professor and potential rising star of black theology, J. Kameron Carter, whose work I greatly admire. The discussion centered on how Carter approaches the modern question of race as a distinctly theological problem. Here is an extended quote from an essay entitled “Christology, Or Redeeming Whitness: A Response to James Perkinson’s Appropriation of Black Theology.” This article encapsulates a few of his key perspectives on a theological account of race. Full text of the article is found here.
This brings us to an alternative scriptural interpretation of the meaning of baptism and, thus, an alternative for understanding Perkinson’s claim that the problem of racism “is as deep as the body one inhabits.” That alternative is this: Baptism is induction into a different mode of being in the world, one that surpasses the mode of being whose nodal points are the hegemonic and the counterhegemonic. Christ, under this alternative, does not symbolize the existential possibility of receiving the other into oneself so that one no longer lives hegemonically. He does not symbolize how whites can be “redeemed” by expanding their existential horizons so that “black pain and power [might be] at work” in them. For, in actuality, this is not immersion into the other at all. It is the other being subsumed into the constituting “I,” an “I” that has chosen, in an egalitarian gesture, to expand its borders from being a “mom and pop” store to being a shopping mall. Inhabiting or being received into Christ’s actual body in such a way that one lays no claim to naming oneself and, therefore, in which one holds nothing of oneself back in self-possession-this is what baptism represents in this second alternative. Baptism in this second alternative involves handing oneself over to God in Christ so as to receive oneself back as gift. This is the deeper meaning of Christ’s baptism, which cannot be severed from the event of the Cross. On this important point, Perkinson is right, though his insight must be redirected. For, from the first, even in its Marian incubation, Christ’s life is cruciform. It is the ultimate drama of handing over and receiving back. In this sense of the full weight of the Latin term traditio (to hand over), Christ’s life is “traditioned” and, in bringing initiates into it, it is “traditioning” and “habituating” (habitus). To receive oneself back through baptismal handing over is to be co-mission-ed inside of Christ’s eternal mission. Christ’s mission is eternal in that his temporal mission is but a translation into the terms of creaturely existence-being, time, space, history, culture, and so on-of his trinitarian generation from the Father, through and out of which proceeds the Holy Spirit. To receive oneself back from God, through baptism, is to receive Christ himself, but in such a way that the self is, in fact, established inside of Christ’s mission. The self is itself precisely insofar as it becomes a person in Christ and, therefore, like a tuning fork, intones the one Word in an inflection that is irreplaceably unique and specific to the one newly made a mission-ary.
Thus, baptism in this second sense is transparent to God’s trinitarian way of being God. In this way of being, the divine persons hold nothing of themselves back as “private property,” as it were, in the divine life. Thus, for example, the Father as the paternal arche (foundation or beginning) of the Trinity, in generating the Son, hands himself over completely to the Son, without losing himself as Father. This handing-over is so thorough that the one who would know the Father can do so only by knowing the Son. Hence, the Father receives himself back in the overfulfillment of himself-an overfulfillment that is the eternal Son in the Holy Spirit. The other trinitarian relationships can be explained in similar ways. For our purposes, what is important to see is that baptism’s inner logic, on this second interpretive alternative, is fundamentally trinitarian: In baptism, the initiate is inducted into Jesus’ own self-surrender, through the Holy Spirit, back into his Father’s hands-only so that the Son receives himself back again in his own overabundance. This overabundance in the economy of redemption is the mystical and real body of Christ. The mystical body of Christ is creation united to Christ and, therefore, as rapt up into the trinitarian life, through union with Christ, its Exemplar. The empirical church, being founded in the Holy Spirit, is the real anticipation of the mystical body. Baptism-entry into Christ precisely as entry into his body-is induction into a power-ful existence. This, to return to Perkinson’s language, is the body the baptized are to inhabit. The inner dynamism of this movement of power is trinitarian love as the unity of power and powerlessness.