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Mike hopes to see the world turned upside down through local communities banding together for social change, especially churches which have recognized the radical calling to be good news to the poor, to set free the prisoners and oppressed, and to become the social embodiment of the reign of God on earth as it is in heaven. He lives with the blessed memory of his wife, in Durham, NC, and has three adult children living in three different states. He also shares his life with the Mt. Level Missionary Baptist Church in Durham, the faculty and students of Shaw University Divinity School in Raleigh, NC, and the faithful fans of Duke and Baylor Basketball in his neighborhood.

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Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Reception of Black Theologies 2

Responses to Black Theology from the Perspective of White Theology as the Assumed Norm

Here I am doing more analysis on how black theologies have been received. Part 2.

Responses to Black theology have been varied, and the external (and sometimes internal) responses are to a great extent framed within the naturalized position of white theology as the assumed norm.

1. From that vantage point, it would be no surprise that many white theologians responded to what Cone and others were doing by declaring it simply not Christian theology. On any given day at your institution or mine, if the topic of Black theology enters the conversation, someone is very likely to say, “I just think theology should be for everyone. I don’t think of theology or Jesus as for just some people. It should be universal. That’s why I can’t go along with black theology.” In so doing, the mask of neutrality and the invisibility of whiteness are reinforced in the name of universals which have been defined by European imperial ambition and racial hierarchies.

2. However, many theologians have come in the past forty years to recognize some level of value in the black theology movement.

2.1 The least appreciative of such positions can be characterized by an experience of one of my Shaw colleagues who was studying theological ethics at a prominent northeastern U. S. university about three decades ago. During advisement concerning his research with a prominent white professor, he was told something like the following, “I hope you are not thinking of doing that black theology. That is over with, and there is no need to keep saying the same thing.” From this point of view, Black theology brought a noteworthy critique to normative theology. It’s critique has been made, and acknowledged by those who are intelligent, and it need not be repeated. It was a necessary critique, and it is complete. This position can be combined with some of the ones which follow.

2.2 Similar to the necessary and complete position, but slightly more appreciative, is a view that sees black theology as a dialectical moment. Shaped by a quasi-hegelian imagination, this view would say that black theology identified an inherent contradiction in theologies shaped by European culture and thought. Much of what black theology offered--its insistence on theology as contextual, its recognition of a flesh and blood Jewish Jesus who took sides with the poor and suffered at the hands of the political elite, its enlarging of the community in which theological hermeneutics must take place, and so on—have been accepted by much of the mainstream of normative theologies. Therefore, if not already, at least in the foreseeable future, black theology will have played out its moment and significance, and there will be no more need for it.

3. A third perspective could be associated with terms like diversity or multiculturalism. In this perspective, the more universal theology, the normative theology, extends its tent to include many different perspectives so that we can learn from them all. Christian theology can take many forms, and it is good for each form to have expression. Black theology, in this sense, is a kind of boutique theology. It is an interesting diversion for those who do normative theology. It is a case to be examined for how theology can be reinterpreted by giving free reign to integrate a different culture with normative theology.

3.1 From an appreciative direction, this perspective might see black theology as one more square in a patchwork quilt of theologies. Perhaps black theology is by now a familiar quilt square, so it gets a little less attention than more recent creative and provocative squares added to the theological quilt.

3.1.1 Some who are appreciative and concerned with orthodoxy would seek to engage black theology in dialogue for the sake of mutual edification, but with little permanent significance for the traditional forms of theological reflection.

3.1.2 Others who are appreciative but consider orthodoxy passé would see black theology as another element in the post-modern play of ideas which can help humanity forge a creative adventure into the future, although it may largely be irrelevant to the kind of theologizing whites are doing.

3.2 Less appreciative, yet accommodating, would be the view that black theology, in its limitations as a seemingly tribal theology, exhibits deficiencies which make it inappropriate as the core of a program of theological study. It can be paraded and observed as a distinctive and critical voice with some lasting value, but its deficiency is especially in its focus on a minority tradition rather than on universals. This position combines elements of multiculturalism with the view that black theology's critique is necessary and complete.

To be continued . . .

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