Is Black Theology Finding New Roots in Christian Orthodoxy?

Jonathan Tran has written a thought-provoking article for The Christian Century titled "The New Black Theology." For those of us not theologically trained or current in the art, this piece may seem too heavy-duty and inaccessible. But, there are some fresh ideas in her that are so thoroughly intriguing that you should read just to be aware.

In the past five years, three seminal works have been published that, according to Tran, “represent a major theological shift that will — if  taken as seriously as it deserves — change the face not only of black theology but theology as a whole.”


I can see why too. These new theologians argue that “the sources of racism (and the resources for its repudiation) lie in Christianity’s failure to live into its Jewishness:”


"Key to both Carter’s and Jennings’s work is their deep concern with the Jewish identity of Jesus. In The Christian Imagination, Jennings insists that only by affirming Jesus’ Jewish body can one comprehend the meaning of salvation. Gentiles were baptized into Jesus’ Jewish body, which continues and fulfills (and never denies) God’s covenant with Israel. Engrafted into God’s salvation of the Jews, the gentiles were saved insofar as the Jews were saved. It was Christ’s unique human-divine personage that integrated gentiles into Israel’s covenant life with God.”

Or take the idea that “black theology” is finding its own theological roots not in sources outside of the Christian tradition but in orthodoxy itself:

"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.

I’d love to produce a show on the subject and the evolution of “black” theology as it is traced from James Cone to these contemporary theologians. The embodiment of Jesus’ Jewishness as a way past, or into, race for Christians is one of those ideas that our contemporary culture and politics could stand to hear about.

I’d dig hearing how you read this. Perhaps you have some voices you’d recommend I look into for possible interviews with Krista Tippett. Drop me a line in the comments section or at tgilliss@onbeing.org

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