Monday, November 11, 2013

Readings in 'Race': James Cone and "Theologizing Race"

This is the sixth in a series of chapter excerpts from J. Kameron Carter's Race: A Theological Account--as series I've been posting to help me keep track of the argument, and for the interest of those who are tracking along. This book has so far felt like an intense and profitable preamble. The best feels yet to come.  

If you want to catch up, here are the bookmarks so far:

The Prelude
Cornel West and "The Drama of Race"
Michel Foucault and "The Drama of Race"
Immanuel Kant and "The Drama of Religion"
Albert Raboteau and the Telling of History


"When Christianity was introduced to slaves, Africans converted it... by refusing to accept any version of the gospel that did not harmonize with the African spirit of freedom.... The God in black theology is the God of and for the oppressed, the God who comes into view in their liberation'" (James Cone, quoted on pp. 157, 165).

"[B]lack theology, understood from this vantage, gestures toward a theology of the nations, one that emanates from and is consonant with a Christian theology of Israel.... [T]he breakthrough in [Cone's] thought [is the perception that] the humanity that the God of Israel assumes in Jesus of Nazareth is the location from which God secures and affirms all of creation in its historical unfoldings.... Jesus' Jewishness is not racially arrayed against non-Jews, but, rather, is the perpetual sign of God's embrace of Jew and non-Jew ... alike" (158).

"Cone is acutely sensitive to the problem of abstraction in theology.... In Barthian fashion, [he writes]: 'To talk of God or of man without first talking about Jesus Christ is to engage in idle, abstract words which have no relation to the Christian experience of revelation" (160-161).

James Cone ('Black Theology and Black
Power,' 1969; 'God of the Oppressed,' 1975;
'The Cross and the Lynching Tree,' 2011)
"What is difficult to articulate in Barthian terms is how creaturely truth participates in God's truth.... Barth's answer is that Jesus Christ is the connection. Yet, this in turn raises the question of the connection between Christ and creation, which includes the recipients of revelation, their social location, and the historical exigencies marking the reception of revelation" (175-176).

"I am not fully convinced by Hunsinger's reading of Barth on this point, nor, I venture to suggest, would Cone be. For the question is not whether our existential moment of faith is dialectically included in the objectivity of Jesus Christ; rather, it is whether the reception of the luminous mystery of faith itself ... has a history" (179).

Cone's contention is that, "under the ever-greater grace of God, creation truly contributes something to its relationship with the Triune God; for its contribution is always already effected under the aspect of the Son's active contribution, as it were, to his eternal generation from the Father" (178).

"From Tillich and from Barth, Cone inherits the theological and philosophical problem of how to envisage the I in non-oppositional relationship to the other. In Barth's case, the problem prevents him from being able to conceive of the positivity of the world and therefore of how it can reveal God. It also has the unintended consequence, in his doctrine of election, of leading to a supersession of Israel. This in many respects occurs because Israel, as an index of creation in its opposition to God, stands over and against Christ" (190).

"This oppositional struggle ... registers in the language of courage, which Cone takes up [into black theology's account of black existence] without sufficiently distancing himself from these specific problems... Consequently, Cone does not challenge the way in which I-ness as a structure of identity-in-self-possession ... repeats the problem.... Tragically, [then], for all its good--and there is much to celebrate...--black liberation theology's attempt philosophically and theologically to salvage the blackness that modernity has constructed by converting it into a site of cultural power ... is not radical enough" (190-192).

"[W]hat is needed is an understanding of Christian existence as ever-grounded in the Jewish, nonracial flesh of Jesus and thus as an articulation of the covenantal life of Israel.... In short, only a Christian theology of Israel establishes the framework within which to overcome the theological problem of whiteness" (192-193).

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