Study Guide

A Black Theology of Liberation

by James Cone

A Black Theology of Liberation Summary

Overview (Literary Essentials: Christian Fiction and Nonfiction)

In 1970, James H. Cone—who later became Charles A. Briggs Distinguished Professor of Systematic Theology at Union Theological Seminary in New York City—published A Black Theology of Liberation, which features a scathing critique of Western theological traditions and reinterprets the Christian faith and the entire biblical revelation in the light of African Americans’ struggles against oppression and their quest for justice. When it was first published in 1970, A Black Theology of Liberation sparked much controversy and debate within North American theological circles. Since then, it has been lauded as a classic text on which other black and liberation theologians have drawn to construct their own brand of liberation discourse.

Cone’s theological formulations in this work derive from the social conditions of African Americans of the 1960’s and 1970’s, which gave rise to the Civil Rights and Black Power movements. Cone advanced the revolutionary thesis that Christian theology is not simply a rational inquiry into the nature of the divine but also a study of God’s liberating presence in the world, or of God’s activity on behalf of the oppressed. In seven compact chapters, Cone outlines major elements of this new black theology, imbuing basic Christian doctrines with new meaning. These include the nature and content of Christian theology and its primary sources; God’s ongoing revelation to the world and its connection to biblical writings; the nature of human beings; the concept of divinity (or God); the doctrine of Christology; the role of theology in the world; and the doctrine of eschatology. Throughout the text, Cone argues in a passionate, sometimes angry, tone that the historic and current forms of racism in Western civilization (especially within Christian cultures) mandates a radically new understanding of Christian theology as a theology of liberation from oppression. Some of the general ideas Cone treats in this work were introduced in an earlier one, Black Theology and Black Power (1969). In both, Cone articulates the themes that God is on the side of the oppressed and that Jesus is the quintessential symbol of liberation. A Black Theology of Liberation moves beyond the earlier text in its...

(The entire section is 927 words.)

A Black Theology of Liberation Bibliography (Literary Essentials: Christian Fiction and Nonfiction)

Sources for Further Study

Burrow, Rufus, Jr. James H. Cone and Black Liberation Theology. Jefferson, N.C.: McFarland, 2001. Discusses the significance of Cone’s theological canon, explaining the systematic development of his themes: social and economic analysis, black sexism, and relations between black, feminist, and Third World theologies.

Cone, James H. A Black Theology of Liberation: Twentieth Anniversary Edition. New York: Orbis Books, 1990. This commemorative edition is enhanced by Cone’s reflections on the evolution of his own religious quest for liberation and by critical essays by other leading liberation theologians.

Thomas, Linda E., ed. Living Stones in the Household of God: The Legacy and Future of Black Theology. Minneapolis, Minn.: Fortress Press, 2004. Numerous scholars and theologians assess the influence and significance of black theology in the past and for the future. Includes two chapters by Cone.