A Black Theology of Liberation

by James H. Cone

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Last Updated on September 5, 2023, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 303

For James Cone, black theology and liberation are inseparable. Elaborating a Christian theology that depends on the concept of a black Christ means, in part, rejecting the idea that Christianity is separable from involvement in society. He argues convincingly that the church emerged from and has always been concerned with the poor and oppressed, and that in late twentieth century America, these features were most concerned with black people’s lives. God is present within the world, not removed from or beyond it. To the author, this theology brings Christians back to the fundamental values of Christ’s teachings.

The book is organized in seven chapters, each one laying out a specific aspect of this theology. Cone begins with an overview of the content of theology. He then turns to the sources and norm: sources are formative factors determining its character, or data, while norm determines how the data will be used. The third chapter takes up the idea of the black Christ, especially in juxtaposition to the white church. Cone argues that for emancipation to be realized, Christ and his church must become black.

Chapter 4 discusses what God means in black theology, noting that black theology understands God as associated with freedom, especially with liberating black people from suffering. Next, Cone turns to what human beings mean in black theology; as God works through human history, he argues, theology is anthropology. Chapter 6 centers on Jesus Christ, with which Christian theology begins and ends. The final chapter is concerned with the church, the world, and eschatology—or the study of death and finality. By church, Cone means a community of people who live out the Gospel, and the world is earthly existence. The book fittingly concludes with his discussion of the results and consequences of black theology for individuals who live it out.

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