Christian Themes

(Literary Essentials: Christian Fiction and Nonfiction)

A dimension of Cone’s Christian discourse that warrants attention is his assertion that God must be “black.” Rejecting the very notion of a colorless deity in a society where human beings suffer precisely because of their color, Cone insists that God must be black in order to correlate the truth of divine reality with oppression. Any inkling of God’s connection with the white oppressor contains an implicit approval of their actions. In announcing God’s blackness, Cone is virtually saying that the concept of the divine must not, in any form or symbolic ordering, be intimately associated with the racist-inflected white theology that grounds much of mainstream Christianity in North America.

Closely linked to the provocative theme of a “black God” is Cone’s Christocentric focus. He asserts that the proper subject of black theology is Jesus the Liberator. Cone’s Christological theory views Jesus as the Event of liberation—a monumental happening in the lives of oppressed black peoples seeking freedom from the distortion and sins of racist forces. Cone associates the freedom that Jesus offers with the existential notion of authenticity. In other words, oppressed black bodies are set free to be what they genuinely are, without the harmful distortions promoted by white racism and power. Cone adds that any interpretation of the Gospel that fails to see Jesus as the Liberator of the oppressed is heretical. Accordingly, any message that is not related to the liberation of the poor in a society is not Christ’s message, and any theological system that is indifferent to the theme of liberation is not Christian theology.

Another theme in Cone’s liberation theology that remains provocative is his doctrine of eschatology. Cone rejects what he terms the “white lie” that Christianity is concerned primarily with life in the next world and that God is indifferent to the suffering of the oppressed in this world. His black theology affirms hope for this life—the here and now. Here one sees the usefulness for Cone of European existential philosophy, with its emphasis on the concreteness of human experience and on self-determination. In the final analysis, however, Cone’s theological discourse necessarily parts ways with the humanistic, atheistic veins found in Jean-Paul Sartre and other existentialist philosophers, with its unabashedly confessional articulation of an objectively true God who acts in history on behalf of the poor and the oppressed.