“A Few Propositions on (Black) Liberation Theology and Liberal Theology”
This post addresses some of my Reformed & Evangelical friends who conflate (Black) Liberation Theology and Liberal Theology. (At the recent death of the Father of Black Liberation Theologian, James H. Cone, many evangelical Christians and reformed theologians correspondingly began to express their discontent towards Black Liberation Theology as if it is the worst theological system in the world.) While the former emphasizes the black experience in theological inquiry and thought, the latter rejects some of the cardinal doctrines of Christianity. (Black) Liberation Theology and Liberal Theology are two different theological systems that do not share the same methodology. They have different sources of origin, address different (theological) issues or (practical) concerns, and speak to different audiences or people. Black Liberation theology seeks to interpret the plight of Black people and the most vulnerable in our society from a theological perspective; in other words, the black liberation theologian examines the Christian Scripture carefully to discover what God has to say about the black experience (i.e. black death, black suffering, and black (cultural) alienation and (cultural) invisibility) and black life. Three fundamental questions black liberation theology attempts to answer theologically and biblically include the following:
1. What does it mean to be black (Black existence) and oppressed (Black oppression)?
2. Is God on the side of the oppressed, that is, is God in solidarity (or with) “black people” in their suffering and oppression?
3. Will the oppressed find justice or will God vindicate the oppressed and judge the oppressor?
Any theological system, whether reformed theology, black liberation theology, liberation theology, or liberal theology is always done from a particular experience and context: the cultural experience and context, and the value of the theologian and those of the people about whom the theologian writes/theologizes. (While all people’s experience or culture is equally valid before God, God does prioritize the suffering and painful experience of the poor and the lowly who calls upon him daily for deliverance.)
All theological systems and methods have both strength and weaknesses. There’s always room for improvement and more creativity. No theological system is from heaven or inspired by God. They are all human inventions or constructs. That does mean all theological systems are equally valid or purely biblical and theologically sound; some are more faithful to the biblical text and divine revelation; others are not. Some theological systems prioritize the life of the mind and undermine practical aspect of theology; other systems try to balance theology and praxis, and the life of the mind and the practical life of faith. While we must always pursue theological truths that are rooted in God’s revelation to humanity, we should not undermine the milieu and human environment in which God communicated his will, plan, and message to humanity. God’s revelation came in a contextualized form; all theologies and theological systems are contextualized forms and expressions. God always speaks in the context of the human experience and the culture of of the people who are the recipients of his gracious revelation. God is not (has not been) absent in any culture in the world. He has indeed spoken and revealed himself to all peoples and to all cultures.
Hence, Black Liberation theology is not an enemy of biblical Christianity, but an antagonist of certain theologians and theological systems that use the biblical data and the discipline of theology to dehumanize individuals and oppress people created in the Image of God and for whom Christ died. We should never interpret (Black) liberation theology as a theological category that is anti-reformed theology or anti-Christian.
Any theological system that bluntly rejects the revealed truths, what many Christian theologians have phrased the “orthodox doctrines and beliefs,” about the biblical triune God, humanity, sin, and God’s redemptive plan in Jesus Christ for the world is a rigged system. Any theological system that emphasizes academic theology while undermining practical theology and God’s passion for justice and his command to care for the poor, the oppressed, the orphan, the widow, and show compassion and hospitality toward strangers and the needy is inadequate and insufficient. The theological system that is silent on human suffering, pain, and oppression, as well as world hunger, exploitation of workers, and sex slave trafficking in the world is also a rigged system. These are “Gospel issues,” not merely “social issues”; they are equally human concerns that touch the deepest part of the divine heart and mind.
The Biblical God is a relational Being who is totally committed to the welfare and safety of his people and his creation. God is not the God of the philosophers and academics only, but also of those who cherish Him in their (theological) thinking, understanding, writing, and kind attitude towards the weak and the vulnerable. Any human phenomenon or activity that causes suffering and pain is a Gospel issue. Sin of any form or expression (i.e. cultural sins, political sins, racial sins, sins of the heart, theological sins) is worth examining through the lens of the Gospel.
Furthermore, theological thinking is a performance that is rooted in the theologian’s values, attitude, imagination, and worldview. No one does Christian Theology without assuming a worldview. Christian theology is not a set of abstractual propositions and principles the theologian articulates, promotes, and defends. Biblical theology never divorces theology and ethics, and the human experience and response to God and the cosmic phenomena; these are intermingled in the biblical notion of good religion and sound theological truth.
Being a Christian is not equivalent to be a reformed theologian or an evangelical thinker. One can be a Theologian who is black and embraces some of the tenets of (Black) Liberation Theology. Blackness does not mean divine condemnation nor does God expect the black theologian to renounce his or her race, gender, ethnicity, and experience when that individual theologizes about Who God is, his interplays with the world, and what He has done in Jesus Christ for our redemption and deliverance. Biblical and orthodox theological thinking always presupposes that the human experience is intertwined with our theological imagination and conclusion about the triune God, humanity, sin, and divine salvation. Consequently, one can be both a Black reformed theologian and black liberation theologian.