Later today I can be heard on a pre-recorded broadcast on the Albert Mohler Radio Program. Dr. Mohler and I will be talking about the mainstream theology of Dr. Jeremiah Wright.
“Mainstream?” Yes, in response to your question, mainstream. For, as I say on the broadcast, if you listen to the greatest aggregate of sermons from African American pulpits since the Civil Rights Era until now, I suggest that you will hear the themes of Black Liberation Theology throughout the sermons: empowerment, (social) deliverance, overcoming (White) oppression, God is for the poor (indiscriminant of their sins), God is for Black people, and even, God/Christ is Black. Or you will hear the voice of the close cousin of historic Black Liberation Theology: Black Word of Faith Health and Wealth (a)Theology (which could easily be termed Nuevo Negro Liberation Theology [NNLT]). If you listen to Health and Wealth teaching, it is an attempt to liberate people socially without concern about an institutional oppressor. It is Black Liberation Theology packaged for those who have 1) a piece of the American Dream and 2) enough social mobility to ignore the racialization of society because it does not keep them from putting a Lexus in the garage and a flat screen in every bedroom. I previously had some words about NNLT here.
On the program I did not get to talk about the problems of Black Liberation Theology (henceforth BLT [without the mayo]). However, for my brothers and sisters who are not familiar with BLT, particularly my non-African American brothers and sisters, I provide the thoughts below, and I recommend Bruce Field’s book in the Three Crucial Questions series for more info.
1. If BLT created a study Bible, it only would contain text and annotation on Exodus 1 – 15, the prophets (Micah having prominence), the Gospels (with no commentary on texts like Matthew 5:27-37 or Luke 13:1-9), and Revelation 21. These are texts that support the idea of God being a liberator of the oppressed, God’s concern for justice for the poor, Jesus’ identity with the suffering and oppressed, and the promise of a New Heaven and New Earth for overcomers. Womanist Theology (Black Women’s Liberation Theology) would add texts that empower women, like Judges 4-5.
2. BLT and NNLT, in effect, have restated the chief end of man as “to glorify the Black self through the pursuit of social mobility, victory over White oppression, riches, perfect health, and geographical distance from the poor, and to enjoy being earthly misers and our actualized selves forever.” What I mean is that the problem of the use of Exodus 1-15 for a liberation idea is missing the fact that the liberation of Israel was not from social oppression but from religious pluralistic oppression as a covenant people, and that they were being liberated to worship the Lord, not to achieve an economic dream. BLT misses the fact that after God pulled Israel out of Egypt, he then took them through the wilderness, gave them his Law, and had them build the tabernacle in order to pull Egypt out of Israel by showing himself to be more glorious than the riches and food in Egypt; redemption involves both aspects of liberation. Ironically, BLT and NNLT have not liberated anyone differently than has the Wall-Street work ethic. There is no need for the Theo in BLT and NNLT…. No, I’m sorry. I misspoke. There is no God in BLT and NNLT – at least not the God of Scripture.
3. BLT (but not NNLT), however, like many theologies that challenge the practice of orthodox Christian belief, reminds us 1) to be careful in our language about God, for he is Lord of all, not simply a god who can be identified only as Black, White, American, Republican or Democratic (cf. Ex 9:29 Ps 24:1), 2) to consider the role we each should play in recognizing the image of God in all people (cf. Ja. 2:1-14), 3) to think of the active engagement we each should make in alleviating human suffering by oppression (cf. Obadiah 10-14), and 4) to look at the Biblical text with an awareness of our own cultural biases. (Reading Romans 9-11 on the priority of Israel as a Messianic Jew is vastly different than reading as a Christian Palestinian or Christian Arab (as my Palestinian and Arab brothers have told me), even though the truth of the text does not change. Similarly, “suffering” has a different significance depending upon whether you have to tighten your belt to go to graduate school or wonder if this is the day you will be torn away from your family by a warring faction). But these are truths about Christian praxis that should be derived from a proper understanding of Biblical theology and the Gospel. These are not ideas unique to BLT. We simply need to put the Gospel into practice.
4. Once BLT poured out from the pulpits and academic halls, you had at least five major results toward the African American community: 1) widespread acceptance of an egalitarian view of the family and the church, for anything short of giving women “equality” was viewed as an oppression from which African Americans needed liberation – the result being the erosion of the African American family, the creation of a female-led community, and the welcoming of homosexual practice as normal, 2) a misinterpretation of the goal of God (as stated above), 3) the increased racialization of society, because nearly everything “American” came from the (White) oppressor, so it and they had to be rejected rather than embraced, 4) a categorical rejection of Evangelical theology since it was seen as “White,” and 5) an uncritical acceptance of anything philosophical that is African American in origin as long as it was divorced from Evangelical theology and conservative social ideology. You do not have to look far to see what these results have done to the African American community. Think of how you would understand “the Gospel” if this is the version of the Gospel that had been fed to you on Sundays for two, three or four decades. Further, it should not be hard to reason from these results to NNLT, as Anthony Carter previously recognized.
For more, read Fields. But do not order a BLT with your reading. Get something good to eat here, here and here. On the program, I make some sympathetic comments toward Wright. Dr. Mohler had a good exchange with Mark Dever on the topics of Politics in the Pulpit last Monday on Mohler’s program.
Etymology: Spanish or Portuguese, from negro black, from Latin nigr-, niger
… for those of you who took offense at NNLT.