By Matthew Emerson

Walter R. Strickland II. “Liberation and Black Theological Method: A Historical Analysis.” Ph.D. Diss: University of Aberdeen, 2017.

Summary

Despite common historical pressures that gave rise to its distinctive tasks and goals, Black Theology is not a monolithic movement. There are a diversity of approaches and methodologies within Black Theology, some of which contradict or critique others within the same movement. Even so, according to Walter Strickland, Assistant Professor of Systematic and Contextual Theology Associate Vice President for Diversity at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary, Black Theology lacks sustained attention to the underlying methodologies held by its proponents.

The only book-length treatment to date of Black Theology methodology is Frederick L. Ware’s Methodologies of Black Theology, and Strickland argues that Ware’s argument needs further explanation and critique. “Liberation and Black Theological Method” seeks to provide that subsequent analysis of Black Theology methodology, both by building on Ware’s earlier work and critiquing some of its assumptions. In doing so, Strickland breaks new ground for assessing Black Theology and provides a model for contextual theology.

Regarding previous analysis of Black Theology, Strickland pushes into Ware’s description and analysis of what the latter calls the Black Hermeneutical School, BHS, the third of three approaches to Black Theology Ware describes in his book (the other two are the Black Philosophical School and the Human Sciences School). Thus Strickland describes the contribution of his dissertation as follows:

Despite his attempt to restrict the type and number of scholars included in this school, the BHS is the largest and most diverse of the three schools of academic Black Theology. The diversity within the schools, especially the BHS, needs analysis. This project argues that the methodological diversity within Ware’s Black Hermeneutical School emerges from three culture-shaping “houses” that influenced theological development, namely, the Courthouse, Church House and Schoolhouse (8).

Strickland goes on to the define those three houses as follows:

The “Courthouse” encompasses the legal and political activity that informs the order of society including specific laws, due process and responses to the enterprise; the “Schoolhouse” represents black education and movements that arose from within it; and the “Church House” encompasses the Christian church in America but in particular its African American expression (8–9).

While there are differences between theologians representative of each of these Houses, Strickland notes that they are similar in their insistence upon liberation as the central theme for Black Theology and their use of various sources from the black experience. Nevertheless, he argues that “James Cone is decisively shaped by the Black Power Movement of the Courthouse, J. Deotis Roberts is uniquely tethered to the Church House, and Jacqueline Grant is distinctively influenced by the Schoolhouse” (17).

In other words, Strickland’s thesis is that there is a significant amount of diversity within Ware’s third stream of Black Theology, BHS, and that said diversity can be accounted for, in part, by the various Houses in which respective Black Theologians have been shaped. As such, “Liberation and Black Theological Method” is an exercise in both contextual theology and theological method, since it seeks to describe the contexts in which various black theologians have written and also to provide a coherent historical, philosophical, social, and theological framework for evaluating their respective contextual theologies.

The latter purpose has an additional, though understated, inference, namely that all theology is contextual (that is, no one writes with a view from nowhere), and so any theologian must consider their own context when doing theology.

Part I: The Three Houses

Part I of the thesis describes historically the three houses. Chapter 1 traces their development from 1619 through the American Civil War (1861–1865), and here the emphasis is on the effect of chattel slavery in the courts, church, and schools.

The basic argument is that in all three of these areas blacks were oppressed and treated as subhuman.

  • In the Court House, blacks were subjected not only to the institution of chattel slavery but also to Slave Codes and other racially biased policies.
  • In the School House, blacks were not allowed to be educated, as this was believed to stir up thoughts of and plans for insurrection.
  • In the Church House, blacks were not taught portions of Scripture related to injustice and oppression and were guilted into docility through misuse of the NT household codes.

They were also taught that the Curse of Ham gave biblical justification for chattel slavery and that they would be free at Jesus’ Second Coming—in other words, they were theologically guilted into accepting their lot. Beginning in earnest in the early 1800s, this led to some black Christians instituting their own independent black churches.

In Chapter 2, Strickland traces the historical development of the three houses during what he calls the Institutionalization period, which stretches from the end of the Civil War in 1865 to the founding of the NAACP in 1908. This period sees both continued legal oppression of blacks by whites and an organized effort by blacks to organize their own schools and churches and denominations.

Strickland’s section on the Courthhouse traces white responses to Reconstruction via the Black Codes, the SCOTUS Slaughterhouse ruling, the Compromise of 1877, the Convict Leasing System, and the proliferation of the KKK, all culminating in Plessy v. Ferguson (an 1896 Supreme Court case known for establishing “separate but equal” as grounds for legal segregation in the United States).

Regarding the Church House in this period, Strickland says, “In the midst of vacillating Courthouse rulings following emancipation, the black Church House emerged as the social and political cornerstone of the African American community. The Church House was an institutional expression of theology contextualized by black people which served as an advocate for vis-à-vis the troubles of black life” (69). Tangibly, this meant the establishment of many independent black churches as well as denominations, including the African Methodist Episcopal (AME) Church and the National Baptist Convention (NBC).

Finally, the School House, Strickland argues that, while blacks desired education above all else after the Civil War, by the end of the Institutionalization period there were at least two different models for education in the black community. Booker T. Washington, on the one hand, argued that blacks needed to focus on vocational education. W. E. B. DuBois, on the other hand, argued that blacks needed to be classically educated, in part to be able to better combat racialized policies and practices of the government and society.

DuBois’ approach was influenced in part by his increasing disillusionment with the black church, which he felt was not equipped and not politically active enough to combat the racist policies that proliferated during the failed Reconstruction efforts and at the beginning of the Jim Crow period. Instead, DuBois argued, blacks needed to confront racist policies and systems from within the School House, where the tools of philosophy—and specifically the pragmatism of William James—would serve their efforts to overturn black oppression.

This is a pivotal point, as what Strickland traces hereafter can be attributed in some ways to Black Theology that follows DuBois on the one hand or Charles Octavius Boothe on the other. DuBois’s approach led black theologians like James Cone and Jacquelyn Grant to focus on the Court House (Cone) or the School House (Grant) in their efforts to liberate blacks from white oppression, while Boothe’s approach, later expressed in the Black Theology of J. Deotis Roberts, came from within the Church House and remained fundamentally connected not only to the black church but also to the church universal.

The final chapter of Part I, Chapter III, traces the development of the three houses during the Civil Rights Era (1909–1968). In the Court House section, Strickland demonstrates the two different kinds of resistance expressed during this period, as seen in the difference between Malcolm X and Black Power on the one hand and Martin Luther King, Jr. and the NAACP on the other.

Regarding the School House, Strickland shows that it is during this period that the three different approaches to Black Theology specifically and black thought more generally described by Ware (BPS, BHS, and HSS) begin to emerge. A further development in the School House during this period is an increased focus on “black subjectivity,” that is blacks as their own subjects and not merely understood in relation to whites, as well as the increasing influence of postmodernism on black thought and theology.

Finally, in the Church House, Strickland argues that the proliferation of churches and denominations in the Institutionalization period led in some ways to the dilution of the Black Church’s unified voice and ability to organize, which in turn led to some black thinkers, like James Cone, to rely instead on work in the Court House to argue for and effect change. This waning influence of the Church House waxed again right at the heart of the Civil Rights Movement (1955–1968), and Strickland notes that MLK Jr. saw his movement as 1) rooted in the Church House and 2) completely distinct from Black Power and its roots in the nihilistic philosophy of the School House.

Thus the point of Part I is that Black Theology is not monolithic, and this is due in large part to the fact that some Black Theology arises out of either the Court House or the School House on the one hand and out of the Church House on the other.

Part II: Black Theological Method

Part II of Strickland’s thesis identifies three respective thinkers formed and shaped primarily by one of the three houses and then uses McGrath’s The Genesis of Doctrine to analyze their thought in two categories: doctrine as social demarcation and doctrine as interpretation of narrative. James Cone represents Black Theology from the context of the Court House, J. Deotis Roberts represents Black Theology from the Church House, and Jacquelyn Grant represents Black Theology from the School House. In Chapter 4, Strickland teases out McGrath’s claim that doctrine provides religious identity for particular groups via demarcating “. . . the unique confessional or methodological parameters of a given community,” which, in turn, “. . . provides ideological justification for its existence” (121). For Black Theology in particular, this “dissociative” nature of doctrine means that:

The racialization of theology was imperative to Black Theologians because the totality of their life was defined by race, and it was imperative that their faith correspond to their life circumstances. Thus, Black Theology is not a quest for blacks to segregate their theological efforts, but a recognition that race is intimately tied to the American experience. Thus, in contrast to the attempt to universalize white theology, Black Theology poses the specific question, “What does it mean to be black and Christian for a people situated in the midst of American racism and called by God to be full human beings? (123)

Strickland goes on to invoke Carl F. H. Henry’s lament that fundamentalism had unnecessarily sequestered theology from “the social implications of its message for the non-Christian world.”[1] In doing so, Strickland’s point is that Black Theology has to start from the standpoint of historic black oppression and the need for liberation because these issues have been largely ignored by white American theologians and also because theology has as one of its aims to address issues of the day.

To put it differently, Black Theology arose as it did in part because white American Christianity and theology arose in “a context of relative power and privilege that is alien to the black experience” and is also “apathetic to oppression” (124–25).

In the rest of Chapter 4, Strickland explores the points of departure and entrance, as well as the ethos, for each thinker’s theological program. Strickland makes an important statement about the difference between Cone and Roberts at the beginning of this exploration that foreshadows his conclusions when he notes,

Roberts and Cone agree upon the centrality of Jesus in the Christian faith, but Roberts’ position focused upon Christ in priority over outside influences, and Cone’s criteria for inclusion in the theological process welcomed other ideologies [e.g. Black Power] to reshape the essence of the Christian faith (129).

Strickland argues that Cone departs from white theology from the perspective of the Courthouse, and specifically through harnessing theologically the political energy and goals of the Black Power Movement (126). More specifically, Cone “insisted that there be a theology for oppressed blacks in America aimed at the destruction of racism in society…. Cone hoped to recapture the revolutionary power of theology undertaken by blacks from the pre-Civil War period, and he insisted that the restoration of revolutionary theology would arise from the spirit of the Black Power Movement” (126). Cone also critiqued both the School House and the Church House for not leading blacks in the United States in their goal of freedom from oppression. Strickland describes Cone’s entry into Black Theology as “theological endeavors [that] must begin and end with the black experience” (152).

In this vein, Cone notes that cultural expression (e.g. song, dance, speeches, prayers, sermons, etc.) may give more useful data than “objective” research that only focuses on limited data points. Strickland thus describes Cone’s ethos as an “. . . intentional mingling of the love of Martin Luther King, Jr.’s Christian faith and the “by any means necessary” temperament of Malcolm X’s Black Power” (160).

Grant agrees with Cone’s critique of the School House, but still argues that it has “theoretical tools” that can help Black Theology in its work of delivering blacks from oppression. She also critiqued Cone’s singular focus on race to the exclusion of other concerns about sex and class. Thus Grant takes as her point of departure the School House, and specifically a postmodernism that takes into account intersectionality and specifically the “triple jeopardy” of black women: race, sex, and class. In doing so she critiques not only Cone and Roberts but also feminism, which she argues has promoted white normativity regarding femininity. Grant thus sees entry into Black Theology primarily along the grain of this three-fold experience of black women in the context of oppression. Her ethos is to address every form of oppression and to make space for specifically Womanist Theology, namely black (and ultimately non-white) women theologians.

In contrast to both Cone’s and Grant’s insistence that the Church House either is not able or has given up its office to effect change for blacks in the US, Roberts remains convinced that Black Theology should begin and end in the Church House. According to Roberts, “to look outside of the church for its revolutionary power is to misunderstand its nature.”

Additionally, Roberts argues that “the encounter with the revolutionary nature of the Christian faith is deep within the church’s essence,” and “the church is God’s agent of social change” (149). According to Strickland, “In the face of Cone’s critique, Roberts sought to strengthen the black church by recapturing its essential mission that is both comprehensive in its liberation scope and otherworldly in its source of power.” (147). Here it is worth quoting Roberts at length, as Strickland does in this precise location in his dissertation, to get a clear picture of his position:

But the black church must be wise in its efforts. The church must always be true to its nature and mission in the world. It must bring to bear its understanding of the gospel upon all causes and movements. Its critical and objective frame of judgment must be anchored in the Bible and the confession of the Christian creed. Therefore, the black church is not just another agency, not just another organization. The power of the black church is not merely a material power. It is spiritual.[2]

Strickland thus summarizes Roberts’ departure in this way:

In an effort to account for the true nature and mission of the church, Roberts departs from both white theology and Cone’s proposal for Black Theology by underscoring the essence of his theological program, namely, liberation and reconciliation. Roberts insisted that liberation and reconciliation must be considered at the same time and in relation to one another. The resources to achieve this goal are found in the spiritual power that is inherent within the people of God (the church) and not in the Black Power proposal of James Cone (147–48).

Because of this departure from Cone regarding Black Theology’s departure, Roberts also differs from Cone regarding entrance into Black Theology. To quote Strickland again,

Roberts departed from Cone as he prized faithfulness to Christianity first and secondarily to the black cause. This methodological impasse accentuates a bold distinction between Cone and Roberts and establishes a connection with the respective methodological houses from which their theology emerges. Furthermore, this distinction speaks to Roberts’ robust understanding of the contextualization of theology. Roberts is convinced that prioritizing the Christian faith pleases God and ultimately brings God’s favor upon his efforts for black equality. In doing so, he procures the greatest probability of success even if more radical options may seem more expedient and immediately gratifying (156).

In other words, while Black Theology is an engagement with the black experience and developed out of an encounter with the black church, it is ultimately an exercise carried out in the context of the church universal and that has implications for all Christians. This leads Strickland to summarize Roberts’ ethos as one that,

maintains that the goal of a worthy Black Theology leads both blacks and whites to an authentic Christian experience characterized by freedom. A life of Christian authenticity is one of reconciliation, not separation. Due to Christ and the gospel’s ability to liberate and reconcile, black Christians who are set free from the bonds of oppression and are free to unite with Christians of different racial backgrounds as ministers of reconciliation (164–65).

Roberts thus recognizes the universality of human sinfulness while addressing its particular instantiation in whites’ oppression of blacks in America. He also recognizes the objective work of Christ while at the same time noting its subjective work in the reconciling and liberating act of overturning racially oppressive institutions and social structures in the US.

To close the chapter, Strickland summarizes the distinction between the ethos of these three theologians by stating, “Roberts’ ethos upheld the unity of the body of Christ in the Church House as a sign of God’s future kingdom. While the militant Black Power ethos of Cone’s paradigm stood in direct contrast to the reconciliation ethos of Roberts, Grant’s womanist ethos incorporated a mediating persona into the dialogue of Black Theology that provided the disposition for her theological construction” (170–71).

In Chapter 5, Strickland shifts his analysis from doctrine as social demarcation to doctrine as interpretation of narrative. Here, the narrative of Jesus serves as a “controlling narrative,” a term coined by McGrath, but that Christological narrative is related to the narrative of the black experience, and specifically to liberation, in different ways by Cone, Grant, and Roberts.

Strickland analyzes this relationship between Jesus’ story and the black story using four different categories: the nature of Scripture, the movement from Scripture to doctrine, the person of Christ, and the work of Christ. Regarding the nature of Scripture, Cone regularly refers to Scripture in his works, and he sees the Bible as the revelation of God in Christ, but it is specifically revelation of the liberation of the oppressed through political struggle (182–83).

According to Strickland, Cone does not see this as a theme that arises from Scripture or an application of Christ’s work, “but is the gospel message itself” (182). For Cone, “the biblical and contemporary horizons are wedded to each other; the result is social and political action that brings about Biblical ideals in the present” (190). Cone’s Christology focuses on describing Jesus as one who identifies with the social, political, and racially oppressed. His death and resurrection may therefore be universal in some sense, but the focus is on Christ’s work as effecting black (political) liberation and as a catalyst for black rebellion against oppression.

According to Strickland, “For Cone, the essence of the good news is that the resurrected Christ is evidence that the oppressed can triumph over oppression which energizes Cone’s imperative of political engagement for the purpose of overcoming oppression in the black experience” (220).

Grant is driven by a desire to undo the oppression black women have experienced, especially via certain interpretations of particular Bible passages. In order to understand God from Grant’s perspective, one must look first to black women’s extra-biblical encounters with God and then to biblical revelation as heard and experienced by black women. She relies on the postmodernism of the School House for her approach to Scripture and theology. Regarding Jesus, Grant is similar in her understanding of his person and work to Cone in the sense that she also emphasizes Jesus’ identification with and liberation of blacks, especially black women, and that she sees Christ’s work as co-suffering with black women. Again like Cone, Grant describes the atonement primarily in subjective terms.

Roberts, while appreciating Cone’s references to Scripture, feels that the latter’s use of the Bible is “disturbing” and that “Cone must be held accountable for it” (183). Specifically,

Roberts’ critique was that Cone applied the biblical text to the present situation of the oppressed with interpretative means that are indifferent to sound historical criticism and careful exegesis.43 Roberts argues that Cone’s narrow, politically oriented application of scripture is a result of a highly selective use of Bible passages and from ignoring texts that did not fit his liberation paradigm.

Roberts concluded his critique by insisting that Cone fell into the same trap as those who promoted slavery, discrimination and sexism by endorsing a highly selective reading and application of scripture. Despite Roberts’ aversion to Cone’s interpretative methods, he is not antagonistic toward identifying liberation as a significant theme in scripture, but he strongly contends that scripture is not concerned about the liberation/oppression binary alone, despite its significant import for blacks in America (183–84).

In contrast to Cone and Grant, Roberts’ hermeneutical paradigm

is grounded in an explicit affirmation that the supreme hermeneutical norm of the Christian faith was the Word of God made flesh and that the Exodus of God’s people from captivity provided a central interpretative category for the Old Testament. In tandem, the work of Christ and the Exodus provide a clear trajectory for the mission of the church (184).

Roberts works from the perspective of the hermeneutical spiral, recognizing that Black Theology enters into the act of reading Scripture from the black experience but is also thereby transformed by Scripture and more deeply understands God’s address. This kind of hermeneutical method plays out in Christology in such a way that Roberts sees Jesus’ person and work first as universally applicable to all human beings and then particularly relevant to the black experience (207).

Additionally, this means that, “Roberts stands in contrast to Cone, not that he opposes theology having political implications, but he opposes theology having an intentionally narrow application that is limited to political action on behalf of a particular people” (207).

Christ’s particular humanity, his ethnicity, his “blackness” (a term used by Black Theologians to indicate, at the very least, Jesus’ ethnic status as a non-white person), gives dignity and worth to black people, and also communicates that he comes to address the specific situations of real people. Ultimately, therefore, for Roberts, the gospel is both universal in scope and applicable to particular people. Again he is worth quoting at length:

The good news is that where there is repentance and faith, there is forgiveness and reconciliation. The gospel is also good news to man in his social relations. Because of a broken relationship between man and God, there is hostility between man and man. Through God’s redemptive action in Christ, the wall of participation between men has been removed. This means that the gospel which reconciles us to God also brings us together. Because of man’s fall, man being the crown of creation, all creation groans to be redeemed. The good news is that in and through Christ there is a new order oF reconciliation between nature, man, and God.[3]

And again, it is imperative to Strickland’s own words here in his analysis of the difference between Cone and Grant on the one hand and Roberts on the other:

Roberts articulates a different theory of atonement from those of Cone and Grant that is essential to his connecting reconciliation with God to reconciliation one to another. . . . Roberts’ objective (and subsequently subjective) understanding of Christ’s work feeds directly into his liberation and reconciliation paradigm for the Church House. The objective change before God is a catalyst for racial unity because redeemed humanity’s standing in relation to God is not one of racial identity, but as a recipient of divine grace. As a result of the objective change relative to God the Father, the Christian’s affections are subjectively transformed in their disposition toward their new spiritual family which transcends the boundaries race and culture. Roberts’ paradigm is a catalyst for the genuine racial reconciliation that he insists upon within the people of God and in society. By contrast, a purely subjective view of Christ’s work lacks an inherent rationale that transcends race to constrain followers of Christ toward racial reconciliation in the church (220–22).

And again:

Roberts’ holistic paradigm tethers the personal, social and interracial realities together by insisting that the restorative work of Christ is applicable to each context respectively and thus binding them together. As a result of being liberated from non-being, genuine reconciliation occurs between equals (i.e. fully human blacks and whites) which made possible by Christ’s death and resurrection (226).

One is led to conclude from this analysis that while Cone and Grant make the black experience normative in their theological method, Roberts takes God’s Word and his supreme revelation in the person and work of Christ to be normative for his.

Conclusion: Interpretation and Analysis

The final chapter provides a summary of the argument and analysis of the theological method of the three representatives. While Strickland has made a number of comparisons of the three already, this final chapter makes those even more explicit and also provides additional critiques. Strickland refers first to Cone and the Court House, and here he notes that Cone’s methodological starting point is the black experience, and a specific historical period of that experience at that. This leads Strickland to offer a number of critiques of Cone, many of which have been offered by other authors.

First, Cone’s approach “reduces the African American religious story to a narrative of protest and political action” (229–30), and therefore leaves out a number of important aspects of Christianity (e.g. discipleship, confession and assurance of sin, worship, etc.). Strickland also echoes other critiques of Cone that point out his rigid Afrocentrism and the historically bounded nature of his project. Perhaps most importantly, Strickland notes that Cone’s “formulation disallows theological reflection that extends beyond the confines of white supremacy. As a result, Cone’s theology has little ability to bring biblical imperatives to bear on daily life outside of the racial oppression/liberation binary” (234).

Strickland makes similar comments about Grant, noting that she works first from the perspective of a postmodern paradigm that emphasizes intersectionality and a critique of oppressive systems. He also notes that Grant’s approach turns (in contrast to Cone) “from a historical orientation to a literary and symbolic focus (256).

Roberts, in contrast to both Cone and Grant, argues that Black Theology should resist the call to reduce the gospel “to social or political ideologies” (243). In fact, according to Strickland, Roberts is unique in his development of a theological understanding of the relationship between the church and the state and in his admonition that black theologians recognize the minimal amount of explicit biblical data related to actual political policy (242–43).

He is committed first to the universal Body of Christ and then to the black church, to Scripture first and then its application to the black experience. According to Strickland, “Roberts’ theological genius is wrapped up in his ability to distinguish racism, oppression and injustice dealt to blacks through the vehicle of Christianity while remaining committed to the essential goodness of the Protestant Christian faith” (248). And, “Contrary to critiques of Roberts, his balance gives him the ability to simultaneously engage the black experience deeply and construct a theological paradigm that considers the entirety of the church which allows interaction with whites beyond the oppressor/oppressed binary” (250).

Additionally, Strickland notes that Roberts includes distinctive Reformation principles much more explicitly and positively than either Cone or Grant. Strickland’s conclusion is that, “Cone pursues racial justice guided by the Black Power ideology of the Courthouse, Roberts actualizes racial reconciliation that is shaped by the Church House and Grant pursues self-reclamation energized by a postmodern paradigm featuring the critique and analysis of the Schoolhouse” (262).

Analysis

“Liberation and Black Theological Method,” once published in monograph form and perhaps even before that, will be considered groundbreaking. Strickland has done both the church and the academy a great service in demonstrating that “Black Theology” is not monolithic and cannot be assessed as a whole cloth.

Rather, each stream of Black Theology and the authors who are representative of it have to be evaluated on their own merits and in light of certain criteria. Strickland has thus not only provided a corrective to many discussions of Black Theology (and especially among white theologians, where the assumption that all Black Theology is the same, i.e. equivalent to James Cone), but he has also made a strong case for the historical and methodological criteria that should be used in such an assessment. He should be applauded for this distinctive and groundbreaking contribution to the field.

Strickland’s dissertation is historical and descriptive in nature. That is, his goal is to trace the historical development of Black Theology and to analyze one stream of that development, BHS, using the “three houses” model.

Because of this, his theological evaluation of Cone, Grant, and Roberts is only as explicit as its intersection with his methodological analysis of them. While there are some subtle theological critiques (e.g. Strickland’s note that Cone is unconcerned and even perturbed over the question of Scripture’s divine inspiration), the dissertation for the most part is concerned with methodological analysis. In this regard, it is clear that Strickland assesses Cone and Grant differently than he does Roberts, namely in that Cone and Grant start from the black experience and refer to Scripture, the gospel, and Christology when and how it suits them, whereas Roberts starts from Scripture, orthodox Christology, and a holistic view of the gospel and applies them to the black experience.

In his dissertation Strickland does not provide any kind of critique, but this analysis is enough if we combine it with his other public statements about starting from Scripture. In other words, it is clear that, were Strickland to follow one of his three representatives in terms of method, it would be Roberts. This is because Roberts alone starts from the Church House – from the Bible, from traditional Christian theology, from a correct understanding of the gospel – and not from the Court House or the School House, a starting point that Strickland has noted he shares.

One can also detect this evaluation in his praise of Cone and Grant. With respect to Cone, Strickland praises him for his “fortitude and creativity,” as well as for his lucidity in the midst of a toxic environment, but he does so while also noting the “weaknesses in this theological program” (240). In other words, Cone stood up for blacks in America and should be applauded for it, but that does not mean Strickland approves of his theological method or conclusions.

Similarly, Strickland lauds Grant for critiquing and moving past her predecessors’ (and especially Cone’s) “modernist assumptions” (261), but he also provides a lengthy critique of her radical postmodernism. Once again, praise is reserved by Strickland for Grant’s moral and social courage. He does not laud her theological method or conclusions. Strickland thus makes clear by his praise of Roberts and his critiques of Cone and Grant that it is the former and not the latter two whom he sees as exemplary in terms of Black Theology’s method.

Matt Emerson (Ph.D., Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary) serves as the Dickinson Associate Professor of Religion at  Oklahoma Baptist University in Shawnee, OK and as Co-Executive Director of the  Center for Baptist Renewal. His areas of interest include biblical theology, canonical interpretation, theological method, and Baptist theology.

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  1. Carl F. H. Henry, The Uneasy Conscience of Modern Fundamentalism (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1947; repr., 2003), 39.
  2. J. Deotis Roberts, Black Theology Today: Liberation and Contextualization (Lewiston: Edwin Mellen Press, 1984), 137. Quoted in Strickland, “Liberation and Black Theological Method,” 147.
  3. J. Deotis Roberts, A Black Political Theology (Louisville: Westminster John Knox, 2005), 139.

 

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