A Culturally Arrested Theology: Theology Done in an Age of Systemic Racism
T.R. Dillon, Th.M
Application is a key step in the interpretation of Scripture. Further, the discipline and practice of theology has been defined as the application and teaching of Scripture and the truths that it reveals to us about God and His work in and through redemptive history. This article will seek to show how this is true and how this truth relates to our cultural moment, specifically around the matter of racial injustice in America and the Church. We, the Church––namely her Pastors, Theologians, and Pastor-Theologians––must begin to apply our theology to the matters of systemic racism. In a non-linear model of theological methodology and Scripture reading how might our theology inform our conversations around seeking racial justice and ending systemic and systematic oppression of people of color. In turn, how might our understanding of these injustices lead us to think differently about our theology and ask different questions of it.
Keywords: Systematic Theology, Cultural Theology, Pastoral Theology, Sovereignty, Theological Anthropology, Ecclesiology, Hamartiology, Eschatology, Global Theology, Systemic Racism, Culturally Applied Hermeneutics, Theological Methodology
A Culturally Arrested Theology: Theology Done in an Age of Systemic Racism
On May 25, 2020 the world witnessed the horrific video that captured the unjust and dehumanizing murder of George Floyd by Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin. The grueling eight minute and forty-six second video is, in many ways, a test of one’s humanity. As a man made in the image of God breathes his last breath, we are left with nothing to do but weep. Humanity is left only to mourn the loss of a dear sibling of humanity. Christians are furthermore left to mourn and lament the entrance of sin in this world which allowed for this innocent man’s life to be taken from him. Unfortunately, we are left to mourn something even more specific because this video is not just the death of George Floyd, a black man, it is a symbol of the oppression that the Black community has faced since they were first brought into this land as slaves.[i] The explicit racism of chattel slavery has never ended, it has simply adapted into new and, supposedly, more subtle forms of racism––though there is nothing subtle about the death of George Floyd and the video. While many other instances of horrific and racialized police brutality have been documented and could be named here, it is the death of George Floyd (one in a string of racially charged police killings that occurred within the first 5 months of 2020)[ii] that finally created a worldwide uproar around the issue of systemic racism and police brutality.
In a world wherein local, national, and global news are at our fingertips and social media allows for everyone to have an audience under the influence of our self-published opinion pieces, we are all deeply and immediately embedded in our cultural moment. Furthermore, it has been said “that every Christian is a theologian because every Christian has a theology, whether well thought out or not.”[iii] Therefore, whether conscious of it or not, theology is being done in and according to the cultural moment. That being said, I would argue that a subconscious theology is one that would fall into the latter category of one that is not thought out well. The Church is in need, then, of a well thought out theology that is consciously done in this cultural moment.
In order to do this, I will go through several of the major doctrines of Christian theology to show how they can and should speak to the issues of systemic racism and police brutality. As I discuss certain aspects of each doctrine, I will show not only how our theology can and should speak directly to these matters, I will also seek to show how our theological methodology should include questions that are raised by these issues. Said differently, what can we learn and how can our theology be informed by the things that are going on in our world today?
Doctrine of God
The doctrine of God, also called Theology Proper, has many components to it. Within Theology proper we might talk about the Trinity, we might talk about God’s sovereignty, or we might talk about His attributes. In the following discussion, I will focus on that of God and His attributes.
The Attributes of God.
The long-standing Christian tradition of understanding God and His attributes leads us to what is commonly called “Classical Theism.” Matthew Barrett provides us with a great definition of this understanding of God: “Classical Theism is defined by divine attributes like simplicity, aseity, timeless eternity, and so on […] drawing upon Anselm’s argument that God is someone than whom none greater can be conceived; he is the perfect being.”[iv] The attribute which I would like to focus on here, however, is that which is considered to be the foundation of classical theism. Simplicity declares that God is not made up of parts. Therefore, when we speak of things about God and love, it would not be right to say that God loves, but rather that God is love. He does not have attributes; He is his attributes.
The prophet Isaiah declares, “the Lord is a God of justice.” (Isa. 30:18) and “the Lord of hosts is exalted in justice, and the Holy God shows Himself holy in righteousness.” (Isa. 5:16). What these verses tell us is that the Lord is just and righteous. When we think of these in light of a framework of classical theism, we are struck by a bit more of the magnitude of what this means. It is not just that the Lord is in the business of justice and righteousness, these things are a part of his very essence, there is no definition of these meaningful and timely attributes apart from the Triune God. In an age where it seems that we are struck everyday by another death (captured on video) in the Black community, it seems that justice and righteousness are hard to come by, yet it is what we need and cry out for the most. Social media posts are flooded with the hashtags #justiceforGeorgeFloyd, #justiceforAhmaudArbery, #justiceforBreonnaTaylor. It seems that the testimony of Scripture would tell us then that we have nowhere to turn but to the Lord whose very essence is made up of and defines such justice. That is, our theology turns us, first and foremost, to prayer. Though the knee has been used in profane ways to bring death to innocent life, it is the knees of every Christian kneeled in prayer to the holy, righteous, and truly just one that will bring true justice in the form of God’s eternal kingdom on earth as it is in heaven.
However, while this is a foundational truth, it is not the whole story. Isaiah 5, as we just saw, states that the Lord is exalted in justice, that is, when justice is done and practiced. Therefore, while prayer to the truly just One is necessary, so too is the practice of justice as we seek to act in our “image of God” createdness. This truth is reinforced in Micah 6. We see here that there can be a haughtiness which comes with prayer, worship and sacrifice without action. Verse 6 says, “With what shall I come before the Lord, and bow myself before God on high?” The answer is then given to us in verse 8, “He has told you, O man, what is good; and what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?”
This leaves us with an important question: what does “justice” (Hb. mishpat) look like? While space limits a full treatment of such an important question, it is necessary to look at a view select passages of how Jesus, the true just One and truly human one, practiced and taught justice.[v] The first aspect of Jesus’ ministry of justice is in his very status of life. He came and stood with, included, and created spaces of belonging for all those who were, according to the powers that be (this includes the religious elite of the Pharisees and the state or governmental elite of the Roman empire and its military/police),[vi] oppressed and considered to be the lowly or down and out. In the lineages found in Matthew and Luke we discover that Jesus comes from a line that includes a pagan, adulteress women (Rahab, Mt. 1:5), a Moabitess (Ruth, Mt 1:5), and comes from the line of Judah and his affair with his daughter in-law Tamar (Gen. 38:1-30; Mt. 1:3).
These three are just a few representative examples of Jesus’ lineage that made him the product of an abominable line to the religious elite. Further, he came from Nazareth, a town which caused his own people to question whether anything good come from such a place (Jn. 1:46). Further, this should be enough evidence to see that the Romans certainly would not have found him as respectable, they hardly found any Jewish person respectable, let alone one rejected by his own people. This level of “living with” the oppressed evidences just the first step of justice: to bear one another’s burdens (Gal. 6:2).
How do we know who are the oppressed of our day? Are we to be the judge of who truly faces oppression and needs help? No. The Bible is clear about for whom it is that we are to care. In Mt. 25:31-46, we are given a few specific categories,
For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you clothed me, I was sick and you visited me, I was in prison and you came to me.’ Then the righteous will answer him, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you drink? And when did we see you a stranger and welcome you, or naked and clothe you? And when did we see you sick or in prison and visit you?’ And the King will answer them, ‘Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me.’” (vv. 35-40)
Is this list of the naked, imprisoned, hungry, and thirsty an exhaustive list, though? I would argue that it most certainly is not, because we know that elsewhere we are told to care for the widow and orphan (James 1:27). So then, we can include those two categories in our Matthew 25 list. However, it seems to me that we find a simple, easily memorized, and exhaustive list of all those that we are to care for and to whom we are to show justice and mercy. This list is found in Psalm 145:17-20:
The Lord is righteous[vii] in all his ways and faithful in all he does. The Lord is near to all who call on him,to all who call on him in truth. He fulfills the desires of those who fear him; he hears their cry and saves them. The Lord watches over all who love him, but all the wicked he will destroy.
Those who want to be righteous and practice the ways of our righteous God are given a clear example of what that looks like. We, as the Church are very explicitly called to be the new incarnation of God on earth as the Ecclesial body of Christ (1 Cor. 12:12-31; Rom. 12:3-8). What this means is that we are called to act in the ways of Justice that represent the One in whose image we are made (Gen. 1:27). In order to do this, we must hear the cry of those that are calling for help and draw near to them.
It is not our place, as the Church, to arbitrarily draw some line between the causes for which we are to bear the burdens. The voices of people of color, our Christian brothers and sisters, are crying out to God for help and they have rightly expected the Church to come to their aid, to stand with them against the powers that have oppressed and silenced them for far too long. It is our duty to hear their cry, draw near, and bear their burden with them. Or, as the Apostle Paul said it, “If one member suffers, all suffer together with it” (1 Cor. 12:26, NRSV).
Doctrine of Scripture
Our doctrine of Scripture is of great importance. For those with a high view of Scripture it becomes our only source of guaranteed and unchanging truth in a world increasingly hostile to the ideas of objectivity, particularly in areas of morality and ethics. Further, our views of Scripture are going to drastically shape our hermeneutic, our approach to the text and its interpretation. It is this latter aspect of one’s bibliology (doctrine of the book) which I will give my focus to here. In what ways might our hermeneutic shape the way we look at present issues in our society, such as racial tensions and injustice, in accordance to the Bible and how might the lessons that we learn from those issues in our society shape our hermeneutic?
Scripture as a Voice in our Wilderness.
Assuming a high view of Scripture (divinely inspired, inerrant, authoritative) we know that our hermeneutic seeks to find answers to the darkness of the world around us, for we believe that Scripture is the authoritative word of God. Therefore, wherever Scripture speaks a timeless truth we know that we can, when correctly interpreted, rightly apply the word to our modern context. There is not much time that needs to be spent here explicating how it is that Scripture and our hermeneutic changes the way that we view the cultural moment, particularly because I have sought to example such an understanding in the section above. We know that while we come to Scripture with certain pre-understanding regarding the culture that we must come to Scripture with an open heart to mind so that we might allow the text of Scripture to read us and change those pre-understandings to reflect a more Christoformed[viii] mind towards those issues. Therefore, as we navigate issues of racism and racial injustices in the world, we must allow Scripture, and the life and teachings of Jesus and the Apostles as found in Scripture, guide our thinking and actions in this cause of justice.
However, what of the inversed influence? Is there any true and faithful way to think of how our cultural moment might come to affect our hermeneutic and ways of thinking about Scripture? The fact of the matter is, in our application of the text it matters what questions we are asking of Scripture. Therefore, we need a diverse audience of interpreters so that we might gain a diverse understanding of what the text of Scripture is speaking to us, God’s diverse people. For instance, what might we learn from thinking differently about the enslavement of the Israelites to the Egyptians? What different questions do a people with a long and traumatic history of abuse from slaveholders and knowing God and his affirmation of their humanity and image-bearing ask of this narrative which feels so familiar? Or, what might we learn if we think about the Egyptian lineage of Ephraim and Manasseh (Gen. 41:41-57)?[ix] Finally, what about the early Church traditions of Mark’s (the author of our second Gospel account) African heritage[x] and the early conversion of the Ethiopian eunuch in Acts 8? Might these be treasures unearthed because we have simply overlooked their importance as white readers?
It might be helpful to think of it a bit differently. Often in teaching hermeneutics and the need for one when approaching Scripture, we describe entering into the world of the Bible as crossing a gap. This gap is one of considerable distance in language, culture, history, and socio-political understanding. Our hermeneutic and the process of exegesis is the bridge. However, in applying what is found in the distant world of Scripture, it is another task to return across that bridge and properly explain that world to those who have never crossed over. This is why we as interpreters must not only ask diverse questions but be a diverse community of interpreters. In other words, we need people of color in our community to journey with us across the bridge into the world of Scripture and learn from their insights as they ask questions of the text that we might never think of in our limited experience of the world and culture that we live in. We must learn from majority world biblical scholars and theologians[xi] and people of color here within our own American context.[xii] Further, we must engage our diverse congregations, listen to their voices, learn from them and address their world. It is too easy to simply recognize a lack of diversity in our congregation and see this as a reason why we might not need the diversity of voices behind our preaching, teaching, and church leadership. We must recognize that Revelation 7:9 envisions a future in which “…a great multitude that no one could number, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed in white robes, with palm branches in their hands, and crying out with a loud voice, ‘Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb!’” Therefore, it is incumbent on us to model this eschatological kingdom vision today, particularly as we pray the words that Jesus taught us, “on earth as it is in Heaven” (Mt. 6:10). Diversity or not, we ought to prepare our congregations for the diverse community of believers that awaits them in God’s glorious Kingdom. Indeed, we may need to see a congregation’s lack of diversity as an indictment on us as leaders who have failed to do all things with the excellence that is due to the Lord’s name.
The Doctrine of Humanity
The Magisterial Reformer, John Calvin, started his Institutes of the Christian Religion with these words, “Nearly all the wisdom we possess, that is to say, true and sound wisdom, consists of two parts: the knowledge of God and of ourselves.”[xiii] Calvin thought the doctrine of man to be of utmost importance, knowledge of God and knowledge of self are intricately connected and both lie at the heart of wisdom. Indeed, the creation of mankind is at the apex of the creation narratives found in Genesis 1 and 2 where we are told that we are created in the image of our divine creator. It is this profound notion of mankind’s being created in the image of God (imago Dei) that we will discuss here in this section.
Mankind as Imago Dei.
The fact that all of mankind is made in the image of God speaks volumes to racism and eradicates any notion of racial superiority. Yet, despite this supposed truism, American Christianity’s tattered past reveals feeble arguments for a white superiority.[xiv] Such explicit assumptions and beliefs of American exceptionalism and White supremacy in the early stages of our particular brand of Christianity has subsequently muddied the waters from which we drank and in which we have been baptized. That is, American Christianity was formed contemporaneously with the sociological ideology of race which created a dividing marker between skin tones. This idea not only made separations of superiority, but also created the idea that lighter-skinned folk were normal or without color, whereas those of darker skin tones were colored or other, thus ostracizing or segregating “people of color.”[xv]
What then can we do to reverse this ostracization and “othered-ness?” The answer that white Christians often give is to be “colorblind.” However, this is problematic as it eradicates diversity rather than embrace it. This is where I believe our thinking through these issues of race can help us better understand our theological anthropology and the imago Dei. It forces us to ask what it is to be made in the image of God. The primary aspect of our being made in the image of God involves our being bearers of God’s presence. It is connected to God’s breathing the breath of life into man, imagery which was very common in ancient Near Eastern literature in which the God would put his mouth to the mouth of his/her image bearing idols. This “opening of the mouth” ceremony indicated that this idol was endowed with the very presence of the god. Therefore, to be in the presence of the idol was to be in the very presence of the god itself and whatever was done to this idol was to be seen as an act to/against the god whose image it bore.[xvi]
From this understanding of the imago Dei, it is my contention that we need diversity all the more. We cannot go on with an assumption that a homogenous group of witnesses within the Church will properly display the full heavenly glory of the presence of God. The Lord’s creation is a diverse one. We see this truth in full poetic display throughout Genesis 1 and 2 and that truth does not stop with humanity. Therefore, a “color blind” ideology is far from Christian it dishonors God and His creative design of diverse image bearers.
The Doctrine of Sin
A robust doctrine of sin is something that the Church quite often lacks. And who can blame us, why would we want to focus on sin and its closest companion, death? However, it is my belief that this has caused the Church the greatest number of problems in many ways with the Church’s understanding of systemic racism being the first and foremost. The biggest factor in this is our lack of comfort and familiarity with original sin, systemic sin, and corporate responsibility.
Original Sin and Systemic Sin
Whereas, I would usually start with a small section on what the doctrine of sin tells us about the issues of systemic racism and injustice in our day, I do not believe this is necessary. This is because all too often we use sin as a scapegoat for the evils that exist. “Well, what we really have is a sin problem and what we need is change in individual hearts. This is the only thing that can stop racism.” While the first part of that statement is true, it is too basic of statement and accomplishes very little. A Christian who states that racism is a problem we are facing in the world is stating that we have a sin problem, they are simply specifying that sin. The second part of that sentence is equally unhelpful, only a half truth, and is dismissive by implying that this is simply out of the person’s hands, it is up to God. However, as we saw above in the section on the doctrine of God, justice and righteousness is also the Church’s problem we are called, as image bearers, to bring the presence of the just, righteous and holy God into dark places and spread the light of His in-breaking Kingdom. Therefore, we will simply move into what the black community and wrestling with their pain as victims of racism and hatred can teach us about sin.
One of the greatest difficulties that many people face in discussing racism is moving from an understanding that racism not only exists in the darkest parts of individual hearts, but that it exists and most often and most dangerously plays itself out in unjust and oppressive systems of government and politics. But this should be most easily accepted by Christians who have an understanding of sin and how it entered into the world. That is, we are told in Genesis 3 that a systemic and deadly force called sin and death entered into the whole world including the earth itself at the transgression of just two humans (Gen. 3:16-19).[xvii] Furthermore, this is not the last time that a sin of an individual affects the whole. In Joshua 7 we are told the famous story of a man named Achan and how his sin of taking some of the “devoted things” of Jericho brought defeat and punishment on all of Israel. Indeed, after Israel’s defeat at Ai, the Lord speaks to Joshua and says, “Get up! Why have you fallen on your face? Israel has sinned; they have transgressed my covenant that I commanded them; they have taken some of the devoted things; they have stolen and lied and put them among their own belongings.” (7:10-11, emphasis added). The Lord recounts the sin of Achan and yet he says that it was Israel and their sin that brought them to their knees in defeat against Ai.
Therefore, as Christians, it simply will not do to state that the sin of racism is an individual problem, not even the personal (i.e. not institutionalized racism) of one person to another can be said to be “not our problem, all we can do is pray.” In the story we just saw, it was Israel that took the fall and responsibility for the sin of one individual among them for we are responsible for our own. This seems foreign to our modern notions of an individualistic society, but this notion of radical individualism is not only a new one in the grand scheme of our society it also is simply not biblical.[xviii] We are given an example of how to respond to this in Daniel 9 where “Daniel repents for sins committed by his ancestors even though there is no evidence he personally participated in them.”[xix] The Church has a reprehensible history of racism.[xx] However, rather than face up to that reality, admit to that sin, publicly repent for it and seek to do better and reverse that created institution of a racist church, we have largely sought to ignore it as the sins of a bygone era. This is an unacceptable and unbiblical practice that cannot continue.
This, unfortunately, is not the only form of sin with which the Church must wrestle. There is also a biblical precedence for the existence of systemic or institutional sin. On a definition and biblical examples of institutionalized sin Keller has this to say,
Socially institutionalized ways of life become weighted in favor of the powerful and oppressive over those with less power. Examples include criminal justice systems (Leviticus 19:15), commercial practices such as high interest loans (Exodus 22:25-27; Jeremiah 22:13) and unfairly low (James 5:4) or delayed wages (Deuteronomy 24:14-15). Once these systems are in place, they do more evil than any one individual within the system may intend or even be aware of.[xxi]
Keller offers here several examples of places where an institutional injustice is either committed or warned against (likely for good reason). However, if we look just a little above Keller’s example in Leviticus 19, we find something very interesting. In verses 9-10 we read, “When you reap the harvest of your land, you shall not reap your field right up to its edge, neither shall you gather the gleanings after your harvest. And you shall not strip your vineyard bare, neither shall you gather the fallen grapes of your vineyard. You shall leave them for the poor and for the sojourner: I am the Lord your God.” This is the law that is behind the narrative of Ruth’s gleaning in Boaz’ field in Ruth 2.
Reading the narrative of 2:1-14 very closely we are struck by a disturbing tone in Boaz’ voice. We know from Ruth 1:1 that this narrative takes place during one of Israel’s rockiest times in their history, that of the Judges. This time during the judges is one during which much institutional and individual sin took place and resulted in a cycle of the Lord’s punishment. That background will help us as we begin to see that, although Ruth had every right to silently and safely glean in the fields behind the reapers, she didn’t seem to believe that this would be so easy: “Let me go to the field and glean among the ears of grain after him in whose sight I shall find favor.” (v. 2, emphasis added).[xxii] The reason for caution with which she proceeds in taking advantage of this gracious law becomes evident in vv. 4-9.
Upon Boaz’ arrival to his field he discovers the young, foreign woman standing there. In the workers report to him of who she is and what she is doing we discover that she has not gleaned but has simply been standing there: the workers have not obeyed the law of Lev. 19:9-10. But this could just be an individual transgression, it is Boaz’ proceeding speech that we discover the institutional corruption that has taken place. Boaz commands the men to follow the law and then gives Ruth a stark warning to follow closely behind with his other women of the field and to not go to into any other field. The reason for this warning becomes clear in his command to his reapers not to touch her or take advantage of her. Therefore, it seems that we are to deduce it is the common practice for reapers and field owners in the area to not only ignore the law of Leviticus but exploit the poor and foreigner who come into to reap the benefits of that law. This exploitation and hatred of the poor and stranger has become a very part of the institutional fabric. Hubbard states, “Unfortunately, greedy owners and reapers probably often obstructed the efforts of gleaners by ridicule, tricks, and in some cases outright expulsion.”[xxiii]
What this shows us is that even when an institution is founded on principles and laws of godliness and inclusion corruption can easily occur, resulting in institutional practices of wickedness and exclusion. We should not, then, be surprised when we see either America––whose foundation of godly principles and Christianity is rather complex and tenuous[xxiv]––or the Church, which as we know has a very shaky past in regard to racial injustice, falls into the trap of systemic racism. And this is where we are at as a country and the church’s response can be one of change and witness to God’s love and mercy or complicity. However, rarely can we see clearly from the midst of the fog of our own sinfulness.
The above reasons are why we must begin to seek ways to get outside of our own world clouded by centuries of racial injustice and begin to rely on the faithful guidance of people of color. We need the diversity of voices from people of color and the majority world to help us ask new questions of Scripture and our theology to provide new pathways toward the hope of Christ. This article has covered only the surface of ways in which we can re-think our doctrines of God, Scripture, Humanity, and Sin along the lines. In my next article I will cover the doctrines of Christ, the Church, and the Last Things. However, we must go deeper.
Below I have included a small bibliography of important works that can begin to help us on that journey. However, this work cannot start and end with books. A more personal and ecumenical context is an important place to do this work as well. It would behoove us to begin conversations with the people of color in our own congregation and other local pastors who are people of color and/or who have been doing the work of pastoring multi-ethnic and multi-cultural churches for some time. It is also important to recognize that this is not a work that has any end in sight. It is a continuous work toward permanent and positive change so that we might all grow in unity that celebrates difference and better displays the glory of God and His diverse Kingdom.
Michael F. Bird and Craig Keener (Eds.), New Covenant Commentary Series. (Eugene, OR: Cascade Books, 2009- ). [This commentary series has the most diverse cast of majority world New Testament scholars contributing and allows the reader into an understanding of individual NT books from their diverse and important perspectives].
Michael Gorman (ed.), Scripture and its Interpretation: A Global, Ecumenical Introduction to the Bible. (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2017)
Gene L Green, Stephen T. Pardue, and K.K. Yeo (Eds.), Majority World Theology: Christian Doctrine in Global Context. (Downers Grove, IL: IVP Academic, forthcoming). [This will mark the first time that the essays included have appeared in a single volume. They are currently available in several volumes separated by doctrinal categories and published by Eerdmans in partnership with Langham Publishing.]
Nijay Gupta, The New Testament Commentary Guide: A Brief Handbook for Students and Pastors. (Bellingham, WA: Lexham Press, 2020). [This guide to published and forthcoming NT commentaries at all levels (from lay level to graduate students) has a focus on highlighting those commentaries written by women and people of color].
Esau McCaulley (Ed.), The New Testament in Color. (Downers Grove, IL: IVP Academic, forthcoming).
Esau McCaulley, Reading While Black: African American Biblical Interpretation as an Exercise in Hope. (Downers Grove, IL: IVP Academic, 2020).
Rodney L. Reed (Ed.), Africa Society of Evangelical Theology Series. (Carlisle, Cumbria, UK: Langham Global Library, 2017- ).
J. Deotis Roberts, A Black Political Theology. (Louisville, KY: WJK Press, 2005).
J. Deotis Roberts, Christian Beliefs. (Silver Springs, MD: J. Deotis Roberts Press, 2000).
J. Deotis Roberts, Liberation and Reconciliation: A Black Theology. (Louisville, KY: WJK Press, 2005).
Scott Sunquist, Amos Yong, and John Franke (Eds.), Missological Engagements Series. (Downers Grove, IL: IVP Academic, 2016- ).
Recommended Authors and Scholars The following list of scholars/authors are either people of color or from the majority world and range in their career from early to late-career/retired. I have only included those that focus on publishing OT/NT commentaries or works of theology from their context. I have not included those authors who have focused their writing on issues of race and racism explicitly. These lists abound on the internet, so I have chosen to not simply add to that or repeat those lists but have sought to provide something else. Keeping an eye out on the publications from these scholars will provide you with theology and biblical scholarship from diverse lenses. Next to these scholars’ names I have provided a link to their Faculty page where they teach (where possible) which will provide a list of their publications or a PDF of their CV which will contain such a publication list. Needless to say, this list is by no means exhaustive, but is a list of scholars who have shaped me and my theology immensely.
Vincent Bacote - https://www.wheaton.edu/academics/faculty/vincent-bacote/
Brian Bantum - https://www.garrett.edu/academics/faculty/brian-bantum
Anthony Bradley – https://www.tkc.edu/people/anthony-b-bradley/
M. Daniel Carrol R. - https://www.wheaton.edu/academics/faculty/daniel-carroll/
Anthony J Carter - https://www.ligonier.org/learn/teachers/anthony-carter/
J. Kameron Carter - https://religiousstudies.indiana.edu/about/faculty/carter-kameron.html Bruce L. Fields
Justo Gonzales – https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Justo_L._González
Gustavo Gutiérrez – <https://theology.nd.edu/people/gustavo-gutierrez/>
Dominick S. Hernández - https://www.sbts.edu/academics/faculty/dominick-s-hernandez/
Dwight N. Hopkins – https://divinity.uchicago.edu/directory/dwight-n-hopkins
Veli-Matti Kärkäinen – https://www.fuller.edu/faculty/veli-matti-karkkainen/ [Kärkäinen does not strictly fit into the category of this list, however, his publications have focused on global and ecumenical theology of the majority world and is a tremendous introduction into this field of Scholarship].
Esau McCaulley - https://www.wheaton.edu/academics/faculty/esau-mccaulley/
J. Deotis Roberts
Aida Besancon Spencer - https://www.gordonconwell.edu/faculty/senior/aida-spencer/
Jarvis Williams - https://www.sbts.edu/academics/faculty/jarvis-williams/
Amos Yong - https://www.fuller.edu/faculty/amos-yong/
[i] Furthermore, it is important to recognize that we as a people of this land were already of a tainted reputation, for we did not come to a land unoccupied. Rather, we came and deemed the natives as “savages.” That is, we deemed them as not human and called this land our own as though we were the first humans to occupy it. For more on this history and the “doctrine of discovery” see, Mark Charles and Soong-Chan Rah, Unsettling Truths: The Ongoing, Dehumanizing Legacy of the Doctrine of Discovery. (Downers Grove, IL: IVP Academic, 2019).; and Andrea Smith, “Decolonizing Salvation” in Can “White” People Be Saved?: Triangulating Race, Theology, and Mission. Missiological Engagements Series. (Downers Grove, IL: IVP Academic, 2018). 44-66.
[ii] Despite the common critique, this is not to indict the individual officers as having racist motivations within their heart as though the call was answered with a conscious desire to go and kill a black person. To say that these killings are racially motivated is to say something of the statistics of a disproportionate number of black victims of police officers in proportion to the black populace. Furthermore, it makes a claim regarding the system of an indoctrinated bias against black people and communities within police departments wherein these communities and their inhabitants are to be seen as thugs and criminals and typically as armed and dangerous.
[iii] Graham A. Cole, Faithful Theology: An Introduction. Eds. Graham A. Cole and Oren R. Martin. (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Books, 2020). 13.
[iv] Matthew Barrett, None Greater: The Undomesticated Attributes of God. (Grand Rapids: Baker Publishing, 2019). 249.
[v] For a fuller explication of the word and theme of “justice” in the Bible and Christian tradition, I highly recommend the video by BibleProject entitled, “Justice.” https://bibleproject.com/explore/justice/. (Last accessed, July 30, 2020). The BibleProject has also released a number of blogs and podcasts further explaining the subject all of which can be found at the same link. The definitive book treatment on the subject, in my estimation is, Nicholas Wolterstorff, Justice: Rights and Wrongs. (Princeton: PUP, 2008). and his follow up, idem. Justice in Love. (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2015).
[vi] For seeing the Roman military as akin to today’s police force see, Esau McCaulley, Reading While Black: African American Biblical Interpretation as an Exercise in Hope. (Downers Grove, IL: IVP Academic, forthcoming 2020). 25-46.
[vii] The Hebrew word, tsadiq, is one that is commonly paired with the Hebrew word for justice that we saw above. It is not unlikely that the use of this word is to spring to mind that the following actions of being faithful, drawing near, saving, and hearing the cry of those in need are acts of justice which come from the righteous character of YHWH.
[viii] Scott McKnight coins the term Christoformity in his book, Pastor Paul. (Grand Rapids: Brazos Press, 2019). He defines the word and concepts as such, “by it [Christoformity] I mean that we are called to be conformed to Christ. Pastors are nurturers of Christoformity in this sense: we are formed by his life, by his death, and by his resurrection and ascension. We are not only to believe the gospel but also to embody it.” p.3.
[ix] See, Esau McCaulley, Reading While Black: African American Biblical Interpretation As An Exercise in Hope. (Downers Grove, IL: IVP Academic, 2020). 99-103. for a brief but brilliant commentary on this narrative and its importance for black identity and acceptance within the Christian Church.
[x] See, Thomas C. Oden, The African Memory of Mark: Reassessing Early Church Tradition. (Downers Grove, IL: IVP Academic, 2011).
[xi] For a good compendium of majority world scholars on multiple aspects of Christian doctrine see, Michael Gorman (ed.), Scripture and its Interpretation: A Global, Ecumenical Introduction to the Bible. (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2017).; and Gene L Green, Stephen T. Pardue, and K.K. Yeo (Eds.), Majority World Theology: Christian Doctrine in Global Context. (Downers Grove, IL: IVP Academic, forthcoming). and the expanding, Missological Engagements Series, edited by Scott Sunquist, Amos Yong, and John Franke. See also, the multiple volumes by Finnish theologian Veli-Matti Kärkäinen whose career has focused on writing in Ecumenical, Global, and Historical dialogues with diverse scholars on many major doctrinal categories of the Christian tradition. For full citations see the bibliography below.
[xii] For an introduction into good, diverse biblical scholarship see the works of Anthony Bradley, M. Daniel Carol, Justo Gonzales, and Esau McCaulley. For a list of specific works by these authors see the bibliography.
[xiii] John Calvin, Institutes 1.1.1
[xiv] For a clear, yet succinct history of one such attempt (the curse of Ham) see, Jemar Tisby, The Color of Compromise: The Truth About the American Church’s Complicity in Racism. (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2019). 82-85.
[xv] For more on this see, Dwight N. Hopkins, Being Human: Race, Culture, and Religion. (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2005). 118-60.; and Tisby, Color of Compromise, 25-39.
[xvi] For more on this see, Richard Lints, Identity and Idolatry: The Image of God and Its Inversion. NSBT. (Downers Grove, IL: IVP Academic, 2015). See also, Marc Cortez, ReSourcing Theological Anthropology: A Constructive Account of Humanity in the Light of Christ. (Grand Rapids: Zondervan Academic, 2018). 99-129.; and Edward M. Curtis, “Image of God (OT).” in The Anchor Yale Bible Dictionary. Edited by David Noel Freedman. (New York: Doubleday, 1992). 3:389-91.
[xvii] While there are many different views on original sin regarding the degree of affect that the first couple and their sin had on the rest of humanity. The dominating position in evangelical Christianity is that of the Augustinian model which holds to a resulting fallen nature and a guilt for their sin which falls on all humans. For more on this and other views see, J.B. Stump and Chad Meister (Eds.), Original Sin and the Fall: Five Views. (Downers Grove, IL: IVP Academic, 2020).
[xviii] For an overview of this history of the major turning points toward individualism (with a particular focus on its effects on notions of personal identity see my own, A Sacramental Anthropology: Finding Who We Are in the Ordinances of the Gathered Body of Christ. (Portland, OR: Western Seminary, Th.M. Thesis, 2020).
[xix] Tim Keller, “A Biblical Critique of Secular Justice and Critical Theory” in Life in the Gospel Q2 (2020). < https://quarterly.gospelinlife.com/a-biblical-critique-of-secular-justice-and critical-theory/>. [Last Accessed, August 5, 2020]
[xx] This can be read about in full in Tisby, Color of Compromise.
[xxi] Keller, “A Biblical Critique".
[xxii] Robert L. Hubbard, Jr. notes that while some believe her approach of “finding favor” might have been based on an ignorance of the law, this would require that she had some other ANE gleaning practice in the back of her mind which would lead her to go out at all. Therefore, it is more likely a caution that comes from a knowledge of reapers and field owners not obeying this law which creates for her reticent approach. The Book of Ruth. NICOT. (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1988). 136-37.
[xxiii] Ibid., 136.
[xxiv] See the work of Thomas S. Kidd, American History. 2-vols. (Nashville: B&H Academic, 2019).; and America’s Religious History: Faith, Politics, and the Shaping of a Nation. (Grand Rapids: Zondervan Academic, 2019).