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When the beliefs of Barack Obama's former pastor, Rev. Jeremiah Wright, assumed the spotlight during the 2008 presidential campaign, the influence of black liberation theology became hotly debated not just within theological circles but across cultural lines. How many of today's African-American congregations-and how many Americans in general-have been shaped by its view o When the beliefs of Barack Obama's former pastor, Rev. Jeremiah Wright, assumed the spotlight during the 2008 presidential campaign, the influence of black liberation theology became hotly debated not just within theological circles but across cultural lines. How many of today's African-American congregations-and how many Americans in general-have been shaped by its view of blacks as perpetual victims of white oppression? In this interdisciplinary, biblical critique of the black experience in America, Anthony Bradley introduces audiences to black liberation theology and its spiritual and social impact. He starts with James Cone's proposition that the "victim" mind-set is inherent within black consciousness. Bradley then explores how such biblical misinterpretation has historically hindered black churches in addressing the diverse issues of their communities and prevented adherents from experiencing the freedoms of the gospel. Yet Liberating Black Theology does more than consider the ramifications of this belief system; it suggests an alternate approach to the black experience that can truly liberate all Christ-followers.


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When the beliefs of Barack Obama's former pastor, Rev. Jeremiah Wright, assumed the spotlight during the 2008 presidential campaign, the influence of black liberation theology became hotly debated not just within theological circles but across cultural lines. How many of today's African-American congregations-and how many Americans in general-have been shaped by its view o When the beliefs of Barack Obama's former pastor, Rev. Jeremiah Wright, assumed the spotlight during the 2008 presidential campaign, the influence of black liberation theology became hotly debated not just within theological circles but across cultural lines. How many of today's African-American congregations-and how many Americans in general-have been shaped by its view of blacks as perpetual victims of white oppression? In this interdisciplinary, biblical critique of the black experience in America, Anthony Bradley introduces audiences to black liberation theology and its spiritual and social impact. He starts with James Cone's proposition that the "victim" mind-set is inherent within black consciousness. Bradley then explores how such biblical misinterpretation has historically hindered black churches in addressing the diverse issues of their communities and prevented adherents from experiencing the freedoms of the gospel. Yet Liberating Black Theology does more than consider the ramifications of this belief system; it suggests an alternate approach to the black experience that can truly liberate all Christ-followers.

30 review for Liberating Black Theology: The Bible and the Black Experience in America

  1. 4 out of 5

    Doug

    This was a surprisingly weak book. Anthony Bradley is normally a good, interesting, and challenging guy. But here, Bradley simply offers a Gnostic reply to an Incarnational challenge. The book gets off to a very weak start. Instead of letting his chief target, liberation theologian James Cone, explain himself in his own categories, Bradley decides to force Cone through the convoluted conservative code word “victimology.” “It is victimology that drives the paradigm for black theology.” This attem This was a surprisingly weak book. Anthony Bradley is normally a good, interesting, and challenging guy. But here, Bradley simply offers a Gnostic reply to an Incarnational challenge. The book gets off to a very weak start. Instead of letting his chief target, liberation theologian James Cone, explain himself in his own categories, Bradley decides to force Cone through the convoluted conservative code word “victimology.” “It is victimology that drives the paradigm for black theology.” This attempt to poison the well looks clumsily defensive, and Bradley seems so untrustworthy of his readers that he has to jump into criticisms even before finishing his exposition. At the very least, we expect Bradley at some point to explain why his criticisms of “victimology” don’t also apply to God’s repeated framing of Israel’s identification as a slave in Egypt. Through the era of kings and prophets, the Lord reminded Israel they came from bondage. Even centuries later, Nehemiah reminded them, “You saw the affliction of our fathers in Egypt, and heard their cry by the Red Sea” (Neh. 9:9). Pathetic victimologist, that Nehemiah. Instead of “victimology,” Cone himself says “Christian theology begins and ends with Jesus Christ. He is the point of departure for everything to be said about God, humankind, and the world” (BTL, 110). Let Cone explain himself. Bradley’s exposition often jumps to extreme characterizations – “the gospel excludes those who stand outside of the reality of poverty and oppression.” Cheap but conservative readers like simplicity like that. One of Bradley’s strangest turns comes during his critique of the Marxist aspects of Cone and Cornel West’s theologies. Bradley’s repeated refrain is that these liberation theologians failed because they didn’t read Marx carefully enough. They aren’t Marxist enough. That’s where he leaves it. Just trivial and helpful. Throughout, Bradley relies heavily on conservative-favorite-free-marketeer Thomas Sowell to do the main work, though Sowell’s own exposition of Marx has even been belittled by other free marketers. Bradley repeatedly and rightly chides Cone and West’s sometime use of Marx for assuming “a set of presuppositions grounded in human autonomy” rather than “a Christian, biblical vision of human community.” Yet, most ironically, Bradley has used Thomas Sowell to counter them. But Sowell’s methodology, of course, comes out of the same secular, Enlightenment world as Marx’s. Sowell doesn’t argue from Christ or the Trinity or Scirpture in developing his economics. It’s just more secular autonomy. Christian conservatives fawn over Sowell, though. But why rebuke the liberation theologians for syncretism while using the methodologies of Adam Smith, Ricardo, Hayek, Friedman, Von Mises, etc? Each side baptizes their own Enlightenment priests. Pox all. Bradley’s Reformation Gnosticism comes out in his closing section on the cure for liberation theologies. Tellingly, the header for this section is purely intellectual: “Essential Presuppositions for a New Black Theology.” Bradley goes on to suggest that what Black theology really needs are simply Reformation ideas to fix everything. Ironically, of course, those same ideas were used for a long time to keep Black Americans enslaved and powerless. We don’t get much argument in this section. It’s merely a holding up of two paradigms, one Christocentric and one Reformation-centric. Bradley recommends we choose the Reformation-centric ideas. And Reformation-centric people nod their heads, never really grappling with opposing views. That’s the unsatisfying way most of these cross-paradigm discussions go. Rah for my team. In contrast, instead of just preaching to his choir, it would have been helpful for Bradley to try and offer, say, a biblical critique of the Christocentrism he opposes. And instead of just making bizarre assertions like, “the liberation motif is biblically flawed because ‘God is not represented in the Bible as one who releases slaves,’” try to undermine the piles of Scripture that assert the opposite. How redundant must God get? Instead of just asserting that social sin always reduces to individual sin (blaming the Hobbits for Mordor), try a biblical argument for that. It’s not as obvious as he might think. Instead of just asserting that the gospel and social action are two different things, try and prove that. For all their failings, the theologians Bradley opposes offer many more biblical arguments that Bradley could have evaluated. In the final sections, Bradley keeps reiterating that Black liberation theology is dead, dead, dead. In fact, he says, it was dead from the start. If so, why write a book about it? Do we write books and go on the news to refute dead things? This is just disingenuity. Of course, these biblical themes have come back into evangelicalism with great power and biblical grounding. Bradley knows this, and he continues to fight it in other contexts. It’s a discussion that won’t go away because it’s just about the beatitudes, the gospel. Again, I’m a fan of Anthony Bradley. This just wasn’t his best.

  2. 5 out of 5

    John

    There are several reasons to love this book. Let me give a few: 1 - Bradley doesn’t critique simply the outward failures of Black Theology – its Marxism, its failure to speak to contemporary economic realities of blacks in America, misguided biblical interpretations, etc – but he critiques the presuppositions of the movement. From the very beginning of the book, Bradley begins his critique by examining Black Theology in light historical Christian Orthodoxy. He begins with their doctrine God, Scri There are several reasons to love this book. Let me give a few: 1 - Bradley doesn’t critique simply the outward failures of Black Theology – its Marxism, its failure to speak to contemporary economic realities of blacks in America, misguided biblical interpretations, etc – but he critiques the presuppositions of the movement. From the very beginning of the book, Bradley begins his critique by examining Black Theology in light historical Christian Orthodoxy. He begins with their doctrine God, Scripture, sin and human history. Make no mistake, Bradley’s argument is that Black Theology fails, not primarily because its does not deliver on what it promises, but because it is decidedly unbiblical and unchristian. 2 - Bradley doesn’t cover and critique the extremes examples of Black Theology. He explains the nuances in differing perspectives of Black Theology in the last thirty years and where evangelical Christians ought to be sympathetic. While he is narrow in his focus – primarily focussing his attention on James Cone and Cornel West – he gives the context and influences that inform the movement as a whole. The reader gains the vantage point of why certain authors and theologians say and write what they do, instead of simply gawking at their remarks. 3 - Because of the nature of Bradley’s critique (beginning with their unbiblical presuppositions), the reader is equipped to engage at a more than superficial level. He displays, convincingly, how other critiques of Black Theology have failed and sufficiently informs his readers how not to make the same mistakes. I’m very grateful for Anthony Bradley’s unique book. Its a good lesson on how to not only to engage with Black and Liberation Theology, but with any theological system. Students and pastors should take note. This book deserves some significant attention.

  3. 5 out of 5

    Wesley

    I recently just finished Liberating Black Theology: The Bible and the Black Experience in America by Anthony B. Bradley. I must admit, it took me a bit longer to finish than most books of its size. Not because it was dense but because I found so many glaring issues with both the substance and the form of Bradley's argument. You see, the book is Bradley offering thoughts from his "orthodox" Presbyterian perspective on Black Liberation Theology (while he does talk about some of the second generati I recently just finished Liberating Black Theology: The Bible and the Black Experience in America by Anthony B. Bradley. I must admit, it took me a bit longer to finish than most books of its size. Not because it was dense but because I found so many glaring issues with both the substance and the form of Bradley's argument. You see, the book is Bradley offering thoughts from his "orthodox" Presbyterian perspective on Black Liberation Theology (while he does talk about some of the second generation Black Liberation Theologians, he is mainly attacking the teachings of James Cone who is considered the founder of this theological system so when I use the term Conian it is synonymous with Black Liberation Theology for our purposes). Bradley gives a detailed explanation and critique of Cone's ideas and presents an alternative view on the intersection race and theology. While Bradley does make some decent points and gives Black Liberation Theologians a few helpful suggestions, overall I was not impressed with the book and I would only recommend it to someone who is fluent in the work of Cone since Bradley has a tendency to skew his teachings to earn points with conservatives. The main contribution Bradley makes is to remind Black Liberation Theologians of the importance of being anchored in a larger theological framework. After all "The concept of justice is drawn from the Scripture's teaching regarding the redemptive mission of God. Since God is personal and conscious, every mode of his self-disclosure is a faultless expression of his nature and purpose for human life" (Bradley, 189). This is a bit of a pet peeve I have with Cone actually. I agree with Bradley on the importance of having a meta-framework it's something Cone could definitely improve on it. However, it's not entirely absent from his work, it's just silently implicit. You can find strands of what I believe is a more orthodox articulation of the faith in Cone, you just have to look very hard and remember that his main point isn't to make those connections for us, it's to apply his theology to the world as we know it. I just simply disagree with Bradley on the particular framework he believes we should use when analyzing race. Bradley is very Presbyterian making him critical of theology which falls outside of a strict penal substitutionary view of the atonement (I wrote a post a while back about the problems with penal substitution). He says: The atonement needs to be recovered in its historic definition. Womanist theologians, for example, argue that the cross does not represent substitutionary atonement but rather represents the evil response of human principalities and powers to Jesus who came to demonstrate an example of how to live a holistic life. In general, black liberation theologians only offer a sociocultural interpretation of the atonement. Fields is quick to point out that while the atonement does have social implications, Christ's work on the cross is a manifestation of power and is the source for the hope of overcoming all sins in human life, personal and social alike. (173) Now part of this can be true. It is possible, as I admitted before, for black theologians to overemphasize the subjective, sociocultural approach at the expense of an objective theological framework. However, I don't think that means penal substitution should be the measure considering it really wasn't officially articulated in the Church until Anselm in the 1100's and wasn't popularized until Calvin and the Reformation (check out the masterpiece Christus Victor by Gustaf Aulen for more on the historical theology of the atonement). Personally I advocate the Christus Victor approach (see my post linked above), the orthodox view of the Church. I believe this view has the ability to work with a Conian theology, at least to a certain extent. In fact, I believe Cone implicitly advocates a form of it in his book The Spirituals and the Blues: Sin is related to death and Satan. To deny Christ is to accept Satan; and to follow Satan is to live according to sin which can only lead to death and eternal damnation…While sin is related to death and Satan, it is not identical with either concept. Sin is also a universal concept that defines the human condition as separation from God. If God is known as the liberator of the oppressed from bondage, and Jesus is God’s Son who is still present today, then the ‘Sinner Man’ [Satan] is everyone who is in need of divine liberation….Sin is that concept that expresses human alienation from God. It means that the creature is not what the Creator intends…Through Jesus Christ’s death and resurrection, the power of sin was conquered. Satan was defeated and thus no one has to fear death anymore. People are now free to live according to God’s manifestation of his active liberation in the present and his promise of ultimate liberation in the future. This truth was expressed in song: ‘The Lord’s been here and blessed my soul’ and ‘I ain’t goin’ lay my religion down.’…The concept of sin was also used to refer to persons who disregarded the saving event of Jesus on the cross. (74-75; emphasis added) There are two advantages to a more explicit connection between Christus Victor and Black Liberation Theology. First, it avoids Cone's tendency to use ultra-subjective readings which ruin any message of objectivity while leaving room for flexibility in application at the same time to specifically address issues of race. It takes the original intent of the authors and the overarching theme of salvation history seriously without discarding liberatory-themed theology. It also gives Christians the ability to critique social structures as inherently unjust becuase they belong to Satan, the prince of this world (a complaint Cone brings when he claims white theology doesn't have the ability to analyze these structures, hence his use of Marxist analysis as a tool to build his theology). Secondly, this plugs the black Christian community into the mainstream of the Early Church which hadn't been tainted by the totalizing forces of white supremacy and capitalism. Cone's theology is based on the idea that to be black is to occupy a social position in America that is kept outside of mainstream white Civil Society. As Yumi Pak says, in her doctoral dissertation "Outside Relationality: Autobiographical Deformations and the Literary Lineage of Afro-Pessimism in 20th and 21st Century African American Literature": ...black life is not social...in the universe formed by the codes of state and civil society, of citizen and subject, of nation and culture, of people and place of history and heritage of all the things that colonial society has in common with the colonized, of all that capital has in common with labor - the modern world system. Black life is not lived in the world that the world lives in, but it is lived underground, in outer space...Black life, then, lives on as death, as outside. (12-14) If this is true, communion with the Early Church can be a way to circumvent their positionality in civil society. The black community can continue to live outside but it doesn't have to live alone. There are a few other issues with Bradley's work I want to point out. First, either Bradley's understanding of race scholars is off or he blatantly ad homs them to appeal to his conservative readers (it should be reminded that Bradley has done some writing for Glen Beck to bash Liberation Theology). This flaw is all over his writing: The thesis is that James Cone's presupposition of black consciousness construed as victim supplies a fundamentally flawed theological anthropology for later developments in black liberation theology, leading to the demise of black liberation theology. In other words, reducing black identity primarily to that of victim, albeit at times inadvertent, contributed to the decline of black liberation to obscurity (that is, until Barack Obama ran for president). Bradley's claim that being black is an identity is wrong, at least in the way Cone and other scholars like him use it. According to the Pak quote above, being black is a social position located outside of the norm of mainstream, white civil society. What does that mean exactly? A good example of this in history is the black church. It's a safe place for black people to build a community but it's always on the outside because it isn't accepted by the dominant, "mainline" American church. The other aspect of this that becomes problematic for Bradley is his almost derogatory accusation of Black Liberation Theologians playing the "victim card": Focusing on one's victimhood often addresses a moral desire--it is a salve for insecurity. McWhorter maintains that many blacks are rarely able to see racial issues outside of the victomologist milieu and are trapped into reasoning racially in terms of the permanent subjugation of blacks by whites. He concludes that holding so tightly to the remnants of discrimination often creates more problems than it solves. McWhorter goes on to explain that victimology often perpetuates racial tension. Blacks are encouraged by one another to 'know your history.' The communicative function of said mantra is not aimed toward knowledge per se but toward remembering oppression and iniquity so it does not happen again. The irony of victimology is its tendency toward revisionist histories and creating an ethos that, a hundred years ago, would have precluded racial equality. Victimology, in other words, is perpetuating problems for black America, not solving them. (20) The problem here is twofold. 1) There aren't really impacts to the claim. Sure, Bradley says that victimology perpetuates the problem, yet he doesn't give sufficient evidence to prove it. It seems circular logic: Talking about A causes A. Bradley is maintaining that merely claiming to be the victims of an oppressive system (which from data, we know absolutely exists) is what causes that system to exist in the first place. By making it a negative thing to call out racism is to play into existing power structures. It is to overlook all of the perpetual, systematic evils of the society in which one participates. If silence is complicity, Bradley proves himself to be quite content with the status quo. You can go here to read my post about the vital importance of maintaining a racially aware approach to Christianity. I want to follow the example of Christ as desperately as a starving person goes after food and a large part of that has to mean standing with marginalized communities and I doubt Bradley's system is capable of doing that in a legitimate and meaningful way. 2) It's almost ironic because Bradley calls out "revisionist histories" adopted by Black Liberation Theologians when in reality, it is he who has to redact the historical narrative in order to make a solid case. You see, calling a "progressive" (I use that word because it's what conservatives call it, see the Dinesh D'Souza post) historical account "revisionist" is really a label conservatives throw around when they are incapable of answering the facts about the violence which makes up American history (also, I should be clear, there's no such thing as "liberal" and "conservative" history, it either happened or it didn't so perhaps better categories would be "true" and "false"). Also, it should be noted that Bradley really fails to tell us which part of the narrative Black Liberation Theologians are editing to fit their message without citing specific claims, it makes it very ambiguous and nothing more than an unwarranted assertion (again, I suspect that this was a move to earn brownie points from his conservative audience). In order to defend the "traditional" narrative of American history, he has to forget the Africans who were loaded on to slave ships, a process which made them become "black," the antithesis of human in white Civil Society. He has to forget the erasure of native African culture by the stripping away of the slaves' names, religions, families, language, and dignity. He has to forget about the seas of white lynch mobs, the black bodies swinging from the trees and the blood on the leaves. He has to forget the massive wealth inequality between white and black. He has to forget the Rodney King beating. He has to forget the murder of Trayvon Martin. There's a lot more I could say about Liberating Black Theology but I think this will do it for today. Again, it wasn't a very insightful book and I definitely do not recommend it unless you want to see how an evangelical would respond to some of Cone's arguments but I would read Cone first or else you are at Bradley's mercy to contextualize the conversation. Stars: 2 out of 5.

  4. 5 out of 5

    John

    Those who lived through the Civil Rights Movement in the 50s and 60s would be surprised by the current tensions between black and white America. Whether the analysis is fair or not, the past two elections have been analyzed in this light, as the division of America around progressive and conservative impulses around issues of race. Beyond the biblical call, then, for us to tear down the “dividing wall of hostility” and to be directed toward the multi-ethnic community of worshipers that awaits us Those who lived through the Civil Rights Movement in the 50s and 60s would be surprised by the current tensions between black and white America. Whether the analysis is fair or not, the past two elections have been analyzed in this light, as the division of America around progressive and conservative impulses around issues of race. Beyond the biblical call, then, for us to tear down the “dividing wall of hostility” and to be directed toward the multi-ethnic community of worshipers that awaits us in the new heavens and the new earth, there is also the pressing reality that we need to do a better job of bridging the current fractures not just in America, but in the church herself. We need to listen and understand one another better. I had never heard the name James Cone before my time at Princeton Theological Seminary. Behind the towering figure of Karl Barth and perhaps John Calvin and Lesslie Newbigin, James Cone was the most frequently invoked figure in my classes. Bradley, who comes from a classically reformed perspective seeks to introduce us to Cone and Black Theology writ large, and then provide a critique. The primary figures that Bradley deals with are James Cone and Cornell West and their two primary influences: Karl Marx and Ludwig Feuerbach. Disappointed with his decidedly white theological education, whose primary American figures were not only white, but also apparently blind to the plight of black America, Cone sought to construct a theology that reflected God’s privileging for the oppressed that he saw in God’s relationship with Israel. God’s purpose is “to free human beings from political and economic oppression,” Cone asserts. People are poor because they are victims. Cone questioned whether such white theology was capable of developing such a perspective: “Is racism so deeply embedded in Euro-American history and culture that it is impossible to do theology without being anti-black?” It was white theologians, who, using traditional interpretive methods to teach slaves that they were cursed as an extension of the curse of Ham (Genesis 9:25), dehumanizing blacks for generations.. Meanwhile, Cone says, every word recorded in the Bible was written under a certain oppression, whether Egyptian, Assyrian, Persian, Greek, Roman, or Babylonian. Cone attacked capitalism itself, which he saw as a tool of oppression. Marx heavily influenced his thinking, using Marxist class analysis and calling for black control of the means of production (something, Bradley points out, Marx himself would have rejected). While accepting many of the critiques of Cone and black theologians, Bradley points out significant errors in their thinking. A fundamental error is that in borrowing Marxism, black theologians are left without an anthropology and thus over-correct. While white American theology tended to diminish systemic, cultural, and institutional sin, black theology doesn’t have an anthropology that allows for personal sin. Sin is only institutional and structural. The primary anthropology becomes an anthropology of victimhood, which hamstrings not only the theological system, but the adherents themselves. Additionally, black theologians have co-opted Marx without appropriate reflection. If Jonathan Edwards is discredited because he owned a slave, shouldn’t Marx be similarly discredited for endorsing certain types of slavery? And if “Black theologians argue that only those who have been poor and oppressed can speak accurately for the poor and oppressed,” what of the fact that “Karl Marx was born and raised in a context of affluence?” Not to mention the fact that black theologians themselves “are just as disconnected from the oppressed as many white theologians”? Additionally, Bradley asks the pointed question, “How are Afro-centric absolutist interpretations different from a white, Eurocentric oppressive one in terms of accurately understanding and applying the biblical text?” If the Bible only applies to black experience, what authority does the Bible truly have? And what grounds that authority? We can’t, then, throw out white American theology, as a whole, argues Bradley: “abuse does not negate proper use.” The way out is to contextualize properly, using exegesis to “illumine transcultural truth.” To find solid ground, Bradley suggests, black theology needs to recover: 1) a theology of atonement; 2) a biblical anthropology; 3) a doctrine of salvation.” Bradley’s volume is an adaptation of his dissertation and as such is not an easy read, but for the patient reader, it is an excellent and illuminating resource. Bradley is thoughtful and fair and no matter your theological convictions, you will stand to benefit from his wise guidance.

  5. 5 out of 5

    Tyler Brown

    I read this book to help me write a paper in seminary evaluating black liberation theology. This book grew out of Dr. Bradley's dissertation at Westminster Theological Seminary. I agree with his main thesis, that BLT goes wrong fundamentally with its anthropology: it starts with the concept of victim/oppressed and builds its theology from there. This makes its trajectory unstable. Dr. Bradley does a great job summarizing the beliefs of Cone (although this was published before Cone's final book, I read this book to help me write a paper in seminary evaluating black liberation theology. This book grew out of Dr. Bradley's dissertation at Westminster Theological Seminary. I agree with his main thesis, that BLT goes wrong fundamentally with its anthropology: it starts with the concept of victim/oppressed and builds its theology from there. This makes its trajectory unstable. Dr. Bradley does a great job summarizing the beliefs of Cone (although this was published before Cone's final book, the Cross & the Lynching Tree). Some might find this book less persuasive because Bradley's orthodox contrast to BLT is the major Reformed thinkers (Vos, Bavinck, Berkhof, etc.) not what he calls the "mainstream black church." I was skeptical of the chapter on Marxism. He largely rehashes Thomas Sowell's criticism, that BLT misreads Marx. I have never read Sowell but he seems to be the token conservative black voice in the way many cite him and, the fact that BLT misreads Marx doesn't seem to mean much: are the ideas valid or not? The last two chapters were the most helpful. Dr. Bradley's positive case of a biblical approach to justice was helpful and convicting!

  6. 5 out of 5

    Ellen

    A better title for this book would be “Scourging Liberation Theology” as it delivers theological critique with the calculated coolness that ironically birthed liberation theology in the first place. With little emphasis (until the last chapter, and even then weakly) upon empathy or acknowledgement of grievances, this theological take-down calls into question the scholarship of liberation theology as uniquely heretical and doomed. This book needs an editor who helps the author eliminate repetition, A better title for this book would be “Scourging Liberation Theology” as it delivers theological critique with the calculated coolness that ironically birthed liberation theology in the first place. With little emphasis (until the last chapter, and even then weakly) upon empathy or acknowledgement of grievances, this theological take-down calls into question the scholarship of liberation theology as uniquely heretical and doomed. This book needs an editor who helps the author eliminate repetition, incorporate humility, and elucidate examples of theological “victimology” outside the black experience (thus preventing this critique from underscoring racist biases). On a positive note, I appreciated the breadth of primary source inclusion. This book was quite informative in its overview of black liberation theology; but I kept having to overlook the author’s patronizing tone in order to glean helpful information.

  7. 5 out of 5

    Drew

    I had an odd experience of agreeing with most of the author’s conclusions but not appreciating how he reached many of them. I like Sowell and McWhorter but they feel out of place in this volume. The last chapter is the strongest. It is mostly focused on Cone as the fount of all black theology, and is thoroughly (overly) Reformed in its critique. Would have benefited from engaging Roman Catholic critiques of Liberation Theology.

  8. 5 out of 5

    Michael Philliber

    It was bound to happen. It was Black History Month, I had just gone to a Martin Luther King Jr. memorial service, and then attended my quarterly Presbytery meeting where my denomination is presently in the topsy-turvy toils of hammering out how to pursue racial reconciliation. So there I was at a Lifeway bookstore looking for commentaries on Proverbs to help with a new sermon series when I turned around and saw it, squeezed in tight between other books on pastoral issues. I thought to myself, “W It was bound to happen. It was Black History Month, I had just gone to a Martin Luther King Jr. memorial service, and then attended my quarterly Presbytery meeting where my denomination is presently in the topsy-turvy toils of hammering out how to pursue racial reconciliation. So there I was at a Lifeway bookstore looking for commentaries on Proverbs to help with a new sermon series when I turned around and saw it, squeezed in tight between other books on pastoral issues. I thought to myself, “Well, I’ve never read this fellow, but the book looks perfect for this month,” and snatched up a copy of “Liberating Black Theology: The Bible and the Black Experience in America.” This 208 page paperback is written by Anthony B. Bradley, associate professor of theology and ethics at The King's College, Research Fellow for the Acton Institute for the Study of Religion and Liberty, and a commentator on current issues for major broadcast media to include NPR and CNN/Headline News, and is for thoughtful adults, pastors, historians of Black History in America and theologians. “Liberating Black Theology” is meant to be an introductory foray into black liberation theology, teasing out many of its clear ideas and some of its subtle nuances. Bradley’s evident focus is “on the role that victimology has played in the rise and fall of black liberation theology” and that this view of perpetual victim is its “major flaw” (14). The author unpacks, in five out of his six chapters, how this starting assumption of victimhood has played out in, on the one hand, adopting Marxism as an ethical framework in black liberation theology, and on the other hand, fostered an “ever-greater separation from the Scriptures as well as from the mainstream black church” (189). The historical and ideological study between the covers of this book is helpfully clarifying for all who are involved in making headway in the areas of Biblical justice and racial resolution within Christ’s Church. Though Bradley brings out helpful correctives all the way through the book, it’s in the sixth chapter that he pointedly maps out the way forward, “Is There a Future for Black Liberation Theology?” Here is a plan that “is not grounded in a victimized black identity but is grounded in the necessary trajectory of God’s redemptive mission” (180). The author sketches out five areas that are essential to moving black liberation theology back onto a solid foundation that will enrich the whole of Christ’s Church, and bless the black church in America. The starting point is to return to the absolute of the Trinity, and then to embrace unequivocal place of the primacy of biblical authority. Next, flowing from the first two items is to reaffirm human dignity that is substantiated by our being created in the image of God, instead of race. Bradley moves on and points to the importance of rediscovering the balanced biblical doctrine of sin, which is both personal and social. And finally, formatting the concept of justice that is in keeping with the bigger story of God’s redemptive mission, because social action “and evangelism are works of the church in the world. But social justice issues, while vital, do not constitute the totality of what God intends for a covenantal relationship with his people and his world” (189-90). What a way to spend most of Black History Month, to be reading “Liberating Black Theology” written by an African-American thinker and theologian! This book is essential reading by denominational movers and shakers who want to help their denominations make godly, wholesome strides in racial reconciliation; for black and African theologians and pastors who desire to fortify their people; as well as Anglo and Hispanic and Asian theologians and pastors! This introductory work on the subject could well become a sound and solid entry point for better ways of thinking and acting on ethnicity in the church, and race within society. I warmly commend this book!

  9. 5 out of 5

    Jonathan

    Chapter 5 was the best. 6 was good too, but it could’ve been better if he had expounded more on application. The chapters on Marx and Black Liberation Theologians, especially James Cone and Cornel West, seemed a bit messy at times. But I’ve never read Marx or West and I’ve only read one book by Cone, so take my sentiment with that qualification. Maybe I should summarize my reading of his argument: Black Liberation Theology fails in two, maybe three ways, 1. It misunderstands and misapplies Marx/Mar Chapter 5 was the best. 6 was good too, but it could’ve been better if he had expounded more on application. The chapters on Marx and Black Liberation Theologians, especially James Cone and Cornel West, seemed a bit messy at times. But I’ve never read Marx or West and I’ve only read one book by Cone, so take my sentiment with that qualification. Maybe I should summarize my reading of his argument: Black Liberation Theology fails in two, maybe three ways, 1. It misunderstands and misapplies Marx/Marxist thought. 2. It severs itself from the authority of scripture and makes personal experience authoritative. (Black Liberation Theology grounds its authority in the black experience of suffering and in Jesus’ identification with that suffering as Liberator). 3. Therefore, it ultimately fails to truly liberate blacks, either relationally between man and man, but also between God and man (Black Liberation Theology generally discards substitutionary atonement or the need for that and it generally discards a personal dimension of sin). He proposes, very concisely, that: 1. We should not nor do we need to throw out traditional/orthodox understandings of Christianity. 2. We can apply a cultural hermeneutic through contextualization of the Word of God in diverse cultures, while maintaining an objective/transcendent understanding of God’s word. God’s word is transcultural. 3. By applying the unique experiences of the Black community in America a Black Theology can be resurrected, allowing another way to look at Gods Word, but at different angles, with different expressions, different emphases, rooted in a shared understanding of God’s word. I’m definitely skipping particulars here, and perhaps I’ve misunderstood some of what I’ve read, so read the book yourself! :)

  10. 5 out of 5

    Brandon Wilkins

    In this book Anthony Bradley critiques black liberation theology, specially the work of James Cone. For context, Anthony Bradley is a black, Reformed Christian. The book essentially breaks down into three parts: first, analyzing black liberation theology, secondly evaluating black liberation theology, and thirdly offering a better way for black Christians. I would guess that the target audience of this book would be black Christians who may feel sympathy for black liberation theology. Bradley does In this book Anthony Bradley critiques black liberation theology, specially the work of James Cone. For context, Anthony Bradley is a black, Reformed Christian. The book essentially breaks down into three parts: first, analyzing black liberation theology, secondly evaluating black liberation theology, and thirdly offering a better way for black Christians. I would guess that the target audience of this book would be black Christians who may feel sympathy for black liberation theology. Bradley does a good job of showing some fundamental problems with it, and offering an alternative. But I would say this book is, secondarily, valuable to white Christians who have bought into the idea that any and all concern about systemic racism today is just Marxist political theory. The reason I say the book would be valuable to this group is that Bradley offers a detailed critique of black liberation theology and its dependence on Marxism. Bradley does not like Marxist theory, and he tells you why! He even readily uses Thomas Sowell's work to do this! But where the book lands is not on saying, "and therefore all concerns about oppression and racism in America today are wrong," but by showing a better Reformed, evangelical hermeneutic--a "culturally applied hermeneutic"--to speak to those problems. Essentially this book shows: even if black liberation theology is errant, it did still perceive accurately real race-related problems in America that Christians ought to speak to, and here's a better hermeneutic and theology to do it with it (classical Christian theology) . Pretty heady in places. Felt a bit long too. May be interesting to some.

  11. 4 out of 5

    Zachary Lawson

    I read this book as a way of easing into Black Liberation Theology as Bradley comes from a similar theological background as myself. So, I’m not able to deeply assess how well he engages with the primary material. Bradley is clearly sympathetic to black theology, outlining the core contributions and deficiencies. Ultimately, Bradley’s thesis is that black liberation theology is dead because it evaporates the saving power of the Gospel. Rather than erecting a new theology independent of the Chris I read this book as a way of easing into Black Liberation Theology as Bradley comes from a similar theological background as myself. So, I’m not able to deeply assess how well he engages with the primary material. Bradley is clearly sympathetic to black theology, outlining the core contributions and deficiencies. Ultimately, Bradley’s thesis is that black liberation theology is dead because it evaporates the saving power of the Gospel. Rather than erecting a new theology independent of the Christian tradition, Bradley argues that black theology should start with the foundation of core, orthodox, (conservative evangelical) theology and contextualize the Gospel to black experience. As a book, the content is a bit thin, finding it difficult to stretch to 200 pages. Some sections are repeated verbatim and there are numerous extended quotes. I found this disappointing as the core insights could probably be condensed to about 50 pages. Additionally, Bradley is largely deferential to Kuyper, Bavinck, and Berkhof for defining orthodox theology. While I personally agree, I think more original/independent argument should have been made for the boundaries of orthodoxy. In sum, 3.8/5 on the content, 2.5/5 on the presentation. Okay intro, decent footnote archive.

  12. 4 out of 5

    Nancy DeValve

    I'm not a theologian, so this book was a bit of a tough slog for me. It read a lot like a text book. However, I did learn new things from reading this book, so thanks to Dr Bradley for that! I found the last two chapters most helpful and personally wished he had spent more time on those. Also, I noticed the book was published in 2010 and 10 years later, I wonder if Dr Bradley would have a different take on "black liberation theology is dead". Because while it may or may not be dead in black chur I'm not a theologian, so this book was a bit of a tough slog for me. It read a lot like a text book. However, I did learn new things from reading this book, so thanks to Dr Bradley for that! I found the last two chapters most helpful and personally wished he had spent more time on those. Also, I noticed the book was published in 2010 and 10 years later, I wonder if Dr Bradley would have a different take on "black liberation theology is dead". Because while it may or may not be dead in black churches, it seems to me that it has taken on new life in society as a whole. It seems to have spoken into much of what is being proposed today. I do hope that black theologians take up his challenge to be creating a black theology that is both biblically sound and which speaks to African-American society and I do hope that white theologians will use those writings to inform their own thinking. I think that if nothing else, in the past 20 years more of us have woken up to the fact that there is systemic racism, a sinful system resulting from the opinions and oppression of sinful individuals. May we work more and more to be both righteous and just towards all peoples and towards the African American community in particular.

  13. 5 out of 5

    Jeremy

    Bradley does a great job reviewing Cone and other stalwarts of black liberation theology for neophytes like me. He also summarizes the views of its critics and where they fall short. My favorite part of the work was the final chapter in which he presents a way forward for black liberation theology. Bradley is careful to point out that liberation theology does not represent all black theology, so we are better informed as readers as to what he is critiquing. This was not a light summer read, but Bradley does a great job reviewing Cone and other stalwarts of black liberation theology for neophytes like me. He also summarizes the views of its critics and where they fall short. My favorite part of the work was the final chapter in which he presents a way forward for black liberation theology. Bradley is careful to point out that liberation theology does not represent all black theology, so we are better informed as readers as to what he is critiquing. This was not a light summer read, but full of serious scholarship. It would be a good go-to for someone trying to understand the relationship between Marxism and liberation theology, even if they don't share Bradley's theological convictions.

  14. 4 out of 5

    Tiffany

    I hadn't really heard of black liberation theology as a movement before reading this book though I recognize the messaging associated with it as summarized in the book. I found the book difficult to work through as it seemed to fluctuate between a rather repetitive critical analysis on black liberation theology and a historical account of the movement. Thrown in for good measures is a primer on the principles of hermeneutics. Only near the end is there a mention of the plight of African American I hadn't really heard of black liberation theology as a movement before reading this book though I recognize the messaging associated with it as summarized in the book. I found the book difficult to work through as it seemed to fluctuate between a rather repetitive critical analysis on black liberation theology and a historical account of the movement. Thrown in for good measures is a primer on the principles of hermeneutics. Only near the end is there a mention of the plight of African American churches and what's need to move forward spiritually. Though difficult to process, it was enlightening in that it highlighted the issue with viewing theology through a victimology mindset and a social justice lens. I was quite concerned to learn of the move away from Scripture as the infallible, authoritative Word of God and rule of faith and live. Equally as troubling is the removal of the notion of personal sin and the need for repentance. I didn't appreciate the gulf that has emerged over the past few decades and how polarizing it has been in pitting those who stay steadfastly anchored to biblical Christianity and those who ascribe to a black power movement grounded in liberation theology.

  15. 4 out of 5

    Jeff

    I'm disappointed I didn't read this book sooner! Bradley provides a very helpful walk through the history and development of black liberation theology, particularly concerning the presupposition of black victimology and the theology's (deficient) borrowing of Marxist categories. I was repeatedly exclaiming "Yes!" and "Amen!" throughout his concluding section, "Essential Presuppositions For A New Black Theology." Black theology would indeed be liberated if future endeavors followed Bradley's pres I'm disappointed I didn't read this book sooner! Bradley provides a very helpful walk through the history and development of black liberation theology, particularly concerning the presupposition of black victimology and the theology's (deficient) borrowing of Marxist categories. I was repeatedly exclaiming "Yes!" and "Amen!" throughout his concluding section, "Essential Presuppositions For A New Black Theology." Black theology would indeed be liberated if future endeavors followed Bradley's prescriptions.

  16. 5 out of 5

    Daniel

    I enjoyed this read. It makes me want to read both more of Bradley's works and more on black theology. Going into this book, I had little knowledge of the nuances of black theology. I think that Bradley does a good job detailing the good and bad of this theology and what it should do moving forward. It makes me want to read more of Cone and what current black theology scholars have to say on the subject. I would recommend this book, but not as a first read for the subject. I enjoyed this read. It makes me want to read both more of Bradley's works and more on black theology. Going into this book, I had little knowledge of the nuances of black theology. I think that Bradley does a good job detailing the good and bad of this theology and what it should do moving forward. It makes me want to read more of Cone and what current black theology scholars have to say on the subject. I would recommend this book, but not as a first read for the subject.

  17. 4 out of 5

    Judson Marvel

    Very helpful dialogue between Cone and Bradley to understand the emphases of black liberation theology. Bradley demonstrates the unique contribution of Marxist thought. He concludes by calling black theology to a grounding in Scripture, a biblical understanding of humanity, and justice.

  18. 4 out of 5

    Mark Mcconnell

    Dr. Bradley explains why black liberation theology has good reasons for existing and yet fails as a response. His survey is credible and informative. But, reading about the various ways in which a dead end goes nowhere can be exhausting, even though the author succeeds in the purpose of his book.

  19. 4 out of 5

    Josh

    A helpful critique of black liberationist theology. Reads at places like a reworked PhD dissertation (which, I believe, it is), so expect a bit of academic dryness at times.

  20. 4 out of 5

    A.J. Jr.

    This is an important, well-written, and well-organized book. Required reading.

  21. 4 out of 5

    Rob

    Detailed, thorough analysis; Bradley method is a primer on how to assess a theological perspective. He also gives an excellent explanation of and demonstration of the concept of hermeneutics.

  22. 5 out of 5

    HCC

    Wish I had read this book closer to the time of its publication. Helpful historically; pretty academic writing (with expected pros/cons of that style).

  23. 5 out of 5

    Jonathan Latshaw

    Informative but rather dull.

  24. 4 out of 5

    Shane Saxon

    I picked up Liberating Black Theology because of its author Anthony Bradley. Oddly enough, I came to know of Dr. Bradley through his social media presence. He has an effective and helpful voice on Twitter and Facebook which I have come to respect and enjoy. A Presbyterian professor at King’s College, Dr. Bradley shapes the thinking of thousands on a daily basis through insightful social commentary via social media. This book was stretching for me. I knew nothing of black theology before I read I picked up Liberating Black Theology because of its author Anthony Bradley. Oddly enough, I came to know of Dr. Bradley through his social media presence. He has an effective and helpful voice on Twitter and Facebook which I have come to respect and enjoy. A Presbyterian professor at King’s College, Dr. Bradley shapes the thinking of thousands on a daily basis through insightful social commentary via social media. This book was stretching for me. I knew nothing of black theology before I read the book, but I thoroughly enjoyed this clear and helpful critique of black liberation theology. Essentially, Dr. Bradley showed that black theology goes awry from the first step. James Cone, the father of modern black theology, defined black man as a victim. Every black man, according to Cone, is a victim and this defines his existence. Blackness does not always have to coincide with race. Rather, blackness describes ones status as a victim. Whiteness, then, is one’s position as an oppressor. Conian anthropology, which posits that black man is a victim, coupled with a Barthian hermeneutic leads to a complete abandonment of orthodox Christianity and what Bradley shows is a useless theology. The Barthian black hermeneutic is flawed on two fronts. First, the hermeneutic takes a reader-oriented approach to literary criticism. So, the existential circumstance of the reader determines the meaning of the text. This coincides with Cone’s view that all black man experience suffering. So, all black men reading the Bible will derive meaning only in relation to their suffering as oppressed black people. This view of the text couples with the Barthian view that revelation from God extends from Jesus Christ. Although, certainly one can glean revelation from Jesus Christ, there are definitely other ways of knowing God (i.e. general revelation). Since the black man interprets Jesus Christ’s life and words from the perspective of one who is oppressed, then Jesus Christ is seen as the ultimate symbol of liberation. From these building blocks flows the message of black theology that the greatest glory of God is the liberation of the oppressed. Bradley skillfully exposes the poor presuppositions which result in this theological system and carefully shows the strength of orthodox presuppositions. However, he does not stop there. Bradley critiques James Cone and black liberation theology for the purpose of improving them, not destroying them. Cone developed his theology from the perspective that the issues of black people were not being dealt with effectively. Bradley seems to agree with Cone on this point, but his answer is radically different. Bradley believes that orthodox Christians need to carefully think about the issues that people in the black culture are facing and address them from orthodox presuppositions. This careful thinking will not only do a great service to the black community but to the church at large. As old Truth is applied in new situations, we come to a greater appreciation and knowledge of the Truth. Overall, this was a good book!

  25. 5 out of 5

    Jon

    This book was good, but not great. It did not offer much by way of diverse views within the black theological community. It just covered the widespread influence of one narrow school--black liberation theology--and offered a critique according to his own Reformed tradition. It was really insightful insofar as it touched upon 2nd and 3rd generation tendencies among American communities to utilize marxist ethics (and rhetoric) within their theological framework. A section called "Objections to 'Eu This book was good, but not great. It did not offer much by way of diverse views within the black theological community. It just covered the widespread influence of one narrow school--black liberation theology--and offered a critique according to his own Reformed tradition. It was really insightful insofar as it touched upon 2nd and 3rd generation tendencies among American communities to utilize marxist ethics (and rhetoric) within their theological framework. A section called "Objections to 'Eurocentric' Conservative Hermeneutics" was really eye-opening. It matched, almost identically, the kind of anti-white rhetoric that I have personally encountered among professing Christian brothers in Milwaukee (where I live), who also are black. (As of now there is a growing movement in Milwaukee among the "Black Israel" branch of liberation theology that, as far I can tell, is a seed-bed of anti-white racist propaganda in the name of Jesus.) Anthony Bradley demonstrates well that since the 1970's there has been a common vocalized rejection of traditional "European" hermeneutical principles among black theological communities in America, a rejection based on the assumption that those principles are not useful in an African-American context. Bradley does a good job of focusing upon one school of thought from a Reformed perspective. I wish he expanded the book and covered more diverse views.

  26. 4 out of 5

    Hank

    I've read both Cornel West and James Cone, and the author represents liberation theology generally well in his first section. However, he quickly loses focus, and launches into a faulty and angry rejection of "Marxism" before merely making repeated claims that Cone is in some manner wrong. I am ultimately, as a libertarian white male, more convinced by Cone than I am by Bradley. I wanted more theological depth, which he ignored in presuming liberation theology to be a political system and not a I've read both Cornel West and James Cone, and the author represents liberation theology generally well in his first section. However, he quickly loses focus, and launches into a faulty and angry rejection of "Marxism" before merely making repeated claims that Cone is in some manner wrong. I am ultimately, as a libertarian white male, more convinced by Cone than I am by Bradley. I wanted more theological depth, which he ignored in presuming liberation theology to be a political system and not a theological reflection on the Bible. What Bradley does provide in his four-step model for African-American theology is one that misses the point of Cone's thought entirely. Cone wants religion to be a force for social change, and articulates a faith that can form that basis for such change rooted on the Bible; Bradley simply says we must accept the status quo but do it respecting differences. Cone argues for change, while Bradley de factor asserts that we should be complacent with racism that still exists at a social level because salvation is the only element of faith that is important. Cone does not diminish Salvation as most important -- he only says there is an element that deserves almost as much focus, which is social change.

  27. 5 out of 5

    Wayne Larson

    Anthony Bradley provides a clear picture of Black Liberation Theology and offers a both solid criticism of the theological movement and insightful appreciation of its features that evangelical Christians need to hear. My only complaint is that Dr. Bradley didn't offer more of his own thoughts and suggestions to the issue of race in our society. Of course, that's not really a criticism of the book itself, but rather an expression of hope that one day Dr. Bradley will go the next step and provide Anthony Bradley provides a clear picture of Black Liberation Theology and offers a both solid criticism of the theological movement and insightful appreciation of its features that evangelical Christians need to hear. My only complaint is that Dr. Bradley didn't offer more of his own thoughts and suggestions to the issue of race in our society. Of course, that's not really a criticism of the book itself, but rather an expression of hope that one day Dr. Bradley will go the next step and provide us with a work that will focus on the question of "Where do we go from here?"

  28. 4 out of 5

    David Gill

    An excellent guide to the questions at play in a complicated issue. Grateful to Dr. Bradley for helping me get my feet wet.

  29. 5 out of 5

    Dax Palmer

    Very informative. Dont throw the baby out with the bath water. Black theology can still be biblical as long as its viewed through the lens of the gospel.

  30. 4 out of 5

    Daniel Wells

    Content is solid and helpful. The writing was a bit repetitive. Otherwise it would be 5 stars. But buy this book for the content and it's helpful summary and critique of James Cone. Content is solid and helpful. The writing was a bit repetitive. Otherwise it would be 5 stars. But buy this book for the content and it's helpful summary and critique of James Cone.

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