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Why has Christianity, a religion premised upon neighborly love, failed in its attempts to heal social divisions?  In this ambitious and wide-ranging work, Willie James Jennings delves deep into the late medieval soil in which the modern Christian imagination grew, to reveal how Christianity’s highly refined process of socialization has inadvertently created and maintained Why has Christianity, a religion premised upon neighborly love, failed in its attempts to heal social divisions?  In this ambitious and wide-ranging work, Willie James Jennings delves deep into the late medieval soil in which the modern Christian imagination grew, to reveal how Christianity’s highly refined process of socialization has inadvertently created and maintained segregated societies.   A probing study of the cultural fragmentation—social, spatial, and racial—that took root in the Western mind, this book shows how Christianity has consistently forged Christian nations rather than encouraging genuine communion between disparate groups and individuals. Weaving together the stories of Zurara, the royal chronicler of Prince Henry, the Jesuit theologian Jose de Acosta, the famed Anglican Bishop John William Colenso, and the former slave writer Olaudah Equiano, Jennings narrates a tale of loss, forgetfulness, and missed opportunities for the transformation of Christian communities.  Touching on issues of slavery, geography, Native American history, Jewish-Christian relations, literacy, and translation, he brilliantly exposes how the loss of land and the supersessionist ideas behind the Christian missionary movement are both deeply implicated in the invention of race. Using his bold, creative, and courageous critique to imagine a truly cosmopolitan citizenship that transcends geopolitical, nationalist, ethnic, and racial boundaries, Jennings charts, with great vision, new ways of imagining ourselves, our communities, and the landscapes we inhabit.


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Why has Christianity, a religion premised upon neighborly love, failed in its attempts to heal social divisions?  In this ambitious and wide-ranging work, Willie James Jennings delves deep into the late medieval soil in which the modern Christian imagination grew, to reveal how Christianity’s highly refined process of socialization has inadvertently created and maintained Why has Christianity, a religion premised upon neighborly love, failed in its attempts to heal social divisions?  In this ambitious and wide-ranging work, Willie James Jennings delves deep into the late medieval soil in which the modern Christian imagination grew, to reveal how Christianity’s highly refined process of socialization has inadvertently created and maintained segregated societies.   A probing study of the cultural fragmentation—social, spatial, and racial—that took root in the Western mind, this book shows how Christianity has consistently forged Christian nations rather than encouraging genuine communion between disparate groups and individuals. Weaving together the stories of Zurara, the royal chronicler of Prince Henry, the Jesuit theologian Jose de Acosta, the famed Anglican Bishop John William Colenso, and the former slave writer Olaudah Equiano, Jennings narrates a tale of loss, forgetfulness, and missed opportunities for the transformation of Christian communities.  Touching on issues of slavery, geography, Native American history, Jewish-Christian relations, literacy, and translation, he brilliantly exposes how the loss of land and the supersessionist ideas behind the Christian missionary movement are both deeply implicated in the invention of race. Using his bold, creative, and courageous critique to imagine a truly cosmopolitan citizenship that transcends geopolitical, nationalist, ethnic, and racial boundaries, Jennings charts, with great vision, new ways of imagining ourselves, our communities, and the landscapes we inhabit.

30 review for The Christian Imagination: Theology and the Origins of Race

  1. 5 out of 5

    James Smith

    A book this is both a conceptual symphony and prophetic challenge.

  2. 4 out of 5

    E.

    This is the third book in the last year that I have read about the entanglement between Christian theology and racism. Each has provided a slightly different perspective. Each has been well-written, provocative, and original. Much like Carter in his Race: A Theological Account, Jennings believes that the way toward racism directed against black people was paved by the church's supersessionist anti-semitism. The thesis is convincing in both accounts. For Jennings it is a fundamental flaw dating ba This is the third book in the last year that I have read about the entanglement between Christian theology and racism. Each has provided a slightly different perspective. Each has been well-written, provocative, and original. Much like Carter in his Race: A Theological Account, Jennings believes that the way toward racism directed against black people was paved by the church's supersessionist anti-semitism. The thesis is convincing in both accounts. For Jennings it is a fundamental flaw dating back to the early days of the Christian church that has stifled the central Christian message throughout our history and has inflicted deep wounds in the modern era. The central Christian message should be communion -- relationships of belonging built across divides, as Gentiles are brought into relationship with Israel and Israel's God through Jesus Christ. This should have paved the way for the church to become what was enacted at Pentecost, a diverse, multi-lingual body wherein every person was treated with love, respect, and mutuality. Instead, it has become something very different. Jennings seems to claim that the central theological symbol of Christianity in the modern age is the slave ship. And the slave ship is a terrifying distortion of Pentecost, as a cosmopolitan mix of people are brought together in a community built around violence and death, not communion and belonging. The universal perspective of the Enlightenment has furthered the problem (Carter makes a similar point) by ignoring the particular, especially the particularity of Jewish flesh in Jesus. For Jennings the major loss of the modern era is identity shaped by relationships with the land and environment. Instead, identity is now shaped by one's racial or ethnic group, as we have become displaced from the land. His vision is that a genuine Christian communion would enact a renewed doctrine of creation, restoring our relationships with the land and environment. I would love to hear a dialogue between him and Wendell Berry. He argues that the methodology of Christian theology is fundamentally flawed because it has incorporated the hegemony of whiteness. It must expose this history and seek to be renewed. Theology should take as its aim the promotion of genuine communion and a restoration of creation. Along the way, Jennings' book narrates elements of the history of theology that are often overlooked, focusing on figures like Gomes Zurara, the royal chronicler of Prince Henry the Navigator; Jose de Acosta, an early Jesuit missionary to Peru; John William Colenso, an Anglican bishop in the Natal; and Olaudah Equiano, who published his slave narrative in the 18th century. The first two help to construct a modern theology of race, the third works to move beyond it but reveals how one is trapped within it, and the fourth indicates possibilities for the path forward. I thought in a handful of places the book resonated with the systematic theology of James McClendon -- the focus on bodies, the role of jazz, the importance of biography as theology, the ecstatic fellowship of all creation. In its emphasis on how theology has abused Jewish and black bodies, I thought more attention should have been paid to other bodies. Native and aboriginal bodies did appear in the chapter on Acosta and were mentioned elsewhere, but could have had a little more development. Female and queer bodies were non-existent. Carter and Cone, in their books on race and Christian theology, devoted significant sections to women, and Monica Coleman's Making a Way Out of No Way focused almost exclusively on it. Queer bodies were noticeably absent from all except Coleman's book. I know it wasn't a focus of this book, but it could have been mentioned, especially when talking about the role of Jewish and African-American authors and artists in creating much of America's artistic culture and referencing James Baldwin as an example. Despite these neglects, the book is a fascinating, thought-provoking read.

  3. 4 out of 5

    Adam Shields

    In the past 8 years since The Christian Imagination was released, I have seen a diverse group of Christians say that this is the most influential theology book of the last decade. I am not going to disagree, although I do not have the depth of theology of make that type of statement. I do not usually quote the description of books when I am writing, but I am going to here because I cannot think of a better way to describe the book. Why has Christianity, a religion premised upon neighborly love, fa In the past 8 years since The Christian Imagination was released, I have seen a diverse group of Christians say that this is the most influential theology book of the last decade. I am not going to disagree, although I do not have the depth of theology of make that type of statement. I do not usually quote the description of books when I am writing, but I am going to here because I cannot think of a better way to describe the book. Why has Christianity, a religion premised upon neighborly love, failed in its attempts to heal social divisions? In this ambitious and wide-ranging work, Willie James Jennings delves deep into the late medieval soil in which the modern Christian imagination grew, to reveal how Christianity’s highly refined process of socialization has inadvertently created and maintained segregated societies. A probing study of the cultural fragmentation—social, spatial, and racial—that took root in the Western mind, this book shows how Christianity has consistently forged Christian nations rather than encouraging genuine communion between disparate groups and individuals. Weaving together the stories of Zurara, the royal chronicler of Prince Henry, the Jesuit theologian Jose de Acosta, the famed Anglican Bishop John William Colenso, and the former slave writer Olaudah Equiano, Jennings narrates a tale of loss, forgetfulness, and missed opportunities for the transformation of Christian communities. Touching on issues of slavery, geography, Native American history, Jewish-Christian relations, literacy, and translation, he brilliantly exposes how the loss of land and the supersessionist ideas behind the Christian missionary movement are both deeply implicated in the invention of race. I was aware of the concept of superssionism prior to this book (the idea that Christianity superseded Judaism and replaced God’s covenant with Israel by a new covenant with the church.) But it is just not something I have thought much about. Christianity has failed to reject supersessionism clearly and there has always been a stain of supersessionism, from the overt Marcionism and Manichaeism that were both rejected as heresy, to the much more subtle replacement theology that arose later. It has really only been since World War II and the Holocaust that Christianity has widely started seeing supersessionism as a theological problem. Jennings makes the case that the ethnic prejudice against Jews that was rooted in supersessionism and was strongly present throughout the middle ages, gave theological cover for a different type of ethnic superiority that gradually developed into the concept of race and the racial hierarchies that undergirded colonialism, race-based slavery and White supremacy. The second significant stream that Jennings explores is the lack of connection to the land. When people mostly did not move except for a few traders or pilgrims, there was a connection to the land and large scale migration and colonialism destroyed that connection. ...when the Spanish arrived, they did not arrive alone. They brought pathogens, plants, and animals: wheat, barley, fruit trees, grapevines, flowers, and especially weeds; horses, pigs, chickens, goats, cattle, attack dogs, rats, and especially sheep. The world changed—the landscape became alien, profoundly disrupted. Daily patterns that depended not only on sustaining particular uses of certain animals and plants, but also on specific patterns of movement, migration, and social practices in certain places met violent disruption or eradication. This environmental imperialism was shaped around what environmentalists call ungulate irruptions. Ungulates, “herbivores with hard horny hooves,” when introduced to lands with an overabundance of food, reacted to this wealth of food as the Spanish themselves reacted to the wealth of gold and silver: “They increase[d] exponentially until they [overshot] the capacity of the plant communities to sustain them.”31 They ate everything in sight, decimating existing crops, destroying cycles of food growth and harvest, changing the biological regime of the New World, and altering the spatial arrangements of native life. A third point of exploration is how the concept of providence and lack of empathy and viewing of Native Americans or Africans as fully human allowed Europeans to view colonialism as providential blessing from God. "He (Acosta, a theologian in Peru during early Spanish colonialism) calculates the dramatic increase in wealth to Spain and the church as irrefutable signs of the workings of God through them not just for the propagation of the gospel but also for the financing of wars against the enemies of Christianity.” Acosta and many other Christians did not see the death and destruction brought about by colonialism as harmful but a blessing. The early Puritans did not see the widespread disease that was introduced through Spanish and other invaders that left large swaths of North and South American unpopulated as a human disaster and tragedy, but as God’s providence that opened up space for them to build new communities that were dedicated to God. The supersessionism (replacement theology) of European Christians allowed them to not see themselves as the gentiles that were being grafted into the Jewish covenant and therefore see the native populations of North American, Africa and Asia as also gentiles just like them; instead the European Christians viewed themselves as the owners of the covenant and therefore read Old Testament as justification for destruction. Acosta perpetuates the supersessionist mistake, but now in the New World the full power of that mistake is visible. Acosta reads the Indian as though he (Acosta) represented the Old Testament people of God bound in covenant faithfulness and taught to discern true worship from false. Acosta reads the religious practices of indigenes from the position of the ones to whom the revelation of the one true God was given, Israel. Christian theology contains at its core a trajectory of reading “as Israel,” as the new Israel joined to the body of Jesus through faith. Yet by the time Acosta performs his reading, this christological mediation has mutated into the replacement of Israel as the people that make the idea of idolatry intelligible as a primarily Christian insight.74 From this position of holding an idea of idolatry resourced solely by a supersessionist Christian vision, Acosta speculates as to the possibilities of whether Indians as pagans under the control of the devil may be led to the light. Throughout the 15th to the 19th centuries Christians of European dissent are following in Acosta’s footsteps and are not even sure that non-Europeans can hear the gospel message, both because they are not sure if non-Europeans are fully human and if they are fully human if they are worshipers of satan. If the invaded people are worshipers of the satan and controlled by satan, then they are to be overcome, not wooed into the Christian faith. The distortion of Christianity that views non-Christians without full imageo dei does not see all of humanity as brothers and sisters because they were all created in God’s image, but only views other Christians as brothers and sisters. Part of what Jennings is making clear in The Christian Imagination is that what happened historically was not the only historical option. There were others throughout this history that called the church to a different way of thinking, a different Christian Imagination. Sometimes it is even the same people that over time, develop a different Christian Imagination. These comments are already too long and I cannot flesh out Jenning’s full insights into a blog post, but this is not just history, but constructive theology. Jennings is inviting the reader to reconstruct our Christian Imagination in a way that rejects supersessionism, embraces the full humanity of all and the sibling relationship to all people in and outside of the church, and to reattach ourselves to the land and sustainable human sized practices. Immediately after reading The Christian Imagination, I started reading Jenning’s commentary on Acts, which has many similar insights but from the perspective of biblical theology. The Acts commentary is much less academic and I think would make for a good bible study, or as I used it, personal devotional reading. I have 53 highlights on my Goodreads page if you want to get a sense of the book.

  4. 5 out of 5

    David

    This may be the most important theology book I have read in a long time. If I was to recommend one theology book to pastors and teachers to read right now, it would be this one. Jennings argues the Christian imagination is deficient and he traces the roots of this to the dawn of modernity. If you have studied theology in any formal matter, you ought to be able to see the problem Jennings identifies: we move from the New Testament and early church to a bit of medieval and the scholastics then to This may be the most important theology book I have read in a long time. If I was to recommend one theology book to pastors and teachers to read right now, it would be this one. Jennings argues the Christian imagination is deficient and he traces the roots of this to the dawn of modernity. If you have studied theology in any formal matter, you ought to be able to see the problem Jennings identifies: we move from the New Testament and early church to a bit of medieval and the scholastics then to the Reformers and the challenges of the Enlightenment. This curriculum ignores the formation of modern identity. Jennings spends a lot of time examining history. The figures Jennings focuses on are not usual ones in a theology work. There is Jose Acosta, a Jesuit in Peri in the 1500s and then John Colenso, an Anglican in South Africa in the 1800s. Jennings also looks at the work of Olaudah Equiano, a freed slave writing in England in the late 1700s. Throughout all of this, Jennings is illustrating the way colonialism twisted Christianity. Emerging through all of this are a few themes, primary among them is that the movement away from an emphasis on the role of Israel in scripture provides a direct line to elevating and universalizing whiteness. This supersessionism replaces Israel with the Church and enables theology to then favor national identity. Jennings illustrates this by looking at Isaac Watts translation of the Psalms, where he often substitutes “Britain” for Israel. As Israel is ignored, so to is an emphasis on geographical place. Through colonialism, Christians looked out at the world as a place to conquer and tame. Jennings thoughts here blend well with other critiques of capitalism and histories (such as McCarraher’s The Enchantment of Mammon). In order to restore Christian imagination we must recognize the deep harm to our thinking of colonialism. Colonialism drove a wedge between land and people as well as giving a vision of a Creator endorsing the eradication of people’s way of life and the creation of private property. Colonialism turned away from identity in the resurrected Son and created an identity of assimilation into whiteness and capitalism. Our interaction with the land and other people became rooted in production and consumption. Jennings admits near the end that his critique will be difficult to hear. We in the west simply assume capitalism is the only way to function in the world. As Christians, we assume we have Jesus all figured out for that matter (a Jesus who basically endorses neoliberal capitalism). Jennings writes: “I want Christians to recognize the grotesque nature of a social performance of Christianity that imagines Christian identity floating above land, landscape, animals, place, and space, leaving such realities to the machinations of capitalistic calculations and the commodity changing of private property. Such Christian identity can only inevitably lodge itself in the materiality of racial existence” (293). And: “To change one’s way of imagining connection and one’s way of desiring joining is no small thing. Yet I am convinced that such a change is not only necessary but now stands before human communities as the only real option for survival in a world of dwindling natural resources and tightening global economic chains of commodification. To imagine along the direction I suggest in this book would be nothing less than theological act, indeed, as I suggest, a Christian act of imagining. And if, as I believe, Christian life is indeed a way forward for the world, then it must reemerge as ac impelling new invitation to life together” (294) This is a book that deserves a much longer review. I am unable to do Jennings’ work justice. It is fantastic and I am sure I will be thinking about it, and returning to it, frequently in the future.

  5. 5 out of 5

    Zach Hollifield

    Although I would have some disagreements with Jennings, this is one of the more thought provoking and framework shifting books I have ever read. I dare say it would be impossible to read this and think about race the same way. And sadly, it only reveals how much steeper of an uphill climb the church has ahead of it to undue the problems of race.

  6. 4 out of 5

    D.L. Mayfield

    One of the hardest, most challenging, and yet formative books I have read in a long time. Jennings gets right to the roots of the diseased Christian imagination in the West. Absolutely required reading for seminaries, in my opinion.

  7. 4 out of 5

    Emily Lund-Hansen

    "To change one's way of imagining connection and one's way of desiring joining is no small thing." (294) Published in 2010, this is one of those books that is held up as a classic of contemporary theological studies. It's a deep, detailed dive into the ways the Christian imagining of creation has contorted itself in justifying colonialism, slavery, oppression. It's very much an academic book (60 pages of footnotes!), but it's truly essential reading for understanding the conversation in studies o "To change one's way of imagining connection and one's way of desiring joining is no small thing." (294) Published in 2010, this is one of those books that is held up as a classic of contemporary theological studies. It's a deep, detailed dive into the ways the Christian imagining of creation has contorted itself in justifying colonialism, slavery, oppression. It's very much an academic book (60 pages of footnotes!), but it's truly essential reading for understanding the conversation in studies of theology and race.

  8. 4 out of 5

    Jon

    Normally when I rate 5 stars AND write a review, it means I’m recommending the book to everyone. The situation is more complicated with Jennings’s masterpiece. This book is extremely difficult intellectually. It requires not only intellect and interest in the subject, but slow, careful reading and the patience and willingness to theologically reflect. BUT if the stars align and you’re on board, there is perhaps no book I could recommend more highly. Jennings takes you to four critical moments in Normally when I rate 5 stars AND write a review, it means I’m recommending the book to everyone. The situation is more complicated with Jennings’s masterpiece. This book is extremely difficult intellectually. It requires not only intellect and interest in the subject, but slow, careful reading and the patience and willingness to theologically reflect. BUT if the stars align and you’re on board, there is perhaps no book I could recommend more highly. Jennings takes you to four critical moments in colonialist history and explores how Christian theology worked in tandem with European colonialism to: — Remove place/land as sources of peoples’ identities and create the racial scale to facilitate new identities from the vantage point of whiteness — Translate the Bible into new languages as part of a process that also translated people into enslaved black bodies and land into private property — Offer a deformed “salvation” that could do nothing to change the realities of enslavement and commodification — Etc. This may prove to be one of the most formative books I read in my entire life. If you do take up the gauntlet, I hope it is as powerful for you!

  9. 5 out of 5

    Simonetta Carr

    Thought-provoking book, unearthing insidious ways in which non-biblical colonial persuasions have infiltrated Christian thought. It's a book I will re-read a few times. Thought-provoking book, unearthing insidious ways in which non-biblical colonial persuasions have infiltrated Christian thought. It's a book I will re-read a few times.

  10. 4 out of 5

    Barry

    A thoughtful and erudite historical and theological analysis of the interrelationships between racism, capitalism, and Christian theology. Jennings argues that a more properly developed and more biblical theology would have better resisted the drift toward colonialism and white supremacy. This book is not an easy read for multiple reasons. I am in no position to offer any kind of critique here, but I will say there is much in Jennings’ careful analysis worth pondering, not the least of which is A thoughtful and erudite historical and theological analysis of the interrelationships between racism, capitalism, and Christian theology. Jennings argues that a more properly developed and more biblical theology would have better resisted the drift toward colonialism and white supremacy. This book is not an easy read for multiple reasons. I am in no position to offer any kind of critique here, but I will say there is much in Jennings’ careful analysis worth pondering, not the least of which is the lasting damage caused by the doctrines of supersessionism and adoptionism. Adam wrote a great review: https://www.goodreads.com/review/show...

  11. 4 out of 5

    Brenton

    This is amazing content! It is very heady, and it takes a lot of effort to study and understand the concepts suggested. But I think that it is worth the effort, especially in light of the racial conflict and tension that we are seeing daily.

  12. 4 out of 5

    Tyler Collins

    This book was an entirely new experience for me. I read it for my Theology of Race course under Dr. Jacob Lett at MidAmerica Nazarene University. Over the past three years, I have had lots of exposure to the pop conversation around race. This is not that. In this book, Jennings takes the reader on a roller-coaster ride through the history of colonial expansion and its effects on the colonized peoples of Africa and the Americas. Each chapter is spattered with primary source excerpts from the even This book was an entirely new experience for me. I read it for my Theology of Race course under Dr. Jacob Lett at MidAmerica Nazarene University. Over the past three years, I have had lots of exposure to the pop conversation around race. This is not that. In this book, Jennings takes the reader on a roller-coaster ride through the history of colonial expansion and its effects on the colonized peoples of Africa and the Americas. Each chapter is spattered with primary source excerpts from the events covered, and he points out the overlooked ways in which colonial thought and action irreversibly shaped the development of theology (particularly in the West). I absolutely loved the dense and in-depth coverage of rarely-talked-about historical events which Jennings sees as having more importance than most people realize. The reason I give it four stars is because of the excessive wordiness of his writing. He often says in a complex string of sentences what could have been clearly stated in one. If I had to summarize what I understood to be his thesis, it would be this: The systematic stripping of people from their land removed from them their source of identity. Their identity was, as a result, placed in their colored bodies. The white ownership of Africans as slaves further mutilated their identity, placing it inside that of their white land-owning master as his property. This destruction of identity and resulting warping of theological thought is the primary reason we face so many of the racial challenges we face today. Jennings contends that the only way to move forward from this is to remove our identities from our bodies (and the bodies of others) and collectively place our identities into the body of Jesus, the Jew, in whom we all are identified. He ends the book by acknowledging that this seems like an idealistic vision, but he refuses to give trite solutions and maintains that this vision is the only way to progress from the point we find ourselves. Essentially, he gives the church a new theological framework to work from, and he leaves it in the hands of the practical theologians, pastors, and laypeople to carry out this task in its concrete forms.

  13. 4 out of 5

    Jensen

    A treasure trove of theologically-based examinations of the formation of race originating in the colonialist period. Beginning with a discussion of Christian missions work in South Africa, Latin America, North America, etc., Jennings sets out a foundation for understanding the conception of race based on identity, land, and race — ultimately highlighting their inextricability. He emphasizes the importance of land in the shaping of one’s identity and how moving away from that (displacement) is de A treasure trove of theologically-based examinations of the formation of race originating in the colonialist period. Beginning with a discussion of Christian missions work in South Africa, Latin America, North America, etc., Jennings sets out a foundation for understanding the conception of race based on identity, land, and race — ultimately highlighting their inextricability. He emphasizes the importance of land in the shaping of one’s identity and how moving away from that (displacement) is detrimental. Capitalism + colonialism = commodification, specifically as it relates to racialized bodies. Role of indigenous Christian faith and its implications for today’s culture in the adoption of that framework/faith. So many complexities and intricacies to mull over, especially as Jennings adds this unique perspective to the mix. A discussion of land, place, identity, race and a connection to our reading of the OT Israel and the Christian Church as a metaphor of our own impulse to “re-read.” So much historical background at the start that it was quite dense/heady to get immediately interested, but subsequent chapters only get better and tie it all back together by the end. One to re-read soon enough!

  14. 5 out of 5

    Thomas

    Jennings weaves together various narratives of colonial incursion into the lives of indigenous and/or 'African' people in order to give the reader a sense of how race was constructed and understood, which largely amounted to the displacement of or assimilation of the other to the hegemonic category of whiteness. Must like Carter, he argues that supersessionist strategies (the replacement of Israel with the Church) were a significant theological culprit in promoting whiteness as the 'place' where Jennings weaves together various narratives of colonial incursion into the lives of indigenous and/or 'African' people in order to give the reader a sense of how race was constructed and understood, which largely amounted to the displacement of or assimilation of the other to the hegemonic category of whiteness. Must like Carter, he argues that supersessionist strategies (the replacement of Israel with the Church) were a significant theological culprit in promoting whiteness as the 'place' where the other was defined. The last chapter then offers a corrective which grounds the identity of the church in the Jewishness of Jesus and thus in Israel's story. While a difficult and painful book as it recalls stories of horror and evil, this is essential reading for those who wish to look critically at the understanding of race that we have inevitably received.

  15. 5 out of 5

    Brianna Smith

    A friend suggested this book to me as I began anew to think about race (as many have) in the midst of the renewed conversations about race in the wake of unspeakable tragedies involving the loss of life in the Black community in America this year. As I lamented the seeming lack of robust Christian academic though in this area, this book was a breath of fresh air. Jennings provided a narrative of the theological origins of race steeped in rigorous academic thought. While I’m not sure I agree with A friend suggested this book to me as I began anew to think about race (as many have) in the midst of the renewed conversations about race in the wake of unspeakable tragedies involving the loss of life in the Black community in America this year. As I lamented the seeming lack of robust Christian academic though in this area, this book was a breath of fresh air. Jennings provided a narrative of the theological origins of race steeped in rigorous academic thought. While I’m not sure I agree with all of his presuppositions (another more careful read is in order!), his vision of what the Christian imagination ought to lead to in this is compelling. A dream of a people united in Christ is one fighting for in our world of increased division.

  16. 4 out of 5

    Ron Willoughby

    Reading Dr. Jennings book was like being with this amazing, trailblazing guide who could see things I would have never recognized. There were amazing vistas, confounding paths, and heart-breaking valleys. Most of this work I will need to think about and reread in the months to come before I can say what I have learned, not learned, etc. Somewhere in the last 75 to 80 pages of the book, Dr. Jennings left me. I back tracked. I moved carefully forward. No joy. Once or twice I picked up his trail onl Reading Dr. Jennings book was like being with this amazing, trailblazing guide who could see things I would have never recognized. There were amazing vistas, confounding paths, and heart-breaking valleys. Most of this work I will need to think about and reread in the months to come before I can say what I have learned, not learned, etc. Somewhere in the last 75 to 80 pages of the book, Dr. Jennings left me. I back tracked. I moved carefully forward. No joy. Once or twice I picked up his trail only to lose it again. By the conclusion of the book I was lost. I have no clue where Dr. Jennings went, but I couldn't seem to follow no matter how hard I tried. *sigh*

  17. 4 out of 5

    Faith Collins

    What a challenging but important read! I read this for a Race and Theology class. I suggest that if you read this book: DO read the introduction. The rest of the book is pretty much a historical and theological background to make sense of the stories he mentions in the intro. DON’T stop going when the reading is difficult intellectually and emotionally. It’s not an easy read. DO understand that the point of this book is not so much to provide a step-by-step framework for solving racism as it is a What a challenging but important read! I read this for a Race and Theology class. I suggest that if you read this book: DO read the introduction. The rest of the book is pretty much a historical and theological background to make sense of the stories he mentions in the intro. DON’T stop going when the reading is difficult intellectually and emotionally. It’s not an easy read. DO understand that the point of this book is not so much to provide a step-by-step framework for solving racism as it is a realistic way to view our world and Christianity as it has been influenced by racism over history. It is also a reminder of how desperately we need to take the words ”being of one identity in Christ.”

  18. 5 out of 5

    Bob Bixby

    Powerful My mind longed for this new imagination and could not begin to think it until I read this book, finishing just in time for “Columbus Day” tomorrow and, consequently, I will have more than just a social reactionary distaste for the holiday, but I will have some objective theological, Christ-honoring grounds for using the holiday as a day to mourn and to imagine hopefully. Thank you, Dr. Jennings, for this book. I only wish I had read it sooner.

  19. 4 out of 5

    Timothy Holmes

    This is an incredibly dense read, but also incredibly thorough. Jennings retelling of colonial history and the threads of racism, greed, and superiority that are entangled in the theological implications of their words, and actions is intelligently communicated. It is a book that likely needs multiple reads to fully grasp Jennings’ concepts, but it’s worth pushing through. Also, Jennings does a great job citing primary sources to strengthen his framework and perspective.

  20. 4 out of 5

    Caleb

    This is a theological and anthropological tank of a book. Yet, despite the often times dense sections of this book, Jennings paints a beautiful picture of what Christian belonging and community could be and how the current Christian imagination hinders such belonging. It is a thought-provoking and convicting read.

  21. 4 out of 5

    Jens Hieber

    This one is going to take me a while to digest (and likely require a reread). Very relevant, worthwhile, and put together with both nuance and relentless purpose.

  22. 4 out of 5

    Christina

    I'm not ashamed to admit a lot of this book was above my pay grade. Willie James Jennings is a high level thinker, drawing together threads that have not previously been combined, digging deep into what has not yet been revealed. What I did grasp calls us to mourn the splintering effect colonialism has had on every aspect of our world and humanity, while striving for a new world that everything from community to land is reimagined. I'm not ashamed to admit a lot of this book was above my pay grade. Willie James Jennings is a high level thinker, drawing together threads that have not previously been combined, digging deep into what has not yet been revealed. What I did grasp calls us to mourn the splintering effect colonialism has had on every aspect of our world and humanity, while striving for a new world that everything from community to land is reimagined.

  23. 5 out of 5

    Kimberly

    Jennings' book is a critically important work that should be read by any who wish to see the unity of the Church and reconciliation among peoples become a reality. Jennings lays a clear and long-standing case for white racial bias being imbedded in Western Christianity. Unless one realizes it is interwoven, one will miss how challenging overcoming racism will be. From colonial times through the modern era a faulty theology has created the idea of race and racial superiority. The idea that (white Jennings' book is a critically important work that should be read by any who wish to see the unity of the Church and reconciliation among peoples become a reality. Jennings lays a clear and long-standing case for white racial bias being imbedded in Western Christianity. Unless one realizes it is interwoven, one will miss how challenging overcoming racism will be. From colonial times through the modern era a faulty theology has created the idea of race and racial superiority. The idea that (white) Christians are the New Israel, meaning that Christians become the chosen ones as Israel was in the Old Testament, moved European nations to see themselves as having divine right and thus divine obligation to subjugate the "heathen" particularly those of color. Having black skin was seen as the most pernicious, lessening as skin lightened. People and space were separated, and domination of whites over all was spurred on by selective hermeneutics. It is this theology that has thread its way into every area of Western society with fiendish ramifications. Jennings later promotes an alternative understanding where Jew & Gentile unify within Christ, where chosen/not chosen are made irrelevant. All are one in Christ. I cannot recommend this book enough, yet I must say it is often very difficult to read. The narrative is mired with complex vocabulary that while understandable to academics will leave most regularly intelligent readers shutting it in frustration. At times the narrative is clear and direct, a joy to read. Other times it hits road block after road block, and you never know when it will change. The message is too frequently lost in academic mumbo-jumbo, and therefore will have no impact on real people in the Church. Use of more common language would go a long way in improving the read as well as the impact of this important book. I was able to understood what Jennings said, loving the insight it gave me, but often it felt unnecessarily specious. So I give this book a four star rating because it is important and should be read. But, for readability, it often is a 3 or even a 2 star book. Read it - I recommend you start with the conclusion and then go to the beginning - but be prepared.

  24. 5 out of 5

    Tim

    Jennings' claims in his conclusion are laudatory and necessary, I just find the historical argument he builds so limited as to be unconvincing and his prose heavily theory laden, repetitive, and tedious. If only all his prose was as clear as this: "I anticipate some resistance to the fundamental claim of this work, that Christian social imagination is diseased and disfigured. In making such a claim I am not saying that the church is lost, moribund, or impotent. Rather, I want my readers to captu Jennings' claims in his conclusion are laudatory and necessary, I just find the historical argument he builds so limited as to be unconvincing and his prose heavily theory laden, repetitive, and tedious. If only all his prose was as clear as this: "I anticipate some resistance to the fundamental claim of this work, that Christian social imagination is diseased and disfigured. In making such a claim I am not saying that the church is lost, moribund, or impotent. Rather, I want my readers to capture sight of a loss, almost imperceptible, yet articulated powerfully in the remaining slender testimonies of Native American peoples and other aboriginal peoples. This loss points not only to deep psychic cuts and gashes in the social imaginary of western peoples, but also to an abiding mutilation of a Christian vision of creation and our own creatureliness. The loss is nothing less than the loss of a sense of our own creatureliness. I want Christians to recognize the grotesque nature of a social performance of Christianity that imagines Christian identity floating above land, landscape, animals, place, and space, leaving such realities to the machinations of capitalistic calculations and the commodity chains of private property. Such Christian identity can only inevitably lodge itself in the materiality of racial existence."

  25. 4 out of 5

    Ben Sanders iii

    Currently my favorite book on theology and race, "The Christian Imagination" does a masterful job of showing how Christianity is made synonymous with the work and logic of colonialism. Jennings argues that Christianity functions inside of a diseased social imagination that is inept to rethink its relationship to place, language, and intimacy. I love that Jennings offers no easy answers. Instead he prioritizes painting a clear picture of the problem and, I think, challenges us to rethink the anato Currently my favorite book on theology and race, "The Christian Imagination" does a masterful job of showing how Christianity is made synonymous with the work and logic of colonialism. Jennings argues that Christianity functions inside of a diseased social imagination that is inept to rethink its relationship to place, language, and intimacy. I love that Jennings offers no easy answers. Instead he prioritizes painting a clear picture of the problem and, I think, challenges us to rethink the anatomy of theological discourse and, subsequently, our own identities. The book is academically rich showing Jennings' handle on various disciplines, including Christian theology. And it is such without getting bogged down by too much "academse".

  26. 5 out of 5

    Tiffany

    Life-changing. Also, even though Jennings speaks as a faithful theologian, for scholars not of a religious orientation, I think this book would be exceedingly helpful in thinking through theological/religious dimensions of the origins and genealogies of race--to add another dimension to studies that involve sociological/anthropological/economic factors. It is rich fare, extremely well-researched, and brings a crucial dimension--the theological (in his view heretical) erasure of land-based identit Life-changing. Also, even though Jennings speaks as a faithful theologian, for scholars not of a religious orientation, I think this book would be exceedingly helpful in thinking through theological/religious dimensions of the origins and genealogies of race--to add another dimension to studies that involve sociological/anthropological/economic factors. It is rich fare, extremely well-researched, and brings a crucial dimension--the theological (in his view heretical) erasure of land-based identity as a foundation for the racialization of bodies--to the conversation. Excellent.

  27. 4 out of 5

    Kevin Spicer

    This book traces so many connections between, colonialism, capitalism, race, and theology that it can seem dizzying. The form the argument takes is hard to keep track of because it covers such a huge span of time, space, and disciplines. But it is impressive the way he pulls out similar themes from a such diversity of theological perspectives, and historical processes. The argument seems to go something like this: That theology, around the time of the discovery of the new world, in its conceptual This book traces so many connections between, colonialism, capitalism, race, and theology that it can seem dizzying. The form the argument takes is hard to keep track of because it covers such a huge span of time, space, and disciplines. But it is impressive the way he pulls out similar themes from a such diversity of theological perspectives, and historical processes. The argument seems to go something like this: That theology, around the time of the discovery of the new world, in its conceptual grasping for ways to articulate how God lives and moves and works within the world, essentially parallels the works of colonialism, and instead of following the trajectory of the, “Son of God who took on the form of a creature, a life of joining, belonging, connection and intimacy,” marked by love. Christians “social imagination became ill” as it became “woven into processes of colonial dominance.” Instead, the joining of peoples that does come about through colonialism is a “cosmic horror” that theology became tied to in complex ways. He traces out the forces that generate this ill kind of theology as it led to the creation of the idea of race, and gave a green light to the brutality of colonialism. I’m not gonna go into the whole argument, but something new for me was the idea of supersessionism. Supersessionism becomes a large part of the church theology around this time. The act of justifying colonial dominance on theological grounds meant that theologians had to insert the colonial nation state into the role that only belonged to Israel as the one nation through whom God would reveal salvation. This superseding of the church in the place reserved for Israel meant that European Christians forgot that their place in the landscape of salvation was originally a marginal one, that they were once Gentiles, and that they were included at all was a sign of grace. This vision of a humble and open Christianity stands in contrast to the kind of Christianity that indigenous people of Africa and the Americas encountered, which was largely a religion that demanded people to rid themselves of every marker of pre-christian identity, culture, language, and belief, and re-orient themselves around european culture while submitting themselves to exploitation and land theft. This idea was buzzing a lot of bells in my brain as I was thinking about it. I think it is probably pretty prevalent in white churches in America. It is an ethnocentric vision of the gospel that places the power and responsibility of revealing salvation to the nations of the world through your people and your nation. Your culture, that is your abstractified and romanticized culture (think of Steve Bannon wearing spandex and a cape riding into battle like a crusader) is the bringer of light, of reason, of goodness to the land that dwelleth in darkness. God’s favor toward Israel can be detached from Israel and reattached to another people. Jennings tells several different stories that although in a work of academic scholarship seem somewhat disjointed and unwieldy next to each other, do actually have similar themes emerge out of them all. From a Spanish royal chronicler name Gomes Eames de Zurara, to a Jesuit scholar-priest working among Mayans and Andes, to an Anglican Bishop’s work among the Zulu tribe in the 1800’s, to Isaac Watt’s hymnody. He explores many ways theology became bound up with race, a couple of these are as follows: First theology becomes displaced during colonialism. Theologians literally did not know where they were, Africans are being taken as slaves to new places. This begins a kind of disembodied thinking and living that becomes part of modernity. Identity, instead of being tied into the land, in relationships to animals, plant life, and seasons, becomes displaced, and skin color takes on a disproportate weight in forming identities. Second theology becomes encased in a pedagogical form that places instruction as a primary concern, relegating the way that discipleship and relationship ought to provide the context to teaching. This results in an endless teaching of the natives, which means a constant evaluation, which means that knowledge becomes a coercive power that has a disciplinary function. This kind of Christianity goes hand in hand with the colonial demand for docile, exploitable people. The evaluation that encountering natives provoked in the theological mind, gave way to more formalized scales used to judge indigenous people in relation to what kind of Christian they will make, this scale ranges from less barbarian to more barbarian, with the justification of using force to convert the latter. The relation between race and place was really interesting. And that race as an identity marker isn’t bad in and of itself (although it is an idea responsible for many genocides), but it stands for a much deeper, more complex, and more fulfilling relationship to land and community that has been destroyed in modernity. Rebuilding identities around these things, around our bodies, is an interesting project, and provides an unexplored dimension of what role theology could play in uniting alienated peoples. The only critique I would offer, is that I wish that he would have addressed some of the arguments that would counter that theology and Christianity wasn’t complicit in colonization or that colonization, because Christianity was acting within it, was a good thing, or that despite all evidence to the contrary, Steve Bannon does not leave a trail of slime wherever he goes. Because these arguments weirdly seem to be a pretty regular part of our public discourse within both the left and the right and whenever they get together to scream at each other.

  28. 4 out of 5

    Darnell

    This book's description suggests that it has historical analysis as a major component, but the introduction makes clear that it won't, in favor of theological reflections. I persevered through the rest, but I'm not sure how to rate the book because it was never intending to be what I wanted. For the record, it disappointed me in general. This book's description suggests that it has historical analysis as a major component, but the introduction makes clear that it won't, in favor of theological reflections. I persevered through the rest, but I'm not sure how to rate the book because it was never intending to be what I wanted. For the record, it disappointed me in general.

  29. 5 out of 5

    Nathan

    I would highly recommend that readers begin with this conclusion and then loop back and read the rest of the book, as the conclusion not only offers a concise and poignant vision of our disconnectedness from one another, from the land and from all creation, but also points us in the direction that we will need to go in order to recover the intimacy for which we were created. Reading the conclusion first in this way will help you have a clearer sense of the argument that Jennings is making here. I would highly recommend that readers begin with this conclusion and then loop back and read the rest of the book, as the conclusion not only offers a concise and poignant vision of our disconnectedness from one another, from the land and from all creation, but also points us in the direction that we will need to go in order to recover the intimacy for which we were created. Reading the conclusion first in this way will help you have a clearer sense of the argument that Jennings is making here. The Christian Imagination is a decidedly historical work but Jennings has no illusion of writing a comprehensive history of how the Church's social imagination has become diseased, but rather "to paint a portrait of a theological problem in order to suggest a way forward," (9) Jennings begins to imagine what it might look like to recover the intimacy with God and creation for which we were created. Following, the key theme of language that he developed over the course of the book, Jennings advocates for literacy and for a deep theological engagement, namely "Christian faith receiving its heretofore undiscovered identities, which are found only through interaction with the social logics of language, landscape and peoples" (248). In the end, Jennings begins to imagine what it might look like to recover the intimacy with God and creation for which we were created. Following, the key theme of language that he developed over the course of the book, Jennings advocates for literacy and for a deep theological engagement, namely "Christian faith receiving its heretofore undiscovered identities, which are found only through interaction with the social logics of language, landscape and peoples" (248). Jennings forcefully demonstrates through these narratives that Christianity is not an innocent religion tragically infected by modern racism: it is not a religion held in cultural captivity by an external ideology. No, Christian theology was "the trigger for the classificatory subjugation of all nonwhite, non-Western peoples" (87).

  30. 4 out of 5

    Drick

    In this book Willie Jennings takes on the task of theologically examining the formation of race in the colonialist period. Retelling the stories of Christian missions in Latin America, South Africa, England, and in the slave fields of North America, Jennings asserts that identity, land, and race are intricately connected and by displacing people from their land, they robbed them of identity. Even in the efforts to translate the Bible into the vernacular of the indigenous people, that translation In this book Willie Jennings takes on the task of theologically examining the formation of race in the colonialist period. Retelling the stories of Christian missions in Latin America, South Africa, England, and in the slave fields of North America, Jennings asserts that identity, land, and race are intricately connected and by displacing people from their land, they robbed them of identity. Even in the efforts to translate the Bible into the vernacular of the indigenous people, that translation was done within the context of colonialism and so the Christianity that was adopted by the indigenous and enslaved peoples was done in the name of the empire. Add globalizing capitalism to that and race and racialized people became a commodity to be used for profit and material gain. Jennings ties this colonializing project back to the theological of supersessionism, which replaced Israel with the Christian Church in the interpretation of the Hebrew testament. He calls for a re-reading of the OT with Israel at the center and Jesus the fulfillment of Israel. The Jews were a people of the land, and Jesus was of those people, and those who follow Jesus must also see the intimate nature of the land for one's identity. While I read the book closely, I only feel like I have scratched the surface of Jennings' thought, a feeling that there is more there than I am able to grasp at this time. What I do understand that a true indigenous Christian faith must be done in a way to honor the heritage of culture of those adopting the faith, and not in the culture of those that have controlled, enslaved and colonized indigenous peoples for centuries. Not only should this view change the way indigenous persons practice their faith, but also those who are descendants of the enslavers and colonizers.

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