Still, the two assertions that one's blackness is one's ultimate reality and that there is another reality (God) which must, or needs to, relate to blackness seem to us to contradict each other. If blackness is the ultimate reality how can there be another final frame of reference outside of this one unless some sort of metaphysical dualism is assumed, or unless both realities -the gospel and blackness, God and humanity - are reduced to or identified with each other? Adopting the former position would not seem to square with one of the basic tenets of 'orthodox' Christian belief, namely, that there is only One Almighty God; and identifying the gospel with our experience would seem to be tantamount to saying that God's Word is indistinguishable from human words. At this point we also meet up with the ever threatening problem of 'ideology*, with all the difficulties of definition and application which it entails. Has Cone not made the gospel into an 'ideology' for a black political cause? Let us suppose, for argument's sake, that it is true that black people's experience of racism as a form of oppression and their struggle for liberation are the supreme test of truth. We must then ask: What objective content can be given to truth; what guarantee is there that even Black theology itself is not, in the end, nothing but the subjective musings (in the name of truth) of a disenchanted ethnic group? If there is nothing in the gospel which is 'independently5 the matter of 'fact1, there seems nothing to prevent whites, or anyone, from justifying racism or tribalism in the name of a truth created in their own image.
Cone, to be sure, is not unaware of questions such as these and his answer is as follows:
In the struggle for truth in a revolutionary age, there can be no principles of truth, no absolutes, not even God ... we cannot speak of him at the expense of the oppressed. , , . There is no way to speak of this objectively; truth is not objective. It is subjective, a personal experience of the ultimate in the midst of degradation. Passion is the only appropriate response to this truth.40
Because truth arises out of the historical situation of blacks, and because it is subjective, truth is black;41 it has no objective content other than that given to it by blacks.
But here, again, we must draw attention to the ambiguity of Cone's position. Black theology, he says, (in spite of these strong claims) seeks a Christian lifestyle and proclamation which are not reducible to the values of the black community. But how is this to be achieved and how can we be sure that we have achieved it? Indeed, what criteria might we use to distinguish this proclamation from our irenic declarations? These are important questions, touching as they do, on the whole question of the relationship between gospel and culture; between human words and God's claim - in short between revelation and ideology.41
The twofold structure of Cone's thought
The question of truth which we have just been discussing enables us now to move on from the methodological to the dogmatic aspects of Cone's thought. Let us remind ourselves that this distinction between method and content, form and structure is not total, as is evinced by the interdependence of the concepts of revelation and contextuality in Cone's mind. Furthermore, it is Cone's conviction that the question of revelation controls the 'methodological procedure' or the 'epistemological justification' of the Christian truth and vice versa.43 Perhaps the best way of approaching his understanding of revelation is through an investigation of what Cone considers to be the sources and norms of Black theology. He borrows his definition of sources from John Macquarrie's Principles of Christian Theology which defines them as 'formative factors' (p. 4) which shape (Cone would say determine) the character of a given theology. Cone also borrows Tillich's definition of *norm* as the test or criterion against which the sources of theology are judged.44 On this definition, the hermeneutical function of norms is to stipulate which sources are to be accorded priority and how they are used.45 Thus, Cone concludes, the conjunctive relationship of source to norm and vice versa marks the place where the most important decisions in theology are made: in it are given those presuppositions out of which theological questions and answers are derived and correlated/*
Cone identifies two main sources of Black theology within which he then subsumes different moments of these sources: he distinguishes between black experience and Scripture, on the one hand, and Jesus Christ on the other, calling the latter the subject or essence of the former.
It is Jesus, the subject of theology, who is the condition of possibility of theology. At the same time, however, this theology which seeks to speak of Christ can only do so through certain sources and materials. It is, however, not clear in Cone's writings what the source of these sources is: is it human experience or is it the free gift of God so that we can speak of Christ only through the means of the self-revelation of God? Nevertheless, what is beyond doubt is that, as far as Cone is concerned, authentic talk about Christ, the subject of theology, presupposes talk about the sources of theology.
The sources of Black theology
Thus before proceeding further we need to ascertain what these sources are.
(i) Black experience has already been mentioned; we have discovered that the content of this experience is the humiliation and suffering caused by racism. In this sense, black experience is the basic condition which justifies the need for Black theology- This condition is made up of three dimensions: (a) slavery, (b) rebellion, and (c) self-affirmation.47
(1) The second source noted by Cone is related to the first; he calls it Ethc history of black people',48 but what he means by this is not dear since he formulates it in terms of the three dimensions of experience just cited above, and does not, therefore, differentiate distinctly between the two.
(3} Third in the list of sources is culture, that is, the black community's self-expression in music, poetry, prose and other art forms. The search, or rather the struggle, for a new historical black subject engenders a new consciousness of racial and cultural identity, which brings in its wake a different set of theological problems. This appeal to various aspects of black culture links Cone to the Harlem Renaissance of the inter-war years in which black poets, novelists and artists sought to recover their traditions as an affirmation of their humanity-49
(4) Revelation proper occupies fourth place in Cone's scheme of theology's formative factors. Cone defines it as an 'event'; 'a happening in human history': he asserts,
It is God making himself known to man through a historical act of human liberation. Revelation is what Yahweh did in the event of the Exodus ,,. Throughout the entire history of Israel, to know God is to know what he is doing in human history on behalf of the oppressed of the land/0
Certainly modern theology is correct to stress the self-disclosure of God as the most distinctive attribute of the concept of revelation. But it would be a mistake to reduce this self-manifestation to a kind of rational discovery, or to restrict its meaning to biblical propositions or yet again to the self-projection of the human consciousness. To be sure, some of these factors are involved, but their significance, that which makes them revelatory, derives from God Himself; more exactly, from God's personal relationship with humans- Even so. Cone is not satisfied since he considers that there is a further element to be added to the definition: which is that 'Revelation is God's self-disclosure to man in a situation of liberation',*1
So, then, to be in right relationship with God - and that means to know Him and to know His revelation - is to be properly disposed toward his activity of liberation for the poor. Emancipation from oppressive political structures is, for Cone, 'the essence of the biblical revelation'.51 But, lest we conclude that this understanding of revelation can be appropriated legitimately by all, oppressor and oppressed alike, Cone grounds its specificity in blackness itself. Revelation, he asserts, 'is a black event, i.e. what black people are doing about their liberation'. And he adds, 'I have spoken of black experience, black history, and black culture as theological sources because they are God himself at work liberating his people.'" The black community is the locus of God's presence in twentieth-century America. The Christ event and the Black event are one and the same thing.54 Thus, since 'meaning', 'truth', 'authenticity' and 'understanding* reside in particular communities; since they are referenced and indexed in terms of the experiences and the language the character of which is moulded by the consciousness of those very communities; it follows that the validity of the community's truth claims about who God is and His activity in history can only be tested by internal criteria; that is by the codes and indices of meaning which form the community's frame of reference. Consequently, any interpretation which is not in harmony with the self-understanding of the group, which seeks to break this structural circularity, is deemed to have failed the test of authenticity. In short, what a community says about God, itself and others is verifiable only in terms of the horizons of meaning which "determine1 the production of those claims.
This is the context in which Cone discusses the self-disclosure of God as a black event for the liberation of oppressed blacks. His conclusion is: 'Revelation then is the epistemological justification of a community's claims about ontological reality,'5i But here again we must ask, if only in passing, whether this is not a very clear case of the ideological instrumentalisation of revelation.56
What, in Cone's view, are the implications of the above considerations? First, given that God's truth is only truly manifested in the suffering and pain of the people of colour, and second, given that the authenticity of revelation must be judged in terms of whether or not it is consistent with the perspective of blacks, it is difficult, if not impossible, to envisage any other valid (for our time) form of theological discourse than Black theology itself. In effect, Cone, at least in his early writings, denies the legitimacy of white theology because, as was remarked earlier, when slaves and slave masters engage in God-talk, they are not simply using different starting points or different languages about God, but they are also talking about essentially different things. Whites, in other words, cannot do Black theology; they cannot faithfully proclaim the good news of liberation precisely because they are the oppressors; or else their theologians represent them through active theological justification of racism and oppression as in the days of slavery, or through silence, as is generally the case today. Cone can say all this because, as far as he is concerned, the criterion for deciding the authentic character of Christian theology is whether any praxis which claims this identity is totally on behalf of those who are oppressed. There is, for Black theology, an essential relationship between the status of the poor and the nature of the gospel. It is this decisive connection between the poor and God's preference for them which enables the early Cone to exclude the oppressors from the possibility of understanding the truth of the gospel.57 The social presuppositions constitutive of their (the oppressors') conceptual universe and consequently of their practice, and vice versa, is constrained and determined by certain interests which contradict the story of divine liberation. That is why white theology is not strictly Christian theology. Such is the place of the concept of revelation and its implications in Cone's theology. But revelation is more than a concept, or at least it cannot be sufficiently described in terms of a single, somewhat abstract notion. Revelation includes other dimensions, the most significant of which are Christ, the Bible and tradition,
(5) In fifth place, then, and still under Black theology's idea of revelation, the Bible is to be considered. As Cone sees it (and perhaps somewhat in the manner of Barth5*) Scripture itself cannot be identified with God's revelation, the full embodiment of which has been given in Christ. The revelatory significance of the Bible inheres, rather, in its function as a witness to God's ultimate and personal self-disclosure, and is, therefore, a primary source for theological reflection.59 As such, it accounts for Black theology's claim that God is unquestionably identified with the cause of the poor.60 Put differently, Black theology is conceived through a basic confrontation with the Bible and within this with two paradigmatic events; the story of the Exodus and the life and deeds of Jesus Christ, both of which form, as it were, the 'objective core' of its hermeneutic and express God's concern for those in social and political bondage. The Exodus is the central focus of the drama narrated in the Old Testament, It furnishes the starting point of Israel's hisiorv. tor it is here that Israel, because of her weakness and
The ccntrality of the Exodus for Cone can be seen in the way in which the theme recurs in virtually all of his writings/1 In this he has a great deal in common with liberation theology, at least in its early forms. The Exodus is, of course, not the final act of God's liberation; it does not exhaust His dramatic intervention in history/1 Black theology links the development of prophccy throughout Israelite history to God's original concern for justice as shown in the Exodus: prophecy and the David-Zion tradition, according to which it was the King's duty to protect the weak (Ps, 2.7, 72.12-14; Isa, 1.16), both show God's ongoing concern for the latter/5
(6) The sixth source of Black theology cited by Cone is tradition. There are two kinds of tradition referred to here: (a) the main Christian tradition which has come to us through both Eastern and Western versions of Christianity, and of which Black theology is highly critical; and (b) the tradition of rebellion, protest and self-affirmation characteristic of the black experience during and after slavery. Tradition', in the first sense, consists of the Church's cumulative self-interpretation and self-understanding as this is embodied in the totality of her history and practice so far. Its indispens-ability for Black theology (and indeed perhaps for all theology) lies in two closely related directions: first, it shaped the biblical witness, and second, it supplies access to that witness. Moreover, tradition partly controls 'both our negative and positive thinking about the nature of the Christian gospel'. While Cone does not really specify what this means it may not be amiss to suggest that what he intends to say is, at least, that because of tradition, we cannot construe the gospel any way we like if faithfulness to its claim is our objective. Tradition provides some guidelines for its own ^proper' and * faithful' construal as well as for the 'proper* and 'faithful' construal of the Christian message itself, This does not necessarily mean that tradition has precedence over, say, Scripture, since the latter is not only part of the tradition but often contradicts the former. But here, as with much else in Cone's writings, this interesting question is not fully explored. Thus we are left wondering what the precise nature of the connection is between these two aspects of Christian experience.
Finally we may conclude the discussion of the sources of Black theology by noting that the sources belong to a threefold relationship between revelation, history and faith. Wc may summarily formulate this relationship by saying that revelation presupposes two foci: history as the location of its occurrence, and faith as the medium through which it is perceived, understood and appropriated.
This, then, is Black theology's understanding of its own sources and its conception of the doctrine of revelation. But how might we discover the
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