God’s Word is a poetic happening, an evocation of an indescribable reality in the lives of the people. James Cone, God of the Oppressed, p. 17.
James Cone wonderfully situates theological work within the realm of human artistic production: theology is a creative response to an active, living presence, the “event of liberation” that is Jesus Christ (32).
Viewing theology as a creative work allows one to quite clearly see and understand the contextual determination of theology. I was reading James Baldwin a few days ago, and he mentions the limits of Faulkner’s portrayals of African-American life. Faulkner had no access to the world “behind the veil” (Du Bois) and thus, understandably, could not depict African-American life in its robust and complicated fullness. It’s not a criticism but simply an observation: our imaginative abilities stem from and therefore are limited by our social location.
For Cone, theology is a creative work. It is not an analysis of certain concepts or a particular grammar but is instead a living and embodied response to the subject of theology, Jesus Christ (32). It is, therefore, obviously dependent on our social location.
The “indescribable” event of liberation claims us completely and thus frees us to respond poetically (16), in the rhythms of our bodies (21) and “the emotions of language” (18). Theological work is a way of participating in Christ’s liberating work for and with the oppressed, and it therefore builds from worship (18), praxis (34), and the fullness of our embodied and “earthy” lives (22). Christ’s gift of liberation is a gift in and to this world. We participate in it with our entire lives, and thus, within the limits and therefore the freedom of our creaturely imaginations. Evocation–and not “explication” or even “witness”–best describes the creative human activity we call theology.