Following up on the previous few posts, here is James Cone discussing why Barth’s criticisms are helpful for oppressors but not the oppressed:
Of course, black theology is aware of the danger of identifying the word of human beings with the word of God, the danger Karl Barth persuasively warned against in the second decade of this century:
“Form believes itself capable of taking the place of content… Man has taken the divine in his possession; he has brought [God] under his management.”
To apply Barth’s words to the black-white context and interpret them as a warning against identifying God’s revelation with black culture is to misunderstand Barth. His warning was appropriate for the situation in which it was given, but not for blacks in America. Blacks need to see some correlations between divine salvation and black culture…
To be sure, as Barth pointed out, God’s word is alien to humanity and thus comes to it as a “bolt from the blue”–but which humanity? For oppressors, dehumanizers, the analysis is correct. However, when we speak of God’s revelation to the oppressed, the analysis is incorrect. God’s revelation comes to us in and through the cultural situation of the oppressed. God’s word is our word; God’s existence, our existence. This is the meaning of black culture and its relationship to divine revelation.
Black culture, then, is God’s way of acting in America, God’s participation in black liberation (_A Black Theology of Liberation_, 40th Anniversary edition, p. 29-30).
It goes without saying–and Cone would agree, in fact, insist–that we can’t simply take this quote and apply it to life today: it was written in and for a particular situation, over 40 years ago (with its gendered language, the singularity of “black culture,” etc). This contextualization, however, is one of his major points: the relationship between God and humankind–or revelation and culture–cannot be considered abstractly or dealt with as a generic, universal problem. Christ is really alive and present, identified with and acting among and for the oppressed. And this means that the appropriateness of any theological statement depends on how it relates to God’s liberating actions in that particular situation.
What do you think?