The Jazz Theologian

The Jazz Theologian

What is a Christian? (p4)

James Cone, the father of Black Theology, also indicts the Christianity of this land.  In 1999, he took 21st century descendents of slaves to task, in his book "Risks of Faith." (p111)

"Our church is an impostor, because we no longer believe the gospel we proclaim.  There is a credibility gap between what we say and what we do.  While we may preach sermons that affirm the church’s interests in the poor and the downtrodden, what we actually do shows that we are committed to the "American way of life," in which the rich are given privileged positions of power in shaping the life and activity of the church, and the poor are virtually ignored.  As a rule, the church’s behavior toward the poor is very similar to the society at large:  The poor are charity cases…It is appalling to see some black churches adopting this condescending attitude toward the victims, because these churches were created in order to fight against slavery and injustice.  For many slaves, the Black Church was God’s visible instruments for freedom and justice.  Therefore, to have contemporary middle-class black Christians treating the poor as second-class members of the church is a disgrace not only to the scripture but also to our black religious heritage."


What does it mean to be a Christian?  Yes, there is an aspect that must include repentance of sin and forgiveness…but does your definition also take into account Jesus’ first sermon in Luke 4 and his announcement of "good news" to the poor, imprisoned, blind and oppressed? 

To paraphrase Carl Ellis, A Christian doesn’t just "bear" the good news, a Christian "becomes" the good news–especially to the marginalized.  A Christian is someone who brings a smile to the face of the poor, oppressed and the orphan.  Do you sense their smile?

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Pete Gall

posted April 3, 2006 at 9:22 am

Do you find there is a narrow strip of ground as you write this stuff, JT? A strip between the prophet’s reminder and the pharisee’s prescription?
I’m not saying that you are either – what I’m asking about is how you navigate the tension bounded by faith, identity, adventure and mandate.
There is a place for Cone and the non-relational acidic approach he sometimes chooses (as I’ve been known to choose), but it seems to me that such an approach precludes process or companionship with the prophet.
I know a bit about your passions and the ways in which you are living out the root Christian callings, and frankly just knowing those things about you is a much stronger, more desirable thing than all of the arguments and prophetic reminders I’ve experienced. I would love to read more about your experiences as you pursue those root callings. Where is it rewarding to you? Where do you find surprising insights and joy? Where does it get lonely? Where do you find the sources of pain that make the prophetic approach more tempting?
I’m eager to read along as you click through this series because I’m eager to get to the part where I get to learn more about how these things are bringing satisfaction to you and the people near you.
A fan, a friend, and a fellow,

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posted April 5, 2006 at 12:55 pm

I have written about how Christians of all backgrounds can learn much from the African-American experience of grappling with two opposing identities. What Dubois classically coins “double consciousness.” Whereas some would feel that one’s American identity should superimpose the African one, Christians should never allow their idenity in Christ to be overshadowed by national affliation. Unfortunately, history shows us that this mispractice is the norm.
To be a Christian is to be one who strives to live according to the life and teachings of Jesus Christ, in solidarity with all God’s children, yet taking special interest in those who are most vulnerable and susceptible to larger forces of domination. It is to love the one God and humankind more than any other god, nation, tribe, institution or group.
J.T. – You’re getting real prolific over here. May your contributions be blessed and magnified for the beloved community.

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Scott Dewey

posted April 5, 2006 at 1:01 pm

Pete, and JazzTheo–
Well, it might be a narrow strip of ground, but in my experience it becomes wider and more winsome when lived out con carne…. exactly the point (at least the final point) of this post. The prophetic word, which is most fundamentally good news even when it sounds like hard news, takes on most power when lived and suffered in all its messiness. As the old saying goes, “Preach the gospel at all times, and when necessary use words.”
This white dude has found Cone’s words painfully necessary at times. I just read God of the Oppressed again. Plenty to wince at. Don’t know if it’s the whole good news. But if “the first condition of healing is to bring the pain into view” (Kathleen O’Connor), I’d better let brothers like Cone open the wound at least on occasion. Sure glad for other other brothers like JazzTheo, though, with a more gentle touch.

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posted April 13, 2006 at 8:47 pm

OK, man… So when is this kettle goin’ to boil over? I can sure hear it whistling…

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