Archives For Black Theology


“The Grotesque Nature of
Disembodied, Modern Christianity”

A Review of
The Christian Imagination:
Theology and the Origins of Race
By Willie James Jennings

Reviewed by Chris Smith.

The Christian Imagination:
Theology and the Origins of Race
Willie James Jennings
Hardback: Yale UP, 2010.
Buy now: [ Amazon ]

Many readers of The Englewood Review will recognize that there is something deeply wrong with Christianity in these early years of the twenty-first century and most of these readers would argue that these problems are hardly new and have plagued the church for decades if not centuries.  There are, of course, an abundance of books published each year that detail these shortcomings, and posit solutions for how we might repent of these sins.  Few books, however, offer as broad and holistic a picture of our brokenness as Willie Jennings’ new theological masterpiece, The Christian Imagination: Theology and the Origins of Race, and even fewer books (perhaps none) can come close to the depth of Jennings’ historical account of how we wound up in the mess we are in today.  Jennings concisely sums up the aim of the book in his conclusion:  “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” (293). Continue Reading…


“Crossing the Boundaries Between Communities

A Review of
What We Love about the Black Church
By William H. Crouch, Jr. and Joel C. Gregory

Reviewed by Bob Cornwall.

What We Love about the Black Church.
William H. Crouch, Jr. and Joel C. Gregory
Paperback: Judson, 2010.
Buy now: [ Amazon ]

[ This review originally appeared on the reviewer’s blog,
and is reprinted here with his permission. ]

WHAT WE LOVE ABOUT THE BLACK CHURCHYears ago I was invited to preach at a black church. I declined the offer, thinking that my style and personality might not match the expectations of the people in the pew. Later on, after I’d taken up a position as pastor of a local church, I did preach for the Latino congregation that rented space from our church. Maturity had set in by then, and I enjoyed my experience. Coming to metro-Detroit I’ve found that the majority of Disciple churches in the area are either black congregations or they are pastored by African-Americans. I’ve found my colleagues to be welcoming and supportive. So, when a colleague from Detroit invited me to bring my choir and preach at a revival scheduled for this fall, I knew that this was something I should, without any hesitation, do. What I didn’t realize back then, but have come to understand more recently, is that the congregation won’t expect me to be anything other than myself.
Although Sunday mornings remain largely segregated, that may have more to do with the role that the church plays in ethnic minority communities. For generations these churches provided social cohesion, support, and leadership opportunities. Culture maybe changing to the point where there are now other avenues by which community leadership and solidarity can be expressed, but these churches remain strong centers for the community of color. For those of us standing outside these communities, it is helpful to understand not just who they are, but what we might take away to enrich our lives of faith.
What We Love about the Black Church is authored by two white Baptist pastors who now hold academic posts. Crouch is President of Georgetown College of Kentucky and Joel Gregory teaches preaching at Truett Seminary at Baylor. Both men have had ministries that have crossed the usual boundaries, and their experiences have led to great appreciation for the distinctives of the black church. The authors don’t claim to be basing their reflections on research, but simply upon their own experiences as white Christians with the black church, write:


“The Present Crisis”
James Russell Lowell

A Poem for Martin Luther King, Jr. Day

[Editor’s Note:  John Howard Yoder mentions this poem in THE WAR OF THE LAMB (reviewed above) as significant in the life and work of Martin Luther King, Jr. ]

WHEN a deed is done for Freedom, through the broad earth’s aching breast
Runs a thrill of joy prophetic, trembling on from east to west,
And the slave, where’er he cowers, feels the soul within him climb
To the awful verge of manhood, as the energy sublime
Of a century bursts full-blossomed on the thorny stem of Time.

Through the walls of hut and palace shoots the instantaneous throe,
When the travail of the Ages wrings earth’s systems to and fro;
At the birth of each new Era, with a recognizing start,
Nation wildly looks at a nation, standing with mute lips apart,
And glad Truth’s yet mightier man-child leaps beneath the Future’s heart.

So the Evil’s triumph sendeth, with a terror and a chill,
Under continent to continent, the sense of coming ill,
And the slave, where’er he cowers, feels his sympathies with God
In hot tear-drops ebbing earthward, to be drunk up by the sod,
Till a corpse crawls round unburied, delving in the nobler clod.

For mankind are one in spirit, and an instinct bears along,
Round the earth’s electric circle, the swift flash of right or wrong;
Whether conscious or unconscious, yet Humanity’s vast frame
Through its ocean-sundered fibres feels the gush of joy or shame;-
In the gain or loss of one race all the rest have equal claim.

Continue Reading…


Hearing the Words of A Prophet

A Review of
Martin Luther King, Jr.:
The Essential Box Set.

Reviewed by Chris Smith.

[ Listen to clips from this box set.]

Martin Luther King, Jr.:
The Essential Box Set.

15 Cd’s: Hachette Audio,  2010.
Buy now: [ Amazon – Martin Luther King – Essential Box Set ]

Martin Luther King -Essential Box SetMartin Luther King, Jr. was one of, if not the finest American orator, of the twentieth century.  Following in the footsteps of Frederick Douglass and many other renowned Black orators, King spoke powerfully for the causes of freedom and justice, whether in pulpit of his home church, the Dexter Avenue Baptist Church in Montgomery, Alabama or speaking as the voice of the Civil Rights movement in Washington, D.C. and throughout the South.  And now thanks to Hachette Audio, we have a high-quality collection of twenty-three of King’s finest sermons and speeches: Martin Luther King, Jr.: The Essential Box Set.  The narrators who introduce these talks by Martin Luther King emphasize that he was, first and foremost, a preacher, and that his primary identity was located in the Church (see also the book excerpt on King below).  Even when speaking to broader audiences, he spoke the prophetic words of a preacher, connecting with his audiences on shared virtues such as freedom, equality and justice.  It has been important for me, when thinking of Dr. King, not only to see the words that he spoke on the printed page (or computer screen) but also to hear his voice speaking the words, and for many years now, I have been collecting vintage LP’s with recordings of King’s speeches and sermons.  While I certainly will not be getting rid of my vinyl recordings any time soon, I am delighted to have recordings of the same talks (and more) in a cleaner, more durable format and one that can more easily be shared with our sons and daughter as well as others.

Continue Reading…


Excerpt from the book:

Ring Out Freedom!:
The Voice of Martin Luther King, Jr. and
the Making of the Civil Rights Movement.

Fredrik Sunnemark.

Paperback: Indiana Univ. Press, 2003.
Buy now: [ Amazon ]

Ring Out Freedom (Excerpt)


A Review of

The Concise King:
(Selected Sermons and Speeches of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.)

2 cd’s : Hachette Audio, 2010.
Buy now: [ Amazon ]

Reviewed by Chris Smith.

[ Listen to clips from THE CONCISE KING ]

[ Watch MLK’s infamous “I have a Dream” speech ]

[ Win a copy of THE CONCISE KING ]

THE CONCISE KING - Hachette Audio 2010I was excited to learn recently that Hachette Audio was going to be releasing two new collections of audio recordings of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s sermons and speeches.  I will eventually be reviewing the gem of these two releases, Martin Luther King, Jr.: The Essential Box Set, but at 15 cd’s in length, it is going to take awhile to work my way through that.  The other new release, The Concise King, is actually an abridged edition of the box set, with eight selected talks representing the finest of Dr. King’s oratory.

As we remember Dr. King, on this holiday set aside for honoring his legacy, there are two essential things about him that we must bear in mind.  First, he was primarily an orator.  We can read his speeches or his sermons, but in doing so we lose the vibrant richness of the experience of hearing or seeing him speak.  Secondly, as Andrew Young emphasizes in the introduction to The Concise King: “Martin was first of all a man of faith, a preacher of the Gospel of Jesus, which had as its symbol of triumph his death on the cross and hope in a resurrection.”

Continue Reading…


Books and Culture reviews a new biography of WEB Dubois.

We make our heroes what we need them to be. For Edward Blum, what the world needs now is a religious W.E.B. Du Bois. Such a Du Bois would not only be a historical marker in the history of African American intellectual life, or an intriguing artifact of turn-of-the-century African American sociology, but also would offer a usable model for the religious liberal in the modern world. W.E.B. Du Bois, American Prophet provides more than an examination of the religious keywords within the massive corpus of Du Bois’ output. It proposes that a religious ontology for racial reconciliation might be gleaned from this survey.


Such a thesis stands strikingly against the historical consensus about Du Bois’ relationship to religion. As Blum explains, the critical view on Du Bois is that “he had little, if any” religion. To be sure (scholarship concedes), Du Bois was shaped by his boyhood church, and as an African American man he could hardly escape the institutional dominance of Protestantism. But he never attended church regularly, nor acknowledged any private practices. Moreover, Du Bois displayed open discomfort with religious expression and performance. “It frightened me at first,” Du Bois wrote of the worship practices of rural Tennessee adherents. “I thought they were going crazy.” Such evidence, coupled with a lifetime commitment to social scientific criticisms of religion, led the major biographers of Du Bois to conclude that he was an ardent observer of religious life. Religion for him, so we’ve been assured, was emphatically not a site of personal exploration or social revelation

Yet this received account collapses under the weight of counter-evidence discovered by Blum. …


Read the full review:

W.E.B. DuBois, American Prophet.
Edward Blum.
Hardcover: Univ. of PA Press, 2008.
Buy now from: [ Doulos Christou Books $30 ] [ Amazon ]


“Traitors to White Modernity?”

A Review of
A Theological Account.

J. Kameron Carter.


By Chris Smith.


Race: A Theological Account.
J. Kameron Carter.
Hardcover: Oxford UP, 2008.
Buy now from:  [ Amazon ]


[easyazon_image align=”left” height=”333″ identifier=”0195152794″ locale=”US” src=”” tag=”douloschristo-20″ width=”232″]Every year, the Advent season in the Church’s calendar offers us an excellent opportunity to reflect anew upon the incarnation.  As we celebrate the coming of the baby Jesus, we should pause to consider the meaning of his identity as a Jew born in a certain time and place, etc.  And if you enjoy the challenge of intricately-reasoned theological volume, J. Kameron Carter’s Race: A Theological Account might be for you, as it provides precisely this sort of radical reflection upon the incarnation.  It is difficult to write a review of RACE, for on the one hand, it is intensely grueling its rigor (I spent about two months working through it and even then I felt like I was barely hanging on through every turn of his argument, let alone probing the depths of his historical, theological and literary research.); on the other hand, it warrants our attention as perhaps the most significant landmark theological treatise of 2008 and perhaps even of this decade.  Perhaps it would have been better to engage bit by bit on a blog (as David Horstkoetter has done here), but alas reviewing books is what we do here, so a review it will be.

                I, by no means, have the credentials to offer a legitimate critical assessment of Carters RACE, but allow me to at least offer you here a high-level trace of his primary arguments and then briefly make a case for why this book is well worth our efforts to read and reflect upon in our churches.


Continue Reading…


Frederick Douglass
By Paul Laurence Dunbar
A hush is over all the teeming lists,
And there is pause, a breath-space in the strife;
A spirit brave has passed beyond the mists
And vapors that obscure the sun of life.
And Ethiopia, with bosom torn,
Laments the passing of her noblest born.
She weeps for him a mother's burning tears--
She loved him with a mother's deepest love
He was her champion thro' direful years,
And held her weal all other ends above.
When Bondage held her bleeding in the dust,
He raised her up and whispered, 'Hope and Trust.'
For her his voice, a fearless clarion, rung
That broke in warning on the ears of men;
For her the strong bow of his pow'r he strung
And sent his arrows to the very den
Where grim Oppression held his bloody place
And gloated o'er the mis'ries of a race.
And he was no soft-tongued apologist;
He spoke straight-forward, fearlessly uncowed;
The sunlight of his truth dispelled the mist
And set in bold relief each dark-hued cloud;
To sin and crime he gave their proper hue,
And hurled at evil what was evil's due.
Thro' good and ill report he cleaved his way
Right onward, with his face set toward the heights,
Nor feared to face the foeman's dread array--
The lash of scorn, the sting of petty spites.
He dared the lightning in the lightning's track,
And answered thunder with his thunder back.
When men maligned him and their torrent wrath
In furious imprecations o'er him broke,
He kept his counsel as he kept his path;
'Twas for his race, not for himself, he spoke.
He knew the import of his Master's call
And felt himself too mighty to be small.
No miser in the good he held was he--
His kindness followed his horizon's rim.
His heart, his talents and his hands were free
To all who truly needed aught of him.
Where poverty and ignorance were rife,
He gave his bounty as he gave his life.
The place and cause that first aroused his might
Still proved its pow'r until his latest day.
In Freedom's lists and for the aid of Right
Still in the foremost rank he waged the fray;
Wrong lived; His occupation was not gone.
He died in action with his armor on!
We weep for him, but we have touched his hand,
And felt the magic of his presence nigh,
The current that he sent thro' out the land,
The kindling spirit of his battle-cry
O'er all that holds us we shall triumph yet
And place our banner where his hopes were set!
Oh, Douglass, thou hast passed beyond the shore,
But still thy voice is ringing o'er the gale!
Thou 'st taught thy race how high her hopes may soar
And bade her seek the heights, nor faint, nor fail.
She will not fail, she heeds thy stirring cry,
She knows thy guardian spirit will be nigh,
And rising from beneath the chast'ning rod,
She stretches out her bleeding hands to God!