black liberation theology

A Suggested Agenda for African American Apologetics

BY: CAM TRIGGS

The task of effective apologetics demands contextualization. We are called to defend the faith by giving positive arguments for the existence of God and the exclusivity of Jesus Christ (1 Peter3:15). We are also called to cast down every argument and worldly philosophy with the scandalous good news of Jesus Christ (2 Cor. 10:5). However, without knowing our audience, their questions, and objections we will give answers to questions not being asked and reasons that don’t persuade the heart. Let me be clear, I am not calling for an apologetic agenda that is captive to the culture nor am I suggesting an apologetic that merely syncretizes with cultural values. I am calling for an apologetic that engages the culture, challenges the culture, and persuades the culture. This apologetic agenda cannot happen unless indigenous and sincere apologists are willing to enter the task of apologetics with a cultural lens to observe the city and its idols first (Act 17:16). Afterwards, a missional strategy must be employed to reform the church and captivate the community. In Acts 17, Paul engages the religious of Athens in the synagogue and then captivates the marketplace of ideas at the Areopagus. In this article, I would like to suggest an agenda that would engage our urban and African American context with the task of apologetics and the message of Jesus Christ.

Curriculum – Apologetics cannot happen in a vacuum disconnected from the local church. Jesus died and purchased the sheep. He is the bridegroom and the church is His bride. The local church is God’s program for evangelism of sinners and the edification of saints. Biblically based curriculums within the context of urban America are desperately needed for the church in the areas of apologetics. Why? Once again, we must address the issues, questions, and obstacles within those contexts and present them persuasively in the cultural vernacular that articulates the Gospel of Christ persuasively.

Church Planting and Revitalization- I do not have the time nor space to give an apologetic for church planting. However, it is clear that the Bible demands it and the apostle Paul modeled it (Matthew 29:18-30, Ephesians 1:3-14).  Church planting allows the people of God to engage unreached communities with the Gospel and transform communities by incarnating spirit-filled image bearers next door. Church revitalization is also pivotal.  We need urban and African American leaders to stay within the context of traditional churches to help reform, supplement, or simply contribute to this beautiful expression of the body of Christ. Let us realize both are equally important and we should not emphasize one without the other.

Theodicy- Theodicy is classically defined as the defense of God, typically relating to the Problem of Evil. The Problem of Evil poses logical, emotional, and theological reasons to refute the benevolence and omnipotence of God. With the African American tradition, this issue is extremely important and pivotal. Considering the history of our ancestors, the injustice in the past, and the injustice that still occurs today it is truly relevant for us to winsomely address the doubts, hurts, and disbelief caused by the evil we have absorbed in our communities through the weary years. As apologist, we must engage the poetic objections of James Baldwin and the scholarly work of Anthony Pinn who sincerely wrestle with not only the problem of evil but its pain as well.

Black Liberation Theology- Liberation theology is not confined to the black church, but it is prevalent. That is not to say it is more prevalent than other communities. Liberation Theology itself is found in different manifestations across denominational and institutional boundaries. Through the work of James Cone, liberal seminaries, and popularizers such as Jeremiah Wright, Liberation Theology has been present amongst the traditional black church with recognizable force. Though Black Liberation has many contributions and challenges to offer to the African American apologists, it does propose several dangers that must be addressed. For further study I highly recommend Anthony B. Bradley’s work entitled “Liberating Black Theology”.

Prosperity Theology- Again, let me be clear. The prosperity gospel is not confined to the black church; nor did it originate in the black church. Nonetheless, it sadly cannibalizes our urban and African American context. Many of the most prominent preachers and teachers in these contexts are promoters of the prosperity Gospel.  As apologist, we must expose these false teachers and false teaching with love, respect, and courage.

Cults and Religions- There are cults, religions, and even religious philosophies that exist within Hispanic, black, and urban communities that are largely overlooked by the contemporary apologetic agenda at large. Apologists committed to this context should study the doctrine, beliefs, and practices of these cults and religions while also presenting the subversive impulses found within them that are ultimately fulfilled in the Christian worldview. An African American agenda must address the religions and cults of The Five-Percent Nation, The Nation of Islam, and Black Hebrew Israelites to name a few.

Books – We need literary contributions and analysis of apologetic material from an African American and urban perspective. May the Lord raise up more African American apologist, scholars, and theologians like Carl Ellis Jr., Anthony Bradley, Bruce Fields, Jarvis Williams, and Vincent Bacote. May God grant us apologists who will engage Delores Williams, Dwight Hopkins, bell hooks, and J. Deotis Roberts.

Justice – One unique contribution African American apologetics must gift the church with is its physical and intellectual commitment to social justice. Art Lindsley stated it best “Love is the ultimate apologetic.” By loving others through the vein of social justice, the apologist gives tangible expressions of the existence and ultimately the love of God. An urban agenda of apologetics would be wise to tackle the issues of mass incarceration, mass abortions in our neighborhoods, and systemic racism. These issues are not exhaustive but they are urgent.

Historical Theology – A blazing ignorance of the rich, intellectual, and soulful African American Church tradition exist within the confines of evangelicalism. This is sad because with it, many lose sight of the primary means intellectual and theological contributions have been made to God’s Kingdom. Evangelicals often presuppose that such contributions do not exist from these traditions because they have not come through the vehicles often accepted within their tradition. By doing so, the apologetic contributions of Gardner C. Taylor, SM Lockridge, Richard Allen, and Absalom Jones are not evaluated, quoted, or adopted. One must realize that the primary theological and apologetic vehicles in our past was the sermon. Due to other systematic obstacles and cultural manifestations, the sermon was the book, lecture, and scholarly article for the African American tradition. That does not make the robust content found in these sermons any less helpful to our apologetic agenda. Our souls would be blessed to resurrect the intellectual power found in these homiletical gems.

Youth Ministry- Any agenda worth its salt must have an eye toward longevity and generational impact. Honestly, this is an area that must be improved across the spectrum of evangelicalism. We must do better at reaching students with the gospel and equipping students to reach their peers. I am not calling for more pizza parties, isolated youth ministries that generate a fractured culture in the church, or a continued juvenilization of corporate worship. But I am calling for more youth conferences, more youth books, and more material to help parents and guardians to disciple their teenagers while addressing the multiple challenges they encounter against their Christian faith.

Seminaries and Universities- Seminaries and Universities are forming the worldview(s) of America. Without infiltrating the educational system, little progress can be made in the realm of apologetics. We must learn from brothers like Cornel West and Michael Eric Dyson, who progressed through the best academic institutions and then ultimately influenced the larger culture. Of course, these men are highly gifted, but their training enhanced their analytical skills and provided platforms to impact academia and culture at large. An urban and African American apologetic should encourage young scholars to pursue degrees in evangelical and secular institutions. As they earn their doctorates, these scholars ought to teach in both secular and evangelical institutions as well.

This is no small agenda and I am more than sure it will be expanded upon as other apologists contribute to this context. By no means do I pretend that this list is comprehensive though I hope it is extensive. I have blindspots and limitations, but together we can press towards the mark and keep the faith. Please consider this agenda as a challenge and not a depressive dose of procrastination. What item captivates your passions, sparks your interest, or increases your heartbeat? This is not a time of passive peace but a season for strategic war. Pick up your armor and enlist in this battle. Don’t just keep the faith, fight the good fight; onward Christian apologist.

 

Bringing the Good News,

Cam Triggs


Cam Triggs loves Jesus. God saved Cam from wrath, sin, death, and Satan in 2005. He began studies at University of Central Florida as a Religious Studies major & continued his education at Reformed Theological Seminary where he earned a Masters of Arts in Theological Studies. During his time at RTS, Cam was privileged to study under the apologist John Frame. In the future,  he looks forward to further study in the areas of philosophy, theology, and African American studies. He now enjoys loving God & loving students at Shiloh Church. More importantly, he is married to his beautiful best friend Tymara Triggs and the proud father of Cameron Triggs II. Stay connected with him at camtriggs.com

Remembering James Cone: Trouble Don’t Last Always

By: Cam Triggs

Sunrise: August 5, 1936

Sunset: April 28, 2018

 

We have been witnesses. Black people. We have seen it all. Kingdoms and world wonders. New shores and slave blocks. Slavery and the struggle for freedom. Kings slain and prophets betrayed. Strewn from lynching trees, yet builders of the Capital.

America’s original sin was sinned upon us. Yet, we embraced the Christ figure we saw in scripture, while still rejecting the religion of kidnappers, rapist, and evil hypocrites. We watched Great Awakenings pass over our chained bodies yet endorse the institution of slavery. We heard America’s greatest theologians exegete difficult biblical passages and pontificate on abstract philosophical principles, all the while owning, selling, and oppressing black bodies. We read the fine print that exempted us from Evangelical schools. We tasted the bitterness of the Curse of Ham, the career of Jim Crow, and white-washed text.

The traumatic experience of African Americans throughout the history of America is a vicious example of the Problem of Evil. Even more, the existence and persistence of black faith through these gratuitous and gruesome realities is a theodicy in and of itself. The prominence of the black Christian and the survival of the black church is an evidence for God’s existence. We have been believers that persevered, and believed “trouble don’t last always.”

Yet, we had profound theological questions even in the midst of our hope. How does faith in the African American community answer questions of injustice, in an American context that normalizes and indeed endorses a cultural supremacy, that consistently demeans people of color? How can black and brown readers trust the theological writings of slave owners, segregationist, and white supremacist? How can faith in communities of color thrive when their expression of faith is stigmatized, ostracized, and ignored?

Enter James Cone. The angry prophet. The righteous prophet. Like many prophets, they are often misunderstood during their lifetime; but Dr. Cone demonstrated that God is with us. He came into our theological disparity and profoundly articulated that “trouble don’t last always.”

Union Theological Seminary

Union Theological Seminary

James Cone was first and foremost a theologian. In my estimation, his influence is largely unrealized in the evangelical world, and indeed in Christianity as a whole. James Cone is an established theologian with a Ph. D from Northwestern University. He was skilled in the areas of systematic theology, African American studies, political economics, and philosophy. James Cone could quote Paul Tillich, Karl Barth, James Baldwin, and W.E.B. Du Bois with ease. He was a recipient of numerous honorary degrees and is an author of a dozen substantial scholarly books, such as God of the Oppressed and The Cross and the Lynching Tree.

He was a professor at Union Theological Seminary in New York City for fifty years. In addition to his talents and accolades, Dr. Cone has influenced a host of theologians and scholars such as bell hooks, Dwight Hopkins, and numerous seminaries utilize his writings as textbooks. He has influenced prominent African American preachers from Freddy D. Haynes to Jeremiah Wright.

Cone was a founding father of Black Liberation Theology. Black Liberation Theology is one of the few and new indigenous theological developments of North America. It is a theology that was formed in the aftermath of the Civil Rights movement led by Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and the liberation theology of Gustavo Gutiérrez. Cone strived to bring together the love ethic of Martin Luther King Jr. and the robust affirmation of black identity found in Malcolm X.

Cone utilized Black Liberation to leverage the black experience of oppression as an exhaustive hermeneutic, to engage in the liberation of black people through the discipline of theology and social engagement. Speaking of liberation theology as a whole, Douglas D. Webster, professor of Divinity at Beeson, states “the strength of liberation theology is in its compassion for the poor and its conviction that the Christian should not remain passive and indifferent to their plight. Man’s inhumanity to man is sin and deserves the judgment of God and Christian resistance. Liberation theology is a plea for costly discipleship and a reminder that following Jesus has a practical, social, and political consequences.”  

Dr. Cone also challenged the inconsistency of many white Christian authors, theologians, and traditions. To him, there was a great gulf fixed between their orthodoxy and their orthopraxy. Dr. Cone questioned how could they proclaim love for God, whom was invisible, yet hate their melanin-blessed neighbors. He was perplexed that many white theologians ignored and even worse, defended the gross institution of slavery. This blind spot was spiritual wickedness to Dr. Cone, indeed all people of color.

The issue continues today. Many Evangelicals are quick to bid farewell to preachers and theologians who error on normative perspectives like hell, the Trinity, and biblical inerrancy. We will question the salvation of those who error on the ethical perspectives of theology like abortion and marriage. However, silence is golden when police brutality, mass incarceration, and injustice parade in our communities.

Prophetically, Cone critiqued conservatives and liberals with equal precision. “Unfortunately, American theologians from Cotton Mather and Jonathan Edwards to Reinhold Niebuhr and Schubert Ogden, including radicals and conservatives, have interpreted the gospel according to the cultural and political interest of white people. They have rarely attempted to transcend the social interest of their group by seeking an analysis of the gospel in the light of the consciousness of black people struggling for liberation. White theologians, because of their identity with the dominant power structure, are largely boxed within their own cultural history.”

Cone was not merely against white people. He was against white supremacy clothed in theological disguise. This is the lasting contribution, for which we must be grateful. Without a doubt, we must appreciate the critical challenges presented to white normativity that oppressed black theological imaginations and engagement. We must celebrate the many criticisms Cone courageously made against white supremacy and racist tendencies that have historically and presently crippled the consciousness of Christianity.  

Yes, I admit there are theological errors and pragmatic deficiencies found in some of Cone’s conclusions. With biblical fidelity, black liberation theology warrants a robust reformation that affirms biblical authority, the image of God, divine Christology, and essentially a gospel-centered pursuit for reconciliation between ethnic communities. Conversely, we must realize any criticism of Cone’s theological development cannot be a product of imperialized or colonized cultures not willing to first critique the clay feet of their cultural and theological heroes.

That’s why we remember him. We remember Dr. Cone because he was bold and courageous. James Cone snatched Christianity out of the grips of white supremacy and cultural normativity. He single handedly deconstructed the notion that Christianity was the white man’s religion. Lisa Fields, founder of Jude 3 Project stated, “Cone was a type of apologist. He was attempting to defend the faith to a marginalized group who’ve had the gospel misrepresented by racist white Christians.”

James Cone was our C.S. Lewis. Did we always agree with him? No. But he was our poet. He melodically and doctrinally spelled out the problem of our pain. He helped us see hope and our suffering redeemed in the biblical narrative. He showed us Aslan was on our side; saving his people. He was the uncle at the BBQ who said what we all were thinking but too afraid to say. He was gallant. He was wise. He was flawed. He was James, and he showed us; “trouble don’t last always.”


CAM TRIGGS.jpg

Cam Triggs is the Lead Pastor of Grace Alive in Orlando, FL and the Director of Urban Apologetics for Jude 3 Project. He is a proud graduate of the University of Central Florida and Reformed Theological Seminary. More importantly, he is the husband to his amazing wife Tymara and they are raising two phenomenal kids.