Over the past couple years there have been several minor controversies in US seminaries about assigned texts. Masters Seminary (started by John MacArthur) about a year ago had a former student write about the fact that he had not read a single book by a Black author during his seminary studies. That prompted a response by another former student that was (is?) a staff person at the seminary. The response includes this quote:
“I don’t mean to be dismissive of their contribution, but African-American Christians are a small portion built upon the main foundation, that just so happens to be, according to God’s providence, a white, Western European/English one.”
A more recent controversy came up because in the context of a NY Times article about racism in the church, an SBC seminary professor talked about assigning James H Cone and that created calls for the professor to resign, which prompted this response from him. It is yet another example of the systemic problems within the Evangelical church that is ignorant about non-White culture and because of that lack of cultural understanding and a lack of good history, perpetuates a belief in White cultural superiority as the quote above does.
I first read James H Cone during my seminary years almost 25 years ago. But within the past couple years I have read four of Cone’s books and continue to think that White Evangelicals need to grapple with the theological contributions of Black and other theologians outside of the White Evangelical space. I am continually surprised that the case needs to be made for this, but at the same time, I know that personally it is easy to fall into reading the same White, mostly male, authors. This is part of why I have been attempting to keep my reading to no more than 1/3 White authors this year. It takes attention because it is easy to fall into reading what others around me are reading or reading what is most recently on sale, or the new thing that everyone is talking about. And that is probably a White guy.
All of that long introduction brings me to Cone’s The Spirituals and the Blues. You cannot read more than a few pages in any of Cone’s books without finding a reference to music. Someday I would like to put together playlists to accompany each of Cone’s books that would put the original songs in order so that readers can hear the songs in full context as they read.
The Spirituals and the Blues is a short theological book that takes seriously the historical context of the music that has shaped the Black church and then theologically explicates the themes of the music. This is a brief book, only about 150 pages.