ChickenBones: A Journal
for Literary & Artistic African-American Themes
Instead of the three selfs of missionary theoreticians, e.g., self-support,
self-government, self-propagation, the people of the South have opted
for self-interpretation and self-theologizing
Books By Justo L. Gonzalez
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By Justo L. Gonzalez
Religious Escapism & Sacralization of the Status Quo
in Greek-Influenced Christian Theology
A Review by Rudolph Lewis
With the global pursuit of justice, the adherents of traditional or classical Christian theology have been forced to question if not abandon their naïve confidence in the universality of their theological reflections. The ivory towers of biblical critics no longer seem to be pinioned on solid ground and the boundaries of the catholicity of tradition-minded theologians seem more provincial than paradigmatic, according to R. Pannikar, Alfred T. Hennelly, and John Braxton. A newcomer to this theological fray is what is being called Hispanic-American theology, or simply Hispanic theology, a close relative of Latin American theology whose most notable proponent is Peruvian theologian Gustavo Gutierrez.
Unique among a growing number of Hispanic American religionists is Justo L. Gonzalez, a Cuban exile who is a Protestant rather than a Catholic theologian, belonging to the United Methodist denomination. His published works include nearly seventy books and about four hundred articles and bible lessons, which can be found in the Dictionary of Bible and Religion, Church History, Theology Today, Encounter, and other well-respected religious publications, including Apuntes, a journal of Hispanic theology, of which he is the editor. Rather than Marxist, his critical form of liberation theology is strictly based on Scripture, in which the powerful is seen in relation to the weak, the rich in relation to the poor, the high and mighty in relation to the oppressed.
Similar to Latin American theology, Gonzalez, however, does make use of the social sciences to make critical statements about history, social conditions, and political power and how these have had an impact on the lives and perceptions of Hispanic Americans. For these aspects of human endeavors, for him, are just as important as the religious and the intellectual and cannot be tossed aside as if they had no relevance to mans religious and spiritual life. In this approach, Hispanic theology is related to black theology and feminist theology in the United States.
Gonzalez considers the perspective of his people, Mestizos (a racial mixture of Indian and Spaniard), so significant and of such importance that he dedicates four chapters of his short book Manana: Christian Theology from a Hispanic Perspective to such an exposition. In Chapter 1, Gonzalez states forthrightly that his theological task is not without bias and that he has little confidence in the intellectual honesty of those theologians who have pretense of neutrality. His task as he sees it is to discover the purposes of God, to read the signs of the times, and to call the church to obedience in the present situation (22). In addition he outlines some of the topics he will cover in later chapters which include the latent class, cultural, and religious conflicts among Hispanics, the relationship of the church and the world, the authority of Scripture, and the use of Bible to support repression and injustice (25).
Hispanic Identity & A New Reformation
In Chapter 2 of Manana, Gonzalez corrects the mistaken identity of Hispanic Americans and emphasizes the repeated theme of the ignorance of members of the majority culture of their own history as well as those of other peoples. In that Hispanics are usually viewed as recent immigrants, Gonzalez makes the point that his people are not newcomers to the American landscape. Nineteen years before Sir Water Raleigh and Virginia, the Spanish based in Cuba founded St. Augustine (Florida) and twelve years before the Pilgrims landed on Plymouth Rock the Spanish founded the city of Santa Fe, New Mexico (31). Rather than newcomers, Hispanic Americans have undergone an expansionist process in which they have been engulfed. Their conquest by Anglo-Americans have left them displaced, impoverished, uneducated, and culturally repressed. Their condition is such that they can be rightly considered a people in exile. This existential condition causes his people to identify with Israel in Babylon. His song is that of Micah 4:4: The Zion to which we sing, the Zion for which we hope, the Zion toward which we live is the coming of God . . . while we wait for that day, it may be that, as exiles, we have some insights into what it means to be a pilgrim people of God, followers of One who had nowhere to lay his head (42).
The third chapter of Manana establishes Hispanic theology in its proper context. In accomplishing this task he sketches out the macroevents of world history and the macroformations of the twentieth century which he believes are as relevant and determining as the Protestant Reformation of the sixteenth century. The first of the macroevents occurred after the death of the Emperor Constantine. Regrettably, Christianity allied itself with the existing political and social order and profited from it. Some of that power was eroded by the French (1848) and Russian (1917) revolutions and by more recent developments in Latin America. The second macroevent occurred in the hegemony of the North Atlantic powers, namely, Great Britain, France, and the United States and their failures in bearing the white mans burden. The masses of the world are tragically the failures of the promises of the North. Its neocolonialism rather than the continuation of earlier injustice has increased the misery of the masses by forced agricultural policies and the making the South a battlefield for ideological wars (46). The failure of such policies can be seen in the increased desire to immigrate to America. The third macroevents is the growing self-consciousness of the once silent masses.
The Reformation of the twentieth century has manifested itself in the altered viewed of the broad masses. Instead of the three selfs of missionary theoreticians, e.g., self-support, self-government, self-propagation, the people of the South have opted for self-interpretation and self-theologizing. In the post-Constantinian era, Hispanics are seeking a deeper understanding of the biblical message, rather than a theology of glory they are moving toward a theology of the cross, which will provide the church with greater opportunities of faithfulness (49). The third macroformation is a turning away from Eleatic-Platonic understanding of truth as that which is changeless and toward Scripture for truth and the nature of truth with an emphasis on justice (50). The fourth macroformation is a radical ecumenism, a reaching out to various ecclesiastical communities that may not be in total agreement as to the content of orthodoxy (51).
Chapter 4 of Manana exposes the ecclesiastical roles the church has played in the history of Hispanics in the Americas. Gonzalez concludes that there have been two churches. That of the lords and bishops has been the arm of the powers of conquest, colonialism, and oppression and it had little idea of the sufferings that the Indians were undergoing in their process of Christianization. This church only saw churches being built, tithes collected, schools founded, civilization being brought to the savages (57). The other church was that represented mostly by friarsFranciscans, Dominicans, Jesuits, Mercedariansthose who took vows of poverty and obedience. They worked in places and situations the secular clergy would not work so as to witness and often share the poverty and sufferings of their flocks (57-58). These friars who defended the Indians, protesting against their mistreatment included Bartholome de la Casas, Antonio de Montesinos, St. Luis Beltran. In his willingness to follow in the steps of Jesus, the Catalonian Jesuit Pedro Claver added a fourth vow to the traditional three of poverty, chastity, and obedienceforever a slave to blacks (59).
Initially, in Latin America, Protestantism was viewed as a liberating force because of its emphasis on education of the masses and its emphasis on the Scripture. But it generated conflicts among Hispanics and devalued the culture of Hispanic Americans while elevating unconsciously the culture of the United States. But now there is a new Protestantism and a new Catholicism in Latin America that have a practical and political side, undoing the prejudices of the past. Among Hispanic religionists there is a new ecumenism, a new way of being Catholic and Protestant. An example of this new ecumenism can be seen in the Foreword of Manana when Virgilio P. Elizondo, the Mexicano Catholic who founded in 1972 the Mexican American Cultural Center in San Antonio, Texas, and friend of Gonzalez. Elizondo declares that he views himself as a Catholic Protestant and Gonzalez as a Protestant Catholic.
Hispanic History & Biblical Interpretation
After creating this context for Hispanic theology, Gonzalez, in Chapter 5 of Manana, entitled Reading the Bible in Spanish, turns to how Hispanic theology interprets Scripture. Two terms are used to explain the Hispanic perspective of the Bible: innocent history and noninnocent history. Anglo-Americana view their own history naively. Theirs is a selective forgetfulness, used precisely to avoid the consequences of a more realistic memory (79). This same guiltless reading, they also apply to the New Testament, which is preferred over, what Gonzalez calls, the Older Testament (78, 81). The writers of the Scripture, including those of the Gospels, possessed, however, a noninnocent view of history. In that history Abraham lies about Sarah to save his own skin; Jacob steals his brothers birthright; Joseph suffers from the treachery of his brothers; Moses and his fellow Israelites fear to take on the cause of Yahweh; David commits adultery and murders his lovers husband; and Solomon turns to idolatry (75-76). In the New Testament genealogy of Jesus, his skeletons are not concealed in his closet. We are reminded of the incest of Tamar, the harlotry of Rahab, and of Ruth, the Gentile.
This history beyond innocence is the history of Hispanics, Gonzalez concludes. Hispanics were born out of an act of violence of cosmic proportions in which our Spanish forefathers raped our Indian foremothers (77). The cannibalism and the bloody sacrifices of Native Americans are all too well-known. Hispanics have no skeletons in our closet. Their skeletons are the heart and reality of their history. They have identified with the Israelites and read themselves into the history of Scripture. Hispanic theology avoids the perspective of the gnostics and Marcion in how its views the Older Testament, which is still viewed by many as obsolete, a view which tends to support our present semi-Marcionite hersey (81).
This semi-Marcionism holds that since Jesus is the final and supreme revelation of God, the whole of Scripture is to be read and interpreted from the viewpoint of this message. This is true as far as it goes. But it forgets that since the Old Testament is the history of Gods revelation and action in preparation for the coming of Christ, the message of Jesus must be interpreted in the light of that revelation and action (81).
A reading of the Bible in Spanish goes beyond a cultural and linguistic enterprise. This reading is a realization that the Bible is a political book.
Political conservatives have placed an emphasis on the Newer Testament in order to promote their apolitical brand of Christianity. But the Newer Testament, Gonzalez explains, was written when Christians were dominated by the Greco-Roman world, one in which the people of God had little or no power, and therefore the ordering of society was not an agenda on which they could have the immediate and direct impact (84). Hispanic theology needs a new reading of Scripture and must develop its own grammar:
When we approach a text, we must ask first not the spiritual questions or the doctrinal questionsthe Bible is not primarily a book about spiritual reality, except in its own sense, nor is it a book about doctrinesbut the political questions: who in this text is in power? Who is powerless? What is the nature of their relationship? Whose side does God take? In this approach to Scripture lies the beginning of the new reformation of the twentieth century (85).
The Scripture is not about the individual merely; it is about a community of believers. The singularly you can be found only in Philemon, I and II Timothy, and Titus. The good news of the Scripture is not merely life after death, and certainly it is not the central message of the Scripture, argues Gonzalez. Gods salvation is not purely spiritual in the common sense of that term, but is also political and social (83). The Bible, according to Gonzalez, is not its own end; biblical scholarship must return from the written text to the context in which we must live today (86).
Who Is the Christian God?
The remaining chapters of Manana, six through eleven, turn primary to theology properto who God is, his nature, the Trinity, Gods relationship with the world. In so doing, Gonzalez also considers christology (the person and work of Jesus Christ, soteriology (salvation and what it means to be saved), theological anthropology (what it means to be human, sin, and original sin). Gonzalezs approach is fundamental, for he investigates the sources and methods of traditional Christian theology. As with biblical criticism, Gonzalez exposes the hidden agendas of Christian traditions, its doctrines and dogmas, and its heresies. He looks at all these in their social and political context.
Gonzalez begins chapter six with the warning that we should not be too anxious to condemn the God is dead movement of the 1960s. For some of the intellectual images that have been created and raised to the level of the divine are idolatrous and they are deserving of death (95). Christian idols resulted from the encounter between early Christians and the Greco-Roman world (96). This type of inculturation had occurred early in Judaism with Philo of Alexandria who tried to make the God of Abraham more palatable to the Gentile world. “Christian theologians, Gonzalez points out, came to the conclusion that Scripture is best interpreted in the light of Greek philosophymore specifically, Platonic philosophy (96). Clement of Alexandria felt the Greek language was more precise. Such a turn was not a sociopolitical neutral idea.
The use of such terms as omnipotent, omnipresent, omniscient, and, in negative terms, impassible, immutable, infinite, and uncreated made God more aristocratic. This transformation was done in order to support the privilege of the higher classes by sacralizing changelessness as a divine characteristic (98). All such characterization of the divine, according to Gonzalez, are unbiblical. The Bible does not speak of God in Godself, but rather always speaks of God in relation to his creation and a people (92) The God of the Scripture is the active and sovereign ruler of history; he suffers with the oppressed, suffers oppressions and injustice. In this sense, if that is the condition of being a minority, God is a minority (93). This characterization reminds one of James Cones argument that God is black.
In Chapter 7, Gonzalez presents the Trinity from a Hispanic perspective, which in Church doctrine has been described in such Greek terms as ousia, homoousios, hypostasis, and the likenone of which can be found in Scripture in its way of speaking of God (102). Such references to three can be found at Matthew 28:19 and I John 5:7. The early church, according to Paul, did hold faith in three. In accepting the Greek characterization of the divine as immutable, Christian theologians were led to the question of how such a God can relate to a mutable world (103). For Justin Martyr, the doctrine of the logos served as a link between God and the world, the immutable and the mutable, a bridge between Christian revelation and classical philosophy (104). As a parenthesis, Gonzalez points out how the logos has been abused in post-Constantinian missionary work with those whom the West was unable to conquer. In that the logos was the source of all knowledge, all that was known was known through the logos. Some nations of the South were visited by the logos, such as China and India, but not so of those in Africa and the New World whose people were perceived as savages.
For Justin, in part, Plato and Socrates were Christians (104). The Nicean Creed of 325 CE rejected such formulations, including the Arian heresy, which argued that God did not relate to the world because of his immutability. But the Council of Nicea, according to Gonzalez was an imperial affair and had sociopolitical implications. What was concluded at Nicea and argued by Athanasius, the leader of the Nicene party, was that the Jewish carpenter of Galilee, convicted and executed as a criminal by the Roman empire, was God. Such a notion did not stand well with Constantine, who ended up silencing the Nicene party and supporting the Arian party. Constantine on his death bed was baptized by Eusebius, a leader of the Arian party and one of the emperors most trusted advisers in religious matters (113). Patripassianism and Adoptionism were other attempts to reconcile the notion of Gods immutability and his humanity. For Gonzalez, the Trinity is not a puzzle to be solved, rather an example to be followed. His economic doctrine of the Trinity is community, commonality; it is a life of sharing, in contradistinction to one of greed, which was denounced by such proponents of the Trinity as Ambrose, Jerome, Basil the Great, and Gregory Nazianzen.
In Chapter 8 Gonzalez reaffirms the goodness of creation, in which he includes both heaven and earth. Like man, both are temporal, resulting from the will of God. The prevalent view perceives Gods creation in an hierarchical order, partially as a result of Pseudo-Dionysius, in which creation is viewed as emanations from God. The result of such a perspective some are considered closer to God than others. In his teaching, the last shall be first, Jesus took an anti-hierarchical stance. In one view, heaven is spiritualized; it is a place up there, and earth is the physical place we live in bodies, and where events occur that have significance only insomuch as they open or close the way to heaven (120). This is the escapist, spiritualizing position. In the second view, there exists only the physical, the empirical, the measurable world. For Hispanic theology both positions are unsatisfactory.
For Gonzalez, heaven is a hidden order of reality that reminds us that the empirical, predictable, measurable earth is not the totality of creation (120). The use of so called pure reason to get at universal truth is a ruse, for by such methods truth is unattainable; it is a myth, a means to discourage those whose strength comes from the hope of divine intervention (121). Creation in Hispanic theology is not a statement of origins but about the continuous creation and creating of God, a statement about present reality and present responsibility (123). The problem of the theory of evolution, with respect to creation, is its doctrine of the survival of the fittest, whereas the rule of creation is the victory of love (123).
In Chapter 9, Gonzalez takes a closer look at Christian anthropology. He critiques again the hierarchically ordering of humanity found in Christian doctrines and defines more concretely the notion of sin than that which usually occurs in traditional or classical theology. Though Scripture sustains the dichotomist (body and soul) and the trichotomist (body, soul and, spirit) perspectives of man, Gonzalez discounts both as irrelevant and considers both as potential tools for the dehumanization of man. For the Bible in general, according to Gonzalez, does not speak of human beings as divided into two parts or substances; rather it speaks of a single entity (127). These concepts were derived from Plato, and from Socrates, who confidently goes to his death, with faith in the immortality of the soul. In the Bible, according to Gonzalez, body and soul are used interchangeably.
From the perspective of Hispanic theology, the doctrine of the immortality of the soul, which passes for Christian orthodoxy, is no more biblical than the doctrines of the preexistence and transfiguration of the soul. All three notions have their origins in Greek philosophy and all three have sociopolitical implications and have been used to justify oppression. Once making the division of man into two parts of physical and psychical, it becomes an easy matter, according to Gonzalez, for the hierarchization of those [two] substances, in which the body is subordinated and the soul or intellect is elevated. It was on this basis that the church argued that it had a higher authority than the state. It is on this basis that intellectual work is valued over physical work; and it is on this basis that the theologian at the university or the seminary feels justified in receiving a greater pay than those who cook his food or pick up his garbage. Gonzalez concludes, it may well be that theology is best done with dirt under ones fingernails (129).
Hispanic theology views the notion of sin in a manner similar to that of Dietrich Bonhoeffer as expressed in his Letters and Papers from Prison (1967), in which he expressed an unimportant and nonexistent concern for personal sin and soul saving. For Gonzalez, the body , though made of dirt, is not a curse. Sin is not always a crime, and crime is not always a sin, and the socialized conscience is not the best judge of sin. Moses, early Christians, and Martin Luther King were declared criminals, yet they were outlaws for God. Greed is not a crime, but the Scripture does condemn it as sin. In our society sin, in common parlance, is almost equated with sexual activity. According to Gonzalez, the God of the Bible is concerned with the misuse of property at least as much as with the misuse of sex (135). The sexualization of sin, Gonzalez believes, is closely connected with the hierarchical understanding of soul and body (136).
This privatization of sin, according to Gonzalez, developed out of the Greek philosophical tradition that promoted the idea that the goal of wisdom was to have the mind be totally in control of the body, as those who rule, viewed often as the mind of society, should have control over the masses, who are body and lacking in intellect.
Such privatization of sin contradicts the very nature of our humanity. It is not good for us to be alone. An individual alone is not the person God intended. We are created in for-otherness. It is only when that for-otherness takes place that we are the human beings God intends. This for-otherness is for God as well as for creation and for other human beings. We stand amid Gods creation, as part of it and responsible to it and to others as the concrete expression of our responsibility towards God (136).
From the perspective of Hispanic theology, the primal sin was not too much pride, rather too much humility in the face of the tempter, and the refusal to stand up against a violation of for-otherness.
The Greek God of Escapism
In chapter ten of Manana, Gonzalez makes a direct attack against the Hellenization of God or the Constantinization of God, which in effect is a static characterization of God.. He affirms again that the God of Scripture is a living God. Along with the use of the Greek notion of being, Christian theologians have allegorized the Scriptures so as to dishistoricized the Bible and make themselves exponents of the theology of the status quo (139). Gonzalez goes on to make attacks against gnosticism and docetism, both of which devalue the body and earthly existence. The gnostic view of salvation consists of being able to flee this material world, usually by means of a secret knowledge; for the docetists, our suffering and death, as well as all the injustice and evil that exist in this world are not important. Our bodies are prisons holding our souls in the material world and clouding our visions of spiritual realities (141). They both offer salvation out of this world, without having to confront its present evil (143). Too often this is the preaching and teaching religionists hear: forget about this life and think about the one to come. The Lordship of Jesus, however, consists in his being for-otherness. God is, for Gonzalez, being-for-otherness. That is his glory and that of Jesus (153).
The concluding chapter 11 of Manana concerns itself with Christian spirituality, which Gonzalez believes, cannot be spoken of apart from the Holy Spirit. In Acts 2:17, we are told that the Spirit is pored out on all flesh. Man is not above nature but a part of it. As part of created reality it is the nature of man to sin; the Spirit is the power that intervenes to make things become what they are not (160). That Spirit exists in community, in love of neighbor, in acts of sharing possessions, in reaching out to others, practicing the love of Gods reign, rather than the rule of the powerful which is for profit and profit primarily and foremost. Gonzalez concludes his exposition with this thought. Ones investment in the present order makes it very difficult to live in expectation of a different order (163).
I find no fault in Justo L. Gonzalezs Manana: Christian Theology from a Hispanic Perspective. Though brief in its 167 pages of text, it is powerful, informative, and insightful, a work deserving of a greater audience and broader dissemination. His narration is such that it is an easy read. All can profit from his wisdom and scholarship. I have found a few minor flaws in how the book was constructed. In that the book is densely packed with unfamiliar names and concepts, footnotes rather than endnotes would have facilitated a quicker read, than having continually to flip to the back of the book. I also have problems with books without an index. In future editions, such a courtesy would make it easy for quick references and cross referencing of concepts and names.
Because of the nature of the subject, Christian history and theology, Gonzalez was not able to go into extraordinary detail on all the social, historical, political, and philosophical aspects of the material he presents in Manana. This, of course, is not a real flaw. Manana is best seen as an introduction to Hispanic theology. Because of his easy narration and clarity, one will be thus be encouraged to read and explore his many other works, including Faith and Wealth (1990), Christian Thought Revisited: Three Types of Theology (1999), and his three-volume A History of Christian Thought (1987). I would consider myself blessed, if I had any or all of his books on my library shelf.
. By Justo L. Gonzalez. Nashville: Abingdon Press, 1990, 184 pp. $17.00
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By Michele Alexander
Contrary to the rosy picture of race embodied in Barack Obama’s political success and Oprah Winfrey’s financial success, legal scholar Alexander argues vigorously and persuasively that [w]e have not ended racial caste in America; we have merely redesigned it. Jim Crow and legal racial segregation has been replaced by mass incarceration as a system of social control (More African Americans are under correctional control today… than were enslaved in 1850). Alexander reviews American racial history from the colonies to the Clinton administration, delineating its transformation into the war on drugs. She offers an acute analysis of the effect of this mass incarceration upon former inmates who will be discriminated against, legally, for the rest of their lives, denied employment, housing, education, and public benefits. Most provocatively, she reveals how both the move toward colorblindness and affirmative action may blur our vision of injustice: most Americans know and don’t know the truth about mass incarcerationbut her carefully researched, deeply engaging, and thoroughly readable book should change that.Publishers Weekly
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Edited by Miriam DeCosta-Willis
Blacks in Hispanic Literature is a collection of fourteen essays by scholars and creative writers from Africa and the Americas. Called one of two significant critical works on Afro-Hispanic literature to appear in the late 1970s, it includes the pioneering studies of Carter G. Woodson and Valaurez B. Spratlin, published in the 1930s, as well as the essays of scholars whose interpretations were shaped by the Black aesthetic. The early essays, primarily of the Black-as-subject in Spanish medieval and Golden Age literature, provide an historical context for understanding 20th-century creative works by African-descended, Hispanophone writers, such as Cuban Nicolás Guillén and Ecuadorean poet, novelist, and scholar Adalberto Ortiz, whose essay analyzes the significance of Negritude in Latin America. This collaborative text set the tone for later conferences in which writers and scholars worked together to promote, disseminate, and critique the literature of Spanish-speaking people of African descent. . . . Cited by a literary critic in 2004 as “the seminal study in the field of Afro-Hispanic Literature . . . on which most scholars in the field ‘cut their teeth’.”
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From The World and Africa, 1965
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update 5 January 2012