ChickenBones: A Journal

for Literary & Artistic African-American Themes



Roberts fails to provide that which is essential to his theodicy:

the criteria for distinguishing between redemptive and nonredemptive suffering



Is God a White Racist?

A Preamble to Black Theology

By William R. Jones

Reviewed by William Muehl


It would be easy to see the title of this book as a publisher’s gimmick – but it would be a mistake to do so. The author – a Unitarian-Universalist clergyman as well as an associate professor of philosophy of religion at Yale University divinity school – describes the possibility of divine racism as a “threshold issue” for black theology. “My concern,” he writes, “is not to establish the truth of the charge of divine racism. Rather, my intent is to demonstrate that the normative frameworks of the black theologians are questionable, because they raise the issue of divine racism and, once [it is] raised, cannot effectively refute the charge with their present theological resources.”

William R. Jones believes that if black theology is to reflect the authentic experience of the black community and speak to its real needs, it must re-examine its commitment to some of the basic doctrines of biblical faith. The problem of theodicy – the question of God’s justice in the presence of human suffering – is the pad from which Jones launches his assault and from which he believes all effective attacks will have to originate. For him, the frailty of classical theodicies in view of massive oppression is symptomatic of fatal flaws in the corpus of Christian theology.

The first of the volume’s three major parts, “An Overview of divine Racism,” outlines Jones’ thesis and suggests its significance for the thought of such secular contemporaries as Sartre and Camus, as well as the black theologians with whom he is primarily concerned. He draws skillfully upon the poetry of Countee Cullen to depict the anguish of black men and women torn between denying the reality of God and accepting him as the real enemy. This opening section closes with the contention that a theology of liberation must be able to challenge the “sanctity and hallowed status” of the bases of black oppression.

Part II, “Black Suffering and Black theology: An Internal Critique,” analyzes the theodicies of five major black theologians: Joseph Washington, James Cone, Albert Cleage, Major Jones, and J. Deotis Roberts. The author describes this portion of his work as a “family squabble” within the ranks of black religion and warns the reader that it will not be easily understood without a solid grounding in contemporary black theology.

Each of the theologians discussed by Jones represents an approach to the problem of theodicy which the author finds inadequate at some critical point. Washington’s suffering-servant stance can encourage quietism in the face of white oppression. Cone fails to demonstrate the validity of his basic assumption – i.e., that black liberation is central to God’s essence. Cleage’s chosen-people doctrine cannot cope with the massive and continuing nature of black suffering. Major Jones does not resolve the paradox of the “helpless God” who is also Lord of history. And Roberts fails to provide that which is essential to his theodicy: the criteria for distinguishing between redemptive and nonredemptive suffering.

Jones treats each of these men with perceptive sensitivity, appreciative of the tasks which they have set for themselves; nonetheless, he hews steadily to his own thesis – that no theodicy which accepts God as the omnipotent and benevolent ruler of history can account for black oppression.

In Part III Jones moves “Toward a Black Theodicy for Today.” Here he offers “humanocentric theism,” not as his own final position but as the stance most congenial to black religious tradition that can establish a basis for a theology of liberation. He draws upon Martin Buber, Harvey Cox, and Richard Rubenstein as landmarks to indicate the general terrain on which he is working. The concept of a God who has given humankind co-determining power within creation, or even autonomy in historical relationships, commends itself to Jones as avoiding those dilemmas of theodicy that undermine orthodox theology. And, Jones acknowledges with winsome candor, humanocentric theism is only one short step from his own destination – secular humanism.

Jones does an excellent job of demonstrating the crucial character of theodicy for black theology today. He sees quite clearly that the forward sweep of liberation will soon leave behind – if it has not already done so – most of the fragile emotional structures which black Christians have used to bridge the gap between faith and experience. One cannot doubt his warning that any theology that assumes that black people are willing to continue suffering massive injustice, or that they can be persuaded that there is something redemptive in doing so, dooms itself to irrelevance.

My primary reservation about the book has to do with the author’s equation of group oppression and personal suffering. The two frequently go together, but – as the history of Jews, women, and black people themselves make clear – oppression is both a relative and imprecise concept. What do the richly rewarding lives that many individuals manage to work out within an oppressive framework say about Jones’ approach to theodicy?

Despite the author’s specific concern with black theology, this book has much to say to people of all races who grapple with the problem of pain and try to understand its place in their own theological traditions. At times Jones is instructive to the point of pedantry, but the questions he raises are effectively posed. They compelled at least one reader to undertake some detailed and painful homework.

Source: The Christian Century (20 February 1974)


Dr. William R. Jones is an internationally-recognized scholar in the areas of Multiculturalism, Liberation Theology, and Oppression. He has been a member of the Florida State University faculty since 1977, when he became the first director of African American Studies and a professor in the Department of Religion.

William R. Jones has devoted his 35-year career as a scholar, educator, philosopher, and activist to the diagnosis and mapping of oppression and the development of strategies to correct social inequities. Central, if not inaugural, to this work has been the investigation of liberation theology, religious humanism, and theories of culture.

Dr. Jones has presented his research in South Africa, Kenya, Martinique, Ghana, Korea, Belgium, Puerto Rico, Spain, Uruguay, Canada, and Great Britain. In addition to endowed and major lectures sat such institutions as Cornell, Union Theological Seminary, Tufts, Vanderbilt, Ohio State, Tuskegee Institute, and Wesley Theological Seminary, he has worked with countless grassroots organizations and churches across America.

Born in Louisville, Kentucky Dr. Jones received his B.A. with highest honors in philosophy form Howard University, his Masters of Divinity, from Harvard University (W.E.B. Du Bois Institute), and his Ph.D., in Religious Studies from Brown University. Prior to accepting his positions at FSU, he was a member of the faculty at Yale Divinity School and served as Coordinator of African American Studies.

He has also held visiting professorships at Brown University, Princeton Theological Seminary, Union Theological Seminary, Iliff School of Theology, and the Humanist Institute in New York.

Professor Jones has also served on the editorial boards of the American Journal of Theology and Philosophy, UNIQUEST, the Journal of Religious Humanism, the Journal of Metaphilosophy, and Kairos. In addition, he has served on steering, credential, and awards committees at the Harvard Divinity School, the Union Theological Seminary, the University of Cincinnati, and the Unitarian Universalist Association.

He is the author of many articles and chapters on oppression and the role of the church in social change. His work has been the subject of many articles, dissertations, newspaper and journal features, as well as several directory listings. In 1978, Jones co-edited Black Theology II with Calvin E. Bruce. In December 1997, Beacon Press released Jones’s controversial, 1973 work, Is God A White Racist? Prolegomenon to Black Theology, with a new preface and afterword. He is currently at work on two books outlining the Jones’ Analytical Method and the Jones’ Oppression Grid: The Mis-Religion of the Negro and Oppression: The Good That People Do.

*   *   *   *   *’s 25 Best Selling Books

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Forged: Writing in the Name of God

Why the Bible’s Authors Are Not Who We Think They Are

By Bart D. Ehrman

The evocative title tells it all and hints at the tone of sensationalism that pervades this book. Those familiar with the earlier work of Ehrman, a distinguished professor of religious studies at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, and author of more than 20 books including Misquoting Jesus, will not be surprised at the content of this one. Written in a manner accessible to nonspecialists, Ehrman argues that many books of the New Testament are not simply written by people other than the ones to whom they are attributed, but that they are deliberate forgeries. The word itself connotes scandal and crime, and it appears on nearly every page. Indeed, this book takes on an idea widely accepted by biblical scholars: that writing in someone else’s name was common practice and perfectly okay in ancient times. Ehrman argues that it was not even then considered acceptable—hence, a forgery. While many readers may wish for more evidence of the charge, Ehrman’s introduction to the arguments and debates among different religious communities during the first few centuries and among the early Christians themselves, though not the book’s main point, is especially valuable.—Publishers Weekly  / Forged Bart Ehrman’s New Salvo (


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By Miguel A. De La Torre

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The White Masters of the World

From The World and Africa, 1965

By W. E. B. Du Bois

W. E. B. Du Bois’ Arraignment and Indictment of White Civilization (Fletcher)

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Ancient African Nations

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The Death of Emmett Till by Bob Dylan  The Lonesome Death of Hattie Carroll  Only a Pawn in Their Game

Rev. Jesse Lee Peterson Thanks America for Slavery /

George Jackson  / Hurricane Carter

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The Journal of Negro History issues at Project Gutenberg

The Haitian Declaration of Independence 1804  / January 1, 1804 — The Founding of Haiti 

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update 28 July 2008




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