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From Strength to Strength: Toward a Theology of African American Christian Consciousness

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Part of the Black Religion / Womanist Thought / Social Justice book series (BRWT)

Abstract

The seminal dividend of the unique encounter of the African American with the Christian faith is unquestionably the yield of strength. Strength then, is the pivotal concept in the appreciation, evaluation, and characterization of African American Christian consciousness. It is, as well, the axis at which the religious experience (spirituality) and the theology of African American Christian consciousness intersect. At the theological level, the notion of strength heavily impacts the shape and selection of the root metaphors and the formation of dominant themes.1 By replacing the notion of power with the notion of strength in key places, we are able to draw much closer to the existential epicenter of African American Christian consciousness. We can better understand, for instance, why the theodicy issue hasn’t provided more of a disturbance than it has in the formation of an allegiance of the African American to the Christian God. In fact, I want to argue that the notion of “Christian God” could be misleading when applied to African Americans, if by that one is referring to the stale notion employed by many academic theologians, both black and white or otherwise. The experience of African Americans is best understood through the notion of the divine and communion with the divine.

Keywords

Black People Religious Experience Christian Faith Black Church Black Experience 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.

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Notes

  1. 1.
    David Tracy, “Metaphor and Religion: The Test Case of Christian Texts,” in On Metaphor, ed. Sheldon Sacks (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1979).Google Scholar
  2. 2.
    For a basic understanding of how I am using the phrase “experience near,” see Charles B. Strozier, Heinz Kohut: The Making of A Psychoanalyst (New York: Other Press, 2001), 338–339. “What is ‘near’ in this case for Kohut is present, observable, palpable, and self-psychological. What would be “distant” would be an ex planation from the outside, and in Freudian drive terms. A theory of self, one might say, inevitably keeps one experience-near.”Google Scholar
  3. 3.
    James H. Cone, God of the Oppressed (New York: Seabury Press, 1975), 18.Google Scholar
  4. 6.
    Nathan Huggins, Black Odyssey: The African-American Ordeal in Slavery (New York: Vintage Books, 1977), xxiv–xxv.Google Scholar
  5. 8.
    Christopher Bollas, The Shadow of the Object (New York: Columbia University Press, 1987), 14.Google Scholar
  6. 9.
    James W. Jones, Terror and Transformation: The Ambiguity of Religion in Psychoanalytic Perspective (Routledge, 2002), 87.Google Scholar
  7. See also James W. Jones, Religion and Psychology: Psychoanalysis, Feminism and Theology (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1996), 87.Google Scholar
  8. 11.
    Harriet Lutzky, “The Sacred and the Maternal Object: An Application of Fairbairn’s Theory to Religion,” in Psychoanalytic Reflections on Current Issues, ed. Howard B. Siegel (New York: New York University Press, 1991), 29.Google Scholar
  9. 14.
    Paul Tillich, Meaning of Health: Essays in Existentialism, Psychoanalysis, and Religion (Chicago: Exploration Press 1984).Google Scholar
  10. 17.
    This discussion has been influenced in very broad but I think significant outlines by the thought of Jürgen Habermas. See Jürgen Habermas, The Theory of Communicative Action, Volume 1: Reason and the Rationalization of Society (Boston, MA: Beacon Press, 1985) and The Theory of Communicative Action, Volume 2: Lifeworld and System: A Critique of Functionalist Reason (Boston, MA: Beacon Press, 1985). Translated by Thomas McCarthy.Google Scholar
  11. 18.
    Paul Ricoeur, The Role of Metaphor: Multi-Disciplinary Studies in the Creation of Meaning in Language (Buffalo and Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1981). 43,Google Scholar
  12. 20.
    My usage of the term nondiscursive is heavily influenced by the work of Anthony Giddens and his theory of structuration. While I would like to indicate that influence I am not sure that I am following him closely enough or systematically enough for him to bare any of the responsibility for any misreading I might be accused of. See Anthony Giddens, The Constitution of Society (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1984).Google Scholar
  13. 23.
    Paul Tillich, The Protestant Era (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1957), 145.Google Scholar

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© Matthew V. Johnson 2010

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