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In 1980 one of America's activist evangelical theologians, Ronald J. Sider, wrote that liberation theologies were "the most significant theological development of the decade." Black, feminist, and Latin American theologies of liberation, he wrote, attempt to fundamentally rethink theology from the standpoint of the oppressed. God, after all, is on their side.

Having turned the corner into the 21st century, the challenge now is to consider the relevance of these theologies for our Christian formation and our life together in churches. Two recent volumes consider the status of black theology. Both emerge out of the authors' contact with the first generation of black theologians and the issues raised in the final three decades of the 20th century. Both writers are African Americans involved deeply in their community, as well as in other circles in the United States and abroad. Both belong to the second generation of black theologians.

The first question Bruce L. Fields asks in Introducing Black Theology is "What is black theology?" It is theology from the perspective of an oppressed people. It seeks to interpret the gospel of Jesus Christ against the backdrop of historical and contemporary racism. The message of black theology is that the African American struggle for liberation is consistent with the gospel—every theological statement must be consistent with, and perpetuate, the goals of liberation.

Why should liberation be considered the essence of the gospel? As an evangelical, Fields clearly frames the gospel in the familiar language of personal salvation through Jesus Christ, as well as the Spirit-led witness to the surrounding culture; the message of liberation is a necessary companion. Liberation implies not only the condemnation ...

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March 2004

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