I respect what happened at Nicea and Chalcedon and the theological input of the Church Fathers on Christology; but that source alone is inadequate for finding out the meaning of black folks’ Jesus. It is all right to say as did Athanasius that the Son is homoousia (one substance with the Father), especially if one has a taste for Greek philosophy and a feel for the importance of intellectual distinctions. And I do not want to minimize or detract from the significance of Athanasius’ assertion for faith one iota. But the homoosia question is not a black question. Blacks do not ask whether Jesus is one with the Father or divine and human, though the orthodox formulations are implied in their language. They ask whether Jesus is walking with them, whether they can call him up on the “telephone of prayer” and tell him all about their troubles. To be sure Athanasius’ assertion about the status of the Logos in the Godhead is important for the church’s continued christological investigations. But we must not forget that Athanasius’ question about the Son’s status in relation to the Father did not arise in the historical context of the slave codes and the slave drivers. And if he had been a black slave in America, I am sure he would have asked a different set of questions. He might have asked about the status of the Son in relation to the slaveholders. Perhaps the same is true of Martin Luther and his concern about the ubiquitous presence of Jesus Christ at the Lord’s Table. While not diminishing the importance of Luther’s theological concern, I am sure that if he had been born a black slave his first question would not have been whether Jesus was at the Lord’s Table but whether he was really present at the slave’s cabin, whether slaves could expect Jesus to be with them as they tried to survive the cotton field, the whip, and the pistol.
Unfortunately not only white seminary professors but some blacks as well have convinced themselves that only the white experience provides the appropriate context for questions and answers concerning things divine. They do not recognize the narrowness of their experience and particularly of their theological expressions. They like to think themselves as universal people. That is why most seminaries emphasize the need for appropriate tools in doing theology, which always means white tools, i.e. knowledge of the language and thought of white people. They fail to recognize that other people also have thought about God and have something significant to say about Jesus’ presence in the world.
My point is that one’s social and historical context decides not only the questions we address to God but also the mode or form of the answers given to the questions.