Earlier this semester, I wrote a very short paper on the Barth’s doctrine of election as a possible resource for liberation theologies. In the past, liberation theologians (namely, James Cone) have spent the majority of their energies mining Barth’s 1921 Romans and early doctrine of revelation in CD I.1 for resources. While in A Black Liberation of Theology Cone does mention that the lived history of Jesus Christ is the revelation of God, he thinks of this primarily in a revelatory framework without any explicit reference to or implicit concern for the Barth’s doctrine of election. We could stretch out Cone’s chapter on christology (which looks somewhat like Barth’s, but makes only one reference to Barth) to meet up with his earlier and lengthier discussion of revelation (which is clearly Barthian), thereby constructing some sort of connection to Barth’s doctrine of election. However, this would be working the text over a little too much. Instead, it seems to me, Cone’s take on God as creator holds the most connection to Barth’s doctrine of election. Here’s what he says about God’s relating to the creature:
“Though white theologians have emphasized that God as creator is a statement about the divine-human relationship they have not pointed out the political implications of this theological truth for blacks. God as creator has not been related to the oppressed in society. If creation “involves bringing into existence of something that did not exist before” (Kaufmann), then to say God is creator means that my being finds its source in God. I am black because God is black! God as creator is the ground of my blackness (being), the point of reference meaning and purpose in the universe.
“If God, not whitneness, is the ground of my being, then God is the only source of reference regarding how I should behave in the world. Complete obedience is owed only to God, and every alien loyalty must be rejected. Therefore, as a black person living in a white world that defines human existence according to white inhumanity, I cannot relax and pretend that all is well with black humanity. Rather it is incumbent upon me by the freedom granted by the creator to deny whiteness and affirm blackness as the essence of God.” (BTL, 80).
Notice that God’s relating to human beings is what grounds and actually gives human beings existence. Any existence outside of God’s relating to humans in the way that God establishes is not freedom or authentic existence but death and movement toward non-being. For Cone, this means that existing as a being created by God in relation to God (blackness) is the grounds for rejecting all other forms of existence whether such forms are chosen, unintentionally accepted, or forced upon a human being (whiteness). Cone does recapitulate these theological sentiments in the Christology of A Black Theology of Liberation. However, Jesus Christ is not spoken of as the grounding reality of human being as the One who elects the existence of creation as is so in Barth’s doctrine of election. To be sure Jesus Christ is the manifestation of the blackness of God’s being (129), but the relationship between the manifestation of God’s being in Jesus Christ and the creation of humanity specifically in the blackness of Jesus Christ is not wholly apparent in Cone’s theological vision. Perhaps this might be a point of connection — a point of rapproachment between Barthian Reformed theologians and liberation theologians in the tradition of Cone. Perhaps it might also be a call to arms and repentance to Barthian theologians who often all too flippantly pass over or dismiss Cone’s criticisms of Barthian school theology.