Pilgrim Pathways: Notes for a Diaspora People

Incarnational Discipleship

Contest for Caucasion Theologians: Name Non-White Influences

I have charged that too many white theologians (biblical scholars, philosophers of religion, pastors, etc.) ignore theological voices from persons of color or from outside the Western world. (There are exceptions, who are wonderful.) But maybe I’m not being charitable. So, prove me wrong white theo-bloggers. Name at least 3 theological influences who are persons of color and list at least one major way they’ve influenced you.

  • Martin Luther King, Jr. was the first person I read on nonviolence, even before reading Yoder. His collection of sermons, Strength to Love, is still powerful to me.  I find his last published book prior to his death, Where Do We Go From Here: Chaos or Community? to still outline the major crises and choices facing the world, especially in the USA. (My dissertation was, in part, on King’s use of Scripture in his political ethic.)
  • James Hal Cone‘s work God of the Oppressed is a classic. His, Martin, Malcolm, and America helped me grasp the importance of Malcolm X.  I learned deeply from his autobiographical, My Soul Looks Back and how to do theological reflection on music from The Spirituals and the Blues.  I am looking forward to his next book, relating the cross to lynchings.
  • J. Deotis Roberts, Liberation and Reconciliation conveyed for me the essence of the gospel.  His work comparing Bonhoeffer and King led me to design a theology course comparing and contrasting the two.
  • Kazoh Kitamori, Theology of the Pain of God helped me become a theopaschite even before I read Moltmann’s The Crucified God.  Later, I saw this theme even deeper from the work of my friend, David Emmanuel Goatley, who left the classroom to head the Lott Carey Foreign Mission Convention (the largest mission agency of Black Baptists), in his published dissertation, Were You There? connecting the experience of slave Christians to the cry of dereliction uttered by Jesus on the cross.
  • Desmond Tutu, especially his No Future Without Forgiveness. [I’ve been asked to add additional examples.]
  • Elsa Tamez has added to my understanding of grace (and it’s relation to struggles for justice) and the interpretation of the Book of James.
  • Miguel de la Torre (a friend of mine from seminary days) has helped me understand Latino culture, biblical interpretation “from the margins,” how different approaches to sexuality are embedded in different cultures, and much else.
  • Allan Boesak of South Africa has greatly added to my understanding of both Job and Revelation–books better understood by those with less power.
  • Darryl Trimiew, an African-American Christian ethicist in the Disciples of Christ, has done ground-breaking work on economic justice and has reexamined H. Richard Niebuhr’s concept of “the responsible self,” by looking at communities with less power, rather than the empowered selves which HRN took for granted.

I could go on for some time and I regularly interact with diverse thinkers from other cultures on this blog and elsewhere–but I don’t see much of that from other white theo-bloggers (with the exceptions linked above), so I throw down this gauntlet and hope to be proven wrong.


August 30, 2010 - Posted by | Uncategorized


  1. Michael, I was happy to see this post.

    I don’t have time right now to write about what I have learned from them, but I have spent decades reading theologians who were not white North Atlantic men.

    Three that I have learned most from are Japanese theologians Toyohiko Kagawa (1888-1960), Kosuke Koyama (1929-2009), and Taiwanese theologian C. S. Song (b. 1929). Kagawa was perhaps more of an activist than a theologian, but he was a good thinking, lecturer, and author in addition to being an activist.

    Comment by LKSeat | August 30, 2010 | Reply

    • Kagawa is one of my heroes, Dr. Seat and I have read several of Koyama’s work. I know who Song is, but must sadly admit that I have never found time to tackle his work.

      Of course, for most of your career you were a missionary theologian (in more than the sense we all are). Real Christians may be a minority in the U.S., but, in Japan, one cannot even entertain the illusion that one is in a “Christian culture.” I’d hope that would make one a better theologian.

      Thanks for your contribution.

      Comment by Michael Westmoreland-White | August 30, 2010 | Reply

  2. I whole-heartedly support this blog entry. Ironically, Jesus, St. Paul, and St. Augustine would be 3 non-whites of noteworthy theolical influence.

    Comment by Charles Kinnaird | September 1, 2010 | Reply

    • True enough, Charles. North Africa was very influential in early Christian theology: Cyprian, Tertullian, Origen, Augustine of Hippo.

      Comment by Michael Westmoreland-White | September 2, 2010 | Reply

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