The Decline of African American Theology: From Biblical Faith to Cultural Captivity by Thabiti M. Anyabwile
This is a book of historical theology. It looks at theological
development among African-Americans from 1600 to the present day. There
are not a lot of early African-American theological writers, but
Anyabwile does a fine job of introducing the reader to men like Jupiter Hammon and Daniel Payne, as well as bringing out the theology present in
slave songs and testimonies.
As the title indicates, Anyabwile
argues that the history of African-American theology is a story of
decline: from orthodox Calvinism through Arminianism and Pentecostalism
to full-blown liberalism and prosperity theology. One interesting reason
given for the rise of liberalism in African-American circles is that
"most theologically conservative seminaries adopted the racist
segregationist policies and attitudes of the time" (p. 205).
chapter of the book covers a different area of doctrine: revelation, theology proper, anthropology, christology, soteriology, and pneumatology. Ecclesiology and eschatology are glaring omissions:
Anyabwile says only that outlines for these chapters were "left on the
cutting room floor" (p. 241).
Perhaps the most striking thing I
read was that in the era of slavery, black people were often
stereotyped, but they did not respond by stereotyping white people
themselves: "the folk theology of slaves proved resilient against
tendencies to denigrate white people as a class or to make pejorative
associations with white skin color" (p. 113).
The Decline of
African American Theology is a helpful an interesting book, and makes a
significant contribution to the discipline of historical theology.