Thursday, May 11, 2006

Long Coming Home To Roost

The Inter-denominational Theological Center has invited arguably its most famous alumnus Eddie Long, senior pastor of New Birth Missionary Baptist Church, to be its commencement speaker this year. You would think that this would be a most welcoming and rejoiceful time for the institution, as one of its sons would be coming home to share his ministry. However, all is not well in Mudville. Apparently, Long's questionable ethics, financial misdealings, and theological irresponsibility has led some to request resending of the invitation. A group of graduating students have written a letter to the President of ITC, Dr. Michael Battle, expressing their concerns and laying out the specific issues which they believe should warrant Long's dismissal as this years commencement speaker. Protest, boycotts, and even a walkout is under consideration.
To add an interesting twist to this predicament for ITC and to demonstrate the folly of theological liberalism, apparently Dr. James Cone, the preeminent black liberation theologian of our time, was scheduled to receive an honorary degree at this year's commencement. According to reports he is planning to boycott the ceremony because of Bishop Long's presence. Cone has been a vocal critic of Long and the prosperity gospel purveyors (and you thought only Reformed guys played mean - heretics can play hardball as well). What fascinates me, however, is how Cone can bemoan Long, Creflo Dollar, TD Jakes and the rest of the prosperity princes and not realize that it was his hermeneutic that basically fostered the prosperity gospel. Here is the irony, Cone dislikes the hermeneutical and missiological approach of Long, Dollar, and Jakes, yet all they have done is become the grandchildren of Cone's subjective, existential approach to biblical interpretation. Liberation theology sought to dismiss the objective truth of Scripture in return for a subjective approach that allowed for Scripture twisting to fit the social and political struggle of a certain people group (in Cone's case, Black America). Prosperity theology does the same, only with the twist that God's design for the poor is indeed liberation, not unto political power, rather economic freedom and prosperity. Cone may not appreciate how far Long and others have taken it, but he is responsible for letting the rooster out of the pen. And to paraphrase one of his heroes, the prosperity gospel is nothing more than the liberation, subjective hermeneutic coming home to roost. It is liberation by any means necessary. Cone chose the way of poverty and blackness. Long chooses the way of wealth and prosperity. Neither one has chosen the way of the cross.

12 comments:

Marlon said...

When I read the article in the AJC yesterday, I couldn't get excited about Cone's threatened boycott. You rightly pointed out that though their conclusions are different, they handle Scripture similarly. What is sad is that he's not ashamed to say that the hero to whom you referred greatly shaped his theology.

Also, I thank God for the message you gave at Berean a few weeks ago.

James Fletcher Baxter said...

THE QUESTION AND THE ANSWER
Q: "What is man that You are mindful of him, and the son
of man that You visit him?" Psalm 8:4
A: "I call heaven and earth as witnesses today against
you, that I have set before you life and death, blessing
and cursing; therefore choose life, that both you and
your descendants may live." Deuteronomy 30:19

Q: "Lord, what is man, that You take knowledge of him?
Or the son of man, that you are mindful of him?" Psalm
144:3
A: "And if it seems evil to you to serve the Lord, choose
for yourselves this day whom you will serve, whether the
gods which your fathers served that were on the other
side of the river, or the gods of the Amorites, in whose
land you dwell. But as for me and my house, we will
serve the Lord." Joshua 24:15

Q: "What is man, that he could be pure? And he who is
born of a woman, that he could be righteous?" Job 15:14
A: "Who is the man that fears the Lord? Him shall He
teach in the way he chooses." Psalm 25:12

Q: "What is man, that You should magnify him, that You
should set Your heart on him?" Job 7:17
A: "Do not envy the oppressor and choose none of his
ways." Proverbs 3:31

Q: "What is man that You are mindful of him, or the son
of man that You take care of him?" Hebrews 2:6
A: "I have chosen the way of truth; your judgments I have
laid before me." Psalm 119:30 "Let Your hand become my
help, for I have chosen Your precepts."Psalm 119:173

References:
Genesis 3:3,6 Deuteronomy 11:26-28; 30:19 Job 5:23
Isaiah 7:14-15; 13:12; 61:1 Amos 7:8 Joel 3:14
Ecclesiastes 3:1-8

- from The HUMAN PARADIGM

postmodernegro said...

"Liberation theology sought to dismiss the objective truth of Scripture in return for a subjective approach that allowed for Scripture twisting to fit the social and political struggle of a certain people group (in Cone's case, Black America)."

What I find interesting about your connection between Long and Cone is that you seem to be suggesting that the tradition you appear to represent actually practices an objective interpretation of scripture. I see nothing 'objective' about describing one's tradition as "Reformed"...which happens to be a particular Christian movement out of a European context. I'd check out Vincent Bacote's essay, a Reformed brutha, in the book "Gospel in Black and White" where he deals with the contextual nature of some of Calvin's theology.

Objective truth is an Enlightenment philosophical premise...a secular one by the way. Which would be an interesting discussion about who is heretical and closer to Christian faith. Long believes in 'absolute', 'objective' truth as well.

Also, Cone does not espouse a 'subjective' interpretation. He recognizes the contextual nature of theology...how theology has been done over the years. Look at most Reformed sites...I see a dominant European aesthetic in the language and imagery in many of these circles. Jesus wasn't European.

postmodernegro said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
postmodernegro said...

That last comment I deleted was rather distasteful and not a good way to start off a conversation. You caught me in a Black Panther mood brother. Forgive me.

With that said I think it important to recognize that Reformed theology, as I understand it, does not completely hold to an 'objectivist' view of scripture. When one thinks of theologians within the Reformed tradition such as Van Til, Dooweyard, and even Kuyper who recognized the presuppositoinal nature of our truth-claims. One gets the since that Reformed theology suggests that "our" knowledge of the truth is provisional and partial...behold a glass darkly is the biblical language used in reference to our knowledge of God. I do not see anything that suggest that an 'objectivist' interpretation of scripture as a litmus test for orthodoxy. Which text, creed, or council are you referring to that says holding to an 'objectivist interpretation of scripture' is a part of Christian orthodoxy? Where are the anathemas in the Reformed tradition that says that one must hold to what you describe as an 'objectivist' interpretation of scripture? I consider myself a neophyte regarding the Reformed tradition. Educate me. Can you answer my questions?

ajcarter said...

Indeed, I was able to read your previous comments, and you only need to know that no offense was taken. I have said and written too many things I wish I had not said or written to hold such slip ups against others :-).

As far as your question is concerned, I will simply say, without getting too involved in lengthy epistemological arguments, that "our" knowledge is indeed partial since we are not omniscient. However, the presuppositional Reformed tradition of which you speak (ie Van Til, Frame, Bahnsen, and others) does teach the objectivity of reality and truth because our knowledge though partial is true. Because our knowledge is in one sense analogical, that is "reflective of God's knowledge." Therefore, when Jesus claimed the divine name in his "I AM" statements, he understand he was announcing objective truth. When he said, "I am Way, the Truth, and the Life," he was making objective statements about ultimate reality. Therefore we can echo his sentiments objectively, as well as hold them subjectively. I say all of this, not to further the debate. It is apparent that we will disagree on Cone and a neo-Orthodox understanding (or even a postmodern understanding) of Scripture as opposed to a Reformational one. As I said else where, I am comfortable with us disagreeing. Nevertheless, I pray yours is the kingdom of God, as I do for me.

Lastly my friend, I am the last person you need to remind that Jesus was not European. Those comments are best served at those "Reformed sites" so as to remind them. In fact, I will give a hardy "Amen" to your efforts :-)

postmodernegro said...

ajcarter,

I appreciate your generous spirit brother. I'm cool now. I know you do not want to get into a deep epistemological debate...neither do I. But I am curious how Reformed folks hold knowledge of God by analogy and objective knowledge of God. Describing our knowledge of God as 'objective' seems to suggest that our knowledge of God is univocal.

What exactly do you mean by 'objective'? and does truth have to be 'objective' in order to be 'true'?

billy westwood said...

AJ,

If you take time to listen to the Long, you will most definitely hear te message of the cross. I recently heard Bernice King, an elder at his church, who spoke of the cross. Often, when I hear people make comments about so called prosperity preachers, I wonder how obviously intelligent individuals presume to judge the teaching of others without doing the work of deep investigation. Long and Jakes (who he calls his spiritual daddy) have been spending a great part of 2006 teaching the core principals of the faith. Of course, it probably isn't being communicated in a systematic linear fashion, but the cross is definitely in Long's and Jake's message. One has to listen comphresenively.

Derek

rgarv said...

A.J.

I just posted a blog on Cone and Long as well. We seem to have a different perspective on the issues and circumstances related to the 2006 ITS commencement. Labels are not always useful when trying to understand the thought, ideology and or theology of a person, but in this case I would say the term liberation theologian fits Cone better than the term prosperity preacher fits Long.

Liberation theology is somewhat of a misnomer for me, because what is the gospel, but a message of salvation or liberation in every area of human existence - personal and social; spiritual and political. In a general sense, Christian theology is liberation theology. A theology that lacks a multifaceted salvation (which is the traditional Jewish concept of the term) is a theology of oppression. We have seen this kind of faith underwrite slavery, colonialism, sexism and economic exploitation throughout history.

Though I think it is inaccurate and unfair to characterize Long as a prosperity preacher without qualification, the larger issue I wanted to address is the causal relationship you draw between liberation theology and the prosperity gospel as its called.
Liberation theology understands salvation as being a personal as well as a communal and social experience. The self is not one's primary or even secondary reference point. L.T. places God and the other (brother, sister, neighbor and stranger) above one's own self-interest.

In contrast prosperity or material laden theologies revolve around the needs, desires and aspirations of the individual, which as you know is a modern, post-Enlightenment concept. The idea of community salvation is either an afterthought or not a consideration at all on at least a conscious level. L.T. adheres to the belief that no one can be fully free as long as others are in bondage. Therefore prosperity theology is not an outgrowth of L.T., it is a deviation from it. Both take into consideration tangible circumstances and contexts, but they do so in a dramatically different way.

ajcarter said...

Derek,
I must say that those are some lovely pictures of your children. You are a blessed man. May God grant you grace to see the fruit of your labors.

Also, I do humbly receive your admonishment. I must admit that I have not been to Long's or Jakes' church recently and therefore can not say confidently what they are currently teaching. I have watched their television broadcast and I do come away perplexed at the way they handle the scriptures and how ego-centric is the presentation (particularly Long) and how manipulative is the language (Jakes is most adept at this). Nevertheless, I do appreciate your comments and will take them into careful consideration the next time I am inclined to post on either of the bishops.

However, concerning the cross in their preaching, you said, "Of course, it probably isn't being communicated in a systematic linear fashion, but the cross is definitely in Long's and Jake's message. One has to listen comphresenively."

We are not necessarily looking for systematics on Sunday morning, but to say that we have to "listen comprehensively" for the cross should give us pause. Paul declared that he preached Christ and Him crucified (1Cor. 1:23; 2:2). In fact, he said his boast is only in the cross (Gal. 6:14). Should we not hear the cross clear and without must labor from our preachers? Should not the cross of Christ be first and foremost in our preaching? I am convinced that it should. But maybe I'm wrong. All the masses following Long and Jakes seem to disagree with me. God bless you brother (Ps. 127:3-5).

ajcarter said...

rgarv,
Thanks for commenting on this post and adding some much needed clarification. The blog is not an adequate forum for lengthy theological discourse. There are too many theological nuances and qualifications necessary to set forth substantial theological positions. Blogs are not suited for such.

With that said, let me say that I do agree with you that Cone's theology is opposed to prosperity theology. I don't recall saying they were the same. If I did imply this, you have my sincerest apology. What I was attempting to say, albeit in a whimsical and anecdotal way, was that the prosperity gospel is the distant grandchild that liberation theology does not want to recognize. Obviously, the emphasis of the two are different, the methods of the two are different, and the language of the two are different. What I was drawing attention to is the hermeneutical spiral of LT. The spiral, I contend, has unintended and yet inevitable consequences, one of which could be argued is the prosperity gospel. Obviously, all of this is more involved than can be or should be tackled in a blog post. Maybe a book is needed :-).

Now concerning Long. I again agree with you that Long (and Jakes for that matter) are not the prosperity purveyors that Creflo Dollar, Kenneth Copeland, and Fred Price are. Long's language and use of the Bible is prosperity laden, though not as the sole message. Thanks again. Keep up the thought provoking writing. We need more African-Americans willing to think critically and clearly on Biblical issues. Be blessed.

Rod said...

It's been a valuable discussion. Thanks and God bless. - R. Garv