Our Theology Must Change: A Reading List

Since horrible things have transpired — yet again — I’ve seen a series of reading lists appear. I am an avid reader and it is usually my gut reaction to understand world events. When the twin towers fell in New York City, I started reading up on Islam. I wanted to understand what didn’t make any sense. I admit that I never finished the first book I picked up all those many years ago. It was a book written about the religion and practice of Islam rather than it being an active expression from one of the faithful. I got frustrated because the author couldn’t understand that this thing he was writing about was part a belief system. It was part of worldview. It was something that many people — not just in the Arab world — put into practice every day.

Because I am such an avid reader — even if I read incredibly slow and don’t always finish the books I begin — I am ever curious about the book lists that are gathered in the midst of tragedy. There was a reading list after Ferguson. There was another I found when horrible things happened in Baltimore. (This isn’t the Baltimore reading list I remember but so be it.) And yesterday, after the horrible things that happened in Charleston, there was this reading list.

The last of these lists was gathered from Twitter. People tweeted titles and it was all gathered together in one official list which is all good and well except that the religion section is terrible. I’m relived that Dr. James H. Cone made the list but there are so many more that should be on this list. Our theology must change because James Cone was right. I was uncomfortable in seminary when I heard him lecture. I squirmed and struggled with my own whiteness. I felt blamed and responsible because I am. Our theology must change so that we become accountable for the sins of racism.

I was blessed to attend Union Theological Seminary in the City of New York where the very first thing that we did as new students was confront our racism. It was the first part of orientation. It was how we began our work as pastors and faith leaders. We began with ant-racism training before we encountered the most amazing scholars in lectures and conversation. Among those books that I read in seminary, I’d like to highlight a few that we should all re-read.

Though he wrote many other wonderful books, including his newest book which is hanging out on my to-read list, this is the book that really hit home for me. This is the book that opened my eyes and changed my worldview. James Cone’s God of the Oppressed is the book that I think everyone should read to begin to talk about what black theology means — and how our theology must change. It is a theology that emerged from the liberation theology movement that began with Gustavo Gutierrez.



It was only a few days after the terrible news in Charleston that a friend from seminary commented on Facebook about how uncomfortable it is to be Sarah, rather than Hagar. It’s a reference to this particular work from the amazing Delores S. Williams. Her response to James Cone was that his black theology didn’t make room for black women. To include black women in this liberation theology, she wrote Sisters in the Wilderness: The Challenge of Womanist God-Talk which delves into the story of Sarah, Hagar and Abraham. I loved this book.  It was perhaps my most favorite book of all of my seminary reading. It is one that I think everyone should read especially as people of faith trying to understand this really difficult story in Genesis.




Seminary involved a lot of heavy lifting for me as I tried to understand and make sense of my own atonement theology. It turns out I still don’t quite have a satisfying answer but there is one book that I flip through every year — usually in the midst of Lent – as I try to understand what it means to claim the death of Christ. JoAnne Marie Terrell’s Power in the Blood? The Cross in the African American Experience is a must read for how our theology must change to consider the brutality and violence of the cross.



There was a lot of reading in seminary and this list feels woefully incomplete. Among the books that I read too few pages of while in seminary is Katie G. Cannon’s Katie’s Canon: Womanism and the Soul of the Black Community. It’s one that I hope to return to very soon — as soon as I can find my copy!


What would you add to this reading list? What should we read to challenge the evolution of our theology at such a time as this?

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