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?

Liturgical Lights for Sunday June 28, 2015

J A S M I N EThis Sunday the Narrative Lectionary leads us into the words of Psalm 40:1-10 as we continue to focus on the Psalms offered by Working Preacher. There is another reading to pair this one in Luke 17:11-19 but it seems I can’t get excited about these alternate readings as I’ve skipped them every week.

This particular psalm seems like it could be paired just as well with the Revised Common Lectionary readings. It has that sense of joy and relief that comes after healing has come. It has that mysterious trust that comes with faith — this overwhelming sense that there is a bigger picture, or at least a desire for a larger story to exist. It could be what the woman healed from 12 years could sing after Jesus calls her his daughter. Or it could be a song to itself — a song that lifts up the hope and certainty of salvation even before healing has come.

Healing, however, doesn’t feel quite right. Because it was only a few days ago that this happened. There may be forgiveness but there is work to be done especially in white churches. So I want to hold on to what the Rev. Norvel Goff Sr. said at Mother Emanuel on Sunday: “We have some difficult days ahead, but the only way evil can triumph is for good folk to sit down and do nothing.” To begin this Sunday, I’m using words inspired by my seminary professor Dr. James H. Cone so that those of us in white churches might especially open our hearts and minds to the power of black theology. If his work is unfamiliar to you, I encourage you to listen to this podcast.

These will be difficult words to pray and may even put the words of the oppressed on the wrong lips — but in saying these words aloud — perhaps we will learn more about the oppressive system that we hold more powerful than God.

Call to Worship (Responsive)
Inspired by James H. Cone’s God of the Oppressed

We come together as a community to worship and to praise.
We come together on this day because God has done so many things.
Nothing compares to our God.
We are a community that knows this truth.
We know God’s wonderful deeds and even what God plans.
We have seen it spoken and lived by the people around us.
God has done so many things.
Nothing compares to our God.
We come to worship and praise
because we want to always be that kind of community —
the kind of community that will freely become oppressed.
Because we know the truth of Jesus Christ.
God has done so many things.
Nothing compares to our God.
We are a community seeking a Jesus-encounter
that will claim us for liberation.
Nothing compares to our God.

Prayer of Invocation
Inspired by James H. Cone’s A Black Theology of Liberation

O God, there is no perfect guide
for discerning your movement in the world.
There is no way for our hearts and minds to
fully understand your hope and your help,
but we want to do your will.
We gather here as a community of Jesus Christ
that wants nothing more than to tell of your good news.
Open our hearts and minds to see you as the God of the Oppressed
so that wherever there is humiliation and suffering
that is where we will find you, O God.
For we know — deep in our hearts — that there is no use for a God
who loves white oppressors the same as oppressed blacks.
There is too much white love in our world, O God.
What we need is the divine love as expressed in black power.
May we find such a force working in our world.
May we find it even with ourselves so that we are so caught up in this
holy activity that we can truly see that righteousness is not just for me and mine
but for the great assembly you always dreamed to be.
Guide us in this way here in this community of Christ today. Amen.

I would love to hear what you’ve go planned for worship on Sunday. Please share your comments and ideas below. And, if you happen to use the prayers I’ve written in your worship, and I hope you will, please do offer me credit with as follows:

The prayers in our worship this morning were written by/adapted from Liturgical Lights for Sunday June 28, 2015 by the Rev. Elsa Anders Peters. Elsa is an ordained minister in the United Church of Christ who blogs at revelsaanderspeters.com.