Hopkins, homework, and the gospel

by Anthony Bradley
Posted on Wednesday, August 24, 2011, at 3:24 pm

I have been called many names over years, but to have my race and Christianity questioned reaches a new intellectual low. Dwight Hopkins, professor of theology at the University of Chicago Divinity School, recently penned a review of my book Liberating Black Theology that raises such questions.

Black liberation theology became familiar to most Americans because of the preaching of the Rev. Jeremiah Wright, President Obama's former pastor at Trinity United Church of Christ in Chicago. From what I understand, Hopkins continues to attend that church so it is not too surprising the he might suggest that not only am I possibly not black and unfamiliar with the black church, but also might not even be a Christian.

Hopkins asks:

"To what country does [Anthony Bradley] belong (i.e., Germany, Greece, etc.)? Is he a Christian or a member of a church? What is his group of accountability-Black liberation theologians, pastors, lay people, clergy, or administrators? Is he familiar with Black church ministries?"

Granted, I'm not famous but most of those questions could have been answered simply by searching "Anthony Bradley" on Google. Why does Hopkins believe me to be a possible white outsider, someone unfamiliar with the black church subculture, and possibly not even a Christian? Because I believe that people sin and need to repent of sin because we have all been corrupted by the fall of Adam and Eve (Genesis 3). Therefore, we all need to be united with Christ for liberation.

Moreover, I believe that Marxism, as a system, eventually destroys human dignity and undermines human flourishing. As a result, Hopkins protests my "belief in the religion of US monopoly capitalism, a gospel of individualism, and faith in the Fall." Perhaps this is the new definition of a non-Christian, Uncle Tom.

The phrase "monopoly capitalism" is a Marxist reference to something that no one with a good understanding of free markets would actually promote. In this phrase, Marxists rightly object to a capitalist economy being controlled be a few elites. I agree. That's not free market capitalism. In fact, monopolies are only possible when government interferes in the market to protect companies from competition. The best example of this would be the current U.S. economy, which is highly controlled by government, or government-created monopolies like the U.S. Postal Service, or government control of market transactions through regulatory agencies. This explains why we have lobbyists swarming all over Congress today.

I won't comment on what a "gospel of individualism" means because there does not exist a logical referent to what that means in my book or anything I have ever written.

What Christians of all races should find troubling is a seminary professor who would object to someone believing that sin entered the world at some point in human history. For over 2,000 years, Eastern and Western Christianity has affirmed various aspects of the Fall. Thankfully, God's redemptive mission announced in Genesis 3:15 introduced the framework for His solution through the promise of a Messiah.

Lastly, even though Hopkins has several academic degrees and has written several insightful scholarly books and articles, his assertion that I am a black man "unfamiliar with Black American churches" is nonsensical given the fact that I am the grandson of a black Baptist preacher from rural Alabama; was raised in a black United Methodist Church pastored by graduates of the Interdenominational Theological Center, an all-black seminary in Atlanta; was first licensed to preach in an inner-city African Methodist Episcopal Church, an all black denomination; have worked in inner-cities churches in places like Baltimore and Chattanooga, Tenn.; and am a member of Alpha Phi Alpha, America's first black fraternity. In fact, it is because of my commitment to black liberation that his brand of black liberation theology needs to be critiqued.

The moral of the story is this: Even scholars need to do their homework. What Hopkins puts on the display is that there are real theological tensions killing the black church in America. Unfortunately, for someone like me to believe the classical 2,000-year-old truths of global Christianity brands me an outsider. But if my theology represents the dominant global and historic Christian confession, it seems that we may need to ask new questions regarding who the outsiders actually are.

Anthony Bradley

Anthony is associate professor of religious studies at The King's College in New York and a research fellow at the Acton Institute for the Study of Religion and Liberty.

Read more from this writer