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Being Human: Race, Culture, and Religion.

Being Human: Race, Culture, and Religion. By Dwight N. Hopkins. Minneapolis, Minn.: Augsburg Fortress Press, 2005. 221pp. $21.00.

Dwight N. Hopkins is Professor of Theology at the University of Chicago Divinity School and also an ordained minister in the American Baptist Church. He is proving to be a very prolific writer and exponent of black liberation theology, following in the footsteps of his mentor, James H. Cone. Previous to writing this book, he authored Black Theology in the U.S.A. and South Africa: Politics, Culture, and Liberation, We Are One Voice: Essays on Black Theology in South Africa and the USA; Shoes That Fit Our Feet: Sources for a Constructive Black Theology; Introducing Black Theology of Liberation; Down, Up, and Over: Slave Religion and Black Theology; and Heart and Head Black Theology Past, Present, and Future, in addition to editing or co-editing various other works on the general theme of liberation theology.

In this volume he brings together anthropology and theology, drawing heavily on the black experience of oppression in a racist society. He begins with the observation that culture arises from particular selves' rather than out of rarified thin air. As is true with other liberation theologians, Hopkins thus reminds us that theology, as part of human culture, also arises out of specific human social contexts. In Hopkins' case this is primarily out of the context of the black experience in America, whereas for others it is out of the experience of oppression of the poor in Latin America, or patriarchal oppression of women as in the case of feminist/womanist liberation theology. (This reviewer notes that historic Anabaptist theology developed out of the persecution of his Anabaptist fore-parents as part of the Continental Reformation.) For those unfamiliar with liberation theology, the reminder that theology does not develop in a historical or social vacuum is the first necessary realization. Similarly, those seeking a systematic theology of liberation will be disappointed if not offended, for such is not the objective of liberation theology. As is said by Latin American liberation theologians, Caminante, no hay camino. Se hace camino al andar (Pilgrim, there is no path. One makes a path by walking.)

In chapter one, Hopkins summarizes and explains in considerable detail "Contemporary Models of Theological Anthropology" including progressive liberal, post-liberal, and feminist. It is curious that Hopkins makes no mention of historic orthodox Christian theology, whether Catholic, Protestant or Orthodox, nor of Barthian neo-orthodoxy or contemporary evangelical theology. This begs the question of whether he is opposed to such theology, finds it devoid of anthropological insight, or perhaps believes it is not worthy of his attention.

Subsequent chapters deal with aspects of human culture, particularly the artistic and spiritual, with the concept of the self, and with the very problematic concept of race, seen mostly as a product of the interaction of nature and nurture. There is also a concluding chapter drawing the book's major themes together.

My greatest disappointment with the book is that much of its content has been explored in Hopkins's previous volumes or in other similar works. Thus it seems to be more a re-capitulation of previous work than one which truly breaks new theological or anthropological ground. I do find attractive Hopkins's critique of the "demon of American individualism, but wonder if he is fully aware that he himself is partly a product of that same individualistic culture, having departed significantly from the more collectivist society of his African ancestors. But perhaps this is part of the oppression of not only black Americans, but also of Caucasian Americans, Asian Americans, and Native Americans. If so, perhaps we all need liberation from the message of a society which seems to tell us that all that matters is looking out for our own self-interest.



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Author:Yoder, Michael L.
Publication:Journal of Church and State
Article Type:Book review
Date:Jun 22, 2008
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