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Bonhoeffer's Black Jesus
Harlem Renaissance Theology and an Ethic of Resistance
Dietrich Bonhoeffer publicly confronted Nazism and anti-Semitic racism in Hitler’s Germany. The Reich’s political ideology, when mixed with theology of the German Christian movement, turned Jesus into a divine representation of the ideal, racially pure Aryan and allowed race-hate to become part of Germany’s religious life. Bonhoeffer provided a Christian response to Nazi atrocities.
In this book author Reggie L. Williams follows Bonhoeffer as he defies Germany with Harlem’s black Jesus. The Christology Bonhoeffer learned in Harlem’s churches featured a black Christ who suffered with African Americans in their struggle against systemic injustice and racial violence—and then resisted. In the pews of the Abyssinian Baptist Church, under the leadership of Adam Clayton Powell, Sr., Bonhoeffer absorbed the Christianity of the Harlem Renaissance. This Christianity included a Jesus who stands with the oppressed rather than joins the oppressors and a theology that challenges the way God can be used to underwrite a union of race and religion.
Bonhoeffer’s Black Jesus argues that the black American narrative led Dietrich Bonhoeffer to the truth that obedience to Jesus requires concrete historical action. This ethic of resistance not only indicted the church of the German Volk, but also continues to shape the nature of Christian discipleship today.
1. To Harlem and Back: Seeing Jesus with New Eyes
2. A Theology of Resistance in the Harlem Renaissance
3. Bonhoeffer in the Veiled Corner: Jesus in the Harlem Renaissance
4. Christ, Empathy, and Confrontation at Abyssinian Baptist Church
5. Christ-Centered Empathic Resistance: Bonhoeffer’s Black Jesus in Germany
“In recent years, scholars have begun to name Bonhoeffer's experience in Harlem as central to his development, but no one until now has provided such a rich analysis of the embedded cultural thinking he had to shed and the degree and manner in which he did so. Bonhoeffer’s Black Jesus not only will ignite new discussions on Bonhoeffer and race, but also will guide readers into more honest reflection on the entrenched nature of racism and the deliberative thinking and action necessary for resistance."
—Jennifer M. McBride, Regents Chair of Ethics at Wartburg College
"Bonhoeffer’s Black Jesus is a compelling study of Bonhoeffer’s encounter with the Christianity he found alive in the streets of Harlem and the sanctuary of Abyssinian Baptist Church. These formative experiences inspired Bonhoeffer’s efforts to undermine the false connection between White imperialist identity and Jesus. The Black Christ that Williams finds in Bonhoeffer challenges all of us to live more authentically and fully into the call to do justice. Bonhoeffer's Black Jesus is a must read."
—Emilie M. Townes, E. Rhodes and Leona B. Carpenter Professor of Womanist Ethics and Society, Vanderbilt Divinity School
"Bonhoeffer's Black Jesus is destined to transform Bonhoeffer studies. Previously scholars have focused on Bonhoeffer's experience that year at Union Theological Seminary, but Williams makes a plausible case that his experiences in neighboring Harlem were far more decisive in shaping the man who returned to Germany to take on the Nazis and the Nazifying Protestant churches."
—David P. Gushee, Distinguished University Professor of Christian Ethics Director, Center for Theology and Public Life, Mercer University
“This study of Bonhoeffer and the black Christ is a revelation, an unveiling that illumines the deep places of Bonhoeffer’s life and thought. Moreover, Reggie Williams' presentation and writing are exemplary, within reach of any audience serious about Bonhoeffer.”
—Larry Rasmussen, Reinhold Niebuhr Professor Emeritus of Social Ethics, Union Theological Seminary, New York City
"Reggie Williams' Bonhoeffer's Black Jesus…breaks new ground in offering a detailed and vibrant portrait of the Harlem Renaissance that was in full blossom during Bonhoeffer’s time in New York."
—Victoria J. Barnett, Contemporary Church History Quarterly (20:3)
Reggie L. Williams is Assistant Professor of Christian Ethics at McCormick Theological Seminary. He is a member of the International Dietrich Bonhoeffer Society, as well as the Society for the Study of Black Religion, and a founding member of the Society for the Study of Race, Ethnicity and Religion.