A few months back I stirred up a lively discussion on facebook on why I prioritized James Cone over N.T. Wright as a theologian. I STILL feel the same and this is why…
N.T. Wright is a first class biblical scholar, he is brilliant, and I have learned much from his works. However, N.T. Wright lacks the emotional response necessary to bring the full weight of many New Testament texts. Wright dissects and analyzes with historical insight and cultural awareness but he seems to be limited in what he can offer as an exegete. While he probably could be considered semi-postmodern, his approach is one in which he attempts to bring objective reasoning (as much as is humanly possible) to the text through lively and courageous study of the ancient culture and context from which the book he exegetes arrives out of. But this is too removed and distant from the text. I believe the best reading of the text arrives out of the emotional response of the text from those at the bottom. First and foremost, the biblical text is “good news to the poor” and to “the least of these” in society. Education is good and definitely enhances the reading (I am pro education and am finishing up my MDiv this semester.) However, it is a modernist bias to think that a scholarly interpretation trumps the emotional and intuitive response of uneducated and marginalized people.
This is where James Cone can teach western scholars much about doing theology. Some fault Cone for his anger and passion that drips of his pages. It is these apparent vices according to dominant society that actually allow Cone to stay true to Jesus’ gospel and message, which is directed first to those at the bottom rungs of this world. He gets it, and unfortunately too often academia does not. Cone is not perfect, and I have some differences in opinions on some theological points, but I believe he is passionate about the things God is passionate about. That is where I believe we all should be moving.
I will continue to read and learn from both Cone and Wright, and will be the better for it. However, I hope that I my own ministry has the intellectual and emotional spirit that Cone offers us. Cone is the most important theologian of the 1900’s in my opinion. Do you agree? Why or why not?