I Still think James Cone is better than N.T. Wright!

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?


  1. Rod of Alexandria · February 24, 2011

    Can I like this post times a thousand?

    I agree.

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  3. Pingback: NT Wright or James Cone? | Political Jesus
  4. Brian LePort · February 24, 2011

    I guess it depends on what is being addressed, but I am in very much agreement with your line where you say “it is a modernist bias to think that a scholarly interpretation trumps the emotional and intuitive response of uneducated and marginalized people.”

  5. Pingback: Week in Review: 02.26.2011 | Near Emmaus
  6. jlundewhitler · February 26, 2011

    Both Wright and Cone have been among the most influential theologians for my own thought… I wouldn’t say one is “better” than the other, though… just that their objectives are different and they take different strategies to make their arguments. I think that in theology, which as you said, has such a tendency to become disinterested or aloof, or to show bias towards the intelligentsia over the experiences of real people (esp. the poor), we need the voices of those like Cone. But we also need Wright’s approach, and his (admittedly imperfect) attempts to objectively examine the text– it depends on the audience, and also the kind of argument being made.

    But, yeah, whatever. Fact is, my theology would look radically different without either of them. They’re both must-reads.

    (For the record, I vote either Moltmann or Gutierrez as most important theologian of the 20th century… Cone would be in top 8, and Wright would be top 10 or 15; he’ll be more important as the 21st century progresses…but that’s just me spitballin’….)

    Since we’re talking about lifting up the perspective of the marginalized, btw, perhaps we should consider the prolific “life-based” theological witnesses, as well as the writings, of the likes of Martin Luther King and Mother Teresa and Desmond Tutu… and consider them among the top “theologians” as well…. (Our theology needs their approaches as well.) Thoughts?

  7. Drew Hart · March 1, 2011

    Thanks for your thoughts yall.. I’ll be honest, I picked Cone and Wright specifically because I thought they were symbolic figures who represent larger traditions. So folks like Gutierrez fall within the Cone argument for me. Given that, I should modify my statement and say that I believe Cone is the most important AMERICAN theologian in the 1900’s. He passionately addressed the primary ills of the society he lived in and experienced.

    Folks like Dr. King and Mother Teresa must be considered as well. Unfortunately, some of the best sources are from people who have embodied theology who have not been privileged to stop and write at all. The fact that we have even read any of these folks, means that they have gained some sort of privilege (as we have as well if we have read them). I have had the benefit of sitting and hearing the stories of several civil rights freedom fighters, and their theology and wisdom is overwhelmingly powerful.

    Lastly, I really am not hating on Wright at all. I think he is a scholar and worth reading. I just don’t think that approach is as valuable and as organic as Cone’s, and those who allow thought, feeling, and intuition to emerge out of their experiential response to a particular event or concrete reality. It is one’s marginalized subjectivity that informs us the most when doing theology.

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