The Failure of the Social Gospel, Black Liberation Theology and Word of Faith Teaching

Among the many things that we as black people cherish is our love for God, for church and all things spiritual. Dating back to the slavery era black people have always placed the state of their future in the hands of God and his ability to deliver them out of any situation whether it be the perils of physical violence, or the evils of a cruel dictator. In years and decades past God was the heart and soul of the black community.

As time has passed I have seen a plague raise its ugly head amongst a people that staked their entire future on God and his awesome saving power. An enemy has come in to rape, maim and pillage a people who were left as sheep without a Sheppard. This enemy, this wolf who is now freely roaming among the people of God seducing and then slaughtering the flock, has taken on the sheep’s clothing as its disguise and uses a smooth silver tongue and golden words to set up its prey for the kill. I speak of the murderous ravening wolf named “false doctrine.”

In the 1960’s came the rise of the civil rights movement with a cry to end apartheid and human rights violations among the black community being perpetrated by whites. As this cry went throughout the nation and the world so also did the cry for leaders. Soon leaders began to answer the call and stepped into their position and their destiny. I have the distinct pleasure of meeting one of those civil rights giants when Rosa Parks visited California in the early 2000’s before she passed away in October 2005 (I even have the picture to prove it). It was her bold stand on a segregated bus in Montgomery Alabama in 1955 that kicked off the Montgomery Bus Boycott which was the precursor to the civil rights movement.

At that forefront of the movement was a brash strait talking Baptist preacher called Martin Luther King Jr. Born Michael King Jr after his Father, the fiery young preacher renamed himself after the sixteenth century church reformer Martin Luther in honor of his accomplishments as a fighter for biblical truth while battling the Catholic Church. But rather than follow the footsteps of Martin Luther the reformer, Martin Luther Jr set his foot upon a path that would open the door for all kinds of folly in the church…..the path of social gospel.

Dr King made the same mistake that many in the black community are still making today in that he allowed his emotions to over rule scripture. His problem was not taking up the mantle of liberator but infusing the true gospel with a social need. There is no doubt there was indeed a need to free the black nation from the ills of racism and social inequality, my question is was it right for King to use the church and his knowledge of scripture to achieve his goal? While the social gospel has many positive appeals it suffers from a severe lack of biblical substance. Whenever you add the word “gospel” to something it then becomes necessary to explain what gospel is. We will explain it later in this article.

By building the civil rights movement on what he perceived to be “good”, King failed to understand that because something is good doesn’t mean that it is the will of God. Now let me explain this. It was never the will of God for man to be ruled by man or for man to be subjected to horrible atrocities both physical and mental. But ultimate freedom does not come through marches or protests or through strikes or voting for a particular politician. These are all acts of man that depend on the stability of a flawed, sinful human system. Christianity is not a democracy it is a Theocracy!

Although well intentioned the social gospel launched by Dr King set in motion a spiritual movement among black people that has lead them away from the true saving gospel and still exists to this day. It is a gospel that seeks to appease the human experience on earth while speaking very little of the sinfulness of man, his need to be saved and that finding of that saving grace from God through his one and only son Jesus Christ. Instead the social gospel breads anger, greed, selfishness, pride and all things rooted in the very heart of sin.
The successor of the social gospel was Black Liberation Theology. It was spawned in the mid 60’s at the pinnacle of the civil rights movement by Professor James Cone, who holds a Doctorate of Systematic Theology at Union Theological Seminary in the City of New York. James Cone, the father of the modern social gospel movement created this new theology which I call “the son of the social gospel” because he uses some of the same principles to compose its DNA.

You see social gospel and liberation theology share the same basic principles. Number one is the principle of social inequality. This serves as the primary motivator in both causes. Those who push the agenda in these movements are obsessed almost to the point of possession about unfairness of social economic standings. Their purpose in life is to right the social wrongs of this world. The second dominant trait that these two causes share is a leader or creator with a purpose. Dr Kings purpose was quite clear at the end of his historical “I Have a Dream speech” when he said “when we allow freedom to ring, when we let it ring from every village and every hamlet, from every state and every city, we will be able to speed up that day when all of God’s children, black men and white men, Jews and Gentiles, Protestants and Catholics, will be able to join hands and sing in the words of the old Negro spiritual, “Free at last! free at last! thank God Almighty, we are free at last!”

James Cone in his interview with Trinity institutes Bob Scott (see video above) voiced his purpose for creating Black Liberation Theology was “trying to bring together Martin Luther King and the Civil Rights movement, together with the black power movement, this symbol of being black in a white racist society. King interpret the gospel in such a way in which the blackness of his identity was not at the center. Malcom a Muslim, rejected Christianity because it did not address his blackness. So I wanted to address my blackness! But yet at the same time I was a Christian. I was born a Christian, I couldn’t leave that, that faith was the center of my life but the way in which that faith had been interpreted in Seminary and also generally in the dominant interpretation of it (the gospel) in America which King largely adopted, also had a white Jesus. Now how you gonna get a European white Jesus in Palestine? You can’t get that! So I wanted to bring the blackness of my identity together with the faith I had learned in the church.”

This theological gene splicing project created by Cone has wreaked havoc on the church espousing racism, entitlement mentality, self centeredness and pride which are the very things that the bible preaches against. What makes this type of theology work is a need to praise preachers in the black culture coupled with a lack of correct bible interpretation skills. Throw in the desire for material goods and status in this world and BINGO….you can make any false doctrine work to your advantage!

Unfortunately Black Liberation theology and the social gospel are still alive and well within the black community. In fact Black Liberation Theology stepped into the spotlight during the 2008 Presidential race when Sean Hannity began running clips of sermons from Pastor Jeremiah Wright of the United Church of Christ in Chicago Illinois, the church home of then Senator Barrack Obama.
The most damaging was Wrights “God damn America” line while closing out one of his sermons. A further study of Wrights preaching reveals the socialistic nature of this type of theology. He often spoke of the “injustice” that America has perpetrated on its own people and those around the world. In one of his sermons (if it could even be called that) he talked about September 11th 2001 as “America’s chickens coming home to roost” which is a common theme of anti American entities domestic and internationally.

Like MLK’s social gospel black liberation theology focuses its energy on righting the social ills of the world while leaving the true message of the gospel untouched. This pre occupation with the natural human experience rather than that which is spiritual has caused many in the black community to miss the mark that God has set in his word. The results of decades of preaching these mutations of the gospel have given birth to a generation of mis-aligned, malnutrition, anemic, spiritually deformed people who call themselves Christians but really look nothing like Christ.

We now live in a postmodern, multicultural experience where the gospel is being reinterpreted in ways that are not offensive and seek to bring out only the positive messages that the word of God has to offer. In the context of the black church experience word of faith theology has become a favorite of those who seek to view God through the eyes of preachers who have turned an awesome, sovereign all powerful God into a puny powerless slave who’s only function is to serve his believers. This was the natural progression of the social gospel black liberation theology.

A visit to your local Church of God in Christ, Baptist or Charismatic church comes complete with excitement, musical interludes (often called worship service) a whooping preacher (ask me I’ll tell you) and a sermon that sounds more like a motivational speech with scripture thrown in than a true exposition of God’s word.

Word of faith teaching that espouses that we are little gods, that Christ’s death gives us divine health, that the Christian is entitled to wealth, that sickness is a curse, that you can speak whatever you desire into existence has been a staple in the black community for the last three decades. The problem is that these teachings are heretical and can only be substantiated by reading into scripture what is not there, pulling scripture out of its intended context and twisting it to say what you desire. This method of scripture interpretation has a history of deadly consequences for those who follow it that continues today.

The leaders of this damnable movement are the likes of T.D. Jakes, Creflo Dollar, Clarence Mc Clendon, Eddie Long, Cindy Trimm, Charles Ellis, Juanita Bynum, R.A.Vernon, Noel Jones, Neil Ellis, Fred Price, Fred Price Jr, George Bloomer, Leroy Thompson, Taketa Williams and Henry Fernandez just to name a few. The appeal of word of faith teaching for most black, particularly if they are impoverished or otherwise disadvantaged is its central tenet what’s in it for me. It brings the allure of the Garden of Eden back into the lives of its victims by giving them what man has been wanting since the beginning of time…unlimited power. Sadly word of faith theology leads masses of people away from God and the true message of the bible.

There are several elements that social gospel, black liberation theology and word of faith theology share. They are as follows.

Limited Teaching on sin– There is very little if any attention paid to the problem of sin in the heart of man in these teachings. Any mention of sin is usually disregarded along with any moral responsibility of the believer.
Ultra Focus on Material Gain- It seems there is a pot of gold at the end of every rainbow, a million dollars under every pillow and a silver lining in every cloud with these teachings. Every Sunday many are told that riches belong to them as long as they have “faith.”Not saving faith but the kind of faith that brings resources.

A Self Centered Approach to Preaching– It seems as if every message is about me, myself and I in these movements. Every message, every speech, every sermon is focused on the benefit to the believer. The goal is getting “all that God has for me” as one preacher told me.

Using Topical Preaching Exclusively– When topical preaching is used as a method to determine what to preach these preachers pick and choose topics that feel good to them or that appeal to their audience or have a wide cultural appeal. Unfortunately this leaves important doctrinal issues out of the discussion and away from the believer.

A Mis Characterization of the Gospel– This is the most deadly problem that these movements share. They have placed the word gospel in front of words like Inclusion, prosperity, empowerment, health and wealth which are in fact not the true gospel. Galatians 1:6-9 makes it clear that there is but one gospel to be preached otherwise the preacher is under a curse!

God as Servant, Man as god– It is clearly being taught that God is not supreme ruler of the universe but in fact is at the beck and call of the believer. This role reversal teaching gained momentum after Creflo Dollar and several word of faith preachers began pushing it in the early 2000’s. This blatant blasphemous teaching has caused many to stumble and fall from the faith.

An Earthly Utopia– The focus of these teachings seems to be a yearning for heaven on earth. In his bestselling book “Your Best Life Now” Joel Osteen talks about improving your earthly experience while leaving out the gospel or any mention of heaven to come. If we are seeking our best life here on earth why would we have need for heaven? See the problem!
So what is the remedy to this quandary of mis information and counterfeit ideology that has infected the church? What is it that is needed to return the church to its rightful place as carrier of the one and only true and living gospel which is able to save the soul from hell? I offer a few suggestions to fix this problem.

A Commitment to Expository Preaching-Expository preaching keeps the preacher focused on the integrity of the text bringing out only what the author intended. While many churches do not practice this style of preaching it is most accurate in terms of revealing the truth of the word.

Defining the True Gospel-Many have gone out of their way to attach their own meaning of the word “gospel” but there can only be one gospel that is the prescription to set mankind free from the punishment sin brings, and Christ is at the center of it.

Teaching Hermeneutics to the Church-The average church member doesn’t know the basics of interpreting scripture. It is a task that is too often left to the Pastor or other church leaders, but equipping a congregant with the ability to see deceptive teachings which are on the rise today should be secondary only to preaching the gospel.

Teaching Apologetics to the Church-Another overlooked but desperately needed skill in the church is the defense of the scripture. With every Tom, Dick and atheist attacking the bible Christians need to be able to articulate what scripture teaches as oppose to some denominational twist on scripture or some false teaching.

These errant teaching have been sapping the life out of the church for decades. It is time to deal with the cold harsh reality that millions of church goers have been deceived some for decades. God never meant for his message to primarily be about social issues but there is only one remedy for the horrible deception being perpetrated on innocents all over the world. That remedy is a great big nasty dose of the truth! Only the power of God and the integrity of truth can free a soul from the slavery of Satan’s lies!


5 thoughts on “The Failure of the Social Gospel, Black Liberation Theology and Word of Faith Teaching

  1. Although I commend you for attempting to engage three streams of black religious thought from a decidedly “biblical” perspective, I would appreciated more critical analysis of these streams then presented here on this post. I would have appreciated more accurate representations of theses views, including some citations and references. Specifically, MLK indeed was trained as a theological liberal, however he had more nuanced appropriations of the Social Gospel, liberalism and personal idealism. He was decidedly “biblical” in the sense that he drew his analysis of the current conditions and his vision for a just society from the Hebrew prophets and the teachings of Jesus. The context of black church tradition’s affirmation of the Exodus narrative as paradigmatic for spiritual and social salvation plays the decisive feature of MLK’s thought. Secondly, James Cone, although influenced by the dialectical theology of Karl Barth and the Paul Tillich’s method of correlation, was cognizant of the biblical hermeneutics of the slave religion and the subsequent black church tradition. Finally, Word of Faith teachings lack any systematicity, therefore it requires deeper analysis. Finally, I would encourage you to make your personal theological location explicit in your critique of these three streams. Are you Reformed? If so, specifically what Reformed thinkers influence your hermeneutics of the Scriptures? What makes your theological persuasion more faithful to the authority of Scripture than MLK’s, Cones, or Jakes? Why should African American Christians adopt your hermeneutical biases than MLK, Cone, or Jakes? Have you reckoned with the reality that African American embraced a religion which preached and thought their divinely-ordained subjugation and dehumanization? It would benefit us all, and I definitely put myself in front as a self-identified African American evangelical/charismatic Christian to reckon with these questions. Blessings!

  2. I don’t think the author gas to explain more intensely for this short article(or his theological following). In a longer thesis or analytical paper, I am most certain you would see this. If anything, this whets your appetite to digging deeper into it. These people proof text, and “tickle ” their listeners ears to build their pocketbooks! Remember, not everyone who claim to do in the Lord’s name is truthful and GOD will turn them away from His Kingdom of Heaven. Thanks for the article and I hope you follow up with more!

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