Christology from below : an examination of the black christology of Takatso Mofokeng in the context of the development of black theology in South Africa and in critical relation to the christological ethic of Dietrich Bonhoeffer

Master Thesis


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University of Cape Town

This thesis examines the framework for a Black Christology constructed by Takatso A.Mofokeng in The Crucified Among the Crossbearers (1983) and evaluates this work with the Christological assistance of Dietrich Bonhoeffer. The emergence of Black Theology in South Africa since the early 1970s is placed in the context of the black struggle for liberation and the philosophy of Black Consciousness. The result, theologically, is seen to be an anthropological concentration, an affirmative doctrine of oppressed humanity and a concern with human liberation. An identity with the suffering and liberative commitment of Jesus, together with a rejection of oppressive concepts of divinity, is shown to have led to a Black Christology based on engagement with the human history and struggles of Jesus. The message to whites is interpreted as a call to accept and repent of the guilt of the oppressors. Reflecting the early emphasis of Black Consciousness on the transformation of the black self-understanding, this is held to be Black Theology's first stage concerned with the perspective of the black oppressed as the privileged position from which to understand the Bible and the Christian faith. This biblical approach is seen to be common ground shared with most African Theologians, though some gave greater theological significance to the African experience. A second stage of Black Theology is then described, corresponding to a shift in the Black Consciousness movement towards critique of the material structures of society. Theologically the results of this shift are described as a more critical attitude to the biblical texts, in terms of their class interests, and the giving of greater weight to the black praxis of liberation as primary theological data. Bonhoeffer's Christology, unfolding in the context of the ethical demands made by his resistance activities, is then described to highlight the fact that in a situation of conflict and division, a Christological ethic reaches beyond solidarity to engage in vicarious action on behalf of others. Bonhoeffer is used to stress Black Theology's call to committed whites to stand in guilty solidarity with their people and repent on their behalf. It is then seen how Mofokeng draws on the work of J.Sobrino to engage contemporary liberation struggles with the history of Jesus and to give Christological significance to the struggles of those with whom Christ is in solidarity, as the work of his Spirit. It is also seen how Karl Barth is used to strengthen Mofokeng's concern with the birth of black people as acting subjects of their own history. With the insights of Bonhoeffer's Christological ethic it is concluded that Mofokeng overstates black solidarity, taking insufficient account of black divisions and conservatism. Mofokeng is seen not to apply his own historical methodology consistently, leading him to underestimate the theological importance of the failure of the poor to remain in solidarity with the dying Jesus, and the significance of the faithfulness of his women followers.

Bibliography: leaves 188-197.