Book Review

Introducing Black Theology: Three Crucial Questions for the Evangelical Church

by Bruce L. Fields
Baker Academic
Introducing Black Theology: Three Crucial Questions for the Evangelical Church

In his concise and thought-provoking book, Introducing Black Theology: Three Crucial Questions for the Evangelical Church, Bruce L. Fields delves into the foundations, implications, and future relevance of Black theology within the context of the American evangelical church. This short read challenges the evangelical space to confront its history of racial injustice and offers a path toward understanding and reconciliation.

With clarity and precision, Fields explores three central questions that form the foundation of his book:

  1. What is Black theology? Fields traces the historical development of Black theology, highlighting its major thinkers, core tenets, and its emphasis on God’s concern for the oppressed.
  2. What can Black theology teach the evangelical church? By examining Black theology’s unique hermeneutical approach, which centers the lived experiences of Black Americans, Fields argues that evangelical churches have much to learn about fully embodying the gospel message—one that actively combats societal injustice.
  3. What is the future of Black theology? Fields acknowledges the challenges facing Black theology as it navigates contemporary social and theological debates. However, he remains optimistic about its continued relevance in addressing issues of race, power, and identity within the church.

Black theology

Fields begins by defining Black theology as a theology of liberation. He situates its origins as a necessary response to systemic racism and discrimination that permeated the church. Black theologians sought to reinterpret Christianity through the lens of the Black experience, emphasizing liberation and justice as core theological principles. This perspective starkly contrasts with the traditional evangelical theological framework which can sometimes prioritize individual salvation over a broader social justice focus.

The black experience is about uncovering reasons to affirm African-American personhood, culture, and values when much in the surrounding sociocultural setting undervalues such manifestations.

Thoughts for the evangelical church

Fields draws on the perspectives of Black theologians to form his critique of the American evangelical church. He notes that the church has, at times, allowed itself to become enslaved to harmful ideologies by its failure to hold in tension its era’s cultural norms with a transcendent perspective that upholds truth, ethics, and morality.

The church’s historically inadequate purging of [racism] from its midst was expressed in numerous ways, including the marginalization of African-Americans in theological training and dialogue, which has contributed negatively to the rise of black theology. Fields cites four ways in which a lack of intentionality has contributed to this marginalization:

  1. Evangelical colleges and seminaries do not actively recruit African-American students.
  2. Faculty and administrations at these institutions do not listen to African-American students with the goal of learning firsthand what it means to be an African-American in the United States.
  3. African-American students are not verbally and financially encouraged to pursue advanced degrees.
  4. Institutions are not hiring enough African-American biblical and theological scholars.

Fields at one point recounts his early days in seminary and his enrollment in an ethics class. He was uncomfortable with the concept of ethics being separate from other biblical studies. The Black church’s history did not allow its members to formulate a theology that is so spiritually and theoretically detached that it cannot address specific burdens and issues in a given sociocultural setting. For the Black church, every aspect of the Christian faith is riddled with ethical implications. He suggests that white theology can contribute to the Black church in how it measures the standards of orthodoxy, and Black theology can contribute to the white church by consistently challenging it to apply theology to life.

Fields explains why many in the Black theological system are disinterested in hearing from white theologians, and the reason largely revolves around inconsistent applications of theology to everyday life. Cotton Mather (1663–1728) and Jonathan Edwards (1703–1758) contributed a great deal to the study of theology, but they each owned slaves. Charles Hodge (1797–1878), a respected Reformed theologian, defended slavery in response to an article by William E. Channing criticizing the institution. The point is this: modern white theology is built on a foundation of biblical studies infused with racist ideologies.

Because the issue of racism still exists in our society, it still exists in the church. Fields points out that the doctrine of human depravity makes the case for continuing to root out racism in our churches. Since sin affects the entire person and we cannot separate ourselves from sin, we will always have to deal with issues of tribal separation, like racism.

The future of Black theology

After highlighting that Black theology, in its early years, allowed experience to have the foundational interpretive role for theological formulation, Fields imagines possible scenarios for the future of a primarily experiential Black theology. In one scenario, theological reflection will degenerate to something more in line with sociology that is merely baptized with Christian terminology. Another option is for Black theology to abandon Christian orthodoxy altogether for the sake of a liberating theology. The third and ideal scenario is to maintain the foundations of biblical truth while exploring the implications for the faith regarding matters of justice, humanization, and community.

Fields closes out his book by examining four areas of Black theology that must continue to be evaluated: (1) its relationship to Christian orthodoxy, (2) hermeneutics, (3) its relationship with the larger theological community, and (4) the risk of losing its Christian identity.


Bruce L. Fields’ work is accessible for readers unfamiliar with Black theology. The writing style reminds me of a college lecture; I think he and J. I. Packer share that feature in their writing. In fact, there is so much content packed into this short book that I found myself at multiple points during my reading wishing to enroll in one of Bruce Fields classes in order to digest the material in that setting.

Fields successfully distills complex theological concepts while weaving in compelling historical narratives. One key strength of this book is its potential to serve as a bridge between Black and white evangelical communities. Fields’ balanced approach avoids demonizing evangelicalism while firmly holding it accountable for past and present failures to address systemic racism.

While this book is primarily written for a Christian audience, it’s also a valuable resource for anyone seeking to understand the intersection of race, religion, and social justice in the American context. Fields challenges all readers to critically examine their own theological frameworks and biases.

The truth claims of the gospel can fairly be questioned by those who see the church’s unwillingness to stand for the truth.

In a world still grappling with racial inequality, Introducing Black Theology stands as a vital call for transformation. This book invites the evangelical church to embrace a deeper, more inclusive understanding of the gospel, one rooted in justice, liberation, and love.

I highly recommend this book to pastors, theologians, students, and anyone committed to the pursuit of racial reconciliation and a more just society.

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