In crafting racial visions of the modern world, European thinkers appropriated the Christian doctrine of providence, constructing the idea of European humanity’s rule over the globe on the model of God’s rule over the universe. As a powerful ordering theory of the relationship between God and creation, time and space, self and other, the doctrine served as an intellectual framework for the theorization of whiteness, as the male European subject replaced Jesus Christ as the human being at the center of world history. Through an analysis of the work of G.W.F. Hegel, Karl Barth, and James H. Cone, God, Race, and History examines this subversion of the Christian doctrine of providence, as well as subsequent attempts within modern Protestant theology to liberate the doctrine from its captivity to whiteness. It then develops a constructive political theology of providence in conversation with Delores S. Williams and M. Shawn Copeland, discerning Jesus Christ at work through the Holy Spirit in the struggles of ordinary, overlooked, and oppressed human creatures to survive and to carve out a flourishing life for themselves, their communities, and their world.
Matt R. Jantzen is visiting assistant professor of ministry studies and director of the Emmaus Scholars Program at Hope College.
Chapter 1 The Problem of Providence in Contemporary Theology: From Recovery to Liberation
Chapter 2 G. W. F. Hegel: Providence in Time, Space, and Race
Chapter 3 Karl Barth: Providence Between East and West
Chapter 4 James H. Cone: Providence as the Cities Burned
Chapter 5 Liberating Providence: The Spirit, Christ’s Presence, and Creaturely Participation
About the Author
Jantzen’s careful work is a model for how theological recovery can be liberating: by joining theologians of the past in the ongoing work of discerning God’s action in the past and present.
In God, Race, and History, Matt R. Jantzen capably explores these two faces of providence, analyzing both how the doctrine has been deployed to support colonialism and racism, and how it can be reclaimed to counter the same.
Here lies the real strength of God, Race, and History: it prompts one to pause and consider precisely how best to frame God’s providential actions in the world, and thus to consider the impact of one’s own decisions and actions in response.
God, Race, and History makes a genuinely novel, and much needed, contribution. This is a creative and worthwhile study that reenergizes and perhaps saves the Reformed doctrine of Providence from the scrapheap of history.
Matt Jantzen not only provides a fresh reading of Barth he makes possible an account of providence that has been absent in much of modern theology. Hopefully, this book will attract a wide readership for no other reason than this is what theological work should look like. Theologians may actually have something to say about the way things are.
Where is the Spirit working in the world today? With clarity and thoughtfulness, Matt Jantzen explores how three outstanding thinkers—Hegel, Barth, and Cone—have answered this question. Carefully recovering their insights as well as drawing attention to their blind spots, Jantzen leads the reader to his own constructive proposal: that attending to divine providence today requires attunement to how 'the Spirit is giving life to ordinary, overlooked, and oppressed bodies.' Jantzen’s book is an important read for scholars in systematic theology and political theology.
Insightful to the point of groundbreaking, Jantzen’s book helps us understand the horrors a doctrine of providence can create in the wrong hands. Unfortunately, that doctrine and the vision of history it has spawned has harmed countless peoples. This book places in our hands a precise accounting of the ways racial reasoning was informed by and in turn formed ideas about God working in the world through whiteness. For all those trying to diagnosis and address a Christianity joined to whiteness by means of a sick idea of providence. Here is its antidote.
6/8/2021: Author Matt Jantzen sat down with Gravity Leadership to discuss how the church should construct a doctrine of Providence that reckons with its cultural and racial history.