Divine Discontent: The Influence of Messianic-Nationalist Movements on Early Black Theology’s Portrayal of God’s Judgment

Marjorie Corbman, Fordham University


This dissertation traces the influence of black messianic-nationalist movements, especially the Nation of Islam, on early Black Theology on the topic of divine judgment. In doing so, it argues for the ongoing importance of this lineage in responding to racial terror perpetrated against black Americans today. Black messianic-nationalist sects normatively have drawn upon the apocalyptic and prophetic material of the Bible in order to proclaim the imminent doom of white America. This apocalyptic discourse was highly influential on black radical politics in the second half of the twentieth century, shaping the revolutionary thought of Malcolm X as well as the Black Power movement. This dissertation argues that this lineage was of crucial importance for the development of Black Theology in the late 1960s and early 1970s, in particular in the work of Albert B. Cleage, Jr. and James H. Cone. It argues that, as a result of this influence, Cleage’s and Cone’s treatments of divine justice serve as a corrective to general trends in European and Euro-American systematic theology in the twentieth century. Whereas the latter theologians have tended either to neglect to engage traditional and biblical language of divine wrath, or ultimately to neutralize it through appeal to Christ’s reconciling work, Cleage and Cone maintained the destabilizing character of biblical portrayals of God’s judgment in their theological writings. The chapters of the dissertation examine 1) the challenge posed by Black Theology to European/Euro-American theology on the topic of divine judgment, 2) the historical context of the development of messianic-nationalism and its influence on early Black Theology, 3) the relevant characteristics of messianic-nationalist biblical exegesis that demonstrate its importance for early Black Theology, 4) the development of Cone’s and Cleage’s thought on divine judgment over time, and 5) the ongoing legacy of black messianic-nationalist treatments of divine judgment for participants in the Black Lives Matter movement.

Subject Area

Theology|Religious history|African American Studies

Recommended Citation

Corbman, Marjorie, "Divine Discontent: The Influence of Messianic-Nationalist Movements on Early Black Theology’s Portrayal of God’s Judgment" (2020). ETD Collection for Fordham University. AAI27743432.