I finished James H. Cone's The Cross and the Lynching Tree this morning. This is one of those books that you read and then several years down the line you refer to it as something that "saved" or "renewed" your faith in/commitment to Jesus Christ. Personally, I think "renewed" is a more apt word, but I won't deny that since the events in Ferguson, MO, last year it has been sometimes quite difficult to know what to make of the relevancy of the Christian Gospel. Christianity in the United States seems impotent in the face of such devastation, and the Church seems detached, but I confess that this has to do more so with which forms of "Christianity" I've embraced and which expressions of the Church I've considered to be "normative".
Prof. Cone's gut-wrenching examination of the parallels between the Roman Empire's State-sanction crucifixion of Jewish bodies—most specifically Jesus of Nazareth's—and the United States' State-sanction lynching of Black bodies, especially in the South, has changed the way I see the symbol of the crucifix. It has given me eyes to see the cross as the place where the Creator God enters into solidarity with the marginalized and oppressed. If Jesus "exegetes" Israel's God for us then the one who is Lord and Christ interprets God as one who is destroyed by the powers and authorities, yet who is alive. I can't say that these concepts didn't exist in my mind before reading The Cross and the Lynching Tree, but they we're as powerful.
I am not going to "review" or summarize the book here. I will say that Cone's description of the history of lynching in America is very difficult to read, but I'm glad I did. And I found his chapter on Reinhold Niebuhr pricked my soul. But, again, this is not a review or a summary; this is merely a testimony to the book's value. As others have recommended it to me, now I recommend it to others. If you've found yourself asking, "What is the point of the Gospel, and the Church, in times like this?" then I urge you to consider Cone's answer.