This reality, this problem of cultural interpretation and communication, or the lack thereof, drives our mistakes, our false starts and our "project evaluations."
James H. Cone proves helpful just here. Cone writes about how context and experience shapes thought, while defining relevance and meaning when it comes to, in this case, understanding slave perspectives. The principles he lays out continues to apply as we grapple with the meaning of poverty in the U. S. as rich and poor persons of faith.
Paul Tillich once said something that might be worth remembering here: "Theology moves back and forth between two poles, the eternal truth of its foundation and the temporal situation in which the eternal truth must be received." That observation may be related to the recent interest in sociology of knowledge and its emphasis on the relation between ideas and the social condition of the people expounding them. What is important for our purpose is to say that the social and cultural environment of the people determine the kinds of religious questions they ask. This is not to deny that revelation provided its own questions or has its own integrity (a concern that dominated Karl Barth's theological works). But the integrity of revelation must be related to the human situation. The situation of being an American slave created certain kinds of theological problems, but they were not the same theological problems of white slave masters or others who did not live out their lives as slaves. Therefore, to use European or Western theological and philosophical methodologies as a means of evaluating the significance of black reflections on the slave condition is not only theoretically inappropriate but very naive. To evaluate correctly the slaves' theological reflection on their servitude in relation to divine justice, it is necessary to suspend the methodology of the enslavers and to enter the cultural and religious milieu of the victims. What were the theological questions of the slave community? What were the assumptions that defined the movement of that community? (pages 71-72)
James H. Cone
The Spirituals and the Blues