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date: 19 October 2020

Abstract and Keywords

In African American theology, the concepts of heaven and hell are associated with “last things,” which are commonly linked to the Second Coming of Christ, the resurrection of the body, final judgment, and everlasting life. For African American theologians, the assertion of an otherworld does not limit African American eschatology to an inconsequential otherworldliness. The urge to privilege a redemptive otherworldly scenario is meant to appease the oppressed by promising a heavenly hereafter for the meek and mild and ensuring eternal damnation for the hellion. However, this view has been challenged by the varieties of African American theological reflection on heaven and hell. Black theologian James H. Cone argues that the “now” realities of black suffering necessarily serve as the foundation for the primary eschatological motifs that feed the African American apocalyptic imagination: namely, heaven and hell as historical happening, benevolent promise, and cultural mechanism of hope. This article examines the significance of heaven and hell in African American theology by discussing heaven as historical happening, as benevolent promise, and as cultural mechanism of hope.

Keywords: African American theology, heaven, hell, otherworld, eschatology, James H. Cone, suffering, historical happening, benevolent promise, hope

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