Anvil journal of theology and mission
Delroy Hall, A Redemption Song: Illuminations on Black British Pastoral Theology and Culture, (London: SCM Press, 2021)
reviewed by Rosie Hopley, CMS MA student
This is a book that offers a much-needed exploration of Black British pastoral theology from Delroy Hall, lecturer in counselling and psychotherapy at Leeds Beckett University. Hall draws on his pastoral experience and practical examples in this important work.
From the outset, I found myself glad that Hall returned to a childhood ambition to become a writer. I cannot help but wonder what other gems he might have written over the last 50 years had his talent been encouraged when he was a child (p.ix). It is too late to answer that question. However, in this book, he has proven that he brings an important voice for this generation, as he skilfully and with empathy shows how Black men can help themselves through self-love in his chapter Towards a Theology of Black Men.
I must confess, early on I wondered why his focus was on men, being a woman reading this text. It did not take long for me to understand why, and I commend him for it. A Redemption Song is a book I want to put in the hands of every Black man I know, in my own family and wider circles.
Hall does not shy away from the horrific history of the transatlantic slave trade, and he casts a forensic eye upon the disastrous impact it has had on those brutally wrenched from their homelands, and their descendants. If you want to gain an insight into the history and some of the impact of the historic slave trade, this is an excellent and accessible way to begin that journey of learning, as Hall brings a corrective focus to earlier, more sanitised narratives. The author powerfully interrogates this hard history. His handling of “The Good Friday of the Middle Passage” (p.18) is masterful – he brings truth telling, and an unflinching examination of the violence done to enrich and “advance the industrialisation of the British empire” (p.18). He does not shy away from clearly making the link between the terrors experienced in Africa and the Caribbean, and the tortuous journeys in between, with the fortunes made in the UK.
Hall deftly interacts with other Black British theologians like Kate Coleman, Robert Bedford, and Anthony Reddie, as well as African American theologians like James Cone. It is as though he gathers some of the greatest thinkers into a room and begins to carefully engage with their offerings. I felt richer for it, and eager to read more of their works. Examples that he has woven in from history include the voices of those who paved the way for the emancipation of their people, such as the revolutionary Baptist deacon Sam Sharpe, and writer and abolitionist Equiano. Such accounts cause this reviewer to want to revisit these stories, these histories, looking through the lens of resurrection.
Suffering and hope are pivotal themes, and I was thankful for how Hall embeds the story of Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection throughout the text. His chapter titles give some clue: The Middle Passage as Existential Crucifixion; Body Broken Eucharistic Violence and the Sam Sharpe Revolt; Eucharistic Encounters, Towards an African Caribbean Diasporan Pastoral Theology.
The provision of questions at the end of each chapter plus a wealth of resources will help the book spark much needed conversations. I can imagine a group of Black men using this as a book to study their way through history, their own stories and the passion story of Christ. I believe they would not be the same as they were at the beginning as they encounter the suffering and sacrificial Christ in its pages. Hall sets out to offer a Black theology in his quest for the care of souls, minds and bodies, and he does it well.
Delroy Hall has served his readers well with his book, and I encourage people to read it – to get an insight into Black British pastoral theology. It is a book of hopeful redemption, in the words of Bob Marley (p.92). It is an ode to the “resilience of the African spirit… and the enduring belief in the creator and its enduring legacy for people of African descent” (p.11).