How Evangelicals Can Learn About the Black Experience

Uncategorized on July 20th, 2013 No Comments

A white evangelical recently asked me if there were any “Christian books” to help him learn about the black experience. My recommendation was to skip the books and actually have some black friends as peers (esp. from the the black church tradition) and the kind that won’t allow you to rest in your socio-cultural assumptions (i.e., they will call you out). There is nothing more powerfully challenging than to be in a friendship with someone from a different culture. You can’t learn about another culture from within your tribe. You have to leave it to learn. I also suggested becoming members of a black church and being minorities for once. Part of the privilege of being white (esp. a white evangelical) is that you can live your life avoiding peer and professional relationships with people of color, blacks and Latinos do not have that option.

But if you need a book to move things along start here.

What do evangelicals mean by “cultural engagement?”

Religion on July 18th, 2013 20 Comments

CulturalEngagement I Googled “cultural engagement” and this was the first image that popped up. I have no idea what it means. In fact, I’m not sure what evangelical means by “cultural engagement.” They use that term a lot but I’m not really sure what they mean by it. What does “engage” mean and what is “culture,” etc. What does it mean to “engage” culture? What will be done to the culture and how do we know if Christians are engaging it or not?

Please add your perspective below!!

Thanks!!!

What muted and sidelined the Presbyterian voice in religion and society?

Religion, Uncategorized on July 9th, 2013 10 Comments

francis-schaeffer I’m returning to a question I asked last summer but with a slightly different angle. Last summer, I asked what happened to popular Presbyterianism in a world where the Calvinist resurgence is almost entirely Baptist and non-denominational.

In the 1980s and 1990s when I was first introduced to Reformed theology three names dominated the seen were James Montgomery Boice (Senior Minister at Tenth Presbyterian Church in Philadelphia), Sinclair Ferguson who was teaching full-time at the time at Westminster Theological Seminary in Philadelphia, and R.C. Sproul. They are all Presbyterians. In those days “Calvinism”/”Reformed” and Presbyterian were synonyms.

Dr. Bill Evans, the Eunice Witherspoon Bell Younts and Willie Camp Younts Professor of Bible and Religion at Erskine College, has two reflections on how conservative Presbyterianism lost its mojo in recent years here: part 1 and part 2. These posts are helpful.

Matthew Tuininga proposes this as a possible explanation:

Presbyterians have increasingly turned inward, becoming more and more obsessed with intramural squabbles over secondary and even tertiary points of doctrine, and even with turf wars between ever shrinking (proportionally) seminaries and denominations.

So, now I am wondering, additionally, why we don’t hear multiple Presbyterian reflections on the social and cultural issues of our day as well–employing the tools and categories of the Presbyterian tradition explicitly. I am wondering why are Presbyterians not showing up as leaders in culturally leveraged spaces and discussions within the church or outside of it. I was recently on a website watching what was construed as a “biblical” position on a social issue “X” and about 30 seconds into the video I realized that it wasn’t a “biblical” view at all. Instead, it was a particular denomination’s way of thinking about the issue which was very clear and if you knew anything about that denomination’s history.

I am wondering, then, for those who are raising their children in the Presbyterian tradition what resources exists for forming Presbyterian identity in terms of an understanding marriage & family (i.e., the relationship between covenant marriage & covenant baptism in America’s marriage debate), issues related to social & political power & federal political theory (which is derivative of federal theology), divorce and remarriage, war and social conflict, apologetics, and so on? How does a covenantal world-and-life view, and Presbyterian understandings of power structures, unlock the implications for a theology of work & economics when applied to international third world development, and so on?

By extension, I am also wondering what happened to Presbyterians as known and normative leaders of culturally leveraged institutions in American society and culture? Mark Twain and William Faulkner were Presbyterian. More Vice-Presidents of the United States have been Presbyterian more than any other denomination (Presbyterians rank 2nd for the US Presidency). Presbyterians rank 2nd in terms of placement on the Supreme Court in US History. I could go on. . . .

Again, if you wanted to get Presbyterian reflections on a range of issues in multiple aspects of society and the church, where would one go? What Presbyterians are speaking to these issues or leading institutions that are (like think tanks or colleges and universities)? Dr. Phil Ryken is at Wheaton College but is he the only college president of one of the larger evangelical, non-denominational schools who is Presbyterian? Is that right? Again, I could go on. . .

It just seems that not only have Presbyterians been side-lined and muted in popular Calvinism in America and evangelicalism in general, as I discussed last year, but it seems that they also are not too involved in leading the other institutions outside of the church that shape culture either. What happened?

I know, I know everyone points to Tim Keller but, to be fair to him, he is not omnicompetent and shouldn’t be expected to address everything. Before Keller there was Presbyterians like Francis Schaeffer adding much to these conversations. Who are the Presbyterians speaking to larger culture in the spirit of Schaeffer?

If you have names of Presbyterians I am missing who are currently leading in America’s culturally leveraged institutions please list them in the comment section or if you have any insight as to why many national leaders are not coming out of the Presbyterian tradition (like we saw in the past) I’d love to hear what you think!

To be clear, my question is NOT about the influence of “Reformed” this or that, it is a question specifically about Presbyterianism (OPC, PCA, EPC, the renewal folks in the PC(USA), etc.). In an interview at Covenant College, the Rev. George Robertson said that it is his “dream that [the PCA] would be a leader denomination in evangelicalism, and in so doing, a real influencer of our culture, so that people of North America would look to the PCA for resourcing or guidance.” I’m not sure how this can happen while the mute button is being pressed.

Why I Ask Questions: What Is Research In Religious Studies?

Religion on July 8th, 2013 No Comments

At least once or twice a year I am asked about the nature of my questions regarding evangelicalism. There seems to be some confusion about the nature of my vocation so I thought it might be good to post this reminder. I am first and foremost a researcher in religious studies. In particular, I study the intersection of Christianity and Political Economy with a particular interest in the traditional black church and evangelicalism. This means that I ask a lot of questions using tools for other disciplines. And, no, the the nature of research is not always to have “answers.” Sometimes there are no clear, immediate answers. Researchers don’t always have answers to the questions they raise. Sometimes it takes years of asking more and more questions to arrive a possible answers to initial questions. In fact, some scholars spend their entire careers only asking one question and sometimes dying before answers are ever formulated.

This “Welcome to the Study of Religion” link may be helpful:

Religious studies is the academic field of multi-disciplinary, secular study of religious beliefs, behaviors, and institutions. It describes, compares, interprets, and explains religion, emphasizing systematic, historically based, and cross-cultural perspectives.

While theology attempts to understand the nature of transcendent or supernatural forces (such as deities), religious studies tries to study religious behavior and belief from outside any particular religious viewpoint. Religious studies draws upon multiple disciplines and their methodologies including anthropology, sociology, psychology, philosophy, and history of religion.

The difference is that although I am in a field occupied by many secularists and I am theologian (a Christian believer) operating in this space. I have been doing this type of research and writing for 12 years and currently teach undergraduates on these intersections from a Christian perspective.

Hope this helps!

The Life-Cycle of The Newbigin, Missional Model: About 20 years?

Religion on July 6th, 2013 4 Comments

The Village Church, an 18-year-old missional PCA church in the Village in New York City, closed its doors for good a few months ago on April 7th. This is a plant of Redeemer Presbyterian Church (PCA) in New York. These comments are from Rev. Scott Sherman (one of the founding pastors):

Scot Sherman
May 8, 2013 at 12:44 am
Dear Friends,

Reading these comments is bitter-sweet. I’m so sorry it has come to this.

Despite my inner turmoil and disappointment, I can truthfully say that ABOVE ALL I am grateful to have been a part of TVC. I’m grateful to Tim Keller for challenging me with the IDEA, and for the team of ministry marines who stepped up and served so sacrificially in those first years of planting. It’s been good to see God’s faithfulness as each chapter of the story of the TVC has unfolded. We planted, others watered, God gave the increase.

One of the many beautiful things about life in God’s kingdom is that nothing gets wasted, nothing forgotten. What God has done in and through TVC matters forever. Lesslie Newbigin, reflecting on 2 Tim. 1:12, says : “Every faithful act of service, every honest labor to make the world a better place, which seemed to have been forever lost and forgotten in the rubble of history, will be seen on that day to have contributed to the perfect fellowship of God’s Kingdom.” The rubble of history is not the last word, friends.

When confronted with sad mysteries, I take comfort that, as Fr. Richard Rohr says, “everything belongs ….Faith does not need to push the river precisely because it is able to trust that there is a river. The river is flowing; we are in it. The river is God’s providential love – so do not be afraid…Everything belongs; God uses everything. There are no dead ends. There is no wasted energy. Everything is recycled.”

I’m grateful for all of the TVC that was and is good. And I’m just as grateful for the grace that covers all the sin and nincompoopery that made it less than it could have been! I ask you— despite my many mistakes, and those that followed— did God not do a wonderful thing in Greenwich Village?

Scot Sherman

Could this be a normative life-cycle for a baby-boomber planted missional church in the Newbigin framework?

Is Contraceptive Sex Different From Same-Sex Sex?

Religion on March 30th, 2013 5 Comments

What would be an evangelical theological response be to the notion that sex using artificial contraception is no different than sex between homosexuals? If gay sex is unnatural how is contraceptive sex natural?

Linker makes this case:

Gay marriage has come to be widely accepted because our society stopped thinking of marriage as a conjugal union decades ago.

Between five and six decades ago, to be precise. That’s when the birth control pill — first made available to consumers for the treatment of menstrual disorders in 1957 and approved by the FDA for contraceptive use three years later — began to transform sexual relationships, and hence marriage, in the United States. Once pregnancy was decoupled from intercourse, pre-marital sex became far more common, which removed one powerful incentive to marry young (or marry at all). It likewise became far more common for newlyweds to give themselves an extended childless honeymoon (with some couples choosing never to have kids).

From a different angle, the biggest inconsistency is birth control pill using Christians arguing against gay marriage, some people are now arguing. Talking about morality divorced from redemptive history only muddles the discussion. So, arguing on the basis of immorality in the public square will fail every time. This is why Anderson and Robert George (see below) have focused on mothering and fathering as unique natural phenomena with respect to children. It’s not that they are simply against gay marriage morally (which is the only argument evangelicals have) but that human sexuality is about procreation and parenting. Hence, Vincent Palozzi’s Yahoo News article link above. Birth control pills (and other artificial contraceptives) made sex about something else other than its original design which established the “fairness” proposition in the gay marriage debate. Evangelicals seem ignorant (perhaps because they are unfamiliar with theological ethics) that the moral norms in Scripture are not arbitrary but normally point to creational norms with covenantal and redemptive purposes. Again, in Christian ethics, for example, the morality of human sexuality is a means of revealing a biblical theologically reality that is derivative of the doctrines of creation and redemption. Evangelicals aren’t even asking WHY God might have designed marriage and family the way he did (the ethics of the Pentateuch alone should make that clear as well as what theological and eschatological relaties those moral norms point to, etc.) Biblical ethics norms exists for reasons. . . .

As long as evangelicals argue about the morality of marriage divorced from biblical theology, as is currently being done, they will have no basis to argue about the ineffectiveness of the George/Anderson approach. Many are arguing that as soon as Christians started using artificial birth control, esp. the pill, they sacrificed their biblical theology of the body on the altar of America secular pragmatism and gave marriage away–hence the high divorce rate and now this issue (by divorcing sex from procreation). My guess is that evangelicals will not argue theologically against the Anderson/George approach on theological grounds (esp. if they have a robust doctrine of creation) but will rely on the secularist sexual pragmatist Western argument (explaining, in effect, why children get in the way of career pursuits and the attainment of the American dream).

The Myth of the Black Matriarchy During Slavery

Uncategorized on March 29th, 2013 No Comments

This article. WOW.

Coming May 2013: Aliens In The Promised Land

Books on March 16th, 2013 5 Comments

Aliens in the Promised Land: Why Minority Leadership Is Overlooked in White Christian Churches and Institutions

Edited by Anthony B. Bradley

    Book Outline

CHAPTER 1: General Introduction ~Dr. Anthony Bradley.

CHAPTER 2: Black Pastoral Leadership and Church Planting. ~Rev. Lance Lewis,

CHAPTER 3: Race, Racialization, and Asian-American Leaders in Post-Racist Evangelicalism ~Dr. Amos Yong

CHAPTER 4: Serving Alongside Latinos in a Multiethnic, Transnational, Rapidly Changing World ~Dr. Juan Martínez

CHAPTER 5: Ethnic Scarcity In Evangelical Theology ~Dr. Vincent Bacote

CHAPTER 6: Blacks and Latinos In Theological Education as Professors and Administrators ~Dr. Harold Dean Trulear

CHAPTER 7: Blacks and Latinos In Theological Education as Students ~Dr. Orlando Rivera

CHAPTER 8: A Black Church Perspective On Minorities in Evangelicalism~Dr. Ralph C. Watkins.

CHAPTER 9: Theology and Cultural Awareness Applied: Discipling Urban Men~Dr. Carl Ellis

CHAPTER 10: Afterword ~ Dr. Anthony Bradley

APPENDIX: Racism and the Church–Overcoming The Idolatry (A Biblical Theology of Race and What The Gospel Says About Racism).

    Contributors

Vincent Bacote, Associate Professor of Theology and Director of the Center for Applied Christian Ethics, Wheaton College—Ph.D., M.Phil., Drew University; M.Div., Trinity Evangelical Divinity School; B.S. in Biology, The Citadel.

Anthony B. Bradley, Associate Professor of Theology and Ethics, The King’s College—Ph.D., Westminster Theological Seminary; M.A. in Ethics and Society, Fordham University; M.Div., Covenant Theological Seminary; B.S. in Biological Sciences, Clemson University.

Carl F. Ellis Jr., Assistant Professor of Practical Theology, Redeemer Theological Seminary—D.Phil., Oxford Graduate School, Memphis; M.A.R., Westminster Theological Seminary; B.A., Hampton Institute.

Lance Lewis, Pastor, Christ Redemption Fellowship (PCA)—M.Div., Chesapeake Theological Seminary; B.A., Temple University.

Juan Martínez, Associate Provost for Diversity and International Programs, Academic Director of the Center for the Study of Hispanic Church and Community, and Associate Professor of Hispanic Studies and Pastoral Leadership, Fuller Theological Seminary—Ph.D., Th.M., Fuller Theological Seminary; M.Div., Mennonite Brethren Biblical Seminary.

Orlando Rivera, Assistant Professor and Department Chair of Pastoral Ministries, Nyack College—PhD., in Organizational Leadership, Regent University; M.B.A., Rollins College; M.Div., Reformed Theological Seminary; B.A., State University of New York, Albany.

Harold Dean Trulear, Associate Professor of Applied Theology, Howard University School of Divinity—Ph.D., Drew University; B.A., Morehouse College.

Ralph C. Watkins, Associate Professor of Evangelism and Church Growth, Columbia Theological Seminary—Ph.D., The University of Pittsburgh; D.Min., Pittsburgh Theological Seminary; M.A., The University of Dubuque Theological Seminary; B.A., California State University, Sacramento.

Amos Yong, J. Dean of the Divinity School and the Rodman Williams Professor of Theology at Regent University— Ph.D., Boston University; M.A., Portland State University; M.A., Western Evangelical Seminary; B.A., Bethany College.

    Endorsements

“This is a terrific book. For years, evangelicals have discussed among themselves ways to reach minority communities, without much participation by minorities themselves. This book is a game changer. Here, black, Asian, and Latino writers say what they most want to say to the evangelical (and specifically Reformed) community. If you are tired of the usual arguments about race, as I am, this book will wake you up with some new ideas, like Lance Lewis’ suggestion. He urges a moratorium on evangelicals (even black evangelicals) planting churches directed toward blacks. I’m not sure I agree. But like many ideas in this book Lewis’s are clearly written and backed up by good arguments. That a Reformed publisher has undertaken to publish a book like this is itself a very promising development. I urge a wide readership by all who are seeking to carry out Jesus’ Great Commission.” ~ John Frame, Ph.D, J.D. Trimble Chair of Systematic Theology and Philosophy, Reformed Theological Seminary

Never before have ethnic minorities within this “tribe” of conservative evangelicals addressed directly such explosive questions of white privilege, structural sin, unequal opportunity and the suburban cultural captivity of their churches. What I like most is that these contributors don’t dwell on past pain—and there is plenty of it! Rather, this volume is about reconstructing in faith a path towards God’s sovereign vision of human community. Anyone who cares about the future of Christianity in the North America needs to read this. ~John Nunes, Ph.D., President and CEO, Lutheran World Relief

Those that have ears to ear, let the American evangelical church hear what the Spirit is saying through these teachers. The importance of this book cannot be over-stressed. In order for evangelicalism to survive into the next generation, the warnings of Dr. Bradley, et al. must be heeded. This book not only offers personal stories and insightful analysis into the role of race in American Christian institutions, but it offers practical ideas to actively move these institutions forward. I pray that this book will be read and applied by every major American evangelical leader who wishes to honestly explore the future of American evangelicalism. ~Soong-Chan Rah, Author of The Next Evangelicalism

Anthony Bradley has assembled an impressive cast of Hispanic, black, and Asian scholars to analyze the “alien” status of minorities in the “Promised Land” of evangelical America. Informed by personal, theological, and practical reflection, these sobering and often uncompromising essays challenge culturally dominant white evangelicals to move beyond their tribalism and embrace ethnic and racial diversity in their midst. “Wake up,” these contributors are saying, “The multi-cultural future of evangelicalism is now.” ~David W. Kling, Ph.D. Chair, Department of Religious Studies, University of Miami

Make no mistake – this is not a book to be pigeonholed as merely one more addition to the ongoing conversation about faith and race. It is, rather, a book about the viability of Evangelicalism and therefore the future of western Christianity as a whole. No longer can white, western Christians conveniently turn a blind eye to their own privilege, underlying racism, and the absolute necessity of repentance and change. The question is, will the blind eyes be opened? Will evangelicals heed the prophetic word offered by the voices in Aliens in the Promised Land, or will we fade into obscurity as the rest of global Christianity comes to resemble a body of every tribe, tongue, and nation? I’ve heard it said that Christians sometimes answer questions that no one is asking. Here, Bradley and a host of emboldened pastors, scholars, and theologians answer questions that many Christians are afraid to ask. As such, the volume serves as a significant catalyst for conversation, prayer, and the hope that the faith once delivered can indeed be proclaimed and revealed by a diversity of members within the body of Christ. It is an effort worthy of the highest commendation. ~Rev. Adam S. Borneman, Second Presbyterian Church, Birmingham, AL.

Available soon at Amazon.com

There are 3 Types of African American (Black) Reformed Christians

Religion, Uncategorized on January 15th, 2013 7 Comments

The elephant in the room in the discourse about what it means to be black and Reformed is that black Reformed leaders and churches have the same exact diversity and variety as their white counterparts but people act as if they do not.

The following is a summary of reflections Tim Keller gave back in 2010 on three Reformed cultures in the PCA that I copied from Jeff Gissing. What follows in a combination of Gissing and Keller. The repetition is for emphasis. The categories and discussion can be found in George Marsden’s essay in this book on Reformed Theology in America.

Doctrinalists place a high value on creedal orthodoxy and working through the councils of the church rather than, say, through parachurch ministries. Uniformity is the name of the game–a common (regulated) way of worship, a common theological language (subscription to the Confession), and the maintenance of traditions in worship rather than innovation. Doctrinalists are suspicious of engagement with culture because of the risk of theological compromise. There is more stress on uniformity of faith and practice than on freedom and diversity. Historic tradition is valued over innovation, and social adaptation is looked upon with great suspicion. These last two factors mean there is less freedom for individual Christians and local Sessions. Things are more tightly regulated.

Pietists place a high value on the personal and experiential. They do ministry through church courts yes, but also in partnership with parachurch ministries. While not atheological, they place the highest value on core or essential doctrines. The emphasis is more on personal holiness than confessional precision or uniformity. Many of these churches emphasize personal evangelism and church growth. Contemporary worship is typically a high value for pietists because of the emphasis on conforming the worship experience to something that is person and experiential–something that if perceived to be more difficult when the genre of music is one or more generation removed from the worshipper. The pietist impulse puts the emphasis on the individual and the experiential. Pietists do ministry through church courts, but they are also supportive of ministry through para‐church ministries.

Pietists stress core doctrines over secondary ones, and feel more like part of the broader evangelical movement than do doctrinalists. This branch, like the doctrinalists, are generally suspicious of an emphasis on social justice and cultural engagement. While the doctrinalists fear cultural accommodation, the pietists are more afraid that it will detract from the pietists’ main concern—evangelism, mission, and church growth. The culturalist impulse is like the doctrinalist in that it values theological reasoning and is suspicious of the individualism and pragmatism of the pietists.

The culturalist approach values redemptive engagement with culture and theological reasoning, feeling an affinity with the Great Tradition that links the historic church. Many of these churches are more comfortable appropriating liturgy from the church’s liturgical tradition. They are more open to innovation than the doctrinalists although they tend to have a slightly higher view of music and the arts than the pietists. Additionally, they place a higher value on modern scholarship than either the doctrinalists or the pietists–they are eager to engage with new ideas. They monitor the culture and seek to interact with it in a constructive way, often avoiding overt evangelistic programs or emphasis on church growth.

Culturalists emphasize community and the corporate in ways similar to the doctrinalists. However, culturalists are more like the pietists in their openness to social adaptation. Indeed, they usually are more open to the ‘new’ than the pietists. And the culturalists pay the most attention to what goes on outside the church in the culture. In particular, they usually give more heed to modern scholarship. Culturalists may show less concern with ‘church growth’ and overt evangelistic programs than either of the other two branches. Also feel more affinity to ‘the Great Tradition’—the Anglican, Catholic, and Eastern churches—than do the doctrinalists and the pietists.

First of all, calm down. These are broad generalizations by Marsden and Keller so there’s no need to freak out about the lack of precision on certain points. It’s ok. Breath.

The point is that there is no one way to be African American and Reformed. Because followers of John Piper and Mark Dever are more piestist/revivalist (with some doctrinalist affinities) they tend to look on those who are more cleanly doctrinalist or culturalist with suspicion about not being very serious about “the gospel” (translation: unless you lean in the pietist direction your commitment to “the gospel” may be suspect)–and vice versa, although the charge will not be about “the gospel.”

There are black Reformed Presbyterians that represent all three. There are black Baptists who embrace all three. The ongoing myth is that “Reformed,” is monolithic in emphasis. It’s not and the lack of discussion on this point has been used to pit people against each other. Some Reformed African Americans have been influenced by Reformed Anglicanism, English & American Puritanism, Scottish Presbyterianism, Dutch Calvinism, etc., all with different emphases. It will be great some day when there will be space where people are just “ok” with the reality of all three.

Amazing!

Religion on December 2nd, 2012 1 Comment

I long to find a community of Christians who would see this guy as an artist.