One of the more encouraging developments in the first decade of the 21st century has been a number of books written by African American pastors and scholars laboring to serve and reform the black church. The list below may not be entirely exhaustive, but it will give you a good snapshot of the faithful, quiet work that a number of brothers have produced thus far.

I think it’d be a mistake, however, to think that these works are only for our black brothers and sisters in the church. I would encourage all of us, no matter our race and ethnicity, to consider picking up one or two of these books and working through them. I think the result will be better listening and more learning as we see faithful wrestlings with the interplay of contextualization, compassion, and conviction.

Listen, for example, as a couple of other brothers reflect on the effect of these books on their own lives:

In Bloodlines John Piper about his experience of reading Carl Ellis’s book in the summer of 2001:

It was like one of those little magnets which, as you lower it slowly onto a table where there are thousands of tiny metal filings, the filings begin to turn and vibrate and orient in the same direction; and then you touch the table where they are and all of them come together and cling to that little magnet and dangle from it if you lift it up. I felt, in reading this book about the soul dynamic and the black experience in America, that everything I had ever seen and savored of the sovereignty of God and the centrality of God and the supremacy of God was a preparation for being a part of this reality—that is, a God-centered, Christ-exalting, Bible-saturated rebuilding of black and white evangelical culture not primarily around color but around the triumphant, sovereign glory of the all-knowing, all-governing, crucified, suffering, and living Christ.

Or consider D.A. Carson’s perspective on Anthony Carter’s edited work on Glory Road:

This book is a wonderful encouragement to those who love the doctrines of grace. The ten men described are African Americans—but quite frankly, what their ethnicity is does not matter nearly as much as their common delight in Christ and his gospel. Their stories are sufficiently diverse that they cannot be reduced to a simplistic mold; they have enough similarity that together they bring us back to God’s sovereign goodness in the cross of his Son. Read this book and rejoice.

Or Mark Noll on the historical and theological value of Thabiti’s book on the African American theology:

It is remarkable that, to my knowledge, there has never been a book that attempts what Thabiti Anyabwile’s The Decline of African American Theology attempts. . . . For both historical and theological reasons, this is a very important volume. . . . Because I have already learned so much from its pages, I am delighted to recommend it wholeheartedly to others.

There are riches here, awaiting discovery by the whole church. Tolle lege!


Carl F. Ellis Jr., Free at Last? The Gospel in the African-American Experience (IVP, 1995)

Bruce Fields, Introducing Black Theology: Three Crucial Questions for the Evangelical Church (Baker Academic, 2001)

Anthony Carter, On Being Black and Reformed: A New Perspective on the African American Christian Experience (P&R, 2003)

Thabiti Anyabwile, The Faithful Preacher: Recapturing the Vision of Three Pioneering African-American Pastors (Crossway, 2007)

Thabiti Anyabwile, The Decline of African American Theology: From Biblical Faith to Cultural Accommodation (IVP, 2007)

Anthony Carter, Experiencing the Truth: Bringing the Reformation to the African-American Church (Crossway, 2008)

Eric C. Redmond, Where Are All the Brothers? Straight Answers to Men’s Questions about the Church (Crossway, 2008)

Anthony Carter, ed., Glory Road: The Journeys of 10 African-Americans into Reformed Christianity (Crossway, 2009)

Anthony Bradley, Liberating Black Theology: The Bible and the Black Experience in America (Crossway, 2010)

Jarvis Williams, One New Man: The Cross and Racial Reconciliation in Pauline Theology (B&H, 2010)

Anthony Bradley, ed., Keep Your Head Up: America’s New Black Christian Leaders, Social Consciousness, and the Cosby Conversation (Crossway, 2012)

Jarvis Williams, A Chosen Race and a Royal Priesthood: A Biblical Theology of Ethnic Identity (Crossway, forthcoming)

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18 thoughts on “Reformation Resources for the Black Whole Church”

  1. Dan says:

    It looks like the link to Piper’s comment on Carl Ellis’s book is broken. I’m curious to read the rest of his thoughts on it.

    1. Justin Taylor says:

      Sorry, Dan. Fixed it. It’s from appendix 2 of Bloodlines.

      1. Dan says:

        Thanks!

  2. Quit identifying self with race within the church and this won’t be the problem it is. Peter is quite clear, we are a Royal Priesthood, Holy Nation and Holy Priesthood and so on. And first and foremost our spiritual identity is centered around Christ, not our humanity which is for other divine institutions such as family.

    Quit allowing yourself to refer to these men as “black Ministers” and quit calling their churches “black churches” because there is no such thing. They are spiritual ministers of Christ, their race is irrelevant.

    Quit treating them like objects but like spiritual brothers who are gifted to teach all men. It might be an anecdotal point that some of the congregations are made up of blacks by majority or great majority, so what? It isn’t a black church, it is a spiritual body.

    The more you use this unbiblical construct and assign to these Ministers unbiblical categories, the more you exacerbate the problem.

    And to these men:

    Stop seeing yourself this way. You are a Minister of Christ of the tribe of Christ. Your human identity is not the source of your spiritual identity. Stop with this humanism, now. You were saved into Christ and identify with Christ in your doctrine. Your race is incidental, anecdotal and irrelevant to your spiritual identity. When the Bible presents the believer’s spiritual identity it is Christ and Christ alone without any human properties as a source.

    Your human properties and identity certain are legitimate at home or in other contexts of other divine institutions but not in the body of Christ.

    1. Steve says:

      @ Alex Guggeneheim.

      Alex I take that by your name you are not black. Neither am I. I live in Brooklyn, NY. I live in a very diverse culture. I have been a member of a predominantly black church for 20 years. I have a younger brother and two younger sisters who are black. I have many very close friends who are black. And I doubt that any of them would have a problem with any of these books, or the authors addressing “black issues in black churches”.

      Maybe you go to an all white church? I don’t know. Maybe you live in an all white neighborhood? I don’t know. But you seem to be a bit ignorant about what you are saying. I do not mean this in a derogatory way. And I will not pretend that I can even understand the struggles that blacks have gone through, and in a sense still go through in this country. True things have gotten much better, but for you to pretend that this country, and the church in America see this the way you do, you are kidding yourself.

      You are telling people to lose their blackness. I do not see that anywhere in scripture. I am Italian, and I love my “Italian-ness”. And I love my “Puerto Rican ” wife and my “Black Haitian” brother in Christ and my “Asian” sister in Christ. I think you have it all wrong my friend.

      In fact the bible recognizes ethnicity and it is a God glorifying thing to see blacks and whites, Asians and Latinos, Arabs and Jews come together through the power of the Gospel. “And they sang a new song, saying, “Worthy are you to take the scroll and to open its seals, for you were slain, and by your blood you ransomed people for God from every tribe and language and people and nation” Rev 5:9.

      I have read Thabiti’s book on the Decline of African American Theology. I have read Anthony Carter’s book Black and Reformed and Experiencing the Truth. I have many black Christian brothers. That is right BLACK Christian brothers who love the Lord but have fallen victim to the bad theology that Thabiti and Anthony’s books speak about. I never want my brothers to lose their Blackness! I want them to lose their black theology that they are currently under, but by no means do I want them to lose their blackness. And neither should you.

      God Bless

      Steve

      1. First you should never assume anything by someone’s name, particularly if you claim to be from such a diverse culture, you ought to know better.

        Secondly you have violated one of the elementary tenets of debate, misrepresenting your opponents argument. I never said for anyone to lose any blackness or any human property for that matter, rather that their human properties are not valid sources for their spiritual identity. The body of Christ is a spiritual body with a spiritual identity which is Christ, not a human one based on human properties which are fine for other contexts. You should also know better than to misrepresent my argument.

        Thirdly, while the Bible may observe, record and describe race, it never prescribes human elements such as these are valid sources or addendums to our spiritual identity in the body of Christ. In fact it is a violation of “there is no Greek nor Jew” because we are all “one in Christ”. The very use of human properties to identify our spiritual person is anathema in Scripture and is precisely why this issue is being exacerbated and not resolved in today’s church.

        As to your use of Rev. 5:9, of course while you believe it is a weapon to enforce race consciousness, on the contrary, it is to demonstrate simply that God’s promise of salvation included all men and than none were excluded. It speaks descriptively this has always been the orthodox understanding of this context until recent theological deformities based on the influence of humanistic sociological values and norms, arose which are reflected in your misuse of the verse.

        And I have bad news for you and brother Thabiti and Anthony Carter and anyone else forwarding constructs of “African American Theology” or the “African American Church”, there is no such thing. There is no such thing as “Anglo Theology”, “Asian Theology” “Hispanic Theology”, only Biblical Theology.

        I, nor anyone understanding what I am saying, is minimizing each person’s unique experience but whether that experience is individual or collectively through a racial/ethnic/cultural construct, it does not license the development of a special or proprietary theology. That certainly is forbidden by all means.

        To develop such constructs is to undermine the singular spiritual identity of the body of Christ as those who are in and of Christ and in and of Christ alone. It is to fracture the body based on contexts that, while legitimate for other constructs in other divine institutions such as the family, are not valid for the body of Christ. It is not the “black body of Christ”, “the white body of Christ”, the “Pacific Islander Body of Christ” it is the body of Christ. We speak Christ and Christ alone.

        Race, ethnicity and culture are anecdotal in the body of Christ and is treated this way prescriptively and without exception in the Scriptures.

        1. Steve says:

          Well actually Alex we assume many things in life. If a person walks in a room carrying a wet umbrella and has wet feet I can only assume that it is raining out. So reading your name, I assumed you were not black. Now my assumption could be wrong. But then again I could be right.

          Secondly, I was not debating you, I was correcting you because your wrong.

          Thirdly, I was not misrepresenting your argument. You said “Quit allowing yourself to refer to these men as “black Ministers” and quit calling their churches “black churches” because there is no such thing.”

          Thirdly, my use of Rev 5:9 is very applicable. EVERY TRIBE, TONGUE, AND NATION. Diversity. The last time I checked God created mankind with diversity. Unless of course someone adheres to a Mormon Theology that teaches that the black man was cursed?

          And lastly Alex. You are the one who has violated one of the elementary tenets of debate, misrepresenting your opponents argument. None of these “Black Preachers” ever suggested or said that there is a “black body of Christ” or a “white body of Christ”. You are the only one who said that. They simply acknowledge the reality that there are black churches and white churches within the body of Christ. If you want to stick your head in the sand and deny that reality then by all means brother knock yourself out.

          And one more thing Alex. Lighten up bro! Don’t’ take yourself too serious. After all we are all part of the same body, right?

          1. Unfortunately your ability to remain constant in the context of my statements is slipping worse than earlier so to attempt further cogent discussion is unwise. However, I will gift you with a thought and then will have to allow you to fly solo.

            The issue is not whether one takes themselves seriously or not, though a mature man or woman does take themselves seriously, often. Rather it is a matter of taking the Bible seriously, always and without exception. It would be wise to learn to distinguish between the two contexts.

            This will help you not impose upon Biblical texts your personal wishes and needs resulting in erring dogma.

          2. Kevin Chen says:

            Uniformity? or Unity in Christ?

            1. Both, Christ is the uniform and the unity.

  3. Steve says:

    Peace to you my friend.

  4. Charlene says:

    Ok. So Calvinists aren’t the only ones who are “angry” ;-D Thanks for this list. Looking forward to reading some of these.

  5. Joseph says:

    Wow! Alex, I see your passion but you are way off base. Not sure how you can speak for blacks when you yourself are not black. God created humans and we are a diverse group. To suggest we ignore that is not biblical, spiritual, or healthy. I will not get into a theological debate with you on this since it usually only ends up with both parties trying to show how much scripture knowledge they have. All due respect brother but your comments seem a bit arrogant. So I will just say this. Please do not speak for black authors and black Christian leaders when you yourself are not one.

    I will not respond further but just added my two cents.

    I wish you all the best.

    1. I don’t speak for blacks and that is exactly the problem this kind of erring thinking delivers. I speak for Christ and His Word. I do not speak for whites, browns, blacks or any human identity, I speak Christ, for and in Him. And that is how we are to speak to one another, as spiritual brothers and sisters.

      The only reason my comments seem arrogant is because they are certain and when such certainties that fly in the face of PC theology they are never happy meals for those encountering them.

      I will, any place and any time with one or more theologians, prominent or unknown but by God or a combination of them, happily debate the issue. Brother, this isn’t my first rodeo and I have studied the issue for a few decades now. I doubt I will ever find anyone holding to your erring view willing to debate beyond convenient comments on a blog but anyone and everyone is more than invited to go to my blog or email me from my blog and debate the issue.

      1. Joseph says:

        Hey Alex. If you are such a masterful Theologian maybe you should take your show on the road? I’m just saying. Not trying to be sarcastic but since you have been in a few rodeos you should contact James White and see if he has any spots open for a man of such caliber as yourself. Looking at your blog it does not seem that you have to many people commeniting on your posts?

        1. My blog is as a hobby and exercise in writing so that I may develop my written articulations. It is not written with the interests of mass readership though any mass of people may always read it. So if your hope was to some how hurt my feelings (I am not sure where this practice fits into your practical theology) I must inform you that you are doing to be disappointed.

          As to my being a master theologian, I don’t believe you will find me making any such claim so I can only assume this is your observation. I am flattered but you err.

          James White? How did he enter the picture? I believe he has all the help he needs. Besides, he is rather extreme in his Augustinian/Reformed/Calvinistic views and that certainly is no longer my cup of tea.

          But the best thing, of all things, is to stay on topic and not make personal comments. That does not contribute to discovery. However, out of thoughtfulness to your misunderstandings about me I thought I would address those for your sake.

          Now, back on topic? Thanks.

  6. Joseph says:

    http://thegospelcoalition.org/blogs/tgc/2011/10/05/theological-imperialism-and-the-black-community/

    Here is a great video and article

    Theological Imperialism and the Black Community

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Justin Taylor


Justin Taylor is senior vice president and publisher for books at Crossway and blogs at Between Two Worlds. You can follow him on Twitter.

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