Five Great Books on African American Evangelical History

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There has been a lot of discussion lately about race and evangelicals, some of it spawned by ERLC and TGC’s phenomenally successful and provocative MLK50 conference. Anyone wanting to foster understanding and Christian love between people of different ethnicities will also need to read in a multicultural way. So much attention gets focused in evangelical and Reformed circles on the likes of John Calvin and Jonathan Edwards, but we all need broader historical exposure than a short list of white men, no matter how inspiring those men might be.

In that spirit, I wanted to offer a list of five great books on African American evangelical history.

  1. Albert Raboteau, Slave Religion: The ‘Invisible Institution’ in the Antebellum South (revised ed., 2004). This authoritative yet readable book is one of the classics of African American history generally. It remains a great starting point for anyone wanting to know about the development of the black church in the slave South. (I have a well-worn copy sitting within reach on my desk.)
  2. Mary Beth Swetnam Mathews, Doctrine and Race: African American Evangelicals and Fundamentalism Between the Wars (2017). In this much-needed book, Mathews explained how traditionalist African American pastors did not fit easily into modernist or fundamentalist camps in the early 20th century, but instead crafted their own kind of evangelicalism. (See my TGC interview with Mathews here.)
  3. Thabiti Anyabwile, May We Meet in the Heavenly World: The Piety of Lemuel Haynes (2009). If I had to pick one African American church leader I wish more Christians knew about, it would probably be Haynes. A Revolutionary War soldier, Haynes went on to become a pastor of a largely white church in New England, a critic of American slavery, and an advocate of the New Divinity theology of Jonathan Edwards’s successors.
  4. Jon Sensbach, Rebecca’s Revival: Creating Black Christianity in the Atlantic World (2005). The former slave Rebecca Protten had a life story that makes for a fascinating read. The Caribbean-born Protten became a Christian through the Moravians, and she became a major evangelist in her own right, spending time living and ministering in the Caribbean, Germany, and West Africa.
  5. Paul Harvey, Through the Storm, Through the Night: A History of African American Christianity (2011). Although not exclusively focused on evangelicals, this is an excellent overview of African American Christian history from Harvey, one of the top historical experts on the subject.

See also “7 Books on the White-Black Racial Divide You Should Read.”

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