Does Being Black and Reformed Make You Stupid?

OK, maybe stupid is a strong word. How about snobbish and elitist?

I am African and Charismatic, the typical antithesis of Black and Reformed. I come from a theological background frowned by the Reformed as rich in emotion, but empty in substance. Where I grew up people shun Reformed churches because of their perceived elitism and snobbishness. 

Reading Antony J. Carter’s Black and Reformed was a giant leap of faith.  His words correctly summarize my feelings (insertions in italics are mine), “As much as I desire it, an intimate connection with Reformation history is hampered by my inability to identify culturally with those who stand as its magisterial architects.”

The snobbishness is exacerbated by the theological famine in Africa rhetoric common in Reformed cycles. The expression offends many Africans and is totally disrespectful of the work the Holy Spirit is doing in many Africa nations. This elitism is how most Africans and African Americans view Reformed churches and their proponents.

Does Being Black and Reformed Make You Stupid?

“Even though there is a need for a distinctly African-American perspective on theology,” wrote Anthony J. Carter,  “the parameters of that theology must be observed: Scripture, history, and tradition, and Christian experience.” And went on to dismiss prominent black theologians, “James Cone, James Washington, Deotis Roberts, Gayraud Wilmore… failed to maintain the integrity of scriptural doctrines.”

Carter’s Black and Reformed sought to “redeem and reform our perspective on the black American experience through the most legitimate lens available, theology—in particular, biblically based and historically grounded Reformed theology.” The African American, by extension African church, can only be fully impacted by black theologians who don’t deny the role history played in shaping their theology.

With history, throughout the book, Antony J. Carter referred to the history of slavery and racial segregation African Americans endured. Suffering, especially in the hands of white Christians mars the history of blacks. From slavery, colonization to racial discrimination; these atrocities were made against black people by nations perceived as Christian.That is why most black people are skeptical of Reformed churches.

Carter suggests that blacks should not look at history and their Christian experience as a tool for arguing against Reformed theology, but should view it with an understanding of God’s sovereignty, sinfulness of humans and sufficiency of Christ. Instead of seeing slavery and colonization as crimes committed by white Christian, blacks should understand that through these inhumane acts, God was “sovereignly working his plan in our lives for his glory and our good is our only comfort in life and in death.”

The sinfulness of the colonialist, slave masters and traders led them to be perpetrators of such heinous crimes. However, Christ’s sufficiency justified, sanctified and glorified black people even in suffering.

I had never heard of such a liberating view of slavery and by extrapolation colonialism and racism. Hats off to Carter for such a beautiful look at history and Christian experience. Being black and Reformed doesn’t mean one is stupid to ignore their history and the Christian experience of their forefathers, rather it compels you to see the sufficiency of Christ in sustaining His Word in amidst great suffering.

Suffering and injustice laid the foundation of black theology as noted by Emmanuel McCall:

It must be remembered that the substance of the black religious traditions were not fashioned in drawing rooms, theological conferences, ecclesiastical assemblies, cathedrals or seminary campuses. They were hammered out in cotton fields, on plantations, in plantation shanties, in work details and in the obscurity of woods while this servile people attempted to reconcile the divine platitudes mouthed by their masters with the harsh realities of their existence.

Black and Reformed is an excellent book for both seminarians and black people repelled by Reformed theology. It gives a good and biblical view of suffering, but I had problems with Appendix B because it overemphasizes Christian history possibly rejecting any attempts by young African or African American theologians to use Scripture in answering problems pertinent to their cultures. 

Why do you think most African Americans and Africans avoid Reformed theologies? Someone said Reformed churches force you to read a lot of books- Africans don’t like reading (joking). I thought that being truly Reformed meant you should have at least a dozen C.S. Lewis quotes! Please, leave your comments.

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15 Comments

  1. Hey Edmond,
    Your post was interesting.

    I was once reformed in my doctrine, and I now totally reject it; it is badly flawed. And it is snobbish, as mentioned in your article.
    So I wouldn’t be too quick to embrace this Edmond.

    The other thing that I can offer to you, is to remove the African/black lenses regarding faith.

    All of that can be interesting socially, but Jesus doesn’t differentiate, nor His message according to race.

    I say all of this for the purpose of kind encouragement for you Edmond.

    In kindness,
    Lee

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    1. Thanks for the advice Lee. There’s a quote that I have found true with passing of time by Kwame Bediako, “In becoming Christian I discovered I was becoming African again. I was recovering my sense of the spirituality of life. I was recovering my sense of the nearness of the living God. I was recovering my African sense of the wholeness of life.” I think Carter does an incredible job in showing that our history, cultural biases and experiences are critical in understanding the immensity of the work Christ did at the Cross.

      Is it possible that God created us with so much diversity to demonstrate how it’s possible to be one even though we might look at the world differently? Is it possible that embracing one’s culture gives room for unadulterated worship? I cannot deny the effects of colonialism on my worldview and how I view races, but when that cultural lense is confronted with the gospel the goodness of Christ is revealed, beauty from ashes.

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    2. I just want to clarify on point I mentioned regarding reformed snobbery.
      I wasn’t meaning people in particular, I have known very kind reformed people.

      What I meant was that doctrine that not only sharply divides the pre chosen and the pre damned, but emphasizes the “doctrine of men,” / “church fathers,” above scripture. I.E., Calvin, Bunyan, Edwards, etc.
      Salvation is available to everyone-equally.

      Thank you.

      All glory to the risen Lord Jesus Christ

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  2. I feel compelled to say this. I don’t know why, but often times I don’t know why. It becomes clear in time. That’s the way the Lord sometimes uses us.
    I think both perspectives have value. There were not too many African Christians around until colonists shared a little, no matter how flawed their sharing was. On the same note, it isn’t well to accept something by having no other choice either.
    Here’s the point I wish to make: maybe there’s a point beyond all of it where all move out of the rut and get on with moving the system to the next level.

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  3. Beautiful writing Edmond!! You are really onto something that is much bigger even than your own experience (which in itself is of great value). It speaks to me about paradoxical experiences that should help us to move away from dualistic thinking and embrace more fully grace and love. Indeed the African voice is profoundly important for the global Christian community to hear and respond to. The suffering experienced will be used to create a ‘perfection’ and a new exemplary understanding of Christ and the gospel. All wisdom and love to you as you explore this furthur!

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  4. Edmond,

    Thank you for your thoughtfully expressed and thought-provoking entry. Hearing your discussion of theological matters from an African perspective is fascinating. I appreciate your insight. Thanks for sharing your views which you articulate so clearly.

    Thanks also for the recent like at Dr. J’s Apothecary Shoppe. Thanks for stopping by.

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  5. I read this from a New World/Western Master Narrative Lens, Christianity from a Reformed view is Whitewashing the African & Middle Eastern origin of JudeoChristianity. So Reform’s foundation, I’m reading it as the usage of Christianity to spread white supremacy/Manifest Destiny. To ignore the geographically foundations and diversity of the Semetic texts is highly problematic if we’re trying to look at a Black/African in the New World intersection. From your blog, this is a book I can’t engage in because it places Whitewashing at the center of JudeoChristianity and attempts to demonize Blacks & justify American slavery, and minimize the Black religious experience and African survivals in the Americas. No thank you on this book, I prefer my Religious literature when discusses race &American racism to have a Critical White POV.
    All Peace & Blessings.

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  6. “Being black and Reformed doesn’t mean one is stupid to ignore their history and the Christian experience of their forefathers, rather it compels you to see the sufficiency of Christ in sustaining His Word in amidst great suffering.” WONDERFUL!!!!!

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  7. Good read, thank you for posting it. I was wondering if you ever came across a book called “Black and Reformed” written by Allen Boesak? Might be something you would be interested in if you get the chance. Good post, keep it up.

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  8. Those heinous acts committed by whites are at least as much a blot on white history as on black. I only dare to say this because I believe it’s better to suffer wrong than to do wrong. As a white woman, I feel we caucasian Christians should take a page from Daniel and repent of the sins of our ancestors.

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