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.
“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.