10 Things to Study Before Engaging Black Hebrew Israelites

As Christian apologists, we are called to defend the hope we have within us (1 Peter 3:15). However, we must do this strategically and not ignorantly. Many times, well-meaning believers seek out maleficent arguments or renegade crusades without adequately preparing themselves through study. This is tragic because God calls us to be prepared and well-studied for the proclamation of His word (2 Timothy 2:15). One particular cult Christian apologists should certainly be prepared to engage are the Black Hebrew Israelites (BHI). Without preparation, a believer can walk away discouraged, deflated, and even dejected because of the strenuous effort of persuading this unique cult. Black Hebrew Israelites are often very well studied in the Bible, equipped with historical trivia, and familiar with frequent objections. They are often very passionate and, depending on the individual or cult, can be very condescending. Therefore, a soldier in the faith should be equipped, prepared, and bold to share the Gospel. Below are ten questions Christian apologists should understand, and be able to answer thoroughly, before engaging Black Hebrew Israelites.

 

1. Do you know how and why Christ has fulfilled the law?

This is a huge point that cannot be overlooked. Many Christians are fuzzy, at best, when it comes to declaring how the New Covenant and Old Covenant are related. Specifically, many Christians have accepted the “Americanized Jesus” and can no longer see the sunburnt Yeshua, who is the quintessential Jew. Redemptive History demonstrates Jesus as the coming Messiah who fulfilled the law and kept the commandments so sinners could have his imputed righteousness while he took the guilt, shame, and curse of our sin on the cross. It is the life, death, and resurrection of Christ that institutes a New Covenant and then calls both Jew and Gentile into the Law of Christ (Romans 10:14). As Christians, we need to be able to prove, from scripture, that the law cannot save us. Instead, we should be able to prove that faith in the person and work of Jesus saves us. After which, we are called to follow Him.

Helpful Scriptures:

  • Therefore by the deeds of the law there shall no flesh be justified in his sight: for by the law is the knowledge of sin. Romans 3:20 KJV
  • Wherefore the law was our schoolmaster to bring us unto Christ, that we might be justified by faith. But after that faith is come, we are no longer under a schoolmaster. ‭‭Galatians‬ ‭3:24-25‬ ‭KJV
  • Having abolished in his flesh the enmity, even the law of commandments contained in ordinances; for to make in himself of twain one new man, so making peace; Ephesians‬ ‭2:15‬ ‭KJV‬‬

Helpful Books:

  • Law and the Gospel by Ernest C. Reisnger
  • 40 Questions about Christians and Biblical Law by Thomas R. Schreiner
  • The End of the Law by Jason Meyer

Helpful Articleshttps://www.thegospelcoalition.org/article/does-psalm-119-teach-salvation-comes-by-keeping-the-law

 

2. Do you know how we received and translate the Bible?

Christians should know how we received the Bible and how we translate it into modern day language. Many in the Black Hebrew Israelite camp believe that the King James Version is the only authentic version, while also affirming the Apocrypha. A Christian should be able to articulate the formation, reception, and preservation of the Biblical text, the process of textual criticism, and refute texts not in the Biblical Canon.

Helpful Scriptures:

  • All scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness. ~ 2 Timothy 3:16 KJV
  • For the prophecy came not in old time by the will of man: but holy men of God spoke as they were moved by the Holy Ghost. ~ 2 Peter 1:21 KJV

Helpful Books:

  • From God to Us by Norman Geisler
  • The King James Only Controversy by James White

Helpful Articles: https://www.gotquestions.org/apocrypha-deuterocanonical.html

 

3. Do you know the history of the Jewish People?

A central claim in much Black Hebrew Israeliteideology is the belief that people affected by the evil of the Transatlantic Slave trade are indeed the lost tribes of Israel.  This discussion could lead to many debates and rabbit trails, but the apologist should be aware of the formation of Israel in the Bible and some historical facts on the current Nation of Israel.

Helpful Scriptures:

  • And many nations shall be joined to the Lord in that day, and shall be my people: and I will dwell in the midst of thee, and thou shalt know that the Lord of hosts hath sent me unto thee. -Zechariah 2:11 KJV
  • And the children of Israel journeyed from Rameses to Succoth, about six hundred thousand on foot that were men, beside children.38 And a mixed multitude went up also with them; and flocks, and herds, even very much cattle. – Exodus 12:37-38 KJV
  • For he is not a Jew, which is one outwardly; neither is that circumcision, which is outward in the flesh: But he is a Jew, which is one inwardly; and circumcision is that of the heart, in the spirit, and not in the letter; whose praise is not of men, but of God. – Romans 2:28-29 KJV

Helpful Books:

  • Kingdom of Priests: A History of Old Testament Israel by Eugene H. Merrill
  • Israel & the Nations: The History of Israel from the Exodus to the Fall of the Second Temple by F. F. Bruce

Helpful Articles: https://carm.org/black-hebrew-israelites

 

4. Do you know God's redemptive plan to save all people and nations?

Different camps will disagree on this point. However, it is important to know the intention of God to save all people from different tribes, tongues, and nations when engaged with a camp that believes only Israelites will be saved.

Helpful Scriptures:

  • Look unto me, and be ye saved, all the ends of the earth: for I am God, and there is none else. ~ Isaiah 45:22 KJV
  • Who will have all men to be saved, and to come unto the knowledge of the truth. - 1 Timothy 2:4 KJV

Helpful Books:

  • Mission in the Old Testament: Israel as a Light to the Nations by Walter C. Jr. Kaiser
  • From Every People and Nation: A Biblical Theology of Race (New Studies in Biblical Theology) by J. Daniel Hays
  • The High Definition Leader: Building Multiethnic Churches in a Multiethnic World by Derwin L. Gray

Helpful Articles: https://www.gotquestions.org/Jews-saved.html

 

5. Are you competent enough to have a discussion about the Hebrew language?

In your dialogue with Black Hebrew Israelites, many topics will eventually touch on the meaning of a word in Hebrew. Having a firm grasp of how the Biblical languages work would be a huge benefit for a believer trying to defend the faith.

Helpful Books:

  • Hebrew for the Rest of Us: Using Hebrew Tools without Mastering Biblical Hebrew by Lee M. Fields
  • Old Testament Exegesis: A Handbook for Students and Pastors by Douglas Stuart
  • A History of the Hebrew Language by Angel Sáenz-Badillos

 

6. Are you competent enough to have a discussion about racism and racial reconciliation?

Much of Black Hebrew Israelite mythology evolves around the idea that “Edomites”, or white people in America, are deceiving and pacifying people of color with a whitewashedChristianity.In some cases, this does happen. However, it is not a good representation of Global Christianity or the strong activism and Biblical worldview of the historic black church. This heresy often leads to racism and xenophobia amongst certain camps. Edomites are often seen as condemned and not part of God’s redemptive plan.

Helpful Scriptures:

  • Thou shalt not abhor an Edomite; for he is thy brother: thou shalt not abhor an Egyptian; because thou wast a stranger in his land. ~Dueteromy 23:7 KJV
  • And other sheep I have, which are not of this fold: them also I must bring, and they shall hear my voice, and there shall be one fold, and one shepherd ~John 10:16 KJV

Helpful Book:

  • Oneness Embraced: Reconciliation, the Kingdom, and How We are Stronger Together by Tony Evans
  • Defending Black Faith: Answers to Tough Questions About African-American Christianity by Craig S. Keener

Helpful Articles: https://blogs.thegospelcoalition.org/trevinwax/2013/01/28/why-did-jesus-say-he-came-only-for-israel/

 

7. Do you have an accurate account of the Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade?

The Black Hebrew Israelites typically believe that the Trans-Atlantic slave trade is a biblical prophecy fulfilled in our American context. Admirably, they have an amazing knowledge of the horrific evils that took place in the slave trade. Sadly, much eisegesis is imposed on the Biblical text that is not a byproduct of helpful hermeneutics. 

Helpful Scriptures:

  • Art thou called being a servant? care not for it: but if thou mayest be made free, use it rather. -1 Corinthians 7:21 KJV

Helpful Books:

  • The Birth of African-American Culture: An Anthropological Perspective by Sidney Wilfred Mintz
  • Slavery and African Ethnicities in the Americas: Restoring the Links by Gwendolyn Midlo Hall

Helpful Articles: http://coldcasechristianity.com/2014/four-differences-between-new-testament-servitude-and-new-world-slavery/

 

8. Have you consulted the best commentaries on Deuteronomy?

Referring back to point 7, much of the eisegesis and misapplication of scripture is from the book of Deuteronomy, in particular chapter 28. Many camps in the BHI cult believe that the curses found in this chapter apply to people of color displaced by the Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade. Reading exegetical articles will help you discern context and the meaning of these passages.

Helpful Scriptures:

  • And the Lord shall scatter thee among all people, from the one end of the earth even unto the other; and there thou shalt serve other gods, which neither thou nor thy fathers have known, even wood and stone. -Deuteronomy 28:64 KJV
  • And the Lord shall bring thee into Egypt again with ships, by the way whereof I spake unto thee, Thou shalt see it no more again: and there ye shall be sold unto your enemies for bondmen and bondwomen, and no man shall buy you.–Deuteronomy 28:68 KJV

Helpful Books:

  • Deuteronomy (Evangelical Press Study Commentary) (EPSC Commentary Series) by John D. Currid
  • Deuteronomy (Apollos Old Testament Commentary) by J. G. McConville

Helpful Articles: https://www.equip.org/article/origin-insufficiency-black-hebrew-israelite-movement-article/

 

9. Are you aware of the black presence in the Bible& Church History?

A great portion of Black Hebrew Israelites are well trained to see the kaleidoscope of color in the Bible. If you read the Bible through a colorblind lens, you will miss the richness of God’s redemptive plan and appear to be brainwashed by this cult. Knowing the black presence in the Bible creates a common ground and enhances mutual dialogues, especially when one must challenge other points of interpretation. More ground can be gained in quoting sources if one is aware many of the early church fathers were indeed African.

Helpful Scriptures:

  • The Sons of Ham (Genesis 2:13; 10:6)
  • Nimrod (Genesis 10:8-10; 11:2)
  • Caleb (Genesis 15:19; Joshua 14:6)
  • Jethro (Judges1:16)
  • The mixed ancestry of Jesus; Hamitic Descent from Tamar, Rahab, Bathsheba, and Ruth (Matthew 1:1-16)

Helpful Books:

  • The Black Presence in the Bible by Walter Arthur McCray
  • How Africa Shaped the Christian Mind: Rediscovering the African Seedbed of Western Christianity by Thomas C. Oden

Helpful Articles: https://iamernestgrant.com/2016/02/28/its-not-the-white-mans-religion-2/

 

10. Do you know the camp you are reaching?

Last but not least, it is helpful to know which camp of the Black Hebrew Israelites you are talking with. Many have different beliefs, and it would be helpful to ask questions about the specific camp, instead of assuming.

Helpful Scriptures:

  • Wherefore, my beloved brethren, let every man be swift to hear, slow to speak, slow to wrath – James 1:19 KJV
  • If it be possible, as much as lieth in you, live peaceably with all men. -Romans 12:18 KJV
  • He that answereth a matter before he heareth it, it is folly and shame unto him. – Proverbs 18:13 KJV

Helpful Articles: http://www.apologeticsindex.org/5864-black-hebrew-israelites

Helpful Books:

  • Chosen People: The Rise of American Black Israelite Religions by Jacob S. Dorman
  • Barack Obama vs the Black Hebrew Israelites: Introduction to the History & Beliefs of 1West Hebrew Israelism by Vocab Malone

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As lead pastor of Grace Alive Church, Cam has a heart for Jesus and for the city of Orlando. He hopes to see people discover the greatness of Jesus through Grace Alive.

He graduated from the University of Central of Florida as a religious studies major and also received additional training at Reformed Theological Seminary-Orlando. During his time in Orlando, he made great friends and developed a passion for ministry in the Beautiful City.

Cam is married to his best friend Tymara and together they are raising their son affectionately known as Baby Cam.

Ephrem and Nicene Terminology: Trends Across Syriac Literary Genres

By: Dr. Vince Bantu

The Council of Nicaea, as Peter Brown has observed, was motivated—at least, from the perspective of Constantine—by a desire for a religious uniformity that would consolidate Roman religio in the worship of one God.[1] The universalizing nature of this “ecumenical”—or “worldwide”—council was discernible not only in its normalizing of liturgical practices and theological orthodoxy for Roman Christians but by the very language in which orthodoxy became cemented. The term homoousias—meaning “of the same substance”—became the banner of Nicene orthodoxy indicating the essential unity and ontological equality between God the Father and Christ the Son. The forerunner of Nicene theology and Patriarch of Alexandria, Athanasius, established this doctrine as the faith of the Egyptian Church by imposing it as the faith of the subject of his biography and Egypt’s most renowned ascetic figure—Anthony the Great.[2]

Yet, despite attempts at unifying the Christian world through this theological framework, the term homoousias had no biblical precedent, causing a certain degree of suspicion among even those who would vehemently oppose any Arian or subordinationist understanding of the Trinity. The early-fifth century historian Socrates Scholasticus attests to the confusion that the word homoousias was causing even among the bishops present at Nicaea.[3] The reticence displayed by some in the Greek-speaking segments of the Empire was exacerbated by linguistic and cultural factors for communities articulating theology in other languages. One of the most significant examples of the reception and alteration of Nicene orthodoxy on the peripheries of the Roman Empire was that of Ephrem the Syrian.

Ephrem lived entirely during the fourth century from around 306 to 373 CE; before, during and right up until the resolution of the Arian controversy. Ephrem was born to a Christian family near the Persian border of the Roman Empire at Nisibis. Ephrem lived most of his life in Nisibis serving as a deacon under the bishop Jacob, a signatory at the Council of Nicaea. Ephrem directed the School of Nisibis as a malphānā (or “teacher”), an ecclesiastical function unique to the Syriac tradition. Although he was not a monk in an official sense, Ephrem is often associated with the ascetic life and seems to have been associated with a Syrian form of proto-monasticism called bnai/bnat qyāmā (“Sons/Daughters of the Covenant”).[4] When Nisibis fell to the Persians after the death of the Roman emperor Julian in 363 CE, Ephrem evacuated Nisibis along with many other Christians and settled in the Syriac center of Urhoy (or, Edessa). It was in Urhoy that Ephrem assumed direction of the School of Edessa, provided leadership during a severe famine, and composed the majority of his theological writings.

Sebastian Brock has presented Ephrem’s writing in four primary categories:[5] straight prose—consisting of various polemical works and biblical commentaries; artistic, or rhythmic, prose; memre—a Syriac literary form typically called “verse homilies”; and madrāshe. Madrāshe are commonly considered the most theologically and literarily significant genre of writing in the Ephremian corpus.  A literary genre unique to the Syriac language and culture, madrāshe were stanzaic poems written in various syllable patterns involving the text read by the primary reader and a chorus (qālā) to be recited by the congregation. Madrāshe were meant to be sung and although the names of the melodies survive, the original music is unknown. Madrāshe are often translated in English as “hymns.” However, the Syriac name is most useful as this poetic method of theological expression has no exact modern equivalent.

Commonly understood as “mystical theology,” Ephrem’s theological approach is integral in discerning his approach toward communicating orthodox doctrine to his congregants. By contrast to a more systematic method in search for theological definitions common in the Greek and Latin-speaking segments of Roman Christianity, Ephrem pioneered a system of theological discourse that would continue to shape Syriac Christianity for centuries principally characterized by the use of symbolic and paradoxical imagery. Chief among Ephrem’s spiritual concerns, is a paramount respect for the rāze (or “mysteries” or “symbols”) of God, a deep sense of the human incapacity to fully understand the rāze of God, and the dangers of attempting to define the nature or activity of God. Ephrem articulates his concern against “investigating” God in his Madrāshe on Faith: “Whoever is capable of investigating becomes the container of what he investigates; a knowledge which is capable of containing the Omniscient is greater than Him, for it has proved capable of measuring the whole of Him. A person who investigates the Father and Son is thus greater than them! Far be it, then, and something anathema, that the Father and Son should be investigated, while dust and ashes exalts itself.”[6] It is in the context of his concerns for haughty investigations of God that Ephrem’s reception of Nicene language should be understood.

Ephrem’s caution against undue investigations should not obscure the unequivocal defense of the fourth-century emerging sense of orthodoxy that features prominently in his writings. The madrāshe written during Ephrem’s tenure in Urhoy contain some of the most vehement polemics against the most prominent heresiarchs of Late Antiquity. In Ephrem’s Madrāshe against the Heretics, the malphānā of Urhoy lays out a clear defense of Nicene orthodoxy: “The voice of our Lord counted them out, and their dwellings were lifted up—the Aetians, and Arians; Sabellians and Cathars; Photinians and Audians—They who accepted ordination from our Church and some of whom signed onto the faith which was written down at that glorious synod. Memorable is the king who convened them.”[7] Condemnation of the various heresies prevalent in fourth-century Urhoy became a central concern of Ephrem’s madrāshe as he encountered a much more theologically diverse population in Urhoy in comparison to his native Nisibis.[8] Indeed, his use of madrāshe in prescribing Nicene orthodoxy was an attempt at appropriating this poetic cultural phenomenon originally popularized by the heresiarch Bardaisan and experienced profound success in promulgating an alternative system of religious belief among the populace of Urhoy. The madrāshe of Ephrem represent the triumph of Nicene Christianity in Urhoy and the marginalization of the Bardaisanites, Marcionites, Manichaeans and several other alternative expressions of Christianity.

It is widely acknowledged that the “synod” Ephrem refers to in the Madrāshe against Heretics is Nicaea and the “king” is Constantine.[9] Jeffrey Wickes challenges the common assumption that Ephrem’s statement refers to Nicaea and Constantine as the process by which Nicene theology became dominant in the Syriac-speaking world was indirect and somewhat unclear.[10] It is significant that this reference to Nicaea is questionable and that there is no other direct reference to the council in the writings of Ephrem.[11] While it is clear that Ephrem opposes Arianism and any other theological attempt to posit a subordinationist status for the Son to the Father, he does so without reference to the famous council or its doctrinal language. Given the historical and theological significance of the Nicene council and its definition of orthodoxy, it is difficult to underestimate the significance of Ephrem’s decision to omit direct reference to the council and the word homoousias. Not only does Ephrem avoid the term, in one instance he refers to it negatively: “Why would we introduce some other thing into that truth he declared to us? The names that we have added (ܕܐܘܣܦܢܢ), these, brothers, have become a foundation for the presumptuous. For all hated additions (ܬܘ̈ܣܦܢ). You have added (ܐܘܣܦܬ) disputes, and added (ܐܘܣܦܬ) controversies. You have recited the things written and silenced troublesome things. Praises to your clarity!”[12]  

While not explicitly mentioned, it has been widely accepted that the “thing” that has been added to God’s truth by the “presumptuous” is the term homoousias. Ephrem stands in the company of many fourth-century writers who saw the term as an unnecessary addition that is held in suspect chiefly for its absence in Scripture.[13] The repeated use of the word “addition” reveals Ephrem’s central concern regarding any attempt at defining the indefinable or containing the uncontainable. Such an attempt is the action of the marāhe which can mean “presumptious,” “bold,” or “audacious”—all cardinal sins for Ephrem regarding theological discourse. Ephrem can be thought of as a supporter of Nicene orthodoxy insofar as he condemns Arianism and any subordinationist understanding of the Trinity. Ephrem speaks of the Father and Son existing in “one essence” (ḥda ’itutā),[14] instead of terms closer to the Greek homoousias (bar ’itutā or bar kyānā).

bar kyānā is used to translate homoousias in the earliest Syriac translation of the Nicene Creed.[15] The Syriac recension of the Nicene Creed that was accepted and adapted at the Synod of Isaac at Seleucia-Ctesiphon in 410 CE in fact emphasizes the unity of nature between the Father and Son to a greater degree than the original Greek text. In addition to stating that the Son is bar kyānā with the Father, the Persian bishops inserted further support for this doctrine utilizing the appropriate Syriac terminology: “And in His Son, the only one (ihidaye), who is born of Him, that is, however, from the essence (’itutā) of His Father.”[16] The Syriac translation of the creed is a helpful reference point to understanding how the concept of homoousias entered Syriac language and thought. However, the equivalents that emerge in Syriac have not experienced the same level of primacy in the Syriac tradition as homoousias did in the West.

Ephrem argues clearly for the equality of the Son and the Father. Edmund Beck highlights this in his more emphatic translation of hda ‘itutā in the Madrāshe on Faith as “eine einzige Wesenheit” or “one single essence.”[17] Ephrem establishes Nicene orthodoxy in the Syriac-speaking world while avoiding the “presumptuous” attempts at theological innovation. Early in the Madrāshe on Faith, Ephrem cautions against inappropriate “investigations” into divine mysteries: “A thousand thousands stand; ten thousand ten thousands hasten; thousands and ten thousands—to the One they cannot investigate All of them in silence stand to serve. No one shares his throne except the Child who is from him. Investigation of him exists within silence. Whenever the watchers go to investigate, they arrive at silence and are kept back.”[18] The Madrāshe on Faith consistently make the case that attempts at fully understanding something is tantamount to acquiring mastery over it. Beck perceives a connection between Ephrem’s concerns about attempts to “investigate” God and his overall distrust of “Greek wisdom.”[19]

This feature of Ephremian thought has often led modern readers in two problematic directions. The first erroneous conclusion that has been often reached concerning Ephrem is that he was anti-intellectual. Like many fourth-century Christian writers, Ephrem was critical towards Hellenistic thought and was concerned over what he saw as an unhealthy influence of Greek philosophy on the formulation Christian doctrine.[20] This is not an indication that Ephrem was anti-intellectual. Ephrem was the head of the School of Edessa and was deeply influenced by the Hellenistic educational system.[21] The Madrāshe on Faith demonstrate Ephrem’s familiarity with the prevailing views in the Hellenistic world on the nature of the soul[22] and prescribe Ephrem’s balanced approach at theological investigation: “There is intellectual enquiry in the Church, investigating what is revealed: the intellect was not intended to pry into hidden things.”[23]

 The second conclusion to be avoided is that Ephrem was anti-Greek. Although he sometimes speaks of the “poison of the yawnaye (or, Greeks),” this statement should not be understood as disdain for Greeks in any national, cultural, or ethnic sense. Like many early Christian writers, polemical language addressed at “Greeks” was aimed at traditional Hellenistic, or pagan, religious practice. Despite the claims of his biography that came about two centuries after his death and the sizeable Greek corpus attributed to him, Ephrem likely did not speak or write in Greek. Theodoret of Cyrrhus claims that Ephrem was “unacquainted with the language of the Greeks.”[24] Ephrem was, however, intimately familiar with Hellenistic culture and even made occasional references to classical mythology.[25]

Because Ephrem’s hesitations against Nicene terminology cannot be attributed to any anti-Greek or anti-intellectual dynamic, the literary and oratorical context of his madrāshe can provide helpful insight into the varied responses in the Ephremian corpus to the term homoousias. Both Syriac equivalents for homoousias that appear in the Syriac version of the Nicene Creed—bar ’itutā and bar kyānā—each appear in the writings of Ephrem. In Ephrem’s commentary on Tatian’s four-part Gospel harmony—or Diatessaron—Ephrem uses bar ’itutā in defense of the full equality of the Father and Son with respect to essence: “If the Son was not of the same essence (ܒܪ ܐܝܬܘܬܐ) as the Father, life would be something supplementary to him; and it is not likely that it would be grafted onto him. If, however, life would have been grafted onto him, then he would become of his own account both of the same essence (ܒܪ ܐܬܘܬܐ) and of a foreign essence to the Father.” Because this statement comes at an awkward place in Ephrem’s discussion of John 5:26 and that this is the only place the term appears, Christian Lange claims that this statement was a later interpolation.[26] The instance in which Ephrem uses bar kyānā in Trinitarian terms comes in the prologue to his Commentary on Genesis: “Moses then wrote about the work of the six days that were created by means of a Mediator who was of the same nature and equal in skill to the Maker.”[27] Both of these examples with Ephrem conceding to translations of homoousias was in a smaller, academic context in contrast to the more public, liturgical setting in which the madrāshe would be sung.[28]

Jeffrey Wickes offers three possibilities to explain the use of bar kyānā in the Commentary on Genesis in contrast to the absence of any equivalent in the majority of Ephrem’s corpus: 1.) Ephrem eventually made peace with the term; 2.) Ephrem assented to the term for the small, scholastic audience of the Commentary on Genesis as opposed to the liturgical context of the madrāshe; and 3.) the introduction of the Commentary on Genesis was added by a later scribe.[29] It is entirely likely that, given the unique nature of the introduction of the Commentary on Genesis, that it was a later addition. It remains of interest, however, that such later insertions of Nicene terminology in Syriac was not inserted into Ephrem’s madrāshe. This fact gives support to the suggestion from Wickes that the pastoral nature of Ephrem’s madrāshe provides a significant clue as to the selective appropriation of Nicene terminology.

The madrāshe make up the largest and most significant portion of Ephrem’s writing. These musical compositions were meant to be performed in a liturgical context for the purpose of memorial or biblical instruction. Ephrem’s madrāshe were often altered and added to in order to better suit the specific pastoral situation. A prominent example is the seventh-century edition of Ephrem’s madrāshe on Julian Saba which expands Ephrem’s specific focus on the holy man Julian to include the fullness of the Syrian monastic movement that had taken a more full shape than in Ephrem’s day.[30] This dynamic further illumines the practical, ministry-focused purpose of the madrāshe in comparison to a more academic, theological treatise. The rhetorical power of texts intended for public use—especially for polemical purposes as many madrāshe were intended—gives credence to the role of rhetoric and polemic in the formation of theological and social identity as put forth by Averil Cameron. Despite frequent alterations and adaptations of Ephrem’s liturgical compositions, there is no evidence for such terminology in the madrāshe. Later insertions of doctrinal terminology could have occurred in Ephrem’s liturgical compositions as they did in his biblical commentaries. The fact that they did not attests to the ministerial tone set by Ephrem in the madrāshe that was followed by Syriac Christians in succeeding generations. This further indicates that Ephrem’s concern was, to a certain degree, motivated by a desire to nurture the Syriac congregations with more culturally and theologically accessible language.

Madrāshe were a profound theological and cultural mechanism in the environs of Urhoy and therefore, not the appropriate context for “additions” of terminology that could serve as a stumbling block to spiritual formation and church life. In a smaller, academic setting, such terminology, while not frequently deployed, was occasionally acceptable for Ephrem. Ephrem’s goal was not to create an anti-Greek, pro-Syrian sentiment. Likewise, later traditions asserting Ephrem’s competence in Greek refutes any culturally-based, anti-Hellenistic sentiment in Syriac-speaking Christian communities. Rather, Ephrem selectively appropriated those helpful elements of Hellenism in Christian thought and liturgy while elevating indigenous forms of worship and concepts accessible to the Syriac community of Urhoy.

 

[1] Peter Brown, The Rise of Western Christendom: Triumph and Diversity, A.D. 200-1000, 3rd ed. (Malden, MA: Wiley-Blackwell, 2013), 61.

[2] David Brakke, Athanasius and Asceticism (Baltimore, MD: The Johns Hopkins University Press, 1995), 130.     

[3] R.P.C. Hanson, The Search for the Christian Doctrine of God: The Arian Controversy (Edinburgh: T.&T. Clark, 1988), 274. J.N.D. Kelly, Early Christian Creeds, 3rd ed. (London: Longman, 1972), 242-254.

[4][4] Steven K. Ross, Roman Edessa: Politics and Culture on the Eastern Fringes of the Roman Empire, 114-242 CE (New York, NY: Routledge, 2001), 130.

[5] Brock, Luminous Eye, 18.          

[6] Ephrem the Syrian, Madrāshe on Faith, 9:16.

[7] Ephrem the Syrian, Madrāshe against the Heretics, ed. Edmund Beck, Des Heiligen Ephraem des Syrers Hymnen Contra Haereses (Louvain: Secretariat du SCO, 1957), 22:20.

[8] Robert Murray, Symbols of Church and Kingdom: A Study in Early Syriac Tradition (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1975), 6-9; J.B. Segal, Edessa: ‘The Blessed City’ (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1970), 62.

[9] Beck, Contra Haereses, 169-70. See also Sidney H. Grffith, “Setting Right the Church of Syria: Saint Ephraem’s Hymns Against Heresies,” in The Limits of Ancient Christianity: Essays on Late Antique Thought and Culture in Honor of R.A. Markus, ed. William E. Klingshirn and Mark Vessey (Ann Arbor, MI: The University of Michigan Press, 1999), 102.

[10] Jeffrey T. Wickes, St. Ephrem the Syrian: The Hymns on Faith (Washington, DC: The Catholic University of America Press, 2015), 21.

[11] Wickes, St. Ephrem the Syrian, 23.

[12] Ephrem the Syrian, Madrashe on Faith, ed. Edmund Beck, Des Heiligen Ephraem des Syrers Hymnen de Fide (Louvain: Secretariat du SCO, 1955), 52:14.

[13] Frances M. Young, Biblical Exegesis and the Formation of Christian Culture (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1997), 31.

[14] Ephrem the Syrian, Madrashe on Faith, 73:21.

[15] Arthur Vööbus, “New Sources for the Symbol in Early Syrian Christianity,” Vigililae Christianae 26 (1972): 295.

[16] Vööbus, 295. 

[17] Beck, Hymnen de Fide, 194.

[18] Ephrem the Syrian, Madrashe on Faith, 4:1.

[19] Edmund Beck, Die Theologie des heiligen Ephraem in seinen Hymnen über den Glauben, SA 21 (Rome: Pontificum Institutum S. Anselmi, 1949), 63.

[20] Peter Bruns, “Aithallaha’s Brief über den Glauben: Ein bedeutendes Dokument frühsyrischer Theologie,” OC 76 (1992): 46-73.

[21] Brock, The Luminous Eye, 21.

[22] Ephrem the Syrian, Madrashe on Faith, 1.

[23] Ephrem the Syrian, Madrāshe on Faith, 8:9.

[24] Theodoret of Cyrrhus, Ecclesiastical History, ed. G.C. Hansen (Berlin: Akademie-Verlag, 1998), 4:29.

[25] Brock, Luminous Eye, 17. 

[26] Christian Lange, The Portrayal of Christ in the Syriac Commentary on the Diatessaron (Louvain: Corpus du SCO, 2005), 75.

[27] Ephrem the Syrian, Commentary on Genesis, ed. Edward Matthews, Joseph Amar and Kathleen McVey in St. Ephrem the Syrian: Selected Prose Works (Washington, DC: The Catholic University of America Press, 1994), 69.

[28] Wickes, St. Ephrem the Syrian, 38, n. 153.

[29] Wickes, St. Ephrem the Syrian, 38, n. 153.

[30] Sidney Griffith, “Julian Saba, ‘Father of the Monks’ of Syria,” Journal of Early Christian Studies 2 (1994): 185-216.


Dr.-Vince-Bantu.jpg

Dr. Vince L. Bantu joined Covenant Theological Seminary in 2016 as Visiting Professor of Missiology. He holds a PhD in Semitic and Egyptian languages from the Catholic University of America and serves as co-chair of the Theology Committee of the Christian Community Development Association. Dr. Bantu is an MDiv graduate of Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary’s Center for Urban Ministerial Education in Boston, and served the Cambridge Community Fellowship Church in Cambridge, Massachusetts, as a church-planting apprentice of Dr. Soong-Chan Rah. He also served as a program coordinator for the Emmanuel Gospel Center.

Dr. Bantu also holds a ThM in church history from Princeton Seminary and a BA in theology from Wheaton College. His primary interests include racial reconciliation, non-Western Christianity, and theological education in under-resourced communities. He has served as an adjunct faculty member for several institutions, including Nyack College, New York Theological Seminary, North Park Theological Seminary, Fuller Theological Seminary, the Center for Early African Christianity, and Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary. Dr. Bantu is happy to be back in his native St Louis, where he is a teaching pastor at Jubilee Community Church. Dr. Bantu, his wife, Diana, and their two daughters enjoy traveling, parks, games, and are huge movie fans.

Is God good when he takes your child from you on Thanksgiving?!

By: Branden Murphy (Originally posted as Branden's Facebook Status)

Is God good when he takes your child from you on Thanksgiving?!

I've believed in God all my life. I didn't live for Him all my life, but I certainly believed in him. During my freshman year of college, Jesus snatched up the affections of my heart and I began to truly live for him. I gave up music, sex, all that stuff. My roommates couldn't believe it.

The beginning of this journey was full of highs while discovering more about God, learning how to read the Bible and apply it to my life. I found joy in admitting my flaws and no longer feeling the need to be this "certain"'person in front of multiple groups. I was free to be me, who God made me. I even changed my facebook name to Branden "WalksbyFaith" Murphy so people knew it was legit 😉. There was something about finally feeling like I found "my thing." Also, the idea of discipleship and helping other people follow Christ, I was ALL IN.

Ironically, I may have set myself up because the years following were flooded with moments where I had to choose faith or worry. Whether it was money being low, to trying to go to a missions trip, to trying to get in-state tuition at FAMU. It was hard and a lot of times, it didn't get easier.

I didn't graduate from FAMU. My prayers to get in-state tuition kept being rejected. Instead, I went to do what I thought I was called to do all my life, full time campus ministry as a missionary. I figured, well since I'm choosing the path God chose, surely it will work out.

Wrong.

My wife and I got married the Summer of 2011 and we were pregnant with our son by spring of 2012. I knew we were growing a family but I was still trying to pursue what God had for us. We went to the school of ministry in 2013, but we just did not make it throughout the raising support journey. It was hard on a lot of fronts and it ultimately was hurting our family health and spiritual health. Why would following God's path end up leaving us worse off?! Even relationships with the leaders I respected were truly hurt during that time. I could not wrap my head around what was happening. I left school to work for the Lord and then that ended up doing more harm than good. I was borderline depressed and confused trying to figure out what to do next.

Fast forward to 2014, we move to Texas pregnant with our little girl on the way and I get a job making the most money I've ever made! But somehow, in that year we faced more financial hardship than one would like to deal with. Again, Lord, if you provided this job, WHY IS LIFE SO HARD! I've done financial peace twice, read books and all but I've struggled to apply every principle.

Now Reeeeewiiiiinnd!

I remember when I was little and there were times our hot water got turned off in the winter, electricity got turned off, 4 of us sleeping in a one room apartment, car getting repossessed, not being able to go to things because of "money." I HATED MONEY. However, my parents NEVER stopped trusting in God, NEVER stopped praising him. I would get SO MAD. 
"Mom, our lights just got shut off, why are you praising God?! Why is he doing this to us? You guys do everything in the church and this is what you get?!"
Something wasn't connecting for me. Also, the fact that they displayed joy amidst terrible moments, actually made me more mad.

Fast forward to 2016, easily the hardest year for us as a family. Constantly praying for a "break" or some type of relief as it just felt like everything was crashing in on us (and I'm not even talking about the pregnancy). We were struggling getting Court's business flowing and finding ways to pay for the kids to go to school, not communicating with each other well, it was just HARD. Oh yeah and from Feb til June we were living with a family from the church we had recently started going to. (Thankful for them but still not ideal)

Thennn Courtnee gets pregnant. At week 7, Court called me to the bathroom screaming and scared. We thought we just lost our baby. Turned out to be a blood clot. That clot turned out to be a subcnrionic hemorrhage. That hemorrhage turned out to be a huge blood clot on her uterus. Courtnee was JUST about to get a job annnd she had booked 4 weddings for the fall!! We were finally seeing light at the end of this dark dark tunnel.

Then, the doctors told her she cannot get a job and has to cancel the weddings (meaning we have to give people their money back or pay for replacements) for the safety of the baby. "LORD WHAT THE HECK!!! We ARE TRYING!!" I think we both said this many times during this season. It felt like no matter how hard we tried to "get it together," the more things fell apart.

Constantly trying to figure out how to keep Court on bedrest and afford life, I talked about getting another job OR maybe working overtime A LOT. Both would be sacrifices, but something had to give. We want family to be a top priority, but this seemed like it would crush that dynamic.

My birthday was approaching in September and my wife just wanted to give me a BREAK. I had been working overtime and it just felt like it was going nowhere. Actually, our lights got shut off, we ended up asking the church for help and it was not looking to get easier. She coordinated an expense free trip to Austin so I could hang with some of my best friends at least. The first night there her water broke at 26wks. "What the hell, Lord, seriously?!"

FIVE WEEKS my wife was stuck in Austin and I tried to be there and bring the kids there as much as possible. This 5 weeks felt sooo long but we finally were able to get Courtnee to Dallas on week 31, Yes! Let's get to 34weeks and have our precious Eden. Sure, we knew her heart looked a little bigger and they thought she might need stomach surgery but nothing too big.....

On the 4th day back in Dallas, October 27, my wife texts me and calls me from the hospital saying she's having an emergency c-section. I get there and everyone is shook. I didn't know what was going on but it didn't look good. Eden was born not breathing and had to be brought back to life. We fought we fought and had some ups and we looked negativity in the face and said "NOT TODAY SATAN, NOT TODAY!"

Then, Thanksgiving.....bittersweet because our baby girl wasn't having the best day, but sweet because we were going to hang with our kiddos and get some greens, beans, potatoes, tomatoes, ham and yams.

We got to the house and before we ate, Courtnee called the hospital to check on our sweet girl. Turns out her heart rate dropped and they didn't have the decency to call us!!! Our daughter died minutes after we were near her bedside. On freaking thanks freaking giving.

In the beginning, I questioned the goodness of God. I believe in God but this year during a leadership course at my church (Stonegate Church), my eyes were opened to a crucial flaw in my view of God. I realized that while I believe in God, I struggle to believe in his GOODNESS. I struggle to believe that God is for me like the scriptures say. Because a lot of times in my life when I've looked to him to be good to my family, it feels like I receive the opposite. And it hurts. Every. Time. Every time I muster faith to believe in the impossible and it doesn't happen, it hurts. All these years it's made me calloused towards the idea of his goodness.

But one thing the leadership at Stonegate helped me realize was that God's goodness isn't based on what he does or doesn't do for me. It's who he is. It's his character and nature. It's him knowing sin would be in this world and sending his son, Jesus. It's him allowing trials that force us to run harder to him and be made more like him. It's him having a plan for all lives of believers that's bigger than what we can see and serving of his Glory.

I can't say that this area of my life is fixed. But I can say, I will not allow myself to believe that God is not good simply because life is hard. If you wrestle with this idea, you're not alone. In trials, God is a GOOD FATHER. And as I will allow my son to endure things that help chisel him into a man, I will believe that God is molding my family into people that will run this race well.

“The only love that won’t disappoint you is one that can’t change, that can’t be lost, that is not based on the ups and downs of life or of how well you live. It is something that not even death can take away from you. God’s love is the only thing like that.”  -Tim Keller

Branden and Courtnee Murphy currently live in Midlothian, TX. The Murphys have been married 5 years and they have 2 children and recently lost one. They attend Stonegate Church where they serve the college students. 

Nick Cannon and the Moors

In light of Nick Cannon's recent comments on the Breakfast Club, we decided to repost a blog by our friend and brother, DA Horton, on the Moors a.k.a The Moorish Science Temple.  

Watch Nick Cannon's comments below:

Overview of The Moorish Science Temple (The Moors)

By: DA Horton (Orginally posted on DAHorton.com)

The Founder: Timothy Drew, later known as Noble Drew Ali was born in North Carolina in 1886. Ali began to teach the ”Negroes” in America they are truly ”Asiatic”[1] with a lineage going back to the Moors who lived in Northwest and Southwest Africa before they were enslaved in North America. Ali taught his followers that Marcus Garvey his forerunner similar to what John the Baptist was to Jesus. In 1913, Ali founded the Canaanite Temple in Newark, New Jersey whose named served as an “indication that the so-called Negroes were of Asiatic origin from the Holy Land of Canaan”[2]. After a fractional break off in 1916, Ali moved changed the name of his movement to the “Holy Moabite Temple of the World” and in 1925 he moved his congregation from Newark to Chicago.[3] In 1926 Ali changed the name of his movement again to “Moorish Temple of Science” and in 1928 the organization reorganized under the name “Moorish Science Temple of America”[4]. In 1929 Ali passed away and shortly after at the 2ndAnnual National convention, controversy would over future leadership would split the movement in three ways.

The Followers: During Ali’s lifetime his movement grew to have over 30,000 followers with in New Jersey, Pittsburgh, Michigan, and Illinois.[5] Today there are roughly 400-600 Moors located in Chicago, Detroit, Philadelphia, and Washington D.C.[6] Although these numbers seem low, the Moors recent and future growth has taken place due to their evangelism inside of America’s prisons.

The Focus: The overall goal of the Moorish Science Temple of America is to see divine salvation brought to their people. In 48:6-8 of the Circle Seven Koran, Ali declares they, his pure nation, does not desire to marry the pale skin nations of Europe, serve the gods of the Europeans, and are therefore, “returning the Church and Christianity back to the European Nations, as it was prepared by their forefathers for their earthly salvation.While we, the Moorish Americans are returning to Islam, which was founded by our forefathers for our earthly and divine salvation.” (48:6—8)

The Faith: The doctrine for the Moorish Science Temple derives from The Holy Koran of The Moorish Science Temple of America (also known as the Circle Seven Koran). It is said to have been written by Ali between 1913—1929.[7]

The Friction: In the very first verse of Chapter 1 titled, “The Creation and Fall of Man”, it is said that there was not a time when man didn’t exist because he is a “spirit and a part of Allah”. Ali arrives at this conclusion because he believes man is a thought of Allah and all of Allah’s thoughts are infinite, so man is then an infinite being. The Circle Seven Koran takes the liberty of quoting Jesus supporting the worship of Allah and even going as far to say all people worship Allah even though He is said to be Zeus, Thoth, Yahweh, and Parabrahm to some yet, is the same being.[8]

The Moorish doctrine of salvation is one the proclaims the forgiveness of sins through ceremonial washing and the “purity of life” (4:18). In 4:19—28 the narrative expresses the fact that as the body is being washed, it is symbolizing the soul’s cleansing. Chapter 7:27 records Jesus’ describing salvation as; “Salvation is a ladder reaching from the heart of man to heart of Allah.” the Circle Seven Koran teaches that in 7:24 heaven and hell are not above or below, because Allah never created a heaven or hell to put man in, man does this to himself (12:9). What this teaching is saying is that heaven and hell are here on this side of eternity. The struggles and pain we have on this side of eternity are hell while heaven is defined as, when one is filled with peace and joy after they have toiled (12:6). To reinforce this teaching, Ali quotes Jesus in 12:8 saying “heaven is a state of mind”.

Notes:


D.A. Horton serves as Pastor of Reach Fellowship a church plant in North Long Beach, CA & as Chief Evangelist for the Urban Youth Workers Institute (UYWI). Prior to his current roles he served as an urban church planter/pastor in Kansas City, MO, a National Coordinator of Urban Student Ministries at the North American Mission Board (NAMB) and the Executive Director at ReachLife Ministries, the non-profit ministry of Reach Records.

He earned his B.S. in Biblical Studies from Calvary Bible College, his Masters Degree in Christian Studies from Calvary Theological Seminary and is currently working on his Ph.D. in Applied Theology with a North American Missions emphasis at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary.

He has authored three books; G.O.S.P.E.L.DNA: Foundations of the Faith (published through Moody Publishers) and Bound to Be Free: Escaping Performance to be Captured by Grace, (published through NavPress). He and his wife of 13 years Elicia are co-authoring a book on marriage. D.A. and Elicia have two daughters, Izabelle and Lola and one son, D.A. Jr. (aka Duce).

Early African Christianity: Ethopia

Multiethnic Roots of Christianity Part III

By: Dr. Vince Bantu

One of the primary reasons that the majority of African-Americans and other African-descended people in the diaspora have rejected the Christian faith is not, as one might expect, theological contentions regarding the person and nature of Jesus Christ. New religious movements emerging from the African-American community during the past half-century address the majority of their anti-Christian invective not against Jesus but the implication of the Christian faith in state-wide expressions of white supremacy at the expense of black bodies. The missiological telos of the Kingdom of God being fully reflected among every people group implores us to celebrate the full story of the universal Church, especially as it developed in Mother Africa. Ethiopia has stood as a symbol of African pride—as the oldest independent African nation—and of African Christianity as the bearer of an ancient Christian tradition that is inextricable from Ethiopian identity itself. The Ethiopian Orthodox Tawähïdo Church maintains the tradition that the Queen of Sheba mentioned in 1 Kings 10, after her visit with King Solomon, had a son name Menelik who became the first monotheistic king of Ethiopia. Church tradition also holds that the eunuch of Candace mentioned in Acts 8 was Axumite and was the first to preach the Gospel in Ethiopia. While it is likely that Christianity first came into Ethiopia as early as the first century, the fourth century is the terminus ante quem for the introduction of the Gospel in Ethiopia as several notable historians and Church fathers attest to the presence of an established church hierarchy in Ethiopia during this time. The Egyptian Pope Athanasius as well as the fourth-century Roman historian Rufinus mention a Syrian slave named Frumentius who was raised in the imperial court of Ethiopia who evangelized the royal family. After being ordained the first official bishop of Ethiopia by Athanaius, Frumentius discipled the Ethiopian king Ezana who was the first king of Axum to introduce Christianity as the state religion of Ethiopia. Shortly after this time, Ethiopia received a group of missionaries called the Nine Saints who have been thought to have come from Syria and who further advanced the growth of Christianity especially in the northern rural provinces. The Nine Saints introduced monastic practices, opened monasteries that still survive today, and taught the Miaphysite doctrine of Christ existing in one person and one united nature—which was the reigning view in Egypt and Syria. The Ethiopian Church’s name Täwahïdo means “being made one” or “unified” and is based on this fundamental doctrine. One of the Nine Saints—Abba Garima—is thought to have been the translator of the Garima Gospels—translations of the Gospel accounts in the ancient Ethiopian language which is still used in liturgy called Ge’ez. Originally thought to have been translated in the twelfth century, recent radiocarbon analysis has firmly placed these manuscripts in the fifth century during the time of the Nine Saints. This makes the Garima Gospels not only the oldest surviving Ge’ez manuscripts, but the earliest biblical manuscripts from any country accompanied with decorated paintings. While the Byzantine Roman Empire frequently persecuted Miaphysite (“one-nature”) Christians in Syria, Egypt and Nubia, an alliance was formed with Ethiopia to rescue persecuted Christians in the Arabian Peninsula. A Yemeni Jewish leader of the Himyarite Kingdom of Southwestern Arabia named Yusuf ibn Sharhabeel began forcing conversions upon Christians on pain of death. This caused the Byzantine Roman emperor Justin to seek the help of Ethiopian king Kaleb to rescue the Arabian Christians. Despite the fact that both the Ethiopian and Arabian Christians maintained a Miaphysite confession—and that Roman emperor Justin severely persecuted Miaphysite Christians in Egypt and Syria—the Romans nonetheless aided Ethiopia. Kaleb’s victory over Yusuf consolidated Ethiopian control over southern Arabia, liberated the Christians from persecution and ended the Himyarite Empire which was founded in the second century BCE. During the reign of Kaleb’s son Gabra Masqal, tradition holds that the unique Ethiopian liturgical style was developed by Saint Yared. The unique system of liturgy emerging in Ethiopia is called Degwa and consists of three characteristic styles of chant: Ge’ez (unadorned and simple), ‘ezl (deep and solemn) and araray (lighter, more decorative). This uniquely African Christian style of worship has been a central feature of Ethiopian Christianity for centuries and is connected to the sixth-century figure Yared. Yared is said to have been transported to Paradise where he received a vision of three celestial birds which represented the Trinity and transmitted this musical gift for the Ethiopian Church. When the imperial capital moved from Axum to Lalibela at the ascension of the Zagwe Dynasty in the twelfth century, King Gebre Mesqel Lalibela commissioned the construction of nearly a dozen magnificent rock-hewn churches named after various sites in Jerusalem. The Ethiopian kingdom centered in Lalibela continued under the Solomonic Dynasty which witnessed the composition of the Kebra Negast (“Glory of the Kings”); a comprehensive history of Ethiopia connecting the imperial lineage to King Solomon. Ethiopian Christian literature flowered during this time with examples such as the Kebra Negast, Fetha Negast (“Law of the Kings”) and the writings of George of Gasetcha. George is one of the earliest writers in Ge’ez for which an identity can be firmly established. George was a prolific theologian, poet and homiletician and some of his central texts include the Book of the Mystery of Heaven and Earth and the Book of Hours. The writings of George of Gasetcha represent the inherently poetic nature of Ethiopian literature, theology and liturgy. Ethiopian Christianity experienced renewal when king Fasilides re-centered the imperial capital again to Gondar in the seventeenth century. After the failure of Fasilides’ father Suseynos’ attempt to form an alliance with Portuguese Jesuit missionaries and spread Catholicism in Ethiopia, Fasilides expelled the Portuguese from Ethiopia, established Gondar as the capital of Ethiopia and paved the way for a renewal of Ethiopian culture. One important example of this was the development of a uniquely Ethiopian system of philosophy by seventeenth-century scholars such as Zera Yacob and Walda Heywat. Yacob’s seminal work Hatata explains his construction of morality, reason and harmony and is a landmark in African philosophy. While these few examples provide us with a mere window into the rich history of the Ethiopian nation and the unique Christian tradition that has developed there for nearly two millennia, this short survey will hopefully equip the Body of Christ with a beginning knowledge of the Ethiopian Church—a church that has been the foundation of and the central influence in the oldest independent nation on the continent of Africa. 

ICYMI:

Multiethnic Roots of Christianity Part I - Early African Christianity: Eygpt

Multiethnic Roots of Christianity Part II - Early African Christianity: Nubia

Also, check out our interview with Dr. Vince Bantu below:


Dr. Vince L. Bantu joined Covenant Theological Seminary in 2016 as Visiting Professor of Missiology. He holds a PhD in Semitic and Egyptian languages from the Catholic University of America and serves as co-chair of the Theology Committee of the Christian Community Development Association. Dr. Bantu is an MDiv graduate of Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary’s Center for Urban Ministerial Education in Boston, and served the Cambridge Community Fellowship Church in Cambridge, Massachusetts, as a church-planting apprentice of Dr. Soong-Chan Rah. He also served as a program coordinator for the Emmanuel Gospel Center.

Dr. Bantu also holds a ThM in church history from Princeton Seminary and a BA in theology from Wheaton College. His primary interests include racial reconciliation, non-Western Christianity, and theological education in under-resourced communities. He has served as an adjunct faculty member for several institutions, including Nyack College, New York Theological Seminary, North Park Theological Seminary, Fuller Theological Seminary, the Center for Early African Christianity, and Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary. Dr. Bantu is happy to be back in his native St Louis, where he is a teaching pastor at Jubilee Community Church. Dr. Bantu, his wife, Diana, and their two daughters enjoy traveling, parks, games, and are huge movie fans.

Early African Christianity: Nubia

Multiethnic Roots of Christianity Part II

By: Dr. Vince Bantu

The sentiment that Christianity is the “white man’s religion” is a perception that does not find resonance in biblical or historical reality. Christianity is not “becoming” a global religion; it has always been a global religion. At every point, the Christian faith has found Afrocentric expression and it is God’s heart that the Gospel take firm root among every nation, tribe and tongue. The proclamation of the psalter that “Kush will soon stretch out her hands to God,” (Ps. 68:31) finds unique application in the reality that the descendants of the Kushites—the Nubians—not only embraced Christianity as the national religion as early as the fifth century CE, but fought off Arab Muslim invasion in order to maintain an indigenous, black Christian kingdom that would flourish for a thousand years. The late antique Kushite kingdom centered at Meroë fell away in the late fourth century. While there is not much evidence to suggest a significant Christian presence in the Sudan during its Meroitic Kushite period, it is noteworthy that the “Ethiopian” eunuch mentioned in Acts 8 was likely from Kush, rather than the southern Axumite kingdom of Ethiopia. The queens of Kush were commonly called Candace (or Kandake) and “Ethiopia” (or Greek Aithopia) was often used to refer to black inhabitants south of Egypt conflating both the Nubian kingdoms of the Sudan and the Axumite empire of Ethiopia. However, the earliest detailed account of the introduction of Christianity into Nubia came in the sixth century through the historical account of the Syrian bishop John of Ephesus. According to John, Byzantine Roman empress Theodora sent missionaries to Nubia through Egypt who led the Nubian royal court to Christ resulting in the Christianization of northern Nubia (Nobatia). A century before this Roman intervention, however, one of the earliest Nubian kings to consolidate the Nobatian Empire—king Silko—declared in a victory inscription belief in one God who granted him military victory in Nubia. This could indicate a gradual progression of monotheistic transformation in the previously polytheistic Nubian religious landscape. There is also fifth-century evidence of Nubian refugees taking shelter in the Coptic monasteries of Upper Egypt. Whenever Christianity entered Nubia, it is likely to have done so through contact with Egyptian Christians with whom the Nubians maintained close ecclesiastical affiliation throughout the entirety of their Christian history. In solidarity with the other major African churches of Egypt and Ethiopia, Nubian Christianity maintained an anti-Chalcedonian—or, Miaphysite—nature, indicating a belief in the essential unity of the human and divine natures of Christ. Not long after Christianity took firm root in Nubia, the Islamic Conquest presented new challenges for Christians in Africa. Egypt was swiftly conquered in the mid-seventh century and the Arab Muslims quickly turned their attention to the Nubians south of Egypt. The Arab Muslim attempt at conquering Nubia was historically significant in that the Nubians were one of the only people groups to successfully fight off Muslim invaders. Several Arab Muslim historians who recount the Nubian victory credit the Nubian warriors’ skill with the bow and arrow—a skill long associated with Nubians and ancient Kushites since Pharaonic times. The Christian Nubians and Arab Muslim rulers of Egypt created a peace treaty stipulating the exchange of goods and a mutual understanding that Egypt would remain under Muslim control and Nubia remain Christian. Almost everywhere the early Muslim armies went during the seventh century fell under Muslim control (Persia, Syria, Palestine, Egypt, Libya). Nubia was unique in its ability to fight off the Muslims and create an unprecedented peace treaty that would last for centuries. This historical background also significantly complicates the assumption among some African-descended people that Christianity is the white man’s religion and Islam is the black man’s religion. In the case of Nubia, we see an autonomous black Christian kingdom successfully fighting off would-be Arab Muslim invaders. While Christianity’s introduction into Africa during the first millennium was freely adopted and accepted as the state religion of many of the earliest African kingdoms, Islam’s first introduction into the continent was by force and was resisted by the indigenous African nations whose identity was synonymous with being followers of Christ. Although Christianity eventually died out in Nubia by the beginning of the sixteenth century due to increasing migrations of Islamic ethnic groups, the Christian autonomy initiated by the Nubian-Muslim peace treaty, or baqt, paved the way for a golden era of Nubian Christian culture from the eighth to the thirteenth centuries. Nubian Christianity flourished during this period largely because the central kingdoms of the Sudan—Nobatia, Makouria and Alodia—were all predominately Christian and consolidated as one united kingdom no later than the early ninth century. Some examples of the many unique features of Nubian Christianity include a distinctive ecclesiastical and diplomatic leader known as the eparch, a distinguished form of church architecture including a specific passageway unique only to Nubian churches and indigenous religious vestments depicted in Nubian iconography. The language of medieval Sudan—Old Nubian—survives in a small collection of texts that are overwhelmingly religious (i.e. Christian) in nature. This fact further illustrates the degree to which the ancient African civilization of Nubia was intricately imbedded in and held together by the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

ICYMI: Multiethnic Roots of Christianity Part I - Early African Christianity: Eygpt

Also, check out our interview with Dr. Vince Bantu below:


Dr. Vince L. Bantu joined Covenant Theological Seminary in 2016 as Visiting Professor of Missiology. He holds a PhD in Semitic and Egyptian languages from the Catholic University of America and serves as co-chair of the Theology Committee of the Christian Community Development Association. Dr. Bantu is an MDiv graduate of Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary’s Center for Urban Ministerial Education in Boston, and served the Cambridge Community Fellowship Church in Cambridge, Massachusetts, as a church-planting apprentice of Dr. Soong-Chan Rah. He also served as a program coordinator for the Emmanuel Gospel Center.

Dr. Bantu also holds a ThM in church history from Princeton Seminary and a BA in theology from Wheaton College. His primary interests include racial reconciliation, non-Western Christianity, and theological education in under-resourced communities. He has served as an adjunct faculty member for several institutions, including Nyack College, New York Theological Seminary, North Park Theological Seminary, Fuller Theological Seminary, the Center for Early African Christianity, and Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary. Dr. Bantu is happy to be back in his native St Louis, where he is a teaching pastor at Jubilee Community Church. Dr. Bantu, his wife, Diana, and their two daughters enjoy traveling, parks, games, and are huge movie fans.

The Doctrine of Justification and Social Justice

BY: CHARLES HOLMES JR. 

The Justice of God

The doctrine of justification is a doctrine about our glorious salvation. It is an essential part of the message of the Bible. This doctrine, although is directly about Christ atoning for our sins, is foundationally built on the justice of God. God is an infinitely holy God, and there is nothing and no one on earth or in Heaven like Him (1 Samuel 2:2). God is a completely righteous God and can’t even look upon sin or have sin in His presence. When sin entered the world, we offended the rule and reign of God, and we followed our own way and trusted in our own ability for life and happiness. (Romans 1:22-23) For this reason, our disobedience to God must be punished eternally because our sin was against an infinite and holy God. God is a God of justice, so justice must be sought out by God for His glory (Psalm 89:14) in order for sin not to go without punishment. By the grace of God, God is not only a just God, but simultaneously a merciful and gracious God. All throughout the Bible God displays His mercy and justice as He intervenes in the world. The best display of this was on the cross where Jesus, the Son of God, went to bear the sin of world bringing justice to God, but also bringing mercy to a wicked people (1 Peter 2:24). As believers, because we have received the mercy of God and have seen the justice of God poured out on the person of Jesus, our understanding of justice should be shaped by this beautiful Gospel message.

Injustice and Humanity

As we see, justice is part of the very nature of our God. When the topic of social justice comes up, believers should be leading the way because of what we have experienced in the Gospel. Social justice, however, can be misinterpreted by the church due to a lack of compassion and knowledge on the subject. In the realm of social justice many times the church looks on with hesitance to be bold for the voiceless, neglected, and broken.

Over the past few years we have seen the awareness of social injustices in our world heighten. As witnesses of these injustices the church cannot afford to become timid in our response to these wicked atrocities. Our response will have an effect on how people view the message of the Gospel and how people view Jesus. No matter the injustice, whether it is poverty, abortion, or racism, the church must be the voice of God for the victims since we have experienced the justification of God through the person and work of Jesus. Because God does care so deeply about establishing justice, Jesus goes as far to identify Himself with the least these in society who have been victims of injustice. (Matthew 25:35-40) James in his letter writes that true Christianity is a Christianity that serves and takes care of the oppressed. (James 1:26-27) In the Old Testament God condemns congregational worship that offers sacrifices on behalf religion and yet doesn’t pursue justice on behalf of the hurting and broken image bearers. (Amos 5:21-24) The church should be aware of the injustices that occur in our world, because injustice distorts the image we were created in. If we are called to be imitators of God, we called to be a people and a church that preaches the justice of God in the cross and lives out the justice of God in practice through love.

The Christian Approach to Social Justice

Social injustices aren't just problems with systems and structures, but are theological issues as well. The mistreatment of human beings made in the image of God is an issue of human value and worth. In Genesis 9, God shows us that because we are created in the image of God, both humans and animals are held accountable for the killing of other humans. The extent of our value stems from the very nature of God. When injustice happens, the biblical truth that all of mankind are image bearers of God is attacked. As believers in Christ, we hold to the fact that we are all made in the image of God (Genesis 1:27). This Gospel truth, coupled with the reality that we have been justified and declared righteous because of Jesus should compel our hearts to seek to bring forth justice on the earth. Through social justice, we point to the coming perfect judge who died and rose from the grave to redeem and reconcile sinners to God, all while standing up for the oppressed.

Faith in Jesus is a faith that empowers action for the glory of God and good of humanity. Sadly, we are sometimes seen more so as moral police than caretakers of the sick and hurting. In Matthew 23:23 Jesus rebukes this kind of attitude, “Woe to you, Scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! You pay a tenth of mint, dill, and cumin, yet you have neglected the more important matters of the law -justice, mercy, and faith. These things should have been done without neglecting the others." We see that the heart of God is that our Gospel commissions’ and ordains good works, that people may see and glorify God. (Matthew 5:16; Ephesians 2:10). If we are involved in religious activity, but lack compassion and mercy towards people in need, then our religious activity is a waste and a mockery of the very religion we claim to believe and practice. True Gospel belief should produce compassion and love in us for those oppressed by injustice.

We once were alienated from God, but God had compassion on us. As we seek to be conformed to the image of God lets seek justice by doing good deeds, declaring justification through faith, and hoping and proclaiming in the coming perfect Judge Jesus Christ.


Charles Holmes graduated from Liberty University in May 2015. He is married to his best friend Kiara Holmes in August, and they now reside in North Carolina. Charles is a part of the pastoral apprenticeship program at the Summit Church in Durham, NC, and serves as the college ministry coordinator at Grace Park Church. Charles has a passion for discipleship and teaching God's Word. He loves to help people in the urban context grasp the Scriptures and walk with Jesus.

Black Church Figures You Should Know: Dr. Charlie Dates

Why the series?

Historical Theology and Church History in the African American context is rarely celebrated. That is a very sad occasion. There is much we can learn from the rich tradition of the African American church. When we do, it affirms the great doctrine that all men are created in the Image of God and it kills the great sin of intellectual racism.

What about the series?

A few things must be noted about our list. First and foremost, please be aware that appearances on the list do not automatically confirm theological content and biblical orthodoxy. Please consider each figure in light on proper biblical interpretation and refer to our statement of beliefs when in doubt. Secondly, this list is nowhere near being exhaustive in scope or content. We are barely scratching the surface and this is merely the tip of the iceberg. We considered appearances on the list by surveying several avid supporters for their considerations based upon the figures of significant impact, rich content, and historical significance.

 

Dr. Charlie Dates

In 2011, at age 30, Rev. Charlie Edward Dates became the youngest Senior Pastor in Progressive’s rich 95-year history.

Rev. Charlie earned a Bachelor of Arts in Speech Communication and Rhetoric at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and a Master of Divinity Degree at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School in Deerfield, Illinois.

In 2002, Rev. Charlie served as an apprentice to Pastor K. Edward Copeland and started his formal, practical training at the New Zion Baptist Church of Rockford, Illinois. In 2006, he began serving as the primary preaching assistant to the Rev. James Meeks, Director of Church Operations and as Pastor of Adult Ministries at the Salem Baptist Church of Chicago.

He successfully defended his dissertation for the PhD in Historical Theology at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School. His original research focuses on the health of proclamation in late 20th Century Black Church Chicago.

For reasons that please Him, God has blessed the Progressive Church to grow deep and wide.

In addition to his pastoral duties, Pastor Charlie has served as an Adjunct Professor at the Moody Bible Institute and currently serves on the Community Advisory Board for the Chicago Fire Department. He is a contributor to the 2014 book Letters To A Birmingham Jail.

Pastor Charlie is married to Kirstie Dates and is the proud father of their children Charlie Edward Dates II and Claire Elisabeth Dates.

For more information visit:

Progressive Baptist Church-Chicago

Black Christian News - Charlie Dates

HB Charles Jr’s interview with Charlie Dates

 

Christ-Centered Apologetics

By: Cam Triggs

I have the worse sense of direction. If I don’t have directional guidance I can end up in the wrong state. In fact, its so bad I often travel to the same locations utilizing a navigation system of some sort. With a navigation system in place you are almost sure of finding the right location. I say almost because a navigation system is only as good as the address. To get to the destination you need a description of where you are going. If you don’t, how will you know if you ever got there? You could travel for days wandering around. Of course, you can see everywhere you travel but without an address your travel is in vain.

Navigation: Needs an address

The task of apologetics is to be a navigational tool in the hand of the Christian. It is an intellectual tool helping us navigate questions, objections, and challenges to the Christian faith. RC Sproul describes apologetics as “pre-evangelism”. I like that definition because it clarifies the address of every apologetic endeavor. Apologists must start with the head but should eventually and inevitably aim for the heart. In every conversation, ministry, lecture, and article we should aim to transform from apologist to evangelist. Ultimately, we must navigate the tough questions to eventually plug in the coordinates of Christ. Everyday apologetics will typically start with questions on ethics or observations about current events. Yes we may stop there to handle rational pit stops. Still we must remember the finish line will always be Christ.

Our main point is Jesus

The goal of apologetics is not merely to persuade one that a God exist. At minimum, if we succeed, then we have only acquiesced to convert humans into demons for even they believe that God exist (James 2:19).  As apologist we have many targets, applications, and contexts yet always one goal. We are winning people to Christ. We have intellectual focus but our main focus is to win people and not merely arguments. We do Christ and our mission great disservice if we answer objections in various realms and capacities yet relinquish a presentation of Christ. Will it always happen in the conversation at hand? No, but that should be our aim knowing tomorrow is not promised and that Christ may return at any moment.

Christ-centered apologetics must also be persuasive and winsome too. We should present our arguments with love and concern. If apologetics merely becomes an academic endeavor, we will lose all the pastoral care and compassion needed for the task of evangelism to become possible. Here are some practical tips for pursuing Christ-centered apologetics:

  • Defend the faith without being defensive. Defend the faith not your pride.
  • Share your need for Christ so others may potentially see theirs.
  • Don’t merely regurgitate arguments or points from your favorite apologist. Focus on the person you are speaking with and their particular needs.
  • Present the love and grace of Jesus so winsomely and illustratively that they think its too good to be true.
  • Do more listening than talking. Don’t interrupt. Don’t zone out on their objections and rehearse your irrelevant response.
  • Affirm positive aspects of their thoughts. What points of their religion or worldview is actually commendable? 
  • Before you use the Bible given reasons why you believe it as a reliable source.
  • Don’t merely quote scripture. Explain scripture and its context.
  • Lastly, ask to present Christ. Say something like, “Do you mind if I tell you why I think Jesus makes the difference on this matter?”

Dear apologist, never wander aimlessly. Plug in the coordinates of Christ in your presentation and within your heart (1 Peter 3:15).  Give a reason for the hope in your heart. That hope is the good news of Jesus not a three-point syllogism. After the arguments, rebuttals, and fact checks, bring Christ to the forefront. Don’t be ashamed, because the Gospel actually has the power to save (Romans 1:16).


Cam Triggs serves as the Director of Urban Apologetics and Senior Blog Editor for the Jude 3 Project. He also serves on the Jude 3 Project speaking team. He loves Jesus. God saved Cam from wrath, sin, death, and Satan in 2005. He began studies at University of Central Florida as a Religious Studies major & continued his education at Reformed Theological Seminary where he earned a Masters of Arts in Theological Studies. During his time at RTS, Cam was privileged to study under the apologist John Frame. In the future,  he looks forward to further study in the areas of philosophy, theology, and African American studies. Cam currently serves as a Church Planting resident at Summit RDU as he prepares to start a new church in Orlando. More importantly, he is married to his beautiful best friend Tymara Triggs and the proud father of Cameron Triggs II. Stay connected with him at camtriggs.com.

 

Early African Christianity: Egypt

Multiethnic Roots of Christianity Part I

By: Dr. Vince Bantu

The sentiment among an increasing constituency of Africans and African-descended people across the globe that Christianity is a Western/European/white religion of oppression is, at a minimum, historically inaccurate. While Christianity has been perverted into a mechanism of tyranny by many Western nations, it is a lamentably under-emphasized reality that the Gospel took firm root in Africa, the Middle East and Asia long before even the idea of the West—let alone, Western Christianity. For the sake of the Gospel, it must be understood that Christianity is not the cultural property of any single racial or ethnic group but has always existed as a chosen nation comprised of every nation, tribe and tongue.  Because many non-Western people groups have been made to feel culturally alienated from the Gospel, it is imperative to explore the neglected history of non-Western Christianity. 

In the case of African Christianity, the story begins with Egypt. The Holy Family sojourned to Egypt as refugees in the first years of the life of our Lord Christ. The Coptic (or Egyptian) Church holds to the tradition that the Apostle Mark was sent to evangelize North Africa and came to Alexandria in Egypt by way of Libya. Many ancient church historians from the fourth century onward corroborate this story and attest to its oral transmission. Egypt’s Christian community likely grew originally among the Jewish community in Alexandria throughout the first two centuries. Countless early Christian artifacts, structures and documents—including the earliest extant biblical fragment—come from Egypt attesting to the immense importance of Egypt for Christian history. Egypt produced one of the earliest and most prominent schools of theological education—the Catechetical School of Alexandria—led by church fathers such as Clement and Origen of Alexandria.The first attested use of the term “pope” was made in reference to the Egyptian patriarch. The Egyptian church was unique in its elevated reverence for its pope as well as the tightly unified ecclesiastical structure. The foundation of the Apostle’s Creed and the doctrine of the Trinity were defended principally by the Egyptian popes Alexander and Athanasius.

Suffering for the cause of Christ and martyrdom is another prominent theme in Egyptian Christianity. This is evidenced by the fact that the Coptic liturgical calendar continues to use the Great Persecution under Roman Emperor Diocletian as its starting point. Like several of his predecessors, Athanasius experienced exile and suffering for his defense of orthodoxy solidifying this theme of persecution as an enduring theme of Coptic identity. The call to suffer for Christ found significant expression in the development of ascetic and monastic communities—another defining feature of Egyptian Christianity. Both the solitary (or eremitic) and the communal (or cenobitic) forms of monasticism were developed by Egyptian figures such as Anthony and Pachomius the Great. With Pachomius began much of orthodox Christian literature being composed in the indigenous Coptic language. Especially after the life and ministry of Shenoute of Atripe—the most significant Coptic author in history—Egyptian Christianity became expressed through and associated with the Coptic language. 

After the time of Shenoute, the Egyptian church was excommunicated by the dominant Roman church centered in Constantinople and Rome. The Council of Chalcedon defined the person of Christ as existing in “one person in two natures,” a theological innovation of the Roman pope which, for the Egyptian church, betrayed the essential unity of the humanity and divinity of Christ. The Roman church, supported by the empire, imposed their theology on Egypt for two hundred years by means of political, ecumenical and military coercion. During this time, the majority of Egyptian Christians became disenchanted with their Roman Christian rulers and their distinct theology became a significant marker of identity. After the Muslim Conquest in the seventh century, the Copts became double minorities; ostracized by their fellow Christians in Constantinople and dominated by Arab Muslims in their own land. Yet despite centuries of oppression, the Coptic Church has persevered and maintained an indigenous, African Christian faith that is synonymous with Egyptian identity and is rooted in the very origins of Christianity. 


Dr. Vince L. Bantu joined Covenant Theological Seminary in 2016 as Visiting Professor of Missiology. He holds a PhD in Semitic and Egyptian languages from the Catholic University of America and serves as co-chair of the Theology Committee of the Christian Community Development Association. Dr. Bantu is an MDiv graduate of Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary’s Center for Urban Ministerial Education in Boston, and served the Cambridge Community Fellowship Church in Cambridge, Massachusetts, as a church-planting apprentice of Dr. Soong-Chan Rah. He also served as a program coordinator for the Emmanuel Gospel Center.

Dr. Bantu also holds a ThM in church history from Princeton Seminary and a BA in theology from Wheaton College. His primary interests include racial reconciliation, non-Western Christianity, and theological education in under-resourced communities. He has served as an adjunct faculty member for several institutions, including Nyack College, New York Theological Seminary, North Park Theological Seminary, Fuller Theological Seminary, the Center for Early African Christianity, and Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary. Dr. Bantu is happy to be back in his native St Louis, where he is a teaching pastor at Jubilee Community Church. Dr. Bantu, his wife, Diana, and their two daughters enjoy traveling, parks, games, and are huge movie fans.

Pulse's Emanuel: A response to J. Kameron Carter

By: Samuel Doyle

The African American religious community has every reason to be proud of J. Kameron Carter: a theologian of the highest order courageously thinking through a new black theology (or perhaps a theology for the new black). It is my sincere hope that – providing the Lord delays His coming – my generation will produce a massive collection of free-thinking and free-living scholars and theologians from various theological stripes to do theology alongside the black community.

As a Communications minor, I’m always asking myself where messages and worldviews that surface in various communities come from. Do they spring from the hearts of the people, or are they infringed upon the minds of the people by the powers that be? Sadly, theology in the black community has been so monitored, chaperoned and overtaken by liberal and conservative “big brothers” that it is hard to peer through the fog and find the gem of organic and authentic black Christian thought. The rise of a new black theology (and the organizing of forums like the Jude 3 Project) presents pastors, scholars and theologians who minister to black people the opportunity to let the seed of authentic theology grow and blossom among us.

 

A Review

Last month during the height of the Orlando tragedy, Carter wrote an article for ReligionDispatches.org, entitled Emanuel’s Pulse. In classic Carter style, it proved to be a very well-crafted and articulate work: poetically advocating for solidarity between the black church and the LGBT community. To reach such solidarity, Carter attempted to make their stories common by speaking of their common tragedy. Pulse and Emanuel were both “sanctuaries” in the sense that sanctuaries are places where joy abounds and where celebration endures. Sanctuaries are places where “congregationing” takes place. By “congregationing”, Carter seems to be capturing the beautiful mystery of community: the sense of transcendent euphoria that seems to fill any gathering that meets on one accord. He’s attempting to explain what Howard Thurman might have called the “religious experience”: an authentically human sense bearing witness something beyond one’s own sensual experience beckoning them to a deeper humanity (a universally abstract beckoning and feeling that seems to reach any congregation, regardless of their particularly concrete doctrines). Emanuel and Pule, therefore, are both sanctuaries on this basis. In one sanctuary hymns are played and confessions are made, while in the other sanctuary people of common love come together after along week to kick back and have a good time. Both were sanctuaries and both had fateful days into which hateful and deranged infiltrated and did the catastrophic; desecrating their respective sanctums.

 

A Response

What proves to be a decisive point of departure – to begin – is how he defines blackness. Blackness, for Carter, is “an alternate imagination of communion”. For him, “blackness” means “other” or “marginal”. Of course, this view of blackness has deep roots in our thinking. This expanded view, seen in Henry McNeal Turner’s sermon, God is a Negro, reimagines blackness as a marginal reality. Everyone who suffers is black: the impoverished, the oppressed, racial minorities and gender minorities. All who suffer find their identity in this alternate definition, and therefore find strength in the accompanying theology that “God is a Negro”: God takes the side of the oppressed.

This definition of blackness has played itself out in some very uncomfortable ways. On May 16, 2016 at a plenary session of the United Methodist Church’s Quadrennial Conference, protestors shut down the proceedings, dressed in black and chanting “Black Lives Matter”. It actually had nothing to do with the systematic attack waged by police officers against young black men. It was a protest against the UMC’s stance on homosexuality.

The problem with this expanded definition of blackness is that it hijacks a movement and gives said movement a legion of voices. When the images of Eric Garner, Mike Brown, Sandra Bland and Alton Sterling are being lumped together with every other agenda one might think of (all the while police brutality in this country is getting worse while laws benefitting LGBT people are getting better) we have a serious problem with terms.

Another term that seemed quite problematic for me was his use of the word “sanctuary”.  It will always be hard for a Christian to share the same vision of a sanctuary with that of the night club attendee (the sexual identity of the night club notwithstanding). His reduced definition to them as places where there is joyful congregationing is compelling, but not convincing.

Admittedly, I’ve only been to a night club twice in my adult life. I must say, however, that the euphoria and joy felt has many common traits to the feeling one gets in worship. As a trained musician, I have musical explanations for why this is so. Sacred music has always followed the musical trends of secular innovation in music, because such innovations make for the heartbeat of an entire generation. The reason our music makes the trends it makes is because we feel the trends. To say you can feel Fred Hammond and not feel John Legend is simply hypocritical (for me, anyway). We have always sanctified and set apart the innovative voice of each generation lifting such innovation to the One true God. So, if contemporary gospel will make you move, it follows that rhythm and blues can do the same thing. They make us move in different ways because of the lyrics and what those lyrics invite us to do.

You will also get a deep sense of fellowship there as well. A sort of religious experience is bound to take place when a person is out with their friends having the time of their lives. Selfies capture monumental moments, but nothing will ever compare to having been there. You’re bonding with friends and making new friends: all under the banner of the reason for which you have gathered (which is to kick back and party).

Feelings of fellowship and joy are experiences felt in both the night club and the worship hour, but no devout Christian would ever define a sanctuary by how it feels: at least in any substantial way. The Christian agrees with Jesus who says, “Where two or three are gathered together in My Name, there I am in the midst”. For the Christian, therefore, the purpose of our congregationing makes for a sanctuary, not the feelings we experience. Such purpose gives indication to who is present, which makes for God’s definition of “sanctuary”. For God, a sanctuary is any place He, Himself, dwells. He who (as the psalmist says) “inhabits the praises of His people” sanctifies spaces by dwelling in them and making them sanctuaries.

I pastor a congregation that meets in a historic church building. Each time I drive past it I am immediately awestruck by its imposing Roman pillars at the old entrance. When I walk into the sanctuary on Sunday, I’m greeted by a friendly smile and a warm hug, directed to my seat by the usher, moved by the contemporary worship music and struck by the feel of this vibrant congregation “congregationing” in this old historic Waco gem of a church. None of this makes Greater New Light a sanctuary. What makes it a sanctuary is that the people who gather, do so in the Name of Jesus Christ and trust His promise to be in our midst. 

His most compelling case for solidarity came when he spoke about their common griefs. The theme of common stories is an important way for the church and LGBT people to regard one another as authentically human, each person on both sides being made in the image of God having intrinsic value and worth, therefore being deserving of dignity and respect. As a pastor and a devout Christian, Cameron’s work – along with the outcry and sadness seen on social media – reinforces my convictions against abusive and mean-spirited language against gay people from behind the pulpit. Further, it reminds me LGBT people are my neighbors: those whom God in Christ convicts me to love and offer the Church of Jesus Christ as their family, just like every other fellow sinner who walks through the doors of my church. In this sense, solidarity is greatly needed.

The title of the article makes clear implications of what Carter is envisioning for this solidarity: Emanuel’s Pulse. Emanuel, which stands as a type for the normative state of the black church, needs a “pulse”: especially if you agree with Eddie Glaude that “The Black Church is Dead”. Many will recall Glaude’s scathing indictment on the black church in his above titled 2010 Huffington Post article. The reason for its death, according to Glaude, was the complex existence of conservativism within black churches, which for him are “necessarily prophetic and progressive institutions”. In short, if they weren’t so conservative black churches would probably be more vibrant. Therefore, the black church needs a pulse, and Pulse – which stands as a clear type for the gay community – is the lifeline that will bring the black church’s heartbeat back.  

The implications made by the title – and the clear thrust of the article advocating for a sweeping affirmation of homosexuality within the black church – frame this solidarity as one in which Pulse revives Emanuel: or perhaps influences Emanuel. The gay community must change the church’s worldview if the church ever hopes to live again. Of course, you can imagine my struggle at this point as I try to reconcile all this with the clear declaration in Scripture that the Church is built on faith in Jesus Christ, the gates of hell never prevailing against it.

There is a probing question that must be examined at this point: Does Emanuel need a Pulse or does Pulse need Emanuel? Granted, at the point of mourning and pain, it must be clearly emphasized that we all need each other. This goes without saying, but at the point of deeper existential matters one must consider this question. When I examine the Scriptures for an understanding of Emanuel, I turn immediately to the first Chapter of John’s Gospel. John exclaims, with the personal passion that so poignantly marks his writing, “The Word became flesh and dwelt among us as we beheld His glory: the glory as of the only begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth”. The Name Emanuel embodies this watershed verse. He is “God with us” in a way that we behold life-changing and life-giving glory before our midst. The central idea of God the life giver and life changer is seen all throughout the Scripture, but is most centrally seen in the life of Jesus Christ: the Cosmic Word in mortal flesh. He who showed us the Father revealed to us that God gives life, never being a passive presence. He’s never been more vulnerable than contagious. We never see Him worried about touching unclean people or catching the condition of those he healed, because God with Us is redemptive contagious: He’s miraculously infectious and salvifically transmissible. I’m trying to convey that you’ll always catch what He has, and John is clear when it comes to what He has: “full of grace and truth”. Any sincere walk with Jesus always results in a true encounter with grace and truth: an encounter that promises to change anyone who walks with Him. To say it more plainly, no one walks with Jesus and remains the same. He always brings about a change – a change which renders the death of the church impossible, because it’s a change from eternal death to eternal life.

Perhaps, at this point, the church should make a counter offer to the gay community. We are not convinced of our death, because God through Jesus Christ has given us life. We have not been persuaded of our defeat, because in Christ we have overcome the world. However, it is clear that we share a common story with our gay friends: one in which solidarity and community can happen. However, instead of calling it Emanuel’s Pulse let’s call it Pulse’s Emanuel. Allow us to mourn with you and comfort you. Allow us to walk with you through life’s ups and downs. When we open our sanctuary doors and invite you to worship, come and commune with God. Ask pressing questions with us: argue with us and struggle with us. Let us serve you, but be open to whatever the saving Gospel of Jesus Christ is wanting to perform in you as you are fellowshipping with us. Let us be Pulse’s “God with us”: the Living God with us, the Loving God with us, the Liberating God with us and the Transforming God with us. After all, the age old testimony of Jesus is that those who encounter Him never stay the same.

 


Samuel J. Doyle is a teacher–preacher, and currently serves as the Senior Pastor at the Greater New Light Missionary Baptist Church of Waco, TX.

Help! I can't find time to read the bible....

Because of the busyness of life, many neglect their spiritual development. However, this does not have to be the case. With the Jude 3 Project app you'll receive customized biblical content based on your unique spiritual needs. The goal of the Jude 3 Project app is simple, we want to help you grow in your walk with God through bible engagement. 

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  • Customize your Jude 3 Project experience with a short spiritual growth assessment.
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  • Push notifications ensure you don't miss a single message.
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Inside look at the Jude 3 Project App:

 

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Good God?

The socio-political climate of our time has pushed the subject of morality to the forefront. Differing worldviews in our vastly changing society have people asking not just where is God, but why does he allow certain things to happen? Many people are wondering how to define moral right and wrong in an age where relativism and subjectivity areencouraged. In this interview, The Jude 3 Project aims to shed light on the various issues facing morality in our world today.

The interviewee is Dr. David Baggett, the founder and Executive Editor of MoralApologetics.com. He teaches philosophy and apologetics in the Divinity School at Liberty University. He’s the author of several books, including, with Jerry Walls, Good God: The Theistic Foundations of Morality(2011) and God and Cosmos: Moral Truth and Human Meaning (2016), both with Oxford University Press. Good God won Christianity Today’s 2012 Best Book in Apologetics/Evangelism.

Welcome Dr. David Baggett, it is an honor to have you with us!

Cameron Hodge:Today it seems that all moral barriers are being torn down in the social sphere. In fact, it seems that political correctness, tolerance, and the desire to “love everyone” have directly ostracized, and in many ways, attacked Biblical morality. In the book that you coauthored Good God: The Theistic Foundations of Morality, you begin by explaining C.S Lewis’s fundamental argument that there is an objective moral law binding our actions. Many argue this is direct evidence of God because you cannot have a moral law without a giver of moral law. What is your answer to those in society that believe morality can be found without use of the Bible and the “Christian way” of doing things, or without God?

Dr. Baggett:I try to push the discussion to the question of moral foundations, and tend to use an abductive moral argument, which is another name for an “inference to the best explanation,” a simple idea really. It’s the notion that the best explanation of various moral facts is God himself. I don’t usually begin with language like “this is the only way it can be,” which tends to be needlessly off-putting. Those resistant to the argument naturally attempt to ground morality in something else, assuming they haven’t given up on the idea altogether, which is still a rarity, fortunately. They have various resources to appeal to in their efforts to ground a secular ethics, from the need for social harmony to the satisfactions of morality to an evolutionary account to a social contract, and the list goes on. We don’t try to reject all such efforts with one argument; usually it’s more productive to have a conversation in which we look carefully at their proposal to assess its strengths and weaknesses.

As part of that discussion, I encourage folks to look seriously into the features of morality—inalienable human rights, authoritative moral obligations, intrinsic human dignity, objective values, moral guilt, meaningful free will, moral knowledge, and prospects for forgiveness, real moral transformation, and happiness and virtue going hand in hand. Then I ask what can really best explain these realities. I think theism and Christianity can explain them considerably better than, say, secular approaches to ethics. Several secular answers have insight, but a theistic account has all that insight and considerably more. Usually what I point out about the features of morality in need of explanation are its features that anyone—believer and unbeliever alike—can intuitively recognize, since I don’t want to presuppose their commitment to scripture at the beginning of the conversation. The discussion can be helpful in pointing out the way moral truth is a radical and fascinating thing that really does need a robust explanation.

Cameron Hodge: Thank you for your response. You brought up an interesting point that I would like to explore. You mentioned one of the features of morality is “inalienable human rights.” In light of the recent controversies regarding the rights of others i.e.the LGBT community, released convicts, racial discrimination, police brutality, etc., how should society define inalienable human rights, and where does this definition come from? If your view is based on a Biblical worldview, should those who do not hold a Biblical worldview be obligated to follow that definition of inalienable human rights?

Dr. Baggett: I rather doubt it’s the definition of such rights that’s controversial. Basic human rights are things which most can agree how to define. Whether there are such things as basic human rights, and corresponding duties to uphold such rights, is the more controversial and vexed question. The Kantian notion that people shouldn’t be treated merely as means to ends, but are infinitely valuable ends in themselves, is a beautiful, powerful idea; and the simple fact is that not every worldview is equally good at accounting for such an idea of human beings as inherent possessors of dignity and bearers of basic human rights. Mark Linville has done terrific work on this subject, arguing that various secular normative ethical theories don’t have the resources to make sense of such ideas as well as classical theism can. Paul Copan has added an historical and societal element to moral apologetics by documenting ways in which the Judeo-Christian tradition has, in society after society, contributed to moral progress—women’s suffrage, abolition of slavery, battles against injustice, fair treatment of the marginalized. Jürgen Habermas, an atheist, has come around to admitting the powerful role that Christianity has historically played in upholding human rights around the world.

Again, the issue isn’t what the definition of an inalienable right is; that’s easy. The question is where they come from, how they’re best analyzed, what their ultimate foundations are. We have excellent reason to think our Founders were right: we were conferred them by our Creator. The issue of concern to me as a philosopher and moral apologist is what best explains the existence of such rights, and as a Christian what their existence normatively entails about our treatment of others. My focus here is on inalienable basic human rights, not alleged rights far less obvious and universal. Some such rights may well exist, or should, morally or legally, but they’re not in the category most of concern to my argument here. We live in a time when lots of claims to special rights are asserted; the atmosphere remains of rights talk grounded in something transcendent; but the foundations of our rights claims nowadays have often become irremediably degraded in light of the rejection of their ontological foundations. The result is that rights discourse today too often smacks of conflicts between adversarial political power structures, rather than being grounded in our common humanity and natural law.

Cameron Hodge: Many argue that morality is a natural instinct, not laws that someone made, or something that has to be taught. In fact, many argue that moral laws are just a way to express the natural instincts we already have in order to make certain decisions. For example, mothers do not have to be taught to love their children and to protect them. They automatically love their children because that is their nature. You do not have to instruct people not to kill. Most people do not go around killing others for fun because that is considered wrong. What is your response to the idea that morality is a natural instinct, not God-given laws or inclinations?

Dr. Baggett: Lewis anticipated this objection, but replied that instincts are rather like keys on a piano, whereas morality is more like the music, directing us which instincts to follow and which to suppress. What’s occasionally instinctive are moral behaviors, and this makes perfect sense in light of creation theology on which wisdom literature’s based; even there, though, without God at the foundation, we’re liable to all sorts of spurious inferences based on the data of life and what seems rational at the time. It’s the love of God that’s the beginning of wisdom. Beyond that, the question can be pressed: what makes it true that mothers should love their children? Most mothers love their children for reasons other than that they’re supposed to, but sadly some mothers don’t love their children. When that happens, there’s something seriously wrong, because mothers ought to love their children. What accounts for the force of this “ought”? Instinct doesn’t liberate us from questions about the ultimate foundation of moral truth.

It’s true that some moral laws are such that we naturally recognize them; this is part of what makes a moral argument for God so powerful. Its starting point can be seen by most everyone. “Of course killing children is wrong,” folks will often say, “and I don’t need God to tell me so.” This is good, because at that point we can have a discussion about what best explains such wrongness, and not just one’s belief that it’s wrong. To stop the effort of explanation too soon leaves too many questions unanswered, and also tends to overlook features of morality that are, though obvious, also puzzling. In an atheistic world, for example, what explains why morality would be binding? Why would we not just feel guilty, but be guilty for violating it? In a theistic world the answer to these questions is clear. Moral truths are rooted in ultimate reality, a personal loving and holy God, and we are responsible for our moral choices in a very deep sense.

 Cameron Hodge: Some argue that morality based in religion is also subjective. This means that just because you think Biblical morals are right does not mean they are. How can Christians criticize others as following what’s subjective/relative, when those of secular world views believe as strongly in their point of reference for their beliefsas Christians do? What makes the morals of a Buddhist, Atheist, or anyone else inferior to that of Biblical morals?

Dr. Baggett: I’m something of what you might call a “particularist” when it comes to morality. I don’t begin with a general theory and then infer to basic moral truths. Rather, I start with particular moral judgments I think we can know—like the wrongness of torturing children for fun. This is something on which most everyone will agree. I don’t jump straight to distinctive Christian teachings and insist they’re superior, which would be, as a dialogical method, ineffectual and dogmatic. Moral apologetics, at least the way Jerry Walls and I aim to do it, tries to build a bridge with other people, either from other faiths or atheism or agnosticism. Child torture for fun is not merely subjectively wrong, most will agree, but really wrong, objectively wrong, for everyone. This is one of those moral facts in need of explanation. If someone isn’t willing to grant such a point, moral apologetics has a hard time getting started, but most who deny it are likely not being entirely honest. Do they really think a child being mercilessly tortured, just so we can watch the child suffer and die horribly, wouldn’t be objectively wrong? Of course they think it’s wrong, most people anyway.

The notion that morality is merely relative is very hard to defend, and such an idea violates most people’s deeply felt convictions. There’s no good argument for moral relativism I know of, and plenty of good arguments against it. I taught ethics for years, and tried showing the insights and strengths of various moral theories. Relativism always had the least going for it. Most people think it helps safeguard moral tolerance, but whether it does or not depends on your context. If morality is merely subjective, as the relativists suggest, then whether something is right or wrong for you is relative to your context. If you think moral tolerance in general is a good thing (and indeed it is), you have ample motive to find more principled reasons to believe in it than anything relativism can offer.

Cameron Hodge: The debate on moral tolerance in the United States is heating up. People cry out for tolerance, free speech, and freedom of expression. However, I am troubled by what I see as society’s hypocrisy when it comes to tolerance. It seems that tolerance really means condone, and not only condone, but celebrate. In my eyes, I see society becoming very bigoted, prejudiced, hateful, and intolerant of the Biblical worldview, and of those who hold it. It seems that people are willing to hear what you have to say and consider your points as long as you are not coming from a Christian perspective. As soon as you reveal your Biblical views, people reject the validity of your opinion. Secular society promotes free speech as long as it’s the speech that it wants to hear. I find this hypocritical and unfair. I see society becoming more intolerant the more “tolerant” it becomes.  What is your view on how society deals with the Biblical worldview, and the issue of tolerance today?

Dr. Baggett: Well, I think a Judeo-Christian ethic provides a powerful impetus to take tolerance seriously in a principled way. Tolerance, you’re right, is not the same as condoning, or celebrating, and that distinction needs to be carefully maintained. But tolerance is a significant moral attitude and a thick moral concept that has big implications. It means allowing people to think for themselves and come up with their own conclusions. It calls on us to respect the mental freedom of others, and even fight for their right to be wrong, and to be heard even if we think they’re wrong. It ought to mean, on many occasions, agreeing to disagree, and not demonizing everyone who might see things differently. I myself don’t do a lot of work in the area of religious liberties, but it’s certainly an issue that’s been coming to the fore of late more frequently. I don’t think our main job as Christians is to lament sad states of affairs in our culture or express perpetual grievances about how our feelings are being hurt or contributions are undervalued or voices are marginalized in the public square. But religious liberty, if it’s going to continue being taken seriously, needs to be seen as grounded in solid foundations. Copan thinks religious liberty is another fruit of the Judeo-Christian ethic, and I’m inclined to agree. So this means some vigilance may be called for.

There are plenty of open-minded secularists who are basically decent moral people who personally don’t want to see religious liberties significantly curtailed—but, and this is important to notice, there are also plenty of secular folks who’d love to use their newfound political power and momentum, now that various societal tides have turned, to fight for a significant reduction of religious freedoms. Again, I don’t want to overplay this concern, project paranoia, or foist slippery slopes, but personally I sometimes wonder if we’ve even begun to see what intolerance can look like if the commitment to tolerance is primarily to be safeguarded by the good intentions of an increasingly secular culture. Let me reiterate that as a moral apologist, I don’t, for the most part, think of my secular friends and interlocutors as my foes. I’m trying to win them, not just win arguments, and to build bridges and relationships with them. Despite our differences, in a very deep sense we’re on their side; we’re rooting for them; we have gloriously Good News to share with them, about a God who loves them with love beyond imagination and wants them to live the most abundant life possible. Yes they’re sinners in need of forgiveness, as we all are, but the great news is that such forgiveness—not to mention transformation and joy unspeakable, vocation and glory—are being offered to them as God’s gracious gifts.

Cameron Hodge: Furthermore, your book explains that God is the “exemplar” of good. He is the perfect standard for what good is. If he is the perfect example of good, and according to the Bible he is holy and cannot sin nor be in the presence of sin, from where did evil come? Many wonder where evil itself came from before it entered into the world and before it entered into man. If God is eternal, and is the ultimate standard of good, and he cannot be in the presence of sin, where did sin and evil itself come from? Were sin and the state of evil created outside of God’s control?

Dr. Baggett: Evil is a deeply mysterious thing. What Christians can’t say is that something like dualism is true. If God himself is the ultimate good, as many Christians have believed through the centuries, Christianity doesn’t proceed by suggesting that Satan is his equal and evil opposite. Satan is a creature; God is the Creator. Evil is not good’s equal and opposite; it’s more like a perversion or distortion of the good. What we learn from scripture is that God created the world good, but that the serpent was already able to show up on the scene, and this was before the fall of man. So some sort of dark diabolical force was already there. Some chalk it up to the fall of angels sometime before. Maybe that’s right. And surely the fall of mankind because of their freedom to disobey God introduced all manner of darkness into the world. And stable natural laws in a fallen world introduce the possibility of various natural evils.

But rather than neatly explaining evil’s origins, the Bible is preoccupied with all that God has done, is doing, and will do to effect complete victory over evil. What the existence of a good and altogether loving God does is fill us with rational trust and soaring hope that evil will be defeated, in fact, that in a real sense it’s been defeated already, with the death and resurrection of Jesus. That justice and peace will embrace, that evils both individual and systemic will be blotted out. 

The existence of evil is actually far more puzzling to explain on atheism than on theism and Christianity. Christianity takes evil very seriously. Its solution called for nothing less than the incarnate Son of God to suffer and die and be raised again in order to put the world to rights. Evil, according to an atheistic conception of the world, is not really a category that makes sense in their inventory of reality. It usually gets reduced by them to what Kant called badness: the opposite of pleasure. But “evil” is a distinctively moral category that only makes sense in a robustly moral context. In fact, perhaps because of this, our atheist friends typically borrow from a religious worldview they’ve rejected to point to the horrors of evil. The world is as it is, however; on their perspective, why would they expect anything different in a determined world? We’d all just be following the script nature wrote for us. Evil in fact ceases being a problem for naturalists, but when evil isn’t a problem for your worldview, your worldview is shown to be seriously deficient. Evil is supposed to be a problem, and for Christianity it is. But it’s not intractable. This is another one of those cases where Christianity can explain what needs explaining better than other worldviews.

If we’re meaningful moral agents, invested by God with real free will, then the choice to hurt a child is deeply culpable. “Evil” is a good word for it. The world really does feature evil. The question is, can one’s worldview make good enough sense of it? Can it explain how bad evil really is, and that it really does need a deep and permanent solution? Christianity can, and offers excellent reason to believe that God is at work addressing the evil in this world, and that ultimately the good will win, life will turn out to be a comedy and not a tragedy, and the sufferings of this world will finally be redeemed.

Cameron Hodge: In light of recent tragedies with police brutality, mass shootings, and terrorist attacks, why does God allow this evil to occur? This is a traditional criticism of Christianity that never grows old. In the shooting of Philando Castile, there was a four-year old girl in the backseat, who witnessed him being shot and killed.  This will be an event that will be with this child for the rest of her life, possibly ruining her innocence and damaging her view of people from other racial backgrounds. Most of us realize that no one is innocent, we all have done wrong, thus we understand why we may bear the consequences of sin. We are not innocent. Yet, this four-year old girl was innocent. She is an innocent child.  She witnessed evil and experienced evil, it was a traumatic experience. How does one wrestle with the fact that God allows an innocent child to experience this kind of evil? How does one wrestle with the idea that God allows this kind of evil to occur?

Dr. Baggett: The problem of evil is locked in a zero sum game with moral apologetics, and I’m inclined to agree with Kant, in an article he wrote on the book of Job. Kant didn’t think we could always answer the questions about why various evils are allowed. Often that’s a bit beyond our ken and pay grade, but if we’re justified to believe in a good God, we’re justified to believe there’s an answer to evil, and that evil won’t have the last word. In fact, this is one of the real strengths of a Christian worldview, it seems to me. We don’t have to hide our heads in the sand, nor do we have to water down how bad evils really are; nor do we have to abandon hope that there are ultimate answers to the problem of evil. What scripture teaches is that God is in the process of setting things right. It’s we as believers who can have hope, and I think we have great reasons to think it’s a hope that won’t disappoint. God has the resources to redeem the worst of tragedies and balance the scales of justice.

What does, say, naturalism have to offer by contrast? Hope for a world redeemed? Hope that children who suffered and died unjustly didn’t die in vain? No, the world on their view is just tragic, and hope for anything else is ultimately futile. Funny you asked this question, because just today I ran across this passage from Richard Creel:

As long as it is logically possible that evil be defeated, that innocent suffering is not meaningless and final, it seems to me that we have a moral obligation to hope that that possibility is actual. Therefore we have a moral obligation to hope that there is a God because, if there is a God, then innocent suffering is not meaningless or final…. But couldn’t we just hope for the redemption of innocent sufferers without hoping for the existence of God? No, because without God evil could not be defeated; it could only be counterbalanced or outweighed. Why? Because, if there is not God, i.e., no intelligent being responsible for the existence, structure, and parameters of our world, then at least some innocent suffering is absolutely meaningless, purposeless, senseless, and consequently unredeemable—just a tragic fact about reality. The seeming meaninglessness, absurdity, and waste of innocent suffering and tragic loss are overcome only in the existence of God. To be sure, the Holocaust was enormously tragic—but without God it is even more tragic. Indeed, a far greater evil than the evils of history would be that the evils of history will not be defeated because there is no God. This seems to me a terribly important point that Dostoyevsky’s Ivan failed to consider.

Thank you Dr. Baggett for your time, wisdom, and expertise on the issue of morality.


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Cameron Hodge graduated from the University of North Carolina at Greensboro (UNCG) in June 2010. At UNCG she received her Bachelor of Arts and Sciences degree, majoring in Global Affairs and International Development with a double minor in French and Spanish. She holds a Master’s of Public Administration, and a Graduate Certificate of Accounting. In response to the call of God, Cameron is currently pursuing a Master’s of Divinity in Christian Apologetics from Liberty University.

To Quote or Not to Quote

"That's a white scholar, he can’t be trusted."

"Show me a black theologian that believes that..."

"That's an Edomite!" 

 

If you are engaged in urban apologetics you have heard these objections before, in one form or the other. Typically, defenders of black cults, radical black liberation theologians, or extreme pan-Africanist utilize these retorts. When so, they often are assuming we have been brainwashed by white Christians/Scholars and all the while forsaking the faith and teachings of our ancestors.

The basis of these objections are ironic to say the least. Two generic misnomers are made already at this junction. It is absurd to assume all African Americans have the same ancestry and even more absurd to assume those ancestors accepted the same worldviews as a whole. There are thousands of beliefs in ancient and modern Africa. Also, just because our ancestors believed it doesn't necessarily make it true. We know this reality all too well. Opening an umbrella under the roof doesn't guarantee any misfortune, putting your purse on the floor won't make you broke, and getting your clothes wet while you wash dishes doesn't guarantee you will marry a drunk. All superstition and jokes aside, our ancestors have been correct in some areas and incorrect in others.  We must be able to evaluate their claims against truth and do it with love. On the other hand, I believe there are three substantial points to be made against those who don't warrant the quoting of white theologians in dialogue or who request black scholars as puppeteer citations. 

 

Truth is truth regardless of whom it comes from

To say something is false simply based on the source is a logical fallacy. Specifically, the proper term is a genetic fallacy. That is a false logical conclusion that diminishes the truth of a statement based solely on its origins or history. These simplistic conclusions rarely determine the truth claim based on the merits of the claim itself. For example, a student is taught basic arithmetic in a school under a vicious dictatorship. Does that student have a warrant to then say 2 + 2 is not equal to 4? Of course not! Although suspicion would be warranted the truth claim itself must be evaluated on its own terms as well. As logical human beings we can condemn the vicious character of a teacher and still evaluate their teachings on the basis of truth. Yes, we should be cautious and hesitant to promote such teachers. But if they said anything true we should acknowledge it was true instead of delegitimizing those valid statements. Such is the case when consulting the written work of white theologians.  Facts are facts, regardless of their skin color.      

 

Requesting books by African American theologians of the past ignores the reality of educational oppression

When Black cultist or extreme pan-Africanist beg for books by African American theologians & scholars from the past to prove or disprove Christianity in the written form they often project the standards of privilege that ignores the educational oppression we faced. Due to these harsh realities, we have very few people of color in all of the major academic disciplines that have written extensively in our country. We lack people of color historically laying the foundation for modern physics in America yet I rest assure we still board airplanes that utilize such knowledge from "suspect" sources. Specifically concerning radical black liberation theologians I am especially confounded. They castigate "conservative" African American preachers for quoting white evangelicals. However, they too have hypocritically built their theologies on the backs of German liberals and neo-Orthodox theologians such as Karl Barth. 

These objections are sad because with it, many lose sight of the primary means intellectual and theological contributions have been made to God’s Kingdom. Black cult leaders & pan-Africanist often presuppose that such contributions do not exist from these traditions because they have not come through the vehicles often accepted within the prominent presentations of books. As a result, black cult leaders and pan-Africanist subversively acknowledge academic voices as more legitimate. Again, not realizing they are espousing a standard of privilege that should be challenged and critiqued itself. By doing so, the theological contributions of John Jasper, Lemuel Haynes, Richard Allen, Absalom Jones, & Phyllis Wheatley are not evaluated, quoted, or adopted. One must realize that the primary theological and apologetic vehicles in our recent past were the sermons, narratives, and spirituals. Due to other systematic obstacles and cultural manifestations, the sermon was the book, lecture, and scholarly article for the African American tradition. The spirituals were the canon of beliefs and relief. The narratives were the autobiographies of our spiritual heroes. That does not make the robust content found in these sermons, spirituals, or narratives any less helpful to our apologetic agenda. Our souls would be blessed to resurrect the intellectual power found in these homiletical gems, doctrinal melodies, and poetic narratives.  Brothers and sisters of brown and black hue should gladly accept them as historical evidence that we too have been believers. 

 

The formation of traditional Christian Theology is indebted to African Scholars

The prominent Christians of antiquity were in fact people of color. To simply make my point I will utilize two major pillars in Christian theology. Augustine of Hippo was an "African" bishop that articulated original sin, the bondage of our wills, and Christ's atoning death. That's before Muhammed & Islam hit Africa. That's before the Middle Ages and Medieval thought. In the essentials of the Christian faith, an African Bishop was the most influential theologian; perhaps the most influential outside of the Bible. In essence, much of traditional Christian theology is the product of African thought. Another African contributor that truly shaped the doctrine of Christianity was Athanasius. Through his zeal and intellectual capabilities Christians formally formulated the doctrine of the Trinity. His writings also demonstrate the circulation of New Testament writings in the early church. Though there are more examples, these two figures are more than enough to demonstrate that Christianity is deeply indebted to Africa. 

Some object that paintings of these writers are white so how could they be African? Regardless of the inaccurate paintings you have seen, many Christian church fathers were African. Remember, the paintings we often see are portraits not photographs. These portraits often came centuries later in other context. Therefore, we cannot discount Augustine or Athanasius though those painters erroneously depict their ethnicity. A modern day example would be the depiction of ancient Egyptians by only white actors in Hollywood films. We know that to be historically inaccurate but we don't write off the brilliance of our Egyptian ancestors, devalue their contributions, or white wash their ethnicity. 

 

Finally, consider this:

“The grass withers, the flower fades, but the word of our God will stand forever” Isaiah 40:8 ESV

We are faced with many different “winds of doctrine”. Many have disputed Christianity and it’s place in the black community, nonetheless the one source that remains to be true and unchanged is God’s Word.  That being said, the Bible is the only source that has the final say on any matter.  Without the Bible we do not have sufficient authority to determine truth. We need divine inspiration, a supernatural absolute personality to clearly communicate truth and hold us accountable. Without this, we are left with autonomous reason that cannot adequately answer authoritatively nor explore options exhaustively. Instead of relying on quotes from people we trust or distrust due to color or ancestry we should indeed align all statements up to the ultimate standard: God's Word. We must do that utilizing proper context while understanding the grammar and historical background of the text. Let every person we quote align himself or herself with the Book. 

 

For God's Glory, 

Cam Triggs

 

 


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Cam Triggs loves Jesus. God saved Cam from wrath, sin, death, and Satan in 2005. He began studies at University of Central Florida as a Religious Studies major & continued his education at Reformed Theological Seminary where he earned a Masters of Arts in Theological Studies. During his time at RTS, Cam was privileged to study under the apologist John Frame. In the future,  he looks forward to further study in the areas of philosophy, theology, and African American studies. He now enjoys loving God & loving students at Shiloh Church. More importantly, he is married to his beautiful best friend Tymara Triggs and the proud father of Cameron Triggs II. Stay connected with him at camtriggs.com.

Black Church Figures You Should Know: Ida B. Wells

Why the series?

Historical Theology and Church History in the African American context is rarely celebrated. That is a very sad occasion. There is much we can learn from the rich tradition of the African American church. When we do, it affirms the great doctrine that all men are created in the Image of God and it kills the great sin of intellectual racism.

What about the series?

A few things must be noted about our list. First and foremost, please be aware that appearances on the list do not automatically confirm theological content and biblical orthodoxy. Please consider each figure in light on proper biblical interpretation and refer to our statement of beliefs when in doubt. Secondly, this list is nowhere near being exhaustive in scope or content. We are barely scratching the surface and this is merely the tip of the iceberg. We considered appearances on the list by surveying several avid supporters for their considerations based upon the figures of significant impact, rich content, and historical significance.

 

Ida Bell Wells (1862-1931) – Anti-Lynching Crusader

A fearless anti-lynching crusader, women’s rights advocate, journalist, and speaker, Ida B. Wells remains to be one of the most uncompromising and passionate defenders of democracy in our nation’s history. 

Wells was born six months prior to the Emancipation Proclamation in Holly Springs, Mississippi on July 16, 1862.  She was born as the oldest of eight children to James and Lizzie Wells.  Well’s parents were active in the Republican Party during the Reconstruction era.  Her father was involved with the Freedman’s Aid Society, an organization founded in 1861 chiefly by the Congregational, Presbyterian and Methodist churches geared towards ensuring freed men education.  Consequently, he helped start Shaw University, now Rust College, and served on the first board of trustees.  Ida Wells received her schooling at Rust College until the age of 16 when she had to drop out due a yellow fever epidemic that overtook both her parents and one of her siblings.   Taking responsibility for caring for her other siblings, she became a teacher.  Eventually she moved to Memphis to live with her aunt and to help raise her siblings. 

It was in Memphis where Wells began to fight for racial and gender justice.  In 1884 she was asked by the conductor of the Chesapeake & Ohio Railroad Company to move from her first-class ladies car seat to the “Jim Crow” section of the train.  She refused and was forcibly removed from the train.  Under the Civil Rights Act of 1875, Wells was able to file and win a lawsuit against the Chesapeake & Ohio Railroad.  Although she was awarded a settlement, the verdict was appealed and reversed by the Tennessee Supreme Court.   She then began writing political columns in church newspapers.  Saving her money from her teaching job, she became co-partner of the Free Speech and Headlight newspaper in 1889 along with Rev. R. Nightingale, the pastor of Beale Street Baptist Church.   It was in this paper that Wells became a full advocate against violence against blacks, disenfranchisement, education, and civil rights. 

In 1891, Wells was fired from her job as a teacher, so she dedicated her life to being an advocate for social justice.  Her determination intensified after the lynching of three of her friends.  The story is told that three black men-Tom Moss, Calvin McDowell and Will Stewart- operated a prosperous grocery store in Memphis.  Feeling the decline of customers from the black community, the owner of a white store gathered supporters and set to vandalize the three men’s store.  In an attempt to defend themselves, they ended up shooting several of the white vandals.  After being arrested and brought to jail, a lynch mob took them from their cells and murdered them.

After the incident, Ida B. Wells began to write editorials exposing the incident and several other lynching incidents throughout the South.  While the threat of losing her life looming, Wells continued to expose the evils of racial injustice in both America and in Europe.  She also helped to establish several civil rights organizations.  In 1896, she helped form the National Association of Colored Women.  In 1909, she helped to organize the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People.   It is said that she later dismissed herself from the NAACP because she believed the organization lacked action-based initiatives at that time. 

On March 25, 1931, Ida B. Wells succumbed to kidney disease at the age of 69. Without a doubt, she left behind a legacy that still echoes throughout the halls of justice today. 

For more information visit:

Duke University – Ida B. Wells-Barnett and Her Passion for Justice

Biography.com – Ida B. Wells

PBS.org – Jim Crow Stories:  Ida B. Wells

Black Church Figures You Should Know - George Lisle

Black Church Figures You Should Know:

Why the series?

 

Historical Theology and Church History in the African American context is rarely celebrated. That is a very sad occasion. There is much we can learn from the rich tradition of the African American church. When we do, it affirms the great doctrine that all men are created in the Image of God and it kills the great sin of intellectual racism.

 

What about the series?

 

A few things must be noted about our list. First and foremost, please be aware that appearances on the list do not automatically confirm theological content and biblical orthodoxy. Please consider each figure in light on proper biblical interpretation and refer to our statement of beliefs when in doubt. Secondly, this list is nowhere near being exhaustive in scope or content. We are barely scratching the surface and this is merely the tip of the iceberg. We considered appearances on the list by surveying several avid supporters for their considerations based upon the figures of significant impact, rich content, and historical significance.

George Lisle - First Black Baptist Preacher and Missionary 

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George Lisle (or Liele), sometimes called George Sharp, was born a slave in Burke County, Virginia in 1750 to parents Liele and Nancy.  He was sold to Slave master in Georgia, Henry Sharp, who was a British Loyalist that served as an officer during the American Revolution.  Sharp was also a deacon of Buckhead Creek Baptist Church.  It was there, in 1773 while listening to his pastor Matthew Moore preach, that George Lisle came into the saving knowledge of Jesus Christ. 

After being baptized, George found compassion amongst other slaves and began to read hymns and encourage them.  Upon noticing George’s zeal for God’s Word and his ministerial gifts, Buckhead Creek Baptist Church licensed George to preach 1773, making Lisle the first Black licensed Baptist preacher in America.  Subsequently, in order to use his gift more freely, Henry Sharp granted George his freedom from slavery.  This propelled Lisle to also eventually become the first Baptist foreign missionary.  

George Lisle spent two years preaching to slaves on plantations along the Savannah River in Georgia and South Carolina.  After Henry Sharp died during the Revolutionary war, it is said that Sharp’s heirs tried to re-enslave George Lisle and would have done so had it not been for British officer.  Also during that time, Lisle gathered a group of new black believers in Savannah, GA and formed what is believed to be the first black church in America as Lisle served as the first appointed elder and preacher. 

At the close of the Revolutionary War, Lisle traveled to Jamaica as the indentured servant of English officer Col. Kirkland.  Accompanying him was his wife and four children.  Upon arrival, he began preaching in the street.  Eventually he organized a Baptist Church starting out with 4 other people.  Seven years later he’d baptized 500 converts and by 1791 the church purchased 3 acres of land in Kingsland.  In 1793, the first dissenting church in Jamaica was built, which brought persecution to him and his followers. 

In spite of a law in Jamaica from 1805 to 1814 forbidding preaching to slaves, Lisle continued to preach.  It is said that by 1814, Lisle’s efforts produced about 8,000 converts in Jamaica, earning him the name “Negro slavery’s prophet of deliverance.”  Lisle died in Jamaica in 1828.  However, by 1887 the number of Jamaican churches had grown to a membership of 31,000.

 

For more information, visit:

Boston University School of Theology – George Liele

History of Mission – George Liele