black church

A Suggested Agenda for African American Apologetics

BY: CAM TRIGGS

The task of effective apologetics demands contextualization. We are called to defend the faith by giving positive arguments for the existence of God and the exclusivity of Jesus Christ (1 Peter3:15). We are also called to cast down every argument and worldly philosophy with the scandalous good news of Jesus Christ (2 Cor. 10:5). However, without knowing our audience, their questions, and objections we will give answers to questions not being asked and reasons that don’t persuade the heart. Let me be clear, I am not calling for an apologetic agenda that is captive to the culture nor am I suggesting an apologetic that merely syncretizes with cultural values. I am calling for an apologetic that engages the culture, challenges the culture, and persuades the culture. This apologetic agenda cannot happen unless indigenous and sincere apologists are willing to enter the task of apologetics with a cultural lens to observe the city and its idols first (Act 17:16). Afterwards, a missional strategy must be employed to reform the church and captivate the community. In Acts 17, Paul engages the religious of Athens in the synagogue and then captivates the marketplace of ideas at the Areopagus. In this article, I would like to suggest an agenda that would engage our urban and African American context with the task of apologetics and the message of Jesus Christ.

Curriculum – Apologetics cannot happen in a vacuum disconnected from the local church. Jesus died and purchased the sheep. He is the bridegroom and the church is His bride. The local church is God’s program for evangelism of sinners and the edification of saints. Biblically based curriculums within the context of urban America are desperately needed for the church in the areas of apologetics. Why? Once again, we must address the issues, questions, and obstacles within those contexts and present them persuasively in the cultural vernacular that articulates the Gospel of Christ persuasively.

Church Planting and Revitalization- I do not have the time nor space to give an apologetic for church planting. However, it is clear that the Bible demands it and the apostle Paul modeled it (Matthew 29:18-30, Ephesians 1:3-14).  Church planting allows the people of God to engage unreached communities with the Gospel and transform communities by incarnating spirit-filled image bearers next door. Church revitalization is also pivotal.  We need urban and African American leaders to stay within the context of traditional churches to help reform, supplement, or simply contribute to this beautiful expression of the body of Christ. Let us realize both are equally important and we should not emphasize one without the other.

Theodicy- Theodicy is classically defined as the defense of God, typically relating to the Problem of Evil. The Problem of Evil poses logical, emotional, and theological reasons to refute the benevolence and omnipotence of God. With the African American tradition, this issue is extremely important and pivotal. Considering the history of our ancestors, the injustice in the past, and the injustice that still occurs today it is truly relevant for us to winsomely address the doubts, hurts, and disbelief caused by the evil we have absorbed in our communities through the weary years. As apologist, we must engage the poetic objections of James Baldwin and the scholarly work of Anthony Pinn who sincerely wrestle with not only the problem of evil but its pain as well.

Black Liberation Theology- Liberation theology is not confined to the black church, but it is prevalent. That is not to say it is more prevalent than other communities. Liberation Theology itself is found in different manifestations across denominational and institutional boundaries. Through the work of James Cone, liberal seminaries, and popularizers such as Jeremiah Wright, Liberation Theology has been present amongst the traditional black church with recognizable force. Though Black Liberation has many contributions and challenges to offer to the African American apologists, it does propose several dangers that must be addressed. For further study I highly recommend Anthony B. Bradley’s work entitled “Liberating Black Theology”.

Prosperity Theology- Again, let me be clear. The prosperity gospel is not confined to the black church; nor did it originate in the black church. Nonetheless, it sadly cannibalizes our urban and African American context. Many of the most prominent preachers and teachers in these contexts are promoters of the prosperity Gospel.  As apologist, we must expose these false teachers and false teaching with love, respect, and courage.

Cults and Religions- There are cults, religions, and even religious philosophies that exist within Hispanic, black, and urban communities that are largely overlooked by the contemporary apologetic agenda at large. Apologists committed to this context should study the doctrine, beliefs, and practices of these cults and religions while also presenting the subversive impulses found within them that are ultimately fulfilled in the Christian worldview. An African American agenda must address the religions and cults of The Five-Percent Nation, The Nation of Islam, and Black Hebrew Israelites to name a few.

Books – We need literary contributions and analysis of apologetic material from an African American and urban perspective. May the Lord raise up more African American apologist, scholars, and theologians like Carl Ellis Jr., Anthony Bradley, Bruce Fields, Jarvis Williams, and Vincent Bacote. May God grant us apologists who will engage Delores Williams, Dwight Hopkins, bell hooks, and J. Deotis Roberts.

Justice – One unique contribution African American apologetics must gift the church with is its physical and intellectual commitment to social justice. Art Lindsley stated it best “Love is the ultimate apologetic.” By loving others through the vein of social justice, the apologist gives tangible expressions of the existence and ultimately the love of God. An urban agenda of apologetics would be wise to tackle the issues of mass incarceration, mass abortions in our neighborhoods, and systemic racism. These issues are not exhaustive but they are urgent.

Historical Theology – A blazing ignorance of the rich, intellectual, and soulful African American Church tradition exist within the confines of evangelicalism. This is sad because with it, many lose sight of the primary means intellectual and theological contributions have been made to God’s Kingdom. Evangelicals often presuppose that such contributions do not exist from these traditions because they have not come through the vehicles often accepted within their tradition. By doing so, the apologetic contributions of Gardner C. Taylor, SM Lockridge, Richard Allen, and Absalom Jones are not evaluated, quoted, or adopted. One must realize that the primary theological and apologetic vehicles in our past was the sermon. Due to other systematic obstacles and cultural manifestations, the sermon was the book, lecture, and scholarly article for the African American tradition. That does not make the robust content found in these sermons any less helpful to our apologetic agenda. Our souls would be blessed to resurrect the intellectual power found in these homiletical gems.

Youth Ministry- Any agenda worth its salt must have an eye toward longevity and generational impact. Honestly, this is an area that must be improved across the spectrum of evangelicalism. We must do better at reaching students with the gospel and equipping students to reach their peers. I am not calling for more pizza parties, isolated youth ministries that generate a fractured culture in the church, or a continued juvenilization of corporate worship. But I am calling for more youth conferences, more youth books, and more material to help parents and guardians to disciple their teenagers while addressing the multiple challenges they encounter against their Christian faith.

Seminaries and Universities- Seminaries and Universities are forming the worldview(s) of America. Without infiltrating the educational system, little progress can be made in the realm of apologetics. We must learn from brothers like Cornel West and Michael Eric Dyson, who progressed through the best academic institutions and then ultimately influenced the larger culture. Of course, these men are highly gifted, but their training enhanced their analytical skills and provided platforms to impact academia and culture at large. An urban and African American apologetic should encourage young scholars to pursue degrees in evangelical and secular institutions. As they earn their doctorates, these scholars ought to teach in both secular and evangelical institutions as well.

This is no small agenda and I am more than sure it will be expanded upon as other apologists contribute to this context. By no means do I pretend that this list is comprehensive though I hope it is extensive. I have blindspots and limitations, but together we can press towards the mark and keep the faith. Please consider this agenda as a challenge and not a depressive dose of procrastination. What item captivates your passions, sparks your interest, or increases your heartbeat? This is not a time of passive peace but a season for strategic war. Pick up your armor and enlist in this battle. Don’t just keep the faith, fight the good fight; onward Christian apologist.

 

Bringing the Good News,

Cam Triggs


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

PLEASE STOP WHITEWASHING CHRISTIANITY

By: Ernest Grant (Article Orginally Posted at iamernestgrant.com)

When the Academy of Motion Picture and Science announced early this year that only white actors and actresses were among those selected to be chosen for an academy award for the second year in a row, it ignited a firestorm.

It resulted in the resurgence of the social mediahashtag #OscarsSoWhite and raised a bevy of concerns about the lack of diversity in motion pictures.[1]

“Whitewashing” is the purposeful exclusion of ethnic minorities in mainstream leading roles, leaving them only to play supporting or villainous ones. It goes back as far as Elizabeth Taylor playing the role of Cleopatra in the 1960s, and sadly, over a half-century later, whites are still cast into minority roles.

It’s a shameful depiction and representation of people of color that exposes the underlying racial prejudice of Hollywood, and in the words of Dr. Michael Eric Dyson, it feeds into the perception that “black people just don’t quite measure up.”

It’s Crept into the Church as Well

Sadly, however, the practice of whitewashing has subtly crept into Christianity. Whitewashing Christianity occurs institutionally and structurally when the contributions of the African Diaspora to theology, ethics, and culture are largely ignored, and the influence of people groups of European descent are accentuated.

It demonstrates the implicit cultural and historical bias within conservative Evangelical communities and bolsters the notion that people of color will remain unequal to our white counterparts, regardless of our credentialing or accomplishment[2]

Maybe you are curious about the whitewashing of evangelicalism or are suspicious about its existence. If so, here are three areas where we see such whitewashing in the evangelical community.

1) Conservative Evangelicals Tend to be More Informed about European Participation in the History of Christianity than we are of African Involvement.

As one noted scholar stated so eloquently, the prominent distinguishing factor of African-Americans is the history of social, economic and political oppression that they have experienced based upon color discrimination.[3]

Such oppression has lead to systemic and institutional racism, violence, and discrimination, but it’s also contributed to the widespread ignorance of the African-Americas influence in this country.

It can be equally true within evangelical circles because many of my white brothers and sisters are largely ignorant of the Christian communities that thrived in Africa following Christianity’s inceptions.

North Africa

In North Africa, Christianity spread more broadly and more quickly than other parts of the Roman Empire, and as one scholar noted, it was through Africa that Christianity became the religion of the world.[4] It’s credited with nearly half of the most prominent church leaders in the first few centuries, and a fair number of them were fairly dark in complexion. The Gospel found one of its surest homes until it grew weaker because of internal doctrinal schisms and Islamic conquests sweeping the region.

Nubia

A little further south in Nubia, Christianity continued to grow rapidly in the region and archeologist discovered that his splendor was similar to Rome. The first non-Jewish Christian in the New Testament, The Ethiopian Eunuch, who came to faith in Acts 8, was a high-ranking member of Queen Candace’s court, represented the ancient Nubian civilization.

It continued to flourish into the 300s and 400s and became a predominately Christian nation, when it’s ruler, who practiced human sacrifices at the time, converted to Christianity in the 400s.

Nubians accepted Christianity without the sway of Roman influence and clung to it tenaciously despite organizational weakness and Islamic conquest in most of North Africa. It would eventually succumb, but it was a brilliant Christian civilization that remained largely forgotten until archeologist discovered it’s remarkable accomplishments in the second half of the 21st century.[5]

Abyssinia

Abyssinia, or Ethiopia, in East Africa, holds a very significant place in Christian history. Christianity became the religion of Ethiopia around the same time that it became the state religion of Rome. It accepted the same doctrines of North Africa while formally recognizing the Councils of Nicea (325 A.D.), Constantinople (381 A.D.), and Ephesus (431 A.D.). Ethiopia may have been the most open and ready nation in which Christianity has ever taken root. When Islam began to spread, it was Ethiopia that fought for the rights of oppressed Christians in foreign lands and it’s the first Sub-Sahara nation to accept Christianity.[6]

We cannot become a victim of European historiography that exclusively acknowledges its own cultural and historical contributions, then assumes that the resulting ethnocentric position represents the only history worth engaging. Such philosophy only reinforces the false assumption that our history is substandard to other cultures in general, but to the dominant culture in particular.

2) Whitewashing has Crept into the Ivory Towers of Many Conservative Evangelical Seminary

Minority students in conservative evangelical seminaries have unwittingly experienced the effects of this phenomenon, as well. While being educated in some of our schools, minorities will study the Apostolic Fathers, Ante-Nicene Writers, The Medieval Church, Scholasticism, the Reformation, the Enlightenment Church, Modern & Post-Modern Churches, but have little to no working knowledge of African-American history, especially key periods and social movements in African-American Religious History.

They have no working knowledge of the history of Christianity in Africa (i.e. North Africa, Nubia, Abyssinia, etc.), the African-American Church, the Reconstruction period, The Great Migration, the Civil Rights Movement, the rise of Black Nationalism, nor have they read any books by contemporary African-American authors. Because of this many graduates and find themselves largely unequipped to minister in minority context because they lack a socio-historical lens to pastor people of color.

What’s even more unnerving is the growing number of African-Americans, especially in Reformed circles, who will not listen to sermons by black pastors unless they’ve received a stamp of approval from an evangelical Christian leader, blogged for TGC, are a part of Acts29 or the Southern Baptist Conference, or have preached in the reformed conference circuit. It’s saddening.

3) Whitewashing Implies that Being a Christian Means Assimilating into the Dominant Culture.

At times, many White Americans assume that “being Christian” means assuming into the values and norms of the majority context, and some of the same members object when ethnic minorities seek to learn more about their heritage and focus much of their effort on the betterment of their own people.

As lovers of Jesus who are unified by his atoning work, we cannot define unity in terms that suppress rather than welcomes brothers and sisters discovering our cultural heritage.  As Christians, when we recognize the credence of other ethnicities and the value of their distinctive customs, lifestyles, dress, food preference, and particularly their economic and political beliefs it causes us to appreciate God using them as agents of gospel witnesses in their communities.

At times when minorities assimilate into the dominant culture and dismiss their cultural heritage, it leaves them unable to culturally connect and find solidarity with marginalized communities.

Takeaway

There’s much that we can talk about regarding this subject. Instead of whitewashing, let’s give credence to the contributions of minority cultures to Christianity and western civilization as a whole, and reverse the effects of whitewashing by affirming Paul’s great call for racial, social, gender, and cultural equality (Gal. 3:28) in Christ Jesus.

Talk to you soon.

Grace and peace.

[1]HTTP://WWW.LATIMES.COM/ENTERTAINMENT/LA-ET-OSCARS-SO-WHITE-REACTION-HTMLSTORY.HTML

[2][3] LANE, E. B. (1997). THE AFRICAN AMERICAN CHRISTIAN MAN: RECLAIMING THE VILLAGE. DALLAS: BLACK FAMILY PRESS, 156.

[3] IBN, 24

[4] USRY, G., & KEENER, C. S. (1996). BLACK MAN’S RELIGION: CAN CHRISTIANITY BE AFROCENTRIC? DOWNERS GROVE, IL: INTERVARSITY PRESS, 33

[5] Davidson, Basil. Africa in History: Themes and Outlines. New York: Collier, 1991. 102

[6] Hansberry, W. L., & Harris, J. E. (1974). Pillars in Ethiopian history. Washington: Howard University Press.


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 Ernest Grant, II is an inner city missionary with a heart for the urban context. He’s served as the Connections Pastor at Epiphany Fellowship of Camden for the past 5 years, and his role focuses on community outreach, civic engagement, the assimilation of new converts & disenfranchised Christians into the life and mission of the church, and discovering new & innovative ways to reach people in his city for Jesus. He graduated with a degree in Earth Science from Kean University and worked at a large Environmental Investigation/Remediation firm before completing his Master’s at Reformed Theological Seminary (D.C). He’s currently pursuing his Doctorate of Education in Organizational Leadership at Richard Stockton University and is  privileged to be married to the love of his life, Sarah. The two have a beautiful baby girl named Amaela Folasade.

Black Church Figures You Should Know - Nat Turner

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.

Nathaniel “Nat” Turner

Nathaniel “Nat” Turner was born on October 2, 1800 as a slave in Southampton County, Virginia.  His mother was named Nancy, was a native African.  His owner, Benjamin Turner, allowed Nat to be instructed in reading, writing, and religion.  Early on, he devoted much of his time reading the Bible, praying, and fasting.  It is said that Nat had the ability to describe things that happened before his birth.  Some ventured to say that he “surely would become a prophet” based on his ability to see signs.

By the early 1820s, Nat had worked on a number of plantations.  In 1821, he ran from his current owner Samuel Turner’s (brother of Benjamin Turner) plantation.  It was while in hiding that Nat believed he received a sign from God telling him that he was to lead his people from bondage.  So he returned to the plantation and began to preach to the slaves who began calling him “the Prophet”.

In February of 1831, Nat Turner received another sign, in the form of a solar eclipse, to signify to him that the time for revolt was imminent.  He spent months developing his plan and gathering recruits.  On August 21, 1831, Turner and seven other slaves began the only effective, sustained slave rebellion in U.S. history.  The Nat Turner revolt resulted in a gathering of nearly 40-50 slaves securing arms and horses to murder about 55 white men and the spread of terror across the South.  Although the revolt caused stricter legislation prohibiting the education, movement, and assembly of slaves up until the Civil war in 1861, it also eradicated the myth that slaves were either content being slaves or were too submissive to mount an armed revolt. 

Nat turner was eventually found and hanged in Jerusalem (now Courtland), VA on November 11, 1831.  It is believed that for many years subsequent to Turner’s death, Black churches throughout the country referred to the name Jerusalem not only from the bible but also covertly to the place of Nat Turner’s execution.  

For more information, visit:

A Rebellion to Remember: The Legacy of Nat Turner

History.com – Nat Turner