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Posted on: 02/27/06:

Reformed Black History Notes

Category: History
Posted by: Merobin
February

Historically speaking, why were/are there so few African-American Presbyterians? Without wanting to generalize too much, here are a few quick hits from the mid 19th century (and a little later) that get at Reformed Black history through relating theology to culture. This is largely based on some readings of Presbyterian materials on mission/evangelism to southern slaves in the 18th century (and slightly beyond).

First, it is clear that theology comes to us instantiated in a particular culture. It is not mediated via concepts only. It is appropriated in language, thought matrices, etc. in accidents of culture. This reality is predicated upon/analogous to the greater reality that the Eternal Son of God came down to earth. God was truly with us! “Veiled in flesh, the Godhead see. Hail the incarnate deity!”

So, when Presbyterian plantation missionaries spoke of ‘true religion’, they were speaking of religion which had an unmistakable cultural form to it and that differed from the cultural forms of the general African-American population. Because cultures differ, the conveyance of theological truth can be obstructed and obscured as the differing symbolic orientations of the various groups clash. This was certainly the case with reformed theology and African-Americans. It wasn’t reformed theology per se that proved inimical to blacks but the particular cultural garb (religion) in which it was transmitted that did. It is clear that Presbyterian missionary approaches “evinced the vast social and cultural chasm separating orthodox churches from the experience of African-American slaves”. Presbyterians in general and relative to black slaves, were oriented toward conceiving of reformed religious experience as catechetical, as a “process of nurturing” whereby a person grows in grace principally through cognitive based learning and not dynamic existential interactions and encounters through the Spirit (not that these are completely antithetical). Certainly, the truth which Presby missionaries propagated was truly reformation teaching as I read it. Their slave preaching was a genuine proclamation of the gospel of grace. It was not Arminianism. The issue however was not with the truth or content of what was taught, the ‘gospel of grace’, but the cultural character of it, the ‘proclamation’. I do not mean to drive a wedge between theology and culture for at the end of the day, they are inextricably intertwined. I do however mean to say that when African-Americans rejected reformed denominations in favor of other ones, they were rejecting the Presbyterian/Anglican subculture as much, if not more than the theological systems upon which those reformed denominations were built.

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Category: Black
Posted by: RBAFounderX
A march

Some good questions pertaining to a Black Reformed movement were posed in the RBA Forum and I thought I would also respond via blogging to make my comments more public.

Here are the questions:
…if it is a biblical movement - then does race remain an issue?

Not to say that being reformed cannot have cultural distinctions - of course it can and does. But as a "movement" how would a black reformed movement look different than another reformed movement? (Are there other reformed 'movements'?)

I guess what I am asking really strikes at the core of multicultural thinking in the church. How far can it go before it becomes multi-divisional?

I mean, is there anything apart from 'preference' that should separate us as reformed Christians?

I mean, when the rubber meets the road, will this black reformed movement look somehow different than particular Christians serving Christ in their particular community?

Unfortunately, race does remain an issue and a biblical movement is not at odds with a particular racial/cultural emphasis, such as a Black Reformed movement. This is true of any movement because most, if not all movements have a particular emphasis, but that does not exclude itself from its larger context and from being biblical (e.g. different church planting movements, broadly evangelical and reformed ministries and Promise Keepers would be a more concrete example of this…essentially its everywhere).

Race, as I just mention does remain an issue. For instance, if race does not matter, then everyone would be marrying everyone or anyone. But that is far from the case because the marriage distribution is far from random. Take Blacks and Whites, they marry folks outside of their race less than 2% of the time. Moreover, look at it from a neighborhood perspective, people live where they live and go where they go because of race. In other words, race shapes and determines whether people will reside or even drive. In every major cites there are areas where folks know not to go and those areas are generally full of non-whites and that area is usually called the “inner-city,” which is normally associated with drugs, crime, and poverty, etc. So race matters.

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Posted on: 02/22/06:

Life and Death

Category: General
Posted by: epeay
Heart

As I consider the prospect of serving the Body of Christ through this blog page, I am overwhelmed with the significance and responsibility of words. One word can influence someone’s life for the rest of their lives. This is especially true when it comes to spiritual matters (which touches every other human experience). I pray that my words only would serve as a blessing in some way as you, my family in Christ , live lives driven by a passion to see God glorified. I pray that my words would direct those who are unsaved who may visit the RBA website to see how their lives are empty of life on earth and full of wrath after death without having a relationship with God through Jesus Christ. I pray that my words would never hinder anyone from seeing the beauty of God. Lord, please give me Your grace.

This holy fear of the consequences of words is rooted in the reality that no word can be spoken and no action committed (and even no thought entertained) that will not have at least indirect effects on others. We were created to be interpersonal beings (with God and with each other). When sin entered the world, it changed the way that those relationships would function. So now, we are helplessly tied to the effects of the potentially sinful thoughts, words, and actions of others (But we are not hopelessly tied. Praise God for His redemptive power). It is in this holy fear that I write this first entry, warning myself and the entire Body of Christ to be sober about the significance and responsibility of our thoughts, words, and actions in this world.

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Category: History
Posted by: RBAFounderX
Morgan Freeman

Morgan Freeman’s comments a couple of months ago on Black History month have resurfaced and re-charged the Black History month debate and whether it has outlived its course. So I figured I would re-post my critiques and commentary on the issue with some new editions

Check out what Dodson has to say about the usefulness of Black History Month:
Howard Dodson, director of the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture, disagreed.

“The notion that it’s outlived its usefulness betrays some ignorance of what its purpose was in the first place,” said Dodson, whose New York-based center is a leading source of information on black history.

“I find it interesting that no one suggests we stop studying white history on a year-round basis,” Dodson said. “If you follow the logic who say Black History Month has outlived its usefulness, they’re also saying that institutions like the Schomburg have outlived their usefulness” (Source).
Need I say more? Hmmmm….well, I probably don’t, but I have 2 cents to lose.

So can I vent for a second? Why in the world do we have another actor speaking up again anyway? Because they play all these “smart” roles, does that make them scholars? I think I might take up some acting classes if I can get a gig saying anything I am want with a captive audience and microphone always around.

At any rate, here is what Morgan Freeman had to say before I make my comments:
"You're going to relegate my history to a month?" the 68-year-old actor says in an interview on CBS' "60 Minutes" to air Sunday (7 p.m. EST). "I don't want a black history month. Black history is American history."

Black History Month has roots in historian Carter G. Woodson's Negro History Week, which he designated in 1926 as the second week in February to mark the birthdays of Frederick Douglass and Abraham Lincoln.

Woodson said he hoped the week could one day be eliminated — when black history would become fundamental to American history.

Freeman notes there is no "white history month," and says the only way to get rid of racism is to "stop talking about it."

The actor says he believes the labels "black" and "white" are an obstacle to beating racism.
"I am going to stop calling you a white man and I'm going to ask you to stop calling me a black man," Freeman says.

Well there you have it. Good ole Morgan has done away with black history month. This is not to say that I am pro-black history month, but that is another issue altogether. See my blog post, A Discussion on Black History Month for more clarity on where I stand with regards to Black history month.

Two questions for Morg: I wonder when Morgan was growing up…let’s say when he was 13 in the year of 1950 (1) was Americans being taught anything about Blacks contribution in “American history?” (2) I also wonder how far does Morgan think America and its educational system have progressed it that area?

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Category: History
Posted by: RBAFounderX
Black History Month Calendar

In light of Black history month, I thought I would do something a little different with this blog by sharing a portion of my discussion with someone on Black history month.

1. It was said,
Contributions by Americans of African decent shouldn't be segregated from the rest of the contributions and accomplishments of other Americans. Do anybody recall an American of Asian decent month or an American of Hispanic decent month?
Black history should be a part of American history, but that is primarily a good ideal theoretical belief because practically and in reality, "Black history" is pretty marginalized in the historicizing of America. In other words, the ideal does not correspond to reality. Moreover, to compare the possible need for an Asian history month to a Black history month is in a large sense comparing apples to oranges. Blacks and Asians do not share the exact same experience in American history. The historical suffering and plight of Blacks in American life is uniquely different from the Asian-American experience (but this does not mean that Blacks have the corner on suffering). Therefore, the history and experience of Blacks should not be truncated by other ethnic groups whose history is different and especially knowing that usually sub-dominant history is included in the (American) storyline at a skewed minimum.

2.
Once upon a time black history month most likely was needed. During the era of Jim Crow and Black Codes, the only schools that thought the achievements of blacks in America were in black schools. This however is 2006. We need to think as Americans. Our accomplishments are as Americans.
I would suggest that there would be very little "Black history" as we know it today, if it were not for those Blacks who fought to bring it into its rightful place in the history of America with Black history month being a part of that initiative as it were. Moreover, I am not quite sure what it means to think as "Americans," let alone whether, I would want to.

3.
A person should love themselves as a person. I'm not in love with my pigmentation, because it's my brain that defines me as a person.
Yes, we should love ourselves as a person, which is something we do by inherently. However, we cannot love ourselves divorced from our particular "race," culture, community, and context because whether we like it or not, it is those things (and more) that defines who we are in a very real sense. Therefore, to love who I am as a person means also to love those things that gives shape to my person (e.g. race, culture, community, etc). In other words, the person and the person's context are inextricably connected to one another. There is an interplay between them because they speak to and inform each other.

4. In regards to the question, "why can't black parents teach their own children about black history?"

Black parents can, but of course, this does not get around the reality of skewed sources that marginalizes certain aspects. To put it another way, a parent could teach their kids anything, but if the source from which the kids are taught is inadequate, then whatever the parents teach would not be helpful at best. So I agree that information is out there, but just because it is out there does not necessarily mean it is the full story. Now don't get me wrong, I am not saying that everything out there is completely wrong, but I am saying that prior to the emphasis of Black history and its month, I believe it is fair to say that it was not the whole story.

So my basic point is not to support Black history month as the ultimate cure for Black history education among Blacks or Whites for that matter, but rather as a restorative balance to the white-dominated historicizing of America.

Founder Xavier Pickett
Category: Church
Posted by: Lance Lewis
Fellowship of the Ring

‘I will do it!’. . . ‘I will take the ring to Mordor!’. . . ‘But I do not know the way.’ Thus said Frodo Baggins in the film adaptation of The Lord of the Rings – The Fellowship of the Ring. With those words the Fellowship of the Ring was born. Nine companions set out to return the ring of power to the realm of Mordor and cast it into the fires of Mt. Doom from whence it was forged. This fellowship was not your average Sunday ice cream social. These companions weren’t drawn together because they liked each other or felt the need to satisfy their longing for some surface emotional or psychological comfort. Their fellowship was vital in order to accomplish the mission that lay ahead. Although they came from four different races, featured nine different temperaments and had various abilities required for the mission they were bound by a single common commitment. The fellowship of the ring existed to get Frodo to Mt. Doom so he could destroy the ring of power and thus save Middle Earth from complete destruction.

One of the unintended, but beneficial consequences of ‘The Fellowship of the Ring’ was the re-casting of the term ‘fellowship’ back to its more basic biblical meaning. Far too often in the church we use the term fellowship to describe the kind of socials we have instead of defining the kind of group we are. Is it any wonder then that many treat the local fellowship like an after church open house? We drop in and drop out with little or no commitment to the people, leadership and mission of that local church. My last blog, ‘Battle Station: Part 8 - The Necessity of the Church’ put forth the case for the continuing ministry of the local church as God’s instrument to renew our communities. In that blog I asserted that the biblical evidence for individual believers belonging to a local fellowship is voluminous.

To support that claim I’d like us to take a short survey of the book of the Acts of the Apostles. Though Acts doesn’t record the birth of the church (God has had a people since He created mankind) it does detail the genesis of the church as it exists now. Beginning in the first chapter we find that the church is to focus its mission on the here and now as we await the hereafter. Our Lord responded to a question concerning the fullness of the kingdom by replying that the church will receive power to be His witness throughout the entire world. We are called to witness, not stargaze.

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Category: Church
Posted by: Lance Lewis
Barna's Revolution Book

Every year I make the same promise in the beginning of December. In my mind I say ‘I Lance Lewis do hereby and forthwith promise and covenant that I will not wait until Christmas Eve to start and finish my Christmas shopping’. I imagine myself dutifully ordering gifts over the net, using my day off to arrive at various shops in the morning and having everything wrapped (sorry for the pun) by say Dec. 14 or 15. I then fantasize about how I’ll scorn all those disorganized procrastinators who waited to the last minute and will spend the day before Christmas meandering in the mall hoping to find the perfect gift from the scraps that are left. Yes, every year I make that promise to myself and every year without fail I break it. So last year, like the year before that and the year before that one I found myself meandering the aisles of the brand big box store hoping to find the perfect gift.

As I left the store to hurry home, finish cleaning and get the holiday movies started (and this past Christmas to finish my sermon) I was given a brochure by someone standing outside the store. Since had to wait for my children to purchase their gifts I decided to hop in our van and read the brochure to pass the time. The tract was an appeal to faith in Christ. It was written as a series of questions which for the most part were quite insightful. The questions addressed the person of Christ, the issue of sin and called for faith in Christ as the only way to escape God’s anger with sin. It was the final question that caught my attention however. The question asked ‘Should I go to a church’ the answer to the question was an emphatic ‘absolutely not! This was followed by the claim that the Lord Jesus was no longer working through but outside the church. Thus, anyone who wishes to grow into any meaningful relationship with Christ must not even think of darkening the door of a church.

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Category: Black
Posted by: RBAFounderX
Black Fist

Even in 2006, when the word “black” is used to describe anything, why do I get the sense that it seem like it is taboo? Is it improper to talk about or even have the word “black” to describe anything like “Black” studies, “Black” writings, “Black” music, “Black” organizations, or even "Black" theology, etc? Of course, I understand how both the theological and political left and right and everyone in between have used the term “black” historically. Usually, the left likes to wear their pro-Black t-shirts and the right wants to wear a button-down shirt over their pro-Black t-shirts (assuming they haven’t taken it off already). Is there any middle ground between these two battlefields?

Yes, I believe that there is a middle ground, but for right now, I want to talk about this same sort of tension in another very familiar setting, at least for some, the Black (theologically) conservative setting, reformed or not. Nevertheless, I do want to primarily focus on the Black Reformed context, (though, much of what I plan to say will be applicable to the broader theologically conservative setting, Black or White).

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Category: Social
Posted by: Merobin
At the risk of obscene reductionism, I would suggest that all social criticism of the black community falls along a continuum oriented around two poles: individual and communal problems/solutions. This is not particularly revelatory but note the following:

Winning The Race

"My purpose will be to show that it must stop being considered "controversial" to acknowledge that cultural change played a central role here. Specifically, I believe that we cannot understand our past without fully facing that alienation and disidentification can thrive independently of modern causes because they can serve other psychological purposes. There can be no useful perspective on black America's trajectory that neglects the impact of therapeutic alientation. To move forward, we must trace it, face it, and erase it. This book, section by seciton, is about how we can do all three." (Winning the Race, John McWhorter)

The Anatomy of Racial Inequality

“These big ideas incline me to the following major conclusion: The unfair treatment of persons based upon race in formal economic transactions is no longer the most significant barrier to the full participation of blacks in American life. More important is the fact that too many African American cannot gain access on anything approaching equal terms to social resources that are essential for human flourishing, but that are made available to individuals primarily through informal, culturally mediated, race-influenced social intercourse.……achieving the elusive goal of racial justice requires that we undertake, as a conscious end of policy, to eliminate the objective disparity in economic and social capacity between race-segregated networks of affiliation that continue to characterize the social structure of American public life.” (The Anatomy of Racial Inequality, Glenn Loury)

For McWhorter, black problems are principally psychological, stemming from ‘therapeutic alienation’ and thus internal to blacks and the black community. He defines it (therapeutic alienation) as “alienation unconnected to, or vastly disproportionate to, real-life stimulus, but maintained because it reinforces one's sense of psychological legitimacy, via defining onself against an oppressor characterized as eternally depraved”. (HT: Justin Taylor for McWhorter quotes) Isn’t he saying that the individual black psyche is the problem (though he speaks collectively of the black community)?

For Loury, black problems are primarily sociological. They are part of the communal, systemic fabric of American life.

There are so many issues here which are so susceptible to simplistic pop analysis but cursorily speaking, for my part, I’m persuaded more by the nuance and sophistication of Loury’s arguments (though I haven’t read McWhorter’s latest book yet). His(Loury) economic analysis is rooted in sociological observations which strike me as but reflections of very theological ideas.

1) Trinitarian – God, as He is in Himself, is One and three. He is God over all (individual) and He is Father, Son and Holy Spirit (community of persons). Humans made in His image exists as individuals and in community (not perfectly analogical here but seems to apply at some level). We can only understand ourselves as we know our communal context and our individuality. Loury deals carefully with both of these poles of our existence – individual & communal.

2) Covenantal – We can only understand ourselves in relationship to God and His world. Social problems don’t occur in a vacuum and can’t be remedied by “pull yourselves up by the bootstraps” ideology alone, though individual initiative is not to be neglected. Come to think of it, McWhorter and Loury (maybe Steele, Sowell, West, Dyson, etc.?) may differ by degrees of emphasis in their analysis. Just some semi-coherent reflections from an amateur socio-political observer. Talk to me about this.

Mark Robinson
Category: Black
Posted by: RBAFounderMM
Black Thinking Statue

I readily admit that we need to rethink what we believe. But we cannot rearticulate reality for others until we first rethink and reconsider reality for ourselves. Some form of rearticulation or contextualization of Reformed theology is important for Blacks, although I do not have in full view how such rearticulation will look. However, we do understand that rethinking each aspect of one’s reality is a valued exercise in each of our lives. Therefore, the first step in reaching the goal of rearticulation lies in recognizing and appreciating the need for such an exercise. I suppose, if careful steps are ever in order, it is certainly now. (As a valued man in my life once said, “If you are going to journey through the Scriptures, you should interpret wearing snow shoes, not steel toe boots.”)

The process of rearticulation should not necessarily look like the early reformer’s attempts. In fact, the Westminster Confession is rearticulation and contextualization of doctrine. Our articulation may follow a different path or format, not merely because of who formed it, and definitely not because of the content of it, but because of the rationale by which it was formed. (Nor should our rearticulation necessarily bear similarity to the standard doctrinal order of a systematic theology.)

The formation of the Confession and the history of Reformed theological and biblical study, although important in its own right and useful for today, is in general heavily rationalistic and scientific. In forming theology, the past reformers strived to follow rigid concepts of meticulous logical consistency and objective, intellectual study. They defined theology broadly as “the science of the facts of divine revelation (Hodge)”. Today, we understand theology more as “the application of Scripture to life (Frame, Ellis)”. They (Berkhof and many others) defined hermeneutics (the study of meaning) as the study of rules for interpreting meaning. The present-day focus in the Reformed camp is to define hermeneutics as the study of all influences on the processes of interpreting meaning. Therefore, today we understand such functions as theology and interpretation as being foundationally an interaction with each aspect of reality. This represents a fundamental shift in the way we as Reformed people today recognize and consider each aspect of reality.

There are numerous contrasts between the thinking of the early Reformers and the present day landscape of Reformed theology. These contrasts, which should be considered evidence of growth and progress, should be sought out and understood. We should consider these contrasts as enhancements, and not criticize the past reformers, but rather 1) realize and visualize the way in which we are already rethinking reality and 2) find some delineation and structure for the path we seek to take from reconsideration to rearticulation for Black folks.

So the stage is set for rearticulation. But first we must take the opportunity to rethink and reassess our reality. And then we can take up the critical task of identifying a path. It is critical that we identify, describe and formulate that transition, path or trajectory to follow that leads us from reconsideration and reassessment to the end point of rearticulation. Therefore, the setup is: exercise of rethinking and reconsideration-then-exercise of delineating a path-then-exercise of rearticulation.

Founder Michael Mewborn
Posted on: 02/03/06:

Battle Stations Part 7D

Category: Church
Posted by: Lance Lewis
Worshippers

Let the Praise begin! The song calls us to worship assuring us that if we just praise hard enough God will erase all our troubles and problems. But is that what worship is all about? Is Christian worship no more than a grand exercise to convince God of our sincerity and thus manipulate Him into dropping down the goodies? I’ve taken longer than planned to discuss the second significant aspect of our new Biblically driven Reformed churches which is Biblically driven doxology. I believe this is important because it appears our ‘worship’ is rapidly degenerating into a pagan spectacle. So far we’ve examined Leviticus 9 and explored the Biblical foundations for worship and elements of worship (“Battle Stations Part 7B” and “Battle Stations Part 7C”). Though there is much more to be said about worship we’ll end by taking a closer look at three of the more prominent elements of that are still displayed in most evangelical services.

Let’s start with the place music and singing occupies in worship. I'm sure many of us are aware that what to sing in worship has dominated the American church for the better part of two decades. And I know that I won’t answer all questions or settle all controversies regarding this important issue with one short blog. Let me encourage God's people however to lift our voices in corporate psalmnistic singing. What kind of singing is that you ask? First of all it puts a heavy emphasis on congregational singing. This isn't to say that there's no place for special music, just that most of the singing on Sunday morning ought to be corporate praise. God’s people should enjoy the blessing of lifting our voices together for much of our time of singing on Sunday morning as opposed to listening to semi-professional groups perform songs for us. The psalm writers repeatedly encourage all of God’s people to sing the songs of Zion. Secondly, psalmnistic singing features songs that speak of the grandeur, majesty and attributes of God as expressed in the Person and work of Jesus Christ. Think of the psalms that we all acknowledge was the song book of the Old Testament saints and infant New Testament church. The psalms aren't just pithy choruses about our experiences; instead they move us to worship God by extolling His virtues and character. For example, Psalm 33 begins 'Sing joyfully to the LORD, you righteous; it is fitting for the upright to praise him. Praise the LORD with the harp; make music to him on the ten-stringed lyre. Sing to him a new song; play skillfully, and shout for joy. For the word of the LORD is right and true; he is faithful in all he does. The LORD loves righteousness and justice; the earth is full of his unfailing love'. The Psalm continues to tell of the great character and work of our Covenant Lord which fleshes out the substance of the song. Thirdly, psalmnisitic singing marries our Biblical convictions with the ethnic heritage He has sovereignly placed us in. God doesn't mandate that all ethnic groups copy the musical forms of any particular group. Biblical evidence seems to suggest that what makes our praise beautiful is that it comes from a redeemed people who utilize their indigenous musical forms to praise the Lord who loved us and has freed us from our sins by His blood.

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Posted on: 02/01/06:

Reforming reformed thought?

Category: Theology
Posted by: Merobin
Overlapping Circles

My friend Amy evinces the most interesting cultural mix in one person that I know. She is of Chinese descent, was born in Hong Kong, grew up in black inner city Boston and Chinatown-NYC, attended elite predominantly white preppy schools (Wellesley prep, and Univ. of Penn), and married a quiet, cool, analytical, white guy from Long Island. These things combine with her acute social sensibilities and profound powers of psychological perception to make for very interesting and illuminating interactions to say the least. One day, in the midst of one of those conversations in which a group of us were playing the part of pseudo-cultural anthropologists, she asked the following:

“If there are three birds on a branch and one gets shot, how many remain?”

Perhaps you’ve heard this before or something like it. The question is intended to demonstrate the thinking style/pattern of the one answering. More generally, it is supposed to show us how different cultures have different thinking styles or variegated thought matrices. For instance, the western born person (North American, European, etc.) would most likely answer –‘ two’, whereas people of a more Eastern mind (Asia, Africa) would answer – ‘zero’. Why?

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