Jan

16

2013

Jemar Tisby|10:00 PM CT

5 Factors in the Rise of Reformed Theology Among African Americans

Reformed theology is nothing new. So why do more African Americans seem to be adopting it now?

We see evidence of Reformed teaching gaining traction in the African American community through organizations like the Reformed African American Network (RAAN), authors like Anthony Carter and Trillia Newbell, and urban conferences such as Legacy. But Reformed theology has been part of the Black church tradition since the days of slavery. However, as Thabiti Anyabwile observes in his book The Decline of African American Theology, African Americans were often prevented from acquiring formal education, so they haven't always used academic and theological categories to express their religious beliefs. Nevertheless, ideas emphasized in Reformed theology — God's sovereignty, the authority of the Bible, and God's faithfulness — have long been hallmarks of the historic Black church. Even where theological jargon was absent, these ideas have been captured in the sermons of Black preachers, sung in Negro spirituals, and visible in the traditions of the African American church.

So why, then, have the formal categories of Reformed theology become more commonly circulated among African Americans in recent years? Here are five attempts to answer that question.

1.) Christian Hip-Hop

The musical genre of hip-hop has long connected with an African American, urban, and youthful crowd. Christian hip-hop (CHH) artists, many of whom have Reformed leanings, have successfully paired infectious beats with transformational truths of the gospel and reached new segments of the population. At the vanguard of CHH is Lecrae, who has achieved cross-over success with two Grammy nominations, a #1 album on iTunes, and a free mixtape with more than 280,000 downloads.

2.) The Digital Age

With the stroke of a key, the click of a button, or the tap of a screen, anyone can access a host of content from many of the most gifted preachers and teachers. African Americans have learned Reformed theology through radio ministriessermon podcasts, or seminary courses. Never has it been easier for anyone, at any time, and in any place to hear the best of Reformed theology.

3.) Greater Access to Reformed Education

No longer are African Americans forbidden by legal or social barriers to attend schools that teach Reformed theology. This is not to say that all obstacles have disappeared. The United States has not "arrived" in terms of racial and ethnic equality. However, there has been progress. Daniel Aleshire, president of the Association of Theological Schools, indicates that African Americans are represented in seminary in proportions close to the U.S. population. Some Reformed schools even have specific programs to engage ethnic minorities.

4.) Hunger for Biblical Teaching 

All Christians who "taste and see that the Lord is good" develop a hunger for solid spiritual food. Many African Americans looking for rich, biblical teaching have found a home in Reformed theology.

By highlighting historic creeds, influential theologians, majestic hymns, exegetical preaching, and carefully crafted systems of thought, Reformed theology has conveyed the splendor of God to countless Christians for centuries. African Americans are no exception. As one person commented on RAAN, "Once I was exposed to the doctrines of grace, I realized the depth of the true gospel and my need for a deeper relationship with Christ."

5.) God Is Sovereign

God's sovereignty is a mainstay of Reformed theology. The Bible teaches that God is in charge. "Who has spoken and it came to pass, unless the Lord has commanded it?" (Lam. 3:37) We creatures are subject to our Creator.  "Many are the plans in the mind of a man, but it is the purpose of the Lord that will stand" (Proverbs 19:21).

No human being engineered the course of history so that Reformed theological categories would gain increased acceptance among certain groups of African Americans. But if Christians understand the causes--both spiritual and temporal--that lead to the spread of the gospel, we can use that information to make Christ known among all kinds of people.

Ultimately, labels like "Reformed" don't matter so much as the good news that Jesus Christ has died for all races, ethnicities, cultures, and classes. So let us make every effort to proclaim this gospel using the means available in our day.

Jemar Tisby, born and raised near Chicago, attended the University of Notre Dame and is now pursuing an MDiv at Reformed Theological Seminary in Jackson, Mississippi. He is the co-founder of the Reformed African American Network. He serves as an intern with Redeemer Church Jackson with humble hopes of church planting in the future. He and his wife, Janee’, have a 2-year-old son, Jack. You can follow him on Twitter and read his blog.

Categories: Bible and Theology
  • John

    I'm skeptical. Where is the evidence that Reformed theology is gaining traction in the African-American community? I don't see many AA Reformed churches being planted in New York and other large cities. In which AA community are you seeing this supposed rise in interest in Reformed theology?

    • http://www.raanetwork.org Jemar

      John,

      Your skepticism is warranted. I do indeed believe that Reformed theology (at least the formal categories for it) is on the rise among African Americans. But it is moving at different paces in different places.

      We must be patient because there's a progression that must take place. First, we need to recognize that Reformed African Americans actually exist. We may be somewhat few in number and spread out geographically, but we're here.

      Next, we need to increase the opportunities for theological training for African Americans who want to learn Reformed theology. These opportunities will range from formal to informal. It could be pastors doing a book study with a few curious individuals in a coffee shop, going through a church residency program, or attending seminary.

      To really affect change in the church, though, we must start new churches and transform existing ones with leaders who understand and teach trustworthy, biblical doctrine. I pray for massive church planting in African American communities and for many, many people to ask their leaders to give them solid spiritual food.

      In the meantime, take heart. Momentum is building, and I hope you start to sense that in your area soon. Please visit http://www.raanetwork.org for a community of people who share your concerns and content from a biblical perspective. Thanks for your comment.

      Jemar

      • http://rickyroldan.wordpress.com Ricky Roldan

        While I respect the desire to see more African American know reformed theology and all, why does it only have to be AA why not just all ethnicities in all urban communities in general? I am trying to form a Urban Reformed Coalition to include all races within an urban context. In my opinion that would be the ideal biblical cultural mandate not that what the RAAN is doing isn't good and with holy intentions but wouldn't more people be reached rather than one specific group when we reach to all ethnicities? Just my two cents

        • AStev

          Ricky, there's a huge sentence right on the RAAN home page: "Fueling modern reformation in the African American community and the multi-ethnic nation beyond"

          One might compare this to "Jerusalem, Judea, Samaria, and the ends of the earth". Start local, end global.

          • http://rickyroldan.wordpress.com Ricky Roldan

            Very good, thank you brother

    • Ashley T.

      There may not be many Reformed churches that are predominately African American, but I can say, from my church's experience, God has brought 3 different AA families to us, just in the last year. Before this, we had zero. It's so awesome to look at our congregation and see the truth of the gospel displayed, that Jesus is redeeming a people from every tribe, tongue, and nation!

  • http://redeemerhill.org Joe F.

    Check out a book called Glory Road.

  • http://rickyroldan.wordpress.com Ricky Roldan

    Unfortunately you can remove Lecrae from the CHH arena as he doesn't want to associate himself with this genre anymore nor be considered a Christian rapper. Also, I don't think for a minute the cause of this Calvinistic renewal is due to Lecrae but rather to MC's like Shai Linne, Timothy Brindle, Reform Ordinance, Christcentric etc....

    • http://www.raanetwork.org Jemar

      Ricky,

      I understand Lecrae's reticence to be labeled as "Reformed" or as a Christian Hip-Hop" artist. The terms and what people associate with them may not be helpful as he tries to engage a non-Christian audience.

      Yet I've spoken with scores of young African Americans and urban people of many ethnicities who have developed a hunger for weighty biblical teaching through Christian Hip-Hop. Lecrae is often the first artist to whom they are exposed. They then begin listening to some of the artists you listed since they can sometimes be more overtly theological and religious in their lyrics.

      Your point is well-taken, though. And in my conversations about hip-hop with a Christian worldview, I quickly point people to other artists and labels like Lampmode, Collision, High Society Collective, and more.

      Thanks for your comment!

      • http://rickyroldan.wordpress.com Ricky Roldan

        Word....I disagree though with Lecrae resistance to the labels instead of embracing them and showing that CHH artist are dope too.

      • Jona

        Truth!

        • Jona

          I've used music from several of the artist mentioned to encourage my children in the gospel. Lecrae is one of the first and one of their favorites! God has used his music to open new doors of outreach for our family.

  • Daniel Hill

    The last reason is the best: God is sovereign :)

    I can definitely see a rise in solid theology. If you even look at church's such as Epiphany Fellowship in Philadelphia, Blueprint in Atlanta, among others, it is encouraging to see depth to biblical teaching in the African American community.

    In regards to the previous conversations concerning Lecrae, he's actually one of the main ways I began attending seminary in the first place. I listened to him, then he had a few songs with Trip Lee so I checked him out. Then, afterwards, Trip Lee had a collaboration with Shai Linne so I checked out his album The Atonement and realized I had no clue what he was talking about. It helped fuel my hunger for God as I now saw that there was depth to Him. But I never would've gotten there had I not started off with Lecrae.

    I think Lecrae's music serves a different purpose than Shai Linne's or Timothy Brindle's and that's okay. A non-Christian isn't going to listen to The Atonement but they might pick up Rehab. We're called to both share the Gospel and make disciples. Lecrae's music seems to be pointing towards the former while Brindle's points towards the later. But once again, that's okay. How much does it really matter if someone associates themselves with CHH anymore than it matters if someone claims to be a 5-pointer? If he's attempting to build bridges for the Gospel without compromising it's integrity, more power to him.

    In the end, God is sovereign.

    • http://rickyroldan.wordpress.com Ricky Roldan

      Disassociating himself from Christian hip hop and being now subliminal in his music is not advancing the gospel nor is collaborating with blatant God haters and blasphemer on their albums. Lecrae started off well but is on a road to nowhere.

    • http://www.raanetwork.org Jemar

      Great thoughts, Daniel. Your story pretty much describes my journey into Christian Hip Hop as well :-) God is sovereign.

      • http://rickyroldan.wordpress.com Ricky Roldan

        Right, me too. But like I said Lecrae introduced the basic gospel and led cats to Shai and Timothy who actually introduced Calvinism.

  • http://barrettsisus.wix.com/justone Martin Barrett: Cross-OverBeats Ent.

    I think Hip-Hop with a biblical twist is really helping in many ways beyond the black community for it's reaching many cultures these days. It's always refreshing to hear sound teaching in urban communities from rooted teachers not out to rob God's people for that's basically what most communities remember. We not only need to pray but put feet to our faith and train leaders in sound biblical theology beyond rap. Christ did commanded us to make disciples the last I heard and that process isn't easy or quick.

    • http://rickyroldan.wordpress.com Ricky Roldan

      Amen

  • http://urbanresurgence.wordpress.com David

    Jemar,

    It's about time something like this was recognized in public forum. This has been and still is a desire of my heart - to see AA's understand biblical doctrine. Man centered traditions and social nuances have eclipsed Theocentric / Christocentric preaching for too long in the AA community. But we also have to consider that our predecessors were victims of racism / segregation that prohibited AA's from attending sound seminaries (i.e. Jesse Jackson & Al Sharpton) in the 60's.

    It is a slow trajectory, but the Lord is working and I am looking forward to further developments in the AA community regarding doctrinal accuracy and its implications.

    BTW, I conveyed my heart about this a while back after reading Glory Road. My thoughts are here: http://urbanresurgence.wordpress.com/2010/02/27/a-few-thoughts-on-glory-road-the-journeys-of-10-african-americans-into-reformed-christianity/

    d.

    • http://www.raanetwork.org Jemar

      David,

      Well-said in your blog. "Glory Road" had a similar impact on my own faith journey. I appreciate like-minded brothers like yourself. Keep writing, and thanks for reading!

  • Pingback: The Interracial Impact of Lecrae | This Scroll

  • http://thisscroll.com/ TC Robinson

    "However, as Thabiti Anyabwile observes in his book The Decline of African American Theology, African Americans were often prevented from acquiring formal education, so they haven't always used academic and theological categories to express their religious beliefs. Nevertheless, ideas emphasized in Reformed theology — God's sovereignty, the authority of the Bible, and God's faithfulness — have long been hallmarks of the historic Black church. Even where theological jargon was absent, these ideas have been captured in the sermons of Black preachers, sung in Negro spirituals, and visible in the traditions of the African American church."

    Jemar,

    Thanks for this. Thabiti's observation is dead on. Now if Thabiti's observation is correct, which it is, this rise in Reformed theology among African Americans, is nothing more than a rediscovery, if you will.

    Myself, who is Black and Reformed, I laud this.

    • http://www.raanetwork.org Jemar

      TC,

      Yes. The Black church tradition is rich with weighty theology. Reformed/biblical ideas are nothing new in the history of the church. Recovering these doctrines is exciting, but what's even more exciting is the possibility of shaping the future of Reformed theology.

      To that end we have a blog on RAAN where African Americans and people of other ethnicities speak on theology, culture, and all of life from a Reformed perspective. We hope that by including more voices at the table, we can help to continually reform Reformed theology for our current age and its issues.

  • Rob de Roos

    I could could be wrong but I rejoice to see the day when is becomes natural for conservative evangelical Reformed both white and black to sit down together and break bread, enjoy one another's company, fellowship and ministry without the necessity of power plays, or narrowly defined cultural identification that only knows and likes what it likes- more so than Christ. It is coming but in our age of PC, identity politics, special interests, cool hip-hop culture, it is tough. We need to remember that God created diversity and we don't necessarily need to add to this diversity when we share a common humanity and faith and life together in Christ.

  • John

    I'm wondering why AAs would be attracted to Reformed churches and theology when there already is such a deep and dynamic theology and heritage in the AA church and parachurch organizations.

  • Sojo_Truth

    I can attest to certain points within this blog, based on my own personal experience, but not all. I have a relatively solid network of black friends who are in ministry and other vocations while may "bend" toward more expository/pseudo-Reformed positions. I would say more specifically their bent is toward point 4 which addresses strong doctrinal teaching and sound biblical exposition.
    Here's where my personal experience deviates from the angle of this blog a bit and in general. Although many of those who have seminary training and a hunger from strong doctrinal preaching/teaching the vast majority of those individuals are VERY hesitant to have or let themselves be labels as "Reformed". Their experience and background in black churches and in historically more "Charismatic" environments makes them more of a black-sheep insider, with an outsiders perspective and understanding. And while many at first ran full stride into this "new" Reformed teaching after first being exposed, many are forced after a short time to step back and re-evaluate whether or not they are doctrinally/theologically cut from the same cloth as some of their Reformed brothers in Christ.
    Although Reformed teaching is solid, there are reasons, particularly when it comes to Calvinism that make many of us are hesitant to engage in it with full abandonment. Especially considering the historical implications of what that means. For example, although I enjoyed parts of Thabiti's book - it was difficult read for me, because of the bias I felt he painted of the black church. As well as his stance on the doctrines surrounding the gifts of the spirit (he spent much of his time, almost too much on this topic IMHO) and what he believes (key word) to be right about it. This sticking point alone, of Reformed Theology along with some of the more theologically troubling/controversial points of TULIP are going to make this an incredibly hard sell in most parts of the black community. And personally, I can understand why.

    Regardless of how long or hard Reformed folks insist that they are "right" on all things biblical, blacks are extremely cautious when we hear this type of language and dogmatism coming from any religious organization/denomination/belief system etc. Due to our long history with others claiming that they are biblical authorities. Hey, why beat around the bush, I'm mainly referring to the testimony of slaves (i.e. - Frederick Douglass, Booker T, and so many others) and the religious history of slavery etc. The religious/abolitionists likes of Thomas Weld, Harriet Beecher Stowe [grew up Calvinists, but changed a bit], Frederick Douglass, Angelina Grimke and their bent toward the more Wesleyan schools of thought along with the holiness movement should serve, I feel, as a bit of a historical reminder that Reformed folk don’t have it all “right”. The personal experience perspective of the Holiness movement is really what pushed people beyond educational head knowledge and into the foray of being the feet and hands of Christ. Real life ground soldiers – defending justice for the oppressed, feeding the poor, crying out for human rights and dignity of all people, including women. And finally the power of the Holy Spirit, to pull all of that off amidst persecution and struggle. Although it’s absolutely essential , that doesn’t happen through bible knowledge, scripture memory, or perfectly sound doctrine alone, if you catch my drift…..

    Personally, it’s these types of experiences mixed with historical evidence that I have as a black man that make me (and I believe many others) a little less eager to jump on board with “Reformed” luminaries. Along with the unfortunate “pride” and sometimes a bit self-righteous attitude, that seems to follow many in Reformed circles. For example, the lack of brown folks in the Elephant Room series, and then even when they’re invited the typical (in black folks minds) white-male superiority complex inherently assumed. In other words, when Jakes was invited, the questioning that came his way was as if the others assumed that they were theologically/doctrinally superior to Jakes. Although, he may have some issues with the Trinity, the way that he was treated does not bode well for the Reformed movement. Too many stereotypes unfortunately were at play from the outset. More or less, here's another room full of white men schooling the poor native on what he misunderstands regarding theology and doctrine. However, he took it graciously and never questioned some of them on why they are “cessasionists” from a biblical perspective. He played the typical liberal theological role of loving people beyond their theological convictions (right or wrong). This is the black church at it’s best and worst – LOL. My prediction, and I don’t mean this to be taken with any offense…… is that Reformed teaching will continue to gain popularity amongst certain types (a subset) of people within the black community.
    Sorry for writing a book on this, but I’m actually pretty passionate about it. Especially as it relates to that third-person LOL

    • Sojo_Truth

      BTW, sorry for the slew of grammar errors. I was at work and didn't have time to go back and correct many of them.... LOL

    • http://urbanresurgence.wordpress.org David

      Sojo_Truth,

      Considering what you wrote, do you think it is right to "judge" a doctrinal position based on the imperfections of its adherents? In other words, is "Calvinsim" (a term that is misunderstood) wrong because "Calvinists" erred at many points in their lives. If that is your line of thinking, then you must apply that to the Holiness camp as well. For all of the social justices the Holiness movement fought for certainly these men and women had their sins too. So where does one turn? If that's the case, we might as well abandon the faith because all Christians struggle with sin. Does my personal sin invalidate Christianity, as a whole? Of course not.

      The issue is what do the Scriptures teach about the depraved nature of man, God and the salvation He offers through Christ. We simply desire to humbly submit to the Holy Spirit inspired authoritative truths of Scripture, however hard it may be to swallow. Human experience and history do not stand on the same ground as God's objective truth.

      Grace & Peace,

      d.

      • Sojo_Truth

        @ David,
        Thanks for replying. I agree with everything that you said. I believe as well that the flaws of men don't invalidate truth. So, we're of one mind when it comes to that. Except, I think that you may be missing a more broad point that I was trying to make. That no one group, denomination, theological system has a corner on truth. I see each of them as flawed in one respect or another, based on the grounds that we all see through a glass darkly, but luckily one day will see in full (1 Cor. 13:12).. I've been in non-denom Charismatic churches, Methodists, Baptist, Pentecostal, SB Reformed, COGIC, UCC, AME, and many more. Each of them having unique perspectives on the gospel, but also having flaws when lined up against scripture. While some may hold some highly flawed doctrinal positions, other have their own perhaps less blatant, but equally scripturally questionable positions. I find myself listening to David Platt and John Piper (who I love, but don't always agree with) to Chuck Smith (Calvary Chapel) and Daniel Akin (more Traditional SB). Where Chuck Smith and Daniel Akin both believe in some form of Unconditional Election (that God draws men only first by his spirit) they would likely reject the idea that human freewill has no role in the matter. Others believe that "election" refers to the church body as a whole, but reject the idea of individual election (Greg Boyd). I've heard each of these cases presented and find very solid biblical evidence of free-will which would eliminate the possibilities often presented by more extreme forms of Calvinism that only embrace the concept of predestination, for instance. Although, I do find some evidence for their believing this as well. So, I understand where they're all coming from and simply consider it a great mystery that's personally not worth identifying with any one extreme or the other. I have my own personal views/convictions that I gather from scripture, but I don't know it all either.
        That's just one facet of a very complex American Evangelical church body ;-)
        So, yes the bible teaches about the depravity of men, but I don't follow it all of the way to the logical end that many Reformed Calvinists do. I believe in prevenient grace, but believe that men are dead in their sin, not dead period, to the point that they don't play a role in choosing him (John 7:17). I don’t necessarily care to get into any debate about these particular topics, but am just using them to show that there are a multitude of views. While some may be right, wrong, partially right, partially wrong, I at least understand that nobody really can say on certain non-essential topics that they have the answers.

        While the bible is my ultimate guide (and believe me I am an avid bible reader and someone who believes in it’s ultimate authority), I am also informed by my 30+ years of experience in the faith. Part of that experience was shaped by the black church and in particular a spirit-filled expression of the church at large. While that in NO WAY trumps the bible, I do find personal experience as evidence to reinforce what I find in scripture. Some of that evidence is found in the life of Christ in scripture. The tension that he faced with the religious Jewish culture of his day (not washing his hands at the Pharisee’s house, healing on the Sabbath, speaking to women in public, conversing with gentiles and eating at their homes). All forms or parallels with a traditional black church often misunderstood and broad-brush stroked painted as somewhat deviant, loose-cannon, and wrong theologically. Often times it’s true, and has led the acchurch into heretical teachings like the word-of-faith movement which later spawned the prosperity gospel. All, scripturally wrong and in error. At other times, I see how their ability to be moved by the spirit of God and be “led by the spirit” (often associated in Reformed circles as too open-ended and loose) has transformed America (MLK Jr comes to mind). For instance, his theory on the force/power of love was not really liberal theology. It is firmly rooted IMHO in 1 Corinthians 13, and many other scriptures (Matthew 22). The civil rights movement in action helped shed light in America on the contrast between rigid religiosity and spirit-led Christianity.

        I can contrast that against the other extreme often closely bound to scripture, but equally wrong-headed in a legalistic and religious fashion. In many ways, it deceivingly can seem “less harmful” due to it’s strict adherence to scripture, but it’s equally imbalanced and actually leads to bondage.

        This is what I was trying to get across when I mentioned my personal experience and history. While scripture trumps any and all personal experience, I realized how my own testimony and knowing history has reinforced what I find in scripture. Hopefully this makes sense.

        God bless you.

        • http://urbanresurgence.wordpress.org David

          Sojo_truth,

          Thank you for your reply. I understand your position. However, I do think there is one truth concerning salvation and that the Scriptures are pretty clear about the ends and the means. I believe God is most for His glory and what He's entrusted to us in His Word is attainable by the illuminating work of the Holy Spirit as we study, etc. to the end that the church display His manifold wisdom.

          You mentioned that you believe in prevenient grace. Why? Are you convinced this is truthfully what the Scriptures teach? Or just a possible position? You don't have to answer because I respect your desire to not engage in this. Questions like this may not be essential for salvation, but they are entirely essential for sanctification and worship. Having the correct view of man and God, as He's revealed to us in Scripture, is very important.

          Grace & Peace,

          d.

  • Jono

    Man, from a young guy living in Australia, and an avid supporter and listener to 'CHH', pretty much every artist you could name in the christian hh artist i have listened to and know there music well, especially guys like Crae, and when people make rash, theologically incorrect, and unloving comments attempting to point out the wrong in what guys like Crae are doing, it makes me very annoyed, go speak to Chandler, Piper, Giglio and many more and get their opinion. Crae is one of the most Gospel centered guys, His mission like most of ours, to live and display the glory of God, and to see others treasure and live lives that glorify God in the Gospel of Jesus Christ, his actions and music to date have not made me question that one bit, rather only strengthen his claims that this indeed is what He lives for, to see God glorified and see more people come to life in Jesus......Someone give me an Amen.

    • http://rickyroldan.wordpress.com Ricky Roldan

      Have you heard any of Crae's recent interviews brotha?

  • Kedric W.

    Jemar, good to see you on here. I've seen a few things you have written. Hope all is well in Jackson. Sunny Orlando sends you greetings.

    • http://www.raanetwork.org Jemar

      Good to see you here, too Kedric. It snowed in Jackson, MS yesterday, so Orlando is sounding good right now. Thanks for reading!

  • TJ

    Point number five is precisely why more African Americans aren't reformed.

    Telling someone who is enslaved, oppressed, or marginalized that this situation is God's sovereign plan for their lives comes off a little... well, go try telling someone who is the victim of institutional oppression that.

    This is one of many reasons why most African Americans were Methodist during the period of slavery in America. They found it hard to understand God's sovereignty in the classical Reformed manner. And many people who were teaching this specific understand of God's sovereignty were also the ones telling them that they should stay in the place that God put them.

    • Sojo_Truth

      Exactly TJ, and there are many aspects to what you just expressed. As further evidence of what you just said, John Piper had an article on the Christian Post not long ago where he essentially claimed that God in his sovereignty predestined even sin: http://www.christianpost.com/news/john-piper-on-mans-sin-and-gods-sovereignty-80617/

      While this is highly problematic to translate historically to the black church, it's ideas like this that leave some Reformed beliefs/teachings in general as a minority in the American church. Most evangelicals struggle greatly with such teachings, and it's not just because it's hard to swallow, but because there is plenty of biblical evidence that presents strong opposition to such views.

    • http://urbanresurgence.wordpress.org David

      TJ,

      Consider Joseph in Genesis. Consider the captivity of Israel to Assyria and Babylon. God sent His covenant people into slavery for disobedience. It was God's sovereign plan to crush His Son (Isaiah 53).

      What you said above seems to be a rejection of the sovereignty of God based on emotions. This is why the Scriptures need to inform our view of God, not our own minds. One of the best ways to understand the Scriptures is to study them from the lens of Biblical Theology. A good book that lays out this discipline is "God's Big Picture" by Vaughan Roberts.

      Grace & Peace,

      d.

      • TJ

        David,
        My appeal wasn't made based off of emotions. It was based off the fact that the majority of Christians throughout time have not interpreted the bible in a way that makes God out to be the author and originator of sin for his "divine purposes" as many Calvinists do. In a similar manner, the majority of Christians throughout time have not interpreted the bible in a way that says only a limited number, who were predetermined before the foundations of the world, will be saved.

        I'm only trying to push you to see that your view of interpreting the bible isn't the only view, and it certainly is not the majority view. That doesn't make it right or wrong. I just want you, and others, to see that African Americans have read the scriptures and haven't been blind to the doctrines of grace until recently. Many outright reject them for different understandings.

        • http://urbanresurgence.wordpress.org David

          TJ,

          No bible believing "Calvinist" believes God is the author of sin. That is an outright violation of Scripture (James 1:13-14).

          I'm well aware there are other views concerning the extent of Christ's atonement and the efficacy of His death. I have not always held to Reformed Theology. I used to firmly hold to a semi-pelagian view of salvation, but I found it to be inconsistent when I look at the metanarrative of Scripture. Essentially, I had more questions than answers when I held that position.

          However, how does your position on God's sovereignty address the scenarios I mentioned above?

          1. Josephs understanding of his plight | Genesis 50:20
          2. God's decisive plan to send His covenant people into slavery to Assyria & Babylon.
          3. God changes the heart of a pagan king (Cyrus)to send His people back to their land and finance the rebuilding of the temple | Ezra 1
          4. God ordaining the crushing, yet innocent of sin, of His Son for the sake of salvation | Isaiah 53, Acts 2:22-23

          What I found most inconsistent in my former view was that God was sovereign over everything, but salvation. That is inconsistent and makes man the final deciding party in salvation. This view is also inconsistent with Scripture that says His people's names were written in the Lamb's book of life before the foundation of the world (Rev. 13:8).

          d.

      • Sojo_Truth

        This is part of the problem that I've found when attempting to converse with Reformed people. I'm not attempting to discredit the scriptural examples that you just gave. The assumption that you make by stating "What you said above seems to be a rejection of the sovereignty of God based on emotions. This is why the scriptures need to inform our view of God, our own minds." is interesting.

        While that may be true of some within the church, for instance - those who reject the idea of hell because it's too hard to fathom a God sending people there, that is no true at all of me. I absolutely respect the notion of God's sovereignty in all things. However, that does not mean that I have to believe that he predestines all things, including the very purposeful orchestration of men's sin. It's a bit arrogant as well to assume that you have the mind of God in all his ways or at best that I struggle emotionally with realities of scripture, because I won't accept your Reformed viewpoint.

        What you would struggle to explain in light of your viewpoint is that you would have to accept the notion then that God killed David’s child. In other words, not only did he predestine David to be tempted, which is a very basic/fundamental violation of what James tells us God is incapable of (“When tempted, no one should say, "God is tempting me." For God cannot be tempted by evil, nor does he tempt anyone;”). You say the opposite, that God placed Bathsheeba in David’s line of sight for that very predestined time, knowing that he would be tempted into adultery and would in turn commit adultery, premeditated murder, and so on. So God plays both sides of the chess board in your worldview. He’s the orchestrator of David’s temptation and sin, and he in turn orchestrated the death of David’s child, because he predestined the whole event. So essentially, God committed abortion.

        A non-Reformed alternative view is that man is fallen and mired in his own sinful state, and is in desperate need of a savior. His own perpetual, but redeemed sin is a constant reminder of how much he needs God. His sin places him at odds with God’s greatest desire for his life (Jeremiah – “For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the LORD, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.”). Even though he chastises those whom he loves (as a loving father) he uses our own sinful nature to bring himself glory.

        So, in David’s case (in his omniscience) he knew that David would sin, but he did not predestine his sin. He simply used it as a tool to teach David and us a lesson. The same goes for many other stories in the bible. God did not choose the Israelites knowing that they would fail miserably at keeping the law because he predestined them to do so anyway. That would make God the author of sin. God did not destroy Job’s family and capital, he gave the enemy the right to do so.

        God’s sovereign plan to crush his son, which the bible says by the way – he took delight in, is really not a good example IMO of God predestining sin/evil.

        I’m not trying to say that I’m completely right and you’re wrong, or that I have it all figured out either. I have been saved for 30+ years though, and I used to believe many of the ideas that you profess. However, the older that I got and the more I continued to study scripture I felt that Lord revealed to me by his Holy Spirit the error in the way that I viewed his character. That’s only my opinion though.

        God bless you my friend.

  • djohn

    If scripture is to be our guide, then looking at the question of Gods sovereignty from the life of Joseph. was he not sovereign and just when joseph was thrown into a pit then sold into slavery then thrown into jail only to come out and prepare the people of the land for the drought and famine to come. as african americans i think its time to stop throwing the baby out with the bath water, view everything through the lense of scripture that we all hold dear and be honest with ourselves and say if one view point more thoroughly conveys Gods redemptive message then we man up and stand with it.

    • Sojo_Truth

      See my comments to David above. We don't have to accept however that God orchestrates sin and yet asks us to repent of the very thing that he yet orchestrated. This teaching maligns the very character of God and is not the same God (IMHO) of Psalm 103.
      As a father of my 3 sons, I don't set them up to commit sins, and then turn around and spank them or chastise them for commiting the very sinful snare that I arranged. That wouldn't make me a loving father, but a tyrant. That's the beguiling character of Greek God's like Zeus, not the God of the bible.
      In the story of Joseph God knew exactly what his brothers would do to him, although he did not arrange for hem to sin. It's God omniscience not his predestination of sin that he authors. He knows what in advance will take place and uses it for good. That's why scripture says - "You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good to accomplish what is now being done, the saving of many lives."
      Joseph places the blame on the sinfulness of his brothers, not on God. Think about it.

      • http://urbanresurgence.wordpress.org David

        Sojo_truth,

        I don't believe God orchestrates sin, although there are some hard passages to overcome. What I am saying is that God is completely sovereign over all happenings in the universe, including the salvation of men by His sovereign loving election (Jer. 1:5, John 6, John 10, John 17:6, 9, Acts 13:48, Romans 9-11, Gal. 1:15, 1 Pet 1:1-2)

        d.

  • http://barrettsisus.wix.com/justone Martin Barrett: Cross-OverBeats Ent.

    Loving this communication here! I tell a lot of people that doctrine does matter. I'm always trying to challenge fellow believers to dig into the deeper things and go beyond the mere elements of Jesus Christ crucified as mentioned in Hebrews. Hip-Hop is good but one must study the God's word and hid it in ones heart so one doesn't sin against Him. Too many rely on music and not personal study time. We must continue to challenge urban communities and it's leaders dig deeper for there are too many 26 year old Christians who are feasting on milk. Like I said earlier making disciples is one of the things we are called to do and being a disciple means one is trained in the ways of truth. As a Bible teacher and participant in hip-hop for years on Christ's side in various ways (not an artist) it is imperative we collectively fuse and not big words but more meat into our Bible studies to the listener.

  • Leslie U.

    Thanks Jemar, great post!!! I definitely agree. My first introduction to Christian Hip-hop was Lecrae. I've definitely downloaded the RTS app to my phone, and I watch sermons on the web. I also think along with the hunger for biblical teaching there is also a cultural shift, in which false doctrines are being questioned. Perhaps this is why there is a hunger. I haven't fully formulated this idea, but I think people have begun to question some of the hypocrisy seen in churches in which false doctrines abound. I doubt this is just a phenomena in the AA community, perhaps it is generational...perhaps a movement of 20 somethings...not exactly sure but it is something that I've been thinking about.

  • http://barrettsisus.wix.com/justone Martin Barrett: Cross-OverBeats Ent.

    @Leslie - I think people are waking up to the fact that these false doctrines don't produce. With many pastors living high off of God's people while they are all living for the most part in some churches in poverty. Once we get the crooks out and get the people to study one at a time i think we will see some real change and not pocket change. There's some great artist out there besides Lecrae like: Shai, Corey Red, KenKenX and I can't forget the old Cross Movement stuff. I particularly like stronger thought provoking lyrical content artist.

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  • Christopher

    Jemar,

    I enjoyed reading your article about how you assess that Reformed theology is making headway and great progress in the black community. As of course someone who is convicted that Reformed theology is the most biblically consistent (the system, not necessarily every single aspect), I feel that this is a great thing for the black community.
    I wanted to make a comment on your third bullet. You said: "The United States has not "arrived" in terms of racial and ethnic equality. However, there has been progress. Daniel Aleshire, president of the Association of Theological Schools, indicates that African Americans are represented in seminary in proportions close to the U.S. population. Some Reformed schools even have specific programs to engage ethnic minorities."

    It disappoints me that you still feel this way.

    I would first question your underlying premise when you say that you feel that the US has not "arrived" at some sort of racial equality. You are of course aware of the great strides that this country has made in terms of "racial equality" and we could go on and on about how far we in fact have or have not come.
    What exactly are you referring to when you say that we havent arrived yet?
    I can point to many things in the media, which is our society's "authority" in many ways, that actually cater to minorities in terms of the slant that is being reported.

    I can also point to various legislative and social policies that have been instituted to "increase diversity" within our schools and workplaces. Affirmative action, Asian american history month, Black history month etc...

    My observations have been that when one of the black community says that we haven't arrived yet, I have observed that this stems more from a victim mentality.

    I can point you to many ethnicities that have suffered great atrocities as well, and yet they have not maintained this victim mentality as black americans do. South Korea was decimated after the Korean War, with a standard of living that was worse than Afghanistan. Yet today, South Korea is a technological super power. Japan was destroyed after WWII with the bombing of Hiroshima. Today, they are also an industrial nation. This is not to say that these people dont have their problems, but they dont have the victim mentality and constant theme of being "held back" because their civilization was pummeled in their respective wars.
    Additionally, the slave trade in Africa was booming far earlier than the 1600's when the early colonies started using them. Yet, you dont see the African countries today claiming victimization.
    With all of the legislative and societal actions, we have cleared much in terms of attempting to ensure that all races are treated equally. This is true and undeniable.
    But for you to somehow think that our country will ever truly "arrive" towards racial equality is really denying the true realities of who we are as sinners.

    We will never get there.

    We have made great progress on a temporal level and this is needed. But it seems to me that you are confusing temporal progress with people's hearts and their sinful conditions.

    Why do I bring this up?

    I bring this up because this outlook that you have on race and the subtle undertones in terms of how you view the black community in terms of a victim mentality is ultimately an ungodly and selfish premise.
    If you start your discussion with the premise that you are a victim or that we havent "made it" yet, you will always have a skewed perception of what true equality is. Your premise needs to start with God and who we are in him.
    True equality isn't about "social justice" (in the ways that liberals use this term).. Equality isnt about having more black students at RTS, or 25% black students, 25% white students, 25% Asian, 25% mexican etc... Equality has nothing to with numbers, or somehow making up for sins of the past by increasing numbers of minorities.

    Equality is about understanding who we are in God's sight, that we are all condemned sinners in need of salvation..
    To think that increasing numbers of black students at RTS means "equality" is myopic at best.
    This is what I am saying and NOT saying: there is nothing wrong with encouraging more blacks to attend RTS and other reformed seminaries.
    But for you to somehow think that equality is fundamentally based on removing the temporal barriers or for you to imply that more black students means equality misses the point completely.
    I guarantee you that this mentality of yours will be a hindrance to you when you do ministry, whether you actually see this "fruit" or not. It doesnt matter what context, whether it is a "black" church or a "non black" church.
    For you to have such a humanistic, and man-centered and race-centered (and not a Christ-centered) view of what equality is or isnt, is troubling and is not focusing on who we are as people in the eyes of God.

  • Christopher

    Sorry... a quick clarification on my post above.

    I mentioned the use of affirmative action and various history months etc....

    I also mentioned this: "With all of the legislative and societal actions, we have cleared much in terms of attempting to ensure that all races are treated equally. This is true and undeniable."

    I should have written this more clearly. What I should have clarified with is: "The legislative actions, such as integrating schools etc.. were necessary. This is simply the govt correcting a wrong and enforcing the law with the sword.

    However, the use of affirmative action, and history months, while well intentioned, are actually ungodly and do the exact opposite of what it was supposed to accomplish."

    I am against affirmative action and various history months.. People are already afforded an equal chance at apply.

    For this issue (school admissions or work), to prefer someone because of race (whether solely or as a factor) is absurd, and ultimately ungodly.
    Competency and skills should be the only factors, not your skin color.

    Would it make sense to give the Pistons an extra 20 points against the Lakers before the start of the game because their white players arent as good as the predominantly black players on the Lakers?
    (And it has been "proven" that black players are better than white players in basketball. So, we need to "level" the playing field.)
    No, of course it does not make sense, this situation is absurd, yet we do this all the time for jobs and college with affirmative action.

    Providing people with a crutch because of their race, and yes, that is what affirmative action is, is ultimately being racist to those that the policy is trying to help. "You cant do it on your own because of your race, so we will help you."

    To make a judgement about someone simply because of the color of his skin (whether that judgement is good or bad) is wrong.

  • http://www.raanetwork.org Jemar

    Christopher,

    Wow. It's hard to know where to start with your comments. And this is not the venue to engage in such discussions in-depth. Let me simply state a few quick points:

    1) The intent of the article was to point out factors that have lead to the increased use of Reformed categories among African Americans. To go beyond this is to go beyond the scope of the article.

    2) Even though the scope of the argument is narrow, I do indeed have assumptions. We all do. One major assumption I have is the U.S. still has progress to make in terms of race. I would point you to the book "Divided by Faith" which explains the concept of "institutional racism." Racism takes many more forms than one-on-one interactions. To say that African Americans have a "victim mentality" is to fail to recognize the continuing implications and effects of racism.

    3) Lastly, I do not believe that we will ever "arrive" in terms of racial diversity and unity on this side of Heaven. Things will only be perfect when Christ returns and renews creation. I believe that racism is not a social issue but a sin issue. But those of us who have believed in Christ have a spiritual bond through our Savior that motivates us to seek a greater unity and diversity than we see in the world. That we might be a light to the world and illuminate the glory of Christ by our love for one another do I labor and write.

  • christina

    Great thoughts Jemar. I read through all the comments too, always interested to know how others perceive and react to articles on this topic. Praise God that he is not just at work in the hearts of AA across the country, but he's at work in the hearts of whites like me across the country too. I could've written Christopher's comments above this 10 years ago. God has used sound biblical teaching and even more-so personal relationships with people who aren't like me to help me see the world, my white culture, our Christian culture, and the Bible, through different eyes. The ability to separate my culture from my understanding of Scripture and the visible church is something that never even crossed my mind before being in a multi-ethnic church. It was nothing on my part that helped me begin to pry my culture off of my understanding of Scripture, it never even crossed my mind that I might have some blind spots. Isn't that the way blind spots work? They HAVE to be pointed out to us by others who can see, we by definition can't see them. It was wholely and completely God's grace that began the work of changing my heart, breaking my pride, helping me acknowledge that my way may in fact be wrong, and His grace that will carry it on to completion in glory. Praise God that his grace is at work on all sides, even when we don't even know we need it.

  • Christopher

    Jemar

    Thanks for the message.. Yes, I agree with you that some of the points that I brought up were beyond the scope of what you simply touched upon.. This wasnt an implication that your article was somehow deficient, merely that your article spurred on some other ideas in my mind.

    Also, I do agree with you that we all have assumptions when we look at things (your second bullet point). However, the way in which you used this statement to respond to my post still leads me to believe that you still hold to your humanistic premise.
    Also, the answer to your concern about institutional racism is telling since you refer me to "Divided Faith."

    When one mentions institutional racism as you do, I would disagree with you that this as big of a factor today as you making it out to be. My observations have been that "institutional racism" is primarily associated with blacks or hispanics. Why do you suppose this is?

    When you have blacks or hispanics scoring consistently lower on standardized tests, it isnt because the "system" is somehow racist. It's because they didnt perform well enough on the test.

    There is no logical or inherent connection between lower test scores and a person's race. And for you to somehow make a connection when there isnt one is a logical fallacy. Again, it
    isnt the fault of the test that the black or hispanic student scored lower. It is the fault of the student.
    For you to say that it is due to race, then I can logically make a conclusion that blacks inherently cannot do well in certain subjects because..... they are black. I certainly dont believe this, but that is a reasonable conclusion that you can draw from your line of logic.
    There is nothing inherently racist in the nature of the questions that are being asked on the standardized test.

    Prove to me that the questions that are being asked are racist.

    Should RTS professors give you extra credit because you are black, since reformed theology is "inherently" white?

    Why do you suppose that since affirmative action was banned in the UC system ~20 years ago, that the population of asian students skyrocketed (e.g. UCI is over 50% asian now)? You use policies, such as AA, to say that this it is "correcting" institutional racism, but it is only "correcting" because it is benefiting your race..

    It would be absolutely hypocritical for you to say that policies such as AA are combating "institutional racism" when in fact AA is only benefiting certain races.

    Performing actions that benefit only certain races perpetuates the so called institutional racism that you are supposedly trying to fight against.

    If anything, for AA, given the historical evidence after AA was repealed in the UC system, I can make the argument that it was actually hurting Asians, since the Asian population shot up after AA was gone.

    But the problem is that you either wouldnt be willing to accept that if AA is hurting one race that it is racist, or you do acknowledge that it is racist but that this racism is somehow morally acceptable to "level the playing field". Either way, this shows that you only recognize racism is "bad" if it is holding back your own particular race.

    BTW: If AA was causing black students to be accepted at a lower rate at the benefit of accepting others at a higher rate, I would still of course say that AA is wrong.

    AA is wrong because it favors some races over another.. It doesn't matter what races benefit or are hurt by it. AA is inherently racist, and therefore morally a sin.

    This is why I said in my first response message that your premise is faulty and inherently ungodly.. You mentioned that overcoming equality involves, among other things, having more black people in RTS classrooms...

    Based on your response to me (esp the second bullet), you either didnt read what I wrote or you are unwilling to acknowledge what I wrote.. That assumption of having more black people in RTS classrooms does NOT mean equality.

    The fact that you never directly responded to my assertion that your premise is humanistic is also very telling, and instead, you simply responded by saying that "I do have my assumptions."

    It isnt enough to say that you have assumptions and that I have mine. You have to really internalize what you are thinking and see if it actually makes sense. Especially for you as a Christian, a humanistic premise like the one that you hold to concerning this issue should have no place in your heart.

    Finally, for Christina, it is also very telling from your
    remarks that you thought this way 10 years ago, and that now somehow you are more refined and more "mature" now.

    If you noticed from my remarks, you will notice that I start with premise of God and Christ.

    I never said that I disagreed with Jemar's statements because I thought he was stupid (which he isnt!), or because he was black or something like that..

    I disagreed with his statements because his humanistic premises are wrong.

    How is what I wrote concerning his premises racist and backwards, as you so graciously implied? ;-)

    You mention "sound biblical teaching" as if that somehow is different from my statement of starting with the correct premise of God first.

    It is really discouraging to me that you didn't understand what I was trying to say. If you dont start with God as your premise, your subsequent thinking will always lead to humanistic and man-centered thinking and application.

    This isnt theoretical pie in the sky stuff for professional philosophers and theologians only.
    This is how the Bible presents its case. It presupposes God's existence and that the Christian God and his law are supreme.
    And since we read the Bible as Christians, we need to act and think in the same way that the Bible understands God (as the starting point, as the first "un-caused cause".).

    Additionally, this simply isn't an issue of blind spots, as you put it.. It is an issue of understanding the correct premise of who God is and who we are in relation to him.
    If you don't start with that, any subsequent discussion will always lead to sinful responses and actions.

    And just so that you both know, not that this should have any bearing on what you think about my responses, but I feel unfortunately that it does based on the undertones of both of your responses, I am an American of Korean descent, not white.

    • christina

      Christopher, It was unfair to mention you in my comment and I apologize for that. I didn't mean any ill will although I can now see that it certainly would appear that I was looking down my nose. Such is the problem of online, where we don't know each other personally, and I had a moment of brain freeze where I assumed I knew more of your thought-patterns and likewise that you knew more of mine than a few sentences can convey. I think it's a great discussion, one I have with people regularly as we all wrestle with Scripture and how to apply it to our own lives and the broader problems in our country. It is exciting to me that the discussions are being had, I know for me it has made me search Scripture more than ever before to discern what is true vs what any given culture says is true. I was fascinated reading "The End of the Spear" about a culture so vastly different from anything Americans of any color can relate to. Another great reminder that God is so much bigger than our country or any one culture, praise the Lord! Iron sharpens iron, thanks for your thoughts and pointing out my blind spot in my comment! :) It's a point well taken. God bless

  • Christopher

    Christina,
    No worries.. =)

    I apologize as well. Please forgive me as well for assuming something that you didn't mean. Whether you wrote it in whatever way to make it seem so, that is no excuse on my part.

    Yes, you are correct that doing things through writing makes things sound different (or harsher, depending on what one is saying) from what was actually meant..

    We all have brain freeze, and this isnt a forum for writing our dissertations, so it is understandable that I make mistakes, you make mis-statements, I overstate things etc...

    I am encouraged by your words about searching the scriptures more about to see how they apply in our lives...

    Are you talking about the book where the missionary was killed and his son ends up working with the man that killed his father? If so, then I have seen the movie, but havent read the book. Yes, it was powerful.

    For Jemar as well:
    I apologize for the harshness of my words.. Like Christina said, things can sound very different over writing vs verbal speech. I needed to take extra care to ensure that my writing didnt come off as harsh and I failed in that way. (The content would have been the same, the "packaging" would have been different).

    Please forgive me.

    • http://www.raanetwork.org Jemar

      Christopher,

      While we may disagree, I didn't take offense. Thank you, though, for your gracious words. I'm happy to discuss with you more via another forum. Please feel free to contact me through the contact page on http://www.raanetwork.org, if you wish. Grace & Peace, brother.

    • christina

      Christopher, absolutely. I'm blessed knowing that there are many who are wrestling with issues of faith instead of casting it off as so many in our country are doing. My youth pastor growing up always says, "God's always working on everybody in the room." None of us are finished products yet, praise the Lord! :) Have a blessed Sabbath.

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  • Steve Thompson

    Regarding points #4 and #5:

    Is this implying that a non-Reformed theology is (a) not biblical and (b) does not give proper weight to divine sovereignty?

    I get so tired of the term "biblical" being thrown around in reference to man-made theological systems and constructs. Reformed Theology is not biblical just as an Arminian approach is not biblical. Only the Bible is biblical. As the famous NT scholar Eckhardt Schnabel once noted [my own paraphrase], "I am so tired of people discussing the 'literal' translation of the Greek in the New Testament. There is no such thing. The only literal text is the Greek itself. Once you translate it, it is a translation, and no longer literal. There is no one-to-one correspondence between Greek and English."

    This isn't saying that we shouldn't do theology. Just that, as we do theology, we should be careful to acknowledge the gap between our ideas and Scripture itself.

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