I have been reading a number of books on the Missional Church recently. At first as I was reading books by Alan Hirsch, Darrell Guder, and Alan Roxburgh, I’d wished I hadn’t waited so long to jump into the missional church discussion. Then, after getting through about three books on the issue, I realized that as a product of both the African-American and Urban Multi-ethnic Church, I was raised up in the truly missional church movement.
The missional church discussion is both about a theological foundation known as missional ecclesiology and the process of the church engaging culture for the advancement of the Kingdom of God. All of the experts on the topic are European-American and European-Canadian. The discussion around the missional church for the most part is a White Church discussion. I appreciate that the authors are willing to admit this. The talk about the missional church is from the perspective of the history of both the European and European-American Church influenced by modernity and modernism. To understand the need for the missional church in the United States for instance, is to understand the church coming out of Europe influenced by Constantine, the Reformation, and the Enlightenment. I would not argue against these being important things to know. As a member of the Evangelical Covenant Church, I realize the importance of understanding how the Reformation and the Enlightenment shaped the development of the church in the United States. Specifically, it’s important for me to understand the Swedish immigrant roots which shape the development of the Evangelical Covenant Church. I consider my understanding of this heritage as a gift. What I don’t understand is why European-Americans don’t see the gift of the missional roots and current missional activity of African-American, Asian-American, and Hispanic churches in America.
As a product of the African-American church, I can speak to a church that historically has engaged its surrounding culture for transformation. The African-American Church has a history of community engagement, development, and transformation. You can look at the missional impact of the Civil Right Movement as an example. Why missional theologians and practitioners ignore and marginalize the African-American Church is hard to understand. At the same time the African-American Church hasn’t always been helpful, because at times it presents itself as only being for African-Americans. But we must remember that the African-American Church is a forced church in a race-based society. If it weren’t for the defense and protection of the White Church, there would be no African-American/Black Church.
In today’s increasing multi-ethnic and multicultural reality, this must change. There is a need for a Post-Black, Post-White Church theology. This theology must include liberation and reconciliation theology. A true missional movement must be Christ-centered and multi-ethnic. If this isn’t the case, all the missional discussion is just a re-hashing and a recycling of the White Church. If the Church in Canada and the United States is truly going to be a missional one it must be multi-ethnic and there must be a diversity of respected voices speaking into its development.
Now that I have read Dr. John MacArthur’s latest book, Slave, I can now provide more thoughts on the main thesis within it. His main purpose in the book is to show us that as controversial and counter-cultural as it may be, we must accept that the primary way we find identity in Christ is as a slave to God. He begins by providing information on an “English translation conspiracy” that has taken the word for slave in the Greek and changed it to mean servant. So throughout the New Testament the servant has really replaced the word slave. We are then to look at all the texts in the New Testament around servant (which there are many) and see the revelation of the Christian life being the life of the slave.
My thought on this point is simply this. If we are to believe that there is an English translation conspiracy that has caused us to miss the mark on the true role of the Christian in relationship to God, why are we not so sure that there are no Greek translation conspiracies? How many times in the New Testament is the Greek translation taking Hebrew words out of context? In the book, A Prayer to Our Father: Hebrew Origins of the LORD’s Prayer, authors Keith Johnson and Nehemia Gordon actually make this case. They show through the Hebrew Gospel of Matthew, ways in which the Greek translation has taken some Hebrew words out of its original context and meaning. Conspiracy?
The point here is, Dr. MacArthur may be creating another conspiracy in trying to uncover one. Or another way of putting it would be, he’s continuing the conspiracy of a Euro-centric captivity on biblical interpretation.
The next thing MacArthur does in the book is move to the Old Testament. His point here is to present the Exodus story as God bringing the Israelites out of slavery to Egypt in order to bring them into slavery under Him. This provides a very limited view of the Old Testament story. His foundation is in the interpretation of the Hebrew word “eded” which means slave and servant. What he doesn’t bring up is that this Hebrew word is rooted in another Hebrew word, “abad” which means slave, servant, husbandman, worshipper, and worker. I have two takes on this point in the book.
One, in MacArthur’s drive to make slaves out of all Christians, he leaves out another picture of the New Testament story. What about the picture of a God who frees a people from slavery, makes a Covenant with them, and then calls them to extend his love and justice to the poor, widow, orphan, and immigrant? MacArthur is so focused on “slave texts” that he seems to not care about what the Old Testament has to say about freedom, justice, and Covenant. The question becomes then, does Covenant equate Captivity? MacArthur seem to believe so. The second point is if the Hebrew word “abad” means slave, servant, husbandman, and worshipper, why is the focus of the book only on the slave portion of the meaning of the word?
The rest of the book is spent on looking at how Jesus and the authors of the Epistles in the New Testament mainly describe the Christian life as the life of an obedient slave to a Master, which is God. One, I cannot argue that there aren’t a number of biblical texts that describe the Christian as servant and slave. The issue is that this isn’t the only way the Christian life is described in the New Testament. In MacArthur’s focus on God as Master, he ignores the number of places where God is described as Father. I would argue that Jesus spends more time talking about God as His Father than as His Master. The disciple John spends a lot of time describing the Christian as a “beloved child.” MacArthur seems to believe that the only way to get obedience out of a Christian it to make him or her a slave. I respectfully disagree. The more we focus on God as Father and Liberator, the more space we have to describe the Christian as the liberated, transformed, and beloved child, who ought to live in obedience to a loving and all-powerful God of justice.
Finally, I’m saddened by how MacArthur hardly shows any sensitivity to the history and impact of slavery upon African-Americans. He doesn’t acknowledge that he isn’t the first European-American to use an interpretation of slavery in the bible to develop a theology and influence the masses. This is how slavery was justified many years ago in the United States of America.
I was recently in a conversation with a fellow Christian who wanted to know why I use the term African-American. “We are all Americans” he said. “Terms like that just divide us.”
The further conversation that followed led me to deeper reflection and thru this blog post, explantation on why I choose African-American over Black and over simply the title, American.
One, I’ve come to the belief that race is unbiblical, so for a theological foundation around my identity, Black doesn’t work. Now at the same time, I honor the history of the identification Black. The Black power movement of the 1960′s and 70′s was about bringing honor, dignity, and empowerment to a racial label that made a people less than human. The definition of Black up until that point was rooted in the systems of slavery and Jim Crow segregation. The Black power movement redefined Black and reinvented a people group. I get this and honor it. But this still doesn’t take away from race being not only unbiblical, but unsubstantiated scientifically as well. Skin color and physical features alone are not enough to bring about major differences among people. The categories of race only bring about stereotypes leading to power and privilege for some and second-class status for others.
Culture, ethnicity, and covenant are biblical though. These are places thru which Christians can find identity. I’m an American, I have a lost history in Africa, but my primary identity is in Christ Jesus. I also have Irish and Native American in my family tree as well. But, more importantly, I am found in the family tree laid out in Matthew 1. This is the family tree of Jesus.
I also call myself African-American because I’ve actually been to Africa. Both times that I’ve been on this continent, I’ve been greeted with the words, “Welcome Home.” Recently, while in Kenya, I was made an honorary elder of a church. I was so honored by this experience that I couldn’t stop tears from flowing. I’m African, I’m American, I’m the beloved of God thru Christ Jesus (1 John 3:1). This is why I choose African-American over Black, but over all of that I choose to live as the Beloved.
I have an issue with folks who deal with the race issue by simply talking about liberation and the end of White supremacy. This limited solution to the issue of race misses the mark in two ways. One, it doesn’t go far enough in bringing a more comprehensive solution because it keeps the issues within the matrix of race. The further development of blackness becomes the solution for dealing with the problems of a dominant whiteness. The more comprehensive solution must include pulling the covers back on both blackness and whiteness and exposing this false social construct. Blackness and whiteness must be dismantled. Ethnicity and culture are truer elements of humanity than race. Whiteness rose by making itself good while blackness was bad. Is the solution to simply just reverse this and make blackness good and whiteness evil? Or to fight for the empowerment of blackness?
The second issue is that a race-based solution doesn’t work within a true biblically-based, Christian theology. Now I know that there are many who are fighting for racial justice, who don’t care if the solution to racism is deeply connected to a Christian theology. Well as a Christian this is of utmost importance to me. Christianity works for me because it is about dealing with sin. Racism, injustice, prejudice, and oppression are forms of sin and the God of the bible has a solution for this. This solution is about liberation and reconciliation. Racism is truly dealt with in Christ. Not the black or white christ, but the true multi-ethnic Christ who is both Jew and Gentile. Jesus Christ walked the earth as a multi-ethnic and multicultural human being (Matthew 1). When we are reconciled to God through Christ, we are born again and given a new identity beyond the social construct of race. Until we get to heaven though, we still live in this race-based society. This is why we must dismantle the segregated state of the church so that the church becomes a true new and reconciling community. This kind of community can in part deal with the ugly and sinful issue of racism and the injustices that come from it.
The bible is the story of God delivering a people out of oppression and it’s also about the opportunity for reconciliation and new identity for all humanity. To separate these two critical points is to limit freedom and salvation.
Because I’m very fortunate to speak at a lot of christian churches, conferences, and other events, I get a chance to hear a lot of christian music. In general, christian music can be broken down into the following categories; contemporary christian, gospel, southern gospel, urban gospel, holy hip hop, and traditional hymns.
To be more specific though, you can break christian music down to black christian music and white christian music. Many people don’t want to talk about this, but that’s the current state of christian music and it’s been that way for a long time. It’s race-based and is mostly influenced by places like Nashville and Detroit in the United States. Even when I preach at a Latino church, the praise and worship is mainly contemporary christian(white); it’s just being sung in spanish.
Even christian radio is segregated. Rarely, does a ccm station play urban gospel and never have I heard a black gospel/urban gospel station play ccm. As a matter of fact there aren’t very many black gospel/urban gospel stations, but mostly shows that last about two hours weekly hosted by Be Be Winans or Dr. Bobby Jones. Why is it that in this multicultural reality, christian music is for the most part, race music? This shows how far behind christian music is compared to so-called secular music.
Secular music has transcended race. A black artist like Seal to some sounds white, while Pink sounds black. A white rapper named Eminem is one of the hottest artists in what is considered a black and urban genre. Yet, we expect our multicultural, christian youth today to value christian music over secular music. You may want to push back at me (and you’re welcome to), but christian music is held captive by race and we don’t want to seem to talk about it. My theory is that this is done by secular record industry powers to keep christian music a second class genre and we need local church folks to fight against this reality.
Most christian record labels and other companies have been sold to larger secular companies. Find a christian for profit and it’s most likely owned by a company headed by someone who is not a christian. Maybe this explains it. Or maybe it’s because many christians don’t want to have healthy and real discussions about race, business marketing, and power and its impact on christians.
There is hope though. There are christian artists such as Toby Mac, Israel and New Breed, John Reuben, and Kirk Franklin who are being bold enough to cross race lines and create kingdom music. This must be the future. We must move beyond christian music enslaved to race, to a more liberating genre. I will this call kingdom music. Kingdom music is christian music set free, designed for all God’s people, also able to reach all lost people. Can I get a amen? Now what we need is a group of non profit kingdom music record labels that won’t sell out to secular companies. Can I really get a amen?
I’ve been thinking a lot about the future of the church or what could be called, the church of the future. Mostly, these thoughts have been limited to the church in the United States. After rereading a number of book recently on the future and state of the church though, my thoughts have gone more global. Phillip Jenkins sees places like Africa and South America as the future of the church. If this is true, then compassion, mercy, and justice must become a major focus of the church of the future. This does not mean that compassion, mercy, and justice replaces evangelism, discipleship, and mission. What it means is that compassion, mercy, and justice must be interwoven into evangelism, discipleship, and mission. This is not just an issue of relevancy, more importantly, it’s biblical. In the bible, God speaks to the chosen people about remembering their deliverance by being mindful of the poor, the widow, the orphan, and the immigrant. The future church must speak beyond social politics, towards a Spirit-filled picture of justice. A new liberation theology must be embraced by the church of the future, which includes the authority and centrality of Scripture.
Dave Olson says that the church is in crisis. When compared with population growth in the United States of America, the church is not growing. The vast majority of Americans are not in church on Sunday morning. So not only do we still have a segregated church on Sunday morning, we have a dying one as well. With all the mega-churches in our nation, a major movement of evangelism and discipleship within the local church is in question. I believe that the church still being for the most part a segregated institution is directly connected to its struggle in keeping up with population growth. Even though the United States is becoming more and more multi-ethnic and multicultural, the church is still stuck within the race-matrix of black and white. Even, many of our Asian and Latino churches are stuck with choosing worship songs and developing ministry models within a black and white framework. The future church must be multi-ethnic.
Soong-Chan Rah says the church is held captive by the western church. This points to the historic European influence upon the church in the United Staes. It also points to a dominant White theology and philosophy within the church. Please know that I don’t believe in eliminating the European and European-American perspective from the church. I believe we must add to this perspective. Large suburban and predominately European-American churches must be willing to become students of the church of the future. They must be willing to have their current cultural mindsets challenged, accepting that some of them are not biblical, but more based on a racial constructed upbringing. The answer to this is further developing cross cultural competencies.We must also develop best practice models for small, medium size, and large churches that take us beyond the black and white matrix. In order to do this we can’t be anti mega-church. The mega church has the influence and resources to point the way to the future church.
Together, as black, white, asian, latino, small, medium, large, urban, and suburban churches we must begin the journey towards the future church. If we do this, we can advance God’s kingdom like never before in an ever-increasing multi-ethnic and multicultural world.
I was recently walking thru the Mission and Dolores Park areas of San Francisco and couldn’t help but see so much change. Places that used to be predominantly lower-class and African-American were now predominately Asian and Latino. Places where the homeless crowded to find a place to sleep on the ground, were now places where people walked wearing skinny jeans and converse shoes.
I passed trendy coffee shops on every corner. I walked into to one and had a great cup of coffee from Kenya. Within the coffee shop, I saw much ethnic diversity. Not only was ethnic diversity obvious but so was a significant gay and lesbian community. I both admired the beauty of the diversity and also wondered what happened to the people that used to be there. I also wondered how in the world an evangelical church could advance the Kingdom of God in this reality. I shouldn’t just focus on the evangelical church, because any type of church would struggle to make an impact in this reality because the church is so slow when it comes to change.
Somewhere in all those thoughts I was wrestling with diversity, change, the church, compassion, truth, and justice. Were the poor that used to be there forgotten? Has San Francisco forgotten about African-Americans? Will the church truly seek to advance God’s Kingdom within predominantly gay and lesbian communities? Will the church passionately seek to be multi-ethnic and about compassion, mercy, and justice? What does evangelism and discipleship look like in this context?
Recently, Christian sociologist Michael Emerson said on average the church in America is 10 times more segregated than the community its in and 20 times more segregated than the public schools in that same community. The multi-ethnic church is only about 7% of the church in the United States of America. The city is changing at such a fast pace, how will the church catch up?
We will catch up by catching the Spirit of God. God is not intimidated by the changing cities. God desires to use His church to bring truth, transformation, justice, and love to the city. Will we join God?
As we continue to live within the ever-increasing multi-ethnic and multicultural reality, it is more and more obvious that the Black and White matrix of the American Christian Church is outdated. It seems that regardless of the racial and class constructs that exists within our nation and world, God is determined to to fulfill the Great Commission (Matthew 28).
If there was ever a time for Pastoral Leadership with the ability to lead Christ-centerd and multicultural communities now is the time. The reason I say Christ-centered is because leading a multicultural congregation should not compromise biblical truth. Some churches in the United States of America and beyond have sacrificed biblical truth for the sake of becoming multicultural. This Christ-centeredness and belief in the authority and centrality of Scripture ought to lead us to proclaiming truth, righteousness, evangelism, discipleship, and Kingdom justice. A true commitment to Christ-centeredness in no way compromises the commitment to biblical truth, because the Word of God is the beginning point for understanding the nature, words, and works of Christ. This ought to be the on-ramp to the next area, which is cross-cultural leadership.
The ministry of Jesus was very cross-cultural in nature. His ministry included the Tax Collector, the Samaritan, the Canaanite, women, the poor, and those of privilege. Jesus Himself walked the earth as both God (John 1) and a multicultural Jew (Matthew 1). His ministry was cross-cultural and He was cross-cultural. Thru the Holy Spirit, He lives within us as Christian pastors and lay leaders. This reality is the on-ramp for our understanding that God desires to equip and empower us to minister in the multicultural reality in which we live daily.
Cross-cultural leadership takes being willing to be informed and mentored by diverse, Christian leaders. If you’re European-American and evangelical for instance, it’s not enough to just have C.S. Lewis, John Piper, N.T. Wright, John Calvin, and Rick Warren on your book shelf. You also need Vashti McKenzie, Soon-Chan Rah, Francis Chan, Howard Thurman, John Perkins, and Anne Wimbley on your shelf as well. You also must allow God to lead you into deep, authentic cross-cultural friendships. God desires to raise up an army of Christ-centered, cross-cultural, post-black, and post-white leaders.
The recent news media reports concerning a well-known African-American Bishop outside of Atlanta brings me great sadness. My first reaction is to pray that the accusations aren’t true. My second reaction is to pray for those young men, who could be very damaged by a church in which they should find hope, love, and transformation. Beyond those two reactions, something that I’ve felt for a long time is still burning within me. A revisiting of a theology of the pastor is needed within the Black Church and beyond.
In my opinion too many mega-church African-American pastors are functioning within a theology of the pastor that seems to be more based on a Old Testament model of Kings, than patterned after the New Testament model of Jesus or Paul. Now please hear me, my reflections are based on my great love for the Black Church and African-American pastors. With this said, I believe the matrix of race and how it impacts the identity of the African-American male in society is driving the theology of the pastor in many Black Church circles rather than Scripture. Let’s take a brief historical look back.
The Black Church is a forced church in America, dating back to slavery. As we move up to Jim Crow segregation, the Negro or Colored pastor is the most powerful position of leadership within the community. Remember, the Negro or Colored man cannot be president of the United States or governor of a state at this time. The Black pastor for all leadership purposes in the black community is pastor and king. Think of this in terms of being taken from a land where your forefathers and mothers were kings and queens. Now let’s move to the Civil Rights Movement, where we see the Black pastor as political leader and social transformer. Let’s move to the 1980′s and see the Reverend Jesse Jackson running for president. Not much love and respect is given to Shirley Chisholm, who as a Black woman and non clergy person, ran for the office years before.
Now let’s look at the mega church Black pastors of today. Celebrity figures living in mansion (temples), driving expensive cars (chariots), and having armor bearers (assistants for a king). Where did Jesus live? What chariot did Jesus ride in? Were the disciples of Jesus merely glorified armor bearers? What about Paul? Did his life look like the pursuit of the American dream? Regardless of the situation outside of Atlanta, one thing is true, the larger a church gets in America the temptation to become a CEO or a King and less of a shepherd is there awaiting. This is true regardless of race.
I’m not here to judge, I have my own inner battles to face as a bishop, author, and national speaker. What I do know is that the integrity of all pastors must be pursued and accountability is a key element. I also believe that Satan would rather have pastors be first and foremost CEO’s and Kings, than humble shepherds. I also believe as well that it is possible to be a mega church pastor, international figure, and humble servant. Perhaps our model should be Jesus and not King David.
This morning as I was running on the treadmill, I was also watching CNN. A story came on about a shooting in Washington D.C. The police chief was speaking with the mayor of D.C looking on. She stated that, “people are just ready for acts like this to stop.” I didn’t get a chance to see who was involved in this latest incident of urban violence, but it led me to reflect on the violent acts committed in my own city of Minneapolis involving young African-Americans in most cases. This statement raises the question, “How do we stop the violence in our inner-cities?”
On one level we must address this issue from the standpoint of individual responsibility. Churches and other ministries must develop ministry initiatives, which deal head-on with the issue of violence as the primary means for solving conflict. Peace and nonviolence cannot be seen as an outdated strategy of Hippies and those who participated in the part of the Civil Rights Movement directed by Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Many young people in the city lack a strategy free of violence to deal with loss, anger, stress, and not being able to have what you want immediately. Ministries to children, youth, and families must contain initiatives dealing with conflict resolution rooted in the teachings of Jesus. Jesus has something to say in Chapters 5-7 about conflict resolution and specifically on how to deal with enemies. These biblical principles must be contextualized for today. We can also look at chapter 3 of 1 John. Within this chapter John reminds us of what happens if our souls are not being driven by the love of God by pointing back to the story of Cain and Abel. What led to Cain killing his own brother is today at the root of violence in the city as well as the suburbs. The lack of being filled with Gods’ love through the indwelling of the Holy Spirit is a major factor in the ability to attempt to take the life of another human being. It’s also easier when you don’t see the other as just as much Gods’ beloved as you are. Sometimes the ability to attempt to take the life of another begins with not seeing oneself as the beloved of God.
The second factor that must be dealt with in order to deal with violence in the city is being willing to deal with the realities of class and race. What is behind so much violence in the city among so many African-Americans? There is a connection between poverty, race, relationships, and violence. To deny this is to ignore some root causes that go along with individual responsibility. Inner-cities are the way they are on purpose. The White Flight of the 60′s and 70′s play a role. The Educated Black Flight of the 80′s play a role as well. This is not a guilt trip for those in the suburbs for I live in the suburbs myself. The issue is figuring out how to live in the suburbs and still have a heart for the city. This was the place of Nehemiah in the Old Testament. It broke his heart to know the city of Jerusalem was in ruins and he took some of the responsibility for why this was the case. We must acknowledge the systemic issues behind urban violence and take responsibility as well. Those living outside the city must take responsibility and work with those in the city to be salt and light.
Nonviolence cannot be an ancient social strategy that was just good for a season. We must raise up an generation who are able to experience, “a peace that passes all understanding” that it might, “guard our hearts and minds.”