First of all I want to share my love, respect, and honor for my Brother, Dr. John Piper and the ministry God has given him in Minneapolis and beyond. I was born and raised in Minneapolis, Minnesota and served in Ministry there in various capacities for almost 20 years as a youth pastor, associate pastor, and church planter. I have seen up close the ministry fruit of Dr. Piper and Bethlehem Baptist Church in downtown Minneapolis. I know of many African-Americans who lives have been transformed by God thru that ministry. I also know of African-American pastors who have been given the opportunity of ministerial leadership and development there. I know of African-American and Christian hip hop artists whom have been mentored by Dr. Piper. Praise God for all of this. Most recently Dr. Piper has released a book on the topic of racial reconciliation called, Bloodlines: Race, Cross, and the Christian. Here are my thoughts after reading this book.
First, as one who is involved with a growing group of humble leaders speaking, preaching, writing, teaching, and advancing multi-ethnic and missional ministry, I am excited that Dr. Piper felt led by God to write this book. Someone of his stature writing on this topic will only bring it more into the forefront of the evangelical movement where he is so well respected. As an evangelical myself, I see how important this is. Within evangelicalism multi-ethnic and urban ministry and racial reconciliation, especially when led by people of color has been marginalized greatly.
Leading multi-ethnic and urban ministry is not new for Dr. Piper. He has served in this area for decades and has been preaching on this topic from his pulpit for the last ten years. What is new is Dr. Piper bringing his passion, personal stories, and theology around racial reconciliation onto his national and global ministry platform thru the writing of Bloodlines. I have spoken at many conference on reconciliation and multi-ethnic ministry across the evangelical spectrum and have never known Dr. Piper to attend or speak at one of these conferences. I’m not aware of a book prior to Bloodlines where Dr. Piper has made racial reconciliation the central issue. I don’t believe this is criticism, but truth.
Because I’m from Minneapolis, I’ve known of many times when race was a major issue in the city. I’ve been a part of many of the discussions and initiatives to bring about racial reconciliation in Minneapolis, I don’t remember Dr. Piper being involved in these discussions or initiatives. This is why thru facebook and twitter, I welcomed Dr. Piper into the discussion of racial reconciliation and multi-ethnic ministry. This was not a “shot” but a welcoming praise. When I was in Minneapolis I worked very hard to meet with and partner with Dr. Piper. I met with many of his associates to try to make this happen. I know Dr. Piper is very busy and has a number of people trying to meet with him, so I get why our partnering never happened. I am thankful though that before I left Minneapolis to serve as a Superintendent within the Evangelical Covenant Church, Dr. Piper came to visit the Sanctuary Covenant Church where I served. Okay, really to the book now-
I like the way the book begins, but not so much how it ends. I love that Dr. Piper shares his personal story. I love that he shows biblically that Jesus took on ethnocentrism as He walked the earth in human form. I love that he goes into great depth to show that race is not biblical and racism is a sin. The book shows his commitment to racial reconciliation within the church he leads in Minneapolis. His commitment is shown, though he doesn’t share in great detail in the book, thru the multi-ethnic staff he has built with his church board over the years. He shares that he has struggled in living this out in the community where he lives, which happens to surround the church he leads. I am moved by knowing more of his personal story. It’s why I wish I could have gotten to know him more personally when I lived in Minneapolis. I praise God for his commitment to urban ministry.
The second half of the book is the problem that I have. Dr. Piper presents Calvinism as the theological framework for living into racial reconciliation biblically. I must respectfully disagree with him. He states in the book that Jesus deals with ethnocentrism, but then presents a theology rooted in Eurocentric ethnocentrism as the solution. In Dr. Piper’s commitment to racial reconciliation he can’t just have great love for theologies developed by European men. By presenting Calvinism this way, he actually goes against what he is writing about. Structural racism exists in the church in the United States because theology is dominated by White theology. Just because some African-Americans are sold on Reformed theology and seem to have no regard for theologies developed by Africans and African-Americans doesn’t mean its the best frame work for reconciliation. This is actually assimilation, not reconciliation. What makes the Evangelical Covenant Church strong is that White leaders are allowing the theologies and ministry practices of so-called minorities to come into this Swedish immigrant denomination historically and give it the second wind of becoming a Christ-centered and multi-ethnic movement. The key is that these theologies and practices not compromise the evangelical foundation of the movement.
Piper also only offers politically conservative and Republican solutions to dealing with structural racism. He only offers school choice and welfare reform as solutions. These are political solutions not biblical ones. Matthew 25, John 4, Matthew 9, the Book of Leviticus, the Book of Exodus, and the Book of Nehemiah are better frameworks for dealing with structural racism. Still, I believe it is good that Dr. Piper has written this book and I hope to both have healthy conversations with him and hope to see him speaking and writing even more on this important topic for kingdom advancement in an ever-increasing multi-ethnic and multicultural world.
This past June, we as the Evangelical Covenant Church, approved a Resource Paper on Compassion, Mercy, and Justice at our Annual Meeting. This act further guides our denomination into being a Kingdom advancing movement. If one surveys the Gospels, you see Jesus proclaiming that the Kingdom of God is at hand. Not only does He proclaim this truth, He also performs the mighty wonders of this new community.
Jesus performs these mighty wonders through the forgiving of sins, the raising of the dead, giving sight to the blind, casting out demons, and the empowerment of women. In Matthew 25, he speaks to Kingdom advancement including feeding the hungry, giving drink to the thirsty, caring for the sick, being hospitable to the stranger, and visiting the incarcerated. The advancement of the Kingdom of God is done at the intersection of evangelism and justice.
The evangelism part of this advancement is the new covenant brought and bought by the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus. The justice part is a continuation of the Covenant established by God as he brought the Hebrew people out of bondage and oppression.
In these days of economic crisis, broken families, addiction, ethnic and political divisions, war, and lost souls, the church must increase its urgency around Kingdom advancement. The Evangelical Covenant Church and all denominations that desire to be biblically rooted and culturally relevant must become catalytic and prophetic resourcing ministries. We must do this by equipping the church and developing leaders to be Spirit-led and missional in an ever-increasing multi-ethnic and multicultural reality.
Great article by Urban Faith on Denominations and Diversity. Check out link below-
I introduce Post-Black Theology around the thesis that, there are theologies and ministry practices coming out of the Black Church in the United States of America that can be a gift from God to the whole body of Christ.
In an ever-increasing multi-ethnic and multicultural reality, the church in the United States of America is in decline and in crisis. Part of this crisis situation is that the church in the US is in captivity to modernity, a Eurocentric theology presented as normative theology, and the social construct of race.
A few years ago, I heard a European-American, evangelical denominational leader state that African-American ministers were the best positioned to lead evangelical, multi-ethnic, and missional churches. It was this statement that led to the explosion of the Post-Black theology within me. It is important for me to state that a Post-Black theology doesn’t call for the ending of the Black Church or Black Theology. It actually gives honor to the Black Church and Black Theology. It takes them out of the second-class citizenship and the marginalization that both the evangelical and mainline church traditions has placed upon them. I am a product of the Black Church and Black Theology. I even owe my ability to serve as a regional superintendent of a evangelical denomination to how God development me within the Black Church.
Post-Black Theology is a powerful, Spirit-led force for the development of Christ-centered, multi-ethnic, and missional ministry. One of the reasons for this is that successful African-American leaders have to learn to be bi-cultural and multi-ethnic in their thinking and social navigating. I know how to lead, communicate, and relate in various ethnic and racial circles. This makes me a Post-Black leader, but it does not dimmish my African-American identity. In other words, you don’t have to sellout to be a Post-Black leader, pastor, or theologian.
There are three theological streams which fuel Post-Black theology. One is Black Liberation Theology. This theological stream is focused on seeing the biblical mandates for addressing racism, oppression, and injustice. This stream also is about understanding that as Jesus walked the earth, liberation was a major act of His Kingdom proclaiming and performing mission. The words of Jesus in Luke 4 and Matthew 25 are helpful in understanding this stream. Jesus identifies with the poor, marginalized, and oppressed. You can’t separate salvation from liberation and justice. One pioneer of this stream is Dr. James Cone.
Another stream is Reconciliation Theology. This is about connecting the reconciling of people groups at odds with the significance of being reconciled to God thru Jesus Christ. In Jesus Christ there is liberation, transformation, and a greater understanding of new life when enemies or those separated become brothers and sisters. Dr. John Perkins, one of the pioneers of this stream, developed the “3R’s”, of reconciliation, relocation, and redistribution. This triune strategy is about an incarnational and community development approach to evangelism and outreach.
The third stream is Missional Theology or a missional ecclesiology. This stream, though not introduced by African-American theologians and practitioners, is in need of African-American and other ethnic voices in order to truly have an impact in the present multi-ethnic and multicultural reality. Pastor Phil Jackson and myself attempted this in our book, The Hip Hop Church. Dr. Dan Hodges does this as well in his book, The Soul of Hip Hop. To me, an authentic Missional Theology is about theology, ministry models, and leadership development which equips the church to engage todays cultural realities for Kingdom advancement.
These are the three theological streams that I present to make up the development of a Post-Black Theology. From time to time I will offer more on this emerging theology.
(I will present here a writing that I developed for both an evangelical newspaper and journal I used to write for. I say, “used to” because both publications refused to publish, without major edits, what you are about to read. I ended up deciding to longer write for either publication. I admit that I now look back on that decision with some reservations. I really miss having an on-going column in a evangelical publication. At the same time, I don’t like being censored just because some extreme conservative evangelicals aren’t willing to deal with discomfort. Without absorbing and processing this discomfort, the ability to advance the Kingdom of God in an ever-increasing multi-ethnic, multicultural, and urban reality will be hindered. Well, here’s what I wrote back in 2008. It should be noted that I have expanded on the writing since that time.)
With the legitimate presidential candidacy of Barak Obama, we now see that the United States of America is potentially ready for what I call post-black leadership at the highest level. With the likes of Condoleezza Rice, Colin Powell, and Oprah Winfrey, we are already in the age of post-black leadership. Post-black leadership is the reality of both the dominant culture as well as a broader multi-ethnic culture embracing being led by African-American leaders. Barak Obama is not the first African-American to run for President of the United States. Shirley Chisholm, Reverend Jesse Jackson, and Reverend Al Sharpton all ran before him. The difference is that they were seen as Black leaders, mainly representing Black people and Black issues. They all tried to present themselves as being able to lead the whole nation, but their resumes all screamed, Black leader!
European-Americans or Whites rather they realize it or not, have historically marginalized African-American leaders as Black leaders. In the 1950′s, 1960′s, and 1970′s within professional football as an example, there were major questions about whether an African-American could be a quarterback. For this to happen, it would have to be accepted that an African-American could lead the European-Americans on offense. Also, the quarterback was seen as the most intelligent position on the team. In politics, there was a time in this country when you would never think of an African-American being mayor, governor, or president. In the corporate sector, there was a time when you’d never think of an African-American being the CEO of a major company. African-Americans for many years were marginalized to being the pastor of a black church, CEO of a black business, principal of a black school, or president of a black college. What was being said by the dominant culture was that Blacks can only lead Blacks.
Well, praise God, a lot has changed. whether you agree with his political ideology or not we could see the nations’ first African-American president.
(remember this was written in the summer of 2008)
But, Barak Obama is not the first post-black leader. Oprah Winfrey has a large multicultural following. She truly is more than a black leader. Colin Powell and Condoleezza Rice are truly post-black political leaders. African-Americans are now heads of major companies, large universities, and yes professional quarterbacks and head coaches in football. As excited as I am about this, when I think about the body of Christ, I begin to grieve. The church as an institution in the United States of America is way behind secular society when it comes to post-black leadership.
Within the Christian world, Whites lead predominately White denominations and Black lead predominately Black ones. I can’t think of one major evangelical university, Para-church organization, or denomination with a post-black leader at the head of it. In most Para-church organizations African-Americans are mainly in urban and multicultural ministry positions with very little if any influence to speak into the direction of the organization. It seems that the body of Christ is not as ready as secular society for post-black leadership. Shouldn’t the church be the leader of a leadership development strategy that looks like the Kingdom of God and is not enslaved to the race structure of black and white?
I don’t put all the blame for this on European-American evangelicals. There are many African-American pastors and ministry leaders that have no desire whatsoever to be a Kingdom-minded, post-black leader. I believe that there is a way to honor the heritage and current impact of the black church and also become Kingdom leaders. I believe that God has placed some things within African-American leaders that are meant to be a gift to all of the body of Christ.
(I need to note that since I originally wrote this, Barak Obama became President of the United States and I was elected as Superintendent of the Pacific Southwest Conference of the Evangelical Covenant Church. This is the largest region within the denomination. Before my election, African-Americans Jerome Nelson and Robert Owens were elected respectively as Superintendents to the Central and Southeast Conferences of the same denomination. I can’t post this and not recognize progress that has been made. But within the larger evangelical movement, we still have a long way to go. I’m still not sure why I couldn’t get this writing published.)
Post-Black Theology is rooted in the thesis that there are theologies and best-practice models that have come out of the Black Church in America and Africa that are meant from God to be a gift to the whole church. You can’t present Post-Black Theology though without first dealing with Black Theology.
Black theology is a theology for Black people. Black theology is about a biblical understanding that God, thru Jesus, identifies with the historical suffering and current social disparities facing Black people. Theologian James Cone and Religious and African-American Studies Scholar, Cornell West are the pioneers of Black Liberation Theology. Black Liberation Theology has connections to Liberation Theology coming out of Latin America. Black Liberation Theology has not been fully received within evangelicalism because one, it’s focused on God identifying with the conditions facing Black people and two, it has elements which seem more rooted in marxism and humanism than Scripture. South African theologian Allan Boesak has offered a version of Black Liberation Theology that is more palatable for evangelical tastes.
Post-Black Theology, though not labeled that, begins with African-American theologians and organic scholars such as Howard Thurman, Martin Luther King Jr., Tom Skinner, and John Perkins. Thru these leaders we find the foundation of Reconciliation Theology. Reconciliation Theology is about the redemption, liberation, and reconciliation of both the oppressed and the oppressor. Black Liberation theology is primarily about the oppressed, with little or no focus on the transformation of the oppressor.
Post-Black theology also includes a more authentic missional ecclesiology. The Black Church has been a missional church since its inception. The Civil Rights Movement is both a missional and emergent movement before European-American pastors and theologians began the discussion. Hip Hop culture today is both a Post-Black movement and the most visible sign of post-modernism. Because it is a movement of urban African-American, Asian, and Hispanic youth, it is marginalized by the dominant culture. If the church in the United States is truly going to be missional it must learn to advance the Kingdom of God in an ever-increasing multi-ethnic, multicultural, urban, global, technological, and hip hop reality.
The Black Church is missional because it has also been engaging culture for justice and transformation as well as being a development center for the empowerment of African-Americans to become Post-Black leaders. If not for the Black Church influence on some level, there would be no Post-Black leaders such as President Barak Obama, Oprah Winfrey, Colin Powell, or Tony Dungy. Whether in their generation, their parents, or grandparents, the Black Church had influence.
I will spend time in future posts breaking down further Post-Black Theology. Stay tuned and I would love your thoughts.
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.
The picture above is of one of my fraternity brothers (Kappa Alpha Psi) reading to a group of children at Martin Luther King Jr. Elementary School in Oakland, California. Our local chapter (Berkeley Alumni) volunteered for a health and literacy fair at the school. After the event, I reflected on these problems impacting urban public school education today-
MY TOP TEN PROBLEMS WITH URBAN PUBLIC SCHOOLS:
10.) The Lack of Greater Family Involvement
9.) That Both Political Parties Have Made Politics of Urban Education
8.) That Urban Children Get Caught In Between Unions and Activists
7.) The Some Teachers Bring Personal Agendas Into The Classroom That Have Little To Do With Education
6.) Unrealistic Expectations That Some People Have Of What A School Should Provide For Children
5.) Families With The Resources (Like Mine) Who Move To The Suburbs Or Choose Private Schools (Thought I Would Spread The Blame Around)
4.) Constant Turnover Of School Principles
3.) People With No Credentials Or Experience In Education Thinking They Can Educate Children Better Than The Urban Public Schools.
2.) Lack Of Sufficient Funding And Volunteer Support
1.) The Lack Of Innovative Collaboration With The Local Faith Community And Other Long-Standing Organizations.
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.
“And now, Israel, what does the LORD your God require from you, but to fear the LORD your God, to walk in His ways and love Him, and to serve the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul, and to keep the LORD’s commandments and His statues which I am commanding you today for your good?”
“He executes justice for the orphan and the widow, and shows His love for the alien by giving him food and clothing. So show your love for the alien, for you were aliens in the land of Egypt.”
Deuteronomy 10:12-13 and 18-19 (NASB)
These words written by Moses connect something very important for God’s chosen people. Throughout this book, God called the people to remember Him as their one and only God. This remembrance is rooted in the deliverance out of oppression and slavery in Egypt. From here, they are to know God, love God, and follow his commandments. One important element of these commandments is the execution of justice.
What God seems to be saying here thru Moses is, “I saw you when you were the marginalized and the oppressed. I delivered you out of this condition. Now out of remembrance, worship, and love, live for Me by caring for the marginalized and oppressed around you now. If you are not sure who those people are, let me be very clear; the orphan, the widow, and the alien.” In other places in Scripture the poor are also mentioned. In Matthew 25, Jesus extends this in a very clear way to the sick and incarcerated as well. This should lead us to understand the connection between Deliverance, Remembrance, and Justice. Let me take this a little further.
Jesus is our deliverance out of sin. We should not disconnect our understanding of this from the deliverance of Israel from Egypt. Just as the people of Israel were called to remember this, we Christians are to participate in the Sacrament of Communion as a remembrance. The Old Testament remembrance ought inform the New Testament remembrance. The New Testament remembrance should not remove the Old Testament remembrance. It is the combination of the two that fueled the movement against slavery and Jim Crow segregation in the United States of America. These movements were another great awakening in our country, which provided a new lens of understanding Kingdom justice.
Today, the church should still be about the evangelistic work of deliverance, the communal act of remembrance, and the missional work of Kingdom justice. As a product of the African-American church, I’ve never understood the historic divide in the European-American church between evangelism and the social gospel. I realize that the term social justice has taken on a bad name in evangelicalism and in many ways I understand why. Justice has been kidnapped to a large degree by humanism. This was the undoing of the Civil Rights Movement in a lot of ways. It went from being a church-based movement, to a secularized and political one. But the church should never stop connecting Evangelism and Kingdom Justice. God is a God of love, deliverance, and justice. We should always remember that.