As I was on a plane last night heading home to Northern California, I happened to be reading yet another book on the Missional Church. This time I was reading Missional Renaissance by Reggie McNeal. Over the last year, I have read books by McNeal, Alan Hirsch, Alan Roxburgh, Darrell Guder, and many others. These book could read without knowing the authors and you might come to believe that they were written by the same person at times. On one hand, I have enjoyed reading these books and on the other these books have created much frustration in my heart and mind.
I have enjoyed reading these books because I’m very passionate about the church being missional. With the Church in the United States of America being so influenced by a corporate church model that tends to build its outcomes based on growth at the expense many times of depth and more holistic transformation, the missional conversation is one that is very needed. The frustration I have is that the missional church conversation is mainly a European-American conversation and to this degree is presented as if the European-American Church is the pioneer of missional ministry in the United States of America. I also have an issue with the lack of focus on issues of justice and racial righteousness that is avoided in much of the missional conversation. But, what is really troubling, is that the Black Church and the Urban Church in the United States of America is ignored as the true pioneering and Christ-centered forces behind a historic and present model of the Missional Church. Ignoring these church models makes it seem as if an emerging generation of European-American evangelicals discovered a missional approach to ministry through theologians such as Bishop Leslie Newbigin.
One of the reasons it may be difficult for the European-American Church to recognize both the Black and Urban Church is because it would then have to deal with how it historically played a role in the development of some of the injustices that plague Black and Urban communities today. One example is the issue of the White Flight from urban communities in the 1960′s and 1970′s when Black families began to integrate these predominately White communities at the time. White Flight assists in the creation of middle class and upper middle class suburbs, which in turn lay the foundation for the development of well-resourced suburban European-American mega churches. Evangelicals have to be willing to deal with this history. It was the conservative Christians that fled to escape integration while in many cases more liberal mainline churches stayed in the city and began to develop ministries of compassion, mercy, and justice.
Now, please understand that I’m in no way against large churches. And theologically, I am very evangelical. I do have an issue with large evangelical churches that help to sustain the segregated church in the United States of America by not understanding the roots of their existence. Some large churches in the suburbs are successful off of the flight and abandonment of the inner city years ago.
The Black Church has been missional since its beginning. It had not choice. The Black Church is created and evolves in the midst of a mission field, which soil produced slavery, Jim Crow segregation, and inner-city ghettoes. The Black Church was simultaneously the developer of new missionaries and the object of the White missionary, who was sometimes also the slave owner. The Black Church is forced within this mission field to not only be a worship center, but also a center of leadership development, community development, healthcare, education, and economic empowerment. These initiatives were rooted in Scriptures such as the Book of Exodus, Matthew 25, and Luke 4. The Black Church is still one of the most visible signs of the Missional Church in cities such as Chicago, Minneapolis, New York, Atlanta, Dallas, and Houston just to name a few.
It’s time to have a broader and more ethnically diverse conversation about the Missional Church. Are you ready? Then start by reading the following Missional Church writers that can broaden your theology beyond just the European-American Church perspective-
* Soong-Chan Rah
* Brenda Salter-McNeil
* John Teter
* John Perkins
* Martin Luther King Jr.
* Howard Thurman
This is just a start.
I love the Black Church. I was raised in the Black Church. I was licensed and originally ordained into ministry through the Black Church. I learned about preaching, Kingdom justice, singing, a theology of celebration and suffering, and community leadership all within the Black Church. I’ve met Civil Right Movement workers, former gang members turned community development leaders, school principles, praying grandmothers, theologians, fraternity and sorority members, and committed fathers in the Black Church. I learned how to respect and honor African-American women in the Black Church. In many ways I am a product of the Black Church.
The Black Church today must become a Post-Black Church. This does not mean the end totally of the Black Church. What it does mean, is that for the Black Church to be healthy and missional into the future it must be able to advance the Kingdom of God in an ever-increasing multi-ethnic and multicultural reality. We cannot prophetically call the White Church to racial righteousness and reconciliation and in turn let the Black Church off the hook. Both churches are equally held accountable to the Gospel of Jesus Christ and the centrality of the Scriptures. The Post-Black Church is one that is willing to share the gifts of the Black Church with the broader body of Christ without losing its soul. It’s a church that provides alternative methods of worship, evangelism, discipleship, and mission to all those within its surrounding community regardless of ethnicity. It’s a church that will provide a more holistic and justice focused model of global missions. In some cases this is already going on.
The Post-Black Church must move this direction by truly becoming even more of an African-American Church. Then it must grow into a multi-ethnic and missional church. This will lift up the fact that race in the form of Blackness and Whiteness are ultimately man made social constructs never intended by God. The Post-Black Church can take the lead in kingdom advancement in the United States and beyond. If this doesn’t happen the Black Church will become enslaved to the same elements that hold the White Church captive (To learn more about this read the book, The Next Evangelicalism by Soong-Chan Rah). In many cases this is already happening.
Too many Black Churches are being held captive by individualism, capitalism, and consumerism. This combination can lead to empire building instead of Kingdom advancement. This happened through the drift theologically into the Word of Faith Movement and the Prosperity Gospel. Some Black Churches have moved away from the theologies of Howard Thurman, Martin Luther King Jr., Tom Skinner, and John Perkins, and James Cone. Some Black Churches can’t hear the voices of Vashti McKenzie, Jeremiah Wright, Gardner C. Taylor, Calvin Butts, Floyd Flake, Frank Reid, and Brenda Salter McNeil. Instead some are captivated by television preachers promising wealth, rooted in a “casino theology.” Others want to grow large churches so badly that they’ll follow the theology of the closest mega church. Sad indeed. This has led to an institution that has historically been a champion of freedom, to become enslaved. The Post-Black Church is not just about sharing the theologies and ministry models that have made the Black Church missional and unique, but also the freeing of a church enslaved. I love the Black Church and I want it free.
A freed African-American church can lead to the freedom of the White Church from its captivity. We could use the help of Asian and Hispanic churches as well.
More on this topic in the future.
Last week I had the honor of speaking on main stage at the Ichthus Music Festival. I spoke right after a very powerful performance by Holy Hip Hop artist LaCrae. Earlier that day I was on a panel with LaCrae, Trip Lee, and Pro speaking on the influence of Hip Hop and Urban Culture on all of youth culture today. These artists are all apart of Reach Records. Some of you may remember a post I did not long ago on the “Odd Marriage Between Holy Hip Hop and Calvinism.”
In this post I shared my concerns about Holy Hip Hop being dominated by Calvinist theology without the balance of Reconciliation theology, Liberation theology, and Black theology rooted in the history of the Black Church. My point was not to say that Calvinism has no place in Holy Hip Hop, but to say that Calvinism alone makes Holy Hip Hop no Hip Hop at all and limits its ability to be a true transformational and evangelistic force in urban America and beyond.
First let me make one more point about my concerns on a Holy Hip Hop movement dominated by Calvinism. Calvinist theologians and pastors have not fully dealt with a theology that has ties historically to the economic structure of capitalism, the replacement theology connected to colonialism, and the unbiblical development of the race structure and imagination dealt with by theologians such as Willie James Jennings (The Christian Imagination) and J. Kameron Carter (Race: A Theological Account). What this means is that historically, Calvinism has had moments when it was not on the side of the liberation of African-Americans, especially during slavery and Jim Crow segregation. This does not mean that there weren’t some Calvinists that would have been against slavery or on the side of the Civil Rights Movement. We can say though, that evangelicals must own a sketchy history at best around issues of race. We’ve truly come a long way, but we haven’t yet arrived as a truly reconciled people. This is why the Reconciliation theology of Tom Skinner, John Perkins, Howard Thurman, Martin Luther King Jr., Brenda Salter-McNeil, and Curtiss DeYoung is needed within the Holy Hip Hop Movement.
With all that said, I need to give much love to the Ministry of Reach Records. I especially need to show much love to LaCrae. As I sat on the panel of with the artists of Reach Records and witnessed the ministry of LaCrae on stage, I was moved by his gifts, character, and theological depth. I’m also honored that these artists have so much respect for me and my contributions to the Holy Hip Hop Movement. My last post on this subject was in no way meant to dishonor these artists. My heart is to serve as a Hip Hop theologian and to see this movement have a significant Kingdom impact in Urban America and beyond. I pray for LaCrae and the ministry of Reach Records that God would bless them in a mighty way.
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.
In the recent edition of Christianity Today there is a story on the marriage between Holy Hip Hop (or Christian Rap) and Calvinism (or Reformed Theology). Contemporary Reformed Theologians such as John Piper and John MacArthur are having a major influence on Holy Hip Hop artists such as LaCrae and Flame. Though I have some issues with this, I understand the reasons why. First let me present my issue with this odd marriage.
Hip Hop influenced entirely by Calvinism is no Hip Hop at all. Reformed Theology, though it contains some theological elements that I totally agree with should not be the only or primary theology influencing Holy Hip Hop. Calvinism is Eurocentric in nature and in the United States of America has evolved into a theology driven by the privileged. Hip Hop, Holy or Secular is about the engaging and presenting of the issues surrounding a sub-culture of the historically marginalized of urban America.
True Hip Hop is constructed around the elements of the emcee, the deejay, the b-boy or b-girl, the graffiti artist, and most importantly, knowledge of God for knowledge of self. The original principles are peace, love , community, and having fun. Hip Hop originally was about providing an artistic and social alternative to gang violence, drug dealing, prostitution, and other negative elements of urban culture. It was also about speaking truth to power. It was about poor urbanites feeling rejected by upwardly mobile people of color.
This doesn’t mean that the culture was ever Christian in nature, although there has always been a respect on some level for God. Today, many are stating that true Hip Hop is dead. It’s been replaced by a European-American controlled record industry that makes money off of exploiting the very things that Hip Hop culture was created to go against. Please get this point, secular Hip Hop is being influenced by people outside the culture, who have turn it into a contemporary plantation.
Now back to Holy Hip Hop. Holy Hip Hop is being controlled by people outside of the culture theologically. I have great respect for John Piper, but I question his understanding of Hip Hop culture. I pastored a Hip Hop and multi-ethnic, evangelical church in Minneapolis for almost eight years. Dr. Piper never consulted us on our theological or philosophical approach to this type of Kingdom advancing ministry model. Myself, Rev. Phil Jackson, and Dr. Daniel Hodge have been labeled as Hip Hop Theologians. We all count this as an honor. We have written scholarly works on the subject. We desire to love, mentor, and embrace our brothers and sisters in Holy Hip Hop. Holy Hip Hop artist need to know scholarly and organic theologians such as Tom Skinner, John Perkins, Brenda Salter-McNeil, Soon-Chan Rah, Martin Luther King Jr., James Cone, and Howard Thurman.
I want to make it clear that I don’t want to put down Dr. Piper. I have great respect for him and would love to have healthy dialogue with him on this subject and others. What I am saying is that Calvinism cannot be the lone theology shaping Holy Hip Hop. This is why currently most Holy Hip Hop takes place at Evangelical events, in front of predominately European-American audiences. I don’t blame Holy Hip Hop artists for this though. I put the full blame on the African-American church, which has done a great job over the years of rejecting Holy Hip Hop artists. Because the African-American Church has made orphans of Holy Hip Hop artists, theologians such as John Piper have become spiritual fathers to the movement. I can’t hate on Dr. Piper for that. I do want Holy Hip Hop artists to know though, that they are loved by many African-American pastors, I being one. I’m also willing to bring to the table liberation and reconciliation theology, so that the movement might be true Hip Hop and true Jesus. Let’s come together for the sake of the Kingdom.
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.