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.
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.
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.