Can You Write This After 2019? (part two)

Another entry under the category of timelines, this time with a striking contrast of narratives.

This is the narrative of the black evangelical church from 2019:

White Christianity is the offspring of evangelical revivalism and various forms of American exceptionalism. White Christianity then is a combination of biblical religion and a certain view of power, privilege, access and influence. It’s a religion that sees itself as best-suited for life at the top. It assumes that at the very least it should have influence over the entire culture and that it should shape the moral and ethical outlook of the citizenry. Certain varieties see the country as a “Christian nation” and sees progress as a matter of reclaiming this Christian ideal now largely lost or threatened. 

Black Christianity is the offspring of American evangelicalism and the “hush arbor.” The hush arbor is the term used to describe the worship of slaves who snuck away into the bush, usually at night, and worshipped according to the dictates of their own conscience and the needs of their own community. So black Christianity is one part biblical religion and public piety (evangelical revivalism). But it is also one part clandestine resistance and self-care. It views itself as working from the bottom and the margins, not to climb atop of everyone else, but to be free, whole, joyful, and useful. 

Because they share one parent (evangelical revivalism), they have a great deal in common. But because they also have different parents, they have very different characteristics too.

In 2007 the genealogy of the black church looked different and its recent expressions not so welcome:

Three theological streams flowed through the doctrine of salvation in African American history. The first stream was the Calvinism adopted by the earliest generation of northern writers, preachers and thinkers and the broadly reformed thinking of African Americans in the plantation South. Their convictions included the doctrines of radical depravity, sovereign election, the necessity of regeneration and a general denial of free will. . . .

The Wesleyan/Arminian tradition, sparked among African Americans by the labors of Methodist churchmen, was the second stream of thought. Institutionalized by Richard Allen and the African Methodist Episcopal Church, Arminian soteriology with its higher view of human moral ability and freedom spread in African American faith communities during the 1800s. . . Holiness and Pentecostal revivals in the late 1800s and early 1900s represented flash floods of Arminianism and helped establish this soteriological view as the dominant perspective among African Americans to the present. . . .

The worst part of the decline came now with the move to Wesleyan/Arminiansm, which retained significant elements of orthodox doctrine found in the broader Reformation, but with the distortions of theological liberalism and word-of-faith and prosperity “gospel excesses on the other. Theologically liberal streams opened up in the mid-1900s in the mainstream ideas of the Civil Rights movement and the revolutionary propositions of Black Theology. Black Theology achieved some academic success and reputation, and the iconic stature of theologically liberal leaders like Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. helped shape much of the church’s social ethics. However African Americans remained largely evangelical in their view of Scripture and conversion. (Thabiti Anyabwile, The Decline of African American Theology: From Biblical Faith to Cultural Captivity [2007] 211-213)

3 thoughts on “Can You Write This After 2019? (part two)

  1. I always find it weird when folks suggest that Christians look to the experience of African slaves to think about how to maintain the faith in a hostile climate. But what they miss is that these African slaves more or less completely lost their indigenous religion by the oppression of the dominant culture (protestant christianity). If Christians in hostile modernity were to follow a similar path as African Americans, we would shed Christianity for our flavor of secular modernity.

    Liked by 1 person

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