Wednesday, April 30, 2008
We live in a society in which identity in one way or the other touches everything. And that has been no more evident that in the current presidential campaign. A couple of weeks ago our brother Thabiti Anyabwile gave a powerful sermon on our identity in Christ at the T4G conference. Our fellow elder challenged God’s people to accept the biblical reality that we’re all descended from one man and in him all make up one race. He then went on to speak on how those in Christ are now one new people and therefore basically we should get on with the business of living like it.
I’m sure all of us who heard the message were encouraged and challenged to think or re-think our approach to people and mission. The message particularly challenged me in regards to what I believe was a central aspect of my calling. Ever since studying and embracing reformed theology nearly twenty years ago I’ve been convinced that God wanted me to take these truths to the black church and black community. And since I was sure that our Lord’s primary vehicle to introduce His gospel and disciple His people was through the local church I was certain that He wanted to me to plant a black reformed church. By black reformed church it was my intention start a fellowship which would draw from the cultural heritage of the historic black church and marry that culture with the reformed truths I’d embraced. However, it’s important to be up front and note that any church that sought to feature historic black church experience would appeal mainly to African-Americans and by default exclude most people from other ethnicities. I say by default because whether we admit it or not many of us factor in a given church’s culture when deciding on where to worship.
But here’s the question. Should I have sought to do that in the first place? No matter how benign my intentions were should I have planted a church that specifically targeted souls based on their ethnicity? In doing so did I contribute to the sin of using the church to highlight existing ethnic differences? My thoughts dwell on the way to pursue authentically biblical ministry, serve the subculture that I came out of while at the same time striving for the unity of the faith. For instance should I seek to write books, hold conferences and start or revitalize churches that focus on the issues prevalent in the African-American church and community? More than that, since the issues presented by the black church and community are so different than those faced by others should a whole movement be designed to impact the black church and community with authentic biblical theology and practice? If it did so and was ‘successful’ would the result be another ethnically based church and would that be right? Yet if we don’t go this route what are some alternatives to addressing things like prosperity theology, black liberation theology, the nation of Islam and the confused sacred/secular enmeshment of the black community? Mercy, it ain't easy living between three worlds!
Lastly, I need to end by thanking God for brother Thabiti, his message and his continuing ministry to God’s church. I also want to thank our Lord for the saints at First Baptist of GC and for brothers like Kevin Smith of Pinelands PCA, Reddit Andrew of Soaring Oaks PCA, Mike Campbell of Redeemer PCA of Jackson, Irwyn Ince of City of Hope in Columbia MD and the many other African-American pastors who intentionally sought to serve at mainly white congregations. These brothers are showing us that the body of Christ can stand unified in the face of our persistent ethnic tensions. And their congregations are demonstrating to our culture that white people can and have submitted to black leadership and are willing to invite a black man into one of the most intimate relationships of their lives, namely that of pastor and parishioner. No matter how these things shake out we would do well to pray for and highlight these examples of the gracious power of the gospel of Jesus Christ.
To Him Who Loves Us…
Friday, April 25, 2008
This - I had a fantastic time at T4G 08. We worshiped through singing the songs of Zion, songs that speak of the common salvation we have in our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. But we mainly worshiped our Lord through hearing of His love, grace, sacrifice and salvation through the servants He’s raised up to declare the word to us. Among my personal highlights of the conference was the standing O we gave to a brother who had served His Lord in pastoral ministry for over 50 years. Another was C.J.’s quote of Spurgeon who once said that others might preach the gospel better, but no one can ever preach a better gospel.
Of course there was Thabiti’s message that was passionate, challenging and caused us to think of the possibilities of living as though Christ is our identity. Lord willing I and along with a number of others from CLF will make the 2010 version.
Speaking of T4G I get a double dose of R.C. since I’ll hear him tonight at PCRT. Mercy, my cup runneth over.
That - Is an image from deep space taken by the Hubble Telescope. How the heavens do indeed declare His glory.
The Other - Sixers got spanked, Flyers got robbed, but it’s better to be spanked and robbed than to sit at home during the playoffs like we did last year.
More - I led a retreat on worship with a series of messages from Lev. 9. I hope to write more about this soon.
And Then Some - A few are wondering if the term ‘evangelical’ has outlived its usefulness. I’m wondering the same thing for the term ‘reformed’ but more on that later.
Finally - Aslan is on the move again. Stay tuned for info about the upcoming northeast regional conference of the Association of Charismatic Reformed Churches.
To Him Who Loves Us...
Tuesday, April 22, 2008
They don’t call us the Keystone State for nothing. Forgive us while we gloat just a tad but it’s been over thirty years since The Commonwealth played a significant part in a presidential primary. (In 76 we were the last stand for old line democrats who wanted to stop Jimmy Carter from winning the nomination)
Now it’s Senator Clinton on the ropes hoping to stave off elimination and take this puppy into overtime. Once the votes have been counted (and that may take a day or two) this primary will be analyzed, re-analyzed, surface analyzed and in-depth analyzed. Pundits will talk about white well-educated urbanites, white working class small towns folks, white middle income suburbanites, black lower income urbanites, white women who voted for Obama, black men who supported Clinton, college students, the elderly and more (it seems that almost no one speaks to black middle income suburbanites).
And regardless of today’s outcome one thing is sure. Despite a pastor whose message recorded five years ago threatened to bring him down and some unwise remarks about the good folk of central PA, Senator Barack Obama has built a candidacy and movement around the themes of hope and unity. This may be why so many who believe his candidacy is much more about promise than substance are so perplexed. Perhaps they don’t understand that much of the voting public has that ‘been there… done that and got the t-shirt’ attitude toward candidates who come with 18 point plans on how they will erase our problems, fix everything all in four years and all without sacrifice. Maybe they really are tired of the old politics of division where we line up behind champions who tell us that ‘they’ are the problem, ‘they’ are the ones to fear, ‘they’ will lead America to destruction and ‘they’ must be defeated.
Last week Senator Barack Obama led a rally in downtown Philly that drew about 35,000 souls. And like most of his rallies the attendees hailed from all kinds of backgrounds. Brothers from the barbershops of West Philly stood alongside of preppy students from the Main Line. Did they go to hear the senator’s 27 point plan to ‘get America back on track’? Probably not. They went to listen to someone tell them that it’s time out for politics as usual and time in for us to begin acting as if we’re all Americans and the problems our country faces belong to all of us.
For many Senator Obama is just another politician laying a line and trolling for votes. However, he’s been laying that line for months now and his following hasn’t diminished in any significant manner. And maybe he is just another politician laying down a line. But what if he isn’t? What if Barack Obama is able to build and sustain a coalition of all kinds of people from all kinds of backgrounds committed to working together to tackle our common struggles. What if he’s able to get legislation passed that gives college students aid in return for service to inner city? (translate poor black/Hispanic neighborhoods) What if thousands of white college students take Obama’s example and begin advocating for poor communities and in so doing come to know and discover that there are thousands or maybe tens of thousands of black children who have just as much intellect and potential as the man who now leads their hopes for a better future and better America? What if Senator Barack Obama is able to generate a sustained movement that creates real relationships between blacks and whites and results in the betterment of the black community? And what if all that happens at the very time when some evangelicals are telling African-Americans that it’s their responsibility to clean up their own communities?
What I’m getting at here is that whether Barack wins or loses might be less important than the movement he could sustain. Much is being said and written by evangelicals concerning the dangers of an Obama presidency. The one thing that is being neglected however is his potential to spur a movement that could seriously address our seemingly intractable issues of ethnic distrust and division. And I wonder if he’s able to do so will evangelicals essentially be at the same place in 2008 that they were in 1968 when the country writhed through ethnic change: that is on the outside looking in?
To Him Who Loves Us…
Friday, April 11, 2008
I’m off (I know in more ways than one) to Tenth Presby’s college and career retreat where I’ll speak on the theme ‘The Wonder of Worship’ from Leviticus 9. From there I’ll prepare to attend the T4G conference in Louisville which will sort of be a retreat for me.
There’s no doubt that we have much more to discuss regarding reconciliation and other issues. And even though many of us will worship in churches dominated by one ethnicity this Sunday I pray nonetheless that our worship is Spirit-filled, honors God and highlights our glorious Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.
Lord willing I’ll drop you a line by the end of next week.
To Him Who Loves Us…
Tuesday, April 08, 2008
So why should we pursue reconciliation (or for some ethnic harmony and true peace)? There are a number of reasons, but the more I reflect on it the more it appears that our society may be content to maintain status quo. By status quo I mean that we’re content to exist in society in which we remain largely separate as long as we can achieve a measure of equality within our separation. Now that may sound harsh and unreasoning but I believe that it’s more true than false.
For instance some of the reaction to Senator Obama’s speech on race relations focused on the need for black people to take responsibility and ownership of the issues in our communities. Juan Williams' commentary fits into this category. There Williams laments that Senator Obama didn’t use the speech as a call for African-Americans to work on transforming ourselves so that we can transform the world. Now I agree that black folks must take charge and ownership of our communities and culture in order to free ourselves from the pathologies that continue to afflict us. But in my view the rebuilding of our communities and culture though related to the pursuit of ethnic harmony can be achieved apart from experiencing genuine ethnic peace.
And I wonder is that what our society really wants? Would we be satisfied to live in a country in which all ethnicities experienced a fairly equal measure of stability, success and opportunity even if we remained pretty much separated? For instance, imagine if black folks were successful in righting the wrongs within our own communities to the point where we could enjoy neighborhoods with good schools, good and growing job opportunities and satisfying cultural outlets. Would it be alright if those neighborhoods were largely homogenous and those African-Americans living there had little if any meaningful social contact with people from other ethnicities? And should such a situation ever arise would our society believe that for the most part we’ve solved the ‘race problem’?
However if that is not acceptable then what should be done about it? And what part if any should the church play and should we consider this an essential implication of the gospel of Jesus Christ? If we do then how will it be reflected in our churches, theology, seminaries, ministries, publications, conferences, etc.?
To Him Who Loves Us…
Friday, April 04, 2008
Today marks the 40th anniversary of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr’s assassination in Memphis TN. Many will take part of this day to reflect on Dr. King’s life and legacy along with assessing where our country was then and now in terms of ethnic relations. And more than likely the usual suspects will man the posts of their ideological battlements and interpret and reinterpret Dr. King’s life in terms of where we are today and what we need to do now. Since I’m sure you can find that in various places on the web I’d like to cast a different vision. This is not a comprehensive reflection, only a snapshot of one possible future for both blacks and whites.
Imagine the year is 2048 and the country is commemorating the 80th anniversary of Dr. King’s assassination. You wake up, greet your family and prepare for another day of work. Leaving home you take a short trip to the small business that you and a number of family members and friends began about ten years ago. While there you talk about the usual things until the conversation inevitably leads to Dr. King’s death and the events of 2008 that spurred black folks all over the country to take charge of their communities and reverse the decay that festered within them for decades. Your co-workers note how the 40th anniversary of Dr. King’s death coincided with the candidacy of Senator Barack Obama, which led to an unexpected change of mind and turn of events for the greater black community.
As you talk together your friends recall how not one leader but hundreds, perhaps thousands challenged and influenced African-Americans to marshal their resources, arrest the decay of our communities and commit to rebuilding them for our children and children’s children. Somehow these leaders were able to get black folks to jettison the mindset of leaving their neighborhood for a better (translate ‘white’) one and invest themselves and resources in the places they, their parents and their grandparents had lived for decades. At first many from both within and without the black community scoffed believing that this was a fools errand. But the leaders of the second Civil Rights Movement wouldn’t be deterred. They convinced black people that neither the government, the corporate sector, the world of academia or even the white evangelical church had any real intention of encouraging or investing resources into our communities. They spoke boldly and brought the truth home to us. We could either change the way we thought, do for ourselves and thrive or wait another forty years for white people to ‘do the right thing’ and slowly allow the pathologies that afflicted us to choke the life from our communities and our people.
And now communities that were on the brink of collapse 40 years ago thrive with a vibrancy of families young and old who enjoyed living in neighborhoods that feature nice well kept homes, superb schools, a variety of recreational outlets, good restaurants and trendy shops. Most of all though you live in a neighborhood that people love to call home. From your perspective and those of your co-workers the work for equality began 400 years ago by your enslaved ancestors has finally reached its fruition.
You complete the day’s work, return home and over dinner discuss with your family Dr. King’s legacy noting how many commentators spoke of how proud he would be of black people. During this time your wife mentions that her sister’s pastor recently challenged his congregation to refuse to rest on our laurels of achievement and press forward to the next frontier of the civil rights battle. She spoke of a message he preached that rebuked an attitude found on a bumper sticker and was growing in popularity among young black people. The bumper sticker read ‘Separate, Equal and Successful’. It conveyed an attitude among many younger African-Americans who were completely at home with an existence devoid of genuine relationships with people from other ethnicities. And it wasn’t confined to secular people. A recent poll conducted in a number of black churches found that while African-American believers bear no animosity toward white people in general and white evangelicals in particular they also see no urgent reason to push for integrated churches and communities.
The attitude among both black Christian and non-Christians is ’where were they forty years ago’. One pastor was quoted saying that evangelicals always seem to be forty years late and forty dollars short when it came to ethnic issues. In his message your sister-in-law’s pastor noted that while much had been gained in the last forty years an unintended consequence was the further separation of black and white people. Thinking through this you muse on how you grew up in an all black neighborhood, went to all black schools, graduated from a black university that was about 3 to 4 percent white, work at an all black business and of course attend an all black church. Your entire professional and social network consists of black people and though you have a few tangential relationship with whites they are just that, tangential.
It’s not that you have anything against white people. And though ‘racial reconciliation’ (interesting term you think) sounds good you have no idea of where to start. But even deeper than that you wonder why you should even bother.
To Him Who Loves Us…
Wednesday, April 02, 2008
Check out the latest from those brothers who are dropping the righteous knowledge from pulpits far and near.
From the left coast brother Reddit Andrews of Soaring Oaks Presbyterian Church has been steadily working through the book of Daniel.
Our own fellow elder Thabiti Anyabwile of First Baptist of Grand Cayman continues to preach from the gospel of Matthew.
In the southland brother Mike Campbell of Redeemer Presbyterian Church of Jackson is finishing up the gospel of Mark in the morning and moving through Proverbs in the evening.
A bit further east of Jackson brothers Robert Benson and Anthony Carter of Southwest Christian Fellowship are dropping some major truth from the minor prophets.
And last but not least there is the feast in the east.
2nd VP Eric Redmond of Hillcrest Baptist Church is preaching on the theme of starting over with biblical leadership.
The Right Rev. Tony Arnold of Gaithersburg Community Church (vestments and all) is hitting up the psalms.
And finally, the new kid on the block Irwyn (dbl I) Ince of City of Hope Church is taking it back to the beginning with a series from Genesis.
Lord willing these brothers can encourage and challenge you to continue to pursue our Lord and His kingdom with joy and grace.
To Him Who Loves Us...
Tuesday, April 01, 2008
What’s up fam? Haven’t gotten around to our discussion much because as usual there’s been a lot happening at CLF. For the as of yet uninitiated CLF stands for Christ Liberation Fellowship. As far as I know we are the only Christ Liberation Fellowship our denomination (PCA). And of the 2500 to 3000 churches in the City of Brotherly Love, Sisterly Affection and ever-losing sports teams we may be the only one named Christ Liberation Fellowship. That name has certain advantages. For instance we occupy a prime place on the Google search engine. It also can spark a good discussion liberation theology.
And that is a topic on the minds of many lately. If you didn’t know by now Senator Barack Obama is a member of a church that espouses a system of belief known as Black Liberation Theology. Black Liberation Theology teaches that God’s primary purpose is to provide political, social, economic as well as spiritual liberation for the poor and marginalized. Moreover, it holds that freedom from political and social oppression was the point of Jesus’ life and ministry and is now the center of the gospel. Many of us may not be familiar with churches who hold this as their primary theology. It is called Black Liberation Theology because liberation is has been the one overriding theme of black people and black life since being brought to America to serve as perpetual slaves.
Among other things this means that Barack Obama is not only the first black candidate to have a realistic shot at winning the nomination of one of the major political parties but he may also be the first black candidate who did not attend what we normally understand as a traditional black church. This along with a few excerpts of a message preached by Rev. Wright several years ago has the country and the church talking about this theology which has been active in its present form in the black church for about forty years.
Like most other evangelicals I believe that Black Liberation Theology misses the mark regarding the central theme of scripture and the person and work of Jesus Christ. That doesn’t mean that those who promote this theology have nothing valuable to say concerning God’s concern for the poor and powerless. It does remind me however of something I wrote in my very first post. On May 7, 2007 the inaugural post of Blaque Tulip contained these thoughts regarding my view of theology:
‘There is something we believe about scripture (or how God communicates) God, mankind, sin, salvation, Jesus Christ, the Holy Spirit, the church, etc. These beliefs while not said affect how we think, live and relate to God here and now. The issue isn’t whether or not you have a theology, but if you have one that is biblically derived, biblically driven, God honoring and Christ-centered.’
Oh why did we settle on the name Christ Liberation Theology? Because in a sense I too am a proponent of liberation theology. I believe and therefore planted a church whose mission is to promote Jesus Christ, the one who loves and has liberated us from our sins by his blood and has made us a kingdom, priests to His God and Father, to Him be glory and dominion forever and ever. Amen.
To Him Who Loves Us…