Book Review: On Being Black and Reformed

Anthony Carter, On Being Black and Reformed: A New Perspective on the African-American Christian Experience

Anthony Carter is one of the leading voices in a small but growing movement of black Reformed pastors and churches. This short book (about 100 pages plus appendices) is a sort of manifesto for the black Reformed movement. Carter opens with a question: “Do we need a black theology?” He suggests two answers. First, yes, we emphatically need a black theology, and second, yes, we unfortunately need a black theology. Emphatically, because all theology is done from within a cultural context, and because of the presence of unsound black theology. Unfortunately, because conservative theology typically fails to answer the questions of the black community regarding their own suffering, and because the troubles inflicted on blacks in this country tended to have a “Christian flavor.” For these reasons, we do need a black theology—and it must come from the faithful interpretation of Scripture in the context of our history, tradition and Christian experience.

The second chapter is one of the better presentations of Reformed theology I’ve read. This is maybe because Carter doesn’t get bogged down in the five points. He spends most of his time on the sovereignty of God, the sinfulness of man, and the sufficiency of Christ, and he unpacks each of these well. Chapter 3, “The Church from Chains,” examines the historical side of the black Christian experience in America. The fact that there is an African-American church at all is both a testimony to the sovereignty of God and an indictment of those who bought and sold blacks and Christians who refused to welcome them into the church. Carter shows both diligence and negligence on the part of evangelicals in preaching the gospel to the slave population, and then the unspeakable reality that once they were converted, blacks were generally treated as second-class citizens of the Kingdom. This chapter is well done and shows real insight into God’s working in history.

In the fourth chapter, the heart of the book, Carter presents Reformed theology as the best way to handle the questions and struggles of black Christians. Reformed doctrine can celebrate God’s sovereignty in bringing the black church through centuries of suffering, and also lament the sinfulness of man that brought that suffering about. This view of God and man makes possible the kind of sanctified, God-honoring grief we see in the Psalms, a grief the black church has experienced, but that we don’t see much in the church today. Reformed theology has something to offer the black church, and the black church has contributions to make to the Reformed world. A richer appreciation of the sovereignty of God, the sinfulness of man and the sufficiency of Christ can help bring about in our country the kind of reconciliation which Christ died to achieve among his people.

The book closes with a brief argument for why African-Americans should embrace Reformed theology: it is biblical, historical, and experiential. There are also several appendices dealing with racial reconciliation in the church. This book is a good read. Carter writes well, knows his history, and is passionate about the need for black and white Christians to hear each other. His thoughts here helped open my eyes and gave me a greater appreciation for the history and contributions of the black church. It made me long for the kind of reconciliation we will see in heaven as the great multitude sings the praises of the Lamb, and it made me want to see that realized more in the here and now.

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Comments

  1. I’ve also been thinking about this same idea. How can sound theology reach the black community? By the way, if you want some great FICTION to read and write about, check out anything by Graham Greene. I would specifically point you to The End of the Affair and The Power and the Glory–two of my favorite books that deal with the depravity of man and God will not be deprived of those he chooses. FYI: Graham Greene was Roman Catholic.

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