The Divided Mind of the Black Church

The Divided Mind of the Black Church: Theology, Piety, and Public Witness

Copyright Date: 2014
Published by: NYU Press
Pages: 276
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  • Book Info
    The Divided Mind of the Black Church
    Book Description:

    What is the true nature and mission of the church? Is its proper Christian purpose to save souls, or to transform the social order? This question is especially fraught when the church is one built by an enslaved people and formed, from its beginning, at the center of an oppressed community's fight for personhood and freedom. Such is the central tension in the identity and mission of the black church in the United States.For decades the black church and black theology have held each other at arm's length. Black theology has emphasized the role of Christian faith in addressing racism and other forms of oppression, arguing that Jesus urged his disciples to seek the freedom of all peoples. Meanwhile, the black church, even when focused on social concerns, has often emphasized personal piety rather than social protest. With the rising influence of white evangelicalism, biblical fundamentalism, and the prosperity gospel, the divide has become even more pronounced.InPiety or Protest, Raphael G. Warnock, Senior Pastor of the historic Ebenezer Baptist Church, the spiritual home of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.,traces the historical significance of the rise and development of black theology as an important conversation partner for the black church. Calling for honest dialogue between black and womanist theologians and black pastors, this fresh theological treatment demands a new look at the church's essential mission.The Reverend Dr.Raphael G. Warnockserves as Senior Pastor of the Ebenezer Baptist Church (Atlanta, Georgia).In theReligion, Race, and Ethnicityseries

    eISBN: 978-1-4798-6410-2
    Subjects: Religion

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-viii)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. ix-x)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. xi-xiv)
  4. Introduction
    (pp. 1-12)

    What is the true nature and mission of the church? As a community formed in memory of Jesus Christ and informed by the gospels, what is it that makes it a faithful and authentic witness, and what exactly is it called to do? Indeed, all Christian communities must ask and try to answer that question. From the fledgling communities behind the gospels to the classic debates of Nicea and Chalcedon through the Reformation until now, christology and ecclesiology have always been done together so that those who are informed by a memory of Jesus must wrestle simultaneously with the implications...

    (pp. 13-52)

    The black church was born fighting for freedom. That fact is evidenced by the resistance and testimony of slaves,¹ signified in the oppositional witness of pioneers of the independent black church movement,² and confirmed by the work of scholars across disciplines.³ The freedom for which the black church has fought has always been both internal and external, expressing itself politically and spiritually, embracing black bodies and souls. This is so because historically the faith of the black church has been shaped and characterized by two complementary yet competing sensibilities: revivalistic piety and radical protest. In the North American context, both...

  6. 2 The Gospel’s Meaning and the Black Church’S Mission
    (pp. 53-74)

    Observing, in the light of history and Martin Luther King, Jr.’s movement, the marked differences between the social agenda and overall religious orientation of white churches and black churches, Joseph Washington dared in a 1963 essay to ask, “Are American Negro Churches Christian?” As he reflected on the black church’s “past alienation from the theological roots of Protestantism” and a tradition of protest that he judged to be “based upon influences external to the Christian faith, if not in contradiction with the faith,” Washington concluded that “Negro religious institutions have developed a pattern of life totally irrelevant to the Christian...

  7. 3 Black Theologians on the Mission of the Black Church
    (pp. 75-116)

    Black theology emerged as the last of four critical moments in the black church’s apprehension of a holistically salvific faith, one providing principled Christian resistance to racism. It represented a new and self-conscious form of God-talk, a sophisticated apologia for a faith formed in slavery and in defense of a black liberationist trajectory that continues to bear witness against the sins of a nation that is at once putatively Christian and profoundly racist. Black theology is best understood in relationship to the liberationist God-talk shaped in the brush arbors of the invisible institution; lived out in the varied aggregations of...

  8. 4 Black Pastors on the Mission of the Black Church
    (pp. 117-152)

    In the complex historical narrative of black religion in America, the emergence of black theology represented a new moment—a fourth moment—in the development of an antiracist and holistically salvific appropriation of Christian faith. Drawing insight from both the strengths and limitations of the preceding three, this new moment was an important turning point, characterized by the formation ofa critical and self-conscious theological principle. Informed by it, the black church could evaluate, in view of its own distinctive history and witness, its continuing faithfulness to the work of divine liberation. We have shown that notwithstanding important differences between...

  9. 5 Womanist Theologians on the Mission of the Black Church
    (pp. 153-172)

    The analysis put forth thus far has consisted of an examination of black theology’s unique contribution to a long and ongoing discussion regarding the mission of the black church. As we have endeavored to build on a historical interpretation and heuristic framework, outlined in chapter 1, the preceding chapter examined varying pastoral responses to the ecclesiological implications of Martin Luther King’s ministry (the third moment) and the truth claims of black theology (the fourth moment) regarding the essential mission of the black church. Nuances in the varying responses of pastors are indicative of similarities and differences between the pastors themselves...

  10. Conclusion
    (pp. 173-190)

    The relationship between black theology and the black church—and concomitantly the state of their dialogue regarding the latter’s mission—has not improved since the issue was first raised in the mid 1970s.¹ Indeed, with the rising media presence and political influence of an uncritical white evangelicalism, biblical fundamentalism, and prosperity gospel preaching in black churches,² one might well argue that the situation has gotten worse. That is why while many white Americans were getting their first glimpse into the Sunday worship and preaching of a black church during the Jeremiah Wright debacle of 2008, most laypersons and far too...

  11. Notes
    (pp. 191-230)
  12. Bibliography
    (pp. 231-250)
  13. Index
    (pp. 251-262)
  14. About the Author
    (pp. 263-263)