Experiencing the Truth
- Saturday, August 16, 2008
In On Being Black and Reformed, I argued for the legitimate correlation of the African-American Christian experience and historic, Reformed theology.4 While some have thought that these two perspectives are antithetical, I suggested that they are inherently complementary, and when brought together they reveal a beautiful symphony of truth and experience that God desires for his people to know. In fact, Reformed, biblical theology should serve as the foundation of all experiential truth, particularly the experience of African-Americans.
To see the African-American Christian experience apart from an intentional application of Reformed theological principles is like reading a book by the moonlight. We can see the page well enough to make out the story, but it is so much easier and indeed enlightening to read by the direct light of the noonday sun. Reformed theology shines the noonday sun upon Christian experience so that we see more and further than we could by moonlight. By understanding Reformed theology, the history of African-Americans (and any other people for that matter) is enriched because the biblical God as understood in Reformed theology is big and gracious. He is sovereign and sophisticated. He is to be celebrated and feared.
In this present work, I have enlisted the help of some friends in bringing the truth of Reformed theology not simply to African-American history and experience, but also in bringing it to the church today—the whole of Christianity in general and the predominantly African-American church in particular. It is our hope that you will see that biblical, Reformed theology is not only essential in accurately discerning what God has done, but it is imperative if we are to understand what God is doing and what he is calling his people to be in our time. Though the times may seem bleak, we are convinced of the illuminating power of the gospel of truth.
It was Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. who reminded us that only when it is dark enough can one see the stars. the state of the church in general and the African-American church in particular is dark. the darkness is not due to a lack of attendance on Sunday mornings at places that call themselves churches. It is not due to a lack of interest in spiritual things. No. Black men and women go to church. Black men and women want to know about God. George Barna, in his research for High Impact African-American Churches, posed the following questions after analyzing his data:
Do you know that we tested 22 common goals that people pursue, the top rated goal among black adults is to have a close relationship with God, while the same goal is ranked fifth by whites? Or that being actively involved in a church is a goal pursued by three-quarters of all black adults but by less than half of all white adults?5
The growth of the mega-church among African-Americans in recent years is staggering. There is no lack of buildings opened in the name of God. Our neighborhoods are littered with places of worship, with more being built and bought every day. Again, Barna makes the point when his research reveals that:
There is a higher percentage of large black congregations than there is among white or Hispanic congregations. In fact, while Willow Creek and Saddleback are regularly touted by the media as the biggest churches in North America, there are at least a dozen black churches whose attendance exceeds either of those well known congregations by at least a couple thousand people per week!6
No, the problem and the darkness in predominantly African-American churches are not from a lack of construction or the absence of congregants, but rather a lack of content. the problem lies in the character and quality of the Christianity that these places promote and export.
In a much talked about article in the Washington Post, journalist John Fountain lamented the present state of the predominantly African-American church. In Fountain’s own testimony, he has lost confidence in the church. He has become disillusioned with the direction the predominantly African-American church has taken. He has found the drive for wealth and success that is popularized by the mega-church movement to be distasteful and offensive. According to Fountain:
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