RAAN had the opportunity to interview Rev. H.B. Charles, Jr., pastor of Shiloh Metropolitan Baptist Church in Jacksonville, FL. Pastor Charles shares his thoughts on Black preaching, Reformed teaching, and transformation in the African American church.
What does H.B. stand for?
H.B. stands for absolutely nothing. The initials are my name. It’s a long story. This is the only name my father was ever called. He did it to me. And I did it to my son.
How were you called into the ministry? Where have you been a pastor?
I sensed an irresistible call to preach on my life as boy. I preached my first sermon at the age of 11. By 15, I was preaching almost every week. I was called to serve the church my father led when I was seventeen, still a senior in high school. I served there for almost 18 years. I was called to serve the Shiloh Metropolitan Baptist Church in Jacksonville in 2008.
You talk of three styles of preaching. What are those styles and how would you describe them?
There are more than three styles of preaching. But I was initially introduced to these three: topical, textual, and expository. A topical sermon begins with a topic and may or may not work its way back to scripture. Once it gets there, it may treat the subject faithfully or may use it as a springboard to support the idea of the topic. Textual preaching focuses on the words of the text itself. It often deals with a smaller portion of scripture. This is the way my father preached. It is also the way Charles Spurgeon preached. Expository preaching explains what the text means by what it says. The focus of exposition is to explain and apply the intended point of the text.
What style do you most often use? Which preachers have most influenced your preaching?
I am a student of expository preaching. It is what I strive to do most weeks. There are times when I do more topical messages on biblical themes. But I am convinced that consecutive exposition through Books of the Bible is the most faithful way to preach.
My list of preaching influences is long. Of course, my father greatly influenced my preaching, in ways I am still discovering. I was also influenced by some of the prominent Baptist preachers of my youth, like C.A.W. Clark, Jasper Williams, Donald Parsons, and Melvin Wade. As I turned toward expository preaching, E.K. Bailey, Ralph West, Maurice Watson, and R.A. Williams were great encouragements. During the same time, both my preaching and theology were impacted by exposure to John MacArthur, John Piper, James Montgomery Boice, and R.C. Sproul.
Let’s talk about “whooping” in Black homiletical style? Some people say that it is mere emotionalism and it lacks rich theology. Others say it’s an essential and valued part of the Black church tradition. What are your thoughts?
My father was not a “whooper.” He could. But most often he didn’t. And he did everything he could to discourage me from it. But I could not be dissuaded! He did not want me to be a stereotype. I didn’t understand what he meant then. I do now.
Growing up in the Black church, my exposure to whooping came early. But the whoop did not drive the sermon. It was more celebration at the end. I believe worship should be passionate and expressive. (I also believe the burden of proof is on those who object to that previous statement). In the context of passionate worship, I do not have any objections to whooping.
However, I would not recommend a young preacher make whooping a priority (I would also say the same thing about, say, illustrations.) I would recommend a young preacher concentrate on faithfulness to the text and the clarity of the message and let the matters of style take care of themselves along the way. Furthermore, I would say that if you are preaching text-driven messages (i.e., expositional messages), there is no way whooping can be a priority each week. You have to let the text lead the sermon. And many texts do not conclude on a celebratory note. Let the text shape the tone, content, and delivery of the message, not elements of style.
How were you exposed to Reformed doctrines? Do you preach and teach Reformed doctrines?
I was introduced to Reformed doctrines by divine conspiracy. I picked up my father’s love for Charles Spurgeon. I used Warren Wiersbe’s little commentary as a guide to teach through Ephesians. I started listening to John MacArthur. I began reading R.C. Sproul. I used James Boice commentaries. These factors, and others, have conspired against me to embrace more Reformed-leaning convictions.
I preach and teach my Reformed convictions. But I do not teach them as a system, per se. I want my preaching to be Bible-based and Christ-centered, not system oriented. So I preach Reformed themes as I see them in the text. And I try to avoid forcing them onto texts. When the text teaches Election, I preach it passionately. And when a text teaches a free invitation, I preach it passionately.
Have you faced any difficulties in teaching Reformed doctrines in African American contexts? What are they and how do you respond?
I have not. Ever. My experience is that African-Americans believe in the sovereignty of God, even though they may not have thought through the implications of divine sovereignty on the destiny of the soul. And I have not found resistance in so doing. Again, I most often do not preach titles or categories. But I seek to promote a high view of God clearly and convincingly. I believe that preaching a “big God” makes a lot of room for Reformed doctrines to be introduced.
How do believers help to “fuel modern reformation in the African American church”? How do we strengthen what is good in churches and address what is weak?
I believe a modern reformation begins with faithful preaching and believing prayer. From my perch, I see a hunger for the word of God in the African-American church. I am meeting many young preachers who are turning to expository preaching. These are good signs and a great beginning. I also pray the Lord raises up strong, healthy African-American churches with Reformed convictions than can be a model to point to. As to what will strengthen churches and how to address weaknesses, my answer would be the same: prayer and the ministry of the word.
H.B. Charles, Jr. is the Pastor-Teacher at the Shiloh Metropolitan Baptist Church of Jacksonville, Florida, where he has served since the fall of 2008. He is primarily responsible for preaching-teaching, vision casting, and leadership development – along with all the other tasks that are a part of pastoral ministry. Outside of his ministry to and with his congregation, he regularly speak at churches, conferences, and conventions around the country. He has contributed to several books and journals. And he writes at this blog site about life, preaching, church, books, and other stuff. He is married to the girl of his dreams, Crystal. They have three children: H.B. III, Natalie, and Hailey.