I am African and Charismatic, which can often be seen as an antithesis to Black and Reformed. I come from a theological background frowned upon by Reformed people as rich in emotion, but empty in substance. I grew up in a little town called Karoi in Zimbabwe. There were Reformed churches scattered around the city that were shunned by most locals, because of their perceived elitism and snobbishness. Only their doctrine was correct, only the way they conducted a church service was proper, and only their laid back songs glorified God. The pastors cared more about being correct than the people around them.
Reading Antony J. Carter’s Black and Reformed was a giant leap of faith. His words correctly summarize my feelings (insertions in italics are mine), “As much as I desire it, an intimate connection with Reformation history is hampered by my inability to identify culturally with those who stand as its magisterial architects.”
“Even though there is a need for a distinctly African-American perspective on theology,” wrote Carter, “the parameters of that theology must be observed: Scripture, history, and tradition, and Christian experience.” He went on to dismiss prominent black theologians, “James Cone, James Washington, Deotis Roberts, Gayraud Wilmore… failed to maintain the integrity of scriptural doctrines.”
Carter’s Black and Reformed sought to “redeem and reform our perspective on the black American experience through the most legitimate lens available, theology—in particular, biblically based and historically grounded Reformed theology.” The African American, by extension African church, can only be fully impacted by black theologians who don’t deny the role history played in shaping their theology.
Throughout the book, Carter refers to the history of slavery and racial segregation African Americans endured. Suffering, especially in the hands of white Christians mars the history of blacks. From slavery, colonization to racial discrimination, many of these atrocities were made by nations perceived as Christian. This is one of the reasons most black people are skeptical of Reformed churches.
Carter suggests blacks should not look at history and their Christian experience as a tool for arguing against Reformed theology, but should view it with an understanding of God’s sovereignty, human depravity and sufficiency of Christ. Instead of seeing slavery and colonization as crimes committed by white Christians, blacks should understand that through these inhumane acts, God was “sovereignly working his plan in our lives for his glory and our good…our only comfort in life and in death.”
The sinfulness of the colonialist, slave masters and traders led them to be perpetrators of heinous crimes. However, Christ’s sufficiency justified, sanctified and glorified black people, even in suffering.
I had never heard of such a liberating view of slavery, colonialism, and racism. Hats off to Carter for such a beautiful look at history and Christian experience. Being black and Reformed doesn’t mean one is ignorant of their history and the Christian experience of their forefathers; rather it compels you to see the sufficiency of Christ, amidst great suffering.
Suffering and injustice laid the foundation of black theology, as noted by Emmanuel McCall:
It must be remembered that the substance of the black religious traditions were not fashioned in drawing rooms, theological conferences, ecclesiastical assemblies, cathedrals or seminary campuses. They were hammered out in cotton fields, on plantations, in plantation shanties, in work details and in the obscurity of woods while this servile people attempted to reconcile the divine platitudes mouthed by their masters with the harsh realities of their existence.
Black and Reformed is an excellent book for both seminarians, and black people repelled by Reformed theology.