Ten African-American pastors and scholars tell how they came to embrace Reformed theology.
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About the Author
Anthony J. Carter (MA, Reformed Theological Seminary) serves as the lead pastor of East Point Church in Atlanta, Georgia. He is the author of two books and numerous magazine and journal articles, and blogs at Non Nobis Domine. Carter travels frequently as a conference speaker and guest lecturer. He is also an organizing member of the Council of Reforming Churches.
Eric C. Redmond (PhD, Capital Seminary and Graduate School) is associate professor of Bible at Moody Bible Institute in Chicago, Illinois, and pastor of preaching and teaching at Calvary Memorial Church in Oak Park, Illinois. He previously served on the council of the Gospel Coalition and as the senior pastor of two churches. Eric and his wife, Pamela, live in Brookfield, Illinois.
Anthony B. Bradley (PhD, Westminster Theological Seminary) is associate professor of religious studies at the King's College in New York City, where he serves as the director of the Center for the Study of Human Flourishing and chair of the Religious and Theological Studies program. He also serves as a research fellow for the Acton Institute. He has also published cultural commentary in a variety of periodicals and lives in New York City.
Thabiti M. Anyabwile (MS, North Carolina State University) serves as a pastor at Anacostia River Church in Washington, DC, and is the author of numerous books. He serves as a council member of the Gospel Coalition, is a lead writer for 9Marks Ministries, and regularly blogs at The Front Porch and Pure Church. He and his wife, Kristie, have three children.
Read an Excerpt
A Plea for Real Answers
REDDIT ANDREWS III
I come from a long line of Baptist preachers and deacons. From my earliest memories growing up in Hartford, Connecticut, I was not only conscious of God, but intensely interested in spiritual things. I have vivid memories of maintaining a constant inner dialogue with God. I remember getting dressed on Sunday mornings when I was around seven, putting on my little clip-on necktie, and consciously trying to set my face and mimic the walk of the deacons at Mount Calvary Baptist Church where I attended and my grandfather served as deacon. My most precious memories include the look on his face when he assisted in my baptism one evening service when I was seven or eight years old.
As wonderful as those memories are, they are not totally unclouded. Those silver clouds were laced with dark strains of doubts I never spoke of. I will never know what sort of help I might have received, because I simply suppressed them. I recall getting a McDonald's map of the solar system and taping it to the wall next to my pillow. I'd sometimes spend moments that seemed like hours gazing at it, impressed by the vastness of space. This would give rise to troubling thoughts. How could a God so great and powerful as to make all that exists in outer space possibly know me? Is it conceivable that he can really hear my prayers? Even if it were possible, would he even care? To my young mind these thoughts were deep and unsettling.
My inner struggles were compounded by the powerful conflicting messages I was exposed to in public school. It was not difficult for me to see that the message I was receiving in school and the message I was receiving in my Sunday school classes were mutually exclusive. In public school, my Sunday morning lessons were flatly contradicted. I dutifully listened in Sunday school where I was taught how God created the world in the space of six days and how he rested on the seventh. All week long I would lug around school books that said the earth was millions of years old and that mankind evolved over an unfathomably lengthy period of time. As a child it seemed quite easy to decide who was correct. My Sunday school teachers were mainly the parents of friends, housewives, and bus drivers. The church was an old unimpressive structure, while to my young mind, the school I attended was a large, impressive, building. My teachers appeared highly trained and incredibly competent. Furthermore, there were so many books, movies, and scaled models at which I could look and even touch.
While I never thought my Sunday school teachers were bad, I just concluded that the public school teachers couldn't possibly be wrong. No, my Sunday school teachers were certainly good people, just misguided and behind the times. Having concluded that, I continued to attend Sunday services for a while, until I became interested in football and girls. My family later moved into a neighborhood where I knew very few people. The kids there seemed louder, more boisterous and violent than what I was accustomed to. I sought comfort in a small Lutheran church in the community. I'd at times gaze out the window while the mostly Anglo and female Sunday school teachers would teach us songs about Jesus. "Lowly Jesus meek and mild, he wouldn't hurt a little child." There was a basketball court on the church property, and I'd watch the games while the lesson was being taught. I would overhear the arguments about the games and watch the fights that would often break out. I'd think to myself, Man, Jesus needs to hurt some of these children! My Sunday school experiences all seemed so hopelessly irrelevant and out of touch with real life.
Going My Own Way
I concluded after one of the more tepid classes that though Jesus was plenty nice, he didn't understand my world, and I'd just have to go out and make a name for myself. After all, I reasoned, I was the oldest child in a single parent home; if I didn't, it would be only a matter of time before my home would be disrespected and my little brothers bullied. It was then that I consciously turned my back on God and his church and set about becoming self-sufficient, quietly instilling self-confidence in my siblings. I'd preach fiery messages to them about standing up for themselves, sticking together, and letting no one, ever, under any circumstances disrespect them! Obviously this marked a radical shift in the direction of my life. In fact, it marked the beginning of an odyssey of sin, pain, and shame that engulfed the next fifteen years. It wasn't that those years contained no good, but the sin and rebellion I brought into my heart infiltrated and infected everything I touched. Those years can be aptly summarized by an illustration I heard somewhere: "Knock, knock." "Who's there?" said the man within. "One little sin," was the reply. "Slip in," said the man. All hell walked in.
As I recount my past determination to live without God, three things strike me. First, how swift and complete the fall was! I took to my new life of sin with astonishing ease. Earlier in my life I had worked out some principles for myself, a sort of internal list of things I wouldn't do. It didn't take long for me to blast right through the list, rationalizing each new level of depravity I had sunk to. Second, I'm still shocked at the deception I practiced on myself. I somehow was able to convince myself that I had incredible self-discipline and that eventually I'd grow tired of the life I was living, galvanize my will, and reverse the course I was on. Third, how persistently my conscience plagued me! A battle raged within me, which I was careful to let no one ever suspect I was fighting. Try as I might to get God out of my mind, it wasn't as easy to walk away from him as I had supposed. He was terribly tenacious. I had periods when I thought I'd vanquished him from my heart and mind, only to have him return. He'd wake me at night and haunt me during the days.
Over the years God sent messengers to me and graciously mitigated the consequences of my mulish rebellion. The simple message that Christ came into the world to save sinners and that he died on the cross as a substitute for those he would bring to himself through faith just seemed childish. The thought that someone dying two thousand years earlier could somehow matter to me seemed so utterly foolish and preposterous — I could believe almost anything but that. Yet, nothing else gave me any solace from the gnawing uncertainty I felt within.
In December 1981 I met Nadine, who later became my wife and the mother of my two daughters, Felice and Shannon. Nadine, though unconverted at the time, was raised in the church and attended youth group meetings into her teens. Somehow meeting her created a desire to get serious about turning my life around. Reality came crashing in on me. I'd comforted myself that when I was ready, I'd be able to summon a secret reserve of willpower from within and muscle up moral rectitude. It was devastating to realize that I was unable to overcome the least negative habit I'd fallen into. I discovered the reality of what the Bible calls the dominion of sin. My sins seemed to be interconnected and mutually supportive of one another, continually cooperating to prevent me from ever escaping. I was trapped, helpless, and completely powerless to move toward God. What was worse, the harder I tried, the worse I seemed to grow; I secretly became filled with despair.
A New Year, a New Life
It was December 31, 1987, when the Lord mercifully delivered me. What happened to me that New Year's Eve was nothing short of miraculous! God changed my heart! I had been drinking and was lying awake somewhat giving attention to the televised countdown at Times Square. Almost imperceptively my thoughts turned to God. I was shocked fully awake by the sudden awareness that I was contemplating him with full knowledge that he not only existed but was cognizant of me — that he knew my thoughts, my sin. I began to think of what justification I could offer for what my life had become. I'd no sooner formulate an excuse than I'd dismiss it as worthless. There was no excuse I could use that would fool God. My thoughts then turned to the terror of hell and the awful eternal separation from all that is good and lovely in life. In terror I thought of all the messengers I had rejected over the years and how I had mistreated them.
I suddenly knew it was true — Christ really had died, and God really would forgive me on the basis of what Jesus had done. That formerly foolish message suddenly was the most glorious thing I had ever heard. I could not see how I had ever doubted it. What was more wondrous was that he seemed to shatter the bars of sin that confined me. A new power and ability suddenly appeared and began to grow within me.
It was as if I had been rescued from a long stint in a dungeon. I staggered out into the marvelous newfound light of God's love. It was as if I had been given a brand-new pair of eyes. The sky seemed brighter, the grass appeared greener, and a freedom came into my heart that had not come from the world but from heaven. Oh, the joy the forgiveness of sin and fellowship with God brought into my life! I was controlled by a desire to tell everyone I could, to find God's people and associate myself with them. I immediately began reading the Bible with a thirst and satisfaction I had never experienced before. The dialogue I had with God as a child resumed, but it became sweeter than anything I had ever imagined and more real than the very air I breathed. Within a week I began attending services at First Baptist Church in Hartford. Very early on I felt in my heart that God wanted me to serve him in the full-time pastoral ministry. But I sensed this wasn't something one should rush into, so I hid this desire in my heart and was content to wait on God's timing.
J. I. Packer once said that God is incredibly tender with his newborns. This was definitely true of my experience. However, the time soon came for me to grow in ways reminiscent of my childhood. Nagging questions and doubts slowly but certainly began to emerge. Little did I suspect that God was purposefully leading me along a path he ordained before the foundation of the world.
Although I could not articulate it at the time, I craved the very same thing I had craved as a child but had been afraid to ask for: I was hungry for a theological foundation for my faith. God, in his goodness, gave me a mind that was logical and craved consistency. I desperately wanted solid reasons behind my faith in God; I was unwilling to completely embrace the gospel if it meant I had to check my brain at the door. Unfortunately, the problem my church had fallen into, and too many churches suffer from today, is that it had discarded historic Christian theology. For some time I thought it was a malady that was unique to the African-American church, but I have since discovered the problem to be more broadly shared than I had originally imagined. This departure manifested itself in several ways that caused me great spiritual difficulty.
Discarding Historic Theology
First, by turning away from historic theology, the church uncritically embraced many other theologies that were not only egregious departures from the teaching of the Bible but were often mutually contradictory. This often resulted in contradictory interpretations of the same passages of Scripture. I would listen to a message, intending to put it into practice in my life, only to have it reversed from the very same pulpit a short time later. I grew confused, frustrated, and then jaded. Chief among the aberrant theological headwinds that ripped through African-American churches was the Prosperity Gospel — the teaching that God wanted everyone to be rich, and by the right exercise of faith we could change our financial condition. I saw this as flying in the face of the Scriptures. I read in the Bible that we should be content with what God has provided, and that failing to do so implies that God is a bad parent (Matt. 6:32; 1 Tim. 6:8). The Bible seemed to teach plainly that the normal Christian life involved difficulty, suffering, and persecution. But this prosperity teaching brazenly contradicted Paul's brave words to the saints at Lystra, Iconium, and Antioch: "through many tribulations we must enter the kingdom of God" (Acts 14:22). Elsewhere the Bible held up men who suffered obvious deprivation as godly and worth emulating (1 Cor. 4:11; Heb. 11:37), but I was being told that financial lack was a sign of my unbelief. I watched as biblical passage after biblical passage was systematically twisted to reflect this monstrous teaching. I saw many individuals encounter significant difficulties as they embraced this teaching. What was worse was that the teaching so perfectly suited our human carnality that people would then resist any portion of Scripture that contradicted the wrong teaching.
Second, in turning away from historic Christian theological convictions the church lost the ability to answer big questions and to articulate with clarity how Christians actually change. I was desperately concerned with having answers for skeptics regarding why we should believe the Bible, whether there were any evidences for God's existence, and other such questions. There seemed to be not only little interest in teaching these things, but outright irritation with those who insisted on getting answers and seriously discussing those subjects. This lack of clarity as to who God is and what God is doing in the world, and the unwillingness to articulate how it is that we actually change, in my view, was far more pernicious, more insidious; it was the very reversal of Christianity. It presented God as having no agenda of his own, as existing for no other reason than to serve our agendas and cater to our desire for the things of this world. I couldn't harmonize this presentation with the Bible. It seemed to actually promote what God abominated! "You adulterous people! Do you not know that friendship with the world is enmity with God? Therefore whoever wishes himself to be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God" (James 4:4). The more I read the Scriptures the less many of the preachers I knew looked like faithful shepherds and the more they looked like the wolves they were commissioned by Christ to guard the sheep against. Again the Scriptures are clear: "Should not shepherds feed the sheep? You eat the fat, you clothe yourselves with the wool, you slaughter the fat ones, but you do not feed the sheep" (Ezek. 34:2–3).
Because of this departure from historic Christian teachings, the church was unable to adequately answer questions regarding how it is we actually change. I was very much concerned with getting deep, biblical answers for how to deal with the conflicting desires I wrestled with in my own heart. I felt that I loved God, but not enough; I felt I hated sin, but I was still drawn to it. I could very easily identify with Paul, "Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death?" (Rom. 7:24). I was extremely hesitant to voice my struggles, because I wasn't even sure I was supposed to have them. When I finally began to express them, I was angered that no one seemed to have a clear understanding of my struggles. Surely the Bible had a clear, consistent way of answering these questions? Some would direct me along mystical lines. If I'd pray and fast enough, I could decisively win my battle with things like lust, bitterness, anger, and other carnal impulses. I tried this, but the temptations were not only still there but seemed to grow even stronger. Others made me feel as though the answer lay in simply trying harder, but I didn't know how to try harder. Besides, this advice seemed to be condemned by the Bible itself! "These have indeed an appearance of wisdom in promoting self-made religion and asceticism and severity to the body, but they are of no value in stopping the indulgence of the flesh" (Col. 2:23).
My desperation for answers and desire for direction in transitioning into the gospel ministry led me to enroll in a program at Hartford Theological Seminary specifically designed for preparing African-Americans for ministry. That the school was equally committed to training Muslims for ministry should have sufficiently raised questions about the level of commitment to historical Christian truth lurking behind the walls of that institution. Yet, I was naive. I entered, excited about the possibility of obtaining solid ministry training.
I left the first class utterly bewildered, trying to process the professor's gleeful assertions of the Bible's supposed mistakes and general untrustworthiness in its recounting of historical events. I determined I would reject that part of his lecture and practice what my mother taught me as a child: "Son, don't believe everything your teachers tell you. Learn to swallow the meat and spit out the bones." I bent the knee in complete defeat a month later after being severely and publicly reprimanded for expressing some reservations about a section of the professor's lecture. I concluded I had better escape while I still believed that God authored the Bible!(Continues…)
Excerpted from "Glory Road"
Copyright © 2009 Anthony J. Carter.
Excerpted by permission of Good News Publishers.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Table of Contents
Introduction Ken Jones,
1. A Plea for Real Answers Reddit Andrews III,
2. From Mecca to the Messiah Thabiti Anyabwile,
3. Clemson University Saved My Life Anthony B. Bradley,
4. Doesn't Everyone Believe the Same Thing? Anthony J. Carter,
5. Grace and Greater Union Ken Jones,
6. I Remember It Well Michael Leach,
7. The Old Bait and Switch Lance Lewis,
8. The Doors of the Church Are Opened! Louis C. Love Jr.,
9. Sovereign in a Sweet Home, School, and Solace Eric C. Redmond,
10. Looking for Love in All the Wrong Places Roger Skepple,
Afterword: Black, Reformed, but Foremost Christian Anthony J. Carter,
Appendix: A Reformed Theology Survey,
What People are Saying About This
"This book is a wonderful encouragement to those who love the doctrines of grace. The ten men described are African Americans-but quite frankly, what their ethnicity is does not matter nearly as much as their common delight in Christ and his gospel. Their stories are sufficiently diverse that they cannot be reduced to a simplistic mold; they have enough similarity that together they bring us back to God's sovereign goodness in the cross of his Son. Read this book and rejoice."
D. A. Carson, Emeritus Professor of New Testament, Trinity Evangelical Divinity School; Cofounder, The Gospel Coalition
"Here we have readable, compelling personal histories that, at the same time, teach us more about God, Christ, and the Bible and give accounts of these men coming to Christ. I love reading people's testimonies of conversion! What more do we want in a book? To be encouraged, instructed, and edified, read these stories."
Mark Dever, Senior Pastor, Capitol Hill Baptist Church, Washington, DC; President, 9Marks
"A reading of Glory Road is a journey of sober rejoicing. The joy is in the taste of future glory where men and women from every tribe and language and people and nation will together worship the Lamb. We rejoice in the first fruits of that glory evident in the testimonies of these gifted African-Americans now in Reformed churches. We also weep that their testimonies are so few due to these churches' long blindness to gospel priorities despite their historic commitment to doctrinal orthodoxy. May Glory Road lead to a new dawn, greeted with tears but leading to songs of joy before the day is done."
Bryan Chapell, Senior Pastor, Grace Presbyterian Church, Peoria, Illinois
"I'm very grateful for Anthony Carter's passion for writing. I bought a case of his first book-On Being Black and Reformed, to distribute at conferences and events. My plan is to do the same thing with Glory Road, an amazing collection of testimonies. The consistent message from all the contributors is the paucity of Reformed teaching in the black community. I share with Carl Ellis the vision of seeing an indigenous Reformed movement in the African-American community. Books like Glory Road will help to facilitate this movement."
Wy Plummer, African American Ministries Coordinator, Mission to North America, Presbyterian Church in America
"History is good for us all, but when you see it occurring right before your eyes, well that's just about as good as it gets. To the chorus of 'Dead White Men,' we now add these voices of Living Color. Together we'll all be singing praises to our sovereign God and all-sufficient Savior."
Stephen J. Nichols, President, Reformation Bible College; Chief Academic Officer, Ligonier Ministries; author, Martin Luther: A Guided Tour of His Life and Thought and The Reformation: How a Monk and a Mallet Changed the World
"As a first-generation preacher of Reformed Theology in Antigua and Barbuda and the eastern Caribbean, I am confident and encouraged that these personal testimonies from our African-American brothers will work for a wider propagation of the message of the supremacy of God in all things throughout the global African Diaspora. The common themes of being disillusioned with the religious status quo, struggling with the inadequacy of man-centered views that were strongly defended for years, facing the loneliness and ostracism of taking a stand on an island of truth in a sea of pluralism, and the surprising discovery that the Lord had all along 'reserved . . . seven thousand men, who have not bowed the knee to the image of Baal,' are all compelling and refreshing in the narrative of each experience."
Hensworth W.C. Jonas, Executive Director, East Caribbean Baptist Mission, St. John's, Antigua & Barbuda