Dr. Carl Ellis, Jr. on the Past, Present, and Future of the African American Church in America

Next month, I will host a gathering of church leaders involved in planting thousands of churches across the world at the first of two CPLF meetings for 2013. Day one will feature the release of some substantial research on the state and best practices of African-American church planting in North America.
Our Advisory Council includes Stacy Hilliard (Evangelism USA / International Pentecostal Holiness Church), Candace Lewis (Path1 / United Methodist), Wy Plummer (African American Ministries Coordinator, Presbyterian Church of America), Carl Ellis (President, Project Joseph), and Leroy Fountain (NAMB / Southern Baptist).

Day two will feature a specific focus on church planting in the urban context as we will hear from practitioners from across the U.S.

Our speakers this year include Olu Brown, planting pastor at Impact Church in Atlanta, GA, Derwin Gray, planting pastor at Transformation Church in Charlotte, NC, Leonce Crump, planting pastor at Renovation Church in Atlanta, GA and Linda Berquist, church planting catalyst in the San Francisco Bay area.

As a precursor to that event, I want to share the intorduction to the research project we will be unveiling at the gathering. Dr. Carl Ellis, Jr., a theological anthropologist and Assistant Professor of Practical Theology at Redeemer Seminary in Dallas, TX, has penned the introduction. It highlights the history of the African American church in the United States and point to the needs of the future.

INTRODUCTION
Today's debate about whether or not there should be an African American church ignores the fact that we live in a society with a variety of cultures - each with a corresponding influence. Usually, in multi-cultural societies such as ours, one culture is dominant and the others are sub-dominant to varying degrees. This has an effect on how we apply God's word to life.

We all have core concerns - life defining and life controlling values and/or issues. These 'concerns' can be personal, social and/or cultural, yet the cultural core concerns distinguish people groups. Generally, the societal norms and protocols are oriented to the dominant culture. Because of this, the cultural core concerns of the sub-dominant culture tend to be left unaddressed. In the African American culture, these concerns are related to empowerment, namely, dignity, identity and significance.

To apply all of God's word to life is to "do theology." Therefore, theology tends to be historically and culturally determined. Witness the great creeds and confessions of the church; each of these was formulated in response to a challenge the church was facing at the time. The context in which theology develops plays a formative role. Doing theology can be approached in two ways: cognitively involving conceptual knowledge, and intuitively involving perceptual knowledge.

19TH CENTURY
African American theology emerged during the antebellum period. In the South, this theology was a theology of suffering because of the stresses of slavery. It was also intuitive because Blacks in the South were denied access to formal education. In the North, the theology was more cognitively oriented because northern Blacks had greater access to formal education. Like its southern counterpart, the northern theology addressed salvation by grace through faith in Christ, etc., however the two differed in one fundamental aspect; the northern theology adequately addressed empowerment core concerns, whereas southern theology did not.

With the end of slavery, the southern church began to adopt the northern empowerment theology. As a result, between 1870 and 1910 the African American church experienced explosive growth. However the stresses of the late 19th Century, namely, the Jim Crow practices and terrorism of the post-Reconstruction South, caused the southern church to turn inward and revert to the old intuitive theology.

By the end of the 19th Century, much of the northern theological tradition was eventually undercut by humanistic heresies. This rendered these cognitively oriented churches powerless and non-transformative. Without a prophetic voice, many churches of this tradition ended up degenerating into mere sociological institutions or political bases. Thus, African American cultural core concerns were no longer addressed.


Source: Christianity Today | Dr. Carl Ellis, Jr. | Ed Stetzer
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