An Interview with Dr. Anthony Bradley
We recently read and reviewed the following book by our friend Dr. Anthony Bradley. Because we believe this is an important and timely book, to be read especially by church leaders, we asked Anthony several questions to lead into the book review. Dr. Bradley is presently visiting professor of theology at The King’s college, New York and serves as a research fellow at the Acton Institute for the Study of Religion and Liberty. He has appeared on numerous TV programs.
Anthony has been a good friend, a scholar, and g rowing spokesman in our circles. His presentations at our 2008 discipleship conference were outstanding. (They are available from the CEP Bookstore).
In connection with his book, Liberating Black Theology, the Bible and the Black Experience in America, I asked Anthony the following three questions:
1. Would you highlight how your book can help us better understand and implement our desire to make a difference in reconciliation?
It is important to remember that black liberation theologians in the late 1960s and early 1970s had legitimate questions regarding the lack of attention paid to intersecting the Kingdom with loving one’s neighbor on issues of race. In those days, both mainline and evangelical Protestant theologians were generally silent on issues of racial justice and the need for the church to speak out against the dehumanization of blacks.
In my book, I highlight specifically the deleterious consequences of not acknowledging past social abuses and corporate sins for reconciliation. My sense is that those in the dominant culture are not sensitive enough to the importance of this issue for minorities. Even though the Bible clearly presents a model for confessing the sins of previous generations, there are some within the Reformed community who seem to want us to explain away the past racial oppression without discussing present implications. Some have suggested, for the sake of looking past those sins to “move on,” that we primarily accentuate the positive aspects of sinful history.
Thankfully, this is not the biblical pattern. Nehemiah 9:2 provides a fascinating standard of corporate confession and repentance: “And the Israelites separated themselves from all foreigners and stood and confessed their sins and the iniquities of their fathers.” God’s people spent time repenting of the past sins of multiple generations within the confines of intimate covenant community because it was a necessary component of moving forward in sanctification. Perhaps some of the Westminster Divines were influenced by this aspect of the biblical narrative by calling Christians to repent specifically: “Men ought not to content themselves with a general repentance, but it is every man’s duty to endeavor to repent of his particular sins, particularly (chapter 15, paragraph 5). This is beautiful!
My book aids in understanding why this is important for both blacks and whites to suggest a way forward that maintains orthodoxy while making a case for the church to continue to speak publicly about sin like we regularly do with issues like abortion. The writings of Herman Bavinck have been particularly helpful to me in this regard. I hope that reconciliation does more than dismisses the opportunity to corporately wrestle with the gospel in community for the sake of embracing cultural norms to “hush up” about granddaddy’s sins.
Admittedly, I don’t have all the answers but I think the denomination will benefit greatly when men like Rev. Ligon Duncan and Rev. Randy Nabors help the denomination articulate confessing of past sins, repentance and reconciliation initiatives. Both Rev. Duncan and Rev. Nabors and others older and wiser than me, and who have been involved in reconciliation efforts in their cities, are better positioned to lead on this. For starters, Rev. Nabors says,”[o]ne thing I try to do at Presbytery exams on church history is to ask candidates if they know the ‘racial’ history of the PCA, and what have we done about it. I encourage all Presbyteries to make this part of their church history expectations. Those who are ignorant of history seem condemned to repeat it.” Knowing our own story and talking openly about it will help us not repeat it.
2. You have said that many of our attempts at reconciling blacks and whites are 50 years too late and outdated. I don’t want our efforts to be impotent. How can your book help us to be more effective?
The last two chapters of the book wrestle with the complexities of applying the gospel in a multi-ethnic, global Christian context like we live in today. Therefore, cultural anthropology and contextualization matter when it comes to applying the gospel to people’s lives.
First, many of our efforts at reconciliation have been too narrowly focused on reconciling whites and blacks as if it were 1970 on the heels of the civil-rights movement. There is still work to be done in this area because many of the white Christians who promoted segregation are still alive today. However,America’s current demographic reality-14.4 percent Hispanic/Latino, 12.8 percent black, 4.3 percent Asian-calls for ethnic initiatives that move the church forward in reconciling various tensions and past sins between all of those groups and sub-cultures. For example, there has been so much emphasis on reconciling whites with blacks that may be missing the need to also reconcile whites with Native Americans or heal the deep tensions between blacks and Koreans.
The black/white focus is too limited and often leads to a false sense of accomplishment. I think conservative evangelicals are among the only communities in America who would consider a church of blacks and whites in 2010 extraordinary.
Second, many of the reconciliation efforts are merely cosmetic and still represent old paternalistic paradigms where a white male is in charge and has a congregations of black and Latinos who are less educated and socio-econoimcally subordinate. Churches where there is a class-based power dynamic of upper middle-class whites with working and lower class blacks and Latinos have been coined “plantation churches” by some blacks I know in the PCA.
If we take cultural anthropology seriously, in the ways I suggest in the book, we would expect the result of racial reconciliation efforts to produce in the future ethnic minorities in denominational leadership as agency heads, seniors pastors of more and more churches, presbytery moderators, and so on. I have an ongoing dream that one day the PCA have a Mexican American serve as Senior Minister of the First Presbyterian Church (in whatever city) with a session of blacks, Asians, Native Americans, and so on, wherever possible. Minorities in leadership will be a powerful witness to our world of the socially subversive and transformative nature of the gospel as was demonstrated in the books of Acts, Galatians, and the early church.
Those yearning for revival and another “Great Awakening” in America will only see it come when the church leads the culture on issues of racial diversity in leadership.
3. You have an unsually perceptive grasp of a kingdom world and life view prespective. You demonstrated that so clearly and effectively at our 2008 conference on Kingdom Disicpleship. Would you give us a few things to consider as we read your book and think about our challenges and opportunities as a church and as kingdom people wanting to genuinely make a difference? Can you help us not to be outdated and too late with the challenge?
The PCA has an opportunity to lead on race issues in ways that no Presbyterian denomination (or any other evangelical denomination, for that matter) has experienced in American history. Despite the racial inconsistencies with the gospel in some aspects of Southern Presbyterian history, the PCA can tap all of her denominational resources to provide an astounding witness of the Kingdom of Christ to the world as we move forward.
The denomination’s churches and educational institutions, like Covenant College and Covenant Theological Seminary, missions agencies, college ministries, Christian Education and Publications provide excellent pipelines to raise up new denominational leadership to America’s truly multi-ethnic reality.In 1900, Europe and North America accounted for 82 percent of the world’s Christian population. In 2005, that number is down to 39 percent. To date 60 percent of world’s Christians are in Africa, Asia, and Latin America. Moreover, by 2023, half of America’s children will be non-white. As these trends continue, America will likely have a white minority by 2050. By taking cultural anthropology seriously–as was necessary as the gospel spread to Gentiles–carefully applying Scriptures, holding fast to our confessional standards, practicing particular confession and repentance, embracing new vistas for denominational leadership, and so on, the PCA can position herself to build a church that bears witness to the fact that in Kingdom of Christ includes women and menfrom every tribe and language and people and nation (Rev. 5:9) who earnestly live for the glory of God.
To begin this process, every member of the PCA should listento Rev. Randy Nabors’ August 1, 2010 sermon on unity and reconciliation in Galatians 3:26-28 titled “Right Sight” at New City Fellowship in Chattanooga on their website. Nabors’ sermon is the best first step in seeing the claims of Christ pressed everywhere in a culture like ours where diversity is the norm as we press the claims of Christ everywhere in our world. It is leadership like this that will equip us to reach God’s diverse people.
Anthony, thank you for your insights and candidness. CEP is in the process of planning its third reconciliation for February 2011. Details will be posted on our website as the Atlanta Conference comes together.