Oreo

W. E. B. Dubois said that Blacks folks have been so comfortable with riding in the front of the bus that they have forgotten to ask where the bus is going [paraphrase].

The Bus Ride

I’m afraid in my estimation that the same is happening in the Reformed Black community. Many of us were in search of a better theological bus. We saw many buses go by that were same ole’ same ole’. We began to be disgruntled with the buses we rode on because most of them really weren’t as faithful to orthodox Christianity as we had thought. However, as time went on, a nice properly working bus came along that we really had not seen before. Now of course, we’ve seen different buses in the past that had similar features, but not a bus that had all the features we were looking for in one place. So we got on like any person who is waiting on a certain bus because they believe it will take them right where they need to go. And as a person who is on this (reformed) bus, it has been one of the most enjoyable rides of my life. The seats on here are better than any seat that I’ve been on. Not to mention, the ride is like you are riding on air. It makes Greyhound look like a horse and buggy.

However, there are just a couple of problems with this relatively new transition for some. For one, before boarding bus we forgot to check out the body, mechanical, and electrical working of the bus much like we would if we were buying new car. Basically, we were so enamored by this new bus with all the bells and whistles we wanted; we did not actually make sure it was functioning on all cylinders. Many of us did not check the tire pressure, oil levels, possible cracks in the engine block, transmission, CV joints and etc. before getting on the bus. What makes matters worse we probably didn’t even ask to drive it around. After all, we will be spending the rest of our life on it all things being equal. So we just assumed that everything about the bus is working at optimal levels because the other buses we were on or looked at didn’t have all of what this reformed bus had.

If that wasn’t bad enough once we got on the bus while being on it for several years, we still didn’t ask anything about the condition of the bus. Nor did we even ask where this bus is really going without having to make any assumptions. It is almost as if we got on the bus with our eyes wide open and enthusiastic, but once we got seated we needed to put on our blindfold because we should have no involvement as to where the bus is taking us. We just need to sit back and enjoy the ride. The good Reformed driver knows what he is doing. He doesn’t need us Black folks telling him where to go. He has been driving this route for generations, centuries even. He has Luther, Calvin, Berhof, and Hodge as his roadmap. And if he needs a more contemporary map, he even has Piper, MacArthur, and Sproul to guide him. But what is really odd about this whole situation among other things is that the folks driving the bus really don’t know where the passengers ought to be going as much as the passengers do. And the passengers don’t really seem to mind at all! From the looks of things, they probably prefer somebody like that driving the bus. Or if one of passengers should drive, they must try to be like the historic and contemporary Reformed folks because their driving and handling of the bus is much superior to the Black passengers. You know, those Black passengers haven’t been behind the wheel too long. So they probably don’t want to get lost by driving themselves on occasion and the historic/contemporary Reformed folks probably don’t want to give up the wheel any. We all know once Black folks get a hold to something new they start trying to challenge everything and redefine categories. So what do we do? Well, let me try to put some of this in less than narrative terms before I try to answer that briefly.

The Call to Bus Riders

If it is not already clear, my basic point is that many in the Black Reformed community have embraced Reformed theology wholesale without being too critical of it. In other words, we have bought Reformed theology hook, line and sinker. As a result, the current dangerous landscape as I see it is that the more and more Blacks become reformed, the less and less they become self-consciously Black or aware of their situatedness in the process. I say this because from what I’ve seen is that many Reformed Black folks are seemingly trying to be like Luther, John Piper, or R. C. Sproul by primarily parroting what they have said almost as if they are a “Black RC” or “Black Martin Luther” or something. By doing this, we begin to lose their own God-given identity as someone who should have a unique and different voice from that of traditional Reformed theologizing, but yet still in line with it. So I would contend that it is not enough to just duplicate traditional Reformed conventions and verbiage. We do not need a pseudo-Piper in Black skin, not because there is anything wrong Piper, but because there is also value and a tremendous need for more of a manifestation of the imago dei of Black people, particularly through our theologizing.

Driving by Shenequa?

Now back to the important question of what do we do? We must revisit, rethink, and rearticulate Reformed theology. This is especially true for us Blacks who embrace it because Reformed theology does not necessarily answer all of our questions. If that is true (which it is), then there is a call for Reformed Blacks to provide more answers. For instance, what does Reformed theology have to do with Pookie and ‘em or Shenequa who work 2 jobs, has 3 kids with absentee fathers? I can tell you this: you will not find sufficient answers in R.C., Piper, or John MacArthur's writings/sermons because they are not speaking to Shenequa. You can’t turn to them (Banner of Truth, or Puritan writings, etc)! And I am not suggesting that they necessarily should because they have their own calling. Not to mention, who better can speak to Shenequa than Black folks? So if you think all you have to do is tell them about the holiness of God, then Shenequa or Pookie and ‘em will be okay, you have another thing coming. The stark reality is that Shenequa may not care about God’s holiness and his wrath. For her it may be because God is so wrathful that she sees her situation in such hopeless and godless ways. Furthermore, she may be unconcerned about how can she be “right” with a holy God. So how do you do Reformed theology and communicate Reformed theology when the person you are taking to is not even asking the question you are almost always asking, which is usually how can you be right with a holy God? Perhaps, Shenequa thinks she is already “right” with God and she is actually wondering what is going on because God is already supposed to be on her side and making her circumstances right. Either way, how we, as Black Reformed folks, do Reformed theology must be revisited, rethought, and rearticulated, if it is going to faithfully answer Shenequa's important and distinct questions that often goes unanswered by many Reformed folks.

Therefore, as we have stressed frequently over here at RBA, we need a Black Reformed theology. All too often in traditional Reformed theologizing, we have emphasized God’s holiness in His transcendence. But what about God’s holiness in His immanence? The immanence of God has always been a vital aspect of our Black heritage and theological tradition. Why? For Blacks historically having a God who is primarily or even only transcendent is uncomforting and non-redemptive. Therefore, Shenequa and others need to see not only God in his transcendence, but also God in his immanence. She needs to see that God is there – His nearness, His “thereness” in her life and neighborhood. This is partially what amounts to in my mind as a Black Reformed theology among other things.

Driving into the Reformed Illusion

Now, if you are saying right now in your mind that I am wrong, then I would say you have just confirmed my point because no theology is perfect and in need of no revision or advancement. Let me come at it another way. Reformed theology is a construct. It does not equal Scripture and insofar as it does not equal Scripture that necessarily mean we will always need to be rethinking what it means to be Reformed, especially in light of my racial/ethnic context. See, the crucial reality is that not only is Reformed theology a construct, but it is also a certain culture. And therein lies an even more fundamental problem of the need to be more aware of what we, as Black folks are buying into because when we buy into Reformed theology unconsciously, we also are buying into particular (Western European) cultures that may be at opposition to our own cultures in certain instances. In other words, Reformed theology is not a cultureless construct. And if Reformed theology is not cultureless, and we buy it uncritically wholesale, then we will be more susceptible to buy the entire culture as well even to our detriment.

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A Preliminary Litmus Test: Since most Reformed folks read and have tons of books, how many of your books are authored by Blacks and have you read them as much as other White authors?

Co-Founder Xavier Pickett

Part II: “More Chocolate In My Milk Please: The Necessity of Integrating Blackness and Reformedness”