Black Reformed Christians Under 'Theological Imperialism?'

Lecrae, Trip Lee and Eric Mason Speak Out

Don’t throw the baby out with the bathwater is the message Pastor Eric Mason is sending out to the black community, referring to the tension many Reformed African Americans are experiencing today over their acceptance of “the white man’s” theology.

Speaking particularly of the disconnect between the teachings of the black, traditional Baptist church versus the Gospel-centered teachings grounded by mainly white Reformed theologians, Mason, along with acclaimed Christian hip-hop artists Trip Lee and Lecrae, together shared their own perspectives on the matter and offered up words of advice to reconcile the tension. Their discussion is featured on The Gospel Coalition website.

All three speakers are in the Reformed circle and have been accused by some of their people as being under “theological imperialism,” or in Mason’s words, back “on some type of plantation” for their acceptance of Reformed theology.

“How do we deal with that?” Mason, lead pastor of Epiphany Fellowship in Philadelphia questioned.

“I don’t feel like I’m under imperialism,” Lecrae responded. “I feel like I’m in search of truth and I’m going to get it where I can find it. I feel like I am in some sense a contextual ambassador, a cultural ambassador, and I do want to bridge those gaps and tear down those walls.”

“It’s a journey,” he added, thinking back on his own path to faith. Though he did not grow up a believer, he was familiar with the traditional black church, which his mother and grandmother were both a part of.

After converting to Christianity at the age of 19, he began attending what he described to be “the only church [he] knew to go to” – the traditional Baptist church.

“I would go to that church and I’m hearing things that are true and incredible and are good for my soul and I may not be hearing the things that I do need to hear as well.”

When he began attending a “[majority] white conservative evangelical church” thereafter and started to hear truths that he did not necessarily hear before, Lecrae’s knee jerk reaction was to blame his old church for not teaching him the truths that he heard at his new church.

“I get to railing on this community that had nurtured me in a lot of ways and I just focused in on what I didn’t get and became to make this (new church) the place to be.” But he soon realized that his new Reformed church did not appreciate who he was, culturally, and who God made him to be. He was stuck in the middle.

“That was always a wrestle for me,” he expressed.

Agreeing, Lee shared that many black Christians could relate to what Lecrae was saying, initially blaming the traditional church for not teaching them the foundational truths.

“I think something that can help those dudes is not to bring people along to sell the truth ... don’t wave reform on them … Just say ‘look at what I found in the Scriptures and if you don’t understand that from the Scriptures then you don’t even understand that; you just like some dude’s teaching.”

Emphasizing that reformed black Christians needed to point their fellow brothers and sisters to the Word of God, all three agreed on the need to teach biblical truths, not just theories and fancy theological names and words.

Recalling the words of Carl Ellis, a black professor at Westminster Theological Seminary, Mason shared the advice given to him on how to teach Reformed theology to black men.

“He said, ‘I wouldn’t pour out the actual classical resource at first ... I would develop a biblical trajectory on that particular subject as I disciple those men and insert quotes not necessarily letting them know where I got it from because of some of the feeling that the barrage of what people felt about Christianity.’

“‘Teaching about biblical manhood and masculinity and that type of thing and pulling those biblical truths out and talking about that but then contextualizing the voices of those we said have been carrying the torch of the Gospel for 2,000 years and communicating it.’”

The issue was being able to communicate, Mason stressed. “African American men need an affirmation of Gospel-centered biblical intellectualism that’s contextualized yet biblical and that shows the connection of the entire breadth of the Word of God.”

He applauded both Lecrae and Lee for being able to achieve that through their music.

Though the weight of responsibility appeared heavy on the backs of the two rappers, both were encouraged.

“It makes you feel like you’re doing something worthwhile,” Lee said.

Lecrae, having never thought about the matter from that perspective, was just glad to do it.

Reflecting on their responsibilities and their love of Gospel-centered theology, Lee wondered what counsel Mason would then give to those who had stumbled upon new truth and felt like they had to either abandon their culture or just remain somewhere they did not feel they were getting fed well at.

Admitting that was a difficult position, the Gordon Conwell graduate said that he would walk people through it and advise them not to discount everything they had learned.

“We know there are challenges in some of the places we’ve come from and there are challenges where we’re going. I think whenever you’re in the honeymoon period of truth from a place, not with truth, but from a place, that you tend to romanticize it being perfect – which of course we know that’s way off center of what we would believe is redemptive historical theme.”

“Don’t throw the baby out with the bathwater,” Mason also noted. “There’s creation, fall, redemption over here and there’s creation, fall, redemption over [there.] Don’t assume if terminology is different that, even if he’s an African American, that [creation, fall, redemption] didn’t exist there.”

“The black preacher sees Jesus through the Old Testament all the time ... he didn’t call it redemptive historical theme, longitudinal themes, comparison contrast or typology, he called it the role and when he’s in a sermon guess what he’d do? He’d talk about a picture of Jesus in every book of the Bible and he’d do it pretty well too.”

Encouraging black Christians then to further develop what they’ve learned, from seeing Jesus in a part of a book to seeing him throughout the whole of the book, Mason believed both teachings could work together to fuel a better understanding of Christ to the community.

It is also important to expose the community to solid biblical preaching from men of different ethnicities and point them toward books that seek to explain the African American experience with the Gospel.

With a limited number of Gospel-centered black preachers and teachers, Lecrae said he was grateful for pastors like Mason and Anthony Carter who taught solid biblical truths to the black community.

“I’ve used y’alls podcasts to give to individuals who are just kind of wrestling, coming out of a particular context but it’s like I want them to hear solid biblical teaching," he said.

“...I know there’s going to be a barrier up as soon as it’s like ‘who’s this white dude’s voice I’m listening to.’ Not to say the Spirit can’t work and move in their hearts but just knowing those initial barriers [can be broken].”

I’m really appreciative of that, Lecrae concluded.

To watch the full discussion by Trip Lee, Eric Mason and Lecrae on video, click here.

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