To Quote or Not to Quote
"That's a white scholar, he can’t be trusted."
"Show me a black theologian that believes that..."
"That's an Edomite!"
If you are engaged in urban apologetics you have heard these objections before, in one form or the other. Typically, defenders of black cults, radical black liberation theologians, or extreme pan-Africanist utilize these retorts. When so, they often are assuming we have been brainwashed by white Christians/Scholars and all the while forsaking the faith and teachings of our ancestors.
The basis of these objections are ironic to say the least. Two generic misnomers are made already at this junction. It is absurd to assume all African Americans have the same ancestry and even more absurd to assume those ancestors accepted the same worldviews as a whole. There are thousands of beliefs in ancient and modern Africa. Also, just because our ancestors believed it doesn't necessarily make it true. We know this reality all too well. Opening an umbrella under the roof doesn't guarantee any misfortune, putting your purse on the floor won't make you broke, and getting your clothes wet while you wash dishes doesn't guarantee you will marry a drunk. All superstition and jokes aside, our ancestors have been correct in some areas and incorrect in others. We must be able to evaluate their claims against truth and do it with love. On the other hand, I believe there are three substantial points to be made against those who don't warrant the quoting of white theologians in dialogue or who request black scholars as puppeteer citations.
Truth is truth regardless of whom it comes from
To say something is false simply based on the source is a logical fallacy. Specifically, the proper term is a genetic fallacy. That is a false logical conclusion that diminishes the truth of a statement based solely on its origins or history. These simplistic conclusions rarely determine the truth claim based on the merits of the claim itself. For example, a student is taught basic arithmetic in a school under a vicious dictatorship. Does that student have a warrant to then say 2 + 2 is not equal to 4? Of course not! Although suspicion would be warranted the truth claim itself must be evaluated on its own terms as well. As logical human beings we can condemn the vicious character of a teacher and still evaluate their teachings on the basis of truth. Yes, we should be cautious and hesitant to promote such teachers. But if they said anything true we should acknowledge it was true instead of delegitimizing those valid statements. Such is the case when consulting the written work of white theologians. Facts are facts, regardless of their skin color.
Requesting books by African American theologians of the past ignores the reality of educational oppression
When Black cultist or extreme pan-Africanist beg for books by African American theologians & scholars from the past to prove or disprove Christianity in the written form they often project the standards of privilege that ignores the educational oppression we faced. Due to these harsh realities, we have very few people of color in all of the major academic disciplines that have written extensively in our country. We lack people of color historically laying the foundation for modern physics in America yet I rest assure we still board airplanes that utilize such knowledge from "suspect" sources. Specifically concerning radical black liberation theologians I am especially confounded. They castigate "conservative" African American preachers for quoting white evangelicals. However, they too have hypocritically built their theologies on the backs of German liberals and neo-Orthodox theologians such as Karl Barth.
These objections are sad because with it, many lose sight of the primary means intellectual and theological contributions have been made to God’s Kingdom. Black cult leaders & pan-Africanist often presuppose that such contributions do not exist from these traditions because they have not come through the vehicles often accepted within the prominent presentations of books. As a result, black cult leaders and pan-Africanist subversively acknowledge academic voices as more legitimate. Again, not realizing they are espousing a standard of privilege that should be challenged and critiqued itself. By doing so, the theological contributions of John Jasper, Lemuel Haynes, Richard Allen, Absalom Jones, & Phyllis Wheatley are not evaluated, quoted, or adopted. One must realize that the primary theological and apologetic vehicles in our recent past were the sermons, narratives, and spirituals. Due to other systematic obstacles and cultural manifestations, the sermon was the book, lecture, and scholarly article for the African American tradition. The spirituals were the canon of beliefs and relief. The narratives were the autobiographies of our spiritual heroes. That does not make the robust content found in these sermons, spirituals, or narratives any less helpful to our apologetic agenda. Our souls would be blessed to resurrect the intellectual power found in these homiletical gems, doctrinal melodies, and poetic narratives. Brothers and sisters of brown and black hue should gladly accept them as historical evidence that we too have been believers.
The formation of traditional Christian Theology is indebted to African Scholars
The prominent Christians of antiquity were in fact people of color. To simply make my point I will utilize two major pillars in Christian theology. Augustine of Hippo was an "African" bishop that articulated original sin, the bondage of our wills, and Christ's atoning death. That's before Muhammed & Islam hit Africa. That's before the Middle Ages and Medieval thought. In the essentials of the Christian faith, an African Bishop was the most influential theologian; perhaps the most influential outside of the Bible. In essence, much of traditional Christian theology is the product of African thought. Another African contributor that truly shaped the doctrine of Christianity was Athanasius. Through his zeal and intellectual capabilities Christians formally formulated the doctrine of the Trinity. His writings also demonstrate the circulation of New Testament writings in the early church. Though there are more examples, these two figures are more than enough to demonstrate that Christianity is deeply indebted to Africa.
Some object that paintings of these writers are white so how could they be African? Regardless of the inaccurate paintings you have seen, many Christian church fathers were African. Remember, the paintings we often see are portraits not photographs. These portraits often came centuries later in other context. Therefore, we cannot discount Augustine or Athanasius though those painters erroneously depict their ethnicity. A modern day example would be the depiction of ancient Egyptians by only white actors in Hollywood films. We know that to be historically inaccurate but we don't write off the brilliance of our Egyptian ancestors, devalue their contributions, or white wash their ethnicity.
Finally, consider this:
“The grass withers, the flower fades, but the word of our God will stand forever” Isaiah 40:8 ESV
We are faced with many different “winds of doctrine”. Many have disputed Christianity and it’s place in the black community, nonetheless the one source that remains to be true and unchanged is God’s Word. That being said, the Bible is the only source that has the final say on any matter. Without the Bible we do not have sufficient authority to determine truth. We need divine inspiration, a supernatural absolute personality to clearly communicate truth and hold us accountable. Without this, we are left with autonomous reason that cannot adequately answer authoritatively nor explore options exhaustively. Instead of relying on quotes from people we trust or distrust due to color or ancestry we should indeed align all statements up to the ultimate standard: God's Word. We must do that utilizing proper context while understanding the grammar and historical background of the text. Let every person we quote align himself or herself with the Book.
For God's Glory,
Cam Triggs loves Jesus. God saved Cam from wrath, sin, death, and Satan in 2005. He began studies at University of Central Florida as a Religious Studies major & continued his education at Reformed Theological Seminary where he earned a Masters of Arts in Theological Studies. During his time at RTS, Cam was privileged to study under the apologist John Frame. In the future, he looks forward to further study in the areas of philosophy, theology, and African American studies. He now enjoys loving God & loving students at Shiloh Church. More importantly, he is married to his beautiful best friend Tymara Triggs and the proud father of Cameron Triggs II. Stay connected with him at camtriggs.com.