Being Black and Reformed: An Interview with Anthony Carter

Being Black and Reformed: An Interview with Anthony Carter

*This article was originally posted in the December 1, 2011 issue of Tabletalk Magazine

Tabletalk Magazine.  Tabletalk: Why did you write the book On Being Black and Reformed?

Anthony Carter: When I first came into the knowledge of Reformed theology, I was excited and invigorated to share this truth with others. However, I quickly discovered that not everyone found Reformed theology as compelling as I did (go figure). This was particularly true within African American circles. Because of the caricatures of Reformed theology that have become popular in some Christian circles, and because of the unfortunate history of some within Reformed confessing Christianity, many African Americans find Reformed theology in general, and Reformed-minded Christians in particular, not very sympathetic to their history and culture. I wrote On Being Black and Reformedbecause I wanted to nix those thoughts and demonstrate that not only is Reformed theology biblically and historically consistent, but it is not antithetical to the African American Christian experience. In fact, Reformed theology makes the most sense of the world in general and the history of African Americans in particular.

TT: How did you first discover Reformed theology?

AC: When I was saved and sensed a call to ministry, I set my mind to study the Bible all I could and to learn the teachings contained in there. I had a lot of theological questions and would seek to find answers in a variety of quarters. However, what I discovered was that the vast majority of my answers were coming from guys who held to the Reformed theological tradition. I was not aware of what Reformed theology was at the time, but I knew that the answers I discovered were bathed in the Scriptures.

It was not until I discovered the teachings and writings of J.I. Packer and R.C. Sproul that I began to put the categories together and realized just how mentally compelling, heart-humbling, gospel-centering, and joy-producing Reformed theology could be.

TT: A number of American Reformed theologians were slave owners. How can a Christian who is black embrace the theology of men who owned slaves or who defended the slave trade?

AC: Indeed, this is one of the hurdles many (not all) African American Christians find hard to get over as they come to understand and embrace Reformed theology. I have often contended that the reticence that some African Americans have toward an embrace of Reformed theology is not as much the theology as it is the ones who have held to it. There are, however, a couple things to be said about this. First, the sordid, sinful, and tangled history of slavery in America was not just the property of Reformed Christians. Christians from practically every religious confession in America have a poor history of racism and even slave holding. To disregard any tradition that held slaves would be to disregard practically every theological tradition in America. Admittedly, the problem has often been that while other traditions have been quicker to acknowledge their sins in this regard, many in the Reformed tradition have been slow to and have even retreated into their own theological and cultural enclaves rather than deal publicly and forthrightly with the transgressions of the past. Consequently, Reformed Christians have been viewed as less vigorous in denouncing the sins of slavery and thus implying their approval of it. This perception is unfortunate, yet real.

Nevertheless, the question remains. To answer it, allow me to make it personal. How can I, a black man, embrace the theology of men who owned slaves? I can joyfully embrace it because I realize that I am embracing the theology of the Bible and not necessarily the frail, fallible men who teach it. I can embrace the theology because it allows me to point out the sins of such teachers and yet the grace that is greater than that sin.

How could the early Christians embrace the theology of the Apostle Paul when, as Saul of Tarsus, he pursued, persecuted, and even consented to many of their deaths? They could do it because they understood the gospel to be greater than not just their sins but also the sins of those who transgressed against them. I can embrace it because if we listen and learn only from those in history who have no theological blind spots, then to whom shall we listen and from whom shall we learn? Biblical theology must be larger, more grand than the imperfections of its teachers. I believe Reformed theology is.

Link to full article HERE