To Glorify God and to Comfort the Saints
*A review of Anthony J. Carter, “On Being Black and Reformed: A New Perspective on the African American Christian Experience”
With one succinct sentence, Anthony Carter integrates historical Reformation theology and historical African American experience. “Our primary goal as theologians is to glorify God and to comfort the saints.”
Some may wonder what’s so novel about that declaration. A careful reading of most modern presentations of Reformed theology exposes the truth that God’s glory is always emphasized (rightly so), while the saints’ comfort is often minimized (sadly so).
Reformation theology has historically offered great treatises on anthropology (human creation and God’s design), hamartiology (human sin and depravity), and on soteriology (Christ’s salvation and human deliverance). Historically, what has been lacking is a biblical sufferology—a theology of suffering that brings comfort to human misery, that brings hope to the hurting.
Throughout “On Being Black and Reformed” Carter’s subtext reverberates. Reformed theology has much to offer African American Christians. And, African American Christians have much to offer Reformed theology. When separated from Reformed theology, African American Christians, according to Carter, are tempted toward a lower view of God, truth, and theology. When separated from African American Christianity, Reformed theology, according to Carter, is tempted toward a lower view of comfort, love, and contextual experience. Reformed theology and African American Christianity need each other equally.
Nowhere is this juxtaposition more clearly revealed than in the Reformed African American theological interpretation of American enslavement. How could a good and sovereign God allow an entire people group to be enslaved for centuries? African American pastors like Lemuel Haynes, Richard Allen, and Absalom Jones, and writers like Phillis Wheatley, Olaudah Equiano, and Quobna Cugoano all offer the “Joseph Answer.” “You meant evil against me, but God intended it for good.” In God’s affectionate sovereignty, He shepherds good from evil, He creates beauty from ashes.
Anthony Carter’s retelling of this historical merging of African American Christian experience and Reformed theology is a gift to all people of all races.
Reviewer: Bob Kellemen, Ph.D., is the author of “Beyond the Suffering: Embracing the Legacy of African American Soul Care and Spiritual Direction,” “Soul Physicians,” and “Spiritual Friends.”