Last week Dr. Anthony Bradley revisited topics he wrote in the introductory chapter of his collaborative book, Aliens in the Promised Land: Why Minority Leadership Is Overlooked in White Christian Churches and Institutions. It’s the kind of statement some battle-hardened writers and speakers may dismiss as part of the normal push and shove of public theology, but minority writers and speakers in our country appear to have one extra front to defend–expectations on their ethnicity. When a smart, young, black man embraces the Westminster Confession, why would he have to justify himself to his peers for choosing a “white” church and defend himself from his would-be allies against charges of tokenism?
I know this is a hot-button topic I’m unqualified to blog about, but I’m pressing on to recommend Aliens in the Promised Land as a good start at catching our blind spots. Believers and church people alike easily read their cultural assumptions and convictions into the Bible, turning them around to others as proper applications of God’s Word. We talk about this whenever we bring up selections from a list of most misunderstood or misapplied verses. How many sermons barely apply the text in favor of the speaker’s personal convictions?
Life assumptions come from our family history, life experiences, and place in society, and in that last area minorities say they have suffered. One professor in the book wrote about his ancestors living in the Texas area long before the state was formed. He said they didn’t cross the border, the border crossed them. They have been US citizens for five generations, but because of his Latino heritage this American has had people tell him to go back to Mexico and the people who didn’t say that ask him why he wasn’t Catholic. If you look a certain way you must be a certain person.
That may be the world’s response , but let’s leave it with them and conduct ourselves in light of Christ’s great work, “having abolished in His flesh the enmity, that is, the law of commandments contained in ordinances, so as to create in Himself one new man from the two [Jew and gentile], thus making peace and that He might reconcile them both to God in one body through the cross, thereby putting to death the enmity” (Ephesians 2:15-16 NKJV).
Jesus isn’t building his church for believers to say to their neighbors, “We don’t serve your kind here.” In the last chapter of the book, Dr. Carl Ellis Jr. wrote,
Theology is something we do, not just something we study. When we apply the God-given answers, new questions emerge and another round of the theological process begins. . . . The Bible itself is like powdered milk. It has all the ingredients of whole milk, but it is undrinkable in its present form. You could spoon the powder into your mouth, but that would be problematic. God calls us to make the Bible drinkable by applying the water of our lives to it.
Put another way, loving our neighbors (directly and through society) is not only a way the Lord brings them to eternal life but also a way for us to love God more and better, because we will have broader life experiences, have more reasons to ask more questions, and seek answers in the Word as a result. We will be more likely to have our assumptions challenged and be better equipped to climb the hills of Scripture to see more of God’s kingdom.
Dr. John Frame said, “For years, evangelicals have discussed among themselves ways to reach minority communities, without much participation by minorities themselves. This book is a game changer.” Read more about Aliens in the Promised Land here.