African Americans and the Doctrine of Predestination

Yesterday I spoke with a member of the clergy of an African American church in the historic Black Baptist tradition. He attended a graduate theological program at a Historically Black College and University (HBCU). In conversation, I mentioned that I embrace Reformed Theology (aka Calvinism). With a note of incredulity in his voice, he immediately replied, “So you believe in predestination?” I answered, “Yes, because the Scriptures teach it.”

This brother’s assumption appeared to be that no believer of African descent could hold to a belief in God’s absolute sovereignty in salvation. Calvinism is much more than this, but “predestination” was this minister’s only association with all that is systematized from the preaching and teaching of John Calvin and his followers.

What I am wondering is if  “so you believe in predestination” is the stock reply to expect from a fellow believer of pan-African descent in the Black Baptist tradition. Elsewhere I have written that this is the very response I gained from a member of my ordination council over a decade ago. Are anti-predestination and anti-Calvinism standard teachings in the Afro-Baptist tradition? Are predestination and Calvinism spoken against everywhere in the schools where the majority of clergy in the Black traditions are trained? This is different than asking if Calvinism is ignored in such traditions, or if it remains unmentioned. I want to know if it is categorically denied as sound doctrine and rejected in these traditions.

I am not being naïve. I know that there are many people in other Baptist traditions that question any Baptist association with Reformed Theology. I have heard my share of brothers outside of the African American community say, “You know Spurgeon was not really a Calvinist,” in order to speak against any possibility that a Baptist preacher – and a very evangelistic one at that – could hold that the Scriptures teach that in Christ, the Lord has elected some to salvation, that such ones are the only ones to be saved, that this is the only way that the Lord saves, and that only those elected will be saved. (I am not sure what these brothers do with Spurgeon’s, A Defense of Calvinism.)

I also know that slave owners in America used a maligned concept of predestination to justify the slaves’ need to accept their place within the unjust system of slavery. However, the erroneous use of the Scriptural teaching on election (rather than predestination) from a period over 150 years ago should not prevent a proper reading of the Scriptures now. The Curse of Ham teaching largely has died out from American pulpits even though it was popularized and spread just a little over 40 years ago by notes in the Scofield Study Bible. The association of predestination with the plight of my ancestors also should be buried by the teaching of the truth: “[God] chose us in [Christ] before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him. In love he predestined us for adoption as sons through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of his will, to the praise of his glorious grace, with which he has blessed us in the Beloved” (Eph. 1:4-6).

 

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