Aaron Lavender of Carver Baptist Bible College, Institute, and Theological Seminary has recently released a book with B&H Academic that, I believe, provides a much needed word for all Christians of all times. His book is directed toward the particular context of improving the theological quality of African American preaching, but most of the examples and lessons are applicable to any ethnic context.
Summary and Analysis
Enduring Truth: Restoring Sound Theology and Relevance to African American Preaching contains four content chapters bookended by an introduction and conclusion. Lavender begins by addressing the problems he sees with biblical preaching in African American pulpits. He notes that many African American churches have suffered due to the segregation of theological training and social segregation over the previous generations. As a result of many theologically conservative colleges and seminaries excluding or restricting access by African Americans, Lavender argues some bad theological tendencies have developed. He describes a significant mishandling of the Word of God that is widespread and has lead to the propagation of Black Liberation theology and the Prosperity Gospel instead of sound, biblical teaching. In other cases, showmanship and style have replaced substance in African American pulpits. This amounts to a crisis in African American churches.
In Chapter Two, Lavender moves to discuss the goal. Having stated the crisis, he unveils a vision for exegetical preaching, including its importance and its methodology. This chapter is concise and worthy of reading by prospective preachers of any ethnicity. In particular, Lavender tackles the issue of single versus multiple meanings as it pertains to exegesis of Scripture. Progressive evangelicals regularly assault conservatives for believing there is one primary meaning intended by the God-inspired authors of Scripture. Lavender defends the singular intended meaning, but also clearly notes that a given text may have diverse implications and applications in varying context. Lavender handles this issue and other similarly complex issues clearly, carefully, and concisely, which help to make this a good introductory volume.
Lavender builds a brief theology of preaching in the third chapter. Here he moves the reader to understand that preaching is more than simply regurgitating the results of Bible study, but it is a performative act in which the clear content of Scripture is presented clearly as a message of good news to a particular audience. However, Lavender cautions against preaching turning into a performance: “[The preacher] has not been called to entertain or mesmerize his listeners.” Instead, he should seek to reprove, rebuke and exhort. Scripture is to be the center of the preaching, because it is the message of Scripture not the charisma of the messenger that is intended to reshape the lives of the listening congregation. In this chapter, Lavender also considers some elements of preaching that are unique to an African American context. He evaluates both the strengths and pitfalls of “whooping” (“when the preacher’s words begin taking on a musical quality”) and “participatory proclamation” where the congregation is vocal in response to the preacher’s message. The purpose of this chapter is to frame a vision for expository preaching within the particular contours of the African American context.
Chapter Four closes the body of this brief volume by discussing the ever important search for relevance in preaching. In this chapter the author skims the surface of postmodernism, providing a critique that should keep the biblically informed from delving into the allure of epistemology murkiness. Lavender also discusses the importance and dangers of contextualization, which functions as further buttressing against a full-throated Black Liberation theology. Lavender urges his readers to contextual well, but cautiously. Seeking to apply the Scriptures to the lives of the hearers without diminishing the central message and authority of the Word itself is a challenge that every faithful preacher must navigate carefully. Lavender provides sound advice for his audience. This chapter concludes with a question an answer section, with a variety of seasoned African American preachers explaining their approach to the craft of preaching.
At under 100 pages of text, this is the sort of resource that could be useful in mentoring prospective young preachers in any context, but particularly within an African American context.
One of the clear messages that I received from this volume as a white evangelical Christian is that within the African American context, Aaron Lavender has the same concerns about biblical fidelity and faithfulness to the message of Scripture that I have had in a predominately white context. As we continue to work toward racial reconciliation, this makes it clear that conservative Christians of various ethnicities should be able to work together in the common cause of redemption of biblical preaching, even when styles and techniques differ.
Finally, this is an important book that should be read across ethnic lines. Within the African American context, it will provide a focused critique and corrective to possible errors. Within the majority evangelical context, it has the potential to provide an introductory understanding to some of the distinctive aspects of African American preaching (like “whooping” and congregational response), which can seem distracting initially, but which have a historical and theological foundation within that tradition. If you are a white evangelical seeking to be a bridge builder to theologically aligned African Americans in your community, this book will help you understand their context better.
Note: I received a gratis copy of this volume from the publisher with no expectation of a positive review.