Recently a black colleague of mine asked me if I was working on any new writing projects. I told him as a matter of fact I am. It is a book on The Pilgrim’s Progress. He quickly responded, “Oh, will that be a black man’s perspective on The Pilgrim’s Progress?” His response was both telling and disappointing. It was telling in how much the conversation of race and the politics of race have overtaken our conversation in the church. It was disappointing because it suggested that black men and women can’t write anything except it be explicitly the “black perspective” on a thing.

I know it might sound a bit sacrilegious these days to even raise the question, but could it be that our preoccupation with race is moving us to color the gospel? In other words, we can be so concerned with black and white issues or issues of social justice and not realize that we are slowly slipping away from the character and content of the gospel message into our personal cultural and social agendas. Consequently, we may unwittingly be saying that if the gospel proclamation does not include my felt sociological needs or cultural affirmations then it is a gospel insufficient. Thus, we may be coloring the gospel with our preferences.

It would seem obvious, but I often find the obvious needs restating: The gospel is not black or white. The gospel is the color of water (that may not be the best analogy in light of the present circumstances of our brothers and sisters in Flint, MI, but bear with me). In the book The Color of Water: A Black Man’s Tribute to His White Mother, author James McBride describes a conversation where he asked his mother, “What color is God?” She responded with a deftness seemingly lost on us today. She said, “God is the color of water.” In other words, he is not definable by color. He is not bound by our cultural preoccupations, and neither is the gospel.

The danger the church must be leery of today is the same danger she has had to combat from her beginning – cultural pride. And cultural pride is no respecter of culture. From the conversation Jesus had with the woman at the well (John. 4), to the neglect of the Hellenistic Christians (Acts 6), to Paul’s own explicit cultural denials (Phil. 3), the struggle to overcome cultural pride has been and is real. White Christians struggle with it. Black Christians struggle with it. Hispanic Christians struggle with it. Asian Christians struggle with it. And the list goes on and on. Racism is rooted in it. And too often my bitter responses to racism are rooted in it as well.

Sadly, it is evidenced in the nature of our conversations and exchanges. Much of the discussion on race today is accusatory–blacks accusing whites of not listening or caring; whites accusing blacks of being too sensitive and unyielding. The biblical truth is that we are all sinners and my cultural pride is no better (or worse) than yours.

Remember, Christ reminds us that there is ever a log in my eye even as I graciously point out the speck in the eye of my brother or sister (Matt. 7). I find these words of Christ requiring me to have more self-suspicion than suspicion of others. Sadly the current conversation on race often has it reversed. Nevertheless, all of my accusations (whether black or white) need to come with an admission of guilt and a subsequent confession of Christ as sufficient for accuser and accused. As a Christian black man, though I decry injustice, I am ever admitting that my biggest problem is not police brutality, or economic inequality, or disproportionate incarcerations. My biggest issue is the pride in my own heart. Cultural idols exist in black hearts as well as white ones.

I am hoping to soon complete work on the book about The Pilgrim’s Progress. The author of this book will be a black man. The thoughts and intent of this book will be those of a Christian man. Yet, like God, the gospel, and even my life, I pray this book would be less about color and more about Christ.

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23 Comments

  • Avatar Katie Cheng says:

    Thank you so much for this.

  • Avatar Louis Love says:

    Hey Carter:
    Man. looking forward to that book.

    BTW, what would a Black man’s Perspective on Pilgrim’s Progress even begin to look like?

    My, my, my.

  • Avatar Tony Carter says:

    Good question man. I would have to think about that because I had not thought about it before :). Maybe Christian’s name wouldn’t be Graceless but “Bruh”? And maybe his friend wouldn’t be Hopeful, but “Huggy”?

  • Avatar Tony Carter says:

    Thanks for stopping by the Porch. Come again!

  • Avatar Darryl D says:

    Man oh man. As a young black 25 year old the pull towards things like liberation theology and black nationalism seems to be just as strong as it was back after the civil rights movement. I’ve always had to walk the line between caring about my blackness but also remembering the gospel is more important. A lot of young people my age just don’t see it alone as sufficient enough to bring about the change we want to see. Thank you so much for this article!

  • Avatar Louis Love says:

    Yeah man and the City of Destruction would be renamed the City of Detroit.
    Sorry bout that Leython, you know I had to say it.

  • Avatar Leython Williams says:

    Pastor Carter-

    I’m also looking forward to this book and I really appreciate this post!

    “The biblical truth is that we are all sinners and my cultural pride is no better (or worse) than yours…My biggest issue is the pride in my own heart.”
    Amen and Amen, brother! Our biggest problem is sin and our greatest need is a Savior…Christ is, indeed, sufficient.

  • Avatar Leython Williams says:

    Ha! C’mon, don’t kick the city while it’s down; Redemption is on it’s way! I like the alliteration though.

  • Avatar Tony Carter says:

    Thanks Leython. Good hearing from you bro! And don’t let Pastor Love get you down. Let him know that Detroit is on the rise, and “don’t call it come back!” See ya in few months, Lord willing :).

  • Avatar Tony Carter says:

    Thanks man! And thanks for sharing your thoughts on The Porch. I resemble those remarks. 🙂 Blessings bro!

  • Avatar William Norman says:

    Good read. I’m glad there’s balance here. The focus must start with self. And it must also broaden to the realization that justice, whether it be racial, economic, gender, whatever are not issues separate from the gospel. They are intricately woven into it from start to finish. It pains me to see believers miss this.

  • Avatar Mario P says:

    great article, thank you pastor Carter.

  • Avatar Yolanda says:

    This was an amazing article. I couldn’t put my finger on the sin that so easily besets us, but you nailed it…Cultural Pride!

  • Avatar Stacey Westfall says:

    Praise the Lord for your words brother! I look forward to your book. I love Pilgrim’s Progress and am looking for ways that I can incorporate it into my homeschool curriculim for my children. So any books that explain the story and scriptures behind it is something I look forward to.

  • Avatar Lewis Oneal says:

    “I find these words of Christ requiring me to have more self-suspicion than suspicion of others. Sadly the current conversation on race often has it reversed.” THIS,THIS,THIS! We desperately need to look to Jesus for the answer (because He is) and not to the talking heads on TV or wherever. I appreciate your re-iteration it is a gentle reminder that we are not home yet and to not grow comfortable in the ways of this world. Thanks

    Now about this Pilgrim’s Progress book, all I want to know is when? I love your preaching and what I’ve read of yours is good too. So when I saw the first two sentences and my first thought was ‘that will be good’. Keep us updated. Also saw you and Dr.(?) Love joking about a “black man’s” Pilgrim’s Progress and just wanted to point you to a pretty good read by Brady “Phanatik” Goodwin’s work the City of Allegory. It is a modern retelling of sorts, you all might enjoy it. BTW Brady Goodwin was in the Cross Movement for a number of years and makes amazing music, I imagine Dr. Carter knows as the last time we spoke at SEBTS you seemed to know your CHH. 😉

  • Avatar Tony Carter says:

    Amen brother! We must never forget what Jesus says to those who complained about perceived injustice in his day – Luke 13:1-5. Whenever we are moved to hold accountable the unjust in this world, let us remember that in God’s eye injustice is in every heart. Thanks for hanging out on the Porch.

  • Avatar Tony Carter says:

    Yeah bro, I am familiar with that book. Interesting take on the classic. My book is more of an analysis and companion to The Pilgrim’s Progress. I hope to complete it in the next few months (as time permits). Thanks for stopping by!

  • Avatar Amelia Thompson says:

    Thank you for this piece Pastor Carter! I really enjoy the work you and your colleagues have undertaken with The Front Porch. Would you share how you define what the African-American church is? Is it a church in the inner city or south that is 99 percent black, a church that supports social and racial justice or the church that exists within any African-American? Or none of the above? I ask because your piece makes me wonder to what extent the African American church as a separate entity does or should exist in light of the degree to which through Christ he came to triumph over all divisions. And to the extent that it does and should exist does its continuation offer opportunity for the Gospel to continue without the trappings of cultural pride?

  • Avatar Tony Carter says:

    Hello Amelia. Thanks for stopping by The Front Porch and contributing to it’s encouragement. Glad to hear that you have benefited and are encouraged by this platform. The encouragement is mutual.

    Defining the “black church” is not easy. I think of it like trying to define “mother”. The definitions are various, but most know what it is when we see it. The black church was born out of necessity. Black Christians being alienated from the life of the church and society in America, and in response to racism and discrimination developed congregations where black men and women led, preached, and organized. Sadly, in one since it is a segregation that segregation produced. It is found in rural, urban, suburban, north, south or wherever black families have been brought into community. Any predominantly black congregation that senses a connection with the church that has gone before is in some sense a black church. Perhaps this video we produced will help in addressing this question

    http://thefrontporch.org/interview/what-is-the-black-church/

    Anytime men and women gather according to cultural identifications there is the trapping of cultural pride. This is particularly true when such pride is deemed as necessary for the survival and promotion of that community, as it was with black communities in our country. The predominantly black church still exists just as the predominantly white church exists. This will continue to be as long as we have communities that are predominantly white and communities that are predominantly black. In most of those context, it is not only inevitable, but needful.

    However, I believe we are seeing more and more multi-cultural and multi-ethnic churches because we see a generation of Christians who live, work, and thus desire to worship more diversely. I believe that as our lives and communities are more integrated so too will be our churches. And then we will need to be wary of a multi-ethnic, multicultural pride against those who are not.

    Thanks again for stopping by. Hope to see you at the “Just Gospel” conference next year :).

  • Avatar Amelia Thompson says:

    Thank you Pastor Carter! That all makes sense to me! I look forward to attending JUST Gospel as well, God willing.

  • Avatar Donde Moore says:

    This book sounds amazing! We really need to put race into prospective and stop being accusing of others! Let’s love one another!

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