An Answer to a Question – Problems with Black SDA Preaching

I know that some folks don’t read the comments section of the blog. So I decided to post this in the main section of the Blog. Harold Smith brought a couple of questions to me regarding the Black Adventist Preaching Tradition that I think are very important and thus wish to bring it to the attention of the full audience of this Blog.

Harold Smith’s Question

He writes:

Brother Cox, I agree with what your are saying but we must ask what is “ethnic tradition� as it relates to African Americans. We are not a monolithic group. Some blacks have always lived in upscale neighborhoods, some blacks did not think the civil rights movement was prudent, some blacks are lifetime Republicans, some blacks have always listened to classical music, read Shakespeare.

Actually, since nearly all African Americans are also European Americans – should not our European heritage also be a part of this “stampâ€Â? that we must put on Adventism?

Currently, I see a lot of Black Adventist preachers who seem to think that making our use of our ethnic tradition means speaking in Ebonics, attempting to replicate prominent black preachers who preach in the moan-and-groan cliche-laden tradition, and even incorporate faux theologies that create false connections to black culture in the Bible.

We must tread carefully. This is a minefield that you are walking on.

The Response

My response is as follows:


Thanks for your comments…

Ebonics alone is not Black Preaching

I think you make a few interesting points…First, I would encourage you to look further in my posts…The simple use of Ebonics without concern for the justice concerns of scripture is a caricature of the tradition. As is just what you call “moan and groan.� I would encourage you to continue to read the blog as well as my own blog Soul preaching found at In them both I decry exactly what you are saying. Also Rock and I both talk about this by saying that it ain’t the style but the substance. Certainly folks caricature Black preaching…as they do Adventist preaching, and all other preaching…but the caricature doesn’t mean that there is something wrong with the real thing…I would invite you to look at this post where I talk about this.

Black Preachers don’t ignore European Tradition

In addition, it is true that the European tradition is a part of our cultural heritage as African Americans. In fact the African American tradition is not solely an African one in my opinion, it is a molding of the African and European traditions that happened on American soil. Our very complexions demonstrate that we are taken from many different places…However, traditionally, the European culture is already dwelt upon and promoted. It is often promoted as the “normative� methods without European or white attached to it. I think to not talk about the African American contribution is to deny the universal church an important component of the Christian tradition which is more rich than only a European presentation hidden as normative.

Black Preaching Not Monolith

Your concern about their not being a monolithic African American tradition is true to a certain extent…This is basically the Postmodern attack on essentialisms. There is no monolithic group that is true, I am speaking of the traditional justice concerns of African American preaching when I speak of the African American preaching tradition, I am not speaking of every African American who preaches. There are some African Americans who do not preach in the tradition that I am speaking of. I would say that they are not preaching in this tradition. No doubt some would argue with my definition. Some would say that it leaves out real great black preachers. I would encourage those to create a definition so we can look at it…

Should We be Comfortable in Any Party?

As far as Republican or Democrat…that is beyond what I am trying to say…I do not wish to argue that a Republican CAN’T preach the justice concerns or that Black preachers must be Democrat or Republican, that is not my argument, in some ways I wonder if we as Christian preachers of all ethnicities and cultural traditions should be comfortable in either…but that is another post for another day….

Shakespeare and Great Black Preaching

As far as the Shakespeare, you should note that some of the greatest preachers in the Black tradition from the beginning quoted much from literature…often European. They did pull from poetry often European…they also pulled from classical music. Certainly the propensity to pull from these different places doesn’t negate the traditional push towards the justice concerns of scripture and a freedom in presentation that other ethnicities have not necessarily had. In fact one of the characteristics of Black preaching is to be more open to pull from many traditions…

I do not argue that Black preaching requires listening to classical or not…being Republican or Democrat…or any such thing…Just a dedication to finding what the scripture says to those who have their back against the wall. Certainly the Black Preaching Tradition is not the only one that has done that, but in America it is as a whole done more to keep that style of reading alive than many other traditions.

The Black Adventist Mandate – Unifying Culture and Adventism

After Rock speaks about Black preaching holding on to a prophetic vision on the scriptures, he notes that Adventist preaching is one of reform. He sees it as important for Adventist preaching to hold on to certain unique traits to be worthy of the name Adventist preaching.

Now Rock goes to his fundamental assertion that there are

Pitfalls of claiming Blackness but failing to articulate its justice concerns and professing Adventism but preaching without its prophetic essence. We need to do Black preaching because it resontates with our cultural past and present in ways that maximize the impact of truth. We must do Adventist preaching because that is our unique commission. Anything less is a denial of one’s oath, a tragedy for the people and a disappointment to God.

What we Must Do

Here the Black Adventist preacher is put in a position, according to Rock, where he or she MUST find a way to make explicit use of ones ethnic tradition as well as integrate and connect it to the mandate of being an Adventist preacher. Now some would argue that we simply give up our ethnic tradition, but to do so provides great problems in my estimation.

I believe that Rock is right that we must find a way to put our own stamp on Adventism as well as the fundamentals of the Gospel. If we provide that approach then perhaps we can see more of what Adventism has to say to the poor and the downtrodden which is the mandate of the black preacher. If we provide that angle, than perhaps we can emphasize more what are the “liberative aspects” of our message and the Gospel that may not have been emphasized as much in the past. If we can do that, perhaps we can provide a light to the social dimensions of the gospel that American Evangelical Christianity has not always emphasized.

But even if we accept that we must do both, the big question becomes how do we do this? I have written about this some at this link. You also might be interested in some other Black Preacher’s approaches to the question in my series on the book Preaching with Power by R. Clifford Jones. We will look at Calvin Rock’s suggestion as we continue this series and hopefully we will get to some practical examples as time goes on.