Problems of Some SDA Preaching

Calvin Rock speaks about the necessity for Black Preachers to make use of their cultural experiences in their sermons as well as staying truly “Adventist” in their preaching. Then he notes that there are two problems that can stand in the way of a Black Adventist Preacher from doing this effectively.

Rock notes:

A primary problem with traditional Adventist preaching is its socially conservative interpretation of the Scripture, and that of Black Preaching is its acceptance of raw excitement as the definition of success and the user of arbitrary stimulation as a means of attaining that acclaim.

Socially Conservative Adventist Preaching

The first problem, according to Rock, that makes it difficult to preach both in the Black Tradition as well as in the Adventist Tradition is the tendency of Adventist preaching to be pro-status quo.

He notes that this comes from first a tendency to read the Bible in a “minimalist view of New Testament sociology.” Here they see in some of the actions of Jesus (not striking out against Roman oppression) and Paul (sending Omnesimus back to his slave master Philemon).

However Rock quotes Yoder who sees in both cases Paul and Jesus pushing the bounds of the status quo as much as possible. For example, Jesus called Herod “That fox.” (Luke 13:32) and Paul told Philemon to receive Omnesimus as a brother. Rock sees Ellen White in this tradition when she told Adventists to disobey the Fugitive Slave Act, because at that time one could push the bounds even further than in the time of Paul and Jesus.

Another Reason for the socially conservative reading is the idea that since there is no hope of overcoming societal evil we should not even try. We simply wait for Jesus to do it all at the Second Coming. I would encourage all to read my own series on that subject “The Second Advent and Passivity”).

A final reason why Socially Conservative preaching is considered normative in much Adventist preaching is because they often make a dichotomy between physical and spiritual and thus interpret the Bible’s insistence on choosing the spiritual as negating the physical. Because of this the physical needs of humanity are not a part of the work of the church of Christ. Even if you do address them, you address them as individuals and not corporate entities. Often you address them to “open the door to real evangelism.”

Some Adventists are challenging this notion by looking at how work for others is inextricably connected with preaching the Gospel. It is a fundamental disconnect to preach the Gospel of peace and say nothing about war. It is fundamentally inconsistent to preach the Gospel of Love and say nothing about the hate that is running rampant in the world. It is a fundamental problem to preach the Second Advent while living as if this present order will go on as is indefinitely.

Certainly All Adventist preaching does not fall into this trap. Also it is true that there are others outside of the Black Tradition that are teaching against this kind of preaching that promotes the status quo, but the African American Preaching Tradition provides a vehicle for a group of preachers to stand up against this and preach the Full gospel rather than a truncated version thereof.

In the next post we will look at what Rock considers problematic about some Black Preaching that makes it difficult to preach Adventism.

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.

Calvin Rock’s 3 Questions on Black SDA Preaching

As I begin this series looking at Calvin Rock’s seminal article “Black SDA Preaching: Balanced or betwixt and between?” I notice that the article begins with 3 important questions for consideration. These questions reach the heart of Black Preaching within an Adventist context.

  1. Is it possible to do genuine Black preaching when we are separated from the Black churches? In other words, must one be in a historically Black denomination to engage in true Black preaching? Related is the question of whether an “Anglo hermeneutic” has taken over our preaching which would be a detriment to Black preaching itself?
  2. How has the separation of Black Adventists from the historic Black denominations affected our preaching? Has it given us an “Anglo-emphasis?”
  3. Are we Black preachers with an Adventist doctrine or Adventist preachers with a Black emphasis? Or are we a hybrid “too theologically Anglicized for authentic Black preaching and too authentically ethnic to fit the Adventist prototype?”


Why Care about the Black Tradition?

A deeper question also emerges as I look at these questions. That question is should we even care or worry about an African American approach to preaching? Is it valuable in its own right or is it a relic of the past with no relevance for today?

Those are complicated questions. But in the end, Black preaching is valuable because of its emphasis on 3 important things that can enrich all preaching. The first of these is its “practicality.” Great Black preaching is not simply about teaching doctrine, but finding practical ways to make that doctrine relevant to daily living. The second important characteristic of Great black preaching is it is “communal.” Great Black preaching seeks to build a community of people who can make it through the difficulties of life. The emphasis is on community. The final is it is from the vantage point of the “least of these.” Black preaching looks at the Bible and the preaching moment as a means of celebrating the perspective of the least of these. This is a valuable hermeneutic in that a good portion of the Bible’s witness comes from the perspective of the least of these. Please see this link for an article I wrote on the Black Preaching Tradition.

Black Adventist or Adventist who happens to be Black?

So yes I think that the Black preaching tradition is important, even to Adventists. But this goes back to the question of whether we are Black Adventist preachers or Adventist preachers who happen to be Black. I don’t like the dichotomy between these two descriptions. But I will begin to answer this question this way. I refused to separate the two. I must preach as an African American who has engaged in the benefits and liabilities of being a part of the community. But I am Adventist. Both have demands on me as a preacher. I must look for what God is doing for the underdog when I look at the text. My African American perspective forces me to do that. But I also must look for the “Great controversy” theme and the connection to the consummation of all things at the Second Advent, because I am Adventist.

Unify the Two?

I must seek to “celebrate the good news” and attempt to have the people “experience the word” because so many in my African American tradition have done that, but I also must preach reform and the responsibilities of the Gospel because I am Adventist. In short, I must do both, and hopefully reflection on this article will help me retain this “dual-consciousness.”

Please stay around for our reflections on this important document.