Protestant mainline churches seem to be far more interested in tapping into the resources of African-American theological scholars in ways that evangelicalism seems unwilling or incapable of doing.
For example, Eddie Glaude Jr., who holds a Ph.D. from Princeton University and is a professor of Religion and chair of the Center for African American Studies at Princeton, is regularly tapped for his perspective on Christianity and culture, including contributions on The Huffington Post.
Then there's Josef Sorett, who earned his Ph.D. at Harvard University and is an assistant professor of Religion and African-American Studies at Columbia University. He writes frequently at CNN.com and in various scholarly publications.
Are there black evangelical scholars, with completed Ph.D.s, who are recognized within evangelicalism in the same way that Glaude and Sorett are within other Protestant circles? If not, why not? Is there something different about evangelicalism?
Black theological scholars are able to offer unique contributions to the practice of faith and applications of the biblical text, given the knowledge that our experience of the Trinity is shaped sociologically as well as biblically. Context matters.
Perhaps not recognizing that social context influences how one reads and applies the biblical text keeps many Asian, Latino, and Native American theologians from being asked to contribute within evangelicalism. Perhaps evangelicalism simply lacks such black scholars. But a brief survey of a few large Christian institutions paints a much different picture.
Here are just a few examples:
- Dr. Vincent Bacote (Ph.D., Drew University) is an associate professor of Theology and the director of the Center for Applied Christian Ethics at Wheaton College. Dr. Bacote is an expert on ethics, orthopraxis, and Abraham Kuyper and is the author of The Spirit in Public Theology: Appropriating the Legacy of Abraham Kuyper.
- Dr. Eric Washington (Ph.D., Michigan State University) is an assistant professor of History at Calvin College and researches the black church from its development in the late 18th century through the 19th century with respect to Calvinism.
- Dr. Bruce Fields (Ph.D., Marquette University) is an associate professor of biblical and systematic theology at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School in Deerfield, Ill. and has taught there since 1988. He is the author of Black Theology: Three Crucial Questions for the Evangelical Church.
- Dr. Ralph Watkins (Ph.D., University of Pittsburgh) is an assistant dean of the African American Church Studies Program and an associate professor of Society, Religion, and Africana Studies at Fuller Theological Seminary. He is author of several books including the forthcoming Hip-Hop Redemption: Finding God in the Music and the Message.
- Dr. J. Kameron Carter (Ph.D., University of Virginia) graduated from Dallas Theological Seminary and is now an associate professor in Theology and Black Church Studies at the Duke University Divinity School. He has written a groundbreaking book, Race: A Theological Account.
- Dr. Craig Mitchell (Ph.D., Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary) is an assistant professor of Ethics at Southwestern Seminary and the author of a few books, including Charts of Philosophy and Philosophers. Mitchell is perhaps one of the most academically accomplished theologians in all of evangelicalism, holding six different academic degrees.
In addition to these examples, there are many more black evangelical scholars in theology that I could list at schools all across America.
Xavier Pickett, co-founder of Reformed Blacks of America, is completing a Ph.D. in Theology at Princeton Theological Seminary after graduating from Westminster Theological Seminary in Philadelphia. Pickett and I were recently wondering why black evangelical scholars seem to be ignored. Among the reasons could be that they do not publish as much their mainline counterparts. Or that evangelicals seem to prefer the theological reflection of black pastors instead of black scholars at academic institutions.
Mainline Protestants seem to do the opposite. Pickett and I do not have all the answers but it seems that the top Christian websites like ChristianityToday.com and Crosswalk.com may be ignoring black scholars to the detriment of evangelicalism. Again, we're not certain. Black evangelical scholars are all over America and hopefully they will be able to start contributing to conversations about the direction of evangelicalism.