Book Note: Aliens in the Promised Land, ed. by Anthony Bradley

by Eric Washington.

book cover of Aliens In The Promised LandEdited by the prolific theologian Anthony Bradley, Aliens in the Promised Land: Why Minority Leadership Is Overlooked in White Christian Churches and Institutions (Phillipsburg, NJ: P&R Publishing, 2013) is a timely collection of essays that challenge the Evangelical powers that be on the issue of the inclusion of racial and ethnic minorities within the leadership structures of both churches and institutions of higher education. By implication, this book opposes systemic and institutional racism operating within Evangelical churches and institutions. This work offers a wide array of insight from minority leaders within Evangelicalism on the issues of race and inclusion from the rather startling argument by Lance Lewis (“Black Pastoral Leadership in Church Planting”) that white Evangelical churches should take a moratorium on planting churches in African-American communities to Ralph Watkins’ (“A Black Church Perspective on Minorities in Evangelicalism”) lament regarding the exclusion of an African perspective in the church history course at Fuller Seminary. Though the arrangement of the book lacks thorough cohesion, it is a welcome addition to other recent publications on the issue of race in Evangelical churches and institutions such as Edward Gilbreath’s Reconciliation Blues and George Yancey’s sociological study Neither Jew Nor Gentile.

The major strength of this work is the collection of self-narratives given by the majority of the contributors. These stories given by African-Americans, Latinos, and one Asian-American allow readers to sympathize and for some to empathize with the struggles they have endured being Evangelicals of color. In Bradley’s introduction he shares the tension and also the anguish of being a self-identified Reformed Evangelical amid a never subsiding tide of racism. He writes that “John Calvin-loving racists” posted outright racist things about him on the internet in 2004. In a poignant statement, Bradley writes that “some of whom the Puritans are precious did not welcome my presence among them” (13). Another powerful story emerges from Harold Dean Trulear’s chapter “Blacks and Latinos in Theological Education as Professors and Administrators.” Trulear, an associate professor of applied theology at Howard University’s Divinity School, re-tells a conversation he had with an Evangelical African-American pastor who told him that while attending a theologically conservative seminary members of the majority culture treated him “like a dog,” but when he matriculated at a liberal school in its department of religion professors and colleagues treated him “like a man” (96). Others such as Orlando Rivera (“Blacks and Latinos in Theological Education as Students”) and Vincent Bacote (“Ethnic Scarcity in Evangelical Theology: Where are the Authors?”) share autobiographical nuggets that situate themselves within post-Civil Rights US history and within Evangelicalism. As scholars at Nyack College and Wheaton College, respectively, they pinpoint those extra layers of difficulty apparent at Evangelical institutions for both scholars and students alike such as the need to recruit and maintain more minority students and faculty and the necessity of creating networks for minority graduate students in the field of theology. These stories and observations highlight the grave disconnect between Evangelical commitment to preserving sound doctrine and its commitment to alleviate America’s racism and the racism that is prevalent within its own domain.

Another strength of this book is the plethora of challenges offered by the contributors in particular Amos Yong and Juan Martinez focus on issue of transnationalism. Both argue that white Evangelicals have failed to understand transnationals within the ranks of Evangelicalism. In his chapter “Race and Racialization in a Post-Racist Evangelicalism: A View from Asian America,” Yong, dean of the School of Divinity at Regent University, criticizes white Evangelicals for neglecting “to understand the Christian faith in a global context.” According to Yong, Asian immigrants and Asian Americans possess a “global consciousness” that negates the need to assimilate into American Evangelicalism (53). In addition, this issue is important for Latino Evangelicals as asserted by Juan Martinez, a professor and administrator at Fuller Theological Seminary. In his chapter “Serving Alongside Latinos in a Multiethnic, Transnational, Rapidly Changing World,” Martinez maintains that Latino students in US seminaries offer a rich, global, and dynamic spiritual perspective “that may be better able to respond to postmodern reality” (67). Because of this, seminaries should open ways for non-Latino students to learn from their Latino counterparts regarding ministering in “an increasingly diverse world” (67).

Though this book offers a wide scope of the negative impact of race on Evangelicalism, including the entire Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod’s study on race published in 1994 found in the appendix, it suffers from a modest lack of cohesion in its organization. For example, Rivera’s chapter on problems faced by African-American and Latino students lacks coordination with others in that it fails to highlight minority leadership in the church or in the academy specifically. Carl Ellis’ chapter on discipling urban young men though highly practical and informative also fails to connect solidly with other contributions. Both of these chapters upset the flow of the book.

Despite the forgivable problem of seamless of cohesion, Bradley’s edited collection is critical for Evangelicals during this period of heightened racial sensitivity in America. Its candor should be taken as truth-telling and redemptive, and it deserves to be read by all Evangelicals carefully with open ears and open hearts. Bradley concludes with a stinging yet important assertion regarding how to proceed in this work of racial reconciliation in Evangelical churches: there must be a discussion of white privilege in order for white Evangelicals “to use their privilege redemptively in a broken world” (153). If such an inclusion is carried into the conversation of racial reconciliation there would be much fruit born and needed healing will occur.

This book review first appeared in The Gospel Coalitions Reviews

Eric Michael Washington is assistant professor of history and director of African and African Diaspora Studies at Calvin College. He is primarily interested in studying the African American church from its development in the late 18th century through the 19th century, and individual Christians, primarily Calvinists. He also has a growing academic interest in the growing “Black and Reformed” movement in North America.

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The blog of the Calvin College History Department
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