Foreword to The Faithful Preacher: Recapturing the Vision of Three African American Pastors

The Faithful Preacher: Recapturing the Vision of Three African American Pastors, by Thabiti Anybwile

I have been happily drawn into this book because it embodies four passions of my life. First, it is rooted in the big biblical vision of the sovereign God called reformed theology. Second, it expresses the wise conviction that knowing history and biography will protect us from trendiness in the ministry, and reveal the blind spots of our own age, and enrich us with the insights that other generations have received. Third, it mines the unknown riches of the African-American experience and lays hold on the truth that their suffering was not in vain, but has treasures for our time not yet dreamed of. Fourth, it lifts us above the low, managerial, psychologized, pragmatic, organizational view of the pastoral office, and sets us in the high, clean air and bright light of the biblical vision of what it means to be called to shepherd the blood-bought bride of Christ.

You are about to meet three African-American pastors, Lemuel Haynes (1753-1833), Daniel A. Payne (1811-1893), and Francis Grimke (1850-1937). Their pastoral and educational ministries total over 130 of faithfulness to God’s people. You will be introduced to them biographically by the able hand of Thabiti Anyabwile. Then you will meet them in their own words. This book is mainly to be prized as the never-before-gathered collection of African-American writings on the pastoral ministry from a time that spans 150 years and stretches across the terrible civil war of our nation.

In this book we who are not African American receive the double profit of reading not only across a culture but across the centuries—which is across another culture. And, of course, that implies that the African-American reader will read across a culture as well. My guess and my prayer is that these unusual crossings will weave our lives and ministries together in ways we have not yet foreseen.

There are surprises ahead. Did you know that there was such a thing as “black puritans”? The author describes all three of these brothers like this: “They were puritans. They committed themselves to sound theology in the pulpit, theologically informed practice in the church, and theologically reformed living in the world.”

Did you know that, in the words of John Saillant, “From Calvinism, this generation of black authors (referring specifically to Lemuel Haynes) drew a vision of God at work providentially in the lives of black people, directing their sufferings yet promising the faithful among them a restoration to his favor and his presence”?

Did you know that in 1835, the South Carolina Assembly passed a law that said, “Any free person of color or slave shall keep any school or other place of instruction for teaching any slave or free person of color to read or write, such free person of color or slave shall be liable to the same fine, imprisonment, and corporal punishment as are by this Act imposed and afflicted upon free persons of color and slaves for teaching slaves to read or write”? This forced the closing of Daniel Payne’s school and led him to work out his vision for an educated black ministry within the northern context of the African Methodist Episcopal Church and in the leadership of Wilberforce University in Ohio, “the first institution of higher education owned and operated by African Americans.”

Did you know that it was even possible for a free black man (Lemuel Haynes) in the eighteenth century to marry a white woman and pastor an all white congregation in Vermont for over thirty years?

Did you know that Charles Hodge, professor of theology at Princeton Seminary, taught African-American students like Frances Grimke, who took the great reformed vision of God and spent his life working out its implications for race relations in the church while serving as pastor of 15th Street Presbyterian Church in Washington, D.C.?

So there will be surprises. But what should be no surprise is that there are treasures of biblical wisdom in centuries before our own and in cultures not our own. I love the blow this book makes against chronological snobbery and ethnocentricity. May the Lord of the Church, for the good of his people, and the ingathering of his lost sheep, and the glory of his name, give this book good success.

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