The Sovereignty of God and the Soul Dynamic: Why This Topic?

Desiring God 2002 Conference for Pastors

The Sovereignty of God and the 'Soul Dynamic'

I want to begin by answering the question Why this title—The Sovereignty of God and the Soul Dynamic: God-centered Theology and the Black Experience in America, Past and Future? And, if God would give me the grace to do it, my aim is to light a fire in you that would forge a link between the sovereignty of God and God-centered theology, on the one hand, and the soul dynamic and black experience in America, on the other hand. There is, I believe, an explosively powerful coming together of these that I want to advance and be a part of.

I take the term soul dynamic from Carl Ellis’ book Free at Last: The Gospel in the African-American Experience. He defines it like this:

Soul Dynamic [refers to] the core of the African-American culture that developed in the context of White oppression and Black resistance to oppression. This dynamic is a combination of two main components: A theological dynamic—an oral tradition that emerged from historic African-American church experience. It captures nuggets of biblical truth in forceful, effective phrases and mental images out of life experience. A cultural dynamic—deeply moving expressions of African-American consciousness that emerged from the very roots of their humanity and experience, from levels where the image of God cannot be suppressed. Because these expressions are aligned with the power of God’s Word, they have the power to deeply affect others who encounter them. (Free at Last: The Gospel in the African-American Experience (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1996), 266; see 48)

Can a link be forged between such a rich and deep and living reality and the seemingly cerebral conceptuality of Reformed theology? The very terms seem in tension from the outset. The metals out of which I dream of forging such a link seem to be so different that they could never be welded together. The term soul dynamic points to a personal energy and life and deeply felt suffering and human kinship, unshakeable soul-conviction, while the term sovereignty of God, in contrast, points to a divine, objective power outside ourselves imposing itself down from above, not up from within.

The term black experience in America points to the weight of history and tradition and suffering and passion and people and culture and warmth, but the term God-centered theology, in contrast, points to the burden of rationality and reflection and concepts and ideas. So from the outset, the prospect of forging a link between the sovereignty of God and God-centered theology on the one hand, and the soul dynamic and black experience in America on the other hand, looks dim.

[A clarifying note to prevent misunderstanding: After I gave this message in 2002, one of the brothers asked me, “Were you saying, that the whites bring the brains and the blacks bring the emotions?” My answer to him was: No, the point was that the Reformed tradition (mainly white) brings a long effort to systematize the sovereignty of God. The black tradition brings a long experience of suffering without abandoning the sovereign of God. It is the suffering with God and without turning against God that created a soul dynamic that may cohere with Reformed tradition and enrich it.”]

The Lens of Christian Hedonism May Make the Welding Possible

Though the prospect looks dim, there is a very powerful reason why I dream in this direction and why I have strong hope that such a link is not only possible but, in fact, natural and crucial. And the reason is this: The vision of God’s sovereignty and God-centered theology that drives the Desiring God Conference for Pastors, and hundreds of the pastors who come here, is not what many people—white or black—have in mind when they think of God-centeredness or the sovereignty of God, or Calvinism, or Reformed theology. There is a difference. A very significant difference that I think virtually demands a link between the soul dynamic and the black experience and the sovereignty of God and God-centered theology.

And here’s the difference: We see the Reformed tradition—with its massive vision of the glory of God—through the lens of Christian Hedonism; that is, we see it through the filter that God is most glorified in us when we are most satisfied in him. We see it through the almost overwhelming experience of suffering and sin in this world—an experience, however, that does not drive us away from God but toward God, who says to all our enemies (including ourselves), “You meant it for evil, but I meant it for good” (Genesis 50:20).

We see the sovereignty of God through the humanly impossible experience of the apostle Paul whose wounds made him say, “[We are] sorrowful yet always rejoicing” (2 Corinthians 6:10). Is there any biblical phrase better suited to express the essence of the soul dynamic, or the taste of the triumphant spirit of black history in America, than “sorrowful yet always rejoicing”? And we see the sovereignty of God through the cross of Jesus, where God’s love stoops down to give us all that we can know and enjoy of God at the infinite cost of God’s own human life.

Now this is different from what most people feel when they hear the term Calvinism. But this is who we are, and what a whole stream of Christian history is. And this is what, I believe—what I pray—will forge a link between the sovereignty of God and the soul dynamic, God-centered theology and the black experience. These are ways of looking at the sovereignty of God and the centrality of God and the supremacy of God and the so-called Reformed tradition and Calvinism that transpose the key of the music of God’s sovereignty into something that begins to sound like a Negro spiritual, or a freedom song, or dirge from the Underground Railroad, or a lullaby for the babies after daddy’s lynching, or the misery and joy of the Delta Blues.1

My Dream

Therefore, I am not willing for the greatness of God and the supremacy of God and the centrality of God and “the preeminence of the glory of God” (which is the essence of the Reformed tradition2) to be hijacked by a white, Western, over-rationalized, cool tradition that alienates the black experience which has drunk so deeply at the wells of suffering and scorn. These great realities are not meant to be like planks in a party platform, or like colors of competing teams, or like hostile signals between warring gangs. They are meant to be like the air we breathe and the earth we stand on and the galaxies we stare into.

So here’s my thesis:

Even though there are thousands of whites and thousands of blacks who stumble over the theological systems of dead white men from Geneva and Northampton and Princeton; and even though there are whites and blacks who ridicule the God-rooted soul dynamic of the black experience in America, nevertheless there is an untried vision to see the mountain streams of God’s supremacy and sovereignty and centrality and glory, flowing from the Reformed tradition, on one side, together with the soul dynamic, flowing from the black experience in America, on the other side, to make a river—a single river—that runs deep with life and hope and joy through the valley of pain and death—a river of love that causes all who drink, not to make much of themselves, and not even to make much of others, but to lay down their lives to help others enjoy making much of our God, Jesus Christ. That’s what I am pursuing.

The History of Living in, and Moving Out, of Racism

Now let me back up and give you some history and move toward a biblical foundation and explanation. I begin with some of the roots of my concern. I grew up in Greenville, South Carolina, and was manifestly racist in my assumptions and attitudes and actions as a child and a teenager. That is, I assumed the superiority of my race in almost every way without knowing or wanting to know anybody who was black, except Lucy, who came over on Saturdays to help my mother clean. I liked Lucy, but the whole structure of the relationship was demeaning. My attitude was not mainly my parents’ fault. In fact, in some ways, it was in spite of my parents that I was guilty of racism. It was the air we breathed in Greenville, South Carolina.

In 1963 my home church voted not to allow blacks into the services. As I recall, my mother (who happened to grow up in Pennsylvania) was the lone voice on that Wednesday night to vote no on this motion. That December my sister was married in the church, and my mother invited Lucy’s whole family to come. And they came. And when the ushers balked, my mother herself took them by the arm and seated them on the main floor of the sanctuary. So the seeds were sown in my conscience—as I watched that drama—that my attitudes were an offense to my mother and to her God.

I went to school in Illinois and then in Pasadena, California, and then in Germany; and I have lived in Minneapolis since 1974. It has been a long journey, and my burdens today are 180 degrees from what they were in the early sixties growing up across town from Jesse Jackson, whose mother listened to the same Christian radio station my mother did, but couldn’t go to that school, which forbade blacks.

Several years ago our church here wrote six fresh initiatives that still function to guide us. One of them read, “Against the rising spirit of indifference, alienation and hostility in our land, we will embrace the supremacy of God’s love to take new steps personally and corporately toward racial reconciliation, expressed visibly in our community and in our church.” That has had a very significant effect on us. We have a long way to go. But we have not let go of the vision.

Six years ago [as of 2002], as a part of a larger movement of transracial adoption and pro-life commitment, Noël and I, at age 50, adopted Talitha Ruth, who is ethnically African-American. This was a huge thing for me to do, not only because I was fifty and would basically be starting my parenting life all over again, after the four boys were almost grown, but also because I had Southern relatives who looked on this with incredulity at best. And, of course, it was huge because the personal and cultural identity for Talitha and us will be critical no matter what we do to prepare for it.

Reading Free At Last

Then came the Summer of 2001 on a porch in Asheville, North Carolina, while I was reading Carl Ellis’ book, first published under the title Beyond Liberation, and now expanded and reissued as Free at Last: The Gospel in the African-American Experience. It was like one of those little magnets which, as you lower it slowly onto a table where there are thousands of tiny metal filings, the filings begin to turn and vibrate and orient in the same direction; and then you touch the table where they are and all of them come together and cling to that little magnet and dangle from it if you lift it up.

I felt, in reading this book about the soul dynamic and the black experience in America, that everything I had ever seen and savored of the sovereignty of God and the centrality of God and the supremacy of God was a preparation for being a part of this reality—that is, a God-centered, Christ-exalting, Bible-saturated rebuilding of black and white evangelical culture not primarily around color but around the triumphant, sovereign glory of the all-knowing, all-governing, crucified, suffering, and living Christ.

The White Secularization of Black Theology

There are sentences in this book—so many of them I could not tell you—that made me feel like Ellis’ vision for the rebuilding of a God-centered black culture was profoundly relevant for the rebuilding of a God-centered white American evangelicalism. For example, a sentence like this, “White historians had sold us a bill of goods by leaving Black folks out; Black secularists sold us a bill of goods by leaving God out.” (Ellis, Free At Last, 23)

The reason that sentence cuts deeply both ways is not mainly because it criticizes white historians as bad historians, or black secularists as bad theologians, but mainly because it makes us focus on that particular weakness of the black community which it had taken over straight from the dominant white culture, namely, secular humanism, in contradiction to the deeper, more authentic, God-soaked roots of the black culture in America—and, I would add, also in contradiction to the deeper, more authentic, God-soaked roots of the white evangelical culture in America.

And, O yes, I know that those white, Reformed, Puritan roots are contaminated with the poison of racist slavery; and I know that the deeper roots of black culture are contaminated by African paganism. But if we are willing to cut each other some slack here and see the working of God’s providence in and through the imperfections or our histories, then the ax of Carl Ellis falls not only against the modern black tree of Godlessness, but also against the modern white tree of Godlessness.

Black Is Beautiful—But Not As a God

The trumpet that Carl Ellis is sounding in this book for the rebuilding of a God-centered African-American culture is really, at root, the call for something even bigger and deeper—namely, the rebuilding of a God-centered Christianity, not “Christianity-ism,”3 but authentic, God-centered, Christ-exalting, Bible-saturated Christianity out of white and black and every other color. You feel the two-edged sword of Carl Ellis again in sentences like this—keep in mind, I am still on the porch in Asheville, NC, in the Summer of 2001 experiencing what brought this message into being:

Black is truly beautiful, but it is not beautiful as a god. As a god it is too small. Afrocentrism is truly magnificent, but it is not magnificent as an absolute. As an absolute, it will infect us with the kind of bigotry we’ve struggled against in others for centuries. . . . Whenever we seek to understand our situation without [the] transcendent reference point [of the Word of God] we fail to find the answer to our crisis. The white man’s religion has failed us [namely, Christianity-ism]. The Arab ethnic religion has failed us and will fail us again.” (Carl Ellis, Free At Last, 154)

Yes, the trumpet is sounding to the black community in these words: We need a bigger vision than “black is beautiful.” We need a bigger vision than “Afrocentrism.” We need a transcendent reference point! We need the supremacy of God! The centrality of God! The Word of God!

What did I hear in this critique? There I was a white man, reading Ellis on a porch in July in Asheville and finding everything in me not crying, “Amen,” about the black community, but about the so-called white church—my own puny-god, market-driven, materialistic, middle-class, comfort-seeking, truth-compromising, wishy-washy, white, evangelical, American church. And I had to ask there on that porch: Does not the burning of my heart beckon me to call Carl Ellis on the phone and say, would you come help me create a conference where God just might make it plain that what the black community needs and what the white community needs is a transcendent reference point in the sovereignty of God and the supremacy of God and the centrality of God in all things? So I called him and he was willing to come. [That is how the conference in February 2002 came to be.]

Now let me take a few minutes to put some biblical foundations underneath what I mean by God-centeredness and God’s supremacy, and add biblical fuel to the furnace that I pray will forge the link between the great realities of God-centeredness and God’s supremacy, on the one hand, and the soul dynamic and the black experience, on the other hand, for the sake of rebuilding white and black Christian communities interlocked by the transcendent reference point of God’s God-centered Word.

Here is where I am going: I want to exult with you in the God-centeredness of God—first, in his providence over all history; second, in the love of God for his people; third, in the suffering and death of Jesus Christ on the cross; and fourth, in our suffering and death with Jesus in this world of sin and pain. And at every point where I stress the radical God-centeredness of God, I want to show that this is the best news in all the world. This is what we were made for. This is our hope and salvation and everlasting joy—together.

1. The God-Centeredness of God in his providence over all history.

All of God’s providence over history starts with creation, and we learn what that providential rule is about from what creation is about. Isaiah 43:6–7 tells us, “I will say to the north, Give up, and to the south, Do not withhold; bring my sons from afar and my daughters from the end of the earth, everyone who is called by my name, whom I created for my glory . . . .” God created the world to display his glory. God’s work in creation was about making God the center of creation.

Now we could do some logic here and say, therefore, it must be that God governs the world for the same reason. But let’s not do the logic; let’s just read the answer in the Bible. For what purpose does God rule the world he has made? Paul tells us in one of the most sweeping statements in the Bible about the God-centeredness of God. Ephesians 1:11–12: “[He] works all things according to the counsel of his will so that we who were the first to hope in Christ might be to the praise of his glory.” Why does he work all things according to his will? So that his glory will be praised. He is absolutely God-centered in his providence.

This is good news if you are a God-centered person and love God’s commitment to make himself the central reality in the universe where he will be enjoyed forever and ever with ever-increasing joy. But it is disappointing news to man-centered white and black communities which are controlled by the god of white supremacy or the god of the beauty of blackness. God does not rule the world to make us central—not as white, not black, not as brown, and not as human beings period. We are not absolute. We are not ultimate. He is absolute, and he is ultimate. He is central. Has been. Is now. Always will be.

Ellis at His Philosophical Best

If this sounds white to you, then play it on your own instrument. Here is Carl Ellis playing what may sound like white, Reformed God-centeredness (maybe even Van Tilian presuppositionalism), only he is playing it on his black instrument. Listen to him preaching!

[God’s] existence is the most obvious and fundamental thing in human experience. There can be no is without God’s is: and since is is, God is, because God is is. . . . The only way anyone can declare that God “ain’t” is to declare that is ain’t. And if is ain’t, there never was a “God ain’t” declaration in the first place. Without God even the atheist could not say “God ain’t.” He would not exist to say it. (Ellis, Free At Last, 158)

My black brothers, I beg of you, don’t be hoodwinked into thinking that the supremacy of God in all things is a white man’s vision. It is God’s vision. And it must be played on both our instruments. As Carl Ellis explains in his twelfth chapter, it must be played by the black jazz preacher, and it must be played by the white classical preacher.4 And I would add, these preachers better learn from each other, because there are more white people longing for the soul of jazz preaching and more black people longing for the substance of classical preaching than we ever dreamed.

The point is this: In God’s providence over all history, man is not at the top; man is not at the bottom; man is not at the center—God is. And he means to be. And I dream of standing on that granite foundation with you together.

2. The God-Centeredness of God in the Love of God for his People

Sometimes people who are saturated with the centrality of man—whether their own selves (which Ellis calls “me-ism”) or their own kind (ethnocentrism)—do not feel that God’s God-centeredness is a loving thing. How can God be loving if he does everything to display his own glory?

Well, what I have come to see is that God’s commitment to the exaltation of his own glory is the essence of his love. Here is one place to see it—John 11:1–6:

Now a certain man was ill, Lazarus of Bethany, the village of Mary and her sister Martha. It was Mary who anointed the Lord with ointment and wiped his feet with her hair, whose brother Lazarus was ill. So the sisters sent to him, saying, “Lord, he whom you love is ill.” But when Jesus heard it he said, “This illness does not lead to death. It is for the glory of God, so that the Son of God may be glorified through it.” Now Jesus loved Martha and her sister and Lazarus. So, when he heard that Lazarus was ill, he stayed two days longer in the place where he was.

Notice three amazing things:

1) Jesus chose to let Lazarus die. Verse 6: “When he heard that Lazarus was ill, he stayed two days longer in the place where he was.” There was no hurry. His intention was not to spare the family grief, but to raise Lazarus from the dead.

2) He was motivated by a passion for the glory of God displayed in his own glorious power. Verse 4: “This illness does not lead to death. It is for the glory of God, so that the Son of God may be glorified through it.”

3) Nevertheless, both the decision to let Lazarus die and the motivation to magnify God were expressions of love for Mary and Martha and Lazarus. Verse 5: “Now Jesus loved Martha and her sister and Lazarus . . . so . . . he stayed . . . where he was.”

O how many people today—even Christians—would murmur at Jesus for callously letting Lazarus die and putting him and Mary and Martha and others through the pain and misery of those days. And if they saw that this was motivated by Jesus’ desire to magnify the glory of God, many would call this harsh or unloving. What this shows is how far above the glory of God most people value pain-free lives. For most people love is whatever puts human value and human well-being at the center. So Jesus’ behavior is unintelligible to them.

But let us not tell Jesus what love is. Let us not instruct him how he should love us and make us central. Let us learn from Jesus what love is and what our true well-being is. Love is doing whatever you need to do to help people see and savor the glory of God forever and ever. Love keeps God central. Because the soul was made for God.

Not Black, Not White, Not Us, But God

We were not made to make much of blackness. We were not made to make much of whiteness. We were not made to make much of self or humanity in general. We were made to make much of God. And when God pursues this, he pursues what is best for us—what will satisfy us forever. And therefore God’s self-exaltation is the essence of his love. He loves us not by making much of us, but by freeing us from the bondage of self to enjoy making much of him forever.

Jesus confirms that we are on the right track here by praying in John 17:24, “Father, I desire that they also, whom You have given Me, be with Me where I am, so that they may see My glory which You have given Me, for You loved Me before the foundation of the world.” The love of Jesus drives him to pray for us and then die for us, not that our value may be central, but that his glory may be central, and we may see it and savor it for all eternity. “That they may see my glory!”’—for that he let Lazarus die, and for that he went to the cross. And that, brothers, is a massive foundation for a great new vision of our common life—black and white, under God’s loving God-centeredness.

3. The God-Centeredness of God in the Suffering and Death

of Jesus Christ on the Cross

The center of history and the center of salvation is the death of Jesus Christ. Why did he die? The Bible gives more than one answer. One is this: “Christ died for our sins” (1 Cor. 15:3). In other words, “the LORD has laid on him the iniquity of us all” (Isa. 53:6). Or you can say it another way: He died for us. Romans 5:8: “God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” He died in our place (2 Cor. 5:14; 1 Thess. 5:10). “He bore our sins in his body” (2 Pet. 2:24).

But there is something deeper that explains the cross. If the only thing at stake were our lives, then he might have just said, “Let’s let bygones be bygones.” He might have forgiven us without the blood-shedding of his Son. He might have just declared us innocent and righteousness without the climactic act of perfect obedience and sin-bearing pardon. But Paul explains in Romans 3:25–26 why it could not be. The reason it could not happen that way is because God’s own glory, his righteous commitment to uphold his name and worth and holiness, was at stake in passing over God-belittling sins.

God put [Christ] forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith. This was to show God’s righteousness, because in his divine forbearance he had passed over former sins. It was to show his righteousness at the present time, so that he might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus.

Our forgiveness and acceptance though the blood of Jesus hangs on God’s commitment to be vindicated. God’s zeal to be exalted as a righteous God is the foundation of his willingness to put his Son to death (Isa. 53:10). So the cross is a cry for us to make God central in our preaching of salvation.

Yes, O glorious yes, we are forgiven, and we are justified, and we will be glorified. But how do you speak of this? Do you not speak with the words of Psalm 25:11—“For thy name’s sake, O Lord, pardon my guilt, for it is great”? Are we pardoned to parade our worth and our glory? Or are we pardoned so that we might be freed to join the happiest parade that ever was—to spend eternity celebrating his worth and God’s glory in Christ? I say, let us speak the way God speaks in Isaiah 43:25: “I, I am he who blots out your transgressions for my own sake, and I will not remember your sins.”

The suffering and death of Jesus are not meant to make much of us. They are meant to free us from the bondage to mirrors, so we might enjoy making much of Christ forever. He died “to bring us to God” (1 Pet. 3:18) so that we might see and savor his glory forever (John 17:24).

4. Finally, the God-Centeredness of God in Our Suffering and Death with Jesus in This World of Sin and Pain

What does the pain of the black experience in America mean? What does the pain of white Christian martyrs in the reign of Bloody Mary mean? What does the suffering and death of thousands of Christians in China mean? None of these things has taken the all-seeing, all-knowing, risen, sovereign Christ off-guard. In fact, he told us they would come.

Behold, I am sending you out as sheep in the midst of wolves . . . . They will deliver you over to courts and flog you in their synagogues, and you will be dragged before governors and kings for my sake. . . . Brother will deliver brother over to death, and the father his child, and children will rise against parents and have them put to death, and you will be hated by all for my name’s sake. But the one who endures to the end will be saved . . . . A disciple is not above his teacher, nor a servant above his master. . . . If they have called the master of the house Beelzebul, how much more will they malign those of his household. (Matt. 10:16–25)

Do you see what this means? It means that when we suffer for righteousness’ sake, Jesus is shown to be a truth-teller. Paradoxically, his word is vindicated in the very experience that threatens our trust in him most deeply.

Paul picked up the theme and promised that the pain would come. “Indeed, all who desire to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted” (2 Tim. 3:12). “Through many tribulations we must enter the kingdom of God” (Acts 14:22). And James: “Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds” (Jas. 1:2). And Peter: “Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery trial when it comes upon you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you” (1 Pet. 4:12).

Suffering for the Sake of the Glory of Christ

Now what does all this have to do with the supremacy of God and the centrality of God and the sovereignty of God? Let Paul answer from 2 Corinthians 12. After receiving indescribable visions, Paul said, “To keep me from exalting myself, there was given me a thorn in the flesh, a messenger of Satan to torment me—to keep me from exalting myself!” (2 Cor. 12:7). He pleaded three times that the Lord would take it away. But the answer he received from Christ was this: “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.”

The point of Paul’s pain was to magnify the perfection of Christ’s power. Here is a test, brothers. A hard test. How many in our white Christian community or in our black Christian community would hear this explanation of our pain and say, “I will be glad if Christ’s power is to be magnified in my pain. That is enough for me.” Or how many will rather say, “I don’t care about this self-exalting, glory-seeking, Christ-centered Christ; I just want to be free from my pain!”?

What did Paul say when Christ said, “No, I will not take away your pain, but I will display the perfection of my power in it”? What did Paul say? He said (in 2 Cor. 12:9), “Therefore I will exult [Greek krauchesomai] all the more gladly [hedista] in my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me.” How do you explain this man? He did not merely say, “I will endure this because Christ has appointed it for my good.” He said, “I will exult with gladness in it because Christ will be made much of through it.”

Is this not our aim brothers? Is this not the passion of our lives? To become so God-centered and so Christ-exalting and so consumed with a passion for the supremacy of God that anything that will show him to be the supreme treasure of our lives—above health, above wealth, above family, above success, above fame—any pain, any trial, any trouble, any loss, any grief, anything that will show him to be infinitely precious, we will embrace with joy. Because the love of God is not, at root, his making much of us, but his freeing us to enjoy making much of him forever?

Ethnically Interwoven God-Centeredness

“Sorrowful yet always rejoicing”—in him! Is not this seed at the root of the soul dynamic? Is not this confidence, and this indomitable joy at the root of the black spiritual experience in America? Is not this the crying need of weightless, white evangelical Christianity with its man-centered God and flight from risk and suffering?

And if so, might it be—may it be!—that the link between the sovereignty of God and the soul dynamic, and between God-centered theology and the black experience, could become the awakening and the empowering, not just of a new black culture, and not just a new white culture, but a new ethnically interwoven culture, welded most deeply by a common passion for the centrality of God and the supremacy of God and the sovereignty of God and the glory of Christ, that frees us and carries us toward need and not comfort, ready to suffer, not running to safety, until we bring the neighborhoods and the nations into the joy of seeing and savoring the all-satisfying Christ forever?

  1. “Anyone who has spent any time at all listening to the Blues knows it is not necessarily ‘down’ or ‘depressing’ or sad. It is soulful, without a doubt, and the lyrics are frequently concerned with misfortune and loss, but the Blues is really a complex combination of misery and high spirits. Often the musical accompaniment is joyous and arrogant, in apparent contradiction to the unhappiness of the lyrics. This fascinating ambiguity has more than anything else to do with the universal appeal of the Blues.”  

  2. One of the great spokesman in America for the traditional Reformed theology was Geerhardus Vos, who said that the “root idea [of Reformed theology] which served as the key to unlock the rich treasuries of the Scriptures was the preeminence of God’s glory in the consideration of all that has been created.” “The Doctrine of the Covenant in Reformed Theology,” in Redemptive History and Biblical Interpretation: The Shorter Writings of Geerhardus Vos, ed. by Richard Gaffin, Jr. (Phillipsburg, NJ: Presbyterian) 

  3. The term is carefully chosen and defined by Carl Ellis in Free At Last, p. 214, “This ugly term is most fitting because of its ugliness, to refer to the negative or unchristian religious practices expressed in the language of Christianity . . .” 

  4. In one of his most creative sections, Ellis compares typical white preaching to classical music and typical black preaching to jazz music.  

    There are essentially two approaches to music, the formal and the dynamic. We call them classical and jazz. We know what classical music is—the little dots, circles, lines of Beethoven and Brahms that come to life when a conductor stabs the air with a baton. These sounds that fill the air are not the conductor’s or the violinists’. They belong to Beethoven and Brahms. The beauty of a classical piece is found in the mind of the composer, in the music as it is written. Thus the goal of the classical musician is to reproduce as faithfully as possible the sounds the great composers imagined. Only in rare moments and clearly marked cadences do classical musicians improvise. Their main task is not to improvise but to imitate.

    Jazz is different. The beauty of jazz is found in the soul of the musician and in the music as it is performed. Jazz is improvisational. Just as classical music has developed musical composition into a fine art, jazz has cultivated musical improvisation into a fine art. The notes that fill the air do not belong to a deceased composer; they issue from the vibrant souls of great performers like “Diz,” “Bird” and “Lady Day.” (Carl Ellis, Free At Last, pp. 173–174)