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Q and A with a Reformed Scholar

February 15, 2011

Our friend, Eric Washington, is a history professor at Calvin College and Seminary.  His specialty is studying African-American thought within the Reformed tradition.   Whenever Eric speaks, I am willing to listen and learn. Having grown up in the western Michigan area, I am familiar with Eric’s context and the unique challenges it produces for a Reformed-minded Christian who happens also to be African-American.  Nevertheless, Eric represents his college and more importantly, his Lord and Savior well. Eric is African-American (obviously), but more importantly he is a Christian and it shows.  I thank God for this brother and for his scholarly and humble example.

Recently some folks at Calvin sat down with Eric and asked him a few questions. Here is the interesting and informative exchange:

How did your interest in African American participation in the Reformed and Calvinistic tradition begin?

When I began to study and immerse myself in Reformed theology, I realized that what I believed had historical relevance and that there is a connection between me and the “church universal.” That naturally led me to think about and to begin investigating where people of African descent fall within Reformed Christianity. It wasn’t until I got my hands on Anthony Carter’s book, On Being Black and Reformed, that I really had a handy reference.

What happened as you began to move from your Baptist roots to a more Reformed approach to your faith?

I told my pastor that I was now a Calvinist, and I think it went over his head. But I served as an associate minister at the church where I was, and when I began teaching and preaching within the framework of Reformed theology, eventually I was asked to refrain from doing so. And that ended a long tenure at that church, which was tough, but I was at that point committed to the Reformed, Calvinist faith.  (Read more)

7 Comments leave one →
  1. February 15, 2011 11:26 pm

    Thanks for posting this, Pastor Tony.

  2. February 16, 2011 6:23 pm

    This is a very interesting article. I wonder what would have happened if he would have just taught it without the title? Can Reformed Theology makes its way into more African American Churches if we lose the jargon? Especially since there is historical research that says it belongs.

  3. ajcarter permalink*
    February 16, 2011 7:47 pm

    I would suppose that sooner or later the “jargon” has to be expressed. If not, it is going to be difficult to differentiate the cardinal and core doctrines of Reformed theology from other (erroneous) positions. A shallow and innocuous theology would be the result. Wouldn’t you agree?

    • February 17, 2011 3:59 am

      I’m not sure. Can you teach the “Doctrines of Grace” without calling them the “Doctrines of Grace”? Can you teach a Sovereign Grace soteriology or TULIP without calling it Calvinism? I guess I’m asking if whether or not he had to announce that he was a Calvinist. I’m not suggesting that he try to be slick or covert, but rather just teach the Scriptures as he understands them.

      • ajcarter permalink*
        February 17, 2011 2:05 pm

        Yes, if you only use the bible, you can certainly teach the doctrines of grace without calling them the doctrines of grace. Obviously, biblical soteriology can be expressed without calling it Calvinism. However, once you bring in references and voices outside the Bible (which we all do), you begin to make distinctions in theological thought. Once you begin to give people theological categories and to put that theology into its proper historical context, inevitably labels and titles come into question. I am not saying you lead with these categories, but if people are growing in their knowledge of the Christian faith, sooner or later the question of historic categories and distinctions have to be addressed. The only way to avoid it, seems to me, is to just read the Bible – no historical references and no theological witnesses. But we don’t do that, do we?

  4. February 17, 2011 3:09 pm

    Yeah, I hear you. I think your right about leading with them, which it seems that the Brother did. I don’t know the time frame in which he told the Pastor that he was a Calvinist, but it seemed to be quite early on, since “it went over” the Pastor’s head. Yes eventually the categories will be made clear, but I think in our excitement about learning these truths and our disappointment of not knowing them sooner, we unwisely dump names and categories on people a little too soon. We need to be a little more like Esther and Mordecai and wait until it is absolutely necessary before we drop our “trump” card. (I just read Esther this morning)

    By the way, check out Wyeth at Christ Church
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    • ajcarter permalink*
      February 17, 2011 4:11 pm

      True bro. I will definitely check out Rev. Wyeth :).

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