Black And Reformed
I was born in what was then a rather homogeneous area of Ohio and raised there throughout my early formative years. My exposure to Black culture was on TV with programs like Good Times and Fat Albert. I was (and still am) vocally imitative. My kids love for me to read to them because I affect different voices. I could imitate nearly all the the Fat Albert gang. Despite these television shows, I knew little of the real black culture they caricatured. On a trip to Detroit for my dad to obtain his ham radio license, we left very early in the morning and brought breakfast with us to eat on our arrival. I remember my aunt offering leftover orange juice to a black lady on the street and getting a strange look.
A few years later we moved south and I was introduced further to black culture. As far as I could see, these were people like any other people who had been dealt a difficult cultural hand. However, my new associates were kind in general and I made several friends among them. In high school, I enjoyed hours of writing and improvising jazz with a remarkable saxophone player who happened to be black. I even had a chance to sing in a black country church one Christmas. The walls of the small church were held together by a small cable and the church was packed. The choir was small but dynamic and I could swear the whole building moved with praises to God. I fell in love with black gospel music then.
In the Marines I continued to broaden my experience with brothers in arms who were black. For a short time I played with an R&B group that played base clubs - we did Keith Sweat stuff mostly. The group gave me my black nickname "P-bone". Many of my fellow jarheads who were "dark green" (they said there was no white and black - only green) were also brothers in Christ. As I strayed from the faith, among the brothers God sent to bring me back was a godly black man named Larry Williams. I started going to the base chapel and sang in the choir. The choir director was black and the choir was thoroughly mixed. We sang a variety of things, but I learned how to sway and clap here.
I love learning different cultures. I was envious of my wife and children as they spent the summer in Venezuela and received firsthand experience of the culture there. I love reading mission books like "Cowboy Boots in Darkest Africa" by Dr. Bill Rice and "Peace Child" by Don Richardson. I've been deployed to England and the Middle East with the Marines and Venezuela on missions. All these required some education as to developing and utilizing an understanding of the culture.
Some observations regarding cultures:
1) Multiple cultures can provide an opportunity to destroy moral mores in each. Wisdom must be employed when transversing or mixing cultures that the law of God as manifested differently in each is not compromised.
2) Mot people understand only a single culture and other cultures often prove to be a stumblingblock to them. In this case a certain lack of cultural sensitivity is to be anticipated and some education may be lovingly offered to these.
3) Culture is fluid and changes over time, often at dramatically different rates. I'll call this "cultural progression".
4) Cultural progression carries with it popular philosophies and outlooks that influence the understanding of the people in that culture. This understanding has theological ramifications for any religious group with a contingency in that culture.
5) Reciprocally, the introduction of theological concepts influences cultural progression.
6) Therefore, Christians must understand that a culture may cloud the truth of the gospel in some ways and reveal it particularly well in others.
With regard to Reformed theology, we should understand that much of our theology is a reaction to theologies we regard as false for whatever reason. Reformed theology, by definition, is a reaction to the poor theology of the Roman Catholic Church - originally with regard to Pharisaical abuses where ecclesiology and soteriology overlap. The purpose therefore is to arrive at the truth.
I am a Reformed theologian because I believe it is the best reading of scripture, not because I necessarily want Reformed Theology to be true. I want what's true to be true and I didn't particularly like Reformed theology when I started realizing the teachings in scripture. They challenged my previous understanding. However, I wanted to align myself with truth, so I changed my understanding and reassessed my presuppositions. My personal culture (if there is such a thing) changed. My prayer is that it has changed to be more in accordance with the transcendent culture of the Kingdom of Heaven.
So, whatever culture that can be identified, whether white, black, Asian, Hispanic, or any number of the hundreds or thousands of particular iterations of culture in the world, can be said to have elements that cloud the truth and elements the reveal the truth. We must be diligent to cast off those elements that cloud the truth and use those elements that reveal the truth to proclaim the truth. From 1 Corinthians chapter 9:
19 For though I am free from all men, I have made myself a slave to all, so that I may win more.
20 To the Jews I became as a Jew, so that I might win Jews; to those who are under the Law, as under the Law though not being myself under the Law, so that I might win those who are under the Law;
21 to those who are without law, as without law, though not being without the law of God but under the law of Christ, so that I might win those who are without law.
22 To the weak I became weak, that I might win the weak; I have become all things to all men, so that I may by all means save some.
23 I do all things for the sake of the gospel, so that I may become a fellow partaker of it.
This past weekend, I sang a little solo with my wife at church in a portion of a program that was choreographed and styled after the 1940s white American culture. I wore a top hat, a coat and scarf over my tux. My wife wore a nice 1940s style dress and makeup. People knew that we were from 2007, but they understood the words I sang in the context of the 1940s. It made a nice warm-up for a program that was otherwise steeped in worship and praise for our God who deigned to become a man so as to pay the penalty of sin for men.
So, can you be black and reformed? Just as much as you can be white and Reformed. If I cannot share the gospel as a white man, I must wear the culture that people understand as though it were a piece of costumed attire. "You're not one of us, are you..." may be the sentiment of someone of a different culture "...but I understand what you are saying."
The multitude of cultures speaks to the extravagance of God's grace. The pursuit of truth is possible in each of them. However, while we can enjoy many of the particulars of a culture in the truth, there are elements that must be cast off and new elements that must be added. The culture must change as we grow closer to God. This is true of the white culture as well as the black culture. You can be black and Reformed with the understanding that the grace of God is greater than all this.