If you do a Google image search using the term “theologian,” you’ll be met by a host of faces, some familiar, some strange. Augustine, Luther, Barth, Keller—whether ancient or still living, remembered or forgotten, they stand within the frames of icons, portraits, and photographs as the de facto mediators of our faith. They are the articulators of our doctrines and the formulators of our practice, the guides to whom many of us turn when our faith is put to the test.
They are also almost exclusively white—and for rapper, writer, and self-described “solutionary” Sho Baraka, that fact has earthshattering implications, especially for non-white Christians. Baraka has a deep appreciation for the church’s theological legacy; however, as a black Christian whose work often responds to racial injustice, he’s also seen how that tradition has tended to address the concerns of white believers exclusively, and often at the expense of their black brothers and sisters:
We’ve neglected the narrative within the black context to try to engage ourselves or indoctrinate ourselves into white evangelicalism. . . . In my community, where it is, like, 97 percent black, the apologetics that we need to deal with are issues that Moody’s not teaching about. Westminster’s not teaching us how to deal with Five Percenters, to deal with Hebrew Israelites, to deal with the Nation of Islam. They’ll give you a good foundation of biblical understanding, but when we’re talking about engaging in these conversations and dealing with all of the things that I think are prevalent in our community, it’s anemic. Those resources are anemic. But people are so concerned with getting at the table of the white evangelicals that they ignore the plights in their community. . . .
I grew up in a house where Nation of Islam was taught. My mom remarried, and married a dude who was part of the Nation of Islam, so I grew up listening to Farrakhan, I grew up listening to a lot of Malcolm X. I read the autobiography of Malcolm X when I was young. . . . These are the things that I grew up believing—that Christianity was a white man’s religion, that it was the religion of our oppressors. And why would any black person want to follow in the religion of the oppressor, right? Christianity was forced on Africans—which was not true, but I believed this for the longest period of time.
The reason I was so late to the discussion in that particular apologetic was I was concerned with sitting up at the table with the John Pipers and the Tim Kellers and the D. A. Carsons. And those guys, the problems that they deal with aren’t that.
On this week’s episode of The Calling, join CT managing editor Richard Clark as Baraka tells him about growing up as the only black kid in his entire grade, why he’s okay being called a “Christian artist,” and what Christians of every ethnicity can learn from the theologians that Google doesn’t show.
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The Calling is produced by Richard Clark and Cray Allred.
Theme music by Lee Rosevere, used under Creative Commons 4.0.