This is the last in a six-part series of essays from a cross section of leading scholars revisiting the place of the “First Testament” in contemporary Christian faith. —The editors

I was 11 when I watched a documentary about Martin Luther King Jr. and the civil rights movement called Eyes on the Prize. Images of black women knocked to the ground by fire hoses in Birmingham flashed before my eyes. Police dogs charged after people. Angry white faces screamed racial slurs at black children seeking to enter a desegregated school.

Growing up in the Hatchie Street Church of Christ, a small black church in southwest Tennessee, I heard sermons and studied Sunday school lessons about Israelite slavery in Egypt. After watching Eyes on the Prize, it became clear to me that black people’s lot in America was the same as that of the Israelites in Egypt. This realization inspired me to follow in the tradition of Moses, the Old Testament prophets, and the judges (whom we might call “freedom fighters”), as well as in the legacy of Martin Luther King Jr. The Old Testament speaks against the suffering and oppression black people in America experience today, and the black church—increasingly tempted toward a gospel of prosperity and middle-class comforts—needs to remain rooted in this legacy.

The Power of Exodus

The story of the exodus has had staying power in the African American church because the narrative speaks so readily to the troubles faced by its congregants. African Americans through the generations found in Exodus a God who attends to the oppressed who cry out to him:

I have indeed seen the misery of my people in Egypt. I have heard them crying out because of their slave drivers, and I am ...

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