As a Black man, I am very thankful to be a Christian and an American. Every year, the month of February is dedicated to the celebration of Black History in the United States. Amidst ongoing racial and political tensions in our nation, it begs the question, why should anyone study Black history, Black theology and the Black church? I would say because God has been sovereignly at work in all of history, including Black history which is part of American history, and the Black church is part of the larger visible church. Allow me to share my own story.
My Calling to Serve the Church
I grew up in West Palm Beach, FL and lived in the area until I graduated from Knox. Growing up in church, I became a youth minister at the age of fourteen in a Black Baptist church in the inner city. The call to minister to others in the inner city of West Palm Beach eventually culminated with my ordination in the Presbyterian Church of America (PCA) and a desire to plant a cross-cultural, diverse PCA church in my hometown.
In between that initial sense of ministry calling at fourteen and my work as a church planter today, it was my time studying at Knox Theological Seminary and God's work in my own life that led me to leave the only church context I had known. So, when I graduated from Knox in May 2010, the next day I was on the road to Chattanooga, TN to serve on staff at New City Fellowship Church (PCA). In that context, I grew further in my calling and learned how my heart was beating for urban ministry and the multiethnic church in the PCA.
How Knox Helped Prepare Me for Multicultural Ministry
Two particular moments in my life during my time at Knox particularly shaped this move in my ministry context:
First, toward the end of my first year at Knox, Barack Obama would win the 2008 presidential election. On the actual night of the election, I had a class at Knox, and I could see the difference in response of two churches I loved. I understood why both sides responded as they did, but often wondered how those who share so much in common could differ so strongly on the election and if there was a way to unify them in worship and in life?
Secondly, my brother's wife is white, and they had two kids together. My brother’s father-in-law openly disapproved of interracial marriage. However, he came to see his grandkids in the Christmas play and began visiting church occasionally. Then, on one Sunday during an altar call he came forward to receive Christ, made a confession of faith, and was later baptized in a Black church. He later died in a plane crash three months later.
These two instances showed me that while we may have many differences, we also have many things in common. Fundamentally, we share a common need for the gospel. Through my time at Knox, where I learned to understand the Bible deeply and apply it well through thinking theologically, I was prepared to faithfully engage various cultures Biblically. Theologian John Frame, who taught at Knox for a time, defines “theology” as, “the application of the Word of God by persons to all areas of life.” For him, application is “teaching” in the biblical sense of “the use of God’s revelation to meet the spiritual needs of people, to promote godliness and spiritual health.”
Why I Believe the Gospel can Heal our Wounds
As I approach Scripture and celebrate the legacy of Black history, I am thankful for the Reformed Tradition. I am also thankful for the Civil Rights Movement and the Christians involved who wrestled with forgiving those who hurt them with non-violent protest, with activism exercised in faith and with restraint – those who truly wrestled with loving their enemies. This isn’t just a historical fact or moment; we still see evidence of it today.
You may recall in 2015 that Dylan Roof killed nine members (including the senior pastor and a state senator) in a shooting during a Bible Study at Mother Emanuel Church in Charleston, SC. While his motives were rooted in hate, the gospel was on display through the surviving victims. In their responses, many of the family members of the deceased communicated forgiveness to Roof during his trial, with some even extending a hug for him. Incredible!
My life has been immensely blessed learning about the Reformed Tradition centered on God’s covenantal grace. I believe others’ lives can also be blessed by seeing God’s faithfulness and work in Black History and the Black Church.
May God bless and keep you!
Ronnie Perry (M.Div) is a 2010 Alumni of Knox Theological Seminary and currently serves on the Board of Directors.