Sunday, November 13, 2005

Jazz Theology 101--with visiting professor Carl Ellis (Session 1)

I have read Carl Ellis’ book, Free At Last?: The Gospel in the African-American Experience, at least once a year for almost a decade now. Save the scriptures, Free at Last?, has influenced my life and ministry more than any other book. One reason is that it speaks viscerally to me when it comes to how God was and is at work in the African-American experience. Carl Ellis does a masterful job of demonstrating how it is possible to “preach ‘the full counsel of God’ through our history, the way Stephen and later Paul were able to preach through Jewish history (Acts 7:2-53; 13:16-41).”[1] I had never heard of this. I had learned that one can share the gospel through propositions or one's own personal history, that is personal testimony, but I had never considered sharing the gospel through the history of my people…what a radical, Biblical idea! My primary reason for my returning to Carl’s work so often has been not just for what he is saying but for what he is doing—Jazz Theology. Jazz Theology is an alternative way of approaching ministry, spiritual formation, church and the scriptures. How do you share the gospel? Propositions? Personal Testimony? Have you ever shared the gospel through the corporate testimony of your people like Stephen and Paul? [1] Carl Ellis, “Free At Last? The Gospel in the African-American Experience,” (Downers Grove: IVP, 1996), p38


Blogger Constantine said...

Share the gospel? Well, for the most part I've never been one to really do this in ways that would be very recognizable. The whole notion of a "personal testimony" that attends the “born again” culture or employing the tactics of the "Four Spiritual Laws" or scaring people into saying the "sinner’s prayer" really doesn't resonate much with me. Maybe it did more so when I was young and impressionable, but certainly not now and not for a very long time.

Now, I have used on occasion "propositional" Christianity for apologetic purposes, but even then within a more narrow sphere of influence. Indeed, at times I’ve used propositional assertions in an effort to convince none other than myself! But increasingly I find the standard propositions limiting. That’s not to say that I’ve abandoned all of them or find them irrelevant, but that they don’t hold the sway they once did for me. Using propositional evangelism seems to limit the very idea and essence of the pinnacle doctrine itself, namely salvation. I know I'm sounding like Tillich here, but nonetheless I've come to see some of what passes for "conservative" Christianity as very myopic.

So using the doctrine of salvation by way of example, I think one would be hard pressed to take the history of any group of people and from that conclude that we need to be saved from the wrath of God, or for the more sensible minded, the disease itself--sin. It would seem to me that the summit of gospel proclamation in the African-American Experience would be not getting people saved from Hell, but instead reasserting the truth (often at great cost! i.e. MLK Jr.) claim of human dignity and the freedom that by definition should come with it regardless of what the prevailing winds may be at any given moment in time and history. In effect, promoting salvation in the context of the African-American Experience might be more understood as liberation. And not just liberation for the world to come, but for the here and now.

5:48 PM  
Blogger jazztheo said...


I think that all cultures show that sin is real and that a remedy is needed. MLK assumed liberation from sin and personal only needs to listen to and read Kings sermons when he was at his home church and not in the public square. But also he applied liberation socially as well.

Constantine, my question is more personal. What would it look like for you to do what Stephen and Paul did?


9:59 PM  
Blogger Hermann/Adel said...

Thanks for popping to our site, found your now too! Keep up your theology!!!

4:10 AM  
Blogger Lukas McKnight said...

I think any Christian is an evangelist at heart, and I think you've nailed it here, Theo; I think that's the way all of us are most relevant when we can relate to others on a historical level. Great blog; glad I found my way back here.

3:29 PM  
Blogger Constantine said...


You said, " question is more personal. What would it look like for you to do what Stephen and Paul did?"

That's a hard question for me. I'm not really sure who my people are. I know little about my father's side and on my mother's side we seem to be "mutt."

Now, as to the "type" of person I am that's a bit more easy to describe that what my ethnic background would be. Roots are a good thing to have, even if a host of baggage comes with it, and I for one don't really have that.

3:47 PM  
Blogger Lukas McKnight said...

The next question I have then is, can we relate and share our stories if they don't have anything in common? Of course we can, but what will our impact on others be? I like this jazz theology and saying what comes to the mind...

7:29 PM  
Blogger Sherman Cox said...

Can others hear our testimony when their story is much different than ours? I am reminded of Frank Thomas the Black Homilitician. He states that if one gets to the core of ones own particularity and push it far enough, then one will become universal.

sherman Cox

10:00 AM  

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