Practical Theology for Black Churches: Bridging Black Theology and African American Folk Religion

Article excerpt

Practical Theology for Black Churches: Bridging Black Theology and African American Folk Religion. By Dale P. Andrews. Louisville, Ky.: Westminster John Knox Press, 2002. ix + 150 pp. $19.95 (paper).

Dale Andrews's book is about the ever-growing chasm between black theology and black churches. On the one hand, black theology sees only a refuge image in black churches in which escapism prevails. On the other hand, Andrews describes the perspective of the black church which ministers to the pastoral needs of the community. He argues that a faith-identity paradigm of black ecclesiology emerged historically, as the churches interpreted their own formation and life. Hence, there should be no contradiction between pastoral and prophetic ministries in black churches since there is the crucial function in both ministries to maintain faith identity. The work of black churches is to learn from black theologians to resist the escapist spirituality that ends up being the effect of Western individualism. The work of black theologians is to construct a better liberation or prophetic theology that is not always antithetical to the spiritual life.

I commend Andrews s effort to synthesize the prophetic and pastoral dimensions within the black church. His notion that the prophetic office of black theology is now required to ground itself in practical theology is much needed. My criticism of Andrews, however, is in his conflation of black churches into American individualism. Andrews believes that as black churches focus preaching and pastoral ministries on personal salvation, inner spirituality, and religious piety, the ideology of American individualism invades their sense of corporate identity and communal responsibility. For Andrews, all of this becomes a disruption of corporate identity and communal responsibility. No doubt, Andrews would have difficulty with my claims of a vital communal spirituality that still exists within the black church (or my even naming a single entity as black church instead of black churches). …