Book Review: The Pursuit of Holiness by Jerry Bridges

During last year, I spent a good amount of time reading on books dealing with sanctification. While there are many books that address this teaching, I’ve come to realize that most books on this topic within Reformed circles have two basic problems: (1) they merely repeat and/or reword the doctrine of sanctification found in Reformed confessions and catechisms and (2) they spend an inordinate amount of time discussing what is sanctification is NOT. While these are helpful and have their place, I wouldn’t say that these books are convicting or challenging. In looking for a change in pace, I picked up a classic from Jerry Bridges entitled The Pursuit of Holiness. Although it’s a relatively short book (less than 160 pages), it was one of my favorite books of last year.

Jerry Bridges begins his book with the following statement:

We Christians greatly enjoy talking about the provision of God, how Christ defeated sin on the cross and gave us His Holy Spirit to empower us to victory over. But we do not as readily talk about our own responsibility to walk in holiness.

This is a perspective that I did not grow up with as a young Christian. As a child of the Holiness Movement, I grew up with the testimony “Are you saved and do you know you’re saved? Are you free and separated from sin?” However, since I have begun fellowshipping with Reformed believers, I’ve noticed that holiness is not a common topic of discussion. In an effort to avoid legalism and various strains of perfectionism, many have fallen for the opposite error – namely that sanctification functions in the same manner as justification.

The title of this book comes from the biblical command found in Hebrews 12:14

Pursue holiness, for without holiness, no one will see the Lord.

In many ways, this book circles around this essential statement by carefully explaining what this verse means and by explaining what this verse doesn’t mean. However, the book goes a step further in actually discussing appropriate spiritual disciplines necessary for a genuine pursuit of holiness.

The book begins by simply declaring that holiness is basic to the Christian life and thus holiness is for all believers. One of the points that Jerry Bridges repeats is that God wants us to walk in obedience, not victory. This is a subtle point, but often times, our discussions on “victory over sin” is oriented toward self whereas walking in obedience is oriented towards God. Bridges address this concern head-on in his chapter Obedience, Not Victory, where he states

Our reliance on the Spirit is not intended to foster an attitude of ‘I can’t do it’, but one of ‘I can do it through Him who strengthens me.’ The Christian should never complain of want of ability and power. If we sin, it is because we choose to sin not because we lack the ability to say no to temptation. It is time for us Christians to face up to our responsibility for holiness. Too often, we say we are defeated by this or that sin. No, we are not defeated; we are simply disobedient.

Secondly, Bridges argues that part of the larger problem of ungodliness among Christians is because of a misunderstanding of what it means to live by faith. He discusses this point multiple times in the book by examining the nature of our union in Christ and by examining relevant passages in Romans 6-7. The reality is that the battle over indwelling sin is lifelong and thus there is a legitimate need to cultivate personal discipline. In his chapter The Place of Personal Discipline, Bridges argues that the sure way to obtain godliness is through Christian discipline. In referencing 1 Corinthians 9:25, Bridges states:

If an athlete disciplines himself to obtain a temporal prize, how much more should we Christians discipline ourselves to obtain a crown that lasts forever?

This Christian discipline includes a regular healthy diet of the Word of God (which includes Scripture memorization and meditation) along with a regular habit in disciplining our physical body. His commentary regarding our physical body is particularly insightful. In his chapter entitled Holiness of Body, he writes

Materialism wars against our souls in a twofold manner. First, it makes us discontent and envious of others. Second, it leads us to pamper and indulge our bodies so that we become soft and lazy. As we become soft and lazy in our bodies, we tend to become soft and lazy spiritually… When the body is pampered and indulged, the instincts and passions of the body tend to get the upper hand and dominate our thoughts and actions. We tend to do not what we should do, but what we want to do, as we follow the cravings of our sinful nature.

Hence, holiness in mind and spirit cannot be accomplished without holiness in body.  This methodical discipline in our body is not contrary to “living by faith”, but it is wholly consistent and harmonious with it since true saving faith has many graces that accompany it. Based on this above discussion, this means that the battle for holiness is centered around how our human will operates and how we need to develop godly habits in order to direct our will in the appropriate direction.

Much more can be said about this little book, but it is a very challenging and very convicting book. It is not a legalistic book, but it is a book that will challenge you if you are currently apathetic regarding your growth in grace. This book will exhort you to treat your sanctification with as much skillfulness and discipline as an athlete treats his own body. This book will cause you to rejoice in the provision that God has given you as a person united to Christ. Finally, this book will encourage you to see the blessed joy that comes with obeying the Lord and walking blameless before Him.

The Resurrection (Defining Evangelism)

You can listen to the audio lesson here.

You can also find the “Working Definition of Evangelism” here.



PART IV – Redemption Accomplished

Lesson Ten: The Resurrection

4But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, 5even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved— 6and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, 7so that in the coming ages he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus,” (Ephesians 2:4-7; ESV).

Perhaps the element of the gospel we are most prone to forget to mention in our evangelistic discussions is the resurrection of Jesus Christ. Often, by the time we have discussed with the unbeliever the holiness of God, man’s sin and its wages, and Christ’s obedience in life and death, we are ready to move on to the gospel commands of repentance and faith. For several reasons, though, it is important for us to remember the significance of the resurrection and how it is essential to the proclamation of the gospel.

Union with Christ. As we approach the task of evangelism, one way to remember the primacy of the resurrection in the gospel is to remember the purpose of evangelism. Our goal is to make disciples. We seek, by the work of the Holy Spirit through the proclamation of the gospel, to see men forsake their identity in Adam for a new identity in Christ. We want to see them become disciples of Christ united with Him in His death, burial, and resurrection.

We must never think of our union with Christ as a secondary doctrine within Christianity. Union with Christ is the essence of what we mean when we refer to ourselves as disciples of Christ. When we speak of our election, we speak of it only in terms of our union with Christ (Eph. 1:3-6; John 6:39). When we speak of our effectual calling and regeneration, we speak of it in terms of our union with Christ (2Thess. 2:14; 2Tim. 1:9; 1Pt. 1:3). When we speak of our justification, we speak of it only in terms of our union with Christ (1Cor. 6:11; 2Cor. 5:21). The same bears true for our adoption, sanctification, and glorification (Eph. 5:1; Gal. 4:4-5; Heb. 2:11; 1Cor. 1:2, 30; Heb. 10:10; Rom. 8:17, 30). Only by means of our union with Christ, the perfect life, death, and resurrection of Christ are all made effectual unto our salvation.

“By this union believers are changed into the image of Christ according to his human nature. What Christ effects in His people is in a sense a replica or reproduction of what took place with Him. Nor only objective, but also in a subjective sense they suffer, bear the cross, are crucified, die, and are raised in newness of life, with Christ.,” (Louis Berkhof, Systematic Theology, pg. 451).

Victory over sin. In this vein, there are two senses in which we are “raised in newness of life, with Christ.” We are raised with Him in His victory over sin in this life, and we are raised with Him in His victory over death in the life to come. We are raised with Him through the subjective, sanctifying work of the Spirit in our lives and the objective reality that we will one day partake of final victory over death with Him.

We must recall that the final consequence of sin is death and judgment in the life to come. Therefore, Christ’s death, burial, and resurrection would not be complete merely to address the wages of sin. The atonement must also address the cause of death: sin itself. In order for the fruit of death to be finally and utterly destroyed for the believer, there must be an addressing of the root. Indeed, in our union with Christ in His resurrection, we do see an addressing of sin.

1What shall we say then? Are we to continue in sin so that grace may increase? 2May it never be! How shall we who died to sin still live in it? 3Or do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus have been baptized into His death? 4Therefore we have been buried with Him through baptism into death, so that as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, so we too might walk in newness of life. 5For if we have become united with Him in the likeness of His death, certainly we shall also be in the likeness of His resurrection, 6knowing this, that our old self was crucified with Him, in order that our body of sin might be done away with, so that we would no longer be slaves to sin; 7for he who has died is freed from sin,” (Rom. 6:1-7; NASB).

New disciples must be brought to an understanding that the Christian life is not one of grace abuse. We are not saved to sin all the more. Rather, as we saw in our last lesson, disciples of Christ are those who have died to sin through the death of Christ and our union with Him. In being united with Christ, we have not merely been immersed into His death, though. We have also been raised with Him to walk in newness of life!

Our relationship with sin has been severed. We will still battle against it as long as we live in these bodies and in this fallen world. Like insurgents in a conquered land who wage guerilla warfare against the occupying nation, sin will ever wage guerilla warfare against the Christian who has already achieved victory over it through the death, burial, and resurrection of Christ. However, the Christian will wage war. The Christian will seek to search out and destroy every last stronghold of sin in his or her life.

After the Civil War and the emancipation of slaves in America, those who had been victims of that system did not automatically take to their freedom as those who had never known slavery. For many, the mindset of the slave could not be shed for the rest of their lives. When in the presence of a white man, their tendency was to revert back to old customs and courtesies and to grant a certain authority that was not truly held by the white man in question. Due to Jim Crow laws in the South, the analogy obviously falls apart at some point.

Surely, though, you get the point. After a life of slavery, it can be near impossible to shake the slave mentality. This is as true in the soul of a man in relation to his sin as it is in the mind of a slave in relation to other men. What Paul means to tell the Christian, here, is that he has been freed from slavery to sin, so he now needs to wage war against his tendency to submit to sin as a slave. He must rid himself of the slave mentality.

By virtue of our union with Christ in His resurrection, we now have victory over sin. If we have died with Him, we have also been raised with Him in the likeness of His resurrection to walk in newness of life. We are no longer slaves to sin, but we are slaves to righteousness.

We have already decried the testimony-only approach to evangelism, an approach that suggests that Christ’s primary purpose in the life of the believer is like that of a genie making all things better. However, here is the one place in the evangelistic encounter where it might be beneficial to offer a personal testimony to the work of Christ wrought in our own life. As we share our faith with unbelievers, it can be beneficial for them to see how, through Christ’s death, burial, and resurrection, you have personally seen victory over the sin that once enslaved you.

Victory over death. Through the resurrection of Christ and our union with Him, we do not only experience victory over sin in this life. We are also promised ultimate victory over death. Paul writes, “But now Christ has been raised from the dead, the first fruits of those who are asleep,” (1Cor. 15:20). Christ’s victory over death was not merely a victory for Himself, just as nothing He accomplished on this earth was merely accomplished for His own benefit.

The resurrection of Christ accomplished victory both for Christ and for those who are united with Him. Just as Christ was raised and is now seated at the right hand of the Father in heaven, so too we shall all be raised from the dead with glorified bodies to reign with God for all of eternity. Our victory over sin is merely a down payment of sorts for the great privilege we have yet to receive in Christ.

50Now I say this, brethren, that flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God; nor does the perishable inherit the imperishable. 51Behold, I tell you a mystery; we will not all sleep, but we will all be changed, 52in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet; for the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised imperishable, and we will be changed. 53For this perishable must put on the imperishable, and this mortal must put on immortality. 54But when this perishable will have put on the imperishable, and this mortal will have put on immortality, then will come about the saying that is written, ‘Death is swallowed up in victory. 55O death, where is your victory? O death, where is your sting?’ 56The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law; 57but thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ,” (1Cor. 15:50-57; NASB).

In the churches in which I was raised, we did not avoid talking about end times. We were taught at length about the rapture, the tribulation, the millennium, and many other of the less clear events prophesied for the end of the world. Rarely if ever did we hear teaching on the resurrection. Of all of these events, Paul teaches that the resurrection is “of first importance” (1Cor. 15:3; NASB).

The Bible teaches that it is through the death, burial, and resurrection of Christ that He secures for us our own resurrection. In a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, the dead will be raised and those who are still living will receive imperishable bodies fit for eternity. Those who are raised in Christ will be raised with bodies fit for everlasting life. All who are outside of Christ, though, will be raised with bodies fit for everlasting contempt (Dan. 12:2).

It is not necessarily important for the new disciple to understand all that is wrapped up in the doctrine of the resurrection of Christ. It is helpful, however, for new disciples to learn fairly early the fact that Christ’s redemption has both temporal and eternal implications. In Christ’s resurrection, we are presently raised to walk in newness of life, and we are promised final victory over death unto everlasting life!

Christ’s Obedience in Death (Defining Evangelism)

You can listen to the audio lesson here.

You can also find the “Working Definition of Evangelism” here.



PART IV – Redemption Accomplished

Lesson Nine: Christ’s Obedience in Death

“For Christ also died for sins once for all, the just for the unjust, so that He might bring us to God, having been put to death in the flesh, but made alive in the spirit,” (1Pt. 3:18; NASB).


Christians are a peculiar people. We sing songs about death, and we sing them with joy and hope in our hearts. With a sense of great liberation, we sing of one specific death in history. When Christ died, He did not primarily come to die as our example. Certainly, there is a certain character we see on display in Him as He went to His death that is worthy of emulation (1 Peter 2:21-25). Yet we know from observing the whole counsel of Scripture that Christ’s primary purpose in death was not that of setting a good example.

Christ’s purpose in death. If His main purpose were to set a good example, how would that be anything close to good news? If His sole purpose were to set for us an example, the gospel would be reduced down to a message of works righteousness. Christ could be said to have died merely to show us how we might save ourselves. Indeed, there is much we can learn from the cross about how to more accurately and faithfully follow Christ. The primary purpose of the cross, however, was the accomplishment of our redemption.

“But He was pierced through for our transgressions,

He was crushed for our iniquities;

The chastening for our well-being fell upon Him,

And by His scourging we are healed,” (Isa. 53:5; NASB).

In Christ, we see that our transgressions (our violation of God’s law) and our iniquities (our evil deeds) were blotted out. As a result of the cross work of Jesus Christ our sin, which we committed in plain sight of the God who sees all things, is remembered no more. As Christ hung on the cross to receive the punishment we deserve for our sins, we now stand before God in His righteousness to receive the privilege only He deserve: the privilege of sonship.

Christ’s volition in death. This death was no mere accident. Nor was it an assassination or a death by natural causes. Such a death would not do. Instead, Christ was tried by men, received the sentencing we deserve, nailed to an accursed tree, and left to die. In this process, another far greater trial was being decided. An infinitely more important penalty was being paid. Almighty God, out of sheer sovereign love for His people and righteous judgment over sin, poured out His wrath on the Son.

“But the LORD was pleased

To crush Him, putting Him to grief;

If He would render Himself as a guilt offering,

He will see His offspring,

He will prolong His days,

And the good pleasure of the LORD will prosper in His hand,” (Isa. 53:10; NASB).

Salvation from sin and death comes to the elect by way of Christ’s willing acceptance of the punishment we deserve. The glorious news of the gospel is that Christ receives the punishment we deserve so that we can enter into the privilege only He deserves, and all of this comes to us as a result of the love of God. “But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us,” (Rom. 5:8; NKJV). To reduce Christ’s death down to mere example, then, is a criminal offense against the gospel and the God who secured it for us.

We see then that Christ’s mission was not merely one of perfectly obeying God in life, but it was likewise a mission of obedience in death. Christ came to this earth, took on flesh, and lived the perfect life so that He might die the perfect death. “And being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself and became obedient to the point of death, even the death of the cross,” (Phil. 2:8; NKJV). Not only did it please God to crush Him, but He willingly came to this earth for that very purpose.

Christ’s sacrifice in death. Christ’s obedience in death not only satisfied the justice of God in punishing our sin. It also met the righteous requirement of the law of God. As such, we cannot conclude our discussion of the cross without mentioning its accomplishment of our atonement through sacrifice. When Christ died on the cross, His death was not merely a penal death. It was also an atoning death. That is, it cleansed us of the sin that separates us from God.

John Murray insists that the death of Christ ought to be viewed in reference to Old Testament sacrifices. In the Old Testament, animals were regularly slaughtered to make atonement for the sins of the people. These sacrifices were expiatory, meaning that they were meant to remove the sin from the sinner in the eyes of God. Murray explains:

“This means that they had reference to sin and guilt. Sin involves a certain liability, a liability arising from the holiness of God, on the one hand, and the gravity of sin as the contradiction of that holiness, on the other. The sacrifice was the divinely instituted provision whereby the sin might be covered and the liability to divine wrath and curse removed,” (Murray, Redemption Accomplished and Applied, pg. 25).

What we have then, in the death of Christ, is a complete removal of our identity as sinners and the substitution of a much more glorious identity: the identity of sons. Christ’s sacrifice was the final sacrifice. Nor is there any other. “For Christ also died for sins once for all, the just for the unjust, so that He might bring us to God, having been put to death in the flesh, but made alive in the spirit,” (1Pt. 3:18; NASB).

Union with Christ. When the biblical authors speak of Christ’s obedience in life and death as it applies to us in our redemption, they speak of it primarily in terms of our union with Christ. It’s only by virtue of our union with Christ that we come to be partakers of the great privileges afforded us in the cross. As such, what Christ has accomplished for us the Spirit applies to us as He engrafts us into the body of Christ.

1What shall we say then? Shall we continue in sin that grace may abound? 2Certainly not! How shall we who died to sin live any longer in it? 3Or do you not know that as many of us as were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into His death?” (Rom. 6:1-3; NKJV).

When Paul writes in Romans six and seven of the Christian’s relationship to sin, he speaks of it in terms of a deceased man. We are those who have died to sin. This is an accomplished action in the past. We no longer live under the threat of the penalty or the reign of sin. When we came to faith in Christ, we were immersed (baptized) into Him and now are seen as perfectly obedient in life and death. What is true of Christ is now true of all who are immersed into Him. We weren’t merely immersed into His obedient life. We were also immersed into His death, and so we have died to sin.

Our great assurance in Christ. This is one reason that Roman Catholics and other cults of Christianity cannot rise above their guilt. If you believe that Christ must be recrucified every mass the atonement cannot possibly be accomplished, and your eternity cannot possibly be secure. The saints of the Old Testament trusted in the God who would eventually make full and final atonement for sins, and we look back to the Messiah who did fully and finally atone for them.

With this great Savior comes great assurance, an assurance that had all but disappeared until the dawn of the Reformation. The only assurance Rome could offer hinged upon the obedience of the individual in her observance of the sacraments. The Bible clearly stands in opposition to such a doctrine. Our assurance is bound up solely in the obedience of Christ in His death, His obedience in burial, and in His resurrection.

Application to evangelism. When speaking with the unbeliever about these matters, it may be necessary to convey just the general idea of what we are here describing. This can be a lot to take in at once. That’s one of the reasons why it is so important that we not merely reduce evangelism down to little five-minute encounters on a street corner, and the gospel down to a five-minute, cookie-cutter presentation. The gospel (the good news) is a multi-faceted diamond that must be observed from several different angles. Reception of the full gospel, then, requires a regular, weekly attendance to the ordinary means of grace, and especially to the preached word of God.

Again, we are not called to be about the work of making converts and leaving them as spiritual orphans. We’re called to make disciples, to baptize them, and to teach them to observe all that Christ commanded. As such, while it is important that disciples search the depths of the obedience of Christ and what is secured for us in it by virtue of our union with Him, we are not necessarily called to try to convey it all in our initial discussions with the unbelievers in our lives. For this reason also, the death of Christ should ever be a central focus of the church and her services.

“With the apostles the church affirms that it was the eternal Son of God, the Word who became flesh, the Lord of glory, who died on Calvary (Rom. 9:5; Titus 2:13; Heb. 1:8; 2 Pet. 1:1; John 1:1, 14; 20:28; 1 Cor. 2:8). Accordingly, in its best moments, the church has ‘gloried in nothing but the cross’ (Gal. 6:14) and has ‘resolved to know nothing among [the nations] except Christ Jesus and him crucified’ (1 Cor. 2:2),” (Robert Reymond, A New Systematic Theology of the Christian Faith, pp. 624-625).

What is meant in Galatians 6:14 and First Corinthians 2:2, that Paul gloried in nothing but the cross and resolved to know nothing among the Corinthian saints except Christ Jesus and Him crucified? Only that the central focus of the gospel ministry ought to be that of the cross work of Jesus Christ. The highest work of the gospel minister is to ever put the crucified Savior on display for the people of God, so that they might come to saving faith in Him and, having been saved, that they might be ushered time and again back to the fountainhead and object of their faith: their crucified Savior.

Black Spirituality and Reformed Spirituality, a Comparison (Full)


Recently, I’ve finished a blog series which compared the spirituality of traditional, devout Black Christians to Reformed spirituality. The goal of this mini-series was to answer the following question: Why aren’t there more Black Reformed Christians? The central thesis of this series is that diverging views of Christian spirituality is the essential reason why devout Black Christians generally are not in Reformed churches. In other words, the mode and nature of traditional Black spirituality is quite different than Reformed spirituality. In the blog series, I addressed the commonalities and differences between traditional Black spirituality and Reformed spirituality. This post breaks up that series into six basic parts.

Part I: Points of Agreement

Part II: Points of Disagreement

Syncretism in Black Spirituality

In my last blog, I mentioned that Reformed spirituality places a strong emphasis on our inseparable union with Christ and our abiding communion with Christ. A classic statement of this concept can be found in Calvin’s Institutes, Volume 2, Part 16

We see that our whole salvation and all its parts are comprehended in Christ (Acts 4:12). We should therefore take care not to derive the least portion of it from anywhere else. If we seek salvation we are taught by the very name of Jesus that it is ‘of Him’ [1 Cor. 1:30]. If we seek any other gifts of the Spirit, they will be found in His anointing. If we seek strength, it lies in His dominion, if purity, in His conception; if gentleness, it appears in His birth. For by His birth He was made like us in all respects [Hebrews 2:17] that He might learn to feel our pain [Hebrews 5:2]. If we seek redemption, it lies in His passion; if acquittal, in His condemnation; if remission of the curse, in His cross [Galatians 3:13]; if satisfaction, in His sacrifice; if purification, in His blood; if reconciliation, in His descent into hell; if mortification of the flesh, in His tomb; if newness of life, in His resurrection; if immortality, in the same; if inheritance of the Heavenly Kingdom, in His entrance into heaven; if protection, if security, if abundant supply of all blessings, in His Kingdom; if untroubled expectation of judgment, in the power given to Him to judge. In short, since rich store of every kind of good abounds in Him, let us drink our fill from this fountain and from no other.

This is probably one of the best paragraphs that a Christian can read. However, it raises an important question: How does one “drink our fill from this fountain”? How does one have true abiding communion with God? For Reformed spirituality, this is usually done through the means of grace. However, it is here where we have another major difference between traditional Black spirituality and Reformed spirituality. In regards to this question, it is my contention that there is much syncretism associated with many forms of traditional Black spirituality. In particular, communion with God is usually synonymous with personal worship experiences and personal encounters with God for many Black Christians.

Now, this is not a trend that is unique to Black Christians. Multiple books, such as Christless Christianity by Michael Horton, discuss this overemphasis on subjectivism, but in most mainline denominations, this is relatively recent phenomenon (within 1 or 2 generations at most). For traditional Black Christianity, this emphasis seems to have existed from the very beginnings of the Black Church. In the book Experiencing the Truth: Bringing the Reformation to the African-American Church, Ken Jones posits that the new spirituality of Black Christians (as well as the old spirituality of traditional Black Christians) has its roots what is called the “invisible institution”. In short, the invisible institution refers to the secret gatherings of slaves on the plantations, away from the watchful eye of the master (for a more exhaustive discussion of this topic, see this page). There were many things worth appreciating about the invisible institution. In particular, the slaves took what they learned from their masters, and in the confines of the invisible institution, contextualized it to nurture a deep-rooted faith and hope. However, there were many other issues that were deeply concerning – the chief of which was a deliberate syncretism between the Christian orthodoxy (promoted by their slave masters) and the elements of their native religions. Thus, the invisible institution probably contained genuine Christian converts as well as practitioners of the altered forms of older religions. W.E.B DuBois, in his work The Souls of Black Folk, made a similar conclusion as well:

Thus, as bard, physician, judge, and priest, within the narrow limits allowed by the slave system, rose the Negro preacher, and under him the first Afro-American institution, the Negro church. This church was not at first by any means Christian nor definitely organized; rather, it was an adaptation of mingling of heathen rites among the members of each plantation, and roughly designated as Voodoism. Association with the masters, missionary effort and motives of expediency gave these rites an early veneer of Christianity, and after the lapse of many generations the Negro Church became Christian.

What made Black Christians flock to public visible Church was the revivalism of the First and Second Great Awakening. In describing revival meetings in the First Great Awakening, Ken Jones writes

The zeal sometimes manifest in great emotional displays associated with the revival meetings, including bodily convulsions, caught the attention of the slaves. Edwards, Whitefield, and Tennent were all surprised to see Negroes attending these meetings. This emotionally charged atmosphere was not typical of what took place in the white churches they attended with their masters, but it was reminiscent of worship in the invisible institution. This made the black slaves feel (perhaps for the first time) more a part of what was going on. Shouting and crying out loud, which would have been frowned on in the white church proper, as now done openly, as black and white listeners were moved by the praying and preaching.

The spontaneous expressiveness fostered by the revivalist preaching led to an enormous increase of African public commitment to the Christian faith. The ecstasy experienced in traditional slave worship could now be publicly affirmed as authentically Christian at the same time. This helps to also explain why Black Christians traditionally clustered to Baptist and Methodist denominations. The Anglicans and Presbyterians usually taught the slaves the Ten Commandments, the Apostles’ Creed, and the Lord’s Prayer, whereas the revivalist preacher (usually in Baptist and Methodist denominations) helped them to feel the weight of sin, to imagine the threats of hell, and to accept Christ as their only Savior. The revivalist atmosphere and preaching style of the revivals in attracting slaves to openly embrace Christianity cannot be overstated.


This historical backdrop helps to explain the particular style of Black preaching and Black worship, but most importantly, it helps to explain how the mode of Black spirituality differs from Reformed spirituality. For many Black Christians, communion with God becomes synonymous with “encountering with God and His presence” and “getting into the Spirit”. Communion with God becomes synonymous with our personal worship experience and feeling His presence. For many Black Christians, the mark of true communion with God is that “I come to the garden alone… and the joy we share as we tarry there, none other has ever known.” There are some very popular gospel songs that illustrate this point such as My Worship is for Real and Let the Lord Minister to You. This also means that the truly “deep and spiritual” Christian is the one who has had the most extravagant divine visitations and the one associated with “signs and wonders”.

Therefore, when a Reformed Christian criticizes this approach to worship and communion with God, this is not simply a matter of doctrinal differences. Rather, this is a collision of spiritual worldviews. The approach of centering our communion with God based on our mountaintop encounters with His presence is at odds with the Reformed mode of spirituality. This means that Reformed spirituality is foreign to and a direct challenge to this worldview. This contrast is particularly exaggerated within the Black Pentecostal tradition. Many Reformed believers ask me why African-Americans seem to flock towards various strands of Pentecostalism across the globe. To me, the chief reason why is because Pentecostalism has always fit this spiritual worldview. As Conrad Mbewe has stated in multiple occasions (see here and here), various forms of charismaticism do not critically challenge this worldview and thus permits (and at some times promotes) syncretism among Black and African Christians.

Because communion with God is emphasized without paying sufficient attention to how we are united to Christ, many Black Christians also hold superstitious views concerning the “spiritual realm”. In this worldview, a demonic realm sits in between the believer and God and unless the believer knows how to “gain victory” over the demonic realm, they will not have true fellowship with God. This type of doctrine is expressed in multiple different ways, such as in the doctrine of soul ties, generational curses, and pleading the blood of Jesus. Ultimately, this means that the Christian does not rest and rejoice in the union with Christ, but it means that the believer must “tap into the spiritual realm” to find their rest in Christ. To me, it is this syncretism that stands as the largest barrier between Reformed and Black spirituality. For some, addressing this issue is the same as asking Black Christians to accept “Euro-American theology”. We can debate various individual doctrines one by one, but until this gap is addressed, there will still be a separation between the two communities. In the next blog, I will discuss the last significant difference between Reformed and traditional Black spirituality: the role of the Christian mind.


LBCF of 1677/1689 – Chapter Sixteen, Of Good Works

1. Good works are only such as God hath commanded in his Holy Word, and not such as without the warrant thereof are devised by men out of blind zeal, or upon any pretence of good intentions.
( Micah 6:8; Hebrews 13:21; Matthew 15:9; Isaiah 29:13 )

2. These good works, done in obedience to God’s commandments, are the fruits and evidences of a true and lively faith; and by them believers manifest their thankfulness, strengthen their assurance, edify their brethren, adorn the profession of the gospel, stop the mouths of the adversaries, and glorify God, whose workmanship they are, created in Christ Jesus thereunto, that having their fruit unto holiness they may have the end eternal life.
( James 2:18, 22; Psalms 116:12, 13; 1 John 2:3, 5; 2 Peter 1:5-11; Matthew 5:16; 1 Timothy 6:1; 1 Peter 2:15; Philippians 1:11; Ephesians 2:10; Romans 6:22 )

3. Their ability to do good works is not at all of themselves, but wholly from the Spirit of Christ; and that they may be enabled thereunto, besides the graces they have already received, there is necessary an actual influence of the same Holy Spirit, to work in them to will and to do of his good pleasure; yet they are not hereupon to grow negligent, as if they were not bound to perform any duty, unless upon a special motion of the Spirit, but they ought to be diligent in stirring up the grace of God that is in them.
( John 15:4, 5; 2 Corinthians 3:5; Philippians 2:13; Philippians 2:12; Hebrews 6:11, 12; Isaiah 64:7 )

4. They who in their obedience attain to the greatest height which is possible in this life, are so far from being able to supererogate, and to do more than God requires, as that they fall short of much which in duty they are bound to do.
( Job 9:2, 3; Galatians 5:17; Luke 17:10 )

5. We cannot by our best works merit pardon of sin or eternal life at the hand of God, by reason of the great disproportion that is between them and the glory to come, and the infinite distance that is between us and God, whom by them we can neither profit nor satisfy for the debt of our former sins; but when we have done all we can, we have done but our duty, and are unprofitable servants; and because as they are good they proceed from his Spirit, and as they are wrought by us they are defiled and mixed with so much weakness and imperfection, that they cannot endure the severity of God’s punishment.
( Romans 3:20; Ephesians 2:8, 9; Romans 4:6; Galatians 5:22, 23; Isaiah 64:6; Psalms 143:2 )

6. Yet notwithstanding the persons of believers being accepted through Christ, their good works also are accepted in him; not as though they were in this life wholly unblameable and unreprovable in God’s sight, but that he, looking upon them in his Son, is pleased to accept and reward that which is sincere, although accompanied with many weaknesses and imperfections.
( Ephesians 1:6; 1 Peter 2:5; Matthew 25:21, 23; Hebrews 6:10 )

7. Works done by unregenerate men, although for the matter of them they may be things which God commands, and of good use both to themselves and others; yet because they proceed not from a heart purified by faith, nor are done in a right manner according to the word, nor to a right end, the glory of God, they are therefore sinful, and cannot please God, nor make a man meet to receive grace from God, and yet their neglect of them is more sinful and displeasing to God.
( 2 Kings 10:30; 1 Kings 21:27, 29; Genesis 4:5; Hebrews 11:4, 6; 1 Corinthians 13:1; Matthew 6:2, 5; Amos 5:21, 22; Romans 9:16; Titus 3:5; Job 21:14, 15; Matthew 25:41-43 )