From Every Tribe, Tongue, and Nation: The Role of Dallas Theological Seminary in the Shaping of African American Evangelicalism

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2020-04-20

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Abstract

This work traces the development of twentieth-century black Protestants alongside their white counterpart from the aftermath of the Civil War to the turn of the twenty-first century. By embracing premillennial dispensationalism, black evangelicals joined the fundamentalist and neo-evangelical fight against theological modernism all while decrying the racism of white evangelicals. In the aftermath of the civil rights movement, black and white streams of evangelicalism merged in a renewed interest in racial reconciliation starting with the desegregation of conservative seminaries and Bible institutes. Lastly, my work advances the idea that Dallas’ black evangelicals clashed with black theology proponents at the National Black Evangelical Association. Influenced by the inerrancy debates in the late twentieth century, Dallas’ African American evangelicals criticized what they perceived as Black Theology’s primacy of black experience over the Bible and thus took to reshape the organization in a radically conservative direction, reflective of white evangelicalism. As a result, my scholarship challenges the historical narratives in American race and religion. Historians have suggested that white institutions typically extended admission to black students as a post-segregation form of white paternalism. My evidence, however, suggests that black ministers were not simply pawns in the hands of white suppressors but were self-determined agents willing to undergo racial prejudice in order to obtain what they perceived as quality theological training. Further, my work challenges the scholarship on the influence of black evangelicals on American religion. Black theologians such as James Cone, Gayraud Wilmore, Albert Cleage, and the like were experiencing wide reception in the black community in the better part of the 1970s and 80s. I argue that the ideological commitments and influence of conservative black evangelicals pushed back on the intrusion of black theology among the black community and caused African Americans to reconsider the merits of Black Theology.

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National Black Evangelical Association, Dallas Theological Seminary, African American evangelists, Segregation

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