Subscribe via RSS Feed

Estrelda Alexander: Black Fire Reader

Estrelda Y. Alexander, Black Fire Reader: A Documentary Resource on African American Pentecostalism (Eugene, OR: Cascade Books, 2013), xvi + 242 pages, ISBN 9781608995622.

This is an anthology of primary source documents that examine the contributions of African Americans in the expansion of the modern-day Pentecostal movement. Reflected in their doctrine, songs, and liturgies, the Pentecostal movement has flourished among the races and ethnic peoples of America. In this work, Estrelda Y. Alexander, Associate Professor of Theology at Regent University and Executive Director of the Seymour Pan-African Pentecostal Project, points to the Holy Spirit as the means for cultivating racial consciousness.

This work examines the relationship between African Spirituality and Slave religion (chapter 1), the legacy of the nineteenth century Black Holiness movement (chapter 2), as well as the enduring impact of the Azusa St. Revival and Apostolic Faith Mission (chapter 3). In chapters 4-6 Alexander turns to a discussion of the denominational significance of the movement, underscoring its relationship to African American Trinitarianism, the Oneness churches, and White majority churches. Chapter 7 broaches the topic of women rights and ordination in African American Pentecostalism. Chapter 8 assesses the relationship of the movement to Neo-Pentecostal and Charismatic churches, and chapter 9 examines the theological dimensions of social justice and racial reconciliation.

The unique contribution of this volume is the survey of beliefs, practices, and theology of African American Pentecostals as individuals and leaders speaking first-hand about their faith experiences. These “insider” voices emanate from male and female, the educated and uneducated alike. This work encompasses those from Trinitarian and Oneness backgrounds, pre- and post-Asuza Pentecostals, integrationalists and nationalists, the Word of Faith movement, and those from classical and contemporary perspectives. Each contribution is accompanied by detailed biographical information on the author and featured piece.

The nineteenth century African American spirituals resound with passion, overcoming joy, and holiness fervor. Novelist, folklorist, and anthropologist Zora Neale Hurston clung to the anthem of her peers from the choruses of Scripture. She sang as she strove to rise above her circumstances and life as a domestic servant in New York City during the 1920s: “Beloved, beloved, and it doth not yet appear what we shall be, but we know, but we know, but we know… when He shall appear, we shall be like Him, we shall be like Him” (7).

The African American Oneness Pentecostal perspective is unique in that it is not foremost rooted in arguments of alleged modalism—a topic that pervades popular discussions of the movement. The historical African American Oneness concern centers on their biblical ‘Apostolic’ hermeneutic. In the Victim of the Flaming Sword, G. T. Haywood admits of the “One Person God” and the “Holy Ghost New Birth,” but remains convinced by the Apostolic witness that Jesus is not a subsidiary “Second Person” of the Trinity (101). The Apostles, Haywood explains, knew nothing of Trinitarian doctrine: “The word ‘Trinity’ is not found in the Bible from Genesis to Revelation” (102). The Black Oneness perspective is motivated first by their commitment to the faith of the pioneers of early Christianity. James C. Richardson, in From With Water and Spirit sees in Jesus the fulfillment of the God of the Old covenant: “Jehovah-God of the Old Testament is Jesus Christ of the New Testament (117).”

Lilian Sparks, a member of Ida Robinson’s Mt. Sinai Holy Church of America, embraced an early egalitarian stance. She sang of her identity in Christ and freedom to preach, “There’s neither Jew nor Gentile, to those who’ve paid the price; ‘Tis neither Male nor Female, But one in Jesus Christ…. Some women have the right to sing, and some the right to teach; but women, called by Jesus Christ, surely have the right to preach” (158).

By drawing us back to the original sources, Alexander paints a vision of freedom, egalitarianism, and yearning for the pristine faith of early Christianity. Black Pentecostalism has left this legacy, ensconced in rare and precious first-hand autobiographical accounts of sermons, hymns, testimonies, and treatises. Ministers, interested lay-persons, and the academic community at large will find in the Black Fire Reader not simply a companion resource on the African American Pentecostal experience, but access into the life, beliefs, and culture of a people who have shaped and re-envisioned contemporary Christianity.

Reviewed by Paul J. Palma

 

Preview Black Fire Reader: https://books.google.com/books?id=dJlMAwAAQBAJ

Publisher’s page: http://wipfandstock.com/black-fire-reader.html

Black FireRead the related review of Black Fire: One Hundred Years of African American Pentecostalism (IVP Academic, 2011) by Wolfgang Vondey: http://pneumareview.com/ealexander-black-fire/

Pin It

Tags: , , , ,

Category: Church History, Fall 2016

About the Author: Paul J. Palma, PhDc, is a Professor of Biblical Studies and Christian Ministry at Regent University and a Partner Correspondent at the Christian Broadcasting Network. Paul has authored or contributed to several books and has been published in a number of national and international journals. He and his wife, Gabrielle, have three children. For publications by Paul, visit his LinkedIn page. Facebook.

  • Connect with PneumaReview.com

    Subscribe via Twitter 1200 Followers   Subscribe via Facebook Fans
  • Recent Comments

  • Featured Authors

    Amos Yong is Professor of Theology & Mission and director of the Center for Missiological Research at Fuller Theological Seminary, Pasadena. His graduate education includes degree...

    Jelle Creemers: Theological Dialogue with Classical Pentecostals

    Charles Carrin, D.D., has served the body of Christ for over 65 years. Educated at University of Georgia and Columbia Theological Seminary, he denied, in belief and practice,...

    Interview with Charles Carrin about his book Spirit-Empowered Theology

    Craig S. Keener, Ph.D. (Duke University), is F. M. and Ada Thompson Professor of Biblical Studies at Asbury Theological Seminary in Wilmore, Kentucky. He is author of many books<...

    Listening for God’s Voice and Heart in Scripture: A conversation with Craig S. Keener

    William L. De Arteaga, Ph.D., is known internationally as a Christian historian and expert on revivals and the rebirth and renewal of the Christian healing movement. His major w...

    An American Conscience: The Reinhold Niebuhr Story