Posted on : Thursday June 25, 2020

Dr. Kevin Smith recently spoke with Dr. Anthony Bradley, professor at The King’s College in New York City on racial injustice, and the historical context of some of the current events happening around our country.

Transcript

Dr. Smith
This is Peculiar People Podcast, encouraging followers of Jesus Christ to think about what it means to be first Peter, strangers, and foreigners, and sojourners in a pilgrim land as we seek to bring glory and honor to the Lord Jesus Christ. And we seek to talk about topics that will enhance our ability to glorify God in whatever realm of life we find ourselves. I’m honored and thankful today that we can talk to Dr. Anthony Bradley. I love this brother in the Lord, I love him in brotherhood, in fellowship, and I’m honored that we can have him be a blessing to us today.

Dr. Smith:
Before I read his bio, I just want to say, pastors out there that are listening to this podcast, I strongly encourage you to have scholars in your life and scholars who can be a blessing to you in the many, many, many, many disciplines and areas that you just do not have time to study and keep yourself abreast on as a pastor of a local congregation. And Merlin Delaware Baptist and others that are listening to this, I certainly encourage you as laymen as well to value the scholarship of scholars, period, that are honest and true to their disciplines, but especially those that we have the privilege to call brother or sister in Christ. And so I’m excited to have some discussions today with Dr. Bradley on a variety of topics.

Dr. Smith:
I think one of my earlier introductions was a book when he was a visiting professor of theology at the King’s College, years ago, and he was serving as a research fellow, which would’ve been liberating black theology, but a later background I’ll read, it just says that Anthony B. Bradley is a professor or theology and ethics at the King’s College, New York. He is also a research fellow at the Acton Institute for the Study of Religion and Liberty. And the author of Liberating Black Theology.

Dr. Smith:
But what I really want to say for our podcast is he is a peculiar person. Meaning he has been born again by the spirit of the Lord Jesus Christ, and he is a follower of the Lord Jesus Christ. His testimony is shared in a book called Glory Road, which came out a long time ago, but it’s amazing to me. His testimony, someone has some similarities to mine where we were both kind of raised in church settings and church environments, but there was at some point when we realized there’s a difference between what we’ve done and what we’ve done as coming down the aisle, or acknowledging something in a church versus what we began to see in the New Testament, as we see Jesus’ disciples. And then in the chapter, his chapter highlights his time at Clemson University. And you all will not know this on the podcast, but he and I are Zooming as we talk and so I’m looking at him in a purple hat an orange shirt, so he is definitely a Clemson man, and I enjoy following him at the appropriate times of the year when certain kind of championships are going on.

Dr. Smith:
So Dr. Bradley, it is a joy to talk to you, brother, and thank you for coming on to Peculiar People.

Dr. Bradley:
It is my pleasure, I am delighted and honored to share this sacred podcast with my brother here. It’s been so many years, and I am thrilled to be able to cause some Holy Ghost trouble with you. You’re the kind of brother, both prophetic and grounded in both Old and New Testaments, that’s a rare bird in these times. And thank you for acknowledging the fact that I am a Clemson alum. I’ve been saved the blood of the lamb, but my internal blood runneth orange, brother, it runs.

Dr. Smith:
Well, I tell you what, it’s been exciting over the last few years. I know you’ve been enjoying those things. And I really … I value that you all in New York get together and have alumni, I went to Hampton and we kind of value the alumni networks and so I enjoy seeing you do that with your former classmates as well.

Dr. Smith:
I wanted to talk to you about a lot of things, but obviously since I gave you this invitation other things have happened, and I can’t not at least begin to ask you, just as a follower of Jesus Christ, as a black man in America, what have your thoughts been over the last … let’s just say three to four weeks as a variety of things have happened. Certainly, I don’t know what kind of encounters you’ve had in your past with law enforcement, or with just people and the situation in Georgia wasn’t around law enforcement, it was around kind of a Trayvon Martin situation, like why are you here? Why is your black body in this place? And then I spent most of my pastoral ministry in Louisville, Kentucky. And there was a situation of a young lady being killed there with something … I think the technical term is no-knock warrant, where you can just bust in. And then of course obviously what many have seen on the video on television with George Floyd.

Dr. Smith:
So just as a man of God, a man who’s seeking to be a disciple of Christ, but a man of God who’s seeking to be a disciple of Christ and you like me, by God’s purpose and design, we find ourself in this black skin, and we find ourselves in the United States of America. How have you kind of thought about the last few weeks?

Dr. Bradley:
Yeah. It’s been tough, I think in part because we’re seeing the intersection of some weaknesses in our culture. And I think they often collide in our inner cities, in urban areas, they actually collide, I think, wherever poor people live, it could be rural Alabama, right? It could be south Alabama in rural areas. And what are we seeing? I think we’re seeing the ongoing challenges that we have on race. We just have still not been able to turn a significant corner beyond that first corner, right? So we turn a corner in 1965, King was shot ’68, the 70s were looking good, and then the 80s happened. And so we took some steps forward, took some steps back, I just saw a clip of that 1987 Oprah Winfrey episode in Forsyth, Georgia where there was a white supremacy march that she went and visited. So we’ve been wrestling, and struggling, and straining with the race issue, so that’s one issue.

Dr. Bradley:
And then secondly, I think we have a long-standing issue in American history, and this is a separate issue of violent policing. That’s a policing culture that we inherited from the UK. It’s been a problem in the US for at least 120 years. But it tends to reveal itself more with poor people than people who have access to lawyers, and connections, and politicians, right? And so what we’re seeing is the regularity of the collision of sort of violent policing practices in some areas, plus our ongoing struggles with race. And I think if you add poverty into that, if you mix those things up, one of the things that we’ve done in this country is that we’ve always used the police to control poor people. And we’re seeing that when that’s done without accountability, when that’s done without moral virtue, you get chaos, and sin, and darkness. And I think that’s basically what we’re seeing right now. I think Christians have an opportunity to speak in all of those areas, because God cares about them.

Dr. Smith:
Wow, speaking of Christian’s speak, I watched a clip of a message from a Lutheran pastor that I actually might reach out to because he’s physically not too far from me, he’s in Alexandria, Virginia. And then there was a historically based statement from the Black Caucus of the Lutheran Church, Missouri Senate. You are in the PCA, I am in the Southern Baptist Convention. And so we would say our denominations have been committed to biblical authority. And so with a commitment to biblical authority, from your perspective, why has the great commandment not been a priority? Why has the attitude … the Sermon on the Mount chapter five ethic of sought light not been a priority for people who declare biblical authority? And sufficiency, and let me add that, and sufficiency.

Dr. Bradley:
That’s a great question. I’ve been trying to figure out why is it that the Lutherans from the reformation … the doctrine of justification by faith alone, that’s Lutheranism. Calvinism didn’t come up with that, right? They were the first Evangelicals. And I watched them handle the race issue differently than both the Southern Baptists and the Presbyterian Church of America. And I’ve been really mystified about why that is. And I think part of the answer to that is that this actually speaks to your emphasis on Peter. Lutherans came here as exiles. They’ve always been outsiders and not part of the dominant culture. And so there was never any struggles or wrestling with the conflation of cultural power and their Christian faith and the church. There was always a massive distinction between the church’s work and the work in community with public structures.

Dr. Bradley:
One of the things that happened with … and this really speaks a lot to the relationship between, at least in my tradition, within the Presbyterian Church ostra scots who came over from Northern Ireland, southern Scotland, is that they often in many cases became the dominant power culture. And they often collapsed, infused, integrated too closely their understanding of Christianity and their use of cultural power. And Lutherans didn’t have to … I mean, Lutherans never really did that. So what did they do? They basically established their own institutions, Lutheran schools, Lutheran colleges, Lutheran seminaries. They always were seen as outsiders, and I think particularly for Evangelicals, they’ve just really, really struggled with the syncretism of their faith and the idol of cultural power. And using the power of the state as a way to advance the kingdom rather than using the tools that are given to us in the scriptures. And I think that ongoing history of navigating that distinction between the kingdom of God and the kingdom of this world has really sort of muddled, I think, some of those advancements.

Dr. Smith:
Yeah. And I think often we overlook that syncretism has made Christians not employ tools and resources that we have from the scripture. So in our circle, there’s some people that act like social is like a cuss word, and actually in the statement of faith of our convention, the 15th article is the Christian and the social order. And so we talk about social engagement. And then I know also people try to just kind of speak … it’s not a skin issue, it’s a sin issue. And there’s Presbyterian documents, confessions that talk about repenting of particular sins in particular ways. And so you realize that syncretism has even undercut the confessionalism that we hold.

Dr. Smith:
And one thing I really appreciate in some of your writing or comments at different times, I think sometimes you’ll say something like, “If you’re Presbyterian, be a Presbyterian. If you’re a Baptist, be a Baptist.” And I kind of agree with that because … I don’t know, maybe 12 years ago, I don’t have a photographic memory for my citations, but D.G. Hart wrote a book, Deconstructing Evangelicalism. Matter of fact, I was in a doctoral seminar that Dr. Mohler was doing on theological methods and we were going back and forth about throwing the term away, or the usefulness of the term. And you realize that to kind of line up what you were just saying, some Christians, they see the political expediency of that term, they don’t really see any theological or discipleship, necessary commitments to that particular term.

Dr. Smith:
And so I appreciate many times how you have identified that, and I find that many people are just unaware of the vast resources that they have. I was posting that thing on Article 15, the Christian and social engagement, and people were saying, “What is this? Where did this come from?” And I’m like, “Oh, I’m sorry. It’s a statement of faith of your denomination.” And so pastors are just really relying on some interesting resources that number one, I don’t think we can think that they’re anointed by the spirit of God because they certainly aren’t based upon a understanding of the sufficiency of scripture. And I believe in common grace, and I believe in the tools around us in general revelation, but to deny or minimize the tools that God has specifically given his people, I think it puts in a horrible, horrible, horrible position of spiritual weakness.

Dr. Bradley:
Yeah, that’s a fantastic point. I think two things, one we have to be honest about the power of culture. I think we underestimate the extent to which culture drives the way that we read and interpret the scriptures. We believe that we are objective when we read the Bible, but I think we have to be honest to know that our own personal stories, and histories, our family history, the community we grew up in, all those things really do influence how we read the Bible. Which is why we read the Bible in community and have to be accountable to people who can say, “Nope, that’s wrong.”

Dr. Smith:
Yes.

Dr. Bradley:
Right? So I think that’s one thing. The other thing that really speaks to your point, is that today’s Christians don’t know the Christian tradition. So they don’t even use the tools that we have. Protestants have 500 years worth of tools. We are not the first Christians to wrestle with issues of social injustice, poverty, pandemics. This isn’t the first time Christians have had to walk through a pandemic. I mean, we have 500 years worth of resources, and the scriptures, and we don’t use them.

Dr. Smith:
Yes.

Dr. Bradley:
And so the question is, why are we all so ignorant of our own tradition’s resources and why don’t we understand and know about the people in the past who applied those things back then, and why aren’t we learning what they did back then and trying to reapply those things now in 2020. It’s somewhat scandalous to me, it’s really unfortunate. You mentioned weakness, it actually undermines our effectiveness because we’re constantly trying to reinvent the wheel.

Dr. Smith:
Yes.

Dr. Bradley:
We are trying to create new documents about current issues, and it’s just the same cycle of brokenness and sin in the world that God’s people have always been around since Genesis chapter four. And so we have all these resources that we don’t get to use, and so the illustration that I like to use, when I was in high school I had a 1964 and a half Mustang. Okay?

Dr. Smith:
You were the man.

Dr. Bradley:
Okay, now in high school I hung out with the muscle car group. Now, my wasn’t that powerful, it was a straight six, but my friend had a Nova with a 454 double barrel carburetor. And it’s sort of like having a 454 engine and a double-barrel carburetor and only driving 15 miles per hour when the speed limit’s 70. That’s what we’re doing. We’re not even using the full capacity of all the resources that we have, and so one of my frustrations is that Christians, today’s Evangelicals, need to learn about the Christian tradition. They need to learn about what Christians in the past have said about these issues so that we can not reinvent the wheel, but apply the principles, ideas, the wisdom from previous generations to these issues that we have before us today.

Dr. Smith:
Amen. If we’re not doing that, we should not be surprised that our missiological Evangelistic efforts are not fruitful. As a matter of fact, I predict with the indifference and insensitivity towards some of the issues that are going around us, we’ll see more younger black Christians finding themselves towards the historic black denominations, or if not towards denominations that seem to be addressing a holistic approach to being a disciple of Jesus. Like for example that brother, New Testament scholar, Esau McCaulley. There’s going to be some people, like the way in Glory Road, the way the child talked about R.C. Sproul. A generation from now they’ll be like black Anglicans who say, “How’d you become Anglican?” They’ll go, “Essau McCaulley.”

Dr. Smith:
Because people are looking for something that is deeper than like yesterday. And a lot of people have … this is the church my grandmama raised me in and people are looking for something that’s different than that, and that’s how we find quote, unquote, “Evangelicals” finding themselves in orthodox, finding themselves in Roman Catholicism, and finding themselves in Anglicanism.

Dr. Bradley:
Canons of the faith, right? And we often focus exclusively on the theological canon. And we often don’t think about the canons on culture, the canons on the family, the canons on vocation. All of those things are already in the tradition. And so you’re right, what happens? I think people move to traditions that have clearly accessible canons. And one of the things culture and say well, the Evangelicals really lack a sort of codified social canon that a lot of other traditions have. So this is what happens, when the [inaudible 00:18:56] asks a question about justice, where do you send them? Where do you say, “Hey, go read this,”? Well if you’re Catholic, you log onto the Vatican website-

Dr. Smith:
Yeah.

Dr. Bradley:
You put in a topic word and then 20 different 50 page well thought out treatises on the topic pop up.

Dr. Smith:
Yes.

Dr. Bradley:
The Anglican tradition has something very similar as well, and because we have not … I think, I would say it this way, sort of stapled together all of the sort of disparate expressions and wrestling with these issues, the young generations just don’t know that these issues have been addressed and so they go looking for them. And I know this for a fact, that a lot of our Roman Catholic friends use the social teaching canon as a way to pull people out of Evangelicalism. They use it Evangelistically.

Dr. Smith:
Wow.

Dr. Bradley:
Right?

Dr. Smith:
Yeah.

Dr. Bradley:
So if you ask a lot of people, “Why did you convert?” It wasn’t because of the soteriology or something like that, it’s often because they started reading the social teaching canon. They started reading the Book of James stuff.

Dr. Smith:
Yes.

Dr. Bradley:
And they’re looking back at their home church and they’re like, “Well, where’s our document on this?” And there’s nothing there. “Well, the Catholics do.” And then they go to the next door, and then the next door, and then the next door. And then about a year later, two years later, you’re getting an invitation about the first Eucharist.

Dr. Smith:
Yes. Exactly right, oh my goodness. So let me ask you a question. If a pastor is seeing what’s happening right now with the unrest in the United States, and he’s trying to be introduced to some Christian thinking about how to think about the world around us, and we have categories of fallenness, and depravity, and brokenness, those kind of things. Where might you point that brother? In the Baptist setting I usually ask people have they read any of the things that Carl F.H. Henry wrote back in 60s, 70s, those kinds of things. Where would you provide an entryway for a brother to think about the second half of the great commandment, loving your neighbor as yourself?

Dr. Bradley:
Yeah. I’m going to go a little further back into the late 19th century. People may not realize that the church began to apply social teaching in a brand new way in the mid to late 19th century because the West was changing. You had sort of three main currents that were intersecting. You had the rise of the Industrial Era coming into being, was really strong. You had the sort of rise of Marxism as well. You also had the sort of new nations states that were building. Before that it was just simply kings, and queens, and a feudal system. And so with Marxism can atheism. And it was really when the West was introduced to all these new changes that they had to start thinking about the application of the gospel, and Christ, and the church to society because they were now potentially going to be threatened by these new streams.

Dr. Bradley:
And on a Catholic side what you find is that was when Catholic social teaching began with Rerum novarum and Pope Leo XIII, and then encyclical began that on the new things, so there’s a whole Catholic line that began with that, all the way to Pope John Paul II’s encyclicals are very, very helpful if people are really broad. On the Protestant side, it was really the work of Abraham Kuyper in the Netherlands, he was a pastor, a Prime Minister, a theologian who began to make those intersections there.

Dr. Bradley:
And so what I’ve found helpful is to introduce people to some of those late 19th century discussions and let that be the sort of rabbit hole to begin. Kuyper has this book, it’s translated, The Problem of Poverty, that began to sort of think about the ways in which we connect those dots. So Kuyper I’ve found is a really, really good place to start, if you want to go back to when Christians began to think about these issues directly.

Dr. Smith:
I find one of my hurdles … and again, I think which is a reason I think every pastor should have scholar friends that can help them negotiate some disciplines. For example, any time you think of social engagement as a follower of Christ, in my tribe there’s a knee jerk reaction, a group of guys who immediately think you’re talking about Raushenbush, or you’re talking about Washington Gladden, you’re part of the fundamentalist modernist controversy, you’re on the wrong side and you’re like, “I’m just asking you to consider Jesus’ command that we love our neighbor.” And so I find, again, you need a trusted guide through that. And so I do thank you for loving churches, I see many of the affirmations that you give to pastors on social media, I see how you love many of the churches that you are familiar with from your childhood in Atlanta. And it is certainly just my prayer that more pastors would have a cadre or a level of scholars that they can engage and trust about some matters. I mean, if you’re high strung about abortion I would think at some point you would just have some friends that were biologists, and gynecologists, and just people that are hyper-informed about the subject matter that you say you’re so passionate about, other than just kind of superficial level talking points.

Dr. Smith:
And so I value that ministry. I don’t know if you see that as a distinct ministry, but look, brothers scholars are a blessing to the church. I know that sounds medieval, but scholars are a blessing to the church.

Dr. Bradley:
I would add just briefly here that Christians need to practice the skill, or art, or discipline of discernment. Which basically means this, you have permission to read whatever you think is helpful. And you just eat the meat and spit out the bones. Right? It’s like eating ribs out from Georgia. You’ve got the rib, right? You clean it off.

Dr. Smith:
Yes, sir.

Dr. Bradley:
Just the bone. Right? You don’t eat the bone, you just toss it. And so I think a lot of people are afraid of reading outside the tribe. And I’m saying, “No. No, no, no, no. You’ve got the spirit.” Right? Right? Do you really believe in the Trinity?

Dr. Smith:
Amen.

Dr. Bradley:
If you believe in the Trinity, and you believe the spirit is in dwelt, then you are free to read outside the tribe. And that’s what I do. So I read stuff that I know I’m not going to always agree with, but I’m going to take the meat part and anything that’s inconsistent with the presupposition of the Triune God’s existence, I toss it.

Dr. Smith:
Amen. Oh, man. You’re going to get some stuff started on this podcast, brother. I think … that’s the exact truth. I’ve been thankful, my best friend growing up, he was … his father was a COGIC pastor and they were very firm about living a sanctified and separated life in this present age, and it was fascinating to see him engage all kinds of things, and do just what you just said. Eat the meat and spit out the bones. And so I tell you what, I wanted to just kind of engage with you on where we are at this moment, and this moment is June of 2020, and so I thank you for that, Dr. Anthony Bradley. God bless you.

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