Dr. Carl Ellis drew parallels between the failures of the ancient Israelites and some of the weaknesses in church and society today when he spoke at Erskine’s Black History Month convocation Tuesday.
Taking as his scripture text Judges 2:6-19, Ellis focused on the phenomenon of “A Jaded and Disconnected Generation,” described in verse 10 as a generation that does not know the Lord and does not know what the Lord has done for Israel.
The “tragedy of Israel” described in Judges was its failure to pass on the “consciousness of the covenant” to their children, Ellis said, leaving a new generation of Israelites with little defense against the Canaanite ethos that surrounded them.
Similarly, many Christian parents have been lax about teaching the faith to their children. In a society that is disconnected from history, one result of such neglect is that Christian roots of the Civil Rights Movement are sometimes unrecognized.
For example, the Christian theology of suffering appropriated by African Americans as a means of coping with oppression was used “to turn the civil rights struggle into the Civil Rights Movement,” Ellis said. He also noted that the 1960s slogan “Black is beautiful” is really based on the Christian idea of human beings as created in the image of God.
In the postmodern era, we have forgotten who we are, Ellis said. “We resist meta-narrative—the big story,” he said, but it is important to recognize that “The history of any people group has a significant role to play in the economy of God.”
Disconnected from what God has done for us, we reduce God to a system we can manipulate. “All idols are like a bad boyfriend,” Ellis said. “They never deliver what they promise, and eventually they demand everything and deliver nothing.”
Jaded and disconnected from history, we can become easy prey for oppressors, like the generation of Israelites who had forgotten the covenant.
“We need knowledge from history, not just knowledge of history,” Ellis said.
“In our part of the world, we’ve given up on what God has called us to do,” he added.
Ellis urged his audience to recall what God has done, answer God’s call, and reach out across the world “and across the tracks” with the gospel.
The speaker was introduced by Vice President for the Seminary Dr. Chris Wisdom, who became friends with Ellis when both were students at Westminster Theological Seminary in Philadelphia. “For me, he exemplifies what it means to be an African American man in Christ,” Wisdom said.
A member of the faculty at Redeemer Seminary in Dallas, Ellis serves as Associate Pastor for Cultural Apologetics at New City Fellowship in Chattanooga, Tenn., and works with the Center for Urban Theological Studies (C.U.T.S.) at Westminster Theological Seminary in Philadelphia.
Black History Month, often called African American History Month in the United States, offers an opportunity to recognize black Americans in many walks of life who have left an honorable legacy. A link to some reflections on the legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. by Dr. Chris Wisdom, vice president of Erskine Theological Seminary, can be found here. More information about Black History Month is available here.