African American Preaching

Kenyatta R. Gilbert, Chelsea Brooke Yarborough, and Larrin Robertson

This article is a theological analysis of African American preaching as a genre of Christian discourse. After first recognizing the particular influences of African culture, American slavery, other religious traditions, and the role its practitioners have played in defining its traditions and cultural form as sacred speech, this article explores its nature, function, and scope, and gives a brief genealogical account of African American preaching in North America. Following this historical treatment, this article discusses contrastive hermeneutical perspectives on biblical interpretation, theological emphases (e.g. God, salvation, eschatology, suffering, human freedom, etc.) privileged by its practitioners, and then details rhetorical approaches germane to its communal influence, social relevance, and theological shaping within contexts of Black religious life and beyond. As a theo-rhetorical discourse esteemed for its persistent calls for justice, ecclesiastical reform, spiritual redemption, and moral and ethical responsibility, this article will also consider contemporary trends, theories, and innovations on the horizon in African American homiletic theory and practice.

Table of contents

1 Historical origins

As a cultural form of sacred discourse, African American preaching in North America, historically and contemporarily, has been esteemed for its aesthetic richness, persistent calls for justice, ecclesiastical reform, moral and ethical responsibility, spiritual redemption, and transformation. Identifying its rhetorical features and sociofunctional dynamics, exploring issues and challenges that have had an effect on its development and advancement, describing the role its practitioners and theorists have played in defining its traditions and examining its theological underpinnings, communal influence, and social relevance (both within Black religious life and beyond its perceived borders) are fundamental commitments that have been central to establishing its nomenclature as a specific genre of Christian preaching. Readers will note that instead of the exclusive usage of the term African American preaching, to avoid oversimplification and with respect for differences in modal expressions and theological orientations, Black scholars have begun to use the terminology ‘African American preaching traditions’ or ‘Black preaching traditions’, as is used in this article.

Before exploring the particular influence of African enslavement on the development of African American preaching in colonial North America, it is critical to recognize first that the historical origins of African American cultural communication are rooted in Africa, specifically in the cultural rituals and religious practices indigenous to West Africa.

1.1 African cultural retentions

The spiritual heritage of African American preaching is linked to Africana spiritual practices and the vital role these practices play in reinforcing cultural remembrance (anamnesis), shaping cultural identity, and sustaining the lives of practitioners and hearers of preaching. This patrimonial touchpoint is of paramount significance for arriving at an understanding of this genre of sacred discourse. Notable here is the classic debate between white anthropologist Melville Herskovits and famed Black sociologist E. Franklin Frazier, which focused on African cultural retentions, i.e. whether the provocations of the transatlantic slave trade and subsequent chattel enslavement of Black people in the American colonies had enduring effects on religio-cultural practices. Herskovitz argued that there was evidence of African cultural forms among Black people that persisted through slavery, and these forms served to differentiate African American culture from European American cultural forms. Frazier disagreed with Herskovits’ thesis and argued that there were few, if any, remnants of African culture in the United States. The distressing effects of slavery that were set in motion, argued Frazier, posed irreparable ruptures that have challenged the cohesion of African American family systems in North America to this day. The most obvious evidence of cultural survivals in the colonies, however, were the drumming codes, which outlawed the use of percussive instruments. The widespread practice of African priest-doctors using homeopathic medicine, even on white patients, further supports Herkovits’ retention claim (Opoku 1976: 74–76). One might also consider as evidence of African cultural carryover the Gullah dialect, an African-based grammar of the African Akan language heard in various parts of South Carolina.

1.2 West African religious traditions and ontological systems

The religious sensibilities and deep resonance with the primal, clan-oriented, monotheistic (if operationally polytheistic) religions of Africa were not vanquished but transformed, taking on new forms, in continental America. Black people did not use Christianity, as white people first introduced it to them, without making certain substantive changes that took into consideration their oppressive condition and other contextual factors. According to Gayraud Wilmore, the religion of the enslaved African was a ‘tertium quid’, a collision of worlds, ‘something less and something more than what is generally regarded as Christianity’ (Wilmore 1998: 24–25, 36). Whether manifested in singing, dancing, speaking in tongues, or in preaching in rural, urban, or suburban African American congregations or storefronts, descendants of enslaved Africans carved out a liberating space for creative expression in Christian worship practices. A seeming lack of concern for doctrinal fidelity to accepted standards normed by Eurocentric Christian worship practices during slavery was not due to a void of theological and moral content in their own West African religious traditions and ontological systems. Rather, their perceived duality revealed that the African’s sacred cosmology – belief in a supreme creator who presides over a pantheon of deities, governs connections between the living and deceased, and orders the spirit world – required no explicit translation in the West. The belief systems of African traditional religious doctrines were not subsumed into the selective canon that white enslavers taught Africans. But closely related to and merged with the orthodox Christian faith were beliefs that did not have to be learned, such as the omnipotence, omniscience, justice, and providence of the Supreme God. The Yoruba peoples’ deity ‘Oludumare’, for example, meant ‘God, the Omnipotent’. A ‘bureaucratic monotheism’, not polytheism, as assumed, more aptly describes African traditional religion (Imasogie 1973: 289). Like the cosmological picture of emissaries working in concert and under the aegis of the Supreme God in a divine council as depicted in the Hebrew Scriptures, the African’s one distant High God held superintendency of many deputy or intermediary deities who performed varied assignments on earth (Imasogie 1973: 289).

In contrast to Western culture’s theological formations, logics of empire, and the erected boundaries of the sacred as ideologically advanced, curated, and codified by Europeans and Anglo-Americans, in slave society the Africans’ Black bodies – not parchment – became sacred texts. The mutilation of the Black body by the white enslavers’ violent practices of flagellation and ritual lynchings correlated with the torture of the crucified Jesus. In viewing the body as a sacred text, the revelation of God to Africans took on a radically different meaning in contrast to the African’s white counterparts. Unlike the brand of Christianity packaged to further a white settler colonial agenda, cosmologically speaking African traditional religions had no missionaries or preachers proselytizing a culture. In actuality, traditional religions are not universal but tribal and national, bound and limited to whom they have evolved. (Olupona 2001) In terms of Christian orthodoxy, theologically and conceptually, Jesus, hell, and the Bible were the only major aspects new to Africans. African American Christians, Henry Mitchell writes, embraced a positive picture of Jesus as the Son of God, a sharer in their oppression, and the ideal path to reconciliation with the High God who was believed remote in Africa. Moreover, the distance between a supreme deity and humanity was not believed to be caused by original sin but was tied to beliefs about divine transcendence or ineffability (Mitchell 2004: 19). Three intermediary entities bridged the divine and human relationship: living dead ancestors; the divinely ordained bureaucracy of sub-deities (for whom memorials were occasionally erected); and supportive social structures tied to the nuclear family, recognized elders, and village chiefs, all of whom were answerable to the High God. The Akans’ view of Asantehene, the name of the supreme deity in this tradition, is accorded such status in their social world (Opoku 1976: 33). Arguably, enslavement in the colonies nearly obliterated this social infrastructure.

In terms of Christian doctrine, for Africans, the belief in the afterlife and the ‘living dead’ is prefigured into their spiritual imaginations. The emphasis on the good news of the gospel is not placed on resurrection but on incarnation-God being with us in the person of Jesus. The doctrine of hell was another new aspect found in Christianity. Eternal hell did not figure into the African’s traditional belief system. Rather, tribal punishment in earthly life was permanent banishment, and if the sin was egregious enough, beyond cessation of community membership the perpetrator’s human-beingness was, in effect, culturally nullified. Relatedly, when enslaved Africans saw that their slave owners seemed to die peaceful deaths despite their cruelty, they did believe that they would receive the full measure of divine justice in the afterlife. Another new element was the affirmation of the Bible as the Word of God. Proverbs, tales, and songs informed their sacred wisdom which was passed on through oral tradition. Because original tribes were divided and dispersed, provoking family separations in the colonies, and the imposition of English into the enslaved Africans’ language structures, much of what was orally preserved in African traditional belief systems dissolved. From the Bible, what occupied the religious imaginations of African American Christians were Moses and Jesus, liberation exemplars who, in the development of Christian faith identity, represented a counterpoise to white Christianity’s use of the Christian Bible as a tool that endorsed their slave status. Because literacy was forbidden and memory was the principal access point to the Holy Scriptures, in some Black churches reciting and interpreting large passages of scripture – which many illiterate enslaved persons had done – is still an encouraged practice. Current controversies concerning biblical inerrancy are a Eurocentric cultural import not indigenous to African American traditions (Mitchell 2004: 20–21). Historically, without the defenders of biblical fundamentalism who have promoted rigid notions of authority and truth tied to literal print, the Bible’s authority and the way truth was handed on came through storied cultural modes deploying biblical language. Powerful truths from the authority of scripture were prefixed and commonly shared in this manner: ‘My grandmother used to say that God is love and everyone who loves is born of God and knows God. Whoever does not love does not know God, for God is love’ (1 John 4:7–8).

1.3 African orality

African orality is best defined by its communal character, ethical concern, and search for the good. The religious and spiritual commitments emanating from the African continent are quite diverse, but, in terms of rhetorical approaches, eloquence carried an ethics-centred function above all else. For example, the ethical teachings of the Odu Ifa, the sacred text of the Yoruba peoples, teach that human beings are divinely chosen to bring good into the world. The integration of four socioethical concerns informed by African sacred cosmology has brought coherence to African American communicative practice tradition: (1) respect for the dignity and rights of human beings; (2) focus on the well-being and flourishing of family and community; (3) expressed concern about the integrity and value of the environment, and (4) emphasis on reciprocal solidarity and cooperation for the mutual benefit of humanity (Karenga 2003: 14–20).

1.4 The Muntu and cultural signatures

In various parts of Africa, the poet is called a muntu, which among other designations means ‘prophet’. Words were spoken by the muntu to transform things into ‘forces of meaning, symbols, and images’. The muntu’s evocative and creative expression of African rhetoric is defined as nommo – the sacred power of the spoken word to call the world into being and to create and generate reality. Through the African poet, it was believed that God spoke and that what was spoken established the cosmic order. Everything comes into being through the voice, and according to Molefi Kete Asante, ‘the contemporary African preacher in the African American church is probably the best example of the power of nommo’ (Asante 1998: 30). The Christian preacher’s deference to the authority of the Bible as the revealed Word of God is distinct, however, since, from the beginning, the word is with the muntu (Alkebulan 2003: 29).

Numerous cultural signatures – rhythmic cadence, intoning, whooping (pronounced hooping), measured speech, use of metaphor, word picture, playfulness, and gravity – have been retained in certain quarters of Black religious practice. The earliest Black preachers were former African priests and religious specialists (medicine men and conjurers) who operated as diviners and seers, interpreting significant events; as exhorters and pastors rallying the community to unite around common causes; and as charismatic, messianic figures, provoking Black resentment against the oppressive conditions to which they were subjected (Genovese 1976: 255). In assuming these specific roles and responsibilities, the earliest Black preachers emerged as framers and innovators of an indigenous Christianity formed as a result of its diversity of influences – specifically, and foremost, the combination of primordial African culture with the social and religious dynamics of Anglocentric evangelical Christianity.

1.5 Developmental phases in the United States (seven phases)

In tracing the origins of African American preaching, its developmental phases, and the advancement of the African American preacher, what follows is a brief outline of six historical phases – Colonial North America, Revival Period, Reconstruction, Great Migration, Civil Rights, and Post-Civil Rights. It is historically incontrovertible that exponential changes in Black preaching occurred from slavery to Reconstruction (i.e. such advancements relating to literacy, licensing, abolition, and the rise of independent churches), although less research has been done on subsequent phases, which are in some ways less dramatic but are given greater attention.

1.5.1 Colonial North America period (1700–1740)

The majority of enslaved Africans in the English colonies wanted to hear from their own Black preachers, despite their alleged inferiority. But, under the constant threat of death, the survival ethic of enslaved preachers diminished any attempt to challenge the status quo prophetically or publicly in any sustained manner. So, outside the formal structures of the institutional church, unofficial prayer meetings and illicit worship services, held in the brush out of the public view, became the critical forum that expanded the influence of the enslaved preacher. As early as the nineteenth-century Black sermons exhibited a definite power and distinctiveness because, in homiletic practice, they were fashioned to speak fittingly to the social, psychological, and spiritual needs of Black people.

1.5.2 Revival period (1744–1822)

The religious revivalism of the Great Awakening of the eighteenth century brought to America a Bible-centred brand of Christianity – evangelicalism – that dominated the religious landscape by the early nineteenth century. Evangelicals emphasized a ‘personal relationship’ with God through Jesus Christ. This new movement made Christianity more accessible, and livelier, without overtaxing educational demands. Africans converted to Christianity in large numbers during the revivals, and most became Baptists and Methodists. With fewer educational restrictions placed on them, Black preachers emerged in the period as preachers and teachers, despite their slave status. Africans viewed the revivals as a way to reclaim some of the remnants of African culture in a strange new world. They incorporated and adopted religious symbols into a new cultural system with relative ease. The itinerant preacher and traveling companion of Bishop Asbury, Reverend Harry Hoosier, also known as Black Harry, was among the earliest and most widely known Black preachers. Hoosier preached from 1784 until his death in 1810 (Mitchell 1990: 25–26). Black Methodist denominational founders such as Richard Allen and Absalom Jones scored legal victories in the period over a series of racial discrimination occurrences, which resulted in Allen becoming the first Bishop of the African Methodist Episcopal Church. In 1791, Reverend Absalom Jones founded the African Episcopal Church (AME) in Philadelphia, and later became the first African American to be ordained as a priest in the Episcopal Church. A Methodist woman simply known as Elizabeth was the earliest Black female preacher (see section 4). Another prominent Black female cleric in the period was Rev. Jarena Lee who is known to be the first AME woman preacher (1783).

1.5.3 Reconstruction period (1865–1900)

Despite the development of Black preachers and the significant social and religious advancements of Black people during this period of revival, Reconstruction – the process of rebuilding the South soon after the Civil War – posed numerous challenges for white slaveholders, who resented the political advancement of newly freed Africans. As independent Black churches proliferated in Reconstruction America, Black ministers preached to their own. Some became bi-vocational. It was not out of the norm to find pastors who led congregations on Sunday and held jobs as school teachers and administrators during the workweek. Whether the Black minister was anchored in southern folk preaching traditions, holding Black plantation dwellers under their sway with magnetizing oral formulas – like the unlettered Black Baptist cleric John Jasper – or lived in the North as did Alexander Crummell and Francis Grimke, Black clerics serving predominately white denominations had in their sermons (according to LaRue 2000: 30–31) a distinctive central component – the perception of a God who acts mightily on the behalf of Black people.

Others held important political positions. Altogether, sixteen African Americans served in the US Congress during Reconstruction. For example, South Carolina’s House of Representatives’ Richard Harvey Cain, who attended Wilberforce University, the first private Black American university, served in the 43rd and 45th Congresses and as pastor of a series of African Methodist churches. Others, such as former bondsperson and Methodist minister and educator Hiram Rhoades Revels, or Henry McNeal Turner, shared similar profiles. Revels was a preacher who became America’s first African American senator. Turner was appointed as a chaplain in the Union Army by President Abraham Lincoln. To address the myriad problems and concerns of Black people in this era, Black preachers discovered that congregations expected them not only to guide worship but also to be the community’s lead informant in the public square.

1.5.4 Great Migration period (1916–1940)

Such tide-swelling events, with a multiplier effect, ushered in the largest internal movement of people on American soil, the Great ‘Black’ Migration. Between 1916 and 1918, an average of five hundred southern migrants a day departed the South. More than 1.5 million relocated to northern communities between 1916 and 1940. A watershed, the Great Migration brought about contrasting expectations concerning the mission and identity of the African American church. The infrastructure of Northern Black churches was unprepared to deal with the migration’s distressing effects. Its suddenness and size overwhelmed pre-existing operations.

The immense suffering brought on by the Great Migration, and the racial hatred they had escaped, drove many Black clergy to reflect more deeply on the meaning of freedom and oppression. Black preachers refused to believe that the Christian gospel and discrimination were compatible. However, Black preachers seldom modified their preaching strategies. Rather than establishing centres for Black self-improvement (e.g. job training, home economics classes, and libraries), nearly all southern Black preachers who came North continued to offer priestly sermons that exalted the virtues of humility, goodwill, and patience, as they had in the South.

Three clergy outliers – one a woman – are representative of a few Black northern clergy who initiated change. These three pastors were particularly inventive in the way they approached their preaching task. Baptist pastor Adam C. Powell Sr, the African Methodist Episcopal Zion Church (AMEZ) pastor Florence S. Randolph, and the African Methodist Episcopal (AME) bishop Reverdy C. Ransom spoke to human tragedy, both in and out of the Black church. They brought a distinctive form of prophetic preaching that united spiritual transformation with social reform and confronted Black dehumanization. Bishop Ransom’s discontentment arose while preaching to Chicago’s ‘silk-stocking church’, Bethel AME – the elite church – which had no desire to welcome the poor and jobless masses that came to the North. He left and began the Institutional Church and Social Settlement, which combined worship and social services.

Randolph and Powell synthesized their roles as preachers and social reformers. Randolph brought into her prophetic vision her tasks as a preacher, missionary, organizer, suffragist, and pastor. Powell became pastor at the historic Abyssinian Baptist Church in Harlem. In that role, he led the congregation to establish a community house and nursing home to meet the political, religious, and social needs of those who migrated north. The preaching tradition that these early clergy fashioned would have a profound impact on Dr Martin Luther King Jr’s moral and ethical vision.

1.5.5 Civil Rights period (1940–1964)

Martin L. King Jr, a skilled orator, and twenty-six-year Baptist minister and PhD, rose to national attention following the Montgomery, Alabama Bus Boycott of 1955–1956. His preaching carried a sense of moral authority infused with a social justice agenda. Challenging the worth of an American democracy that racially and economically disenfranchised its African American citizenry, King, using Christian symbols and discourse in various settings, exposed the nation’s hypocrisy and unwillingness to become a just society for all persons in pursuit of Beloved Community. A Walter Rauschenbusch devotee, inspired by the life and philosophy of Mahatma Gandhi, King skilfully merged social activism with Christian ethics. Not all African American clergy supported King’s vision or endorsed his homiletical strategies. A philosophical and theological conflict between King and J. H. Jackson, the celebrated preacher, and president of the National Baptist Convention USA, transpired. Jackson thought his conservative stance concerning racial justice and uplift was more in keeping with the democratic ideals of the US Constitution. For him, King’s protest strategy was too radical and would be counterproductive to African American social advancement.

Also notable is that Muslim leader Malcolm X’s more militant tactics for achieving Black freedom ‘by any means necessary’ countervailed the momentum of King’s Black clergy-led nonviolent passive-resistance method. The increasing politicization of Black preachers was a key development of the period. In New York City alone, other Black Baptist preachers of world renown were U.S. Congressman and pastor of the historic Abyssinian Baptist Church of Harlem, Adam Clayton Powell Jr, Sandy F. Ray, Samuel D. Proctor, William Augustus Jones, and Gardner C. Taylor of Brooklyn (who was regarded as one of the greatest preachers in the English-speaking world). Native Floridian and Baptist mystic and theologian Howard Thurman’s pulpit work manifested in contemplative forms of Black preaching. In 1953, Life magazine named Thurman as one of twelve great preachers of the century. Representative Black leaders whose ministries catapulted them to the national stage in the era are Methodist minister James Lawson, a leading tactician of the nonviolent direct-action campaign, actively mentored participants in the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee; Presbyterian minister Elder Hawkins was the first African American male moderator of the United Presbyterian Church USA; and Holiness-Pentecostal minister Bishop J.O. Patterson Sr. Among the more traditional Black Protestant preachers were divergent religious counterparts such as George Baker Jr (Father Divine), founder of the United House of Prayer, Charles ‘Sweet Daddy’ Grace, and New Orleans-native Chicago pastor Mother Leafy Anderson enjoyed a legion of followers from the Great Migration period through the Civil Rights period.

1.5.6 Post-Civil Rights period (1975–1999)

Based on the significant inroads made in the Civil Rights Movement, religious leaders such as Jesse Jackson Sr, Wyatt T. Walker, Otis Moss Jr, C.L. Franklin, Prathia Hall, John Lewis, Andrew Young, and non-clerical leaders like Diane Nash, Ella Baker, and Hosea Williams, emerged to prominence in the post-civil rights era. Preachers such as Baptists Charles Booth, Marvin McMickle, Michael Eric Dyson, Gina Stewart, Ralph D. West Sr, Al Sharpton, Frederick Haynes III, Marcus Cosby, and Cheryl J. Sanders (Church of God), Katie Geneva Cannon (PCUSA), Jeremiah Wright (UCC), and the first female bishop of the AME denomination, Vashti McKenzie, are representative of other distinguished Black clerics in this period.

A more pronounced expectation of political activism and spiritual leadership became the self-identity of the Black preacher. The period drove many Black people to theological schools to wrestle with questions surrounding race and justice. Theologians James Cone and J. Deotis Roberts’ work established nomenclature to discuss theology in terms of Black racial and social identity in light of the gross neglect of justice and foundationalist views of white theology. Coterminously, African American homiletician Henry H. Mitchell emerged as the academic progenitor of Black homiletic theory.

Before the early 1970s, the academic study of African American preaching was minimal. Influence of apprenticeship models for learning, rather than formal homiletics classes, predominated Black church traditions. Few scholars paid serious attention to the complexities of African American preaching modes because of Western intellectual bias and religious stereotyping. Distrust of emotionalism, preoccupation with logics of rationalism, and the notion that the performed African American sermon lacked examinable philosophical traits for a reasoned study, disinclined European American scholars to take seriously the profound contributions African Americans have made to the development of American preaching and the Christian tradition at large.

1.5.7 Postmodern period (2000–present)

A new generation of African American preachers has emerged, making important strides to address the blighting of hope in Black churches and communities. Senator Raphael Warnock, Leslie Callahan, George Parks Jr, Otis Moss III, William Lamar IV, Howard John Wesley, Willie D. Francois III, Danielle Brown, and Raquel Lettsome have served in historic and vibrant congregations. Unharnassed by exacting religio-cultural constrictions present in local churches, homiletics scholar Luke Powery and social ethicist Jonathan Walton, both African Americans, lead predominately White university and seminary chapel congregations, Duke University Chapel and Princeton Theological Seminary Chapel. Homiletician Neichelle Guidry serves as Dean of Chapel at the historic Black women’s college, Spelman.

Shifting social and cultural dynamics influenced by gentrification, economic uncertainty, political turmoil, social reckonings, and technological advances characterize the environment for preaching in this era. Megachurch

An unintended result of civil rights era gains was increased individualism and the appeal of commerce and consumption. In this milieu, mega-churches grew in popularity as a religious community model in Black church life, and their pastors were viewed as CEO of the church-as-enterprise. In this model, pastors became senior or lead pastors supported by paid and volunteer staff as executive pastors and pastors for children, women, men, and community engagement or missions. Attention is given to attendee experience and meeting the needs of increasingly non-urban ministry contexts. Sermons grouped in themed series are normalized to encourage consistent attendance and lessen the demands of preaching in multiple services each week. Theologically and spiritually balanced pastoral preaching sees the reaffirmation of the prophetic community witness of the African American church while also promoting personal piety, financial stewardship, and relational wellness. Prosperity and New Thought preaching

Influenced by the teaching of white preachers Essick William Kenyon, and later Kenneth E. Hagin and Oral Roberts, African American prosperity preachers became indoctrinated into the Word of Faith movement, popularizing Roberts’ ‘divine economy’ in African American churches (Cf. Mumford 2012). Postmodern prosperity gospelers and New Thought preachers have adopted similar personae and the Black hermeneutics of forerunners such as Rev. Johnnie Colemon, and Frederick J. Eikerenkoetter II (‘Rev. Ike’) but have not sustained the social and communal character of their predecessors. In this preaching milieu, human speech is an act of faith that necessitates God’s affirmative and tangible responses. Proof-texting supports sermonic themes intended to make the believer righteous as a means of becoming healthy and wealthy. Social crisis preaching

A generation removed from Kelly Miller Smith identifying an apprehension about the relationship between social crises and preaching, new instances of mass trauma in America laid the groundwork for renewed conversation. Terrorist attacks, a prolonged war, instances of racialized and gender violence, the collapse of the financial and housing markets, and school shootings refreshed the search for ‘a word from the Lord’. In this context, African American preaching promotes the embrace, healing, and restoration of voiceless and victimized persons and communities. Moreover, in times of social crisis, as Edgar ‘Trey’ Clark III notes, the ‘dialectics of lament and celebration, particularity and universality, and word and deed’ often frame social crisis preaching on the terms of protesters who testify and witness publicly (Clark 2021: 50). Thus, social crisis preaching may or may not occur in a traditional pulpit. No matter the platform, social crisis preaching is prophetic, pastoral, and public-facing in varying degrees. Conferences

Mentoring and networking opportunities emerged outside of religious denominational bodies, fostering space for scholars and practitioners to explore emerging homiletical, theological, and social trends impacting African American preaching and lived experiences. Since the dawn of the twentieth century, these conferences include E. K. Bailey International Conference on Expository Preaching (1996), the Samuel DeWitt Proctor Conference, Inc. (2003), the Women in Ministry Conference, Inc. (2005), Woman Preach! Inc. (2010), and the Mixed Methods Conference (2019). Technological advances

Emerging technologies created new public squares as churches live-streamed worship and developed sermon repositories on social media outlets. With the advent and progressive improvement of technological platforms came new opportunities to reach and grow audiences, and to form communities around acts of proclamation. This created avenues to image and acknowledge persons and voices previously prohibited in traditional spaces. As Melva Sampson reflects: ‘Digital media coupled with cognitive agency humanizes and authorizes experiences that traditional religious and academic spaces have not fully acknowledged’ (Sampson 2019). Within African American communities, technological advances amplified the voice of women, as well as queer and non-binary persons, while expanding the palate of the Black preaching tradition.

Stylistically, the onset of COVID-19 ushered in new ways to experience Black preaching on platforms such as Zoom, Facebook Live, YouTube, Vimeo, and Instagram. On most platforms, audible feedback was replaced by visual signals, or emojis, as a form of call-and-response and communal agreement. Sermonic celebrations continued to inform shared experiences, even as such celebrations occurred in isolation as individual expressions.

2 African American preaching and biblical interpretation

2.1 Uses of scripture and domains of the Black-lived experience

A predominant interpretive strategy at the heart of African American preaching and the African American preacher’s engagement with, construal of, and functional use of the Bible is a certain conception and expectation of the divine, especially as revealed in the person of Jesus Christ. Cleophus J. LaRue maintains that there are four components at the heart of African American preaching: God, the scriptures, the preacher, and the Black-lived experience (LaRue 2007: 64). These components serve as a basis for formulating theological perspectives on topics such as ethics, morality, congregational care, justice, spirituality, and cultural identity. In proclamatory discourse and religious instruction, the Black preacher as textual exegete has historically sought to convey a conception of a God who is wholly sovereign, manifestly powerful, and incarnationally present in the lives of their listeners. With Black clerics’ high regard for scripture, notes LaRue, the Bible serves as the ‘leading force in shaping the content and purpose of the sermon’ and thus holds ‘a central place in the religious life of black Americans’ and ‘is the single most important source of language, imagery, and story for the sermon’ (LaRue 2007: 66). LaRue further maintains that Black preaching is formed, reflected upon, and organized through five ‘domains of experience’ that provide a descriptive vehicle for categorizing broad areas of Black lived experiences, and create a resource-bank for ideas for sermon content. The first domain is personal piety. Sermons emanating from this domain strongly cohere with the tenets of American evangelicalism. Sermons birthed in the care of the soul domain tend to focus on pastoral care matters – the health and wellness of individuals, and encouragement to bereaved families – and are usually prescriptive in nature. The social justice domain is the realm where matters pertaining to local and national public policy, issues of race, classism, and gender equity are of central concern. Sermons originating in the corporate concerns domain raise concerns about more specific crisis issues of the community such as violence in inner cities, wealth and educational disparity among Blacks and their white racial counterparts, Black incarceration and recidivism, and health conditions such as heart disease, diabetes, cancer, and health epidemics such as HIV/AIDS and COVID-19. Finally, the maintenance of the institutional church domain is characterized by an emphasis on the ecclesiastical or cultic life of congregations. Sermons growing out of this domain have a principal concern with matters such as church growth and building projects, financial stewardship, religious education, and missions. Conceived as the Word of God, the Bible has played a critical role within the communal experience of African American Christians and has been central to the formation and sociofunctional identity of Black preachers (LaRue 2007: 68–71).

2.2 Hermeneutical perspectives

Institutionalized in the fabric of antebellum America, slavery received theological justification from biblical interpretations that privileged oppression by assuming inerrancy. With the power to name it as fundamentalism, slaveholders sanctioned the content of public sermons preached to enslaved African Americans, thus the materials for interpretation were also sanctioned. Still, with a historical acceptance of the Bible as the sourcebook of divine inspiration, African American biblicism rejects oppressive interpretations by privileging liberation as a theological construct for interpretation. The earliest encounters with the Bible outside of the direct purview of white supervision occurred during the spawning of independent Black Methodist, Baptist, and Pentecostal churches, first beginning with the independence achieved by the African Methodist Episcopal (AME) church. For early readers emerging from these communities, preachers and congregants seldom challenged the veracity of scripture but took exception with readings and interpretive decisions used to deny their humanity. Notably, instead of any strict reliance on systematic theoretical formulations for biblical interpretation, in many Black Christian communities an informed understanding of basic principles and convictions has historically framed hermeneutical approaches. They are (1) the Bible is seen as a diverse collection of sacred books that reveal a coherent story of salvation history; (2) the authorial provenance of scripture is rooted in God and ascribed immediacy and force in some direct manner despite the Bible’s diversity of human contributors; (3) the voice of God can be heard from the Bible when one is spiritually attuned to what its witness attested about the divine and human relationship; and finally, (4) often held are certain presuppositions about divine intent and what it means to be addressed by a God who acts in history and who champions the cause of cultural groups that are socioeconomically oppressed and politically disenfranchised (LaRue 2007: 66–67).

2.2.1 Preaching negotiations and the Hebrew and Christian scriptures

Increasingly, Black postmodern perspectives on biblical interpretation have begun to challenge communal uses of the Bible when it is seen as having unquestionable authority, specifically when used to silence critical voices and prohibit the full inclusion of individuals within a community (Thompson 2018: 64). When militarism, genocide, xenophobia, and ethnocentricism find divine endorsement in the conquest narratives, for example, or relegate women and others to subservient status, Black postmodern interpreters often read against these scriptural texts or question their appropriateness for contemporary use. When preaching from the Hebrew Scriptures, the Gospels, epistolary correspondences, or apocalyptic texts, passage selection, understanding of the genre and history of the text, plot sequence and movement, and assessment of the rhetorical situation (Bitzer 1999: 217, 220), contemporary relevance, intertestamental correspondence, the pairing of scriptural exegesis with imagination, and addressing theological problems the selected passages or book present become consequential to sermon creation and development. In postmodern contexts, having a high degree of interreligious contact and social engagement, expansionist views bring a challenge to provincial, parochial, and dogmatic interpretations of the Bible.

The Black community’s relationship with the Bible is complex, and paradigms of interpretive practice move on a continuum of radical biblicism and textual inerrancy on one end and strategies for reading against problematic passages with a hermeneutics of suspicion and deconstructivist hermeneutical criticism on the other.

3 Schools and conceptual orientations of Black homiletic theory

Homiletic theory is an integration of theology and method in Christian preaching. The homiletic theory literature on African American preaching, particularly in the last four decades, has unfolded in three moderately distinct, but interrelated, conceptual orientations: (1) rhetorical-poetical; (2) biblical-hermeneutical; and (3) practical-pastoral theological.

3.1 Rhetorical-poetical and representative works

The rhetorical-poetical school is devoted primarily to oral creativity and performance in preaching and places a strong emphasis on how the Christian scriptures (Word of God) become an event experienced through the Holy Spirit’s power in the speech act. The personality of the preacher, style of delivery, use of illustrations, and attention to sermon form tend to be the reflective academic focus.

Evans E. Crawford Jr’s The Hum: Call and Response in African American Preaching (1995) focuses on the indigenous oral/aural practice of ‘call-and-response’. Crawford maintains that the oral traditions of ‘folk art’ preaching take seriously the connective dynamics among preacher, sermon, and community. Gerald Davis’ work I Got the Word in Me and I Can Sing it, You Know: A Study of the Performed African American Sermon (1985), is an important study of the narrative organizational structure of the performed sermon. Davis argues that African American preachers generally can be considered ‘fundamentalist’ because of the way they structure sermons in performance. Henry Mitchell’s Black Preaching: The Recovery of a Powerful Art (1990) is an outgrowth of two separate works, Black Preaching (1970), and The Recovery of Preaching (1977), based on his 1974 Lyman Beecher Lectures at Yale Divinity School. This landmark text in Black homiletics explores the unique role of preaching in African American culture and is primarily focused on the performative-aesthetical dimension of Black preaching as oral folk art. Teresa Fry Brown’s concise volume on speech communication in homiletics, Delivering the Sermon: Voice, Body, and Animation in Proclamation (2008) combines research in communications, speech pathology, and homiletics with her own experience as a speech-language pathologist.

3.2 Biblical-hermeneutical and representative works

Biblical-hermeneutical school theorists within this framework tend to form two streams. A few theorists have come into the field with dual-disciplinary proficiency, for example, pairing biblical studies with homiletics. They ask how the exegetical process is central to developing sermon content. Others reflect primarily on how scripture and Christian tradition are used within liturgical contexts.

Brad Braxton gives readers a window into the apostle Paul’s profile as a missionary itinerant preacher in Preaching Paul (2004). He explores Paul’s correspondences to the churches he established in the Graeco-Roman world, and names them preachable documents. He closely reads the biblical text for homiletical, biblical, and theological clues that may provide useful and constructive ways to share Paul’s gospel message in the postmodern period. The first words in James A. Forbes Jr’s book The Holy Spirit and Preaching (1989) state: ‘The person who preaches the gospel makes a statement about the Holy Spirit just by entering the pulpit’. This book, based on his 1986 Lyman Beecher Lectures at Yale, attempts to bring into focus the role of the Holy Spirit’s anointing on the preachers and the preacher’s message. Forbes addresses how spiritual formation should cohere with the preacher’s sermon preparation. Cleophus J. LaRue Jr’s volume, The Heart of Black Preaching (2000), draws on David Kelsey’s theological framework. LaRue searches for a hermeneutic that will serve as a ‘master lens’ or template for analysing the distinctiveness of Black preaching.

3.3 Practical-pastoral theological and representative works

The practical-pastoral theological school’s theorists focus is, generally, an interdisciplinary one, asking questions about why theological beliefs, practices, and guiding norms are so central to preaching.

Dale C. Andrews’ homiletic interprets the estrangement of Black theology from early and contemporary modes of African American folk religion. His ecclesiological analysis of preaching and pastoral care offers insight into four biblical tenets of faith identity that serve as guiding norms for a comprehensive model of ecclesiology. First, faith identity is rooted in the doctrine of creation and the concept of imago Dei. Second, the development of faith identity in Black churches has traditionally invested symbolic significance in the exodus narrative. The third tenet tied to the development of faith identity focuses on the redemptive nature of the sufferings of Christ and the importance of conversion. Lastly, eschatology and the kingdom or reigndom of God bring these four tenets to a crown (Andrews 2002: 40–44).

Gennifer Brooks’ Good News Preaching: Offering the Gospel in Every Sermon (2009) offers seminarians and working preachers practical strategies for biblical preaching, specifically, how to keep the good news of the gospel of Jesus Christ at the centre of the sermon. Brooks believes that good news preaching requires good ‘homiletical exegesis’ – remaining attentive to the gospel preached, the biblical text or topic under consideration, and the manifold needs of an awaiting congregation.

The Journey and Promise of African American Preaching (2011), Kenyatta R. Gilbert’s practical theology homiletics text, analyses the biblical, theological, and sociocultural elements appearing in African American preaching in North America. Apart from its critique of contemporary homiletics, the book asserts that the survival of both Black churches and African America at large is tied to preachers recovering a trivocal approach to preaching that incorporates the scriptural voices of the prophet, priest, and sage: three distinctive hallmarks of the African American pulpit. This work is a constructive effort to examine the historical contributions of African American preaching, the challenges it faces today, and how it might become a renewed source of healing and strength for at-risk communities and churches.

4 Black women preachers

Black women have been preaching far beyond their formal affirmation in the male-dominated space of the pulpit. Unfortunately, Black women continue to be relegated to subordinate roles in African American churches because of gender bias and hard-line commitment to patriarchal practices. Despite these barriers, Black women have carved out liberating spaces for their voices to be heard. Black women homileticians and rhetoricians such as Lisa L. Thompson and Teresa Fry Brown have produced theoretical works focusing specifically on Black women, to locate and foreground their homiletical practices, such as ingenuity: Preaching as an Outsider and Weary Throats and New Songs: Black Women Preaching God’s Word. To avoid the risk of flattening Black women preachers’ voices into a singular identity, Thompson's work ingenuity represents an important examination of the range of Black women’s experiences and biblical reading strategies.

Black women have been clear that even with their exclusion from the pulpit, their modes of homiletical proclamation continue to emerge across kitchen tables, in Sunday school classes, and during testimony periods in worship services, even if a select few have found their way into formal pulpits. Pioneering preachers such as Jarena Lee and Zilpha Elaw preached in response to God’s call on their lives before any formal governing body affirmed their vocational calling. Chante Haywood asserts that Black women’s sense of call was not often affirmed by formal bodies, so they received their affirmation from God and the Holy Spirit directly and used that as fuel to preach even in the face of adversity and rejection (Haywood 2003) Teresa Fry Brown centres the lived experiences of Black women preachers in her scholarship, offering insight into the different ways that Black women experience call and have found their ways to preach despite political barriers.

Black women homileticians have also offered typologies central to Black women’s preaching practices. Katie Cannon maintained that Black preaching must move beyond the normative and harmful tropes like ‘sin bringing Eve’ (Cannon 1995: 114) often ascribed to the women in the biblical text to offer liberating and more expansive understandings of what texts say and mean for Black communities, especially Black women. Elaine Flake, Donna Allen, and Kimberly Johnson all focus on different ideals for womanist preaching that push against harmful uses of rhetoric in the pulpit.

Black women have preached and created their own unique modes and deployment of certain rhetorical devices since the early nineteenth century. They have preached on national platforms, formed congregations, and challenged racial injustice since the slavery era. The earliest Black female preacher was a Methodist woman simply known as Elizabeth. She held her first prayer meeting in Baltimore in 1808 and preached for about fifty years before retiring to Philadelphia to live among the Quakers. Despite prohibitions to preach, their exclusion from pulpit spaces, and their ability to achieve ordination, Black women’s preaching is equally an integral part of the African American preaching traditions, as are their male counterparts, though their efforts are still not prioritized in conversations about African American preaching traditions.

5 Theological themes and preaching emphases

5.1 Creator God and personhood

African American preaching is an art and practice in theological formation and public theology. The theological emphases within preaching stem from a hermeneutic formed in African American culture that includes but are not limited to the relevant needs of Black people. The gospel preached names God as an active interventionist and proclaims Jesus as one who is in solidarity with Black people and knowledgeable of their existential plight. The theologies foundationally expressed in Black preaching lean on these emphases.

The Trinitarian theological construct is a key theme. This is most heard as ‘Father, Son, Holy Ghost/Spirit’ in Black preaching contexts, the Trinitarian identity as the fullness of God, as Creator above, as incarnational presence with us in Jesus Christ, and indwelling us with the Holy Spirit. God is revealed in different forms that relate to Black lived experiences. Black preaching, often emerging from the trials and tribulations of Black life, utilizes God as Creator not only as a reclamation of one’s own self as a creature, but also to emphasize the ongoing creation of God which permits human perception of divine inbreaking in anticipation of the establishment of new world order.

God as Creator – often expressed as ‘creator and sustainer’ – is a central theological concept in Black preaching. Articulating God’s sovereignty and agency remain primary considerations when Black preachers develop their sermons (LaRue 2000: 18–19). If God creates all things, then God is capable of acting on the behalf of God’s people, meeting the needs of Black people, especially the societally marginalized. Creator God operates as the primary source of healing, comfort, and nourishment. God is life and all things created are derived therefrom.

5.2 Jesus and messianic mission

Messianism is an important feature in Judeo-Christian faith traditions. Rooted in Judaism and developed over centuries, it carried with it the belief that there would emerge the ideal Davidic king, a messiah who would appear at the end of time. In Christianity, Jesus is the Messiah whom the prophets had spoken who epitomizes the fulfilment of the Jewish scriptural prophecy. Rabbinically trained in the temple, Jesus recited the Hebrew scriptures as a means of self-disclosure, communicating his messiahship through signs and wonders. Jesus demonstrated his command of the Hebrew scriptures and spoke of the kingdom of God as the path to salvation. When Jesus stood up to read Isaiah 61 in the Nazareth synagogue self-referentially declaring, ‘[t]oday this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing’, Jesus was announcing himself as Messiah and herald of a new age. (Thomas 1997: 38). Jesus made explicit connections in his teaching about his messiahship as the promised deliverer of Israel.

As a remedy for the human predicament of sin, salvation is not a theological abstraction in the Black preacher’s theological proclamation but is foundational to Black theology and any other Christian theologies of redemption. In historic Black preaching, the most prevalent model of salvation is penal substitutionary atonement. The vicarious exchange of Jesus’ life on behalf of sinners to procure the re-establishment of right relations with Creator God has not only been integral to the understanding of one’s fallenness and offering mercy to appease a love spurned God who brings wrath upon the apostates who abuse or misuse the freedom God intended for humankind to enjoy. Other atonement theories commonly found in Black preaching are Christus Victor and moral exemplarism. Held together theologically in Black preaching is the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus. The messianic mission grounds Black preaching in the hope that salvation is possible through Jesus’ sacrifice as an expression of perfected love personified. Based on what God has done in Jesus Christ humans can now live in community with God.

5.3 Holy Spirit and proselytizing

The Holy Spirit is the ultimate sign of grace. It reminds Christians that because God dwells within humans they are accompanied by a gracious host. The preaching event itself is a work of the Spirit. The movement of the Holy Spirit in Black preaching is primarily discussed in two ways: the Holy Spirit animates the preacher’s work and Holy Spirit’s operative function is to move within the hearer's hearts to bring about spiritual conversion. Historically, part of the preparation for Black preachers' presumed conversion preceded acceptance of the calling to preach. With limited access to formal education, a keen awareness of and dependency on the Holy Spirit’s instruction demonstrated one’s readiness and fitness to teach and preach from the scriptures. For it is God who calls the preacher and it is God who illuminates the text. (Mitchell 1990: 40). The Holy Spirit navigates the movement from death and hope while also empowering the preacher and inspiring the other moments of worship (Powery 2012: 12). Even with formal theological training, communing with the Holy Spirit is of paramount importance whether the preacher is or is not formally educated.

In many African American worshiping contexts the gift of the Holy Spirit is often interpreted as spirited ‘frenzy’, ‘catching the Holy Ghost’, or in some cases, collapsing into an ecstatic trance. In revivalistic church communities, highly emotive and embodied expressions in the preaching event signal the level of preaching’s impact on the worship experience at large or upon the individual hearer. Central to Black ecclesiology is the recognition that the Holy Spirit is an animating force for imparting the gospel message in time and space. When people join a faith community it is often perceived as having occurred from the guidance of the Holy Spirit.

5.4 Salvation

5.4.1 The kingdom of God and human freedom

The Kingdom of God is an expression of divine reign that is manifested in the present in the formation of Christian community as well eschatologically, as an invitation into God’s future beyond one’s earthbound existence. Different interpretations of what is meant by the kingdom of God abound. The expansionist or imperialistic interpretation is a political inversion of the kingdom as represented by the Roman empire and an assertion that the Kingdom of God will reign higher and more prominent than any earthly empire. There is an evangelical impulse rooted in conversion that allows people to belong in this new empire. An invitational perspective, often prioritized by womanist and feminist scholars, is focused on what it means to be in community here on earth together as God’s people. The term ‘kin-dom’ often replaces kingdom as an assertion to the type of familial invitation presented within Christian community. The invitational perspective does not eliminate hope beyond our earthly existence but often prioritizes what this means for current practice.

Freedom in Black theology is focused on agency and self-actualization. In freedom, the self is then defined by God as an image-bearer (the concept of imago Dei) and one’s belonging in the Kingdom of God (Ware 2016: 151). Freedom is when Black people are permitted to live into the fullness of who they are without being tied to any given tropes or constraints imposed on them by the larger society. Freedom complexifies perceptions of Blackness. Blackness is multifaceted and not to be read onto a group of people in a homogenous manner. This way Black people can embrace the intersectional character of their identity in nuanced ways.

Black preaching often places the Kingdom of God alongside human freedom, asserting that within the Kingdom of God, one can experience freedom and live fully into one’s belovedness in a world that often sees them otherwise. This commitment affirms that people can participate in their freedom in the present and that God is creating a world where this freedom is possible and in an eschatological sense, the Kingdom of God is where the limitations that make that freedom difficult will not be present.

5.4.2 Hope and Black misery

Black misery is often theologically interpreted through the lens of redemptive suffering, which surfaces tension among Black theologians. The question that arises is what kind of hope is most effective for Black liberation. Redemptive suffering is the perspective that pain, however severe, can still lead to positive outcomes and that there are rewards that come from enduring the suffering. This concept is rooted in the belief that God’s will and purpose can mitigate pain and suffering. While redemptive suffering as a theological theme is central, there are Black scholars who vehemently oppose it and think that this conceptual lens is harmful to the liberation and flourishing of Black people. Anthony Pinn and Delores Williams note the way that ideals of redemptive suffering maintain systems of injustice because those that are oppressed remain complicit, considering their suffering to be a part of their Christian life (Ware 2016: 132–134). Both perspectives of redemptive suffering are important because they mark the conversation theologically around Black suffering and its context within Black Christian life and Black preaching.

Black Preaching can be situated in one of these theological camps. When situated alongside the notion of redemptive suffering, individuals are invited to consider the ways their suffering will lead to something greater, that their hope is the turn toward an authentic hope born of struggle that polishes the soul. Black hope grounded in eschatology rests on believing that God is present and active temporally and yet is at work creating a better future. Hope both reveals that which we are longing for and also serves as a connector to those that are also longing for the same things. Hope in Black preaching offers individuals and the community a visual for what we are working towards and energy towards the possibilities of all God is creating on behalf of Black people. Regarding the historical framing of the concept of hope in Black preaching, homiletician Wayne Croft, Sr’s (2016: xiii) work takes up the topic of eschatology and seeks an answer to the following question: is the motif of hope an expression of personal eschatology (otherworldly) or social eschatology (this worldly)?

5.4.3 Sin and moral consciousness

Black preachers have interpreted sin as systemic and personal. The systemic realities that allow for Black oppression can be viewed as sin that illuminates the lack of moral consciousness evident in the world and God as correcting that sin. The emphasis on a systemic sin does not absolve the individual from a sense of moral responsibility at the personal level. For this reason, personal piety remains a central theme in Black preaching. It entails God’s evaluation of an individual’s life in terms of moral and ethical enhancement, ‘keeping to devotional practices like daily prayer and Bible study and striving after holiness through abstention from cardinal sins’ (Gilbert 2011: 13). This emphasis can be traced to American evangelical revivalism that demanded a type of purity of heart (LaRue 2000: 20).

6 Ecclesiology

6.1 Black church worship

Black Church worship is foundational to any conceptual or theoretical analysis of the Black Church. The essential elements of Black Christian worship have often been characterized by what W. E. B. DuBois, albeit reductionistic, is the presence of the preacher, music, and the frenzy (DuBois 1994: 141). These descriptors of Black Church worship suggest that embodied ecclesially are various forms of prayer and the coming together of a people sharing a common cultural heritage. Black Church worship represents the time for the community to gather and grow in their faith collectively. In addition to the sabbath day morning worship, several other services and celebrations are esteemed in Black Church worship rituals. Weddings, funerals, anniversary celebrations, and other important liturgical events, and on such occasions, such services call for a special guest preacher. These include Church Anniversary, Pastoral Anniversary, Women’s Day, Men’s Day, Children’s Day, College Day, and other special affinity days.

While there are commonalities across congregations and denominations, it is essential to note that there are many traditions and practices that differ as well. The Lord’s Supper or Communion and Baptism are central practices in Black congregations, but whether they are interpreted as sacramental or memorial ordinances is dependent on the denomination. Womanist liturgical scholarship adds necessary conversations of power, justice, and expansive understandings of liturgy in Black Church spaces. Chelsea Yarborough’s work interrogates normative ideas of liturgical authority through practices such as testimony and argues for liberative liturgical praxis in Black worship. (Yarborough 2023). In A Womanist Theology of Worship: Liturgy, Justice, and Communal Righteousness (2021), Lisa Allen argues that at the centre of womanist liturgy is justice and the hope towards Black freedom which is critical in Black worship.

Black Church worship is not a monolith, and therefore, as a homiletical practice, preaching forms, emphases, and approaches within worship services differ across traditions as well. (Costen 1993: 95–96).

6.2 Suffering and death

6.2.1 Theodicy

Theodicy is a consideration of God’s providence and goodness in the face of evil in the world. Black theology does not solely wrestle with a broad presence of evil in the world, but more specifically the tension of the intense suffering of Black people alongside a belief in a God who liberates them. The notion of theodicy drives difficult conversations, as Black theologians consider why God is seemingly absent and often does not intervene on behalf of Black people as a mark of God’s liberating presence and justice. Why Black people remain in such difficult conditions globally is a difficulty that is foundational to the conversation theodicy in Black theology. (Boesak 2012: 158).

The problem of evil and how to address it is an enduring challenge for Black preachers, because the socio-political realities of Black people, both historically and contemporarily, in comparison to other racial groups have placed Black people at a disadvantage. Black preachers are confronted with the daily realities of systematic oppression and have to name God as a promise-keeper who can and will intervene on their behalf. Black preaching lives in the tension of honouring the truth of the conditions of Black suffering while still speaking about a God who is present, active, and good. Misery and suffering call into question who God is and how God can be known as active in the lives of Black people. The theodicy question is often dealt with by Black preachers through the consistent articulation of God’s presence and God’s power, however small the intervention may appear.

6.2.2 Eschatology and end times

Eschatological hope and the ‘by and by’ are critical theological visions in Black preaching. The end times are always here, creating a sense of urgency for individuals to convert and/or ‘get saved’, but also to create a sense of hopefulness of what is to come and what God is revealing in the contemporary moment. Eschatological hope in Black preaching is an imaginative construal of or hopeful opening to a world where suffering and death are absent. Such hope allows something other than pain to be present and for the end times to bring about what is desired on this plane, but what is named as guaranteed in heaven.

6.3 Ecology

Interest in ecology and reconnecting to the earth continues to grow in various quarters where Black preaching is practiced. A focus on ecology emphasizes God as the creator and humans as co-creators participating in the stewardship of the earth. Eco-womanist theologian Melanie Harris asserts in her work that we must consider the ways that our conversations around the earth and its flourishing intersect with Black flourishing and other systems of oppression (Harris 2017). For this reason, it is critical to consider the unique role that Black women have played in environmental justice, climate change, food insecurity, lack of clean water, and other environmental issues push human beings to consider their interdependency with all forms of life, and to note which participants in society are most negatively impacted. Black preachers, in recent years, have begun to devote considerable theological attention to understanding and reconciling views and perspectives on religious practice, scientific exploration, and stewardship of the earth.

6.4 Public square and social relevance

Preaching is public theology and Black preaching has historically recognized its role in the public square as critical. To lift and address Black corporate concerns requires that Black preachers engage their social world beyond the sanctuary’s four walls. From the early stirrings of discontented Black preachers such as Richard Allen and Absalom Jones in Philadelphia at the turn of the nineteenth century to the freedom and justice movements of the 1950s and 1960s, Black preachers took to their pulpits raising clarion voices to subvert the status quo’s insistence that they come to an acceptance of their social situation as divinely ordained.

When your public is a people that are disenfranchised, the public square is a critical tool of engagement. Kenyatta Gilbert outlines his trivocal theory, which suggests that the priestly, prophetic, and sagely voice, are the three underlying threads in Black preaching linked to scripture that define the best of Black preaching. The prophetic voice is summoned to expose self-serving and self-deceiving practices and systems of injustice, and in view of this, urges the preacher to chasten criticism with the hope of God establishing a new social order (Gilbert 2011: 12). Because of the social realities of many of their hearers, Black preachers have felt some obligation to speak to the relevant needs of the people, which means critically engaging systems and policies that negatively impact the health and wellness of Black churches and communities. When Black life is considered sacred, then all things that move towards supporting that life is important. Black preaching is a practice of socially relevant sacred rhetoric that offers theological assertions in public places where justice and freedom for Black people in a society are under threat.

7 Theo-rhetorical discourse and performing the word

7.1 Aristotelian logic and enlightenment traditions

Studies of classical rhetoric centre on ancient Greek philosophy and practices for public oration. Greek Sophists viewed speech acts as oral art intended to please and persuade the listener. In this conception, language limited comprehension, and therefore expression, placing a premium on aesthetic pleasure as the goal of civic dialogue and political oration. Consistent with a performative art, Sophists conceived of rhetoric’s elements as a dynamic orator, adorned speech, an audience to be pleased and guided toward belief, common language, and appropriate timing. Plato challenged Sophist rhetoric by appealing for the advancement of knowledge over persuasion through overindulgent speech. Plato believed the way to counteract Sophistic ‘cookery’ (i.e. an aesthetic pleasure to mask undesirable outcomes) was to identify and present truth through dialogue to produce informed civic and political decisions.

Following Plato, Aristotle conceived of rhetoric as ‘the art of discovering the means of persuasion available for any subject’. This foundational definition accepts the rhetorical polarity between Sophists and Plato, identifying methods for engaging in the systematic analysis of a rhetorical event. For Aristotle, reason (logos), emotion (pathos), and character (ethos) are determinative for the rhetor’s identification of the available means of persuasion. Aristotle’s proposal remains the first-to-mind classical conception of rhetoric.

Observers of African communication systems note a more subjective approach to rhetoric, where the art is not defined exclusively by the rhetor, but by its reception within a community. According to Arthur L. Smith, the rhetorical project ‘emphasizes synthesis more than analysis’ and thus ‘contributes to community stability because considerations in the whole are more productive than considerations in detail’ (Smith 1971). Thus, the art of public discourse is a proposal for which the community, including the rhetor, is the stakeholder. African Americans continued this subjective rhetorical tradition in religious contexts through expressive group practices including continuing and developing religious-cultural language, ring shouts, and call-and-response.

7.2 Vocal production

Gerald L. Davis, in I Got the Word in Me and I Can Sing it, You Know (1985), argues for the presence of formulaic systems unique to the production of African American sermons. Davis’ study recognizes that ‘translation of message intent to language structure and mnemonic, the rhythmic structure can be charted’ (Davis 1985: 53). Davis notes that African American sermons can be characterized by smaller units (‘hemistich phrases’) of delivery and are arrhythmic. Davis’ display of the arrhythmic meter includes elongated one-syllable words and staccato punctuation for what he refers to as ‘the secular portion of the preacher’s formula’, over against the use of a ‘contoured oral style’ for the sacred portion; each rhythm rejecting the monotony of either pole.

A feature associated with emotive African American preaching is the celebration which marks the sermon's conclusion. This emotive response may be guttural or smooth, high- or low-pitched, or extemporaneous or structured. According to Mitchell, effective preaching ‘can be accurately evaluated by the interest and attention of the audience’ (Mitchell 1990: 31). With interest and attention in place, the preacher and audience celebrate, together, the text and purpose. With this, the preacher’s vocal impulses are connected to the biblical text, the sermonic content, and the listener’s reception of the sermon’s proposals. An expression of Mitchell’s offer for celebration is the whoop. Clarence LaVaughn ‘C. L.’ Franklin’s distinctive and celebrative vocal production incorporated the blues of his Mississippi formative years in Mississippi and the Motown sound of his adult life in Detroit, Michigan to invite his audiences to anticipate and celebrate the process of meaning-making in community. As Mitchell proposed, a responsible whoop is a celebration of sermon text and purpose.

Jon Michael Spencer’s Sacred Symphony: The Chanted Sermon of the Black Preacher (1987) situates the musicality of contemporary Black preachers alongside the spirituals of enslaved persons and notes the presence of melody, rhythm, call-and-response, counterpoint, harmony, form, and improvisation in both (Spencer 1987: xiii). This close association is a reminder of the significance of musicality for African American preachers and their sermons.

Proclamation, as Lisa L. Thompson notes, occurs as an event for communities of faith, necessarily involving those who proclaim and those who receive. When event observers and participants recognize that more is at stake than ‘simply the mechanics of words, symbols, structures, form, proper images, and analogies’, what becomes possible is ‘the ripples of sacred-in-breaking’ (Thompson 2018: 26). Such awareness may prompt all community members to partake in the possibilities.

7.3 Style and religious context

The styles and religious context of African American preaching involve the generative influences of historical practices of storytelling and meaning-making and the development of new expressions and experiences in America. William H. Pipes describes the social and religious contexts for ‘old-time Negro preaching’ as the requirement of the enslaved for ‘a medium of escape from unpleasant conditions’ and ‘a medium of escape from an impossible world’ (Pipes 1992: 71). Following this, a style of Black preaching accounting for the unique religious context of enslaved African Americans is discerned through the teaching and proclamation of scripture which informed the piety of the enslaved as well as the slave uprisings led by Gabriel Prosser, Denmark Vesey, and Nat Turner. Vestiges of these styles remain in African American preaching described as folk revival, chapel-lecture, hip-hop lyricism, and contemplative.

7.3.1 Folk-revivalist

Early forms of African American folk preaching were identified by contrast to the preaching of free Black preachers in northern states. Following African oral traditions, folk preaching was informal, engaging audiences with griot rhetoric of cultural dialect, imagination, and intonation, or ‘whooping’ (Thomas 2016: 14–15). Educated and employing a recognized sermonic structure, Clarence LaVaughn ‘C. L.’ Franklin helped popularize African American folk preaching through the use of mass media and revival services.

7.3.2 Chapel-lecture

Chapel-lecture preaching is a refined homiletical form often associated with Reformation-era preaching. Noted for a structure that centres on developing three ‘points’ in support of a central theme, chapel-lecture preaching requires reasoned and logical text-driven arguments. Such propositional preaching may not account for lived experience in service to its exposition of scripture. Similar preaching styles continue to exist in academic and ‘high church’ settings, as well as public, civic ceremonies.

7.3.3 Hip-Hop lyricism

Hip-hop culture highlighted post-Civil Rights era failings in America’s inner cities. Through music, poetry, movement, and art, hip-hop lyricists (e.g. Kendrick Lamar, Lauryn Hill, Lecrae, Queen Latifah, and Tupac Shakur) borrowed from preceding generations of spiritual and blues artists to highlight African American experiences, promote self-determination, and confront America’s power brokers. Through what Dwight Radcliff Jr. calls ‘Hip Hop Hermeneutics’, pulpit lyricists offer theological-cultural interpretations of biblical texts to ‘move the crowd’ for community transformation. In homiletical form, prophetic lyricism provides theological access points for hope by which conditions of lived experiences may be identified and overcome. The hermeneutic and rhythmic cadence employed by Frederick Douglass Haynes III is an example of contemporary hip-hop lyricism.

7.3.4 Contemplative

Contemplative preaching is often characterized as the socialization of piety and thoughtful communal responses to societal exigencies. Kenyatta R. Gilbert gives scholarly attention to the ‘preacher as sage’ who ‘gathers the community’s concerns and self-understanding and asks the question: How must we do things here based on who we claim we are?’ (Gilbert 2011: 63) Ethicist Barbara Holmes’ work Joy Unspeakable (2017) focuses on the mystical elements and communal spirituality built into African American collective worship, and also the legacy of African monasticism that has informed meditative worship practices and influenced biblical interpretation. According to Trey Clark, the Black contemplative preaching mode is ‘hidden in plain sight’ but has at least three noteworthy homiletical distinctions: (1) it emanates from a habitus of prayer; (2) employs a mystical hermeneutic; and (3) deploys a style that draws the listener into an inner divine encounter meditatively (Clark 2022: 6).

7.3.5 Black Catholic preaching

Despite the presence of Black parishes, across the United States, especially in inner cities, sustained scholarly treatment of Black preaching in Roman Catholic Church settings is virtually inexistent. Father Maurice J. Nutt’s scholarship on African American Catholic preaching has sought to fill the lacuna. Nutt laments the century’s old ‘double invisibility’ Black and Catholic cultural dilemma that racism birthed, and he uncloaks his tradition’s Eurocentric liturgical biases and their negative consequences for Black Catholics. As a remedy, Nutt calls for preaching that integrates inculturation, evangelization, liberation, and celebration, which he names as the most central vitalizing gifts of African American preaching (cf. Nutt 2023). According to Nutt, Catholics look to their theology of revelation prescribed by Dei Verbum, that is, an understanding of grace and a sacramental view of revelation as ‘the mystery of God’s self-communication in love which occurs in and through creation and human history’ (Nutt 2023: 153).

7.4 Message transmission

With several cultural shifts in the Western church through the Middle Ages, some linked to the production and use of the Bible, now translated into Latin, preaching became rare. Rhetoric’s role in preaching had diminished considerably by the time of Augustine. In 397 AD, Augustine’s On Christian Doctrine was the first published homiletic textbook. Augustine argued for rhetoric by noting that ‘public orators were engaging and entertaining, while preachers of the truth were ‘sluggish, and frigid, and somnolent. In other words, preachers were boring and were putting people to sleep’. To counter the dismissal of rhetoric and convince preachers to develop rhetorical methods for preaching, Augustine promoted eloquence in the service of proclaiming truth. This motion toward rhetoric in service struck the right chord and convinced homiletic guilds to embrace persuasive rhetoric.

Neither Augustine nor Aristotle, however, analysed listener reception in their approaches to message transmission. This aspect of analysing communications systems had gone largely unnoticed until Gregory the Great advanced an effort to account for audience diversity within the field of rhetoric. For the greatest persuasive effect, Gregory the Great proposed that the teacher ‘ought to touch the heart of his hearers out of one doctrine, but not with one and the same exhortation’. Thus, hearers within a diverse audience are to be ‘admonished’ differently. This is believed to have been the first work to treat listener receptivity as an important aspect of rhetorical systems.

Alain de Lille and Robert of Basevorn were noted for their contributions to the developing synergy between rhetoric and preaching, as during the Middle Ages, preaching structures or forms developed to support themes proposed in sermons. For example, Basevorn’s three-point sermon shifted moralistic, expositional oratory ‘from an inorganic, unstructured narrative to a tightly reasoned argument, developed and amplified with considered care’, a style suited for the propositional doctrines of the Reformation era. While the use of rhetoric supported the formalization of structure in preaching and furthered the cause of doctrinal preaching of the Reformation, there was also a reprise of the earlier Enlightenment rejection of rhetoric. This time, the case was made for ‘the plain meaning’ of scripture.

In the tradition of African American preaching, William H. Pipes, in Say Amen, Brother (1992), observes the delivery of an ‘old-time Negro’ sermon and concludes it is ‘the manner in which the sermon is delivered that determines the success or failure’ (Pipes 1992: 148). Pipes suggests that emphasizing techniques and devices was preferred over developing sermonic ideas. Varied intonation and body movements help to communicate points of emphasis and elicit listener attention which helps to advance the message. In Pipes’ view, these should not be left to chance, and as such, they form the persuasive elements, the rhetoric or ‘manners’ that accompany the transmission of sermons in the African American preaching tradition. Further situating his observation rhetorically, Pipes remarks that the location of the sermon factors into the strategies employed for the transmission of messages. Pipes believed: ‘To understand the delivery of the Negro preacher, the setting and the occasion of the sermon should be pictured’ (Pipes 1992: 148). Open-air but secreted hush arbours, crudely constructed rooms, and modern, eco-friendly worship centres convey different environments within which the preaching moment occurs. Envisioned as such, analyses of the communication systems within which the sermon functions must involve a holistic identification of the effect of location on preacher and listener.

7.4.1 Embodiment and theological anthropology

The expectation for many African American communities of faith is that God will ‘show up’ and they will ‘feel the Spirit’ through the experiences of worship. In many ways, the preacher embodies the God/Spirit-presence and is viewed as the proclaimer of a message, and as ‘the mouthpiece of God’. As such, the African American preacher often carries expectations concerning how they ‘show up’ in the preaching moment.

Teresa L. Fry Brown, in Delivering the Sermon (2008), defines embodiment as ‘the act of representing something in a bodily or material form. It occurs when someone speaking uses their physical self to transform an abstract, mental idea into a concrete form, shape, or representation in order to assist in establishing its meaning for the audience’ (Fry Brown 2008: 60). Brown names facial expressions, the use of hands, the pulpit, amplification equipment, and distractions as elements that can impact embodied presence. Within communities of faith who anticipate Divine presence, it is seen how the preacher may ‘usher in the presence of God’ or become an impediment.

In many ways, theological, social, cultural, and gender associations have historically resisted full expressions of personhood unique to African American women who preach. For these women, the act of showing up as the preacher exposes communal and interpersonal tensions concerning the personified vehicle through which God may show up. The first tenet of womanism reveals the expression of personhood through ‘outrageous, audacious, courageous or wilful behaviour’ which Alice Walker envisions as resisting social structures. Thus, in many instances, the African American woman preacher has been the community’s vehicle for affirming or denying Divine prerogative and ability. Where affirmed, preaching presents opportunities for God to show up, and the Holy Spirit to move, in spaces open and welcoming to possibilities on terms beyond themselves.

7.5 Sermon methods and theological biases

Alongside the Civil Rights Movement in America, particularly the public ministry of Martin Luther King, Jr., African American preaching’s prophetic impetus thrust Black preaching into the American conscience. Henry H. Mitchell’s examinations of Black preaching, including Celebration and Experience in Preaching (2008) and Black Preaching: The Recovery of a Powerful Art (1990), centred the homiletical tradition, enabling awareness of the academic possibilities of an ongoing investigation of preaching in Black church experiences. Mitchell explored the theological and rhetorical impulses of African American preaching and encouraged the development of sermons through a liberationist lens that embraced celebration. Still, there exists a diversity of homiletical methods, or sermonic approaches, within the tradition.

7.5.1 Expository

Augustine characterized an expository sermon as one that adopts the tone and movements of its source text (On Christian Doctrine: Vol 11, Book 4). Such traits, seen in verse-by-verse, or Lectio continua, and thematic exposition are traditional approaches for expository sermons. Diversity of theological commitments creates opportunities to investigate expository preaching within the African American preaching tradition. To begin identifying an African American expository sermon, Winfred Omar Neely, in Say It: Celebrating Expository Preaching in the African American Tradition joins ‘interpretive locations and cultural scripts’ (Redmond 2020: 41), convictions about the centrality of scripture, and anticipated cultural expressions within and in response to the sermon.

7.5.2 Topical

Topical preaching is primarily concerned with an idea investigated to increase awareness or encourage belief. The Bible is among the sources available for the development of sermon ideas, and multiple verses offer loose structures to support the theme. Infused with popular culture references, the theology of topical preaching often centres the listener's agency for spiritual transformation. Topical preaching often thrives in highly charismatic settings.

7.5.3 Thematic

Following the Aristotelian school of reason or logic, thematic preaching is a highly structured sermonic form of medieval preaching in Paris and Oxford. Thematic preaching derives from the theme of a biblical text but does not limit the explication of the theme to one text. In The Form of Preaching (1322), Robert of Basevorn develops a three-point sermon structure that survives as a feature of much African American preaching.

7.5.4 Narrative

Mitchell advances ‘God’s providence’ as the force for Black narrative preaching where the exodus motif reminds us of God’s grace and witnesses who persevere. Preaching conceived in this way reveals a continuum from the world of the text through historical and contemporary African American experiences. Narrative models that follow Mitchell’s formulation include Samuel DeWitt Proctor’s ‘dialectic preaching’, Frank Thomas’ ‘Situation-Complication-Resolution-Celebration’, and Kenyatta Gilbert’s ‘Trivocal Preaching’.

7.5.5 Social-prophetic

Characterized as ‘speaking truth to power’, social-prophetic preaching confronts persons, systems, and institutions who benefit from oppression and limit human expression. Informed by a justice-seeking and biblically mandated corrective that centres God’s love and holiness as the basis for a hopeful future. The 2016 election, rhetoric, and subsequent policies of America’s 45th president helped to shape modern social-prophetic preaching within the Black preaching tradition. An example is seen in Howard-John Wesley’s 2017 sermonic series ‘Enemy of the State’.

8 Future developments

Critical reflection on African American preaching is, on the one hand, relatively underdeveloped and, on the other, vying for more forward-thinking scholarly discussion. The conversation about the state of African American preaching today proceeds from three frames of reference: (1) theological education and the intellectual tradition of contemporary African American homiletics; (2) the broad range of congregational and secular community concerns and expectations; (3) the character and moral agency of the Black preacher (Gilbert 2011: 20). To address the fragmentation in the homiletical curriculum, the postmodern challenge for homiletics is to demonstrate how its canon of literature might speak to the particularities of diverse contexts and extend to the concerns and contexts of a global environment. One important development in the academic preparation of African American doctoral students is the formation of the first Ph.D. program in African American Preaching and Sacred Rhetoric at Christian Theological Seminary, Indianapolis, Indiana, under the direction of Black homiletics scholar Frank A. Thomas.

Forthcoming scholarship in Black homiletics pushes against rigid ideas of preaching by interrogating the pulpit as the primary locus of preaching (Yarborough 2022) and looking to contemplative preaching practices as necessary sources of homiletical information. Projects focusing on critiquing whiteness and deconstructing its impact on Black preaching are also critical. Scholarship in Black homiletics will continue to expand the canon with contributions focused on the hermeneutical and homiletical connections between the African American preaching traditions, impacts of global events like COVID-19, and homiletical scholarship emanating from other historically marginalized communities, Latin@, Asian Americans, LGBTQI+, as well as from Africana Diasporic preaching communities, which means investigating preaching trends in the Global South and other parts of the globe (Thomas 2016: 53–54; LaRue and Nascimento 2020: 1–11).


Copyright Kenyatta R. Gilbert, Chelsea Brooke Yarborough, Larrin Robertson (CC BY-NC)


  • Further reading

    • Andrews, Dale P. 2002. Practical Theology for Black Churches: Bridging Black Theology and African American Folk Religion. Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox.
    • Johnson, James Weldon, Aaron Douglas, and C. B. Falls. 2004. God’s Trombones: Seven Negro Sermons in Verse. Chapel Hill, NC: University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill Libraries.
    • Lewis, Harold. 2019. ‘Unapologetic Apologetics: The Essence of Black Anglican Preaching’, Anglican Theological Review 101, no. 1: 45–66.
    • Lischer, Richard. 1995. The Preacher King: Martin Luther King, Jr. And the Word That Moved America. New York: Oxford University Press.
    • McMickle, Marvin Andrew. 2000. Preaching to the Black Middle Class: Words of Challenge, Words of Hope. Valley Forge, PA: Judson Press.
    • Mitchell, Ella Pearson. 1985. Those Preaching Women. Valley Forge, PA: Judson Press.
    • Proctor, Samuel D. 1994. Certain Sound of the Trumpet. Valley Forge, PA: Judson Press.
    • Raboteau, Albert J. 1995. ‘The Chanted Sermon’, in A Fire in the Bones: Reflections on African American Religious History. Boston: Beacon Press, 141–151.
    • Radcliff, Dwight, Jr. 2018. ‘Hip Hop Hermeneutics: How the Culture Influences Preachers’, The Journal of Hip Hop Studies 5, no. 1: 64–84.
    • Simmons, Martha, and Frank A. Thomas. 2010. Preaching with Sacred Fire: An Anthology of African American Preaching, 1759 to the Present. New York: W.W. Norton & Company, Inc.
  • Works cited

    • Alkebulan, Adisa. 2003. ‘The Spiritual Essence of African American Rhetoric’, in Understanding African American Rhetoric. Edited by Ronald L. Jackson III and Elaine B. Richardson. New York: Routledge, 23–40.
    • Asante, Molefi Kete. 1998. The Afrocentric Idea. Philadelphia: Temple University Press. Revised and expanded.
    • Augustine. [n.d.]. On Christian Doctrine.
    • Bitzer, Lloyd. 1999. ‘The Rhetorical Situation’, in Contemporary Rhetorical Theory: A Reader. Edited by Louis Lucaites, Michelle Celeste Condit, and Sally Caudill. New York: Guilford.
    • Boesak, Allan A. 2012. ‘Theodicy: “De Lawd Knowed How It Was.” Black Theology and Black Suffering’, in The Cambridge Companion to Black Theology. Edited by Dwight N. Hopkins and Edward P. Antonio. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 156–168.
    • Braxton, Brad R. 2004. Preaching Paul. Nashville: Abingdon Press.
    • Brooks, Gennifer. 2009. Good News Preaching: Offering the Gospel in Every Sermon. Cleveland: Pilgrim.
    • Cannon, Katie Geneva. 1995. Katie’s Canon: Womanism and the Soul of the Black Community. New York: Continuum Press.
    • Clark, Edgar ‘Trey’, III. 2021. ‘Protest as Preaching: The Pneumatic Proclamation of Black Lives Matter’, The International Journal of Homiletics: Supplementum II: 43–51.
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    • LaRue, Cleophus J., and Luiz C. Nascimento (eds). 2020. The Future Shape of Christian Proclamation: What the Global South Can Teach Us About Preaching. Eugene, OR: Cascade Publications.
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    • LaRue, Cleophus J. 2007. True to Our Native Land: An African American New Testament Commentary. Minneapolis: Fortress Press.
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    • Proctor, Samuel D. 1994. Certain Sound of the Trumpet. Valley Forge, PA: Judson Press.
    • Raboteau, Albert J. 1995. ‘The Chanted Sermon’, in A Fire in the Bones: Reflections on African American Religious History. Boston: Beacon Press, 141–151.
    • Radcliff, Dwight, Jr. 2018. ‘Hip Hop Hermeneutics: How the Culture Influences Preachers’, The Journal of Hip Hop Studies 5, no. 1: 64–84.
    • Redmond, Eric C. (ed.). 2020. Say It! Celebrating Expository Preaching in the African American Tradition. Chicago: Moody Publishers.
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