Propaganda's new album, Excellent, is now available and I really hope you will pick it up. You can read my thoughts on the album here. You can buy it here, or here. Or, you can get it for free because that's how Propaganda and the team at Humble Beast do it. That's right. Free.
Excellent is a brilliant, original, exciting, and challenging album. One track in particular is poised to be helpful to many and maybe hated by a few (I hope not). The song is, "Precious Puritans," and is challenge to those (like me) who tend to "pedestal" these men, overlook their sins, and use them in preaching without much thought of how it may impact our black brothers and sisters.
If you haven't read yesterday's post, Precious Puritans: Part 1, please do that before going any further. In that post I asked Dr. Richard Bailey some questions concerning the history of the views and practices of owning slaves among puritans. Today, I'm sharing the track here on the blog, providing the lyrics, asking Propaganda some questions, and sharing some thoughts of my own.
If you would allow me second to deal with some in-house issues here...
Pastor, you know it's hard for me when you quote puritans. Oh the precious puritans. Have you not noticed our facial expressions? One of bewilderment and heart break. Like, not you too pastor. You know they were the chaplains on slaves ships, right? Would you quote Columbus to Cherokees? Would you quote Cortez to Aztecs? Even If they theology was good? It just sings of your blind privilege wouldn't you agree? Your precious puritans.
They looked my onyx and bronze skinned forefathers in they face, Their polytheistic, god-hating face. Shackled, diseased, imprisoned face. And taught a gospel that says God had multiple images in mind when he created us in it. Their fore-destined salvation contains a contentment in the stage for which they were given which is to be owned by your forefathers' superior image-bearing face. Says your precious puritans.
And my anger towards this teaching screams of an immature doctrine and a misunderstanding of the gospel. I should be content in this stage, right? Isn't that Paul taught? According to your precious puritans.
Oh, you get it but you don't get it. Oh, that we can go back to an America that once were, founded on Christian values. They don't build preachers like they used to. Oh, the richness of their revelations. It must be nice to not have to consider race. It must be nice to have time to contemplate the stars. Pastor, Your colorless rhetoric is a cop-out. You see my skin, and I see yours. And they are beautiful. Fearfully and wonderfully divinely designed uniqueness. Shouldn't we celebrate that rather that act like it ain't there? I get it. Your puritans got it. But,
How come the things the Holy Spirit showed them in the valley of vision didn't compel them to knock on they neighbors door and say, "You can't own people!"? Your precious puritans were not perfect. You romanticize them as if they were inerrant. As if the skeletons in they closet was pardoned due to the they hard work and tobacco growth. As if abolitionists weren't racist and just pro-union. As if God only spoke to white boys with epic beards. You know Jesus didn't really look like them paintings. That was just Michaelangelo's boyfriend. Your precious puritans.
They got it but they didn't get it. There's not one generation of believers that figured out the marriage between proper doctrine and action. Don't pedestal these people, your precious puritans partners purchased people. Why would you quote them? Step away.
Think of the congregation that quotes you. Are you inerrant? Trust me I know the feeling. It's the same feeling I get when people quote me. Like, if you only knew! I get it. But I don't get it. Ask my wife. And, it bothers me when you quote puritans, if I'm honest, for the same reason it bothers me when people quote me--they precious propaganda. So, I guess it's true. God really does use crooked sticks to make straight lines. Just like your precious puritans.
A Word From Propaganda
When I knew I was going to blog on the song I wanted to get just a few words from Propaganda. After listening to the song dozens of time (that's not even close to an exaggeration) I believe I understand him, but two questions proved to be helpful, and I hope they are helpful to you as listeners as well.
Precious Puritans proved to be one of the more challenging tracks for me on your new album. Can you give us a summary of your message there, and where that came from?
The song was really designed to be a bait and switch. The indictment on the puritans is really a secondary point. They were not perfect in living out their theology. They had issues just like all of us. And I'm just as much guilty as them. The real point is the last line, "God uses crooked sticks to make straight lines." God uses us despite our depravity. That's the main point...I'm guilty too!
Now about the secondary point. I think we as a culture tend to romanticize the past. We tend to treat people, preacher, politicians, etc. like comic book characters. Where the good guys are ALL good and the bad guys are ALL bad. And that's just not true. Real life is nuanced. I started noticing, as I traveled more and more, that we have the tendency to pedestal those preacher/theologians we agree with, and demonize those we don't. To me it seemed like we, the good Calvinists, spoke of the puritans almost like they weren't mere men with flaws. I, personally, can't hear someone speak of that time era in history at not think of of slavery. We can't take people out of their cultural context. Point being "there is not ONE group of believers that has figured out the marriage between proper doctrine and action." We need to remember that as we pull from our past church leaders, they aren't inerrant. They are flawed men like you and me. They are "crooked sticks" that the Lord was pleased to use for his maximum glory.
So what would you say, to guys like me, who have so greatly benefitted from the writings of the puritans over the years?
I've learned and grown immensely from the puritan writers! The Valley of Vision is a MASTERPIECE! But the take-home should be maximum glorification of God for using us flawed and depraved people to illustrate such lofty and beautiful truths. As a rapper, I work hard on my craft to make "excellent" art (see what I did there? :) ) But the take-home should not be "Wow! Propaganda!", but, "Wow! God! And he used Propaganda?!?"
A Few Thoughts
I'm still processing all of this, but here are my thoughts this morning. I want the truth. I need it. This means I will take all the beautiful, scripture-saturated, gospel-rich, Christ-exalting truth I can get from the puritans. It also means I will take the God-offending, neighbor-hating, hard and ugly truth about the puritans as well. Propaganda is right, we should not "pedestal these people," but see them for what they are. Fallen men who were used by God in spite of themselves. I remain grateful and strengthened for so much of what they have written, but discouraged and disturbed by their sin. And this is the right perspective to have.
All of this makes me treasure Jesus more. Only he can save us sinners, and only he perfectly loved his neighbor. And his righteousness is the hope of sinners like me and my puritan teachers. In the comments of yesterday's post Richard Bailey said, "In the end, I take away that the sins of such heroes (be they Edwards or Flavel or Owen) make it ever clearer to me that there is really only one Hero, namely Christ. And that's good news."
All of this also reminds me to not only be careful with my admiration of others, but also how I present such men to those I teach. Do I present them as supermen, or mere men? As the best teachers in every way, or men to learn from positively in their excellence and negatively from their sin? It also presses the importance of knowing my audience and preaching well to them that they might hear the truth without unnecessary distraction.
All of this reminds me that I often live life and think through history and issues blind to the issue of race. For all of this I am very thankful and learning.
I will certainly continue to read and benefit from the writings of the puritans. Their treatises and sermons do remain "precious" to me, perhaps even more so now. But not because they were so special in and of themselves. It is clearer to me now than before that in them we see how God really does condescend to use us, the crooked and chronically corrupt, to speak truth. He used Moses, David, Peter, the puritans, and many others--like me.
Update: Helpful Voices in The Conversation
Thabiti Anyabwile give us some helpful and strong pastoral words.