Around the country, every February people remember, celebrate, and learn about the various ways African American and black folks have impacted the country and the world. Many of whom have been forgotten about, or simply not given much attention in history books, biographies, and films. The same could be said about the impact that African American and black folks have had on the Church: overlooked and understudied. There have been many black folks who have significantly contributed to the advancement of Christ's church in the world. So as we approach the end of February, I would like to offer you a brief series about the life and works of four influential African American and black Christians.
St. Augustine is regarded as one of the most influential figures in not only the history of Christianity, but in the history of western civilization. Born in 354 AD in present day Algeria (North Africa), he was a bishop, theologian, philosopher, and a prolific writer. His most well known writings include: Confessions (a autobiography), On the Trinity (which essentially formed the doctrine as we know it today), and The City of God, which was, at its very least, a theological and historical analysis of the collapse of Rome. Augustine lived a dualistic life of both (empty) religiosity and sensuality. He came to a dramatic conversion later in life when he truly realized that satisfaction and joy in Christ were the key to overcoming sin. It became a lens by which he began to understand the whole complex of salvation, God's sovereignty, and our free will. He wrote, "I call 'charity' [i.e., love for God] the motion of the soul toward the enjoyment of God for His own sake, and the enjoyment of one's self and of one's neighbor for the sake of God...Every man, whatsoever his condition, desires to be happy. There is no man who does not desire this, and each one desires it with such earnestness that he prefers it to all other things; whoever, in fact, desires other things, desires them for this end alone." His writings have influenced untold amounts of people but most notably people like: Thomas Aquinas, Luther (an Augustinian monk), Calvin- who quoted Augustine more than anyone else, JR Tolkien, and Christian hedonists like John Piper.
At the end of the day, there are more men who could have made this list and unless by God's providence we find more artifacts of history, there are even more men whom we may never know about. But may prayer is that we may be encouraged by what we do know, and that we may grow in our thanksgiving towards God for the way in which he's used different kinds of people throughout the history of the Church. May we be challenged by these men to persevere in the face of sin and hindrances to live radical, counter-cultural, and theologically driven lives that change our country forever- because we are surrounded by a great cloud of witnesses (Hebrews 12:1). You can find part 2 of our Influential Black Theologians series here.