When Prophets Preach
Leadership and the Politics of the Pulpit
By Jonathan C. Augustine
A Review by Dwight A. Moody
This strong, sweet word came into my hands at just the right time. That is my testimony, and I suspect it will be echoed by many others. We preachers need encouragement to do the right thing, the timely thing, the prophetic thing. This book does just that.
Dr. Jonathan (Jay) Augustine is pastor of St. Joseph AME Church in Durham NC. I heard him speak on a platform with Amanda Tyler; the subject was Christian Nationalism. This book, plus Ms. Tyler’s recommendation, explains why he was invited to Asheville to speak to those of us at the western end of the state.
A critique of Christian Nationalism runs through this book, in step with “the “MAGA political narrative” (84 and elsewhere). He describes this ideology as a “mindset that is emblematic of America’s most divisive and darkest days.” In this political context, an intensification of the racial tension that has been the social norm for centuries, Augustine calls upon preachers to follow Martin Luther King, Jr. and Detrick Bonhoeffer and preach the cross of Jesus: the horizontal and the vertical, Jesus and Justice, he calls it; and I like that very much.
I was formed as a Christian in the vertical dimension of Christian faith and practice: the Jesus pillar. But, in the most unlikely of circumstances, our First Baptist Church of a western Kentucky county-seat town invited the dean of men at our state Baptist college to come and lead a summer session for young people on discipleship. What did he do? He introduced us to Deitrick Bonhoeffer, The Cost of Discipleship, and “costly grace.”
Which is exactly what Augustine does! Bonhoeffer and his successor in the ministry of Jesus and Justice, the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. are the two exemplars of prophetic preaching. They were both children of the church, shaped and sharpened by church culture: one in Lutheran Germany and the other in Baptist America. Together, they inspire us (the pulpit and the pew) to synthesize our passion for salvation—the saving work of Jesus Christ on the cross—and for social justice—the redemptive work of God in leading the slaves from their bondage in Egypt. In this way, Augustine demonstrates the urgent demand to integrate all of the Biblical witness into the gospel work we are called to do.
Augustine is clear in his task and the task of all Christian preachers: “Prophetic preaching begins with its specific task: moving a congregation’s perspective from individual matters to more social matters as they consider how they fit into the larger world picture” (21). To that end, he devotes an entire chapter to “Social Justices the Church Cannot Ignore” (chapter 4). The one he highlights is welcoming the stranger, especially the immigrant stranger and the refugee stranger. Situating his perspective in the federal policies of the #MAGA mentality, he notes how many primary figures of the Bible, from Abraham to John, were either immigrants or refugees.
Augustine does not mention the most recent episode of global refugees, namely, the millions of Ukrainians pouring into Europe. But his book called to mind my interview just last week in TheMeetingHouse of Rev. Dr. Tory Baucum. Baucum described his 12 trips to Poland over the last few years and noted this: there are three million Ukrainian refugees in Poland and not a single refugee camp! Not one, because those Roman Catholics in Poland opened up their hearts, their homes, and their dinner tables to the Orthodox Christians fleeing their own homeland.
And it reminded me of this: In 1981, I moved to Pittsburgh to assume the pastorate of a small congregation of transplanted people—southerners, but with a healthy sprinkling of people from all over the world. They had had come to that great city to work in the corporations (U. S. Steel, Heinz, Alcoa, Westinghouse, even the Steelers!). They were embarrassed about their failure to attract and include any home grown people. But that congregation of transplants—not really refugees although a few were immigrants (including a family from Ukraine!)—led me to re-read the Bible from the perspective of a displaced person. I discovered that most if not all significant encounters with God described in the Bible happened to somebody on the road, away from home, often fleeing danger or death.
That pastoral work changed my mind and my ministry. I suspect this book will change your mind and your ministry. It certainly has given me fresh impetus to embrace that double edged sword of gospel work: Jesus and Justice. In our case, on our mission field, that work needs to be done with and for the LGBTQ community. And I resolve, upon reading this book and hearing Dr. Augustine speak, to focus more of my energies of serving my people a steady diet of prophetic preaching. I hope the response to me is but a fraction of what the response has been for him. God bless us both, and God bless you as you meditate upon the pages of this wonderful, powerful appeal.