Baptist Church Historian Urges Divinity School Students to Lay Claim to the Gospel “Freedom That Often Sounds Like Jazz, Feels Like the Blues and Acts Like Grace”

AFRICAN AMERICAN JAZZ BAND BLACK ART OIL PAINTING (Oil Paintings Frames and More)
AFRICAN AMERICAN JAZZ BAND BLACK ART OIL PAINTING (Oil Paintings Frames and More)

Baptist church historian Bill Leonard challenged students at Texas Christian University’s Brite Divinity School to carry out their calling by claiming, reclaiming, discovering or recovering “the audacious freedom we call gospel.”

Jesus announced the coming of God’s kingdom — “God’s new day,” Leonard said — and his followers today need to claim and proclaim “the things that make for freedom.”

Leonard, the James and Marilynn Dunn Professor of Baptist Studies and professor of church history at Wake Forest School of Divinity, spoke on the Fort Worth, Texas, campus as part of an event sponsored by the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship of Texas.

Perhaps without knowing it, James Baldwin captured the feeling of freedom in God’s kingdom when he described the African-American experience in The Fire Next Time, Leonard observed.

Baldwin wrote about “a zest and a joy and a capacity for facing and surviving disaster that are very moving and very rare.” Baldwin compared the unpretentious honesty of oppressed African-Americans among each other — people who “had no need to pretend to be what we were not”— to the freedom evidenced in black gospel, blues and jazz, “something tart and ironic, authoritative and double-edged.”

Leonard called on the divinity school students to claim the things that make for freedom — “freedom that often sounds like jazz, feels like the blues and acts like grace.”

He urged his audience to recognize Jesus taught gospel freedom begins with vulnerability, living as lambs in the midst of wolves.

“That’s no fun at all. But to take the gospel seriously and live free — to turn the other cheek, go the extra mile, love your neighbor and your worst enemy as yourself — is to be extremely vulnerable to those who don’t see life that way,” he said.

The vulnerability gospel freedom demands means recognizing, as British Baptists did in a 1660 confession of faith, that faithfulness may demand suffering persecution and loss, Leonard added.

“God’s new day may require relinquishing the old support systems, making ourselves vulnerable to friend and enemy alike, living out Jesus’ insightful counsel to be ‘wise as serpents, innocent as doves’ — a vulnerability that makes for freedom,” he said.

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SOURCE: Associated Baptist Press
Ken Camp

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