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In my last post regarding the historical outlook of Black and Tan, I included a post-script which I’d hoped would encourage us all to step back from “our” narratives to more fully consider the perspectives of others. I was contending that we live in a multicultural, multi-ethnic, multi-everything world. I think that’s irrefutable.

Today, Wilson responded with another very charitable engagement with my critique of Black and Tan‘s view of history and a push-back regarding my post-script.

Not responding to every response has helped Wilson and I keep the conversation moving and prevented us from being bogged down into very fine details. Those details are relevant but probably don’t fit a blog format very well. That’s why we have books with footnotes and the like. So, I don’t intend this to get us down into the thicket of historical detail or twist us in the brier of “he said-she said.” But I do want to attempt a quick reply to Wilson’s latest post with the hope of mutual understanding and charitable iron-sharpening.

Like Wilson, I have found every post in this back-and-forth to meet the requirements of Ephesians 4:29 and the Bible’s call for charity between brothers who disagree. I’m grateful–deeply grateful–for Wilson’s spirit in all of this because we’ve all seen our share of internet exchanges that fail to meet the tests of Scripture. So, Doug, “thank you” again for being willing to engage and for staking out your positions with a concern for truth and grace. I would have left comments like this on your blog several times by now but for some reason I can’t get the comment feature to work even though I’m registered. Oh well, on to my reply.

Critique 1: Black and Tan is not history.

Wilson concedes this point, but adds in his defense: “First, Thabiti is quite right that B&T is not, and was not intended to be, a work of history proper. I agree that my book is more a statement of an historical outlook than it is a foundation for that historical outlook. This approach has its limitations, but they need not be crippling limitations.” He then goes on to mention Genovese’s helpful comments on the manuscript and commendation of Wilson’s grasp of the intersection between American slavery and Christian theology.

Actually, I do think the book’s weaknesses here are “crippling.” The book doesn’t merely assert that “slavery was not that bad,” it goes on to argue that relationships between slaves and their owners were really quite good and to assert the outstanding Christian character of the South. Those assertions, it seems to me, are critical for the book’s analogy to abortion and our contemporary responses to abortion to hold. For if American chattel slavery fails to display the more benign character Wilson holds, the entire thing becomes a house of cards. Consequently, for such a dramatically revised view of the history to “stick” most thoughtful readers will require documentation well beyond the brief citations of a couple secondary works. Moreover, Genovese’s commendation doesn’t bolster the book’s argument, nor should we take it as a golden seal of approval. The Decline of African-American Theology boasts an endorsement from Dr. Dwight N. Hopkins, widely regarded as a leader in Black Liberation Theology and heir-apparent to James Cone. He says, “Thabiti Anyabwile builds on rich religious scholarship for the black church in the U.S.A.” I’m grateful for his endorsement and taking the time to read the book. But, judging from the differences between Dr. Hopkins’ emphasis and my own, that comment can hardly be interpreted as an unqualified endorsement of the book. Likewise, we don’t want to make too much of Genovese’s endorsement of Black and Tan, especially if said endorsement is being offered as a substitute for historical groundwork.

Critique 2: Black and Tan attempts a revision of history.

Here, I argued that Wilson needed to provide a lot of historical evidence if he was going to overturn the well-established narrative about American chattel slavery’s dehumanizing nature. To which Wilson replied, “Thabiti points to the “massive claim” that slavery was more benign than the literature of the abolitionists indicated. But I believe that this point really was established by Fogel and Engerman, and I cited them as having made it.”

I’d simply say that citing one source is nowhere near sufficient for substantiating the historical outlook Wilson maintains in Black and Tan. I suspect that if a student of Wilson’s attempted to counter the Southern conservative intellectual tradition’s narrative regarding, say, state’s rights, Wilson would require more than a reference to a Lincoln biographer writing 150 years later. Citing one source–a source very much debated–simply doesn’t hold muster when it comes to making a case on the magnitude that Black and Tan assumes.

Critique #3: Black and Tan needed to interact with a wider range of sources and opinions.

On this critique Wilson writes, “I think this is an entirely reasonable point. I have no objection to doing something like that….” He sees himself as doing that now, by which I take him to refer to these exchanges. He believes having done this “would have made Black and Tan a better book.” I agree, and I’m glad we agree. I hope that some future work from Wilson might attempt to remedy this omission and that he might especially use source material left by slaves themselves. Throughout Black and Tan I kept wondering, “But why doesn’t he include some statements from Black people themselves regarding what slavery was like?” Some good general introductions would be Mellon’s Bullwhip Days and Johnson’s, God Struck Me Dead. Both include first-hand narratives from the perspective of slaves in the twilight of the institution, and the conversion testimonies in God Struck Me Dead have useful glimpses into the slave’s perspective on that intersection of slavery and Christian theology. Including material of this sort would not only make Black and Tan a better book, it would make Black and Tan a different book.

Critique #4: Post-Mill assumptions make Black and Tan’s judgment of Southern history too optimistic

That was my contention, which I did not develop. I had in mind comments like: “The discipleship of the nations is a process. This means that the South was (along with all other nations) in transition from a state of pagan autonomy to one of full submission to the Lordship of Christ. Christian influence in the South was considerable and extensive, but the laws of the South still fell short of the biblical pattern. In spite of this, the Christian influence on antebellum Southern culture surpassed most other nations in the world of that time” (pp. 51-52).

Wilson writes in his post today that “postmill thinking doesn’t require us to believe that the past was altogether rosy. There are many historical hellholes that I believe were genuine hellholes, and this is not in tension with my postmillennialism at all.” I agree that post-mill thinking doesn’t require a unilaterally rosy view of the past. But I think Wilson’s view of the South falls far closer to “rosy” than “hellhole.” I suspect that assuming the possibility of something called a “Christian nation” and “the discipleship of nations” and a national “full submission to the Lordship of Christ” has a lot to do with post-mill understandings. If so, I think it’s corrupting Wilson’s view of the South precisely by making him too optimistic about its character and past. Without a fuller articulation of the historical evidence and/or how his post-mill views play into all this, I’m at least left guessing that’s the way his millennial views are at work.

The Post-Script on Multicultural Realities and Perspectives

Finally, in his critique of my post-script, Wilson wrote in part:

I would want us to be careful to distinguish multicultural realities, which are characteristic of our triune God’s creativity, and multiculturalism, which is a false and very postmodern way of refusing to privilege any historical narrative whatever. But such a refusal, in order to be workable at all, would have to include the scriptural narrative of creation, fall, flood, exile, return, not to mention the death and resurrection of the Messiah. Postmodernists don’t like any metanarrative – and the Bible is the biggest hegemon of them all. But then, after postmodernism has rejected all hegemonic stories, it keels over and points all four hooves toward the sky, and quietly decomposes into the future of every form of relativism.

I am as much concerned about the next hegemon as I am about the last one, and my concerns about the last one are largely wrapped up in wanting to learn the appropriate lessons so that we might not get ourselves a tyrant for the next one. In order to do this we have to assert that while we don’t have automatic access to a God’s-eye-view of history, there nevertheless is a God, and therefore there is a God’s-eye-view of history. He has given us a good portion of an inspired history in Scripture so that we might learn how to imitate it, and we should do our best to do exactly that. As we do our best, we know that we are fallible and so we should always be open to correction. We should do history with a confident humility, and a humble confidence.

Okay, now it’s time for me to say, “I’m not that kind of multiculturalist” in the same way that Wilson might say, “I’m not that kind of ‘Confederate’ or ‘neo-Confederate’.” That is to say, in conversations like this we always face the danger of not defining terms or pausing to know what the other guys means when they say ‘x’.

I completely agree with Wilson that there is a comprehensive, infallible, exhaustive meta-narrative. It is God’s metanarrative. Our Lord knows all, sees all, ordains all, and governs all. He comprehends the ends from the beginning, and I shout with the sacred writer, “Let God be true and every man a liar!” I want to ratify, endorse, sign off on, and cheer the call to “do history with a confident humility, and a humble confidence.” That’s well-stated, in typical Wilson fashion.

However, I think ethnic minorities and White evangelicals use “multicultural” and “multiculturalism” in two entirely different ways. When almost every ethnic minority I’ve ever had the conversation with uses the term “multicultural” or “multiculturalism,” they’re simply talking about the inclusion of their persons and their perspectives in the broader story of America or whatever story is in view at the time. It’s a way of saying, “We’re here, too.” I can’t think of a single conversation where a person from an ethnic background used “multiculturalism” as a joust against meta-narrative. We use it to push back on hegemony and the assumed normative nature of White western ideals and values, but not against the very nature of truth or of God’s controlling narrative. So we bristle and, quite honestly, assume the worst when we hear our white brethren rail against “multiculturalism.” It sounds to us like an adamant argument against our inclusion in the discourse and the history–an exclusion which we have historically felt the brunt of.

But I’ve learned that most of my White evangelical brothers are usually referring to something else entirely when they talk about the “ism” of “multiculturalism.” They’re stiffening their backs to defend the idea of absolute truth against the kind of “postmodern relativity” Wilson mentions. They’re aware of the postmodern theorists who really do deny any overarching story one could call in any absolute sense “true.” They deny Francis Schaeffer’s notion of “true truth” and embrace the skepticism of Derrida, Foucault and others. I happily join my white brothers in the fight against such claims!

But postmodernism–whether an academic or man on the street variety–is not at all what I mean when I use the term “multicultural” or “multiculturalism.” When my White friends think “postmodernism” while I’m thinking “include me,” we’re having two different conversations drawing upon two different experience from our respective “worlds,” and we’re missing each other completely. One walks away thinking, That’s a white supremacist racist way of viewing me, history, etc. The other walks away thinking, I’m tired of these attempts to deny the truth and to overthrow what’s good about my history, culture, and people. In the vast majority of cases, both walk away with false conclusions because they haven’t understood the other’s use of the term or the underlying concerns.

And this use of “multiculturalism” in our back and forth, it seems to me, illustrates and proves the point of my post-script. Unless we make room to really listen to one another and hear what the other is saying and meaning we doom ourselves to disastrous results. Wilson writes near the end of his post, “while I believe that it is valuable to hear different multicultural perspectives of different groups, especially on a subject as convoluted as this one, we must do so in a way that clearly resists every form of relativism.” Amen. And, we must also do so in a way that clearly questions the centrality of our own experience.

This exchange regarding “multiculturalism” proves another point as well: Listening is hard, slow work. Even when we’ve worked as hard as Wilson has to hear me, or as hard as I’ve worked to hear Wilson, it’s still entirely possible to misfire at various points. Then we have to go back and listen all over again–perhaps suspecting ourselves and our assumptions a bit more. It’s hard, slow work, but I think it’s worth it.

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38 thoughts on “Another Point Where Wilson and I Almost Entirely Agree: On Doing History and Multiculturalism”

  1. Jason Kates says:

    “It’s hard, slow work, but I think it’s worth it.”

    I would agree with this wholeheartedly. I am aware of maybe a dozen friends of mine that are following this online discussion. We discuss it and are all very grateful to see a charitable disagreement (with plenty of agreement too!) between brothers in Christ. The approach taken has been practically instructional for us.

    Thank you both for engaging.

  2. Justin says:

    For those wanting to read stories from former slaves themselves, Project Gutenberg has 34 free ebooks by the Works Project Administration which are the source material for “Bullwhip Days.” Here’s the link if interested:

    1. Thabiti Anyabwile says:

      Thanks for that resource Justin!

  3. Rachel says:

    Truly inspiring interaction. Thank you pastors Anyabwile and Wilson for your gracious dialogue. I have been so humbled and encouraged, not to mention educated by the back and forth conversation on such a difficult and important subject.

    Pastor Anyabwile, would you consider discussing how you would explain the Exodus passages on slavery Pastor Wilson mentioned in a previous post to a Bible skeptic? I don’t know how to respond to questions referencing those passages. Or is there a commentary or reference you would recommend?

    1. Thabiti Anyabwile says:

      Hi Rachel,

      Thanks for joining us and encouraging us. Thanks also for your question. If you can give me a link to the post you mentioned regarding the Exodus passages, I’ll see if I have anything to add.

      The Lord bless you,

      1. Rachel says:

        Thank you so much. Here is the link to Pr. Wilson’s post:

        The Exodus passages referenced our towards the end. They are Exodus 21:20-21 and Ex 21:26-27.

        My question relates only to the exodus passages themselves, not the entirety of his post.

        1. Thabiti Anyabwile says:

          Hi Rachel,

          If I’m tracking with Wilson, he’s arguing “we have to deal with [difficult] texts as they stand.” He then prefaces his comments on these texts by insisting that (a) we ought to get the context correct without using the context to blunt the “angular” features of the text and (b) we ought to keep in mind the progressive nature of revelation.

          I’m in complete agreement with those two general points. But it seems to me that his treatment of the texts actually set aside his acknowledgement of context and progressive revelation. Perhaps he feels the skeptic wouldn’t allow those important qualifiers. But I’d hope Wilson wouldn’t allow the skeptic to set the agenda for our interpretations. I face a similar thing when I have the privilege of debating Muslims. They often want to limit my reading of the Bible to just a couple verses and insist I ignore everything else the Bible says either in the immediate context or the whole counsel of God. It’s not difficult to see they’re trying to rig the conversation, and Christians should not comply with those terms even if it makes our explanations less pithy.

          For example, why not make some comments about the events at Sinai (context) or the Mosaic Law at this point in history and its relationship to what follows later (progressive revelation)? He drops those things and instead insists on a reading of the texts without context or progression. Seems to me context and progression serve our apologetic rather than hindering it. I’d share a bit of that with a skeptic.

          What he says about the texts seems fine enough, as far as it goes. But, again, I find he leaves a lot of things out. For example, Exod. 21:2-6 is clearly the case of a Hebrew person selling himself into indenture. How does that context impact our application to the American South (which surely must be in the back of the skeptic’s mind)? Even men like Jonathan Edwards, a slave owner, thought Israel’s situation so dissimilar to American slavery that no appeals could be made to the OT for justification. I agree. Exodus 21 addresses intra-ethnic practice of slavery, not the inter-ethnic practice most skeptics will likely have in mind.

          Exodus 21:20-21 and 26-27 seem clear enough, and I agree with Doug that these texts require “rough justice” in the case of a Hebrew servant/slave being mistreated. Verses 20-21 require punishment of the slave owner if the slave dies from abuse, while verses 26-27 require manumission in cases where slaves were maimed (whether losing or eye or “only” a tooth). The texts value the slave’s life and curb the owner’s abuse. I suppose that’s what Doug mean’s by these texts “pedagogical” and “subverting” power.

          But I’m wondering why he doesn’t mention verse 16 to the skeptic: “Whoever steals a man and sells him, and anyone found in possession of him, shall be put to death.” That, it seems to me, would be an important text to hold out to the skeptic who probably views the entire discussion unpalatable and who probably desires something akin to an immediate end to slavery as justice. We could say based on the texts themselves that (a) Exodus 21 involves voluntary servitude, (b) provides some basic valuation and protection of the slave’s life by curbing abuse and requiring freedom for mistreatment, and (c) forbids on the threat of death any man-stealing and forced servitude.

          It seems to me that’s a fairly compelling argument to provide a skeptic who, if he’s honest, must admit that the alternative of an unregulated slave regime would be far, far worse. History proves it. But God calls His people in a pagan world to protect life and curb sinful behavior.

          After about 10-15 minutes of looking at Wilson’s post and the text, that’s my quick thought about Exodus 21.

          Hope that helps,

          1. Rachel says:

            Very helpful. Thank you for your thoughtful and thorough response!

            Warmest regards,

  4. Bruce says:

    As many have already said, thanks to both of you for doing the hard, slow work of listening (especially in the age of the blog!) and engaging in a discussion that is a model for the rest of us on how Christian brothers can and should approach their differences.

    As I’ve been following the discussion back and forth, a question hit me today to which I would be intrigued and grateful to hear replies from both of you. In one of your previous posts you talked about how we could hope to find agreement between you and Wilson as a result of these exchanges, and certainly we have seen many things about which you both agree. As these last few posts have focused somewhat more on the disagreements that remain, my question is:

    What would it take for you to change your mind and agree with Wilson’s currently stated point of view on these issues?

    I realize that this is a rather broad hypothetical question, but what prompted it in my own mind was the thought that most likely (at least it seems this way to me) at the end of these exchanges, you will both still have a lot of disagreements on what has been discussed. I realize that complete agreement on every detail essentially never happens, but I got to wondering about what it would take (evidence, argument, divine revelation, what have you) for either of you to change your mind about arguments you’ve made thus far and subscribe to the other man’s position.

    Honestly, I’ve tended to agree with you, Thabiti, throughout the dialogue, so I initially thought of the question in terms of what it would take for Wilson to change his mind. But I thought it only fair to pose the question to both of you.

    I realize you are a busy man, but if you do get a chance to reply in some form or fashion, it would be greatly appreciated. Thank you again for all the time and effort you’ve put into this discussion. I know it has been instructive and challenging for a lot of your readers, me in particular.

    1. Thabiti Anyabwile says:

      Hi Bruce,

      Thank you for your very fair and gracious question. If I understand you correctly, you’re asking me what Wilson would need to say or do in order to change my mind about the nature of slavery in the South and the impropriety of ending slavery with the Civil War?

      If that’s your question, I would say two things at minimum:

      1. He’d need to either present original source material or point to other several works that use such material to substantiate his claim that we’ve got the story on American chattel slavery wrong with regard to its nature. He’d have to bring forth that evidence and punch holes in the rival data and interpretations.

      2. He’d need to demonstrate a viable alternative to war for ending slavery and thus protecting Black (and White!) life.

      I don’t find Black and Tan compelling on either front. As stated and agreed by Wilson, the book doesn’t “do” history as much as it assumes it.

      Nor does it argue a viable alternative to war. It simply says that the gospel would have done its leavening work and slavery would have ended naturally. The reason I emphasize “viable” is not to diminish the power of the gospel, but to simply say that even the question of whether slavery was winding down or in any way weakened is a much debated question in this discussion. To assert that it would have ended seems contrary to the state of things at the time and contrary to the depravity of man. There’s hardly been a time in all of human history where somebody somewhere wasn’t enslaving someone else. I’d need more than assertion here; I’d need an actual plan/alternative that a reasonable man could say “might work.” Keep in mind: No one North or South wanted a Civil War that would result in such bloodshed. I’m of the opinion that little other recourse was available.

      I’m sorry for a longer answer than I’d intended. But that’s what I’d need to change my mind.

      What about you? What criteria would you need met?


      1. Philip Larson says:

        There is a biblical way to end slavery. If I owned slaves, and one or more had a credible profession, then it would be my duty to release such and to “furnish him liberally out of your flock, out of your threshing floor, and out of your winepress” (Dt 15:14).

        I would like to know if Thabiti really thinks (and can defend) that the North’s invasion of the South was a just war. He asserts that it is; I don’t know how to get there biblically.

        1. Fleeing the slaves was a just cause. And I think if you were one of those who would be a slave today if slavery hadn’t been ended, you’d agree.

          By the way, the South didn’t commonly practice Dt. 15:14.

          1. oops, I meant “freeing”.

        2. Thabiti Anyabwile says:

          Hi Philip,

          Thanks for joining the conversation. You didn’t have to take the time to do so, so I’m grateful you would contribute.

          Yes, I do believe “the North’s invasion” (a term loaded with bias, don’t you think?) was justified. Ironically, you seem to give one justification in your opening paragraph: genuine Christians should have released enslaved men and “furnished them liberally” and should have obeyed those powers ordained by God (Rom. 13). But that’s precisely what was not happening. Since I hold that every man has an inalienable right to life and liberty, rights established by a government that God ordained (Rom. 13), and rights said government had the right to protect with the sword (again, Rom. 13), I believe the Civil War to have been just.

          Moreover, I believe God’s word when He says the taking of human life would be repaid with blood (Gen. 9:5-6), and so with Wilson and a lot of other people would agree that the War was a judgment of the nation by God.

          I don’t believe that either North or South were impeccable in every argument or action. That notwithstanding, the war was generally just. To see that, we have to both value the lives of African people and appreciate that they were enslaved unjustly.


      2. Bruce says:

        Thanks for your reply! I think that the two things you mention are both really important.

        Concerning the war, I think it is important to remember that the gospel had been around for a long time before slavery hit American soil. In his commentary on Ephesians, John Stott points out the gospel fundamentally undermines slavery, and that Christians ought to have seized upon this and sought to abolish slavery centuries before. So by the time we get to the Civil War, seeing a supposedly “Christian” nation that argues slavery is biblically justified and is willing to fight for their “right” to continue to practice something that is inherently antithetical to the gospel seems to preclude any viable alternative to war. At least that I can see, with my admittedly limited vision 150 years into the past.

        The only thing I would add to those two points is that personally, I think I would need to subscribe to postmillennialism. Because of the distance in time between the end of slavery and abortion, I don’t see the two as anywhere near as related as Wilson does. I realize that this wouldn’t be a requirement for everyone else, but I honestly think it would take a different eschatological viewpoint for me to view the history of causation between those events differently than I do now, even if the first two requirements were met. Then again, I just started seminary this past fall, so who knows! My views just might be different in a couple years. Hopefully they will at least be better defined than they currently are.

        That said, I think it is clear that these are pretty major hurdles. I’m sure there are similar ones for Wilson given his convictions. So I realize that agreement here and now may be highly unlikely, but I again thank you for bringing level-headedness to this discussion. It’s helped me to appreciate what I can about what Wilson is saying, for all the disagreements I still have. Praise God that he his bigger than our disagreements, and even bigger than our hearts.

        1. Bruce says:

          To clarify my point about the justification of the war a little bit (since it seems to have been one of the more contentious points in this whole discussion): I don’t think I would argue that the gospel specifically obligated or encouraged war as the solution, but I don’t think I would argue it completely forbade war either. I think that the best that can be said for war is that for all its atrocities, God in his sovereignty can use even a tragic and horrific thing like war to bring about good.

  5. Hi Pastor Anyabwile

    On Critique 2, I agree with Wilson that Fogel is sufficient enough of a source to establish a point about the living standards of slavery. See my lengthy post responding to yesterday’s post. Fogel won a Nobel Prize in economics for his work on slavery and is, I believe, the world’s greatest scholar on the subject. His conclusions are not based on diaries, subjective accounts, or conjecture but on empirical evidence.

    Wilson’s problem is not what he says about Fogel’s conclusions but what he leaves out. Fogel came to exactly the opposite conclusions as did Wilson: that slavery was not on the decline, that there is no reason to suppose that the South would have given up slavery without a war, and that had the Civil War been delayed much longer the South likely would have won and spread slavery, hence the war was necessary and the evangelicals who changed the moral climate in the North that created the crisis over slavery and election of Lincoln are to be credited with the demise of slavery.

    1. Just to be even-handed, I think Thabiti’s point still stands. “Time on the Cross” has come under significant criticism by scholars such as Genovese, Stampp, Gutman, and Kolchin. A fair evaluation of the evidence must include criticisms of Fogel & Engerman’s work.

      Thomas Weiss’ review and summary at is helpful.

      1. Hi Justin,

        Thanks for that link. That’s interesting. I know that I’m biased as I worked for Professor Fogel. But I’m confident that his research is sound. As the review states, his work was heavily assaulted when it came out in the mid ’70s but the Nobel Prize committee thought it had so thoroughly withstood criticism that it deserved the prize.

        My concern here is that people wanting to counter Wilson’s mistaken view of slavery (partially based on Fogel’s research) try to take the anecdotal route. Yes, there are many individual stories of cruel slave owners doing horrible things. But those anecdotes can be countered with other anecdotes of apparently harmonious master-slave relationships. Then, if Wilson, et al, brings out Fogel’s empirical research, he appears to have won the day.

        The solution isn’t to try to debunk Fogel. I don’t believe it can be done. The solution is to follow his conclusions which are thoroughly in opposition to Wilson’s.

    2. Mark says:


      You’ve probably mentioned “Fogel” two dozen times in the comboxes in these threads without ANY indication that economic historians/historians of the period fine aspects of Fogel’s work unsavory or patently false. That’s very revealing. The fact that his research won the Nobel Prize means nothing to me, personally. The fact is, many professional historians who oppose Wilson’s general theological/philosophical outlook, find Fogel’s work suspect.

      Wilson’s desire to rise above the ‘details’ of professional historians’ squabbles is illustrated nicely here, riffing on VanTil. There are no neutral facts. Fogel might be 100% correct. But the mere questioning of his authority (or the Nobel Prize committee’s) doesn’t make Wilson a racist. He might be. But you’d have to do a lot more work.

  6. Hi Pastor Anyabwile,

    In this article you wrote, “Christian influence in the South was considerable and extensive, . . .”

    While I’m not an expert on the subject, my feeling is that that is not really true. We have to be careful of seeing the past through the lens of the present in which the South is now part of the “Bible belt”. I’ve read letters from Francis Weyland, an early 19th century Northern Baptist leader, decrying the South for being spiritually “dark”. The book “Southern Cross” chronicles the rise of Christianity in the South from the early 19th century. It maybe that much of the religious culture of the South came as a result of a revivalism during the war and the trauma of it’s devastation.

    I don’t believe that the South was as deeply effected by Christianity prior to the Civil War as New England had been with it’s Puritan heritage.

    1. Paul Matzko says:


      I have some familiarity with antebellum religious history, so I’ll mention a few things in agreement with Thabiti’s statement about the extent of Christian influence in the antebellum South.

      Heyrman’s “Southern Cross” is focused on the Early Republic (1780s-1820s) rather than the antebellum period (1830s-1861), but she is telling the story of the rise of evangelicalism in the South. Although evangelicals were social outsiders in the 18th century–in part because they tended to criticize slave-owning–by the 1830s they predominated in Southern religion and cultural life. They accomplished so much in so short a time precisely because they stopped challenging the social and racial hierarchy around the turn of the century and began to accommodate to it instead. (Jewel Spangler’s “Virginians Reborn” is a nice companion work to Heyrman.)

      Also, take a look at Roger Finke and Rodney Stark’s “The Churching of America,” in particular chapter 3, “The Upstart Sects Win America, 1776-1850.” Figure 3.3 gives a visual depiction of religious adherence in 1850 and you’ll notice that the old Cotton Belt states were in the top quartile and a hair behind the Midwest. Already, religious adherence in Congregationalist-heavy New England was starting to sag, a trend that accelerated in the second half of the century. All of this to say, that Southern evangelicalism’s rise to dominance in Southern society happened prior to the war, not as a result of it.

    2. Thabiti Anyabwile says:

      Hi John and Paul,

      For accuracy’s sake, I didn’t say, “Christian influence in the South was considerable and extensive….” That was a quote from Wilson’s Black and Tan. I do not hold that view of the South.

      Paul, thanks for the references. I’m going to have to check some of these out.


  7. Mark says:

    Hi, Thabiti.

    You said, “The book doesn’t merely assert that “slavery was not that bad,” it goes on to argue that relationships between slaves and their owners were really quite good and to assert the outstanding Christian character of the South.”

    Thought experiment. Fast-forward 200 years to a conversation discussing the holocaust of American abortion and, because of MY Postmillennialism, the Western church repented of many things and are now in a period of looking back on the early decades of the 21st century and wondering, “How the Gospel Coalition guys get it so wrong? They kept saying, ‘We preach what the Bible preaches.’ their people stayed clear of abortion mills and could only manage an earnest conversation (nothing more) with the twenty-something neighbor trodding off to murder her unborn son MEANWHILE they lambasted the Christians of the century before for their failure to stop slavery. How could they have been so blind? They were – get this – writing books about sports, personal piety, church membership… all while MILLIONS of children were killed in utero. They didn’t protest a clinics, mount campaigns for public discussion, have extended sermon series to educate/motivate their people, didn’t write books… nothing.”

    Fair criticism, or not?

    1. Thabiti Anyabwile says:


      First, I don’t understand what your “thought experiment” has to do with what you quote me as saying.

      Second, it’s not clear to me why you think “the Gospel Coalition guys” got it so wrong and are inactive in opposing abortion. Just thinking of the guys I know, that’s completely off base to me.

      Third, what does YOUR Postmillennialism have to do with ending abortion such that 200 years from now you “got it” and non-postmills didn’t it?


  8. Josh says:


    I join in with everyone who has expressed appreciation for the disussion in which you and Wilson have engaged. You both have been models to your fellow brothers and sisters in Christ. I would like for you to expans just a little more on your use of Romans 13 to justify the military intervention of the North, if you have the time. Your reference to Romans 13 as means of justifying the war is pregnant with the assumption that the South had no right to secceed. Do you feel that particular issue has been settled? In this I’m assuming that under our particular government (constitutional republic), the Constitution is seen as our “ruler”, that succession was an inherent part of the formation of the United States, and, accordingly, that if the federal government had wished to reject the seccession of the southern states, there would have needed to be an amendment to the Constitution (which the secceeding states would have needed to ratify) so that the “ruler” could exercise military force in rejecting the seccession of the those states. Thank you again for such a charitable exchange.

    1. John K says:

      “. . .the Constitution is seen as our “ruler”, that succession was an inherent part of the formation of the United States. . .”

      This is the original quote, where you said “succession”.

  9. John K says:

    I can’t speak for Thabiti, but I’ll throw my two cents in. Why would you assume that a constitutional amendment would be needed to use force against seceding states? Is there a process outlined for secession in the Constitution? That has to be there as a minimum. Please show us where this is outlined. If not, you need to rethink this assumption. (btw, the words are spelled “secession” and “secede”)
    Christians need to keep their commitments. Romans 13 gives the goverment authority to put down rebellions. Even if there was a specific process for secession outlined in the constitution, it would still require a good reason. The South did not have a good reason. Actually, per Alexander Stephens, they had a very very bad one.

    1. Josh says:

      The absence of anything addressing seccession (du misepled werds reely destract yoo?)in the Constitution shows that the federal government was not granted the power to punish delinquent states from exiting the Union. Due to the absence of anything addressing secession, and because of the 10th Amendment, an amendment would be necessary for the federal government to assume that power. An argument from the silence of the Constitution, then, seems to favor secession, not a perpetual union. The ability of the federal government to punish a delinquent state was considered during the Constitutional Convention, but was not added to the Constitution:

      1. Tom says:

        The state of New York asked for a secession clause in the Constitution. They were refused.

      2. John K says:

        “that succession was an inherent part of the formation of the United States” Is “succession” the same as “secession”, which means you are referring to the United States “seceding” from the United Kingdom in the Revolutionary War, or are you talking about “succession” in a “who will rule next after the current ruler dies”. I thought you were referring to the former but realize now you could’ve possibly have been referring to the latter, since as the US has no king and the UK did. Since you misspelled secede and secession elsewhere in that first post, I’m not sure whether succession was a misspelling, or a different political/governmental term.

        1. Josh says:

          I do not see one instance where I used a “u” in my spelling. Pretending to be unable to understand context distracts me the same way misspelled werds distract you. And you failed to address my point about the the silence of the Constitution and the 10th Amendment.

          1. John K says:

            What you call “pretending” I call trying to give you the benefit of a doubt that you did not spell “secession” (correct spelling) as “succession”. I’m sorry for the apparently clumsy manner in which I tried to do it. So since your argument makes more sense to me with “succession” being a misspelling of “secession”, I will assume that to be the case.

            I was only answering the misspelling issue and did not respond to the substance of your argument because I thought Jack Bradley’s response had pretty well answered you. But since you make a point of me not further responding myself to your argument, I will simply say that from a strictly legal Constitutional standpoint, the basic premise of seceding is to become a separate nation no longer bound to the Constitution. If that’s what the South did, then the Constitution does not require a constitutional amendment to make war on a separate nation. The Constitution already has war powers built in for making war on other nations. A seceded nation is like any other nation, and, like the USA making war on Japan and Germany in WWII, the USA could legally make war on the Confederacy. The Confederacy can’t demand Constitutional protection while removing themselves from that protection. So your particular assumption that a Constitutional amendment is required for the USA to make war on the Confederacy is a faulty assumption. You can make a moral argument or practical argument against making war on a seceded state which is now an independent nation, but not a constitutional one.

  10. Jack Bradley says:

    Josh, regarding secession, I think Supreme Court justice Joseph Story said it best in his foundational Commentaries on the Constitution of the United States, 1833:

    There is nowhere found upon the face of the constitution any clause, intimating it to be a compact, or in anywise providing for its interpretation, as such. On the contrary, the preamble emphatically speaks of it, as a solemn ordinance and establishment of government. The language is, “We, the people of the United States, do ordain and establish this constitution for the United States of America.” The people do ordain and establish, not contract and stipulate with each other. The people of the United States, not the distinct people of a particular state with the people of the other states. The people ordain and establish a “constitution,” not a “confederation.” The distinction between a constitution and a confederation is well known and understood. The latter, or at least a pure confederation, is a mere treaty or league between independent states, and binds no longer, than during, the good pleasure of each. It rests forever in articles of compact, where each is, or may be the supreme judge of its own rights and duties. The former is a permanent form of government, where the powers, once given, are irrevocable, and cannot be resumed or withdrawn at pleasure. Whether formed by a single people, or by different societies of people, in their political capacity, a constitution, though originating in consent, becomes, when ratified, obligatory, as a fundamental ordinance or law.

  11. Peter says:

    Hi Thabiti,

    I just wanted to add my comments to those appreciating the time and care you have spent in this dialog, brother. As a history buff myself I have enjoyed the actual and counterfactual historical analysis stuff but much more importantly, I feel I have been edified and educated – about how to conduct an argument, to listen to and love a brother I disagree with, to be wary of the wrong entanglements, to be wise to the rival hegemonies out there in the culture and subculture(s) and resist them exerting power over my own sinful heart. I find your exposition of the two views (ethnic minorities and White evangelicals) of ‘multicultural’ in the above article particularly enlightening. As a White evangelical whose instinct is to run a mile from anything sounding like postmodernism that is really helpful.

    Thanks again!

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Thabiti Anyabwile

Thabiti Anyabwile is a pastor for Anacostia River Church in southeast Washington, DC and a council member of The Gospel Coalition.

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