Joyful noise: the ecclesiological and evangelistic significance of racial diversity and religious pluralism in the experiences of historically black collegiate gospel choirs on three majority-white university campuses in Greater Boston
Hickman-Maynard, Theodore N.
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This study offers a practical theology of evangelism for black churches in an increasingly postmodern American cultural context. As a postmodern politics of difference challenges the traditional construction of black racial identity and religious pluralism challenges the basis of Christian confessional commitment, the black church must reassess what it means to bear witness to a distinctive black Christian faith tradition. As a work in practical theology, this reflection emanates from a consideration of how these issues manifest in a concrete situation. Specifically, the dissertation investigates the practices and self-understanding of three historically black collegiate gospel choirs (HBCGCs) affiliated with predominantly white major research universities in the greater Boston area. The descriptive analysis of these HBCGCs and the ecclesiological discussion that follows assume a reflexive quality whereby the research on HBCGCs contributes fresh insights regarding the nature of black Christian community within a racially diverse and religiously pluralist social context even as the praxis of HBCGCs is subjected to critique through the normative gaze of black theology. This dialogue includes voices from black postmodern cultural criticism in order to develop a black postmodern ecclesiology that preserves the distinctiveness of the black Christian tradition through the exercise of narrative discipline while embracing a reconstructed notion of communal solidarity that is strengthened by difference. From this black postmodern ecclesiology, evangelism emerges as the ecclesial practice of extending the church’s communal witness across the boundary lines between church and world through mutually critical transformative exchanges. The study brings black postmodern ecclesiology into conversation with cross-cultural missional theology and postliberal communalism to arrive at a narrativist confessional approach to evangelism that affirms the particularity of the Christian gospel while recognizing the work of the Spirit outside the church. The descriptive analysis of HBCGCs aids in imagining the practical implications of this approach as they creatively embody aspects of the communal life of black churches, thereby providing unique extra-ecclesial spaces within which mutually critical transformative exchanges occur between those for whom the black Christian tradition is normative and those for whom it is not—risky exchanges the outcomes of which are unpredictable, yet beautiful and joyful.