Interview with Revd. Dr. Charlie E. Dates

12.09.2020  |  Season 2  |  Episode 8




SHOW NOTES

In this episode, Dr. Josh Jipp and Dr. Madison Pierce interview the Revd. Dr. Charlie E. Dates, Senior Pastor at Progressive Baptist Church of Chicago and an alumnus of Trinity Evangelical Divinity School.

Madison and Josh talk to Charlie about his background—his call to ministry and how he has developed his preaching gifts—and his passion for serving the people of Chicago. We also  learned about Charlie’s research during his PhD, which focused on some of the distinctives of the Black Church.

Want to check out more of the Revd. Dr. Dates’ work? Keep an eye out for his forthcoming book on social justice, and in the meantime, you can listen to his sermons via the PBC Facebook Page.

Transcript

[THEME MUSIC BEGINS]

Intro
[00:00:00] You’re listening to Foreword, a podcast from faculty at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School, hosted by Michelle Knight, Josh Jipp, Madison Pierce, and James Arcadi. Foreword invites listeners into the mission of Trinity Evangelical Divinity School through conversations with faculty, staff, and guests.

[THEME MUSIC ENDS]

Madison Pierce
Welcome to Foreword: A TEDS Faculty Podcast. I’m Madison Pierce.

Josh Jipp
And I’m Josh Jipp.

Pierce
Today, we’re sitting down with Rev. Dr. Charlie Dates, who is Pastor at Progressive Baptist Church and a key leader in Chicago with deep commitments to its flourishing. Charlie is a graduate of the TEDS MDiv and PhD programs, and a contributing author to several projects, including Letters to Birmingham Jail, Say It, and he’s even currently working on a forthcoming book on Christianity and social justice, and that will be published relatively soon with InterVarsity Press. We’ll hear about that more later, I’m sure. So Charlie, thank you so much for joining us. It’s a wonderful pleasure to have you here.

Charlie Dates
Thank you guys so much for the invitation. Glad to be here.

Jipp
Charlie, I know our audience would love to hear you talk just a little bit about your path to pastoral ministry. You’ve been at Progressive now for about ten years. Is that right?

Dates
That’s true.

Jipp
Could you just give us a little bit of…uh, some of the highlights in terms of how you became the Rev. Dr. Dates, having pastored now ten years?

Dates
Yeah, man. Well first of all, let me say again, thank you to both of you for this kind invitation to be with you. I’ve been looking forward to it—pun intended. I’ve been looking forward to it.

Jipp
[LAUGHS] Nice.

Pierce
Love it.

Dates
But um… I, uh…I really think that pastoral ministry is a calling. My orientation to the MDiv program at TEDS in the fall of 2002; the theme of it was called “Answering the Call.” And that is…that was such a welcome doormat in one sense to me at TEDS, because, Madison and Josh, as far back as I can remember, I felt called to preach. And it…it’s a kind of unshakeable burden. You know, and Jeremiah says basically, “I would give up…” —he’s having a rough time in ministry. He says, “Oh, but I can’t, because this…this word of God is like fire shut up in my bones.”

Jipp
Yep.

Dates
That is my testimony. And so I don’t preach because I, um, don’t have other interests; I preach because I can do nothing else. This…this is it. This is the…the gravitas that God has assigned to my life. And so after undergrad—I started preaching the week before I left for undergrad, August 16, 1998—old man now, it sounds like! [LAUGHTER] I went to the University of Illinois down in Urbana/Champaign and uh, and I did a dual focus in rhetoric and speech communication. I was looking at Yale. I got into Yale Divinity School and I was looking at a Master in Human Resource Management and Industrial Relations at Cornell and at U of I. And Dr. Dwight Perry, who was a professor in the Pastoral Studies Department at Moody, he and I had met almost in passing. And the deacons at our church had told him of my interest in going to seminary, and I wanted to see Moody, and he said, “Well I’ll take you to Moody if you let me show you this other school up north.” So that was my introduction to Trinity. I had never heard of Trinity.—

Jipp
Very cool. Wow.

Dates
—And so, Dr. Perry is the first African American PhD out of Trinity, and he and Greg Waybright were friends. And so when I got to TEDS—and I love TEDS, so I want to couch everything that I have to say in “I love TEDS,” but coming from Illinois, this sprawling campus with, you know, 40,000 students, I just…I was like, “Is…this…what it is?” [LAUGHTER] You know, the pond and the library—we didn’t even have the Waybright Center or the Rodine Building—

Jipp
Yeah.

Dates
—at that point, so—

Jipp
Yeah.

Pierce
[LAUGHS] Wow.

Dates
—I, uh…the only way I can explain my getting to TEDS is that it was only God. It was—the…the Lord had made it clear, uh, that he wanted me to be there. And so, I started on this journey. I think there were about six or seven other African American students at the time.

Jipp
Mmhmm.

Dates
Josh and I were actually in the MDiv program at the same time.

Jipp
Yeah.

Dates
And…and we had come from varying walks of life—Elmer Whitehead, Manuel Scott, and David Myles and so…a number of others—that I was introduced to something beyond the monolith of the Black Church that I had come to love and know. And…and so my world just started to expand. I didn’t know much about white Evangelicalism and here I am at this predominantly white Evangelical school. I’m getting to meet Black guys and girls who are from other parts of the country who have experienced church differently than I have.

Jipp
Yeah.

Dates
And…and so I’m starting to feel like there’s…there’s a broader assignment to my life than what I thought coming into TEDS. That’s how it played out. At the end of the MDiv program, I got called to a church in Chicago as the Assistant—essentially Assistant Associate Pastor at Salem Baptist Church of Chicago. And I served there for five years alongside Pastor James Meekes. And then, some…at some point during that, Dr. Willem VanGemeren, chair of the PhD department at Trinity—Old Testament scholar extraordinaire; I had taken one of his Old Testament classes toward the end of my time at…at the MDiv program, and he asked if I would sit down and do lunch one day. And so I was nervous: “Uh, yeah, sure…you know, we’ll see,” and man, it’s like, he shook me. He said, “I’ve taken the liberty to look at your grades,” this was toward the end of my program; he said, “and I…I’ve listened to the kind of questions you would ask in my class, and I really think you have the capability to pursue a PhD and I think you should do it.” That’s the first time anybody had kind of put that on me. It…it was that he believed in my ability to do it really more than my own awareness of a capability to do it. And so I told him, “With all due respect, I appreciate it, but I feel called to the pastorate, not to the professoriate.” And he said, “You don’t think as a pastor..,” you know, “…you can carry a PhD?” And I said, “Man, I’m doing good just to do this MDiv, and I’m happy, you know.” [PIERCE LAUGHS] And he…he said, “No,” he said, “I think you owe it to yourself and to your community to…to do it.” And so, I graciously bowed out of that conversation, and he would email me…oh, every six months or so. And so, two, three years out of the MDiv program, I said, “Man, listen, is…is that door still open? I…I’ll talk about it.” And so, I explored it, and it really—to…to do the PhD at TEDS at that time, you know, it was two years of full-time course work, and then you have to do your “comps” and dissertation proposal. That…that’s too much, in once sense, to do while under the weight of pastoral ministry, but because I was at an Associate Pastor, and had a bit more flexibility, I scaled my time back at the church, did my course work, and right at the end of my course work—I was in my last class, New Testament class: Revelation with Dr. Grant Osborne—I got called to Progressive. And so I was able to finish my course work before I started the Senior Pastorate. That’s how I made it! [PIERCE LAUGHS]

Jipp
Yeah.

Dates
Um, as…as you can imagine, it’s too much work, you know, to have, like, two full-time jobs. And then from there, Dr. Sweeney and Bruce Fields basically held my hand [PIERCE LAUGHS] and walked with me for four years, um, essentially—three and a half, four years to finish that program. And I can tell you, I’m legit. [LAUGHTER] Nobody gave me nothin’, like, I’ve got the scars to prove it.

Jipp
Yeah.

Pierce
Wooh.

Dates
Um, and… and yet, I am seeing God use that in my ministry, in my preaching, in the…the work in our church and our community, and in kind of the itinerant, broader national ministry God has given me.

Jipp
Yeah, that’s really cool.

Pierce
[00:08:39] That’s incredible, Charlie. I mean, I’d love to hear more about some of the ways that you see your research playing out in your ministry, but it probably would be good for us to back up a little bit and to hear about this project that you completed. I mean…so you’re working on kind of the distinctives of Black preaching, or the contributions of Black preaching, and focusing especially on Donald Parson, is that right?

Dates
That’s right.

Pierce
Could you tell us a little bit about your project?

Dates
Yeah, so I have had a…a bent toward history for as long as I can remember, which is why church history was a natural fit for me more than Old Testament was in the PhD program. But the…if you know much about the scholarship on Black preaching, it comes out of schools like Princeton, uh…with Kenyatta Gilbert and Cleophus LaRue or Frank Thomas, uh…or Henry Mitchell. And so, they…the scholarship on the history of Black preaching has been dominated by kind of East Coast um, Black scholars, which is fantastic. I…what I wanted to do was to wrestle part of that conversation back to the grassroots of the Midwest and to look at Chicago as an ideal place to study Black preaching. So anyone who knows of the shifting demographics in America knows that around 1915, uh, there’s this massive wave of chocolate people from the American South to the North, specifically to Chicago alone. And it comes in waves, so much so that by 1966—I’m actually writing this morning for another piece I’m doing, and I’m looking at Dr. King’s visit to Chicago in 1966. By 1966, King comes to Chicago, um, not because it’s the fairest city in the land, but because there are more Black people here than—in Cook County—than there were in the entire state of Mississippi by that point. It’s that much of a seismic shift.

Pierce
Wow.

Dates
And so when you want to study Black church and Black preaching, really Chicago is an ideal place, from the 60’s through the 90’s to study it. And so we picked a preacher to kind of look at what…what did someone who had not been trained by white Evangelicalism, and at the same time who…who was not trained by white mainline Protestants on the East Coast, who was a stellar preacher think about it. And…and Parson came up because he was invited to the white House under two or three presidents. He had preached all seven of the major Black denominations, conventions; he was a, um, highly touted itinerant preacher, and he in Chicago built—that…that church there, the church he pastored—built the first Christian school, from the ground up, for Black kids in Chicago. So you’ve got somebody whose…whose national and local influence is enormous, and we just wanted to find out—what did he think about the Bible and how did that factor into his preaching as a way to wrestle, again, a conversation about Black preaching back to its kind of grassroots? And what we discovered is, aside from some of the popular writing, is that Black preaching has held a very high view of Scripture and a high Christology, and a corresponding resistance to systemic injustice for as far back in the 1900’s as we could trace.

Pierce
Wow.

Dates
And that is not to say that all Black preaching is like that, but it was underrepresented in the scholarship in that regard. And so I…when I finish this piece I’m doing with InterVarsity now, I want to revisit that as a more popular publication, to make some kind of contribution—more popularly, again—to the history and development of Black preaching in America—that it’s not white. It’s not been baptized in whiteness, and it’s not been—right now it’s not co-opted by Evangelicalism. It just is…it’s true to its tenor and its tone, yet and still, even though it doesn’t get a lot of play.

Pierce
Yeah.

Jipp
That’s really good. There’s so much…so much there, Charlie, I’d love to ask you about, and, um, maybe let me press in a little bit to—I love…I love how you said it, in terms of, you know, for a long time, the tackling of systemic injustices has been coming out of the Black church’s commitment to a high view of Scripture—

Dates
Yeah.

Jipp
—and a high view of Christology. I mean, um, I think that helps us get it, probably what are some of the…some of the distinctiveness of the Balck church. Could you share a little bit more about what that looks like maybe in your context—

Dates
Yeah.

Jipp
—in the city of Chicago, um, so we can get a little bit of a flavor for what Progressive is like, what, uh, you know, what a healthy Black church is like in some ways?

Dates
[00:13:20] Yeah. Well, you know, so let me say first of all that the caricatures we see in the media about Black church and Black experience are often based upon the kind of dialogical nature of Black preaching. And…and that is, Black preaching is very much a kind of, um, a call-and-response, cognitive-and-emotive, doctrinal “dance,” as it were—from pulpit to pew. And…and so I think if you were to come to Progressive, you would feel some of that. It is…there’s no separation of head and heart in…in our preaching. And because of that, preaching in the Balck context has to meet people socially where they are. I actually think, to be honest with you, it’s not just because of the cultural implications. Scripture itself is keen upon meeting people where they are. When you look at Israel in the Old Testament, they are longing for a just king. They are longing for righteous reign and rulership, which paves the way for their anticipation of…of Jesus Christ. People everywhere—and…and the Bible is written on the margins of oppressed people—people everywhere are looking for leadership that will make wrong right, and…and how that is lived out in the Old Testament, it was never merely vertical. You know, this…this notion of the separation of church and state is really more American than it is anything else. It…it was supposed to be the people of God—in particular the king leading people in righteousness—but the people of God bringing the mind of God to bear upon the public square, so that orphans and widows and strangers and foreigners were able to thrive and to flourish. But not only that, the Lord seems to get really angry in Scripture when poor people are taken advantage of, when scales are unjust, and when…when the “haves” manipulate the “have nots.” And so there’s…there’s a lot within the kind of social structure of the communal life of the people of God that… that gives way for application of God’s word. And I think that’s the…that’s part of the dialogical, doctrinal dance that happens in the Black church and in Black preaching; it is meeting people where they are, because our Gospel is social in the sense that it affects how we live horizontally. It…it does not take away from Christ being the only way. It…it in no way robs God of his high loftiness, but it calls us to live out the ethics of the law of the Old Testament and the truth of the Gospel in ways where people can feel we actually are the people of God. And…and so what that means is beyond the pulpit, beyond the preaching, our church—and churches, I mean, we’re one of many—

Jipp
Sure.

Dates
—churches are taking to their ministries a very practical way to live out this Gospel conviction. So, if you join Progressive, part of your new members’ curriculum is we are going to ask you, “Are you registered to vote?” and if you’re not, we are going to kind of insist that you register to vote. We’re not going to tell you who to vote for, but we’re just going to say, “We have a responsibility to engage the public square.” We have, like, right now we’re waiting on 250 Google Chrome books to come. They’ve been on backorder. We’re going to give them to families at three local schools in our area. So we partnered up with the…the quarterback of the Chicago Bears, Nick Foles, and our great running back back in the day, Matt Forte, to help us get some of this stuff underway.

Jipp
Very cool.

Dates
When the pandemic first struck, we learned that people who are on SNAP benefits—the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, what I grew up knowing as “food stamps”—they could not use those SNAP benefits to order groceries online and get them delivered to their home. And so in the middle of the…the start of the raging of the pandemic, when we’re trying to get people to stay out, poor people, by virtue of their benefits, have to leave home and get food. So we got on the phone with the USDA and…and found out that they didn’t have the technology to link with Instacart. And so our team came together by the grace of God and raised about $450,000 with some other churches in partnership—

Pierce
Wow.

Dates
—and we gave away these Instacart gift codes to people—to elders, seniors, and the people who had SNAP benefits. And there are so many things I could point to. Right now, I mean, I just walked out in the parking lot—there’s an 18-wheeler trailer there—it’s a refrigerator trailer. We’re giving out 1200 boxes of food each week, again, like many other churches, because, to meet the felt need of people—particularly people who are on the margins—is to gain access to the real need, which is that of Jesus Christ. And the church, because we know what righteousness is, has to bring that to bear, again, for justice in the public square. One last thing about Progressive: we’re working with city hall right now, trying to get zoning approval for this little—we bought a little hut, really, two blocks down the road, and we’re converting it to the Progressive Center for Counseling and Justice. So we’re linking with two counseling ministries downtown—Christian counseling ministries—and making ours a kind of satellite site, so that people can actually walk to the facility and get—we all need counseling—but…but to get some much-needed counseling. And we can do some lower-level organizing—community organizing—for justice projects. So that’s one side, I mean, you know, on the other side, we’ve got married couples’ ministry, and singles’ ministry, and we’ve got a really real media ministry as a result of the pandemic.

Jipp
[LAUGHS] Right.

Dates
Um, so we’ve got those things, but we view a “healthy church” as not compromising on the truth of Scripture, but at the same time, caring about the least, the lost, and the left out.

Jipp
Yeah. That’s good.

Pierce
[00:19:25] I love that, Charlie. Thank you so much. And I…I know, so…I don’t…I grew up in Texas, so, you know, our listeners have known that, but I—

Dates
Tex-ar-kana! [LAUGHTER]

Pierce
[LAUGHS] I did, yeah! Um, and I definitely, um, you know, I grew up being taught that the Black churches across town, that they had…that they didn’t respect Scripture the way that we did. And really, I assume now that that’s probably the way that we explained why the Black people in our community weren’t present, is we had to come up with some strange excuse for…for why they weren’t there. The…the reality was that, you know, that they were…not…probably not welcome in…in my community, at least, um, and various other things that, um, you know, that play out in…in that area. So this is all…all of this to say that that’s been a part of my journey, is figuring out um, you know, some of those biases and things, but I think that, um, what you’re highlighting is that, um, my…my clear bias about the respect for Scripture and the expository preaching and all of those things that we really value, that they were absolutely present in the Black church, but that the Black church adds to that—the…the commitment to social justice. So, um, I…I wonder if you could articulate for us more, I mean, um, it must be incredibly difficult for you to hold those two things together and to do them well, so, um, how…how, um…I don’t know if I can…if I can even articulate the question. Um, how are you able to do what seems like so much more than…a lot in terms of, you know, reaching out to the community but still continuing to uphold those…those commitments to—

Dates
Yeah.

Pierce
—um…yeah.

Dates
Well let me…let me be careful, um, to say that the African American church does not fit neatly in the white Evangelical mold or model—

Pierce
Yeah.

Dates
—and has been a-ok with that. Um, so not all of our preaching, of course, is expositional, and neither is that of per se “Evangelicalism.” I mean, I don’t think Charles Spurgeon was an expositor, per se, but he certainly was one of the greatest preachers of his lifetime, and we’re still talking about him now. There…there has been…I…I fear—and I certainly can say this about my time at…at Trinity—that there has been a kind of implicit teaching that the “white” way is the “right” way—

Jipp
Mmhmm.

Pierce
Yeah.

Dates
—and the reality is, we’re seeing in these yet-to-be United States right now, just how wrong the “white” way of doing Christinaity and white theology and white politics actually is—what it has produced. The fruit of it is on clear display. And so, I…I think the…the benefit, though, of the diversity within Black preaching and Black theology is that it does not loathe white people, and it does not loathe the kind of captivity of our ancestors to the point where we hate y’all. [LAUGHS] You know, if it’s…that’s…that’s not it. There’s a genuine love ethic that…that comes out of it, so that we can get along with people with whom we disagree, and we don’t have to separate fellowship with…with people who do not necessarily read Scripture the way that we do. And…and I want to be very careful. If anybody doubts my sense of orthodoxy, that’s their problem, not…not mine, like, I’m super clear on that. So when I say, “We can get along with people who read Scripture differently than we do,” that does not necessarily mean that we adopt foreign ways of reading Scripture, or we debace the authority of it, it’s just we don’t villainize and criminalize people who…who see it differently. There…there is a winsome witness to actually living the Gospel out, rather than just printing theological treatise about what the Gospel is, and so when you’ve not owned publishing houses or radio stations or academies, your church has been your publications—

Jipp 

Yeah.

Dates
—and…and I think when you look at the work of Black churches, and—even in Chicago, I mean, time will fail us. We don’t have time to talk about how churches saved whole blocks and neighborhoods through gentrification and beyond all of that to keep equity in people’s homes. All of that stuff seems like it has nothing to do with the Gospel, but it very much springs out of affirming the value and the dignity of human life. When you look at that, those are publications in and of itself. And so I think there is a—for me, how do I do it? I…I function in the kind of trajectory in the…in the lane of the movement in which our people have come and I am hopefully continuing that, not necessarily adding to it. And so…I…that’s…that’s one way—history benefits me. But the other way is—and the seminary can learn from this idea—a lot more is caught than it is taught, and so being in a space around practitioners who are figuring it out and who are doing it, has a way of rubbing off on us. And…and so Madison, I would say I’m the beneficiary of multiple streams of good models—

Pierce
Yeah.

Dates
—and I’m hoping to be that for others. And then, I…I’m trying to read Scripture from the lens of the oppressed; not from the center of the empire, but as I read Scripture, I’m…I’m reading the Exodus narrative from the view of the slaves who were delivered, and not from the view of Pharaoh. And then a lot of people will…will say, “I do the same thing.” Well it’s a little different when you actually have some taste of oppression in your mouth. And then the rest of Scripture, for that matter—I…I’m looking at it from the lens of a people who are waiting to be set free, and from creation that is waiting to…for the revelation of the sons and daughters of God to be revealed. I…I…that’s the view, and so, um, I don’t wrestle with the libertarian themes, as it were, in Scripture, because I’m able to read Scripture from the lens of a people who have been marginalized, shackled, and oppressed. So that’s one way, I think, in which we do it. We don’t rob Scripture by doing that—hopefully we actually let the God of Scripture, uh, speak into the plight of people. And…and when you look at the global landscape, right? Most of the world lives under the foot of someone else or something else. In America, the church seemed to have been started in cahoots with the empire, and…and so its theology is more imperialistic than it is anything else—triumphalistic, for that matter. It…it does not really care as deeply as it should about the poor, the forgotten, the foreigner, and the stranger. I’ll stop.

Jipp
That’s good.

Pierce
[00:26:28] Yeah, amen. Yeah, thanks for redeeming my fumbling question. I…I’ll kick it over to Josh in a second, but I will say that I…I love that at TEDS we do have international students, especially when we talk about Romans, for example. Because, the natural way of reading Romans 13 for Americans, at least white…white Americans, is very different than—

Dates
Oh yeah.

Pierce
—it is for the people—you know, people from China, for example, uh, especially from like, Hong Kong and stuff, and we very quickly can have some really fruitful conversations about how we read Scripture from our particular settings—and read faithfully. Yeah.

Dates
Yeah.

Jipp
Yeah. Um, Charlie, one of the things I think I…I’ve heard you say, and I’ve heard you preach, and I’ve heard this that makes me reflect on sort of, uh…how often we’re taught hermeneutically: “You do exegesis, and then only after you do exegesis are you able, then, to take the second step,” right, “and move it into application or hom…,” you know, or whatever. And obviously it’s…you know, that has some good motives in terms of really trying to honor the text, but it doesn’t always necessarily make for the best theology—

Dates
Yeah, yeah.

Jipp
—or hermeneutics, which is something I’ve learned, honestly, and seen on display, more from, uh, people who aren’t white, that actually read the word, and it…and are able then, to, in a…in a powerful and winsome way, direct it immediately to the situation of God’s people, or the situation of their communities. And I’ve heard you preach, I’ve, you know, heard you and seen you, you know, do this on multiple occasions. If you’ve never heard—to our listeners—if you’ve never heard Charlie preach, you need to do it—

Pierce
Yeah.

Jipp
—just…and I’m, you know…sorry for giving…uh, you know, just giving you this little shout out here, Charlie, but it’s…it’s really powerful and edifying. And I assume that doesn’t just, like—where does that come from? Where…who are your models, or, um—you’re gifted, but obviously you, uh, have worked hard and you’ve had models. How, uh…who were some of those models? Who influenced you?

Dates
Yeah.

Jipp
How do you continue to improve as a preacher? I know I’ve got a few questions, right there, but…

Dates
[00:28:45] No. No, that’s good. Well first of all, let me…let me say, you’re very kind, um, and those comments in…in my mind register as undeserved. But I…I’ve learned not to, you know, “you don’t buy your own press” kind of thing, but I really am grateful that people think something of my preaching, you know?

Jipp
Yeah.

Dates
I go home, and I’m like, “Hey!” My mom passed away this summer, but I…you know, my mother was my big cheerleader—

Jipp
Yeah.

Dates
—my biggest cheerleader. And she believed, you know? So I go home and I’m like, “Hey! I’m a preacher!” Like, “It actually…they came back to church this week!” kind of thing. [JIPP LAUGHS]

Jipp
Yeah.

Dates
That’s…that’s really how I feel, no lies. Like, “Are they going to come back next week when this is over?” Um, but…but my models, ok, so let’s talk Bruce Fields, just real fast—

Jipp
Yeah.

Dates
—who—in…in memoriam—

Jipp
Yes. Yes.

Dates
—of…of Bruce Fields. Um, Bruce Fields was, for the longest time, the only full time African American faculty at—

Pierce
Yeah.

Dates
—at Trinity. And he…he said—on a number of occasions—but once, that any people group who think that they have sufficient theology to round out the theology of the church, or the reading of the Scripture of the church, are missing God. Uh, he…he said that doctrine and the formulation of doctrine lead to very different emphases based upon who’s doing the doctrine. And so, the burden, I think, of being Black in a context like that is, you always have to learn about white people—

Jipp
Yeah.

Dates
—but white people never really have to learn about you. And…and so I have, as it relates to coming to the text, have realized that the people I read—you know, in these commentaries and whatnot behind me—they are not culturally blind. They think they’re neutral when they’re writing—this is absolutely what this means—but they don’t understand they’re coming to the text with their own cultural kind of insights. And really, the only way to check some of that stuff is to read beyond your own comfort.

Jipp
Absolutely.

Dates
So I never bought into their “There’s just,” you know, “one way to do the exegetical practice.” Now, there is one way to parse many verbs in the New Testament, I mean, so there’s no way of getting around that, but in…but in terms of the emphasis of the passage and…and what it leads to and all that, I mean, it’s like, “Ok.” Um, so I have this repository of sermons in my head when I come to TEDS, and now, even moreso, where I’ve heard passages explained, and heard them explained and applied differently than what I’m reading in the class. And…and the grace of God to me is, when I got to Trinity, I didn’t start to judge my orientation based upon what I was learning at Trinity; I judged Trinity based upon my orientation. A lot of students of color come in and they start to critique their orientation as if their pastors were not faithful, or their teachers were not solid—or were not biblical—because they have stepped into this kind of “princely, queenly, scholarly community,” and now all of a sudden, this revelation is…is the best that there is. I never struggled with that. Thank God.

Pierce
Yeah.

Jipp
Yeah.

Dates
And…and I…I give that to other students. Now, as it relates to the actual preaching exercise and this repository of sermons, I have—and I encourage your students, to those who are interested in preaching, to listen to a wide swath of preaching and preachers. Um, and so for me, I’ll name some: there…there’s Ralph Douglas West, who is one of the prince of preachers. He’s the pastor of The Church Without Walls in Houston, TX. There’s Maurice Watson, who pastors the Metropolitan Baptist Church in Washington, D.C. There…and I met and came to know and love Crawford Loritts at Trinity. He pastors the Roswell Street Church in…in Atlanta there. And then, uh, there are some other historic names, like Sandy Ray, Gardner Taylor, E.K. Bailey, Melvin Wade. These are all voices that are swirling around in my head. And at the same time, I was listening to people like Joe Stowell, who is the president at Cornerstone in Grand Rapids. And, uh, who else was I listening to other than…than Joe Stowell? Oh! Uh, Ravi’s not necessarily—was not necessarily—a preacher per se, but I was listening to quite a bit of Ravi Zacharias at…at the time as well, and some other more popular preachers, like David Jeremiah. I wasn’t like, in the John Piper camp, and that kind of like, you know, this is the best preaching I’ve ever heard. That wasn’t me at all.

Jipp
Yeah.

Dates
And…and with all due respect, Dr. Piper, we love you, but that just wasn’t my…my…my deal. Um, and then I listened to preachers outside of my camp. So RW Schambach is a name that may not ring familiar to a lot of people, but he’s an old Pentacostal white preacher, friends with “Old Man Osteen”—not Joel Osteen, but Joel’s father—that like, they were friends. And he just had a kind of power-of-God, tenor-and-tone to his preaching that awakened faith. And I came to see that faith was not cerebral, but…but it was really…it was really in the heart, and…and the confidence one has in God. So I’ve got all of these rivers kind of coming through and to, and…and on any given passage, I’m trying to read, or listen to, whoever I know that has preached that passage, and trying to see from what angle they’ve come at it, so that, you know, my preaching is not predictable. And…and my—you know, if you do exegesis the same way that you’ve been taught, you’re going to land at the same kind of sermon outline that everybody else has who’s come to it. And then it becomes stale, and dry, and boring, and to some degree, in some contexts, people just tune you out so they can’t even be affected by it. But if you listen to the imagination of preaching that…that comes out of the voices of people, maybe even outside of your tradition, oh my goodness. It will…it will quicken your own preaching. It will make it come alive.

Jipp
Yeah, that’s great.

Pierce
Yeah, that’s wonderful. Could…I mean, could you tell us, Charlie, I mean, how did you develop as…as a preacher, in addition to hearing these voices? I mean, what were some of the ways that you have honed your craft over the years, um, and maybe what are…what are some goals for you? You’re saying that you don’t feel like you’ve arrived, so—

Dates
Oh, not at all.

Jipp
Yeah.

Pierce
—what…what will that…[LAUGHS]—

Dates
I have not preached—

Pierce
—what kind of development are you looking at? [LAUGHS]—

Jipp
Sorry to everyone else out there. [LAUGHTER]—

Pierce
[LAUGHS] Yeah!

Dates
[00:35:25]—Yeah, no, I have not preached my…my best sermon. And I…so I’m after a voice. I’m haunted by a voice that I hear in my head. I don’t have it yet, but I hear it, and I…and I’m after it. So, to…to answer your question, real people make real preachers better—feedback; standing in front of actual, real people. And I’ll never forget this, so I’m…I was interning at a church in Rockford, at the New Zion Baptist Church in Rockford—Pastor K. Edward Copeland, wonderful scholar. He did at DMin at…at TEDS, lawyer, all this kind of stuff. And, this was…I…I was preaching there, into my earlier years in the MDiv program, after some New Testament Greek class or whatever. So I’m preaching Luke 7, and I’m saying, you know, “The woman in Luke 7 who breaks the alabaster vial, she’s defined, or she’s named, as ‘a sinner—ἁμαρτωλός,’” this, you know…so I get into this, “and it’s the definite, uh…it’s the ‘something’ adjective without the article.” And so I’m, you know, “Her name is synonymous with ‘sin.’” You know, I’m going through all of this stuff. And he very light and politely was over and said, “You know, grandma who is sitting on the fourth row knows nothing about ἁμαρτωλός,” you know? And um, and…and it just started to register as I listened to people that…that the book has been reaching their hearts—the Holy Spirit has been producing much fruit in their lives, without the benefit of all of the stuff that I was learning and bringing to the table in technicolor. So, that made me a better preacher. It…it taught me how to use the technical stuff, but to leave it in the kitchen, and to bring to the dining room just the effect of it, so that I—if…and…and this is something Dana Harris has said that has just blessed me. She said, “Hey man, I’ve listened to you preach.” She said, “I can tell you’ve done your homework.” And this was recently, you know, like she said, “I could…I could tell that you’ve done your homework with the technical stuff, but I appreciate that all of that was not ‘brought,’ basically, here.” So…so for a scholar to be able to say, “Hey, I can actually discern, this guy is actually, you know, moving through the passage,” but for grandma to sit there and…and to be able to grab hold of it, it was a…is a time, or period, of trial and testing. It’s…it’s just the rhythm of preaching over and over and over again in front of real people who will give you real feedback. And I think, again, the “not buying to your…”—the “not buying your own press” has been a big deal for me. So I’m listening to people who are further down the road than I am, and I’m going, “what in the world can I learn from them?” I’ll give you one that may shock you: I’m listening to some younger guys, and, uh, younger guys who do not have the kind of training, quite frankly, that I have, but they are effective communicators. And I’m saying, “what are they doing that I can learn from?” And so, I’m…I’m plugging them in, you know, on a regular basis. And I learned this at TEDS, too: every preacher needs to listen to preaching for edification, not for critique first. So I’m listening for, “What is God saying to me?” and then after that, I can go back and go, “Ok, now I’m learning, you know, x, y, and z from it.” And…and then, one other thing is, like yesterday, I read a sermon that Gardner Taylor wrote from Joshua, when Rahab sticks the red rope outside of her window. And so I’m reading some of the heroes and sheroes of…of preaching, so Barbara Brown Taylor, um, and what’s the Methodist guy? William Willimon!

Jipp
Yep.

Dates
You know, I…I’m reading preaching at the same time as I’m listening to it. And I’m reading people who very likely, at times, my congregation will never listen to. They’re just either not in the context for it or that person is…is gone, and so I’m mining those gems and those nuggets. H.B. Charles has this saying…he said, “There are no better preachers; there are just better libraries.” I do not totally agree with that. [JIPP LAUGHS] I do think some people are just gifted, and God has made… [LAUGHTER] But the point from it is, if you work at that library, too, as it relates to preaching, it’s no harm in taking from the great insight of other preachers and making it your own.

Jipp
Yeah. That’s really good.

Pierce
Yeah. Yeah.

Jipp
Ah, Charlie, I have so many questions I want to ask you, but um, maybe…maybe let me just squeeze in one more. You are, um, you are one of TEDS’ beloved grads—MDiv, PhD, you’re ministering here in the city of Chicago, you’re a friend of TEDS, you…you do some adjunct teaching  at TEDS. You’ve earned the right, I think, to be able to say, um, “TEDS, this is what I would…here is how I would love to see you grow. Here’s how I would love to see sort of, like, the vision of TEDS continue, but also maybe develop and expand.” Like, what…what would…what would be maybe some…some hope you might have for us as we do theological education—

Dates
Yeah, I’ve got a lot of hope.

Jipp
—up here on the North Suburbs?

Dates
[00:40:45] I’ve got…I’ve got a lot of hope, and…and part of it is, when we logged onto this call, and I saw you and Madison, my heart leaped. And we joked about this before we started recording, but the fact that Madison is there, and the fact that you are there, gives those students—I’ve heard some of the stuff you’ve talked about in your class from students I know, Josh, who have been there. And I just…I just said, “Man, I wish my New Testament profs said some stuff remotely close to that.”

Jipp
Oh, thanks.

Dates
No, true story. And I don’t want to go into the details on the recording, but…but who you see in front of you teaching, sends a message to you about who…who actually can be in authority. And so for me, it was just a bunch of white guys for the most part, and then there was Dana Harris, who, you know, blessed our lives. But to see that multiply is a big deal. I also think that TEDS’ best days are in front of her, if some strategic moves are made here. So if you’ve got somebody like Madison and yourself, and then, you know, Watson Jones is finishing his PhD here—he pastors in Chicago. Eric Rivera has one. I have one by the grace of God. If you see these kinds of voices and faces being used to teach at Trinity, it’s…it’s going to be, or it can be, a place like none other around the country. Um, so, I…I think just the collection of a younger, more diverse faculty, given the freedom to build a new curriculum, would make TEDS an all the more amazing place. I think money follows ministry, so even the money challenges at a lot of our institutions—which a lot of our Christian institutions are…are wrestling with—the money stuff can be overcome as a new generation starts to be reached and as a compelling vision is laid forth. People will give to that. You look at George Floyd and Breonna Taylor and Ahmaud Arbery killed by, in my opinion, a kind of racist venom that yet flows through the veins of the American Justice System, if that’s what you want to call it, the most prophetic witness of the church today for evangelism—our prophetic voices, I should say—the…the best witness for evangelism are people who have a strong grip on God and his Word, but who also have a keen awareness of what’s going on in culture and society. It’s also not lost on me, Josh, that there are some at TEDS who have ties with white nationalists. I’m not talking about faculty, but I’m…but I’m saying, you know, some students who accused people like, you know, the Mosaic program for being “woke” or too—and like, that’s the new bad word!

Jipp
Yeah.

Dates
And…and so there is a, uh, there is a…a big sense in which you and I have a…a wonderful opportunity, and yet great challenge at the same time in front of us. And…and so, I would love to see TEDS bring back some of its alumni—

Jipp
Yeah.

Dates
—more regularly. Manuel Scott is…is another who is, you know, finishing the PhD program. And put them to work—put us to work right away, and…and then we’ll see…we’ll see what God will do. That’s my pitch.

Jipp
Amen. I’d be with it. I’d support it.—

Pierce
I love that, yeah. Yeah, amen. I, um, earlier when you were talking about, you know, strong commitments to Scripture and to social justice, I mean, I think I’ve said this before, like, that’s my hope for Trinity, that we could embody that going forward. Yeah.

Dates
I…I’m with you. I’m sorry, that was…that was Kirstie. But I appreciate the fact that that’s part of your burden, Madison. And let me just say, it starts with a burden. It starts with a…like, have you ever heard somebody preach, and you go, “Well that was a nice sermon, but there was no burden in it! There was no…there was no pull in it!” And I think that’s what our leadership and our faculty—and really, faculty, y’all change the…the environment. This is not just administration, but where your burden is, that gets translated into the kind of scholars you produce.

Jipp
Yep.

Pierce
Amen.

Jipp
[00:44:57] Alright, I’m going to squeeze in my last question on a light hearted note, alright? Charlie, you’ve got, uh, two places you can take me for lunch, within two miles of Progressive. [PIERCE LAUGHS] Where are you taking me?

Dates
I’m going to take you to Sweet Maples Cafe.

Jipp
Alright.

Dates
It’s…it’s probably just a bit more than two miles—

Jipp
Close enough. [PIERCE LAUGHS]

Dates
—but it’s, um, or…or right in it, yeah. It’s at Taylor and Loomis.

Jipp
Okay.

Dates
And they have the absolute best—on Friday; today’s Friday—they do a catfish and egg special, and they have this cinnamon roll pancake around this time of year, where you’re going to have to run three miles when you get done eating it, [LAUGHTER] but it is…it is absolutely fantastic, and then—

Jipp
Say it again.

Dates
Yeah, Sweet Maples Cafe.

Jipp
Sweet Maples Cafe, alright.

Dates
Sweet Maples Cafe.

Jipp
Alright.

Dates
And, uh… and then there’s the Chicago staples. I don’t know if you get into corned beef and pastrami, but Manny’s is not—

Jipp
Yep, yep.

Dates
—Manny’s Deli is not too far. So I just got to throw the—

Jipp
Okay. No Harold’s Chicken.—

Dates
Man, listen. No. Harold’s is a—so, Josh has had Harold’s. [JIPP LAUGHS] And Madison, when you come, we will do that, alright?

Pierce
Good. I can’t wait.

Dates
So…so we will do that. And then there’s a place in Hyde Park called Virtue that—

Jipp
Nice.

Dates
—that I would take you guys to. Uh, so there’re…there’re a number of them. There’re a number of them.

Jipp
Yeah.

Dates
Really some holes-in-the-wall. If you gave me a few more miles, I’d take you to Home of the Hoagy, which is down on 111th and Throop. Now, you’re gonna stand out—

Jipp
Yeah.

Dates
—when you go.

Jipp
Yeah.

Dates
But that’s good!

Jipp
I’m okay with it!—

Pierce
Yeah, we’ll be okay.—

Jipp
—It’s not the first time.

Dates
I…I know you’re okay with that, but there are a lot of people who aren’t used to standing out—

Jipp
Yeah.

Dates
—just because they show up. But that…that’s good. I would take you, and again, and probably not the best for your cholesterol, but it would be fantastic.

Jipp
Ah.

Pierce
[LAUGHS] Can’t wait.

Jipp
You know, I know these places on the North Side, but you know, I  just, uh…I need to…I need to go to Progressive more and it will make Amber happy too.

Dates
Let’s do it.

Jipp
You know? Alright.

Dates
Let’s do it. Let’s…let’s pray this pandemic comes to an end and, uh—

Jipp
I know.

Pierce
Amen.

Dates
—and then I would love to have you guys.

Jipp
Yeah, absolutely.

Pierce
Yeah. Oh, Charlie, we didn’t give you space to talk about your book, so actually, here’s the last question. I mean, sorry, Josh, I don’t want to—

Jipp
No, you’re good. You’re good—

Pierce
—you know, trump your food question.

Jipp
—I just had to get my food question in at some point, and I knew time was slipping away. [LAUGHTER]

Pierce
[LAUGHS] Yeah. Charlie, before we go, will you tell us just a little bit about your book? I want to make sure that we give you space to be able to plug that before we go.

Dates
No, I appreciate it. So I’m under contract with InterVarsity Press, and I’m behind schedule. I’m like, three chapters in on a six chapter piece. It’s called, What Hath Justice To Do With Righteousness?—

Jipp
That’s a great title.

Dates
—and it essentially is…is…it opens with making an argument for what is a better Christian worldview than that which we’ve just been told is the Christian worldview, right? And then it moves to an etymological and theological exploration of the words “justice” and “righteousness” in the Old Testament and New Testament. Then it looks at a…a kind of symbiotic relationship between Martin King and Billy Graham—

Jipp
Wow.

Dates
—as two people who, one is lauded to be orthodox, and yet, is rather conservative in politics and justice issues, and the other who some would say is “not so orthodox,” which I don’t agree with, but who is forward-pushing and moving in matters of social justice. And the question becomes—especially as a Black scholar—how…like, I wouldn’t have a right to vote if it were just left up to James Boyce and to the Southern Baptists, you know? And it’s the whole Billy Graham camp. I wouldn’t! So, why is it that people who are accused of not having the “highest” and “best” theology actually care more about people who look like me and our ability to flourish on earth than those who have a supposed “high view” of Scripture? Now, you could go back to Richard Baxter and Cotton Mather and make that argument, to be honest, to Puritan American culture—

Pierce
Yeah.

Dates
—but we’re trying to make it within the 1960’s there. And then it moves on to talk about, “Why are we afraid of a so-called ‘social Gospel?’” I…I am one who thinks that the Gospel does not need adjectives. So, “social Gospel,” “prosperity Gospel,” I’m all in. We…we don’t need them. But the Gospel does need application, and so, what a lot of people think or take a Walter Rauschenbusch kind of view of “social Gospel” and that…that kind of thing, or who get into Marxism and—I don’t care about none of that. Our fear of that, or their fear of that, has made them antisocial with the Gospel, has…has not given them the kind of groundwork to fight injustice and to stand on truth. And so we’re trying to debunk those things with this book. And, the feedback so far from the editor has been good. It starts off real strong. We’re trying to keep the voice from waning, you know, as the chapters come along, but who’s got time for all of that? You know, it’s like, hey, I’m preaching every week—

Jipp
Yeah.

[THEME MUSIC BEGINS]

Dates
—[LAUGHS] and all of this other stuff, so it will…Lord willing, it will be out next year, if I’m able to finish the draft—the full, first draft this year. It should be able to be out next year.

Jipp
That’s exciting.

Pierce
Oh, fantastic—

Jipp
That’s exciting.—

Dates
But y’all know that. Y’all write books. Y’all know how that life is.—

Jipp
Yeah, but my voice just kind of wanes. [LAUGHTER]

Dates
I got Josh Jipp’s—

Pierce
[LAUGHS] And Josh just lets it, yeah.

Dates
—right here. Saved by Hospitality. I’m looking at it.

Jipp
Aw, thanks, Charlie. I appreciate it.

Pierce
[LAUGHS] Alright.

Dates
Appreciate you guys. Thank you for having me.

Pierce
Oh, absolutely. Yeah, so thank you so much, Charlie, for joining us. Listeners, I hope that you will take Josh…or, you know, take Josh’s advice and check out Charlie’s preaching if you’re not familiar with it already. You can follow Charlie on Twitter, and continue to…to follow along with his flourishing career, um, and as he develops as a preacher, though we’ll…we can talk more about whether Charlie’s arrived—

Dates
Oh, no.

Pierce
—or…or, you know, the development he has to do. [LAUGHTER] But nevertheless, thank you so much, everybody, for joining us. Thanks to our producer, Curtis Pierce, as always. Thanks to Lauren Januzik for her hard work, and again, thanks to all of you. Um, that’s just the foreword. [LAUGHS]

Outro
Foreword is a podcast hosted by faculty at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School. You can subscribe to our newest episodes on your preferred podcast app or at forewordpodcast.com. Be sure to follow us on Twitter and Facebook @forewordpodcast to get updates and additional links to content. Trinity Evangelical Divinity School is located 25 miles north of Chicago, with extension sites across the country and online. Trinity educates men and women to engage in God’s redemptive work in the world by cultivating academic excellence, Christian faithfulness, and lifelong learning. You can find more information at teds.edu.

[THEME MUSIC ENDS]

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