Review of Crusoe, ed., Somebody Must Come Preaching: A Collaborative Collection of Expositions in African-American Churches of Christ

It’s not a rare occurrence for me to write a book review for this blog, but it’s not often that I get to review a book of such direct significance to my own research (and personal!) interests in the history and theology of the Stone-Campbell Movement. A little less than a year ago, when I returned to this blog project, I shared some thoughts on Clinton De France’s One Loaf and One Cup: A Scriptural and Historical Survey, a helpful historical and doctrinal overview of the “OLOC” fellowship of Churches of Christ. Today, I am getting to share a few short remarks on the similarly useful and interesting Somebody Must Come Preaching: A Collaborative Collection of Expositions in African-American Churches of Christ, edited by J. Michael Crusoe, with an introduction by Jefferson R. Caruthers, Jr.

I have to confess that I’m a few months late getting to this review despite 1) having preordered the book and 2) having initially read it when I received my copy in the mail earlier this year. Despite the delay, though, I’m excited to be able to turn my attention back to it now.

At its core, Somebody Must Come Preaching is a book of sermons delivered by ministers from African-American Churches of Christ, though there is, as we will see, much more content besides. These eighteen main sermons, which begin on page 60 of the book, are organized by the sections of the Bible from which their primary texts are taken–Pentateuch, Historical Old Testament, Wisdom Literature, Major Prophets, Minor Prophets, New Testament Synoptics, Johannine Literature, Book of Acts, Pauline Epistles, and General Epistles. (Historical Old Testament, Johannine Literature, and Pauline Epistles are the best represented sections, with three sermons apiece, though the balance is relatively even overall, if not necessarily proportional to the length of the sections themselves.) The inclusions are also varied across generational and, to some extent, methodological divides. As Crusoe notes in the preface to the collection, “This is not a sermon book on how to preach, but rather a book of sermons from a cadre of preachers representing a cross section of generations that include Baby Boomers, Generation X, and Millennials.” Similarly, he adds, “While the present trend toward expository preaching has increased, preachers in churches of Christ hold a high regard for textual, narrative and exegetical preaching that does not disconnect from the Restoration Movement plea of ‘speaking where the Bible speaks… being silent where the Bible is silent.” (p. 6) Short biographical entries are included for each contributor.

Along with these eighteen sermons and Crusoe’s preface, Somebody Must Come Preaching includes several essays, interviews, and other prefatory materials which orient the reader to the larger developments and conversations taking place within the African-American Churches of Christ preaching tradition. As noted above, Caruthers first provides readers a general introduction to preaching. Following that, a short subsection, “Honoring Preaching Giants from the East Coast: Standing on the Shoulders of Soldiers of the Cross,” includes sermons from Eugene Lawton, Joseph H. Brown, and Humphrey Foutz. A series of topical essays from Crusoe, David Wilson, and John David Marshall follows, interspersed with interviews with Tradanius Beard, Lovell C. Hayes, Crusoe, and Ian Nickerson.

Although I spent seven years in college and young professionals ministry and preached a few sermons along the way, I am not a preacher by training or profession, and as such I don’t feel particularly qualified to speak authoritatively about the merits and insights of the sermons themselves. However, as a historian of the Stone-Campbell Movement and the fellowships which constitute it, I can certainly vouch for Somebody Must Come Preaching as an important point of reference for future work in SCM history generally and in the history of African-American Churches of Christ more specifically. The sermons and other materials contained in the book, aside from their inherent spiritual value, are also illustrative of many of the historical trends and characteristics described in books like Edward J. Robinson’s recent Hard-Fighting Soldiers: A History of African American Churches of Christ. (As an aside, Robinson, a preacher and professor, is one of the contributors to Somebody Must Come Preaching, and my review of his Hard-Fighting Soldiers appears in Restoration Quarterly 63, no. 2, p. 113-114.)

In terms of shortcomings, I don’t have much to mention, though I did notice some typographical errors (e.g. “East Cost Preaching Giants” on page 2), and the organizational approach for the prefatory materials is not always self-evident; putting all of the essays together, then all of the interviews, etc. might have made for a slightly more straightforward schema. Similarly, while the decision to arrange the sermons by primary texts makes much sense, other approaches might have been equally viable, and one might quibble with the placement of the sermon on Revelation 2:1-7 in the “Pauline Epistles” category. There is a logic to that decision, since all three sermons in the category relate to the church at Ephesus, but since Acts received its own section, the inclusion of a Revelation-based sermon (even one focused on the church at Ephesus!) in the “Pauline Epistles” section seems odd.

These minor presentation issues notwithstanding, along with books like Hard-Fighting Soldiers, Barclay Key’s Race & Restoration: Churches of Christ and the Black Freedom Struggle, and James L. Gorman, Jeff W. Childers, and Mark W. Hamilton’s coedited collection Slavery’s Long Shadow: Race and Reconciliation in American Christianity, Somebody Must Come Preaching should be on the shelf of anyone with an interest in African-American experiences within–and contributions to–Churches of Christ.

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