My Interview with Thabiti M. Anyabwile on His Newest Title, “May We Meet in the Heavenly World”: The Piety of Lemuel HaynesPosted: July 22, 2009
A. Lemuel Haynes simply hasn’t received enough attention as either an important figure in American and Christian history, or as an example to us of faithful Christian witness and pastoral labor. There is so much to learn from Haynes.
Q. What have you personally gleaned from the ministry of Lemuel Haynes the most?
A. I’m gripped by three things as I study Haynes. First, as I try to demonstrate in “May We Meet in the Heavenly World”, Haynes was consistently gripped by visions of eternity and heaven. I really dislike that saying, “Don’t be so heavenly minded you’re of no earthly good.” That saying gets it exactly backwards. The only way to be of any earthly good and to make a difference for eternity is to be heavenly minded. At least that’s how the apostle Paul under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit seemed to view things in Colossians 3:1–4. Haynes’s correspondence and sermons breathe the air of heaven and speak the language of Zion. That example is good for our souls and calls us to nobler, higher things of Christ.
Second, the Lord seemed to position Haynes between the church and the world in a powerful way. He was faithful in his pastoral duties, serving one congregation for three decades. But he also spoke powerfully to the issues of his day from a gospel- and Bible-centered perspective. He attempted to exegete the sacred text and the secular society so that the truth of God could be applied to all of life. Today, there are many who think that playing down the Bible or dressing it up in new clothing is the way to be sensitive to the issues in the culture. Haynes demonstrates that that kind of pragmatism is not necessary and that biblical faithfulness is effective.
Third, I’d like to say I learn something more about doctrinal preaching from Haynes. For Haynes, doctrine is for feeling and living and rejoicing and thanksgiving. He is precise doctrinally and fervently evangelistic. There’s light and fire in his preaching. I pray for that to be the case in my own preaching some day.
Q. How has Lemuel Haynes influenced your work as a pastor?
A. Well, first, he’s helped me to view pastoral ministry in light of eternity. I don’t know why my dull heart focuses so much on the dailyness of ministry, and temporal things. But Haynes raises my gaze to that coming Day when Christ shall appear and I will give an account and receive my reward. That quickens me, and when I keep this perspective in mind, it fills everything with a new and more exalted dignity.
As I said earlier, I hope his example of preaching his affected my own in some positive way. Haynes was also very missions-minded. He worked hard to pioneer missions and church-planting work in New England. He would preach right up to the week of his death at 80 years of age. He was tireless in the cause of the gospel; I hope to be so as well.
Haynes also spent a fair amount of time involving himself in ministerial fraternals and associations. He was catholic in the best sense, and contributed to the health of other congregations and ministers. He affirms that sense that we’re not to be in pastoral ministry alone or to neglect the wider body of Christ.
And I love that Lemuel Haynes was a writer! When I began work on African-American church history and theology, I was fairly certain that not much would be available from the earliest periods of African-American history, largely because many places had adopted slave codes that forbid African Americans from learning and writing. But in God’s providence, there are a number who nonetheless managed to learn and contribute significantly to spiritual deposits of Christ’s church. Haynes is one such person and his writings are helping a generation of African Americans to write and publish today. So, Haynes encourages me to write—primarily for the congregation the Lord has allowed me to shepherd—but also with the hopes that the Lord might make the writings useful to other parts of His vineyard and future periods of history, should He tarry.
Finally, his children testify that Haynes was faithful in the spiritual instruction of the home. He had grown up as an indentured servant in the home of a faithful deacon, who also led his family in spiritual exercises. I’d like to leave that kind of legacy with my own children.
Q. What are a couple of things you hope your new book will get across to those that are not familiar with Lemuel Haynes?
A. I hope it shows something of the contributions African Americans have made to Christian faith and practice at the founding of the country, and contributes to greater cross-cultural understanding inside the church. I hope the volume helps Christians glean from Haynes’s spiritual life in ways that are meaningful for their walk with the Lord. And I’d love to see others extend the scholarship on Haynes.
Q. In what way does this differ from your other books that deal with or make mention of Lemuel Haynes (i.e. The Faithful Preacher and The Decline of African American Theology)?
A. “May We Meet in the Heavenly World” hopefully gives the reader more insight into the man himself, particularly a glimpse into his devotion to God. The Faithful Preacher contains a couple of ordination and funeral sermons that teach us about Haynes’s view of pastoral ministry, and The Decline of African American Theology puts Haynes in the broader sweep of African American theological history. From the vantage point of history, I would argue that Haynes is a part of that great generation of writing African Americans whose theology was robustly biblical and orthodox. They are in many ways the standard-setting generation. As a pastor, Haynes is a model. But in “May We Meet in the Heavenly World” we hopefully discover things that stir us up to love and good deeds, that quicken our affections for the Savior.
Q. In the “May We Meet in the Heavenly World”, it becomes abundantly clear that Hayne’s formation in godliness was influenced by a profound sense of eternity and an unfailing hope heaven. Is this something that most Evangelicals have lost, and how can a recovery of this benefit us today?
A. I’m afraid many evangelicals have lost these things. I think it was David Wells who wrote, “God rests lightly” on the evangelical mind these days. A sense of the awesomeness of God, the fast-approaching reality of eternity, and the hope of heaven have been supplanted by a much more mundane, pragmatic, worldly, and ultimately hopeless form of thought.
To recover what Haynes and others understood so well, we need more doctrinally serious and fervent preaching, we need to major on the eternal themes and promises of the Scriptures, and to live more constantly in view of Christ’s return. We really must crucify that pernicious tendency to think that “we have time” and that the Lord is slack concerning His promises. We’re all too comfortable in this world and long for the next too little. And, yet, we’re called to set our minds on things above where Christ is seated at the right hand of God.
Q. Lastly, if you only had a couple of sentences to encourage someone to read this book, what would you say?
A. If your thoughts and your heart has grown dull, perhaps a little complacent and worldly, read this book as one tool to turn your mind back to your first love. If you want to be encouraged by some consideration of what God is able to do with a life of great disadvantage (abandoned by both parents at infancy; raised an indentured servant; etc), read this book and trust that God may do even greater things through those desiring to be used of Him.
“This well chosen selection from Lemuel Haynes’s writings represents a significant part of the earliest African-American engagements with the Reformed theological tradition. In that tradition Haynes and his black contemporaries, both American and British, found a language of justice and inspiration that allowed them to criticize slavery and racial prejudice, and to offer a Christian vision of a free society. “May We Meet in the Heavenly World” can be recommended to students of Christian theology and of American history. —John Saillant, author of Black Puritan, Black Republican: The Life and Thought of Lemuel Haynes, 1753–1833