Book Review: Beyond Liberation

Updated: Nov 4, 2019

If you know me, you know I love to read. Books are my happy place. From fiction to philosophy, I cannot get enough of any good book that crosses me path. Earlier this year, I finished Beyond Liberation by Dr. Carl Ellis Jr. and I firmly believe that everyone, especially Christians, should read this book. Written in the 1980’s, this book is an amazing synopsis of how the gospel has been the foundational element of Black progress and freedom in America. Furthermore, it captures the beauty of how Christ and his message are not only complementary to, but are the essence of what the Black cultural dynamic can be. While reading this book I felt every emotion possible, from anger to awe, confusion to amusement, but in the end, I only felt more in love with Jesus. I couldn't help but see the glory of God in the heritage and destiny of my race. I found myself in worshipful tears at several moments during the reading of this book. I couldn't wait to share with you all some tidbits of what I learned.

So here are 4 reasons why you should read this book:

1. This book honors the legacy of thought in Black people and culture, regardless of doctrinal/religious alignment.

Ellis is a scholar of black culture and of God's Word. As such, he is capable of recognizing the truth of God in any cultural expression or school of thought and honoring such truth as a grace of God. He spends much time praising the historically Black cultural expression that is the negro spiritual as a heroic illustration of God's covenant with His people. He uses jazz as a metaphor for the Black theological dynamic that allows our culture to interpret the Scriptures in meaningful and expressive ways. Furthermore, he acknowledges the genius of Douglas and DuBois. He pays special attention to King and X for their dynamic ability to recognize that the God of the Bible is not the god of the West and their ability to use such wisdom to dismantle the systems of injustice that captivated them. In response to a comment on a recent post, Ellis says of X:

"... Malcolm opened my eyes as a young man to something that evangelical Christianity under 20th century Jim Crow never did – finding dignity, value and worth in my specific culture, aesthetic, history, and purpose."[1]

Wow. Just wow.

2. This book debunks several myths that many Black people, believer or not, have struggled with.

From the curse of Ham to America's secular humanism cloaked in a phony gospel, Ellis spares no falsehood from correction. He lays out the presence of Black lives in the Bible and the importance of Black people in the promotion of the gospel from Acts through the first millennia. His matter-of-fact tone insults the wise and encourages the humble. Furthermore, he affirms the freedom to be both Black and Christian to the fullest extent without any moral degradation. His reasoning reminds me that there is nothing inherent in my Blackness that can pluck me from His hand-- not slavery, not a "curse", NOTHING!

3. This book criticizes the false Christianity of the West that has maimed people of color worldwide.

Ellis is not blind to the very valid criticisms our people have of Christianity as exhibited throughout modern Western history. He shares the same sentiments. However, he unfolds for us the fact that the West has not practiced the true teachings of Christ in centuries. He addresses the shifting patterns of thought that were promulgated throughout the 15th and 16th centuries as a dynamic of secular humanism and outright rejection of the true knowledge and wisdom that only comes from God. This affirms the fact that Christianity as America knew and practiced from inception was nothing more than flower-covered manure. Sure there was a remnant of godliness and grace in theology and practice, but the “Christianity” that has captured and enslaved millions, terrorized and imperialized millions more, and left entire nations in desolation is not the religion of Christ, no matter the language behind it.

4. This book defines and promotes liberation in its truest sense.

Finally, Ellis lays out the framework for what liberation truly means and how it has been distorted by the same secular humanism that enslaved us in the first place. By drawing the picture of what liberation meant for our ancestors, Ellis is further witnessing to the genius and faith that has shaped and fueled Black freedom in America. Moreover, his own allegiance to the God of the Bible informs his definition of liberation and leaves the audience with a renewed sense of hope for the justice of the Lord to be fulfilled. Simply put, Black liberation for the sake of our Blackness is not enough. “Black is truly beautiful, but it is not beautiful as a god. As a god it is too small.”[2] Our liberation can (and has) become our bondage without Christ, but “ if the Son sets [us] free, [we] will be free indeed![3]

This book is amazing, but it is no longer in print. He created an updated version in 1995 titled Free At Last?, but I value Beyond Liberation because of its historical timing. Still, the concepts discussed in his work and teachings have challenged me in ways I cannot explain. I am encouraged. Empowered. Emboldened. I pray frequently for a 21st century rewrite that includes the current phenomena that have come into the forefront of black life in America. Our time needs it. Til then, I challenge more of us to become better students of the history and Scriptures that have saved us. Our true liberation depends on our pursuit of God in the spirit of our ancestors with the creativity and relevance of our contemporaries. Let’s allow our godly heritage to chart the course to our destiny.

[1] Matt Smethurst, “On My Shelf: Life and Books with Carl Ellis”,, (April 24, 2017)

[2] Carl F. Ellis Jr., Beyond Liberation (Illinois: InterVarsity Press, 1983), 139.

[3] John 8:36 ESV

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