5 Oct 2023


Author: Bobby Valentine | Filed under: American Empire, Black History, Bobby's World, Books, Christian hope, Faith, Forgiveness, Race Relations

ESAU McCAULLEY: How Far to the Promised Land (Convergent 2023)

This is an engrossing, honest, hopeful, nuanced, and even loving story of one man growing up black in North Alabama. Prior to this I had read three McCaulley books: Sharing in the Son’s Inheritance; Reading While Black; and his children’s book Josey Johnson’s Hair and the Holy Spirit, and numerous articles by him. McCaulley did his PhD under N. T. Wright and is just a great biblical scholar. I got to meet Dr. McCaulley and here part of his story at Harbor: The Pepperdine Bible Lectures back in May. I confess I got my picture with him 🙂

But this book is not a work of biblical scholarship. It is an introspective look at one’s own life and heritage through the eyes of faith, hope and love. It is a faith that has been shaped by a specific historical and social context that is familiar with suffering and alienation. The book is framed by the story of McCaulley’s drug addict father’s death. It is the story of victory in the midst of poverty – the working poor. It is the story of discovering God in places and in people that only faith can see.

On this journey we learn of Sophia’s Gift (a great grandmother born in 1901). We learn of the tenacity of a black mother to provide for her children. We learn heartbreak and we learn grace. We learn how McCaulley accidentally fell in love with a person he did not intend to, a white woman. We learn how her family (especially her father) rejected her for years after they were married.

This book spoke to me on so many levels. I am from Florence, just a short distance away from Huntsville. I know where University Blvd is; I’ve hung out at Madison Square Mall; I know Johnson High; and so many other places mentioned. I grew up in a working poor household but I did not grow up in a black one.

On another level the story is completely alien to me. The amount of violence that just seems to be “normal.” The normal interactions with the police. The routine loss of life.

Pepperdine University May 2023

Mingled through the entire narrative is the thread of resurrection hope. The word “resurrection” is only mentioned once as I recall in telling the story of the funeral. But it is that key in McCaulley’s heart that just may be the scarlet thread through the whole book. Something like life comes OUT OF the hopelessness of death. The death of a father, the death of friends, the death of relationships, the death hope … to resurrection.

The book is a breeze to read. There are places of genuine humor. There are moments of deep reflection on life. There are places where I stopped and just said, “that is profound.” It opens a beautiful widow in the life of an ordinary black family in heart of the South not just in the 1930s or 1950s but the 1980s and later. I want to compare this book to Ta -Nehisi Coats (Between the World and Me) which is a deep book. But perhaps it is closer to some Frederick Douglass, John Perkins, Martin Luther King Jr., and Cornel West. “There is no black faith that doesn’t wrestle with the problem of evil.” This book is shaped by a profound faith that has been formed in the crucible of suffering, pain and even evil and yet believes in HOPE of Resurrection.

It is my prayer that millions of white Americans (including millions of Evangelical Christians) will read and reflect on this gift of a book. At 209 pages it is a great read. Get it for yourself, for your elders, preacher, your family.

Related Interest

A Southern Heritage to be Proud of …

Racial Concerns in Churches of Christ: Trends Since the King Years, 1950-2000

You Sound Like a Racist, An Autobiographical Moment

Stories of Grace, Stories of Forgiveness: Frederick Douglass Affirms the Humanity of a Slaveholder

Spencer Perkins and the Prolife Credibility Gap

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