Free at Last?: The Gospel in the African American Experience, By Carl F. Ellis Jr.
Free at Last?
  • Length: 296 pages
  • Dimensions: 5.5 × 8.5 in
  • Published: June 16, 2020
  • Imprint: IVP
  • Item Code: 4858
  • ISBN: 9780830848584

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The words of Martin Luther King Jr.'s "I Have a Dream" speech have become enshrined in US history. But after the end of King's generation of leadership, what happened to the African American struggle for freedom? Like the ancient Israelites, the African American community has survived a four-hundred-year collective trauma. What will it take for them to reach the promised land that King foresaw—to be truly free at last?

In this classic historical and cultural study, Carl Ellis offers an in-depth assessment of the state of African American freedom and dignity. Stressing how important it is for African Americans to reflect on their roots, he traces the growth of Black consciousness from the days of slavery to the 1990s, noting especially the contributions of King and Malcolm X. Ellis examines elements of Black culture and offers a distinct perspective on how God is active in culture more broadly. Free at Last? concludes with a call for new generations of "jazz theologians" and cultural prophets to revitalize the African American church and expand its cultural range. The book also includes a helpful glossary of people, events, and terms.

Ellis writes, "It is my prayer that the principles contained in this book will play a role in building bridges of understanding and facilitating reconciliation where there has been alienation." With a new preface by the author, this groundbreaking book is now available as part of the IVP Signature Collection.

"Dr. Carl Ellis was and is ahead of his time. This book was first introduced in the early 1980s; however, the items Ellis deals with have been timeless issues to African Americans. I have read and reread this book and quoted from it more than I can say. In essence, this is a classic work. It has found new life, as the same question of black identity is rearing its head again. The gospel must be applied to our issues contextually without changing its content. The scope of the gospel must be engaged in the black experience. Dr. Ellis is a brilliant theologian and sage! I recommend Free at Last? as foundational cross-ethnic reading for thinking through and dealing with the issues of today. Kudos to IVP for rereleasing the seminal work. I'll be continuing to refer to it in my ministry and recommend it to the lost and the found for shaping their journey."

Eric M. Mason, lead pastor of Epiphany Fellowship Church, Philadelphia

"I was a first-year seminary student in 2001 when I first heard the name Carl Ellis. My professor, John Frame, listed Free at Last? among the list of recommended books in his course syllabus. I was at a majority-white seminary in need of resources written by black authors. Little did I know the gift this book would be for my formation as a disciple of Jesus Christ and shepherd in his church. Everyone should read this book. Learn of the faithfulness of God to a particular people from this elder and sage. Thank you IVP for putting it in the hands of a new generation!"

Irwyn L. Ince, director of the Grace DC Institute for Cross-Cultural Mission, author of The Beautiful Community

"Outside the Bible, Free at Last? has had the most influence upon my life, ministry, and identity. My twenty-five-year-old copy is wrinkled, tattered, and dog-eared on virtually every page. I reread it at least once a year and have counseled countless others to do the same. This book nourishes my soul and quickens me to action, which is why it has traveled with me to Uganda, Sierra Leone, South Africa, Ethiopia, Ghana, and back to these shores we call home. In Free at Last? Carl Ellis invites us to believe that we too might be a jazz theologian—one who can see the way to the Promised Land."

Robert Gelinas, lead pastor at Colorado Community Church, author of Finding the Groove: Composing a Jazz-Shaped Faith

Read an Excerpt


Foreword by Amisho Baraka
Preface to the Signature Edition

1. Toward a Promised Land

Part I: A Primer
2. Picking Up the Pieces
3. “Oh, Freedom!”

Part II: “Reflecting Back”
4. Soul Dynamic
5. A Formative Phase
6. Two Streams
7. “De Lawd”
8. “A Shining Prince”
9. A Great Legacy

Part III: Roots and Fruits of Consciousness
10. A Little “White” Lie in the Name of Black Truth
11. “Busting Out”
12. “That Boy Sho’ Can Preach!”
13. Cultural Seeding

Part IV: Toward a New Agenda
14. New Vistas
15. The Fields Are Black unto Harvest

Glossary of People, Events and Terms


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Carl F. Ellis Jr.

Carl F. Ellis Jr. (DPhil, Oxford Graduate School) is Provost's Professor of Theology and Culture at Reformed Theological Seminary. He is also academic dean of The Makazi Institute, which he cofounded to train the next generation of high-level cultural analysts, and he serves on numerous boards and as a consultant on cultural matters.