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A preaching man: volumes of Gardner C. Taylor's sermons offer a window on his theology.

Dr. Gardner C. Taylor is a busy man. Even at the age of 87, one of America's most renowned theologians, scholars and preachers is in high demand--traveling extensively to conferences and preaching almost every Sunday. Scheduling a telephone interview with this legend is a walk in faith and patience, but it's worth the wait.

Judson Press has released The Words of Gardner Taylor, an extraordinary, comprehensive six-volume set of sermons and other writings that span Taylor's remarkable 50-year ministry. Taylor's eloquence is just as alive on paper as it is through an old-fashioned "land-line" phone. Through timeless messages of truth, hope, love and God's inextricable relationship with humanity, Taylor loyalists and new converts seize a front- row seat to some of history's most dramatic moments. Taylor's life experiences and world events weave their way into a social, political and spiritual chronicle.

On the back cover of each volume, Edward L. Taylor (no relation), pastor of First Baptist Church in Far Rockaway, New York, who exceptionally and tenaciously compiled these volumes, states that Taylor is "considered by many to be the greatest living African American preacher." Dr. Taylor accepts the compliment with disarming, genuine modesty and humility, yet he recognizes the phenomenal totality of his life experience. Taylor later adds, "It's been a wonderful life."

The Baptist Divide

For 42 years, Taylor was at the helm of Concord Baptist Church in Brooklyn, New York. Before retiring in 1990, he was at the forefront of some of file most pivotal moments in American history. One such event was in 1961, when Taylor and his followers formed the Progressive National Baptist Convention after his unsuccessful bid for the presidency of the National Baptist Church Convention (NBCC). It was a move that was aided by growing dissatisfaction among many with the NBCC.

In 2000, Taylor was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the highest civilian award, by President Bill Clinton, for whom he delivered the sermon for the Inaugural Prayer Service in 1993. He is the recipient of more than 100 honorary degrees and many other distinguished commendations. Taylor has also taught or lectured at many colleges and seminaries, including Harvard, Yale and New York Theological Seminary.

These days he is ushering in a new generation to the pulpit at Shaw University in Raleigh, North Carolina: He teaches a class on preaching. "That's all I know anything about," Taylor offers.

Taylor, who's journeyed from his days at Oberlin Graduate School of Theology, where there were only two women students (and they were white), takes pride in witnessing that at Shaw University a majority of his students are African American women.

The Church As Liberator

Taylor admits that he misses Concord Baptist, but then adds, "You can't have every thing." He served at Concord when black churches seemed to have the singular mission of freeing people from societal strongholds and legal oppression through the liberating power of Jesus Christ. "I'm not sure that 'the black church' maintains the same sense of allegiance and loyalty, which it once had among black people--though it is a gross exaggeration to claim that all black people were church people. That was never true," says Taylor.

It seems to Taylor, however, that the lack of allegiance is also emblematic of a loss of solidarity. That would trouble any black preacher from the "old school," especially someone like Taylor, the son of a prominent preacher, who grew up in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, near teachers, doctors, pharmacists--people he saw daily and revered.

"I think there has also been a flight, and that is inevitable, of black people of privilege and opportunity from among the real masses of black people ... They have gone to greener pastures, in the suburbs.... These things have to happen, but they have in some senses weakened our black communities," shares Taylor. His solution is to cultivate black institutions and "consciously work on our sense of community."

"The black church, not because of the color of our people but because of our historical experience, ought to be the conscience of the nation. Where is the voice of 'Wait a minute. Let's look at this again. What did you say? I didn't understand you?' That voice is silent."

Feeling Good's Disappointment

The Judson Press collection echoes Taylor's compassion for humanity. Edward Taylor includes many sermons not previously published. It's a body of work that proves the inexhaustibility of God, yet Taylor sums up his theology in unsuspecting terms.

"My preaching has been built around a kind of sympathy for God;' he says. "I think that's one way to read the Bible. Here's the God who has made us, who kind of puts Himself at our mercy, and that touches me very deeply--the rejection that we all not only aim at each other, but aim at Him. It's a love relationship that goes sour."

Sermons for All Times

The Words of Gardner Taylor, Volumes 1-6 by Gardner C. Taylor and compiled by Edward L. Taylor, Judson Press, July 2004 (paperback), $70, ISBN 0-817-01465-9

Vol. 1: NBC Radio Sermons, 1959-1970

Vol. 2: Sermons From the Middle Years, 1970-1980

Vol. 3: Quintessential Classics, 1980-Present

Vol. 4: Special Occasion and Expository Sermons

Vol. 5: Lectures, Essays, and Interviews

Vol. 6: 50 Years of Timeless Treasures

Judson Press has also released a book coauthored by Gardner Taylor and friend G. Avery Lee entitled Perfecting the Pastor's Art: Wisdom From Avery Lee and Gardner Taylor (May 2005, $10, ISBN 0-817-01482-9), which reflects Taylor's thoughts on the state of the pastorate. A collection of Taylor's sermons is also available on audio CD, Essential

Alvelyn J. Sanders is a frequent contributor to Black Issues Book Review.
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Title Annotation:faith; The Words of Gardner Taylor
Author:Sanders, Alvelyn J.
Publication:Black Issues Book Review
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Jul 1, 2005
Words:938
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