The Black Church: This Is Our Story, This Is Our Song by Henry Louis Gates Jr

The Black Church: This Is Our Story, This Is Our Song cover imageTakeaway: Watch the documentary, skip the book. 

Books attached to documentaries are very mixed in quality and value. Some are designed to be companions and provide additional context and background and might be worth reading even if you have never seen the documentary (American Conscience about Reinhold Neibuhr). And some are essentially the script of the documentary (I Am Not Your Negro) or literally the audiotrack of the documentary (NT Wright and Micheal Bird’s audiobook). The Black Church is more than just a transcript, but there is not much additional value if you have already watched the documentary.

I watched all four documentary episodes live as they were released, and I listened to several podcasts and read articles about the documentary. The original documentary was four hours long. The audiobook was seven hours long. Except for the epilogue, it was hard to remember anything about the audiobook that was not mentioned in the documentary. I am sure there were some additional quotes and context. But it felt like most of that difference in three hours gave context to what was visual in the documentary. For instance, the book has to introduce everyone that is quoted, but in the documentary, their name and affiliations are just a subscript on the screen.

There is value in the information, even if it is introductory and an overview that necessarily skips important issues and history. But if I were to recommend one or the other, I would recommend watching because the visuals are an important feature of the reality of the Black Church in history. It is an embodied reality, which is one of the significant themes of the documentary. I would only recommend the book or audiobook if you have not watched the documentary and are new to the subject of the Black Church. But even then, I would probably recommend a couple of other books instead, like Fortress Intro to Black Church History by Anne and Anthony Pinn, Black Church Empowered: Examining Our History, Securing Our Longevity by Isaiah Robertson, or The Divided Mind of the Black Church: Theology, Piety, and Public Witness by Raphael Warnock.

The Black Church: This Is Our Story, This Is Our Song by Henry Louis Gates Jr Purchase Links: Paperback, Kindle Edition, Audiobook

Leave a Comment