“When Heaven and Earth Collide”; A Review of a Book and a Pastor (by Bob Cleveland)

Bob blogs at “Eagles Rest“, is a good friend and has been around blogging many years. 

I just finished reading “When Heaven and Earth Collide … Racism, Evangelicals, and the Better Way of Jesus“. Its author is Alan Cross, a pastor in Montgomery, AL, who happens also to be a personal friend. But before my observations of what I saw in the book, a few notes about the author.

I met Alan in 2006 or 2007, as we were involved in some mutual projects involving Bloggers and the SBC. Shortly after, in February 2007, Alan slept on a cot in our hotel room that CB Scott and I had reserved. Alan had gotten there late and found there was no room in the inn…..

Not long thereafter, my nephew John, from Indianapolis, mentioned he was going to be spending many months at the Command & War College at Maxwell AFB in Montgomery, and asked if I knew a good church he could attend while he was there. I told him about Alan and Gateway Baptist; he soon went to Montgomery to see if he could find an apartment, and visited Gateway.

The next day, he signed a lease on an apartment a block from Gateway, and became an integral part of the church for over a year. In fact, John had been in an AG Church, and was amazed at the love and grace he found at Gateway. It changed his life.

Alan and I have visited any number of times, we’ve been to Gateway ourselves, and I can tell you with certainty that, despite his youth, he’s the real deal.

His book was prompted because he’s a pastor in Montgomery, a place most important in the reforming of race relations in the USA, and the longer he was exposed, the more he wondered how the Evangelical community there could have stood silent in the face of many of the things … both reported and unreported … of which he kept learning. Hence, in 2010, he started writing about it.

The book itself: Divided into two general parts .. “Part 1: Earth; The Story” and “Part 2: Heaven & Hope: The Kingdom of God”.

Part 1 begins with the story of the Freedom Riders coming to Alabama, and the things that took place immediately. It is, frankly, uncomfortable reading about some of those things, perpetrated by folks who were ostensibly in their own churches the following Sunday. And as evidence of the scope of the book, I offer the Chapters themselves:

  • Part 1:
  1. Freedom Riders
  2. Evangelicals and Southern Civil Religion (and yes the title is accurate)
  3. The Subversion of Christianity (again, accurate)
  4. Southern Religion: Greek Philosophy or Christianity (an eye-opener)
  5. Civil Rights: Broken Trust and Missed Opportunity
  6. What If the Church Had Been Different?
  7. Five Cultural Platforms
  • Part 2:

8: What Would Jesus Have Done?
9: The Better Way of Jesus
10: The Church

There’s also an Epilogue, “Freedom Riders and Praying Christians, Fifty Years Later”, and also a Foreword by Dwight McKissic (which ought to tell you something).

In general, the book is extremely interesting. It sheds so much new light on old problems that it took me some time to plow through it and make all the connections.

Also, Part 1 is very “dense”, packed with an abundance of information I hadn’t known, before reading the book. I’d sit down to read and find that I’d read 4 or 5 pages and then have to put it down and just ponder it for a while. Reason: I simply could not proceed without examining my own life, my church involvement, and compare it with the truth revealed in it.

More specifically, Chapter 1 was pretty much a news report on the events associated with the Freedom Riders, but was punctuated with the 2 separate realizations: that white evangelical (supposed) Christians were in the mob trying to exact blood from the riders and their protectors, and: the Church … the Body of Christ … stood by and largely did nothing. I’m ashamed to admit I’d never thought of that, before.

Chapters 3,4, and 5 explain, in plain English, how that happened. And in the doing, largely explain what’s wrong with the Church today.

The SBC leadership would do very, very well to read this book. It’ll be a tough row to hoe, trying to “fix” the SBC with its declining baptisms, unless we know what’s really wrong with the whole society, and the whole societal church in general.

Chapters 6 and 7 set forth how things might have been, and still should be, done.

Part 2 is an easier read, as he paints a picture … accurate, to me … of what Jesus would have done and how His way was, and certainly is, today, the Better Way mentioned in the title. And if many readers are like me, they’re going to think “How on earth do we get there fromhere?”

On a personal level, I have asked one of our key Sunday School leaders … a bright young black lady … to help me start some sort of outreach program to the black community, for people who might find our Bible Study interesting. In reading the book, I was convicted that I could scarcely criticize the abuses perpetrated by the white Southern Evangelical community, if I wasn’t willing to do something …something … myself.

As they say, all that’s necessary for evil to triumph is for enough good men to do nothing.

Personally, I believe every Pastor should read this book, Southern or not. It reveals so many things about the church and its condition today, that will be mandatory to know, if those guiding the church ever hope to fix what’s wrong today. Including the things they don’t even know are wrong.

I’m not a professional critic, or analyst of journalism. But I’ve read a fair number of books in 76 years, and can tell you I don’t read many of them twice. This one, I will.

Density and all.

“When Heaven and Earth Collide .. Racism, Southern Evangelicals, and the Better Way of Jesus”, by Alan Cross, published by New South Books, Montgomery; The book may be ordered from Amazon or direct from New South at http://www.newsouthbooks.com




p.s.: Read this book and you’ll probably never say, hear, or read the “Lord’s prayer” the same way, again.


  1. Christiane says

    There are wonderful excerpts from ALAN’s book on Amazon’s ad for it, and I was not surprised to read this ‘golden line’ that Alan wrote in his Chapter One:

    “What surprised me the most was that the larger problem wasn’t really about race. Not at the core, anyway.”

  2. David Rogers says

    Though I knew since it came out I was going to buy and read it sooner or later, I had been putting it off, due to budget concerns and free time to read. But Bob’s review here pushed me over the edge and I went ahead and shelled out the $7.99 for the Kindle edition and have taken advantage of a little lull in my work schedule to read the first two chapters.

    I am blown away. This book is explosive. I am really looking forward to reading till the end—though in some ways not, since it is very convicting.

    If any of you out there are still trying to decide whether to buy and read it or not, take my word for it. You need to go ahead and do it. It will be well worth it.

    • says

      Thanks for the comments everyone – and for buying the book!

      David, I will blog on some of the “explosive” parts here at some point, perhaps after the convention. There are things that we need to address and I look forward to the dialogue.

      • Christiane says

        I look forward to reading those blogs here, ALAN.
        ( If I am not permitted to comment on them here, I hope to be able to do so on your blog or on Dr. McKissic’s blog. )

        I believe it took great courage and great love for you to write your book, ALAN.
        God’s gift of courage has been in the Church since the time of Pentecost, and those who make use of this gift in His Name sometimes may become His instruments for healing.

        God bless.

  3. Roger Simpson says

    Based upon all of your recommendations I am placing an order on Amazon right now for the book. I have a Kindle but I guess I’m old fashioned because I’m ordering the physical book.

    Roger Simpson Oklahoma City

  4. cb scott says

    I have not yet read the book. I had thought that since I paid for the hotel room in which Bob first met Alan and I drove them both back to Alabama in my SUV at no charge, they would have chipped in and sent me the book for free. However . . . .

    Seriously, I have been waiting for this book and look forward to buying it and reading it. I know it to be written by an honorable man and follower of Christ, as is the Christian gentleman who wrote this review.

  5. says


    Thanks. Alan’s book is well worth the investment. He “preached” his book at our church back in February to celebrate Black History. His presentation was well received. Chapter one alone is worth the cost of the whole book. My congregation really appreciated Alan’s understanding of the history and issues involved. They also loved his ability to communicate these truths from a biblio-centric frame of reference. He also addressed these issues redemptively and toward healing and unifying God’s people. Great review,Bob. Great book, Alan. I shared the heart of your book with Adelle Banks, a news reporter today. She already had a copy of your book, and asked for your phone number. I promised to email it to her tomorrow. I hope she reviews it, and it sells thousands of copies. All Southern Baptist pastors would be greatly enhanced in knowledge and seeing how to address these issues to minority persons in a manner that they could appreciate and celebrate. National Baptist would appreciate the fact that a Southern Baptist would seek to research and appreciate the history recorded there and prophetically, honestly,and again, redemptively, address these matters. Alan and Bob, may your tribe increase.

  6. says

    There will again come a time we will have to risk everything to stand for what is right…the time is now.

  7. C L Allen says

    In 1964 I was 12 years old. I lived about 12 miles from Montgomery. I accepted Christ at an SBC church. In 64 my family attended a church whose sign said Independent, Fundamentalist, Premillennial. As I remember the main concerns were the 3 C’s. Communism, Catholics, and Coloreds. All our ideas were backed up by Scripture. I think that I probably lived this book

    • dr. james willingham says

      C.L.: In ’62-63, I enrolled and completed my junior year at a Black school (integrated in reverse) , where I had the privilege of studying under one of the great Black Historians, Dr. Lorenzo J. Greene, who had been Carter G. Woodson’s associate editor on the Journal of Negro Life & History. After taking a Fall semester at the Univ. of Mo/Columbia in ’64, I returned to Lincoln in the Fall of ’65, where I completed my B.S. Ed., and grad. in Jan.’67, in absentia. During that latter period, I had a professor in sociology who, I would later learn, was a theoretician for World Communism. I wrote him a paper criticizing Communisms for its creation of a new class, one more greedy, rapacious and cruel than any other in history, one unconscious of its power so to speak, but one displaying all the evidences of a new class.

      Two years later I would enroll for a Master’s in History at Morehead State Univ., where an African American Professor would recommend me for a job as an Instructor at South Carolina State College in Orangeburg (this was just 2.5 years after the Orangeburg Massacre), S.C. My experience among Blacks was eye-opening, one that could easily explain why they would accept the help of Communists or any one else, and yet at the same time they maintained their faith and Christian practices. I could continue, but let me close with one telling illustration.

      A dear lady in Orangeburg, a teacher in the early grades of primary school, told me that she had chosen to go over and teach in one of the Black primary schools as they all knew integration was coming. She said, “Mr. Willingham, when is saw what segregation had done to the personalities of those little Black children, I wept.” Just think how you would feel, if she was talking about your children. I have a painful idea of how I would feel, loving my children as I do.

  8. Dave Miller says

    I may still write a review of this book when I’m done reading it, but hopefully you will all have read it first.

    • says

      Word of explanation: when I review a book, I just deal with the matter the book addresses. In this case, just by the chapter titles, you can tell a lot of that. I don’t reveal the answers that may be provided; I want the reader to have to read the book to get that.

      Hey .. . I do what I can.