Q & A with Conference Speakers

Desiring God 2002 Conference for Pastors

The Sovereignty of God and the 'Soul Dynamic'

Questioner: We appreciate the context in which the black rhetorical tradition of preaching developed, and I believe the first manifestation of it in the context of slavery was genuine, powerful, and the Spirit of God working in very difficult circumstances. But I believe that, beyond slavery, it degenerated into a hollow art form. The question is, if people are not being saved, if lives are not being transformed through that tradition, should it be preserved out of nostalgia and ethnic pride, although it is woefully inadequate? Let me add just one point to that, and that is, I often deal with the nation of Islam and young Muslims in a housing project about a mile down the street from where our church is. These young men are not being reached by that oratorical tradition. And what they’re hearing in the mosques and from Muslims is a rational, coherent (though false), worldview that is being presented in much the style that some of the speakers might have identified as a European approach to persuasion.

Carl Ellis: On this issue of should it be preserved or not, that’s an open-ended question, but at least it should be reinvigorated. I wouldn’t go so far as to say it has become a hollow tradition without any power where people aren’t being saved. People aren’t still being saved in that tradition. It is something that has come through an experience that people had with the word of God. Now that we have access to the Bible in written form, what we need to do is make the reconnections between the oral tradition and what the Bible says. And maybe there is a reason why we should preserve it because, as everything degenerates, so has the African-American church. Everything is subject to degeneration, but it’s wrong for me to look at the African-American church today and say it has degenerated from evangelicalism. Do you understand what I’m saying? We have to at least understand what the model is so we can see something of the working of God’s grace.

Now, about these brothers in the projects that you were talking about, you’re absolutely right. That tradition will not and does not reach them. That’s my whole point of saying we need new models. We need new models. We need new approaches. I would be the last one to say that we need to just take that oral tradition and try to reach everybody with it. It’s fine for Aunt Jane, but it won’t work for Tyrone. And we’ve got to figure out what communicates to Tyrone. I work with a lot of these Muslims, and it’s true that they do use more of a cognitive approach. I wouldn’t call it rational, though. Anytime you talk about the spaceship and all that and all this crazy stuff, it has a certain logic to it, but understand that the doctrine of the nation of Islam is an attempt to do a theology of empowerment on the cognitive side of the intelligence as opposed to the intuitive side.

It’s funny, I told Dr. Van Til, once when I was at Westminster, the nation of Islam was doing presuppositional apologetics before anybody ever heard of him. And just because it’s rational or just because it’s cognitive, doesn’t mean it’s European. I’m just saying that European theology just took that side of it because of its context. But to use those kinds of tools does not necessarily mean that I’m Eurocentric or anything else like that. But yeah, you’re right. We do need a new approach. We need new approaches. And that’s what we’re exploring in Project Joseph, new approaches to ministry and ones that are appropriate for Muhammad and his friends.

Sherard Burns: In Acts 2, when the Holy Spirit came, they were amazed that they heard the gospel in their own language. I have always taken parallel with that to African-Americans and other cultures needing to hear Reformed theology in the garb that they can identify with. We don’t need to disregard the oral tradition. We need to reform it.

I don’t have a problem with the oral tradition as much as I do the substance that comes from it. If we can reform it by giving it reformed theological underpinnings, we can preserve it. There’s a dynamic. Carl knows this and many brothers know this, that when you preach in a black church, there’s a dynamic that goes on that the tape can’t pick up. There’s a response. That’s the dynamic. And we can’t see Carl’s soul dynamic, I think, only with preaching. I think the whole dynamic is the worship itself, the music and the interaction. All that can’t be discarded, because it is distinctly African-American, and we’ve got to know who we are, as Carl said, in order to offer anything of significance to the body of Christ. We don’t discard it. We preserve it and reform it.

Ellis: Louis Farrakhan preaches very much in the form of the soul dynamic. It’s really interesting. He even gets some tone to his voice with the handkerchief and all that. But what he’s communicating is something different. That tradition has not even left the nation of Islam because even Farrakhan does that. But it’s a matter of what is being taught, and the issue is, is it hitting their issues? That’s the point.

Questioner: I’m asking for early practical steps in seeing the Lord break up a dominant thinking environment where security consciousness has been confused with godly faithfulness, and where there is a reluctance to embrace godly joyfulness in the midst of messiness as we heard at the end of the Wilberforce message. Are there early practical steps to move into that kind of environment and encourage our people to move out of there and into the other mindset?

Piper: I know so little about how to do anything practical, so I’ll just tell you, when I came to Bethlehem 21 years ago, I had this vague vision of a God-centered, happy, radical, justice-pursuing, unborn-baby-saving, mission-sending, inner-city living, groping church. All I knew to do was preach God, because I just don’t know how to figure it out. I haven’t got it figured out yet. I don’t know how to do pastoral care, I don’t know how to do evangelism, I don’t know how to do anything. I don’t lead seminars on “how-tos” because I don’t know how to do anything.

But I know a few things that seem to put good things in motion. God knows how to do these things. God knows how to do this. Regarding Uzbekistan, I don’t have a clue how to evangelize Uzbekistan. Oscar is well on his way to figuring this out. I just feel good that I’ve been able to hang out with him for 15 years. Here’s the point. Start being that non-security. Maybe change where you live. Don’t accept all the raises they want to give you. Take your retirement fund and give it to the building fund.

Don’t buy any new cars. Only drive used cars. Adopt a little African-American girl. Develop a theology of joy in suffering. Preach suffering. Go overseas. Just start being, crying out, groping for what you want to see happen and become it. Most of what happens here, for me, is that I just want to be all this stuff. I don’t feel like I’m operating from thinking, “Now, I’ve got this, guys, so come here and get it.” I just feel like I have this vague sense of where we ought to move toward and I have enough influence to get some people together, to let the people who are figuring things out talk. I just blow on those little flames. So do that. That’s what pastors ought to do. You don’t know how to do anything, so take the few things you know — I know God, that he is glorious, sovereign, supreme, and that he is going to make a great future for his people — and become that. That’s the feel of how I pursue it, anyway.

Questioner:For Sherard and for Carl, I wonder if you might address the difference between the African-American experience in regards to the soul dynamic compared to what we see with our Native American Indians. Both groups are oppressed, but totally different in responses and what’s happening. Maybe you don’t know, but maybe you could just address that, how you think we could reach out to the Natives. Because that’s what I deal with up in Canada where I’m from, more than the black culture. And for you, Pastor John, you made a comment that you thought that hedonism was crucial to this whole question of the sovereignty of God and the soul dynamic. Is that because hedonism has the jazz that Reformed theology doesn’t, and therefore it’s crucial to all of this? Or why do you see hedonism as so vital to this entire conference?

Burns: Unfortunately, I don’t know much about Native American history and the cultural dynamic, so it would be wrong for me to speak to that. And I would think that Carl, to put him on the spot, in all of his studies, would’ve come across something helpful, so I will defer to my elder brother.

Ellis: I don’t know much either, though I am officially a Cherokee. Believe it or not, some of my ancestors were bought by the Cherokees. It was their way of trying to protest against slavery, so they bought slaves to free them. It was my great-great-great great grandparents or whatever. When I was in high school, I didn’t know anything about the African-American experience. I knew nothing. Nobody taught me. I had to read, I had to observe, and I had to watch. I think what we need to do, in any culture such as that, is to get in there and listen like an anthropologist does and listen for the motivational themes and the ways in which they have internalized their oppression. That’s one of the most devastating things about oppression — when you internalize the values of your oppressor, especially as they relate to you. A biblical case of that would be Moses and the response that Moses had to his Hebrew brothers when he tried to break up that fight.

Now, if Moses was an Egyptian, they would’ve said, “Oh, yes, sir. We’re so sorry, sir.” But because Moses was a Hebrew and they knew it, they said, “Who made you judge over us?” It’s kind of like CRAB syndrome. Understand those kinds of dynamics and listen for those things. Listen to their history and listen to their ways of thinking. Assume that God has already put something there in their own culture, and look for those things. Look for those points of contact, and you will discover that there is something going on. In the African-American context, it’s the soul dynamic. There may not be a Native American soul dynamic. I don’t know. There may or may not be. But when we talk about the soul dynamic, it is something that God has raised up among a certain people group, but don’t always assume that other people groups would necessarily have the same paradigms of God’s grace at work and their culture. Be kind of a blank slate and begin to understand that. There are some things that I know that are in my consciousness, such as the trail of tears. I have memories of people telling me about that. If you don’t know anything about that, study history.

Even in my own background, there was an outlaw called Cherokee Bill. He was my great-great-grandfather. He was a terrible guy. But just look back at that and understand what their history is from their point of view. And continue to ask them questions and continue to look for that, and let the things you learn give you questions that you take to the word of God. Ask God the questions and go to the word of God for the answers. You’ll discover that God first corrects your questions because none of us have the right questions anyway. But then, he begins to answer our questions and we come back and apply those answers and new questions pop up, which you take back to God and go back to the Scripture and get them corrected. It’s kind of a process. It’s the process of doing theology. That’s what I would recommend that you do.

You got to actually begin to do some theology, and as you begin to do that — and of course, you’re not going to be able to do it perfectly — maybe some of the folks that you work with will begin to catch on to what you’re doing and will begin to discover that the word of God does deal with them as people. God is aware of who they are and that God has not left himself without a witness among them. God does care and he does have a purpose for them to exist. That would be the kind of thing I would look for. I wouldn’t necessarily look for a soul dynamic. There may or may not be one there, but there’s something there that indicates the grace of God, and that’s the way you do it. It’s a process.

A number of years ago, I was asked to speak at a Chinese American Youth Christian conference. I was the only non-Chinese there. And for the year up to that point, I totally immersed myself in the Chinese American experience. I learned everything I could and talked to as many Chinese Americans as I could. Again, I got to thinking Chinese. And then, they asked me to do an exposition of Nehemiah. And to my utter amazement, I discovered that Nehemiah was an American-born Chinese. I thought he was African-American.

I couldn’t do it in a year. I couldn’t do it. It was only in black and white for me, whereas they had it in color. You know what I’m saying? But the point is I was able to touch on some things, and a lot of those kids really got rocked by it because they had never thought that God was ever at work in their own history. I think those are the kinds of things that we need to do. I think all of us need to do that, one way or the other. We have people groups that God has put us in and there’s this concept of kinship compassion. Obviously, I pray for African-Americans more than most other people groups, but there are people groups that I’ve adopted, and they’re my people too. And I’ve learned. Chinese Americans are one I’ve learned about, and the list hasn’t ended there. There are some others. Those are the kinds of things we need to do.

You’re called to the Indians, or the Native Canadians, and you really need to really sit at their feet sometimes and let them teach you about their history and their culture if they can remember it. They may have forgotten it because of oppression, but those are some of the things you can do, very elementary steps. That’s how I did it with African-American history. I just read my Bible and listened to Stokely Carmichael and Malcolm X, and I just let this interaction go, and whatever came out, that’s what came out.

Questioner: I was in a conversation last night for about five and a half hours, trying to figure out, with a room of guys, exactly what you’re talking about when you refer to “alien sin.”

Ellis: I have sin in my life. I have the effects of sin in my life. I have issues. Are we together on that? Now, these issues I have are the result of sin that has welled up from my own heart. Out of the heart comes what? Adultery and whatever else. And some of that comes out of my own heart, and I have issues because of my own corruption. That’s indigenous sin. That’s my own stuff. Now, I do have some other issues and some other sin in my life that did not come from my own heart. It’s stuff that was imposed upon me by my circumstances. When you impose sin, that’s what you call oppression.

There are some issues. There are some things that I struggle with like self-esteem problems, perhaps. I have a difficulty with that. I have a hard time taking compliments, for example. I don’t know if that comes from my own heart or what, but all I’m saying is that there are things in my life that plague me that are not of my own origin. They were put there.

Now, in some cases, these things can result in a good effect. For example, when I was young, I used to eat bacon and hamburgers and the greasier it was, the better it was. My mom used to say, “Don’t do that, don’t do that.” Well, in Gary, Indiana, where I grew up, there was this guy with these tumors that grew out of his face. It looked like fingers. So I asked my mom, I said, “What do you call that when you get a whole lot of bumps on your face?” She said, “Oh, that’s called acne.” I said, “Oh, okay. That’s something I never want to get.” So I kept eating all this greasy stuff and one day, she said, “If you keep eating like that, you’re going to get acne.” I said, “Oh, my gosh.” And that just absolutely messed me up. I stopped eating that. Well, anyway, I have this thing about fat to this very day.

Now, if that hadn’t happened to me, maybe I would’ve been 300 pounds. Do you know what I’m saying? Maybe I would’ve died of a heart attack. But it’s one of those things my mom misunderstood and she did that to me, but it affects me to this very day. That was imposed. There are issues that we have that result from things that other people have done to us — ways in which we have been sinned against rather than our own corruption.

And sometimes, our own sin is in harmony with the sin that’s being imposed on us. If somebody wants to force me to take drugs, but I’m out there to take drugs anyway, well, how can I blame the person who’s forcing me to take drugs if I want to do it anyway? That’s the difference. Indigenous sin originates with me. Alien sin originates from outside of me, but it affects me. It affects me, and I still deal with it, just like the stuff that comes from my own heart. And as I said yesterday, there’s not an absolute clean distinction between the two. There is a lot of overlap. It’s a fuzzy category. But I was saying that to get to the concept.

Finally, alien sin, the proper message for that is liberation. You just get people out of that. But indigenous sin is you call people to repent from that. That’s very clear. As I could show you in the Scripture, even Jesus understood that. That’s just one of those things that I saw in the Scripture as I was dealing with my context of a minority oppressed community. All right? Those are just some things I just saw in the Scripture.

Piper: My guess is that that didn’t help you guys at all. Because I’m as confused as ever. The only way we’ll make progress here is for me to try to resay why I’m confused, and probably why they’re confused. It’s the sentence, “I have sin in my life that is not from my own heart.” Now, the ambiguity there is, what does “in my life” mean? And sin? To me, sin, by definition, is something you’re guilty of. That’s the definition of sin. But you don’t mean it quite that way. When you say “sin in my life,” you don’t mean, I don’t think, my lust for these women on the internet or whatever. You mean, things that came into your life like being abused by your mom or dad or uncle or something. Now, that sin is in your life. Is that what you mean by “in my life?” It doesn’t mean this moment of going to the internet, pushing the button, savoring the picture, and sinning has a reason for why that’s there because something was in my life that I didn’t have anything to do with.

So at the moment of my action now, there was sin in my life that was done to me, in my experience, that I didn’t have anything to do with, nevertheless now those things in my life shape my sinning. Everybody on this panel is a sinner. Everybody out there is a sinner. We all sin. Why do we sin in such different and creative ways? What shapes the form of our sin? And that is largely explained by your alien sin, but I would just encourage you, that’s a really ambiguous statement for some of us. “Sin in my life, not from my own heart” is not going to be understood by a typical person because my definition of sin is that out of the heart comes the evil stuff. That’s what Jesus said. Out of my heart comes the evil stuff. So if you call that stuff happening to me my sin, I’m not getting it. If you say I’m sinned against, at that point, I think I’m getting it.

Questioner: What really threw the wrench in, and Dr. Piper hit on it, is, you used the illustration of the man stealing the apple. And then, when I asked for clarification, you basically came back and said that that person needs to be liberated, and the other person with the indigenous sin needs to repent. So it’s confusing. Are you excusing the fact that he stole the apple?

Ellis: What I’m saying is this. Here’s a kid who’s starving all the time. He’s starving all the time. He sees an apple, he takes it because he’s starving. Here’s another kid who’s not starving, well fed, whatever, and he doesn’t think about it. Not only that, but in a certain situation, those are the rules of engagement. Why is it that in some places we go, we have to be on red alert all the time because the slightest little slip up we have in our own sense of caution, somebody will take advantage of that. Somebody’s always probing. Why is that? In some places you don’t have to worry. You don’t have to lock your door. It’s because that’s the environment. That’s what’s going on. All right. I’m not excusing the kid for taking the apple. I’m not saying that at all. I am saying that I can understand why he does because he’s always very, very hungry. I can understand that. What drives him to take the apple is not because he’s trying to rebel against God or anything, he’s just hungry.

But we can throw that whole thing out. I think what we’re looking at is that there are issues in my life and there are issues that I struggle with that result from having been sinned against, and there are some issues that I struggle with that result from my own corruption. That’s all I’m saying. Does that clear it up a little bit? It’s a matter of issues. It’s one of my new concepts. Okay? It’s a little fuzzy. It takes me a little while to figure out how to crystallize it. But that’s what I’m saying, the concept of alien sin means there are some behaviors that I have, some responses that I have, some issues that I have that have their origin in the sins of others that have been imposed upon me. And all of us have that.

Piper: Can I have one more clarifying question? I think I heard you say, yesterday, that in terms of order of deliverance, the liberation from the alien needs to precede the call for repentance from the indigenous.

Ellis: Yes, because the alien sin is always closest to the surface and blocking the vision of the indigenous sin. That’s right.

Piper: That’s going to cause a problem too.

Oscar Huerta: Can I just add one thing? With an unreached people, for example, there’s no hope of liberation from alien evil. So you have no solution for them with their indigenous sin, unless there’s a gospel that gives them hope for something beyond the evil they’re experiencing right now. I want to keep oppression in its proper orbit.

Piper: Here’s my way to rescue, for me, what you said, because I always feel like you’ve got to be saying something true. That’s my orientation. I’m just bent that way towards you. It doesn’t sound true, but I say it’s got to be true, so I must be misunderstanding. And it might help those of us who are stumbling over that order to see it this way. I choose the word remove and address. If you say, “First, you’ve got to remove the alien thing before you can get them to remove their indigenous thing,” some of us are going to say, “I think they need to repent and become humble people so they know how to deal with their oppression.” What you really mean, I think, is that you’ve got to address the alien thing in order to get at the deeper thing. Maybe that’s all we need to say.

Questioner: What are we to do, as churches and as missions organizations that are so thoroughly white? Are we fooling ourselves to think that we can bring in people from every culture and every race? If we can reach them, do we need to do something more internally before we can ever really accomplish world evangelization effectively?

Huerta: I think, when we’re talking, again, about unreached peoples, no one in that culture understands that culture like them, but there’s no one with the gospel. That’s the main problem. Someone needs to come from another culture — white, Black, Hispanic, Native American — and needs to make that shift and move into that new culture. Someone has to go. I think we know that’s a baseline. Anybody who’s able to do that, to make that shift, I think is at least eligible, for one.

In terms of preparation, I would say I still believe church planting is the way to see an unreached people come to faith, and as much as possible, to see those kinds of church planting steps in a person you’re preparing happen here in the States first. Otherwise, when you get there, it’s just a million times harder. For example, they are sharing their faith, evangelizing, preaching, discipling, and then, getting always to the very end, which is I think establishing an eldership, and then, appointing them. And if you can do that while you’re here and train people to do that, which is obviously the Great Commission, I think you stand in a much better frame to go to another place.

One more thing I want to say, which I think that’s relevant for this conference, is that going over there means emptying yourself completely of what you had before and taking on a completely new culture and becoming as much as they want you to be and as much as they’ll let you like them. I just want to read a text, so influential. Brother David Yeager shared this with me once. It says:

By faith Moses, when he was grown up, refused to be called the son of Pharaoh’s daughter, choosing rather to be mistreated with the people of God than to enjoy the fleeting pleasures of sin. He considered the reproach of Christ greater wealth than the treasures of Egypt, for he was looking to the reward (Hebrews 11:24–26).

Something happens with Moses, he sees there’s a greater pleasure in identifying with the people of God, and sometimes, they’re not even yet the people of God, but he believes, by faith, they will be. And obviously, they weren’t really. I think, from Brother Carl, we heard they were very far from God at some places. I just want to say that there needs to be that one other piece, coming to a point where you’re emptying yourself of whoever you are, whatever culture you are, and being ready to completely take on another culture is essential.

Questioner: There are two texts that I would like Carl else to interact with. One is Ephesians 6:3, which would seem to support what you’re saying. “Fathers, don’t provoke your children to anger,” which would seem to give some model of a person in authority bringing about a behavior in someone who is subordinate to them that they should not bring about. But the other would be Ezekiel 18:2, where apparently, Israel was fond of saying, “The fathers eat the sour grapes, but the children’s teeth are set on edge,” and God says, “Stop saying that.” And then he goes into a fairly lengthy discussion to say we all need to own up to our own sin. My question is, according to your diagram, don’t we all have 20 units of indigenous sin? And if we observe different behaviors, different rates of incarceration, maybe it’s because — as one of the people in the dominant culture — I’m not provoked very often. The provocation that I’ve experienced in my life is incidental and occasional. Whereas, if I were part of another people group that was not dominant, it might be systemic and unrelenting. But in either case, all of our sin is indigenous. If you could react with those two texts and maybe clarify?

Ellis: I’m not quite too sure if I understand your inference by saying, in either case, all of our sin would be indigenous. I mean, we are sinners, and thank you for bringing that up about Ephesians. That’s true. Fathers can provoke their children to bad behavior, or people in authority, dominant people, can provoke those in a subdominant position, so forth and so on.

The anger and the rage that’s out there, I don’t think, necessarily, just comes out of everybody. I think people are looking at things, they’re seeing their situation, and they’re angry about it. I wouldn’t say that all sin is indigenous to the person that we’re speaking about. I think all of us, to some extent, have some issues in our lives that have their origin in being sinned against. When you talk about systemic evil, systemic sin, that’s a prime example. Now, again, understand my premise. We all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God. Consider Proverbs 6:30:

People do not despise a thief if he steals
     to satisfy his appetite when he is hungry . . .

But there’s no excuse for one who oppresses. You have extenuating circumstances sometimes, in situations, but by no means do I ever want to ever even imply that oppressed people are not sinners and would sin very quickly if given the opportunity, because that’s what we are. But as I look at, say, what Abraham did, for example. We all jump on Abraham for lying about his wife, and how many of y’all have preached that? I have. We jump all over Abraham’s case. But if you look at the passage, God never gets angry at Abraham. He gets angry at Pharaoh. The reason he gets angry at Pharaoh is because Pharaoh set up the systemic structure which forced Abraham into making a choice like that — choosing to say, “This is my sister.” I mean, she was his sister, and technically, he didn’t really lie. He just didn’t tell the whole truth. Maybe you want to call that a lie, that’s fine. But the point is, yes, Abraham had to make this choice, and he chose, I think, the lesser of the two evils.

What would you choose? If you’re going to lose your wife anyway, given that, would you rather be killed or would you rather be paid? Now, what’s the choice, you see? Abraham makes this choice, and we jump all over him because we don’t understand that there is more to sin than just that upper left hand quadrant of the window. God nails Pharaoh because he’s the one who set the whole thing up. And as I look at that, that sheds some light on it too. What Abraham did was in response to a sinful situation that was thrust upon him. And while that doesn’t excuse Abraham and that doesn’t make Abraham a non-sinner because deception is wrong no matter how you look at it, the weight of that, the responsibility of that, ultimately goes back to Pharaoh. That’s why God gets angry at Pharaoh. That’s just something to think about.

Abraham didn’t come down to Egypt to lie about his wife. That wasn’t his intention. He’s faced with a situation where he responds in the best way he knows how, and I think he made the best choice he thought he had. It may not have been the best choice absolutely, but it was the best choice he thought he had. And you can see other incidents in the Bible like that, where you’re put in a very awkward position, and well, haven’t we done similar things?

Burns: I think there’s a view of victimization that is seemingly running rampant within probably all cultures, but particularly within the African-American culture. I think in the Ephesians 6:3 passage, I think what alien sin does is it creates the atmosphere for us to do what’s already in our heart. And Jesus says if you are hit, turn the other cheek. You have two options. Well, he doesn’t say two, he gives you one. But you know in one option, you have another option. You can turn the cheek or you can turn his cheek, one of the two.

What happens is, when we begin to say that we are provoked to respond, what happens is, the blame shifts from my response to them being the cause of my response. And at some point, we have to own up to our response. And even in the Proverbs passage, Proverbs 6:31 says, “but if he is caught, he will pay sevenfold . . .”

It isn’t, “I’ll take it, and then, it’s okay,” because there is the restitution. So I think it’s helpful, but when we talk about provoking my children to have a response, they can either rail against me or they can just forgive me and love me. When I say forget and remember, that’s what I’m talking about. Let’s stop blaming the one and start taking responsibility for what has happened historically, and then, take responsibility for how we now are responding, and then, I think we can get somewhere. But we just have to be careful that we don’t get into victimization.

Questioner: My question for the panel is, could you give us a picture of what harmony would look like in a local church and community? My struggle in this is, how much a local church can do, knowing that we each have different styles of worship, styles of music, and maybe liturgy. There are different distinctives that a local church might have, how broad can we encompass diversity within one local church? And is at least part of the answer here to see the church in a community as bigger than ourselves and learn to work together with churches that are doctrinally sound and evangelical-cooperating to reach a community for Christ? Could you paint a picture of what this harmony would look like in a local church and community?

Piper: My answer to that is really easy. No. Now, I used to be paralyzed by that answer. This is the fundamental shift in my life, say, in the last five years. I used to be paralyzed by that answer because I am a very goal-driven person and if I can’t see it clearly, I don’t know how to work toward it, right? That’s the way you feel. That’s the way I feel.

Now, I feel like all I need is a smudge out there in front of me to pursue. I cannot answer that question. If you say, “What are you going to try to do at Bethlehem? Are you going for 50 percent black or 40 percent black? What about Hispanic? What about the American Indians? Are you going to do Chinese music one Sunday and rap the next Sunday?” And you just push it to the ludicrous, and you see it’s impossible and you give up and you go back to just doing classical music in your preaching. Now, I’m saying, “Okay, I have a black church five doors down, probably, I shouldn’t be all white, he shouldn’t be all black, so there should be some movement here to change each church.” That’s probably not going to happen much. They’re probably not going to go out of existence or we’re not going to combine.

The second step would be community, probably. I should be meeting with Arthur, going to lunch and talking and then do some common services and do some citywide things. What will that look like? I don’t know how to do that, but some of that too. My answer to you is no, but don’t be paralyzed by that. You don’t know what it’s going to look like in your church. You just feel like, it’s just got to move, we got to give, we got to move here. And then God says, “All right, I know what it’s going to look like until my Son comes with all the sin I got to deal with until he’s there.” So I just want to free you not to be paralyzed by getting an inadequate answer to your question.

Huerta: Let me just add one thing. We have a family with five children. We can’t do much. We can’t do much at all, almost. What helps me is not to look at a great organizational change that somehow I could be a part of, but just to do one small thing on my little plate that I can fit. I think Manny helped me a lot. If one pastor would maybe adopt somebody in a prison or if one pastor would do something with another pastor. In other words, just put a small thing on your plate and just let God keep you moving with it, and then, he’ll guide you.

Piper: It might be practically helpful also for you to talk to people who, if you look at their church and you might say, “Well, they’re farther down than I am,” and ask them, “What did God do as you groped?” I could list five things. We put in place a racial harmony task force. I started going on the crusade looking for black Calvinists around the country to see if there was such a thing. I met with Arthur down the street. We’re friends and we talk. We try to mix it up with our music. There are little things we’ve tried, but you know what happens? Every time you try one, somebody’s going to knock you down. They’re going to knock you down. They’re going to say, “That’s a stupid thing.”

My kids came to me when Chuck was doing his best two years ago with this choir here and they said, “Chuck, that’s hokey. White folks can’t sway. They don’t even know how to do anything.” It’s white kids talking about trying to do indigenous stuff and they just said, “That’s hokey.” Well, I just refuse to let that stop us. That almost looked authentic here last night. We have come a little ways. You’re going to get knocked down whatever you try, but just keep on going.

Questioner: I have a concern and I think it relates to some of the things we’ve been talking about like domination, the sovereignty of God, the lordship of Jesus Christ, particularly when we think about passages where Jesus says, “Don’t Lord it over the flock, be ministers, pastors, servants, slaves” (Matthew 20:25). At the same time, we refer to ourselves and we allow others to refer to us as reverend. What’s the root of that word? What kind of a message are we allowing to go forth to the people? Are we setting ourselves up as dominant?

Huerta: It’s deadly for a new church in Uzbekistan. It’s just deadly. It kills this idea that there’s a plurality of eldership. Every single church Paul planted, it seems as though there’s a plurality of eldership, and no one’s called “reverend” there. I want to move away from that as fast as I can.

Piper: I don’t know just what the terminology should be in America right now. I began my annual report for 2001 with this sentence. I’ve written 21 of these annual reports. They’ve all been called “The annual report of the senior pastor.” My first sentence is — and I didn’t even check with the elders about this — “This is probably the last report you’ll be receiving from your senior pastor.” Well, I’m 56, where’s he going? And then, I qualified it by saying, “That’s probably not a helpful name for me, given the reality of the plurality of elders.” I have one vote on my council. I’m never the chairman of the council. There’s 20 of us. We lead the church and we pastor to the church. I have a job, and it’s preaching and trumpeting a vision. I need another name that is functional. Senior probably is not it.

Pastor for trumpeting would be one. What I see on the back of our bulletin within a few months when we get this fixed is either just elder by all these people or pastor by all these people. Those are synonymous terms, as far as persons go, in the New Testament. Or maybe the simplest way to do it on a bulletin would be “associate for preaching,” “associate for senior adults,” “associate for youth,” etc. Just leave it like that. And at the top, you’d have “council of elders” or you’d have “pastors,” or something like that. What’s in a name, a rose by any other name is just as sweet. We probably need to work on that because of the message that we’re saying. Your ecclesiology will probably have an impact by virtue of its names as well as how it works.

Questioner: I spent the last 30 years of my life in Central Africa doing everything I could to translate the Bible into the languages of Africa. In the African context that I live in, it would be incredible to hear somebody say, “Though many countries meant colonialism for evil, God meant it for good.” You can even take it to the North American context and say, “Can a North American Christian get to the place where he can say, “Early Americans meant the massacres for evil, but God meant it for good”? There are a lot of things that a black person can accept from another black person that he can never accept from a white person. I have this gut level feeling that maybe I shouldn’t be saying these sentences because I’m from the dominant culture. It really only communicates something if a black brother says to another black brother, “Those guys meant slavery for evil, but God meant it for good.”

Burns: Well, obviously, Romans 8:28 is true, and therefore that statement is true. It’s different, though, when you look at what Joseph went through. Slavery, obviously, in the economy of God, was meant for good. I just don’t know that we have seen the good. The vestiges of slavery still exist. Racism is still institutional. The good, obviously, is that we were able to hear a message of the gospel, and sometimes, the good, I think, is that. It’s not that your social situation will change. It’s just that you have been redeemed, from our vantage point, anyway. Suffering is good. Paul said, “The comfort with which I was comforted, I was able to comfort others” (2 Corinthians 1:4). I don’t know that, as Americans, we have seen the benefit behind slavery, that we’ve seen the vitality of African-Americans to fight through it, the significance of the African-American intellectual to ascend from shame and poverty and an inability to learn to read and to write to the place in time now where we’re writing books and teaching and these sorts of things.

Yeah, it’s good, because God said it’s good, but I think Joseph had something that could look at and see the good. I can’t always see the good because I’m always seeing the bad. It’s just as much the Anglo church’s responsibility to help me see the good as it is my responsibility to fight to see the good. I ought to see it, but you ought to help me. And the way you help me is that you begin to root out racism where it exists, starting with your own heart if it’s there, starting with your own church, and getting a vision that is a broad vision, a big vision that is bigger than your own culture. And then, we will begin to see the good because you will see the pain. The pain will be eased and all that we’ve learned through slavery will be beneficial for you and all that you’ve learned from your advantage will be beneficial to us. So yeah, it’s good in theory, but I’m just waiting until we make it good in fact.

Ellis: Joseph was able to say that because he had seen the grace of God at work. That’s a tough thing to ... I wrestle with that very same thing. A lot of the African-American theologians of the Antebellum North wrestled with the same question and said, “Slavery resulted in our exposure to Christianity, which we now take up to go to the rest of the African diaspora and beyond.” But they made a clear distinction by saying that exposure to Christianity was a good thing while slavery was not, and our exposure to Christianity came in spite of the slavery. They wrestled with that.

The other thing is that I have to trust God at this particular point. The ledger sheet is unbalanced right now. As I look at it from this particular time in history, it just doesn’t look right to me. Well, it’s because of my historical point of view. If I see it from the point of view of eternity, I’ll say, “Oh, yeah, why didn’t I see that before?” If you were to ask Job today, “Would he go through all that again?” he would say yes because he sees it from eternity. So I have to trust God, at this particular point, that he has balanced the books and he has compensated, as he does, for the pain and the suffering and whatever, because that’s biblical.

Jesus endured the pain for the sake of the joy that was to follow. I could say that, but I have to be very careful to affirm the evil of slavery. Well, at this particular point in my life, I cannot accept that slavery itself was good. However, God did some good things through it. I can say that.