Pamela Brown-Peterside: Good evening, my name is Pamela Brown-Peterside. I’m a community group director here at Redeemer and I’m also one of the staff members who’s part of the Grace and Race team that have the pleasure of hosting this evening with you tonight. Grace and Race exists to help our congregation grow in its awareness of racial and ethnic differences in order for us to experience the richness and of community made whole in Christ.
I also have the pleasure of letting you know that Crossway is the organization that is sponsoring this event. They are based in Wheaton, Illinois, the publishers of Dr. John Piper’s book Bloodlines: Race, Cross, and the Christian, which was the impetus for this event. It is my very great pleasure to welcome Dr. John Piper to New York City and to Redeemer Presbyterian Church.
Dr. Piper is the pastor for preaching and vision at Bethlehem Baptist Church in Minneapolis, Minnesota. Prior to serving at Bethlehem Baptist, Dr. Piper taught biblical studies at Bethel University in Seminary in St. Paul Minnesota for six years. Dr. Piper has offered numerous books including Desiring God, Don’t Waste Your Life, This Momentary Marriage, Think, and most recently, Bloodlines: Race, Cross, and the Christian, which I mentioned is the impetus for this talk tonight.
It’s also interesting because the person who wrote the foreword for that book is Dr. Tim Keller. He’s our second speaker and he’s Redeemer’s senior pastor as many of you know. He and his wife Kathy along with their three sons cofounded Redeemer 23 years ago.
Prior to starting Redeemer, Dr. Keller was first a pastor in Hopewell, Virginia and then subsequently a professor at Westminster Theological Seminary. Dr. Keller has also written a number of books including Generous Justice, The Prodigal God, Counterfeit Gods, Kings Cross, The Meaning of Marriage with his wife Kathy and the New York Times bestseller, The Reason For God.
Tonight’s evening will be moderated by Dr. Anthony Bradley. Dr. Anthony Bradley is an associate professor of theology and ethics at the King’s College in New York City. He also serves as a research fellow at the Acton Institute. He’s also the author of a number of books including Liberating Black Theology, Black and Tired, The Political Economy of Liberation and the editor of Keep Your Head Up. Dr. Bradley holds a Ph.D. from Westminster Theological Seminary in historical theology and he has been featured on CSPAN, NPR, CNN, and Fox News among others.
As you can see, we have a very distinguished group of speakers tonight and Crossway has also published some of Dr. Bradley’s books, so there is a line or as it were, a bloodline through each of these speakers that’s connected to Crossway. Without further ado, I’m going to turn the evening over to Dr. Bradley who will be moderating for us.
Bradley: This evening, Dr. Piper will give a presentation and Reverend Keller will give a presentation, and I will also give a response as well. Our first speaker this evening is Dr. Piper. He is going to speak to us on “Race: It’s More Than Just a Social Issue.”
Race: It’s More Than a Just Social Issue
Piper [4:35]: The most ultimate and the most central and most foundational reality that exists is God. Before there was a universe, there was God. God is eternal with no beginning and no ending. He said to Moses, “Tell them I am sent you. I am who I am.” He’s absolute. Everything else is derivative. Everything else is dependent including all human beings us. Therefore, God is the most important being and the most valuable being that exists. Everything else has meaning and everything else has worth because of its connection to and its derivation from God and his worth. Everything has meaning and worth because it mirrors more or less God’s worth and God’s truth. His truth, his goodness, his beauty define all that is really true, all that is really good, and all that is beautiful. That’s what it means to be God.
In His Image
That absolute all-creating, all-originating, all-sustaining God created everything else including human beings, and he created us human beings in his own image (Genesis 1:27), which means that he created us with the rational and the moral and the affectional capacities to image him. Images are made to image. The meaning of being created in the image of God is that we have a destiny or a design or a capacity to image God, to mirror God, to reflect God. That’s what I mean to be created in the image of God. We are to magnify our Maker, so his goodness and his beauty and his truth are defined. Expression and echo mirror in us.
For His Glory
The Bible says bring my sons from afar, my daughters from the ends of the earth, everyone whom I created for my glory. Every human being is created to make much of God, to put his glory on display. That’s why every human being that is in New York is in New York — to display the glory of God for what he really is like according to his infinite value or 1 Corinthians 10:31 that was Isaiah 43:7. First Corinthians 10:31: “Whatever you do, whether you eat or drink, do everything to the glory of God.”
Absolutely every person in every aspect of their lives from the biggest to the little is to live out the worth of God, the value of God, the beauty and goodness of God. Since God is most glorified in us when we are most satisfied in him, he designed us so that he himself and only he would be our supreme happiness because that’s the way you bring his glory to fullest expression.
If you’re bored with God, he’s not honored by you or glorified by you. If you are thrilled with God deeply satisfied with God in the moment of your greatest suffering, then he has shown to be valuable in your life. God designed you for his glory, that is he designed you to be happy supremely in him above all other things. Knowing God, admiring God, treasuring God, trusting God, being near God, reflecting God, that’s what we were made for. All the people everywhere in every ethnic group on the planet have that as their God appointed calling and reason for being. God is utterly supreme in our affections and we are utterly satisfied in his perfections. That’s the way he set it up.
The Greatest Issue in the World
The greatest issue in the world, therefore, is that not a single person in this room or on this planet fulfills that design, none. That’s the biggest problem in New York City, Minneapolis, Bangkok, and Beijing. It is the biggest problem in the world by far. We have all sinned. We’ve all exchanged that glory that we were made to enjoy and magnify. We’ve exchanged it for images — especially the one in the mirror — and we find our satisfaction not in knowing God or admiring God or treasuring God or trusting or reflecting God, but we find our pleasure in ourselves being exalted. We want to be made much of ourselves. It feels so good to be made much of and it does not feel good to human beings to make much of God. We are all fallen.
We are bent away from God. We are rebels. We are blind, treasuring the creature over the Creator thus belittling the creator and committing treason against our King. Every one of you has done that. Every person on the planet is guilty of treason. That’s the biggest problem in the world. When a whole planet commits treason against her King, that’s the biggest problem. Now in God’s unimpeachable justice, he opposes us therefore with great wrath. He is very angry at the human race, which means that we would be utterly and eternally lost, undone, desperate, going to hell.
We would be undone eternally if God weren’t more than unimpeachably just, if God didn’t somehow undertake for this rebellious planet with all of us rebels, selfish, self-exalting human beings to intervene somehow on a rescue operation that made it possible for those rebels to have amnesty and be reconciled back to making much of him and being supremely happy in it forever. That’s what he did. He entered history 2,000 years ago in the person of Jesus Christ — fully divine, fully and perfectly human Son of God, Jesus Christ. He said this when he came, “The Son of Man came not to be served, but to serve and to give his life as a ransom for many” (Matthew 20:28). Isaiah said,
Surely he has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows, yet we esteemed him stricken, smitten by God, and afflicted. He was wounded for our transgressions. He was bruised for our iniquities. Upon him was the chastisement that made us whole and by his stripes, we are healed. We have all like sheep gone astray and turned every one to his own way, and the Lord God Almighty has laid on him the iniquity of us all. (Isaiah 53:4–6)
That’s 700 years before it happened. Or Paul said, “Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us, cursed it is everyone who hangs on a tree” (Galatians 3:13). He did that intentionally to take that anger and that wrath and that curse on himself, so that he can assemble a people who are forgiving when there’s no wrath against them anymore.
Or Paul in Romans 8:3: “What the law could not do, weak as it was through the flesh, God did, sending his own son in the likeness of sinful flesh and for sin. He condemned sin in the flesh.” Whose sin? Jesus didn’t have any. Mine. Whose flesh? Not mine, Jesus’s. This is called substitution. Jesus sent by the Father to be a substitute so that all the punishment I deserved went on him, all the righteousness I couldn’t but should have performed, he completed, and the death I should have died, he walked into, and it spits him out and he triumphs. He climbs over it. That is what he did for his people: punished and canceled all their sin in Christ, performed and provided all their righteousness in Christ, absorbed and removed all the wrath of God against them, and purchased and secured their adoption into the family and their eternal happiness.
Free for You, and for Me
Christ did that by dying and rising again for them. That’s the gospel of Jesus Christ, the good news of God for this rebellious planet. It comes to consummation in individual lives when they ask: “You said he did that for his family?” That’s right I did. He did that for his elect. Yes. He did that for his redeemed people. Yes. “How do I get in? I mean can I get in?” And the answer is: yes. By grace are you saved through faith and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God, not of works lest anyone should boast, so by grace through faith (Ephesians 2:8). Faith means when I hear that message, I say that is the best news I’ve ever heard for a rebel like me with the wrath of God on him, and you embrace it and receive it for the treasure that it is. That’s faith, and it’s free for the having for anybody in this room or anybody watching. Anybody who will receive it as their supreme treasure has it and all of that is valid for them.
Explains and Undermines Racism
Now, I call that the last twelve minutes — a Christian worldview climaxing in the gospel — and my argument is that that worldview climaxing in the gospel explains and undermines racism. It explains it and undermines it.
Here’s my definition of racism: attributing to one race intrinsic superiority or valuing it above another and then treating others as undesirable or evil. I’m arguing that it is explained and it is undermined by that worldview climaxing in the gospel of Jesus, and let me just give you a flavor what I mean by racism because I mean we all work in our tiny little worlds and it is not a tiny little problem.
It is a history long problem and a global problem, not just a little black and white problem or a little Asian problem or a little Rwanda problem or a little Jewish problem. It is a massive, global, history long, devastating, bloody, murderous problem. For example, the Armenian Genocide in Turkey in 1915 — a million slaughtered Armenians. Holocaust in Germany: six million. Who knows how many tens of million in the Soviet Gulags under Stalin? The massacres in Rwanda in 1994, the Japanese slaughter of six million Chinese, Indonesians, Koreans, Filipinos and Indo Chinese — a litany of history long bloodletting all in the name of ethnicity or race. That is because humans are in rebellion against God.
That’s where that comes from — exalting ourselves over against our Maker and of course if over against our Maker, over against each other. That’s a given. Anybody that would have the audacity not to submit to the King of kings and Lord of lords would not have any problem putting you down. We find our pleasure and self-exaltation being made much of and if I have to use my ethnicity to do that, thank you very much, I will do it. That sin of racism that grows in the ground of pride and self-exultation is also undermined by this worldview. This worldview can handle, can explain the horrors of the world, and the gospel can undermine those horrors and begin to bring us free.
Four Parts of the Biblical View
For example, here are four pieces of the worldview, all of them undermining racism. First, at creation, all of us created in his image, all of us in his image. There are cataclysmic implications of human beings in the image of God — every kind of human being. Second sin and fall. We are one in our corruption. We are deep in solidarity in sin. You are so sinful and I am so sinful, we’re right there together. There is no exalting of another above another if we are both dead-bent rebels together on our way to hell. How vain is the exaltation o—f self-sinner over another sinner? Third, the cross. Christ died to reconcile us both talking about Jews and Gentiles at that moment — in one body to the cross, to Christ through the cross to God, or you were slain.
It’s a Blood Issue
We say to Jesus in Revelation 5:9, “You were slain and by your blood, you ransom people for God from every tribe and tongue and people and nation and you have made them a kingdom, one kingdom and priests to our God.” Why? I said it’s more than a social issue. Whenever I get to talk on this, I want to say to all conservative white folks who fear the social gospel, it’s not a social issue. It’s a blood issue. By your blood, you ransom them, all of them. You die to pull them together, Revelation 5:9.
And fourth, faith. Not of works, and I think works means not only anything you do, but any distinctive you have does not commend you to God. Faith commends you to God and faith is a desperate I can’t help myself, which puts you in line with everybody. Therefore, the way into the family is designed to remove all ethnic barriers.
The Gospel as Promise and Explanation
One last thing. The fact that this worldview can explain the horrors and can begin to undermine the horrors leaves you with the question: Why haven’t we done better than we have? Why is the Church of Christ, historically, have such a mixed record on this? I’m going to close by quoting Mark Noll in his book God and Race in American Politics. Mark is one of the most perceptive historians I know and he argues that only Christianity in all of its compromises with sin can explain the compromises. I’ll read this and then be done.
To explain the simultaneous manifestation of superlative good and pervasive malevolence in the history of race and religion, neither simple trust in human nature nor simple cynicism about American hypocrisy is adequate. Something else must explain the pervasive commingling of opposites. That commingling has included domination with liberation, altruism with greed, self-seeking with self-sacrifice, economic independence with economic exploitation, tribalism with universalism, hatred with love. Any final explanation for the conundrums of American history must be able to account for a mind stretching conjunction of opposites. It must evoke both the goodness of the human creation and the persistence of evil in all branches of humanity.
It must show how the best human creatures are sabotaged by their own hubris and the worst human depredations are enlightened by unexpected shafts of light. It must be able to hold these contradictions, antinomies and paradoxes in one cohesive vision. From the much used and much abused scriptures, a long line of Christian readers have affirmed in various accents and diverse emphases, a transcendent account for profound complexity to take the measure of human nature and human achievement. God made humans and the creation was good, yet at the same time, humankind has fallen and will never escape the effects of sin here.
Further God offers in the work of his Son, Jesus Christ, and in the power of the Holy Spirit, the transforming prospect of redemption, yet redemption never equals perfection. The redeemed must always recognize their own shortcomings and be filled with gratitude for all the gifts of creation including other human creatures.
The gospel is not only the promise of deliverance. The gospel is also the explanation for our failures to reach it.
Bradley: Our next speaker is Reverend Tim Keller, who will be speaking on “Racism and Corporate Evil: A White Guy’s Perspective.”
Racism and Corporate Evil: A White Guy’s Perspective
Keller [26:00]: Obviously, I have a somewhat comical title, but what I want to do is to build on what John has just said. John gave us the theological bedrock for why racism is completely antithetical to Christian theology and a Christian understanding of the gospel. I want to talk to you about the concept of corporate evil or systemic evil and injustice. I’ll start off by saying Western people in general, and white Americans in particular, have little or no concept of corporate evil or they are actively set against the idea. I think it’s very important for me as a white man to say “Look, that’s wrong.”
If we don’t get what the Bible says about corporate evil, we will not only misunderstand the Bible itself, but we also won’t understand what so many of our non-white brothers and sisters and friends and neighbors are saying. We just won’t get it. We’ll think they’re all paranoid.
I’d like to talk to you first about the idea of corporate responsibility — corporate moral responsibility, corporate guilt — secondly systemic evil, and then thirdly, how the gospel addresses those things.
First of all, corporate responsibility. Let me just show you how big parts of the Bible — Joshua 7, Daniel 9, and Romans 5 — make no sense if you think of moral responsibility in strictly individualistic terms.
Family Shapes You
If you’re reading through the Bible and you get to Joshua 7 — especially if you’re a white American, especially if you’re Western person — you go “What?” In Joshua 7, a man named Achan, an Israelite — they’re coming into the promised land, they are strictly told you were not here for plunder — Achan takes some plunder, a robe, some wealth, takes it for himself, hides it under his tent. He breaks the law. He goes against God’s will, goes against the law for the Israelites. When it’s discovered, he’s not just punished, but his entire family is stoned to death with him. Western people — especially white Americans — say, “Wait a minute, he did it. They didn’t do it!”
Now let me just get right off and say this. Most people and most other cultures, most other centuries understand why that happened. If you’re a New Yorker and you have some objection to some part of the Bible that you find offensive, I want you to realize it’s your cultural location that’s causing the offense. Don’t you dare think that just because you find that part of the Bible offensive, everybody in the whole world would think the Bible is offensive. That’s culturally narrow of you to think that because most people, most places know that we are not just the product of our choices — individual choices. That if you can do something bad, the fact that you can do it, what helped you become the kind of person that can do it, was to a great degree your family.
Your family produced you directly or at least failed to keep you from becoming that, and therefore at least actively or passively, your family participates in your guilt. Most people, most places, Americans — especially white Americans — don’t understand that. Most people, most places recognize that because you’re not the product of your own individual choices, you are the product of a community. Not only are you the product of a community to a great degree, but that you by even participating in that community are producing other kinds of people with their particular kinds of character to because of your interaction with them. Joshua 7 says that there is corporate responsibility inside a family.
The Sins of Our Ancestors
I’ll take it up a little higher. In Daniel 9, now we’re talking about corporate guilt and responsibility inside a whole race or a culture because Daniel, in Daniel 9, confesses sins — repents for — and says it’s his responsibility to repent for sins that his ancestors did that he didn’t do it all.
I mean I still hear it, though especially years ago when I lived in the South. I heard white people say, “Yeah, it’s a shame what slavery did, but I never owned any slaves so why in the world does anybody think that I as a white person now had any responsibility to that community over there at all? I didn’t own slaves.” But here is Daniel feeling a responsibility for and repenting for things his ancestors did. Why? Because he knows that the culture that he’s part of produced the sins of the past and he’s still part of that culture. He senses the responsibility and the Bible senses the responsibility. He senses the connection. Now let me throw this over onto the positive. Not only will Daniel feel that the sins of other members of the community I participate in, so I should experience some of the shame and responsibility for that, but the good things that happen by members of the community, I feel I can take some credit for.
If you’re white, didn’t you have a little trouble understanding “Linsanity?” Just a little? And the reason was because you were saying if a white person makes the Knicks do well, I’m not proud to be white. You don’t, but that’s because you are the majority here. If you were in China and you were a white American in China and you knew to some degree that there people often looked at you white Americans in this and that way, and some white American in China really makes good and everybody’s cheering this person, you would feel that that’s reflecting good on you, wouldn’t you? Because as a minority, you would sense the corporate connection, but you don’t sense it here because you’re majority.
If you take the Western individualism anyway and you put on top of that the fact that if you’re white in America, you’ve always been majority, you just don’t get all this talk about corporate connection that some members of the community can bring guilt on the whole community and some members of the community can bring credit on the whole community. We don’t get it but that’s only because of our cultural myopia.
Condemned by Our First Parents
Let me go one step further though. John has already alluded to this and I’ll get back to this in a minute. Go to Romans 5 and you get into the very heart of what’s called classic federal theology. At the heart of classic Protestantism has always been this teaching.
In Romans 5, Paul goes way beyond the idea that you are responsible for what other members of your family did and he goes way beyond the idea that you’re responsible for what other members of your culture do. He says you are responsible and you are condemned for what your ancestors Adam and Eve did. That is just by virtue of being in the entire human race, you’re responsible for things that you didn’t individually do. You are condemned for what they do and then of course he turns around and says, “But by connection to Jesus Christ, you can be saved not because of what you have done, but through your connection to him by faith.” The whole structure of the gospel is based on corporate responsibility.
If you really want to go all the way down and say I’m only responsible for what I have done and only I have done, there is no gospel. You see that. At the very heart of protestant understanding that in the end our, salvation ends up being corporate. It’s not something we earn. It’s something that comes to us by being joined with Christ, but our sin is there not just because of course we do sin ourselves, but we’re also sinful and condemned because of our being part of the human race.
At the very, very heart of the Bible, at the heart of theology, not just what the Bible says about you and your family, not just what the Bible says about you and your culture, but what the Bible says about you and the human race — how sin happens, how salvation happens — there’s corporate responsibility. You got that? If you don’t understand that, to some degree, Western people and white people in particular don’t realize to what degree they filter out all kinds of things the Bible says. They just don’t see them or they resist them because of that individualism. It’s not biblical. It’s not gospel.
Let’s talk then about systemic evil. Here’s what I mean by systemic: if you’re part of a community, there are systems that the whole community participates in. Things get done by the system, and you, by participating in the community, are to some degree getting that done, even if there’s levels of responsibility. I’ll give you these levels. You might be in the community and know exactly what the system is doing and be happy for it and actually actively doing it. Or secondly, you might kind of know what’s happening in the system and you don’t think too much about it, but you’re in favor of it. Or number three, you know what’s happening but you don’t do anything to stop it. Or number four, you don’t really know what’s happening and you don’t care and you don’t even care to try to find out about it.
Don’t Look the Other Way
For example, the Holocaust. At the top of the system, at the most responsible, you had people had set up the death camps. Underneath that, you have guards and people who are in the death camps who were just following orders as they said. Underneath that, you had people in the town, civic leaders who know what was happening there but they didn’t want to know. Very often after the war, some of them committed suicide when they actually thought it was happening the camp because they knew but I had no idea exactly and so forth. Then you go down to the citizen, the German citizen who had heard rumors but didn’t want to know and didn’t do anything about it and just pay their taxes and worked.
Don’t you see that at the one end, you’ve got people who are more corporately responsible, at the bottom a little less corporately responsible, but only all those people died because the whole system was working and everybody who was in the system, everybody who wasn’t resisting the system was part of it because the system couldn’t kill all those people unless everybody was doing their job, even just looking the other way.
Just Part of the System
When I moved to a little town in Virginia, one of the things I discovered but I didn’t really think much about, was there were six city council members and they were elected at-large. Twenty-five to thirty percent of the population of the town was black, but because they weren’t elected by region or neighborhood, they were elected at-large by the whole community, they were all six white. The rationale was we don’t want that awful word politics where everybody’s fighting and because the whole community is electing everybody, every single council member is representing the whole group.
The fact of the matter was of course that the poor part of the city, the poor part of the town, the school over there, the black part of town, was being absolutely starved of resources. Now at the top of this system were councilmen and people like that who really knew exactly what they were doing. Very important in the system was a young, northern, white pastor in his twenties to thirties who knew about it and never really asked and just continue to support it just by not putting up any kind of fuss and just participating in the elections.
Looking back on the thing, I realized what was I doing, I was part of a system. Did I experience some corporate responsibility? Absolutely. In the narrow, I was responsible for something that was keeping the people down, the poor, black people in that town down, partly because I didn’t care enough to really think about it. In the broad, by being a white man in the south in the 1970s and I actually had an elder in my church whose father had fought in the civil war, you can figure that out, it actually happened. He was in his 70s. He had lied about his age and got into the civil war at the age of fourteen, but by gosh I had a guy whose father was a civil war veteran in 1975 on my session, so the civil war wasn’t that far back. For any white person in that town, it was so obvious that so many of the poor black people in that town were in that situation over the generations because of slavery. For me to say I don’t have anything to do with that, I don’t have any responsibility to do something about their place is just unbiblical.
The System Excludes and Marginalizes
Here’s a definition what I mean by systemic evil. It is a system that excludes and marginalizes people on the basis of race, even though most of the individuals in the system are not probably intentionally trying to do it. The individuals aren’t intentionally trying to do it they’re part of a system that’s doing it, and therefore there’s guilt and therefore there’s systemic evil.
For example, let me give you a mini system. I knew a man who was the head of a set of car dealerships in the South. The way in which things were done was you could come in and negotiate, and the salesman had a pretty big window of what they could give you the car for. They would negotiate, you would negotiate, and it was a lot of horse-trading going on except there was car-trading I guess. The salesman couldn’t go lower than this, but they could get this high and so it was a tradition. Somebody did some research and found out that men always were better negotiators with the salesmen than women and white men and black men were better negotiators than African American women.
When somebody actually looked at what was going on, African-American women were regularly paying far more for their cars and were actually subsidizing the price of what white men who were paying for cars in that particular town. They realized that even though nobody thought they were doing something — if the result was unjust, and it was unjust — then even though there was nobody in there who originally had said let’s do it this way because that way we will really hurt African American women, but they were hurting African-American women. There’s two things you can do. On the one hand, you could say because we’re not deliberately trying to hurt African-American women, we make better profits this way, we have no responsibility.
The owner, a Christian man, said we do have responsibility and he changed the model. He changed the whole approach. His own profits have gone down, but he says it’s the only way to be just. Have you got the eyes to see systemic evil or are you a typical white Westerner? I know a lot of you aren’t white and a lot of you aren’t Westerners, but I’m particularly looking to you. Do you have the eyes to see that kind of thing? If you do see them, do you take responsibility?
How Does the Gospel Address Systemic Racism?
Now lastly, how does the gospel actually address this? On the one hand, you’ve got to keep in mind that just converting some individuals with the gospel, if the system needs to be dealt with won’t be enough to deal with racism.
I mean to me, the most dramatic example of that was Robert Linthicum some years ago wrote a book called City of God, City of Satan. He tells a true story about how when he was a young man, a minister student, he spent a summer doing evangelism and ministry in a big city. He met a girl named Eva who was from the projects. She was from a very poor background, a black girl, African-American. She became a Christian under his ministry. He put her in a Bible study. She was growing, went back to school — seminary college or something like that. A year later, he came back to see his friends and found out that Eva had gone into prostitution. He found her. He started berating her.
He started saying, “Why didn’t you go to your Bible study?” And then she said, “Men came, told me I look good, said they wanted me to be a prostitute, and if I wasn’t, they would beat up my father and my brother.” This is Robert Linthicum, the author saying, I said to her, “Eva that’s just terrible. You should have trusted God and gone to the police.” She said, “It was the police who came and said they were going to beat up my father and my brother. What was I going to do?” Linthicum said, “I suddenly realized I don’t think it’s going to be enough to help her just by converting her and getting her to a Bible study. I’ve got to do something about the system.”
There’s a corrupt system going on here and of course black and Hispanic women were being used in this way. Now that’s a particularly dramatic, very vivid. I tried to show you the car dealership, to show you systemic racism can happen at all kinds of levels, almost at an unconscious level but there it is. At the other end, that’s very, very obvious but it just goes to show you got to do something about systems. You can’t just simply say we’re just going to convert everybody and convict them of the individual sin of racism, everything will be okay. Here’s three ways the gospel I think can address this.
Not About Individualism
First, if you begin to understand gospel theology, the idea that a lot of people say that the very doctrine that Adam and Eve’s sin is imputed to me so I’m guilty and now when I believe in Jesus Christ, not only are my sins put on Christ, but his righteousness is put on me and I’m clothed in the righteousness of Christ. I’ve seen people criticized in reviews of John’s books saying reformed theology, protestant theology classic imputed righteousness theology is individualistic and it’s no help. I’m trying to say are you kidding, you have you read this. To me, the reason that I have been able to get beyond my individualism and start to think in terms of corporate responsibility is because of the gospel.
It gives anybody who really digs down into it the ability to see that God sees things happening through communities through bodies, not just simply through individual actions. On the one hand, I’d say the gospel theology gives people, even those of us from the most individualistic background, the spectacles through which we can finally start to see things we never saw before. We can look at things in other ways other than just simply individual rights, individual actions, number one.
Second, the gospel changes your identity so that you are less sucked in to the social system around us, which tends to be racist. Michelle Alexander, in her book, The New Jim Crow, points out that gangster-rap culture is a way for stigmatized people desperately trying to do something about the low self-image, and they are embracing an identity given to them by society as criminals. They embrace beating up women and violence and are proud of it, and it’s a desperate way for people to say, “Okay, you’re going to treat me as a criminal, I’m going to revel in being a criminal.” But of course all it does is digs them in deeper. They’ve got to have an identity, but even if they do go to prison, keeps them from being sucked into what the culture is telling them about themselves.
On the other hand, Bill Stuntz, who was a great scholar of criminal law at Harvard University, wrote a book that came out after he died called The Collapse of American Criminal Justice. It’s an amazing book, and he points out in the 1840s, the police forces were invented. You know why? Because of the Irish. The Irish showed up in the 1840s. They came here because of the potato famine.
They came into the big cities and there was all this violence and everybody said, “Oh my gosh the Irish.” They were the first urban, criminal culture and police forces were actually invented to deal with them. But he pointed something out over a period of twenty years. He said Irish criminals were tried by Irish juries. They were tried by Irish judges. They were arrested by Irish policemen and Irish district attorneys. In other words, it says the Irish community was empowered to actually deal with their own crime problem and they got on top of it.
These inner-city black communities are not empowered to do that because the criminal justice system, he says, is in the hands of white people. And it’s particularly white suburbanites — people who don’t even live there. He makes a long list of the ways in which the criminal justice system is absolutely broken and it’s one of the reasons why black male incarceration rates are far higher than they were just a generation ago — far higher. He says it’s absolutely broken until white people begin to realize that they are us.
First and the Last
Michelle Alexandra does the same thing. At the end of her book, she says that the criminal justice system right now is a disaster for black people in general and black males in particular, and she says there isn’t any way out of it unless white people get some new understanding that we are together — some new humility, some new sense of care and love. There’s a place in James 1:9 that says the poor believer should take pride in his high position and the rich believer should take pride in his low position because he’s going to pass away like a flower of the field. And probably what that is saying is this: If you are a Christian affluent person, you should remember that you are a sinner.
That’s one of the things the Bible says. If you are a poor person and you become a Christian, you should remember that you are a child of the King, you should think of your high position. The gospel takes white people and keeps them from really getting their identity from their place in society, and it takes poor people and it keeps them from taking their identity out of their place that’s been assigned to them in society. That helps destroy he power of the system.
Grace and Grace Alone
Lastly, an awful lot of people that talk about systemic racism and evil and systemic race injustice are incredibly self-righteous as they do it. Christians ought to get alongside of people who say the criminal justice system is a systemic evil that is keeping people of color and non-white people down.
There are a whole lot of systems out there that are a huge problem, even when you have individual rights and that kind of thing. The fact is that so many of the crusaders against systemic racism injustice have an enormous amount of self-righteousness and anger that makes people write them off. If we’re Christians, we know that we’re sinners saved by grace. The gospel should humble us so that when we talk about injustice, we don’t look at everybody else as the problem. May we never say, “We are the ones who understand these things. All you idiots that don’t believe in systemic evil. I heard Tim Keller preach on it, I know. Here’s a stupid individualistic white person that doesn’t understand these things. You just don’t understand, but I do.”
See, the gospel takes that out of you forever and makes you a person who will probably be more likely to persuade people. In all those ways, the gospel takes a look at corporate evil, helps us understand it, and changes our hearts and changes our ways of thinking so that we can do something about it.
Every Square Inch: God Will Reconcile All Things to Himself
Bradley [52:00]: What will happen over the next few moments is for me to make a case not only for why God cares for the application of the gospel to this issue, but to also make the case that God cares about the systems because they are actually a part of his creation.
I stand here in front of you with the last name Bradley. I’m from the Bradley Plantation in Escambia County, Alabama. Every time I see my name, I’m reminded of the plantation from which my family comes. I stand here as a descendant of a family of preachers, but I will try not to start preaching to you. Although there’s a Bible there and I’m tempted, but I won’t do that. I stand as a witness to the progress that’s actually happened in this country as someone from the Bradley Plantation. I can now proudly tell you all that not only am I from the Bradley Plantation, but a few years ago, my family members gathered together and actually purchased the property. Now, that the same acreage that used to own us, we now own it.
I stand having listened for years and years and years to my own parents tell brutal stories of being raised in the Jim Crow South in Alabama and in North Carolina, hearing my aunts and uncles and grandparents telling stories of being treated like animals. Someone born after the civil rights movement, there was a lot of pressure on my generation to do the things that my parents could not have done because of not only the racist firm white Christians, but also the barriers and impediments that were embedded in the system. I stand here listening to what is true about the gospel as it transforms people, but what is also true about God’s intention to redeem the creation that he has made for his purposes and for his will for our good and for his glory.
I am thankful to John Piper for writing the book Bloodlines and for confessing his own story. That is the type of confession that builds bridges. We need more brave men and women of your generation as young as you are confessing, being honest, telling stories of how they failed, how they were able to see and be changed. Those are the types of things that from my parents generation, having grown up in the South, need to hear. I’m thankful that the work and person of Jesus Christ and the gospel is laid forward as the reconciling point of contact for understanding our solidarity as followers of this Messiah promised to David.
Purge Perverted Ideology
We’re right here tonight right to point out that racism is the only way to purge the church of the sorts of a perverted ideology that changes the way we see other people, and it is the best and only way to have a widespread social change that radically reorients the way in which we engage the creation. Now my recommendations for moving forward for what we have initiated as we talk about the gospel is biased. I’m biased because I’m trained in this tradition that focuses on covenant theology and covenantal apologetics and ethics. In my traditions training, what we see as that category of a gospel is a good beginning but doesn’t go deep enough.
It doesn’t go deep enough to fully and deeply dismantle the creational and eschatological violence that racism commits against the grand narrative of the redemption that was accomplished and applied at the cross as promised in the specifications of God’s covenants with Abraham and David.
You see, what’s so amazing about gospel is that because of our union with Christ, Jews, Gentiles, white, black, yellow, red, male, female are all members of the same covenant community. It’s the same holy nation, equal heirs of God’s covenant promises explicated throughout the entire redemptive story. See, racism is not only an attack on the gospel. Racism is a vile and vicious attack on God’s covenant story of redemption. A discussion of racism in God’s world must include of course very biblical reflections on the doctrine of salvation and the doctrine on Jesus Christ, but we cannot be satisfied with hanging those things just on those two doctrines, because if we do, we then struggle to understand the difference that it makes to systems. We often were limited to just people.
Don’t Whitewash Jesus
This redemptive-historical approach is necessary because Western Christianity tends to whitewash Jesus of his ethnic identity, as if his Jewishness is not relevant to his humanity and turns him into a raceless white male with brown hair and brown eyes.
You see, if you read the sermons preached to slaves and in the prayers of the Puritans who were chaplains on slave ships, you’d think that slaves were told that God loves them and cares for them, that Jesus died for their sins and that they stand before God as sinners saved by grace alone. But the difference is that slaves were told that God loves you and has a wonderful plan for your life as a slave, that this a wonderful plan for your life is to be subordinate to whites because whites have different promises and callings from God than blacks.
More Than Salvation
Reformed theological ethics orients this discussion, not only in terms of salvation and Christology, but also orients this discussion in the Bible’s grand narrative of creation, fall, redemption, and consummation — God’s covenant story with his people and his entire creation. You don’t get past the preface of Mike Williams’s book As Far As the Curse Is Found without the realization of the importance of this grand narrative. He says this: “The creation, fall, redemption, consummation storyline is the central theme of the Scriptures and it forms the Bible’s overarching literary structure fall and redemption are meaningless outside of the context of God’s creation.”
Creation and fall together are the presupposition of the history of redemption considering in Jesus Christ. Moreover, Dr. William Edgar, says that the reformed succinct synopsis of the Christian faith as creation, fall, redemption explains why Christians care about the environment and business, ethics, arts, media, racism, and human trafficking in all forms of social injustice and oppression.
In fact, Henry Van Til observes this that the Calvinist does not become one-sidedly Christological and soteriological in his interpretations of man’s calling, but he continues to make the doctrines of creation and the providence in providence a part of his working capital. He does not believe, as some Christians seem to, that God now excused his believers from their cultural calling due to the urgency of the missionary mandate, which calls the church to make disciples of all nations. Reformed black theologians discuss race beginning with the doctrine of creation because that addresses the wedge that white Christians have attempted to place between whites and black existence.
Jesus’s Reign Extends over Everything
I focused on, in my own writing on race, black theologians, like Bruce Fields at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School, and race and the image of God in his book on Black Theology. Vincent Bacote at Wheaton College introduces a discussion of black racial identity in terms of creation in our book, Keep Your Head Up. Bacote acknowledges that these vital categories and doctrines help us understand who we are and how we should live. And here’s why, because Abraham Kuyper makes this profound statement that there is not a square inch in the whole domain of human existence over which Christ, who is sovereign, does not cry, “Mine.”
Christ, who is sovereign over all and is King over all, cares just as much about the injustice in the church, the injustice in neighborhoods as well as the injustice in the boardroom and in business and in sports and in Florida. Why? Because we must go deeper. Why? Because the gospel and the history of God’s covenant story of redemption orients us to the fact, as we see in Colossians 1, that God is reconciling all things to Christ. In Romans 8, we’re reminded that the whole creation groans for the sons of God to be revealed because those things that have been in frustration in the creation because of the fall are attached to decay.
Professor Williams would agree with Professor Edgar, who says that just as the fall affected the entire cosmos, so does redemption — it’s comprehensive. The new heaven and the new earth will not be a place for souls only, but also a remade humanity living in a new cosmos. Christianity says no to racism in the church and in any social structure that Jesus Christ is sovereign over. Discussions about the role of personal responsibility versus systemic and intervention are somewhat secular, because for Christians who are oriented toward God’s redemptive mission over his entire creation are not asking questions of if. They’re asking questions of how.
More Than Mere Freedom
As we think more broadly about this redemptive story — God’s covenant story of redemption — I’m reminded that that means that we have to take a step back and think holistically and ask the question “What is God’s will for humanity?” That would in fact be a challenge to some who conflate and often confuse sort of small little trinkets of change with the type of change that would be pleasing to the Lord. One of the things that I’ve been interested to study is the tendency for people to conflate abolition with loving black people. That is not the same thing, and historically, we’ve seen demonstrated that abolitionists were often no less racist than slave owners.
You could be for abolition, not because you love black people, but you could be against slavery simply because you didn’t want those people who were just a step above monkeys to be slaves, and unfortunately those things get conflated. My own concern is that we move this conversation forward as we think about the death and the expanse of God’s concern for not only souls and people, but also his concern for systems and structures that don’t mirror his glory. He sends his people into them on purpose because all things are being reconciled to Jesus Christ that we have to ask deeper, more penetrating questions.
One of the things that evangelicals need to do is actually listen to black and brown and yellow people, that the discussions of race has to be led by people whose perspective is different, who actually can communicate the ways in which they’ve been impacted and affected by race. One of the dreams that I have is that one day evangelicals will engage black theologians, that one day evangelicals will listen to and dialogue with theologians from the black church tradition asking different kinds of questions. We have to begin dialogue with those and also listen to black theologians and black pastors and leaders who are on the forefront right now like Bruce Fields at Trinity, Vincent Bacote at Wheaton, etc.
We also have to not only listen but think differently. One of the questions, Dr. Keller, that you raised in the preface of Bloodlines is why is it that a lot of whites don’t talk about race, a lot of preachers don’t talk about race. I think it’s, in part, because when we think about racism, we think about it in terms of what happened prior to the civil rights movement. We cannot have this discussion about race until we talk about micro-aggressions. I’ll give you an example of both of those things that happened to me on a regular basis.
Micro-Aggressions to Love
When I tell people I went at Clemson, the first question they ask me is this, “Did you play football?” I don’t know why they think that, but that’s the first question I usually get. This happens to me all the time especially in Midtown. I’m in a department store, dressed just like this, and I repeatedly get asked questions about whether or not an item is on sale, because even in Manhattan, to see a black man in a suit and a bow tie in the middle of the day shopping is weird.
The assumption is I must be some sort of employee of the store because this is the only reason why blacks are actually in Manhattan because Manhattan’s become so gentrified, that we’ve even lost the sense that we are here and live in Manhattan because of gentrification. We also must do this — and this is my deepest burden and this is something Dr. Piper mentioned in comments about Trayvon, and I would say needs to move forward because it wasn’t discussed too much in the book — is that we need to frame this discussion around love. It surprises me the extent to which Jesus’s own teaching about loving one’s neighbor is often missing from this discussion.
Often we want to transact reconciliation — have meetings, sing Kumbuya, and give people hugs. But often thinking about the difficulty and challenge of actually loving someone, loving your neighbor in the same way that God loves us. We have to remember as I think about my parents’ generation, what they heard from white Christians on both sides of Jim Crow was that they were saved by grace and that we will be together in the eschaton, but what they did not hear from white Christians is that they were worthy of being loved by them.
Everything Is His
Finally, as I think about the excellent start that we have with books like Bloodlines, I think we need to go much, much deeper. The challenge even for the both of you as you discuss race is “What next?” Much of the credibility of what is said here will be measured on the basis of what you all do for the next five to ten years in light of this discussion if your churches continue to look the same way they look now.
If the leadership in your organizations don’t change, people will be suspicious that this is just simply rhetoric. For example, when you look at a conference website about the gospel that has twenty speakers listed and nineteen of the speakers are white and one speaker is black, people will raise questions from the outset because it looks suspicious. Raise questions about what’s really going on, is this really progress or not if you’re comfortable with being in a space that has nineteen white speakers and one black one, as if possibly the nineteen their only black friend is that one.
This gospel that liberates us to love God and love neighbor and to think about a world in which God is pleased with how we live in society, how we live and our families, how we live and our church means that we must remember that God is about the business of reconciling all things. And that mission of God is something that we have the opportunity to participate in, and he uses us through our union with Christ to make this world right here, right now, reflect his glory and his mission because this world belongs totally and exclusively to him.