The Meaning and Significance of Race

Session 3 – Part 1

Racial Harmony

Welcome to this third session of the TBI seminar on racial harmony. What you’re sitting in is a seminar in the making, and not a seminar completed. My prayer is that in the seven or eight Wednesday night sessions that will give to this, spaced out at odd places over the winter and spring, there will come together a unified way of presenting this material on a weekend, or on five or six Wednesday nights in the future so that it can be a continuing offering in the TBI curriculum.

So I’m learning as I go, and you’re helping me. So that’s what it is. And this is the third time we’ve been on it. Let me try to first pray and then summarize where we’ve been and a little bit where I’ll be, where I think I’ll be going. But let’s ask God to come and help us now.

The Significance of Race

Where we have been so far is that the first night I talked about why we’re doing this, and gave you eight or nine reasons, some from the Bible, some from culture, some from history, and some from my personal experience growing up in Greenville, South Carolina. The second time we were together, we talked about all human beings being created in the image of God, and the implications that has. A corollary of that is to maintain the unity of the race — humans. All humans are of one origin by divine design.

I want to talk about that tonight with the subtitle The Meaning and Significance of Race. We’ll take most of it from the Bible, but I want to take some from genetics and anthropological observation. I think I have about five or six points. Let’s just walk through them one at a time, and I’ll see if there are questions along the way.

1. Evolutionary Theory

My first observation is that the evolutionary theory of human origins encourages racist thinking about human groups. What I mean by evolutionary theory of human origins is the theory that we’re becoming human from lower life forms, which were not human. And then something happened and there was a glitch or mutation, and a more advanced stage of animal life developed, and we were getting close to Homo sapiens. And then something else happened a few more thousand years or million years and we got higher. And finally, we arrived on the scene, and our ancestors were monkeys and lower forms of life.

It only takes a little bit of thought to see where that might lead as you look around at forms of human life and start to draw conclusions. You could think, “Well, maybe they’re not quite as far along the chain as more smart forms.” You can see where this kind of thing might lead. Well, in fact, Jay Gould — who’s not a Christian and no friend of creationism — wrote about this. In his context, racism meant that race was the significant definer of traits of intelligence, morality, personality, and so on.

Biological arguments for racism may have been common before 1850 (that is, before Darwin), but they increased by orders of magnitude following the acceptance of evolutionary theory.

History of the Aborigines

Here are a couple of examples. This is the quote from a 1924 newspaper:

The Australian Aborigines, for instance, were considered the missing links between an apelike ancestor and the rest of mankind.

When the aborigines were first found or became public in the West, they didn’t look like any other race. In fact, the Australian Aborigines are classified as a fourth kind. We’ll talk about these in a minute, but the categories were Caucasoid, Negroid, Mongoloid, and then the Aboriginal was a fourth category. The evolutionists got all excited about this, because they thought, “Look, you can tell by facial features that they’re between monkeys and Negroid.”

Well, this was incredibly demeaning. I mean, I don’t read much about what’s going on in Australia, but I get a little bit of feedback. I would say, with regard to the aborigines in Australia compared to America, they’re maybe 30, 40, or 50 years behind in the way things are moving. They’ll go through some of the same crises we have and are still in.

But that’s what an evolutionary mind is looking for. They’re looking for life forms that can explain the link between apes and us. And this is just incredibly volatile. And so, I am so glad we have a Bible that gives God’s perspective on the history of humankind and does not relate it to lower life forms which we are progressively growing out of such that one form of human life might be a little more down the line on the evolutionary chain.

This is a quote from a little book I’ve been reading:

Racist attitudes fueled by evolutionary thinking were largely responsible for an African pygmy actually being displayed along with an orangutan in a cage in the Bronx Zoo.

So, my first observation is to just lift up a warning flag. If you are inclined to think in terms of the evolutionary theory of human origins, you might be buying into something that is not only for biblical and scientific reasons, but also for racist reasons, not something you’d want to pursue.

2. The Head of Humanity

In the Bible, the correlation of Adam and Christ as the heads of two humanities — one physical and one spiritual — points to the unity of the human race. I want to point to three passages of Scripture and show you how the inspired Apostle Paul conceives of the human race in relationship to its origin in Adam and in its redemption in Jesus.

We spent a long time on this one on Sunday morning. It’s Romans 5. I just want to pick out a few key verses of that paragraph so that you can remind yourself of the structure of Paul’s thinking. In Romans 5:12, Paul said:

Therefore, just as sin came into the world through one man, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men because all sinned . . .

It isn’t separate, little humanoids in different places coming along, some of whom make it and some don’t, and somehow sin jumps over. Rather, it’s one unified humanity and sin rooted in it in ways that are mysterious to us, taking us to where we are now. Romans 5:15 continues:

But the free gift is not like the trespass. For if many died through one man’s trespass, much more have the grace of God and the free gift by the grace of that one man Jesus Christ abounded for many.

So the one man sins and many die, and you also have the one man, Jesus Christ, so you begin to sense the structure. We had one man, he sinned, all who were in him fell in him, so that every human today is a sinner by nature because of our common rootage in our forefather, Adam. Now, the solution to that is another Adam, Jesus — we’ll see this develop. By faith in him, his righteousness becomes ours, as Adam’s sin became ours. It’s imputation there and imputation here. You may remember some of those sermons.

Death Through Adam, Life Through Christ

Romans 5:17 continues:

For if, because of one man’s trespass, death reigned through that one man (Adam), much more will those who receive (that’s faith) the abundance of grace and the free gift of righteousness reign in life through the one man Jesus Christ.

There is one at the beginning of the human race and one at the beginning of Christian humanity. It’s not that we’re superior humans, but there is a new head, Christ, and a new people, Christians. Our righteousness is not our own; it belongs to Jesus, like our sin at the beginning was not our own, but it belonged to Adam. We were contaminated by it and inherited it. And now in Christ, we inherit his righteousness. So our salvation is in Christ, just like our fall was in Adam.

All I want you to see here is that the apostle, who has the mind of Christ, didn’t think in a way that is evolutionary. Man comes on the scene as a responsible being, and from him flows sin, then follows one man, as Romans 5:19 continues:

For as by the one man’s disobedience the many were made sinners, so by the one man’s obedience the many will be made righteous.

So there’s Romans 5, and a structure of two Adams, as it were, which is said explicitly later.

Adam’s Fall Is Our Fall

Here are two passages from 1 Corinthians 15. First, let’s look at 1 Corinthians 15:20–22. It says:

But in fact Christ has been raised from the dead, the first fruits of those who have fallen asleep. For as by a man came death, by a man has come also the resurrection of the dead. For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ shall all be made alive.

I would argue, from what we’ve seen there and in other places that the first all is all of Adam’s posterity, and the second all is all of Christ’s posterity. I don’t think this passage teaches universalism in the sense that all human beings will be saved. But rather, as all who were in Adam died, so all who are in Christ live. If you’re in Christ, you will benefit from all that Christ is, if you were in Adam, you fall for all that Adam was.

The Last Adam

The third text is 1 Corinthians 15:45–49, which says:

Thus it is written, “The first man Adam became a living being”; the last Adam became a life-giving spirit . . .

Now you have the explicit statement of two Adams. This is Paul’s thinking. One Adam was at the beginning, from whom we’re all fallen and contaminated, and the last Adam is Christ, who became a life-giving spirit.

But it is not the spiritual that is first but the natural, and then the spiritual. The first man was from the earth, a man of dust; the second man is from heaven. As was the man of dust, so also are those who are of the dust (all humans have their origin in this earthly man, Adam), and as is the man of heaven, so also are those who are of heaven. Just as we have borne the image of the man of dust, we shall also bear the image of the man of heaven.

My second point is simply to observe that in the mind of Paul there is one man from whom all of humanity comes. God creates that one man, and he falls in sin, and we become sinners in him. His way of redemption is not to have many different ways for many different cultures, but since all of humanity is united in one man, all of the new humanity is going to be united in one man. There has to be a union in Christ for there to be salvation.

So when you think about how people in the Aboriginal forests of Australia can be saved, how people in Africa can be saved, and how people in China, Indonesia, America, and South America can be saved, the question is, how did they get lost? In one man they got lost; and in one man, they will be saved. There’s a very strong argument in Romans 5 and 1 Corinthians 15 for missions — that there aren’t a lot of ways to God. There’s one way to God — the second Adam is rectifying what the first Adam failed to do. Every human being everywhere is wounded by the first Adam, and the only remedy the Bible holds out for that disease is the remedy of the second Adam. That’s very, very important.

3. The Ground of Equality

The Apostle Paul made the common origin of all humans the ground of equality and the end of ethnic arrogance. I’m working on this idea of the unity of the human race after dealing with the image of God because I don’t want us to think there might be pockets of humanoids, or whatever, who are not in the image of God. Every person who is human is of one race — let’s use the word race that way for now — and they are in the image of God.

How does Paul use that? What’s the practical import of that when he goes to Athens, a place where they pride themselves on their ethnic origins? Let’s read this. If you were going to go to Athens to go up on the philosophical Mars Hill and have thoughtful people gather around you who spend their time doing nothing but trying to hear new preachers and do intellectual work, what would you say? Here’s some of what Paul said:

The God who made the world and everything in it, being Lord of heaven and earth, does not live in temples made by man (he’s attacking their manmade idolatrous forms right off the bat), nor is he served by human hands, as though he needed anything, since he himself gives to all mankind life and breath and everything. And he made from one man . . . (Acts 17:24–26).

Every Nation From One Man

Why is he saying this out of the blue in the midst of a sermon? In the first sermon he gets, he says to these Athenians that God created all humans out of one human. Why say that? I mean, there’s lots of other things to say. Why did he say that? Well, we’ll see. He continues:

And he made from one man every nation of mankind to live on all the face of the earth, having determined allotted periods and the boundaries of their dwelling place . . . (Acts 17:26).

Paul is saying, “So you Athenians, do you think you’re special? Do you think you carved out this little niche at the bottom of Greece? Do you think you began and decided how long you will endure as a civilization? Do you think you had some unique origin from the soil of Athens, over against the barbarians who grew up in another inferior origin? I have something to tell you. You and the barbarians that you hate have one daddy, and God decides where you wound up, and why you look the way you do, talk the way you do, and have the borders that you have.”

Why did he do this? It says:

that they should seek God, and perhaps feel their way toward him and find him. Yet he is actually not far from each one of us . . . as even some of your own poets have said,

     For we are indeed his offspring.

A Death Blow to Ethnic Pride

Here’s a quote from F. F. Bruce, who’s no longer living, but while he was living in the latter half of the 20th century was one of the foremost evangelical New Testament scholars in the English-speaking world. Here’s what he wrote about that text:

The Athenians prided themselves on being autochthonous, sprung from the soil of their native Attica — a claim which simply means that they belong to the earliest wave of Greek immigration into the land. So early that, unlike the later arrivals, the Achaeans and the Dorians had lost all memory of their immigration.

They assumed they sprung up as a special product of humanity from their own soil. So the Greeks in general considered themselves superior to non-Greeks, whom they called barbarians. Against such claims of racial superiority, Paul asserts the unity of all men. You can see how he’s using the doctrine that I’ve been trying to develop; he’s using it to undermine pride; he’s using it to undermine arrogance; he’s using it to undermine segregation.

They thought, “We are the Athenians; the rest are barbarians. We’re not going to live with them, go to school with them, worship with them, or have anything to do with them. We are special.” When I was looking on the internet for some things for Sunday’s message, I stumbled across some white supremacy stuff that’ll turn your face blue. I mean, the kind of stuff that’s just vicious. It was horrible stuff against Jews, against blacks, and against everyone but the Aryans.

That’s out there on the internet. You can find it but don’t look for it; you don’t want to see it. It is vicious, ugly, and crude. But it may help you understand a few feelings of why we need to be more sensitive than we are about this whole issue of racial superiority. There are pockets in America — and it’s a continuum I suppose not just pockets — that are so Athenian-like, they need to hear this. FF Bruce continues:

Against such claims to racial superiority, Paul asserts the unity of all men. The unity of the human race, as descended from Adam, is fundamental in Paul’s theology.

That’s what I’ve been trying to say for the last 10 minutes or so.

The Consequent Insignificance of Race

Now let’s try to draw out some more implications of that. Here’s one. I remember when Noël came to me a little more than five years ago and said, “Phoebe Dawson just called, and she thinks there’s a little girl in Georgia that’s for us.” I was 50 five years ago, and she wondered if we could do that. And this 50-year-old walked through 13 days of beyond midlife crisis. I had that one at 41 or 42 and survived it. I didn’t buy a sailboat or a motorcycle or anything.

The little girl was black, aI was 50. When I read to Noël the letter that I wrote to her with about 10 reasons why I thought this would be a good idea, once the Lord worked on me on the race issue, I knew that when I took this little girl home for the first time to Greenville, South Carolina, there would be a crisis for my father and my stepmother, big time.

My bottom-line argument was the ultimate insignificance of race. Now, culturally I know that can be offensive for minorities, because they say, “That’s easy for you to say, you’re the dominant culture and you don’t even have to think about race. Everything goes your way. You can be blind to race because you don’t think it’s an issue. You’re white. For us, we live with the consciousness of race all the time. If you say it’s insignificant, you take something from us.” So let me see if I can clarify what I mean.

What I mean is that the biological phenomenon of color and shape is ultimately insignificant. I’m not talking about cultural traditions that may be precious, that bring to the world richness; I’m talking about the fact that if you have to measure humanity versus animals and black versus white, the former is of infinite significance, and the latter is of almost no significance. I have in my mind a column graph, and it’s human compared to animal. If animal is a millimeter off the ground, human is going to be 10 miles high. And if you compare black to white, they’re going to be the same height, as far as humanity goes. The difference between the color or the shape or the hair, or whatever, is so small. That’s the point here.

Negligible Differences

Now, there are biological reasons for believing that. I hope to do more with this next time. We won’t do it next week, because next week is our annual meeting. We’ll do the business of the church, and then comes the pastor’s conference, and then we’re back on. I hope to do more with this issue to show you where race could have come from between Noah and now. It’s really quite explainable.

I have few observations under this heading — The Consequent Insignificance of Race. The differences between the usual racial classifications of Caucasoid (European or white), Mongoloid (Asians and American Indians), Negroid (black or African), and Australoid (as it was created when the Aborigines were found) are genetically insignificant. I’ll try to show you why. This is a quote now, again from this book:

If one were to take any two people from anywhere in the world, the basic genetic difference between these two people would typically be around 0.2 percent, even if they come from the same group. But these so-called racial characteristics that many think are major differences (skin color, eye shape, etc), account for only six percent of that 0.2 percent variation, which amounts to a mere point 0.12 percent difference genetically.

In other words, if you take the DNA molecule and all the program that makes up a human being, just genetically, the things that make us differ are that small, and the things we have in common are that many. In other words, “The so-called racial differences are absolutely trivial.” That’s the quote. It continues:

Overall, there is more variation within any group than there is between one group and another. If a white person, for example, were looking for a tissue match for an organ transplant, for instance, the best match may come from a black person, and vice versa.

I think that there’s a strange mindset that is deeply racist, which says the differences between color and a few other features — say, eyes for Asians and noses or hair for blacks — are really signs of deep, wide, and far-reaching differences in humanity, which scientifically is absolutely not the case; and that the differences that can be there between any one group, black or yellow or whatever, are typically just as great or more as the differences in the genetic makeup between representatives of two different groups.

I just think that’s a very liberating thing to think about. It’s very important to think about so that we do not subconsciously conclude, “Okay, yellow skin means they are always smart in mathematics,” or something like that.

What Shall I Do When God Rises Up?

Dealing with varying groups justly follows from a common origin as creatures of the same God and a unified race under the same God. Two texts show that. This is the text I’m going to be preaching this Sunday. I chose it because it links race and embryo. I’m going to talk about pro-life Sunday, but I’m going to move from last Sunday’s message into next Sunday’s message with the link of this passage. And I’ll say something about slavery, though not much. I’m going to deal with that separately on a Wednesday night — the problem of slavery in the Bible, and the problem of slavery in America and in the world today in places like Sudan. We’re going to talk about that. But here’s Job protesting that, while in that culture he did have slaves, he did not harden his heart against any of their needs or any of their desires. What’s his argument? Job 31:13–14 says:

If I have rejected the cause of my manservant or my maidservant,
     when they brought a complaint against me,
what then shall I do when God rises up?
     When he makes inquiry, what shall I answer him?

In other words, God’s going to hold me accountable for that. In all the commentaries I looked at on this today, three of them said this is a stunning ethical statement from that culture, that he would talk like this about his slaves.

The Seeds of Abolition

In other words, what you find in the Bible — I’m getting ahead of myself here because I want to say so much about the slavery issue — is a progressive sanctification on this issue, and the seeds are being sown for the dissolution of this institution all the way along, and this is one of them. We have more elsewhere. Even though it wasn’t exploded immediately in the history of redemption, the seeds of the explosion were being planted over and over again.

Here you have this man in that culture saying, “If I ever failed to register a proper, just, and compassionate response to a complaint of one of my servants, what then could I do when God arises? God’s going to advocate for them big time, and when he calls me to account, what will I answer him?” Now, here’s the foundation of that tremendous sense of fear of God that God was going to come and call him to account if he ever abused one of his slaves or servants. Here’s what he says next in Job 31:15:

Did not he who made me in the womb make him?
     And did not one fashion us in the womb?

It’s the unity of the origin of humanity, both in history and the womb, that causes Job to tremble at the thought of mistreating one of his servants.

Rich and Poor Meet Together

And then finally, Proverbs 22:2 says:

The rich and the poor meet together;
     the Lord is the Maker of them all.

In our culture, in our church, especially, if the rich have demeaning attitudes toward the poor, or the poor have arrogant and cynical attitudes toward the rich, they need to remind themselves of many things. We’ll talk about the redemptive things, but this is a creative thing. The Lord is the maker of them all, which creates a common bond.

I hope that before we’re done we will get to the massive and beautiful things that happen to us in Christ. There is neither male nor female, neither slave nor free, in Christ (Galatians 3:28). I haven’t even gotten there yet. I’m talking about who we are by our common rootage in one humanity, and what the Bible makes of that in terms of undermining ethnic arrogance and pulling people together in a common heart bond of compassion and justice. Well, I need to let you go. I’ll hang out here at the front afterward if you want to talk about any of this. But let’s pray and then you can go enjoy your fellowship around some food.