On May 25, the apparent murder of a black man named George Floyd by a white police officer led to protests and, in some cases, riots in all 50 states and in several other countries. On the one hand, the evidence for an unjust killing and abuse of power seemed obvious to anyone who saw the video of George Floyd's killing. Overnight, millions became witnesses to an outrageously negligent act that seemed to display no care to preserve and protect human life, which police officers in particular and people generally are obligated to uphold. On the other hand, this unity surrounding the wrongness of George Floyd's death gave way to chaos and disunity. Some blamed Derek Chauvin, the officer who killed George Floyd. Others blamed whites, whiteness, and a society they claimed was built on the foundation of white supremacy.
If you haven't read my post on critical theory (and by extension critical race theory), then I encourage you to read it. In that post, I explain the underlying worldview behind the claim that "whiteness" is to blame for George Floyd's murder. To many, this seems like a bizarre claim, but the underlying worldview has its roots in Marxism and have been somewhat commonplace in academia for decades. Even though I was exposed to critical theory in my undergraduate education (you can't avoid it at secular universities), I was shocked at how widespread belief in some of the claims of this worldview is, particularly among otherwise evangelical Christians. The worldview and ideology of critical theory present a subversive and incredibly dangerous threat to the true gospel of Jesus Christ, and any committed follower of Jesus should be committed to its destruction. In that post, however, I outlined two steps for the Christian apologist in defending the faith:
Tear down the opposing worldview.
Winsomely replace the opposing worldview with Christ.
In that post, I tried to tear down the opposing worldview of critical theory by showing that it is fundamentally incompatible with the Christian worldview and cannot be combined with it. The two worldviews are logically incompatible with one another. In these next two posts, however, I want to focus on what the gospel of Jesus Christ implies about race and racism, so that we can, as brothers and sisters in Christ, be united in the truth and in Christ and respond to injustice and opposing worldviews with the truth. If we instead capitulate to the world's solutions, we contribute to the world's problems. Only Jesus is King of Kings and Lord of Lords, and it is only by recognizing this that there will ever be hope for true reconciliation and unity.
My intent in these next two posts is threefold. First, I desperately want to keep the brethren in Christ united. As I argued in my post on critical theory, the way in which many Christians are responding to this issue is by adopting the ideas of critical race theory, which inevitably divides people. By pitting black people against a system of racism built into the structure of society, and in which all white people are accomplices who benefit from that system, critical race theory guarantees that there will be a spirit of distrust between people of different hues of skin color. This is grossly counter-intuitive and counterproductive (not to mention evil). By providing a Christ-centered approach, maybe I can, in some small way, help Christians of different hues to stay united, rather than dividing.
Second, I want to passionately and emphatically preach the gospel of Christ. I am confident that the gospel gives the true and best answer to racism and that, if Christians were to just recognize it and take it seriously, the Church would be a place in which Christians in the United States live counterculturally in unity, breaking down all social and other barriers to love one another in the truth. The Church still can be that place, but we must purge from our midst the scourge of critical theory like the cancer that it is and replace it with the truth. This will not be easy, but we do it in service to the Kingdom of God.
Third, I don't merely want to keep some tenuous sense of community and unity in place in the Church. That is what's currently falling apart under the current of critical theory. I want to see the Church do that which Ephesians 2:11-22 proclaims is possible in Christ. I don't have some grandiose sense that my blog will single-handedly do that (look at how many views I get), but I feel the weight of a responsibility to add a small voice and pray for impact, wherever it may pop up.
Before I get started, I want to be clear that I'll be discussing this Christ-centered response to racism rather generally. The deaths of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, and Ahmaud Arbery have thrust these issues into the eyes of the public, but the response itself should apply in any case of perceived injustice or racism. So the response will be general but able to be applied to specific instances. Essentially, I'm trying to do what critical theory does. Critical theory supplies the presuppositions by which instances of perceived injustice are interpreted. By replacing critical theory with Christ, my desire is to supply the right presuppositions. That language shouldn't bother Christians who believe that Jesus is the way and the truth and the life (John 14:6).
Two more caveats. First, by now, it should be pretty clear that I'm primarily speaking to Christians. I also think that these posts could be of help to people who do not believe in Christ. If you don't believe in Christ as Lord, then please keep reading. I invite you to consider if this approach to racism makes sense. Consider the gospel and whether it seems reasonable to you. If so, perhaps the light and hope of this approach may lead you to consider the good news on which it is based. Second, I want to be very clear to my brothers and sisters in Christ that I don't believe that any of this disagreement is malicious. No matter where I've seen my friends fall on this issue, we are all motivated by love for God and neighbor and a desire to "let justice roll down like waters and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream" (Amos 5:24). We love justice because we love God. My intent is to recognize that unity and to point us to the right way and the best way. Correction is needed along that road, but let's come together humbly to discuss how we can do this well.
My method for addressing these issues has two steps. I am taking what I'm calling a "bottom-up" approach. Any house must be built on a firm foundation. Our foundation is Christ, and what we build on that foundation is either enduring or will be burnt up (see 1 Corinthians 3:10-15). For this post, I want to focus on what unites us as followers of Christ. For the second post, I want to stand on that foundation and begin building on it a response to racism firmly planted on it. It is here that I suspect that there will be disagreement. By laying the foundation clearly, perhaps it will be easier to see how the house is firmly planted on it, rather than something else. In other words, my hope is that if you can agree with everything that I affirm in this post, then you may be able to see the truth in what I build on that foundation. If I err and start building elsewhere, then I need correction, too. That's why we share disagreements and sharpen each other (Proverbs 27:17), all in the love of Christ.
With all of that out of the way, let's get started. As I said, for this post, I want to focus on what we, as committed followers of Christ, should all agree on. I'll highlight three central beliefs that will be the foundation on which we build a Christ-centered response to racism:
The Gospel of Jesus Christ
The Importance of Scripture
The Centrality of Love in the Christian Way of Life
The Gospel of Jesus Christ
Look, times are tough right now. Between a pandemic and racial tension in our country, 2020 has not been an easy year for anyone. Here I am addressing a difficult topic on which professing Christians now seem bitterly divided. Can we just come together to rejoice? To praise the Lord? And what better way to praise the Lord than to reflect first on what He has done for us. Why are we called His children, the body of Christ, the bride of Christ, the elect, the Church, and a royal priesthood?
The word gospel means "good news," which in Greek (the language of the New Testament) is "euangelion" (εὐαγγέλιον). The beautiful thing about the gospel is its central proclamation: the Kingdom of God is here, and God wants us to be a part of it. This is announced in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. I covered this in more detail in my post on salvation, but let me cover four primary points here.
First, the gospel teaches us that we're all sinners before a just and holy God (Romans 3:23). No one can stand before a just and holy God. All of us are deserving of condemnation. This needs to sink in before the gospel provides healing and salvation to us. What, exactly, are we being saved from? It is our own sin and the reality of eternal punishment in hell. God had every right to punish us, but instead He decided to do something else.
Second, God the Father sent His Son to be born on this earth, proclaim the Kingdom of God, die for our sins, and raise from the dead. There are doctrines, then, which are essential to the gospel, such as the Trinity and incarnation, that all Christians must believe in order to uphold the truth of the gospel. Jesus taught that He was God and worshiped His Father as God. This proclamation proves God's love for us, as John 3:16 says. If we see ourselves as God sees us, then we'll see ourselves as men and women who deserved condemnation but to whom God offered eternal salvation out of His love for us. Every part of Jesus' life, from His conception by the Holy Spirit in the womb of the virgin Mary to the moment He ascended into heaven to be with the Father, is an act of divine love, grace, and mercy. We did not deserve this and did not ask for it, but we can receive it by faith.
Third, by confessing the lordship of Christ and believing that He was raised from the dead, anyone can be saved (Romans 10:9-10). By faith, then, apart from works (Ephesians 2:8-9), we are saved from condemnation and set apart as God's sons and daughters. As Romans 8:1-2 says (NASB):
"Therefore there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus has set you free from the law of sin and of death."
The gospel begins with a situation that seems hopeless and tells us that it is Christ Jesus, God in flesh, who alone provides hope for salvation and eternal life. His love for us moved Him to give of Himself voluntarily, to take the wrath of God for our sins in our place. Jesus Christ received what we deserved in His crucifixion, so that we would receive what He accomplished in His resurrection and glorification. This is the greatest news that mankind could ever receive!
Fourth, this glorious salvation gives us a glorious new vocation: to be part of God's new creation by living it in this world. Too many Christians make the mistake of thinking that Christianity is all about what happens after we die. This is mistaken because the New Testament focuses a lot on how the gospel changes us as we live in this world. There is a balance here, of course. The gospel is about the promise of eternal life in the new heavens and new earth with Christ, and it is about being conformed to the image of Christ now through sanctification (Romans 8:29). The people whom God saved from death and condemnation are called God's children (John 1:12-13; Romans 8:15-17), the body of Christ (Romans 12:4-5), the bride of Christ (2 Corinthians 11:2; Ephesians 5:25-33; Revelations 19:7), the elect (Ephesians 1:3-6), the Church, and a royal priesthood (1 Peter 2:9). As ambassadors for Christ (2 Corinthians 5:20), beloved by Him and loving Him, we are to follow His commands, as Jesus teaches in John 14:15.
This is both a solemn and glorious calling on our lives, which we are to live out with joy before Him because of His love for us. As we live, we represent our Savior. We will fail in this, but we grow in it by His grace because of the Holy Spirit within us.
The Importance of Scripture
How do we learn these great truths of the gospel? Ultimately, we know about them because of Scripture. In Reformed theology, there are two doctrines that should guide us in addressing any situation that presents itself to us. These doctrines are called sola scriptura and the sufficiency of Scripture.
Sola scriptura, or Scripture alone, is one of the major doctrines of the Protestant Reformation. It expressed a return of Protestants to Scripture as the sole authority for faith and practice. While church history can be helpful at times in doctrinal and theological discussions, we ultimately receive truth from Scripture as God's inspired revelation of Himself to mankind. This is grounded in 2 Timothy 3:16-17 (NASB):
"All Scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness; so that the man of God may be adequate, equipped for every good work."
Similar to this is the doctrine of the sufficiency of Scripture. This is the insight that Scripture alone supplies everything that we ultimately need to answer questions about God, faith, the gospel, and how we ought to live.
This doctrine is particularly important to us in this cultural moment, since it is common for Christians to claim that critical race theory supplies a so-called "analytic framework" for understanding systemic racism in the context of the United States. If critical race theory, along with Scripture, is necessary for addressing sin in our current cultural context, then Scripture is not sufficient. As a result, a follower of Christ, if he or she wants to be faithful to Christ, must read not only the Bible but books such as Robin DiAngelo's White Fragility and Ibram X. Kendi's How to Be an Antiracist. This, in spite of the fact that Scripture has plenty to say about anthropology (the nature of human beings) and sin and provides a solution to it already. Either we believe in that solution and teach it, or we don't. Therefore, the sola scriptura and the sufficiency of Scripture should be held dear if we are to remain faithful to the gospel communicated to us through God's inspired Scripture. This does not mean that we can never turn to outside resources for a topic that Scripture addresses, but we must be careful to recognize that Scripture is our ultimate authority and the foundation on which we stand with regard to these issues. This will come up in the second part, as I look outside the Bible for information about the history of the concept of race but ultimately return to Scripture for the answer as to what we should do about that concept.
The Centrality of Love in the Christian Way of Life
When asked what the greatest commandment was, Jesus gave an unexpected answer. One might have guessed that He would refer to the Ten Commandments, but instead, Jesus says in Matthew 22:35-40 (NASB):
"One of them, a lawyer, asked Him a question, testing Him, 'Teacher, which is the great commandment in the Law?' And He said to him, '"You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind." This is the great and foremost commandment. The second is like it, "You shall love your neighbor as yourself." On these two commandments depend the whole Law and the Prophets.'"
Quoting Deuteronomy 6:5 and Leviticus 19:18, Jesus turns the Jews' understanding of the Law of the Old Testament on its head. In this passage, He tells us that the central virtue is love. In this, we reflect Christ most clearly, as when John teaches, "We love, because He [God] first loved us" (1 John 4:19). Thus, love for God and others as ourselves should motivate our obedience to His commands. Obedience out of love is a response to the gospel and His love for us.
The key here lies in the truth of the gospel. If we, as His people, seek to conform ourselves, in thought and affection and deed, to the image of Christ, we can only do this if we are firmly rooted in what He has done for us. Only by knowing this can we lovingly communicate and offer it to others. And only by living it can we provide and display the true solution to every problem that confronts our world, including racism.
In the second part to this post, I will go into more detail applying these three beliefs to the issue of racism. As I made clear above, my desire is to supply the right presuppositions by which we can rightfully interpret this cultural moment. My claim here is simple: critical theory supplies the wrong presuppositions, and the Christian faith supplies the right ones. Notice, however, how central and basic these three beliefs are. Followers of Christ should have no problem affirming these beliefs.
Again, if you have not read my post on critical theory, I suggest that you read it and consider my claim that critical theory is logically incompatible with the true gospel. If you disagree with any of these three beliefs and profess to be a Christian, then I encourage you to stop here and consider that profession. It could be that you support the culture's response to racism because you never believed the gospel anyway. With love and a fervent desire for your salvation, that you would realize what it means to follow Christ and be known and loved by Him, I plead with you to repent of your sin, believe the gospel, and follow Christ. Otherwise, of all things, Christians should be unified around these relatively uncontroversial beliefs.
This exercise is central to Christian apologetics and has to do with thinking in terms of a worldview. If I have this set of core beliefs, then what are their logical consequences? How do they affect the way in which I look at the world? I suspect that many Christians accept these core beliefs but have failed to see that their support for critical theory is incompatible with those core beliefs. In the next part, I'll work out those logical consequences.
I hope that this post has been helpful and edifying to you in thinking through these important issues of our day. Please, feel free to share this post with others and get the word out. Along with this series of posts, I plan to put out a lot of content about critical theory and the gospel in the coming weeks or months. This is the apologetic issue of our time, much like the New Atheism was only about twelve years ago. As such, I'm going to address it here at Holistic Apologetics. Stay tuned for more content on this issue!
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