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In the critically-acclaimed book Divided by Faith: Evangelical Religion and the Problem of Race in America, a very popular and highly-recommended read among evangelical social justice advocates, authors Michael O. Emerson and Christian Smith assert that: “As a nation, Americans have devoted extensive time and energy discussing religion and race. But the connection between the two, especially religion’s role in the racially divided United States, is grossly under-studied.”

For the sake of this commentary, I will grant Emerson and Smith the benefit of the doubt that they are correct in their assertion. In fact, there is ample evidence that countless Americans continue to devote extensive amounts of time, energy, and money toward investigating the relationship between religion (e.g. Christianity) and “racial” disparities.

It is a reality that is difficult to miss.

One need only look around his or her local bookstore (do they still have those?), grocery store checkout, or social media footprint and it becomes evident rather quickly that the number of books, articles, podcasts, and blogs that are focused on matters of racial reconciliation and social justice, from both a theological and philosophical perspective, are ubiquitous and unavoidable. So much so that “racial reconciliation” has developed into its own special category of ministry within the evangelical church. Case in point, Lifeway® Christian Stores, a division of the Southern Baptist Convention, has an entire section of its website dedicated to the subject.

But to whatever degree the aforementioned statement by the writers of Divided by Faith is valid, what is equally true, if not more so, is that the gospel has been so grossly under-studied, even by many evangelical social justicians, as to fail to comprehend or acknowledge the genesis of such a chasm.

It is the church’s decades-long insistence on broaching this matter of ethno-relational partitioning through the lens of political and legislative solutions, as opposed to addressing gospel-centered root causes, that has led to this latest cycle of evangelical social activism – because there truly is nothing new under the sun [1] – which, in reality, is merely a regurgitation of previously-argued dogmas and credendas that have simply been repackaged and relabeled (e.g. ‘woke’). Were this not the case, I would not be spending my time writing nor, likewise, would you be spending your time reading, this commentary.

The fact that many Christians continue to exclaim that “Racism still exists!” – as if racism (a term I personally disavow, but will use for the sake of this article) should be treated as if it were the attitudinal equivalent of a carton of milk that had reached its expiration date – is testament to the level of naivety that exists in failing to realize that politics and government are wholly inadequate to meliorate not only the tangible effects of such a mindset, whether individually or systemically, but also the spiritual origins of it [2][3].

The 17th century Puritan theologian Thomas Watson (1620-1686) wrote[4], “God’s knowledge is foundational. He is the original pattern and prototype of all knowledge. God’s knowledge is instantaneous. He knows all at once. Our knowledge is successive. We know one thing after another and argue from the effect to the cause.”

Evangelical social justicians are the type of people of whom Watson is speaking in that they tend to argue their case from the perspective of the effect (injustice) to the cause (“racism”). Whereas the gospel always argues from the standpoint of the cause (sin) to the effect (injustice).

One of the clearest examples of this is the exchange between God and Cain in Genesis 4:1-7. Cain was “very angry” (v. 5b) because his offering had been rejected by God and his brother, Abel’s, offering accepted by Him. But God, being fully aware that Cain was contemplating murdering Abel out of jealousy and envy, warned him not about the act he was considering, but about the sin that was “crouching at the door” of his heart (v. 7a) and that, if he didn’t “master it” (v. 7b), would lead to his committing the act that he was already contemplating against his brother.

We all know how that turned out, don’t we?

When one considers the protestations of evangelical social justicicians, both biblically and holistically, one invariably comes to the conclusion that they are demanding that which is humanly impossible. I say that primarily on the basis of Ps. 106:3, which reads, “How blessed are those who keep justice, who practice righteousness at all times.”

Social justicians are, in my humble opinion, admirably, but misguidedly, hoping to remake this present world into one in which justice and righteousness are consistently observed by all who inhabit this sinful world.

But if God’s Word is clear about anything, it is that you and I are innately unrighteous[5] and, conversely, are wholly incapable of consistently adhering to society’s ever-shifting standards of ethics and morality let alone God’s fixed standards[6]. Which is why the vision of the late Dr. James Hal Cone (1936-2018) – a man whom many regard as one of the founders of black liberation theology – that “Love should be a controlling element in power, not power itself[7]” – will continue to be a mirage in this life, because the same sin that divides us from God divides us from one another.

To put it differently, the problem is enmity not ethnicity.

The gospel of Matthew records that the angel of the Lord commanded Joseph to name the Child to whom his wife was to give birth ‘Jesus’ for the foreordained purpose that “He will save His people from their sins[8].” I mention this to suggest that evangelical social justicians would do well to remind themselves that Jesus is a Savior, not a divine Social Worker.

Christ’s larger purpose in this world is eschatological not sociological[9], to prepare for His elect a new world to come, not a better world here[10].

Humbly in Christ,

Darrell

Image credit.

[1] Eccl. 1:9

[2] Eccl. 5:8

[3] Gen. 6:5

[4] The Great Gain of Godliness

[5] Rom. 3:23

[6] Eccl. 7:20

[7] Black Theology: A Documented History, Volume 1: 1966-1979, p. 21

[8] Matt. 1:21

[9] Jn. 18:36

[10] 2 Pet. 3:13

 

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Written by Darrell B. Harrison

Darrell Harrison is a native of Atlanta, Georgia. He currently resides in Covington, Georgia (about 45 miles east of Atlanta). Darrell attends Rockdale Community Church, a Reformed Baptist congregation located in the Atlanta suburb of Conyers, Georgia. Darrell is a 2013 Fellow of the Black Theology and Leadership Institute (BTLI) of Princeton Theological Seminary in Princeton, New Jersey, and is a 2015 graduate of the Theology and Ministry program at Princeton Theological Seminary. Darrell studied at the undergraduate level at Liberty University, where he majored in Psychology with a concentration in Christian Counseling. Darrell was the first African-American to be ordained as a Deacon in the 200-year history of First Baptist Church of Covington (Georgia) where he attended from 2009 to 2015. He is an ardent student of theology and apologetics, and enjoys reading theologians such as Jonathan Edwards, Charles Spurgeon, C.S. Lewis, and B.B. Warfield. Darrell is an advocate of expository teaching and preaching, and has a particular passion for seeing expository preaching become the standard within the Black Church.

7 comments

  1. Wow! “Christ’s larger purpose in this world is eschatological not sociological[9], to prepare for His elect a new world to come, not a better world here[10].” And to prepare His elect for the new world to come as well? Food for thought….a royal meal indeed!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. “evangelical social justicians would do well to remind themselves that Jesus is a Savior, not a divine Social Worker”

    And yet the Lord Jesus Christ did also teach at the beginning of the Sermon on the Mount that those who make peace are blessed and will be called the children of God. And at the end of that sermon he used the metaphor of building on rock rather than on sand, to describe the benefits of heeding that sermon of his and practising the teaching in it.

    Perhaps you are addressing one of those questions requiring the wisdom of Ecclesiastes 3, a time for this and a time for that which is the exact opposite of this. Perhaps there is a time to devote more effort to the ministry of the social justician (a warrior against enmity and therefore a peace-maker), and another time to drop all that and just to hold out the hope of individual salvation in Christ, and to urge the weary and heavy laden to come to Christ, and the sinner to flee from the wrath of God *towards* God, not away from him.

    One concern I have is about with whom the saint who wishes to make peace in the community might find himself in alliance in secular movements, and whether some of those allies are really peace-makers at all. I suspect you are also aware of that risk.

    Thank you very much for thinking about this, and writing about it. You have a worldwide audience more than 40 times the size of mine, mainly in the UK. You must be getting something right. You also have a heavy responsibility. God bless you, brother.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. “The problem is enmity not ethnicity.” This can’t be said often enough in today’s evangelical wars. That racism, like classism, is fundamentally a sin issue is something social justice & social gospel proponents like to ignore because their aim is not preaching/teaching the gospel but social activism. The gospel reveals God’s glory; the social justice gospel reveals man’s vainglory.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Amen,amen! Your way of putting the truth into words always blesses me, and I agree wit the genrleman from the UK, you have a great responsibility…there are many who look toward you for sound,Bible wisdom,,God bless you,Darrell.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. It doesn’t surprise me that the social justicians message brings one of division. In John 8, Christ made it plan that satan was the father of lies. His message will always cause division. As Christ said in Mark 3:24, “ a house divided against itself, can not stand”. If their argument was Biblical, why would they bring race into it, because Acts 17:26 makes it plain that we all came from one man! We are one race!! As our brother has pointed out before we are not to show favoritism to the poor (Exodus 23:3), nor to the rich (James 2:9). Christ made it plain all through the gospels that as His children we are to love one another. This is an outpouring of our loving our Heavenly Father with all our hearts, minds, soul and strength. No where does He tell us to ask forgiveness of one another from sins of our forefathers and make reparation! We are all responsible for our own sins and to seek His forgiveness. I’ve never met Darrell but by reading his blogs and listening to his podcast, I know we are brothers because we worship the Lord Jesus Christ. Even if we weren’t brothers in Christ, I’d still love him and desire for him to spend eternity in Heaven. As a Christian I wish God had chosen everyone but He did things His way, because He’s the Potter and we’re the clay. We have to accept that, just as we have to accept that our ancestors sinned and they will be responsible for their sins when they stand before a Holy, Righteous, Just, Loving and Sovereign God! We use the past as we use Biblical examples, (Abraham, Moses, David and etc.) to remind us of where we have been and to avoid going there in the future. Paul in Colossians 3:1 tells us to seek things above. We are to go forward serving and loving one another as Christ did (Philippians 2:5-11). This is Biblical social justice!! Not the kind the world advocates and is invading the Church of our Lord Jesus Christ! My dear brother, I praise our Heavenly Father for you and pray He’ll continue giving you insight and that you’ll continue to grow in His grace and knowledge!

    Liked by 1 person

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