Is the Gospel No Longer Enough for Black Christians?

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Located on one of the most historic streets in the United States, particularly for black Americans, Auburn Avenue in downtown Atlanta, stands the venerable Big Bethel AME Church.

“Big Bethel”, as it is affectionately and reverently known, was founded in 1847, the same year educator and abolitionist Frederick Douglass began publishing his anti-slavery newspaper The North Star, and the slave Dred Scott filed a lawsuit in St. Louis Circuit Court claiming his temporary residence in a free territory should have made him a free man.

It didn’t.

But, I digress.

For all its notoriety as the oldest predominantly black congregation in Atlanta, Big Bethel is equally renown, if not more so, for a simple two-word message which, for nearly a century, has stood conspicuously affixed atop the church steeple against the backdrop of an ever-expanding Atlanta skyline.

It reads: Jesus Saves.

The message that “Jesus Saves” has been the clarion call of black Christians in America since their earliest exposure to Christianity in the 1600s. It is this unwavering, and perhaps unfathomable, faith in the redemptive power of the gospel that was the impetus for slave-poet Jupiter Hammon, the first black person in America to publish a work of literature (1760) and whose entire earthly existence was as a slave, to comment:

“Now I acknowledge that liberty is a great thing, and worth seeking for, if we can get it honestly, and by our good conduct, prevail on our masters to set us free; though for my own part I do not wish to be free, yet I should be glad, if others, especially the young Negroes were to be free. For many of us, who are grown up slaves, and have always had masters to take care of us, should hardly know how to take care of ourselves; and it may be more for our own comfort to remain as we are. That liberty is a great thing we may know from our own feelings, and we may likewise judge so from the conduct of the white-people, in the late war, how much money has been spent, and how many lives has been lost, to defend their liberty. I must say that I have hoped that God would open their eyes, when they were so much engaged for liberty, to think of the state of the poor blacks, and to pity us. He has done it in some measure, and has raised us up many friends, for which we have reason to be thankful, and to hope in his mercy. What may be done further, he only knows, for known unto God are all his ways from the beginning. But this my dear brethren is, by no means, the greatest thing we have to be concerned about. Getting our liberty in this world is nothing to our having the liberty of the children of God. Now the Bible tells us that we are all, by nature, sinners; that we are slaves to sin and Satan; and that unless we are converted, or born again, we must be miserable forever. Christ says, except a man be born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God, and all that do not see the kingdom of God, must be in the kingdom of darkness.” – An Address to the Negroes of the State of New York, 1787

In excogitating these words of Hammon, the question naturally becomes: what could possibly have possessed a man, whose every breath of his existence on this earth was as someone else’s property, to see beyond his station in life to something that was of infinitely greater significance to him?

I believe this question to be germane to the current milieu in America, as many black churches have begun to advocate a purely activist theology borne of a soteriology that proffers the idea that the preeminent, if not sole, mandate of the gospel is the pursuit of “social justice”, the manifestation of which is evidenced primarily by the bringing about of such realities as socio-ethno egalitarianism and the eradication of all human suffering and oppression, particularly of those whose melanin happens to be of a black or brown hue.

There are many black Christians who, believe it or not, would assert that, collectively, the plight of black people in 21st century America is tantamount to that of Jupiter Hammon in the 18th century. This is because words like slavery and oppression are applied so flippantly and, dare I say, ignorantly today as to divest them of their historical significance with regard to legitimate injustices that were perpetrated against God’s black and brown-skinned image-bearers (Gen. 1:27; Acts 17:26).

But at the risk of incurring the wrath of many who will read this blog post, particularly those who self-identify as social justice warriors (SJWs) or “race workers”, not every perceived injustice involving black people can be attributed to ‘racism’ (another term which, like slavery and oppression, is losing its force due to overuse.) Nonetheless, that is secondary to the matter of how blacks who profess to be Christian are to respond when injustice – as defined objectively in Scripture – does, in fact, rear its sinful and ungodly head (Lev. 19:15; Jer. 22:13).

Since the founding in 1773 of the First African Baptist Church in Savannah, Georgia – the oldest black church in all of North America – the church has served as both the soul and heartbeat of social and political consciousness for black Christians in America. Organized both politically and spiritually, black churches were not only given to the teachings of Christianity but were faithfully relied upon by their members to, under the biblical precept of imago Dei (Gen. 1:27), address specific socio-economic issues that directly impacted them.

This infrangible and abiding bond with the church is conveyed rather soberingly by author Richard Nathaniel Wright who, in his book 12 Million Black Voices: A Folk History of the Negro in the United States, declared that: “It is only when we are within the walls of our churches that we are wholly ourselves, and that we keep alive a sense of our own personalities in relation to the total world in which we live.”

Interestingly, if not ironically, the forging of these bonds between blacks and the church was necessitated, to a great extent, by the hypocrisy of people who failed to live up to their own stated ethos concerning the equitable treatment of their fellow human beings. Case in point, on October 21, 1774, the Continental Congress, in an address to the people of Great Britain, said:

“When a nation, led to greatness by the hand of liberty, and possessed of all the glory that heroism, munificence, and humanity, can bestow, descends to the ungrateful task of forging chains for her friends and children, and, instead of giving support to freedom, turns advocate for slavery and oppression, there is no reason to suspect that she has either ceased to be virtuous, or is extremely negligent in the appointment of her rulers.” 

And yet, less than 20 years after those words were spoken, the first Fugitive Slave Act was enacted that outlawed any efforts to harbor or impede the capture of slaves. It was another 70 years until slavery was officially, though not totally, abolished by president Abraham Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation, only to be replaced by the equally unjust and inhumane peonage system in the post-Reconstruction South.

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But for all the influences that may or may not have been factors in black churches becoming the bastions of social and political activism they are, foundational to that existence is the proclamation of the saving gospel of Jesus Christ (Acts 4:12).

The truth is there is no gospel and, conversely, no church – regardless of ethnic composition or denominational affiliation – apart from the life-changing message that ‘Jesus Saves’. It is that message which, I fear, is being lost as increasing numbers of black Christians become convinced that their primary loyalty is to an ecclesiastical legacy rooted in a socio-ethno missiology that emphasizes societal reformation apart from spiritual transformation.

It is this concern that was the impetus for my posing the question that is the title of this blog post; a burden that is echoed in the words of esteemed theologian D. Martyn-Lloyd Jones who, in his excellent work Preachers and Preaching, remarked that:

“The people, they say…are interested in politics, they are interested in social conditions, they are interested in the various injustices from which people suffer in various parts of the world…so they argue, if you really want to influence people in the Christian direction you must not only talk politics and deal with social conditions in speech, you must take an active part in them…But I have no hesitation in asserting that what was largely responsible for emptying the churches in Great Britain was that ‘social gospel’ preaching…It was more responsible for doing so than anything else…This concern about the social and political conditions, and about the happiness of the individual and so on, has always been dealt with most effectively when you have had reformation and revival and true preaching in the Christian church… My argument is that when the Church performs her primary task these other things invariably result from it.”

At the risk of coming across as facetious, let me remind you that the words “You must be born again” are still in the Bible. Open yours to Jn. 3:7 and you will find those words there (perhaps in red letters.) I point this out because most people’s paradigm of morality is anthropological not theological, which is why we fail to see the futility of trying to fix ourselves (Jn. 3:19).

A social justice-centered gospel will take you only so far (Mk. 8:36).

How can we for whom the gospel was sufficient – and necessary – to change us, expect something other than the gospel to change someone else?

To believe that an innately sinful society inherently possesses either the capacity, or the ability, to bring about the kind of equity so zealously desired by social justice advocates is both unrealistic and naive.

As Christians, we must be about the business of changing hearts not just minds (Eze. 11:19-20).

That said, however, the question remains: Will the gospel in which you profess to believe be enough for you if and when those hearts and minds do not change? Not all of them will, you know.

What, then, will you do?

What will be your response?

Will it be that of a man like Jupiter Hammon who, though a slave his entire life, kept his “eyes on the prize”? Or will it be more in line with Malcolm X, demanding your rights “by any means necessary”?

These questions are not to suggest the “religious fatalism” that W.E.B. DuBois cautioned against in his seminal work ‘The Souls of Black Folk’ but, instead, are meant to reorient us to the fundamental truth that gave birth in the first place to such revered black houses of worship as Big Bethel Church in Atlanta, and Bethel A.M.E. Church in Indianapolis, and “Mother Bethel” A.M.E. Church in Philadelphia – the truth that Jesus Saves.

Such is the essence of the gospel and the message of the church.

Apart from that, everything else is secondary.

Everything.

Soli Deo Gloria!

Darrell

How ‘Woke Theology’ is Weakening the Black Church

“The business of Christianity is not simply to make us feel happier or even to make us live a better life, it is to reconcile us to God.”

D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones


There is a movement afoot, particularly within black evangelical circles, to extol, if not exalt, social justice as the raison d’etre, that is, the most important reason and purpose, of the church today.

I say ‘particularly’ because the aforementioned movement is not restricted only to the realm of black evangelicalism. The truth is there are also certain elements within white evangelicalism which, being motivated to some extent by a collective acquiescence to the idea of “white guilt“, have attached themselves to this movement like a caboose to a locomotive.

The problem with movements, however, is they invariably beget labels (e.g. “social gospel”, “liberation theology”, etc.). And labels tend to subtly, though eventually, reorient our focus from that which is of utmost importance, namely, the proclamation of the gospel of Jesus Christ to the world, to an ethno-centric “gospel” constructed from a collective worldview espoused by “woke” theologians and philosophers who are considered by many to be the most socially and culturally aware on matters of social and liberative justice.

Again, this mindset is not exclusive to black evangelicalism, and yet it is within that milieu that this movement, I believe, is doing the most harm.

I make that statement neither lightly nor disparagingly. I was raised in the Black Church. The affinity I have for its history and traditions is borne not only from education but experience. I appreciate the invaluable sacrifices and contributions to black ecclesiology of figures like Absalom Jones, Morris Brown, Jarena Lee, John MarrantBetsey Stockton, Henry Garnet, and Richard Allen.

I spent half my life, into my early 20s, as a member of Chapel Hill Missionary Baptist Church, located in Atlanta’s West End in the shadows of such venerable HBCUs as Morehouse, Spelman, Clark-Atlanta, and Morris Brown, where I worshiped alongside many family members and friends to the music of black gospel stalwarts as Walter and Edwin Hawkins. In fact, to this very day, the Hawkins-penned Changed, a powerful testimonial of spiritual redemption in Christ, remains one of my all-time favorite gospel songs.

It was at Chapel Hill that I witnessed people of all ages “catch the Spirit” during high points of what often seemed unending worship services. It was at Chapel Hill that I watched royally accoutered choirs march slowly into the sanctuary to the uplifting refrains of We Are Soldiers In The Army. It was at Chapel Hill that I passed those faux gold-plated offering plates – you know the ones – with the red crushed-velvet matting, to congregants sitting next to me in pews that, likewise, were fashioned with red crushed-velvet padding as if to match the aesthetics of the offering plates.

It was at that small church on Northside Drive that, Sunday after Sunday, I listened to the verbum Dei, the Word of God, preached – from the King James version of course – from behind an old wooden lectern with the letters ‘IHS’ engraved on the front. And it was at Chapel Hill Missionary Baptist Church that “the doors of the church” were always open, inviting sinners like me to step out from those crushed-velvet cushioned pews, walk that red-carpeted aisle, sit down in the lone wooden chair placed front-and-center of the sanctuary by a white-gloved deacon or deaconess, and “get saved” as it were.

All this to say that there is nothing about the so-called “Black Church experience” to which I cannot personally relate. Which is why, though I am Reformed – and, thankfully, Reformed theology is slowly but steadily gaining exposure within contemporary black evangelicalism – there will always be a place in my heart for the Black Church and, likewise, an equally heartfelt desire to see a recovery of biblical orthodoxy as its primary raison d’etre.

But, alas, I find what many term “social gospel” to be somewhat prohibitive to that end in that it relegates the central message of the gospel, namely, deliverance from the spiritual bondage of sin through faith in the propitiatory and substitutionary atonement of Jesus Christ as secondary to a temporal “deliverance” defined primarily in terms of the socio-economic empowerment of black people (also known as ‘black power‘) and the embracement and affirmation, particularly by white people, of black social and cultural normativity.

It is an ideology that is more anthropocentric (man-centered) than theocentric (God-centered). As Dr. James H. Cone, whom many regard as the founder of black liberation theology, explains:

“Black Theology is a theology of black liberation. It seeks to plumb the black condition in the light of God’s revelation in Jesus Christ, so that the black community can see that the gospel is commensurate with the achievement of black humanity. Black Theology is a theology of “blackness”. It is the affirmation of black community that emancipates black people from white racism, thus providing authentic freedom for both white and black people. It affirms the humanity of white people in that it says no to the encroachment of white oppression.” – Black Theology: A Documentary History, Volume 1: 1966-1979

Having defined black theology, Cone, in another of his writings, outlines how the Church must apply that construct in bringing about the emancipation he envisions for black people. He declares that:

“The Church cannot remain aloof from the world because Christ is in the world. Theology, then, if it is to serve the need of the Church must become “worldly theology”. This means that it must make sure that the Church is in the world and that its word and deed are harmonious with Jesus Christ. It must make sure that the Church’s language about God is relevant to every new generation and its problems. It is for this reason that the definitive theological treatise can never be written. Every generation has its own problems, as does every nation. Theology is not, then, an intellectual exercise but a worldly risk.” – Black Theology & Black Power: The White Church and Black Power, p. 84

There is much within the orthodoxy and orthopraxy of James Cone with which I disagree. Not that what I think matters to him or anyone else. Nonetheless, there is a degree of dualism in Cone that seems to suggest the belief that the gospel is both sufficient and insufficient at the same time.

Given the extent to which Christianity was leveraged by white people to oppress black people, one would think Cone would argue for a new religion altogether, one whose doctrine would inherently provide greater potential to achieve his stated goal of black liberation completely independent of the cooperation or concurrence of white people. Or, if not a new religion, then, perhaps an existing one would suffice to make up for what Christianity somehow lacks in effectuating the kind of social change Cone, and those who might share his worldview, seek.

But if the gospel isn’t sufficient for all of life, the question then becomes: why believe the gospel at all? If Christianity is to be understood merely as a moralistic prescriptive for the social ills of people who are of a particular ethnicity, or of the world at large, then, what is there to distinguish Christianity from Islamism, Taoism, Confucianism, Buddhism, Judaism, Hinduism, or any other “ism” that holds as one of its core tenets the equitable treatment of one’s fellow human beings?

“The black man’s response to God’s act in Christ must be different from the white man’s because his life experiences are different.” – James H. Cone, Black Theology & Black Power

The problem with “woke theology” is it emphasizes a teleology of Christianity that is one-dimensional. It does this by reducing Christianity to what Cone described as “worldly theology”. In other words, a theology whose primary raison d’etre has less to do with the spiritual redemption of a sinful people, that is, the world entire, and more with the corporeal redemption of people who are of a particular ethnicity to whom salvation is to be viewed in terms of, as Cone stated, “the affirmation of black community that emancipates black people from white racism.”

A recurring thought in the black theology of James Cone is Jesus as the divine “liberator” of black people from the scourge of white oppression. It is a view which, in my mind, begs the question: why does Cone see the God of Christianity – Jesus Christ – as this great liberator and not Allah? Or the Hindu triumvirate of Brahma, Vishnu, and Shiva? Or the Buddha? Or any other religious deity for that matter? The answer is simple, really. It is because only the gospel of Christ deals with that which gives rise to oppression to begin with – our sin.

“Some folks good no matter what dey color, other folks bad.” – Cal Woods, freedman (emancipated slave)

Regardless by what label we choose to call it – ‘black theology’, ‘social gospel’, ‘social justice’, ‘liberation theology’ – any so-called “gospel” that proposes to resolve or redress the injustices human beings inflict upon one another apart from addressing the root cause of those injustices is short-sighted, naive, and destined to fail.

Above all else, the gospel of Christ is a theology that deals with the reality of the human condition (Gen. 8:21; Rom. 3:23). It is a condition which John Calvin, in his Institutes of the Christian Religion, describes as “a hereditary corruption and perversion of our nature, which in the first place renders us guilty of God’s wrath, and in the second produces in us those works which Scripture calls ‘works of the flesh’ (Gal. 5:19-21).”

“You are our letter, written in our hearts, known and read by all men; being manifested that your are a letter of Christ, cared for by us, written not with ink but with the Spirit of the living God, not on tablets of stone but on tablets of human hearts.” – 2 Cor. 3:3 (NASB)

A ‘woke theology’ that is devoid of hamartiology is weak soteriology. Social change is accomplished through heart change; and heart change is fundamentally what the gospel of Jesus Christ is all about (Eze. 11:19-20; Rom. 12:2).

In whatever sense people may or may not view Jesus as a “liberator”, as does Cone, He is first and foremost the Liberator of human beings from the bondage of sin through His propitiatory death on the cross (Rom. 6:10; 1 Jn. 3:5). It is this spiritual liberation that the Black Church – and the Church universal – must again commit itself to preach. For it is only in Christ that we find freedom from the sin that leads to oppression of every kind (Mk. 7:17-23).

“In all likelihood the revival we crave and need will come at a time we least expect through a means we too often neglect: the simple though diligent application of the Word of God to all of life.” – Thabiti Anyabwile, Reviving the Black Church: A Call To Reclaim A Sacred Institution

Now, lest I be misunderstood, none of this has been to suggest that the Church should not be involved in practical ways in advocating for social change that is rooted in the biblical precept of imago Dei (Gen. 1:27; Acts 17:26). Nevertheless, we must never lose sight of the fact that as much as the gospel of Christ is about life in this world, it is also about life in the next (1 Jn. 5:11-12).

The work that is involved in “working out” our salvation (Phil. 2:12) should never be misconstrued as salvation, for a liberation that is merely temporal in substance but not eternal is not true liberation (Mk. 8:36).

It is in light of this reality that I am reminded of the account of a black woman, a teacher, by the name of Eliza Davis George. History records that on February 2, 1911, during the morning devotional hour at Central Texas College in Waco where Ms. George taught, she had a vision of black Africans passing before the Judgment Seat of Christ. Weeping and moaning as they passed, many of them were saying to Him, “No one ever told us You died for us.”

Stay woke.

Humbly in Christ,

Darrell

Related:
Another question: on being woke and Christian – Lisa Robinson
The myth of race – The Cripplegate
How the social gospel is becoming the dominant theology in evangelicalism – Christian Research Network
The Gospel is not social – The Heidelblog
How the social gospel movement explains the roots of today’s religious left – Christopher H. Evans
The Marxist roots of black liberation theology – Dr. Anthony B. Bradley
What is the social gospel? – Nicole Leaman
What we don’t know about black social gospel: a long-neglected tradition is reclaimed – Gary Dorrien
Why the social gospel isn’t the gospel – Tim Falkan
Evangelism and Social Justice – Ed Stetzer
Why your morality will never be enough for God – Silverio Gonzalez

Image credit: imgarcade.com

A Soteriology of Selfies: Jesus and the Samaritan Woman at the Well

“Come see a man who told me all the things that I have done.”
– John 4:29a (NASB)


Nearly two decades after the advent of the first camera phone, selfies remain a thing.

It seems everyone from former president Barack Obama to Pope Francis has become enamored with the prospect of taking pictures of the themselves and posting them on social media to the admiration and idolization of millions.

Me, My Selfie, and I

Though often innocent and harmless in their intent, selfies can say more about us than we would care to admit.

Selfies appeal to our vanity (Philippians 2:3).

They satiate our desire to be worshiped (Luke 12:16-21).

With the help of an ever-increasing suite of social media platforms, selfies have become the primary means by which we display to others how physically attractive we are, how nice of a car we drive, how happy a marriage we have, and how well-accomplished our children have become (among other self-exalting purposes).

“Examine me, O Lord, and try me; test my mind and my heart.” Psalm 26:2 (NASB)

The beauty of selfies, no pun intended, is they afford us opportunities to formulate narratives about ourselves by picking and choosing how others see us.

Motivated to a large extent by an innate longing for affirmation and approval, selfies advertise our most attractive attributes and qualities, while concealing and disguising those things that are less praiseworthy about us.

But given that selfies are so subjective, is it really a selfie when one can so easily manipulate what others see and don’t see?

True, what other people see of you in a selfie is still you, physically speaking, but what they see is not really you.

Is it?

Seeing is Believing

The New Testament provides what I consider to be a genuine selfie moment, not a mere superficial or manufactured one.

It is a story which, more than likely, you are not unfamiliar.

I’m speaking of the encounter between Jesus and the Samaritan woman in John 4:7-42.

The name of the Samaritan woman is not mentioned in the text. Nor is her age, height, or weight given.

We know nothing about her that would be evident had selfies existed in that day – the color of her eyes, the length of her hair, the whiteness of her smile, or how well-manicured were her fingernails.

What we do know is she was a woman who lived a morally-depraved life; a fact that not even she denied (John 4:19).

“As in water face reflects face, so the heart of man reflects man.” – Proverbs 27:19 (NASB)

The Samaritan woman had been married five times (John 4:18a), and on the occasion of her encounter with Jesus at the well, was living conjugally with a man who was not her husband (John 4:18b).

She went to the well to get water.

The irony of this is that water is transparent; you can see right through it.

But not only that.

Water also acts as a mirror.

It reflects images as they actually are.

Believing is Seeing

In our desire to fulfill the ‘Great Commission’ (Matthew 28:19-20), there are various tactics we Christians will employ to introduce unbelievers to Jesus, most of which are designed to be inoffensive and non-intrusive. Kind of like how selfies display only what is on the surface while concealing our true nature (Mark 7:17-23).

But, you see, that’s neither how Jesus, nor His gospel, works (Hebrews 4:12).

“You will never glory in God until first God has killed your glorifying in yourself.” – C.H. Spurgeon

The gospel of Christ is a gospel that is invasive.

It is that way by design.

Unlike the selfies we like to share with others, the word of God is such that it reveals things about ourselves that we would want no one else to see or know.

Not even God.

To have our sins laid bare to others is the last thing you or I would want for ourselves. (Genesis 3:8-10). But to encounter the perfect holiness of Christ is the ultimate selfie, for it is in that moment that we see ourselves for who we really are (Luke 5:8).

And it is only as we begin to understand the reality of our sinfulness in light of the reality of the holiness of Christ, that authentic spiritual transformation can begin to take place (Romans 12:2).

“Come see a man…”

The Samaritan woman was so utterly transformed by having her sinfulness exposed by Jesus, that her motive for telling others about Jesus was that her sinfulness had been exposed by Jesus (John 4:29). Subsequently, Jesus used the transparency of her testimony to bring many others to faith in Him (John 4:39-41).

The attitude exhibited by the woman at the well is both profound and challenging in its application to us as believers today.

When was the last time you were motivated to tell someone about Jesus because of your sinfulness not theirs?

In posing this question, I am not at all naïve to the fact that such an attitude would be virtually unheard of in the Jesus-meet-my-needs milieu of today’s evangelicalism. Nevertheless, to see ourselves reflected against the living water of Jesus Christ is to see not an image of a selfie but an image of self.

There is a difference.

Just ask the Samaritan woman.

Humbly in Christ,

Darrell

Image credit: netloid.com

Related:
Don’t Let Facebook Make You Miserable – NY Times

Why President Trump and Jesse Jackson are Both Wrong About Chicago Violence

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A recent CNBC.com article contained an embedded tweet from President Donald Trump that caught my attention. It read:

“If Chicago doesn’t fix the horrible “carnage” going on, 228 shootings in 2017 with 42 killings (up 24% from 2016), I will send in the Feds!”

In response to this somewhat cryptic presage by our nation’s 45th president, Jesse Jackson, a man who many today still regard as a leader in the cause of civil and human rights, counter-tweeted President Trump, saying:

“We need a plan, not a threat. We need jobs, not jails.”

In reflecting on the conspicuous ideological dissonance expressed in this social media tête-à-tête, I am reminded of the 1959 epic film Ben-Hur: A Tale of the Christ, in which a similarly heated exchange occurs between Sextus, the retiring Roman general, and the young tribune Messala, who is zealous to take over from Sextus and make his own imprint on the military unit he has dreamed of commanding since he was a boy.

Messala has been ordered by Caesar to quash the violence in the Roman-ruled province of Judea, and forcefully restore order to a citizenry that has been in constant rebellion against the occupation.

The exchange is as follows:

Messala: “The emperor is displeased. He wishes Judea made into a more disciplined and obedient province. He has ordered the new governor and me to restore order. I intent to carry out his wishes!”
Sextus: “Yes, but how, Messala?! Oh, you can break a man’s skull, you can arrest him, you can throw him into a dungeon. But how do you control what’s up here [in the mind]? How do you fight an idea?! Especially a new idea?”
Messala: “Sextus, you ask how to fight an idea? I’ll tell you how. With another idea.”

It is clear from this discourse that Sextus realized something Messala did not: that genuine behavior change is a matter of internal transformation not external manipulation (Romans 12:2).

Sextus understood that all rebellion is borne in the heart, and that no use of force or other external influence would result in making Judea into the “disciplined and obedient province” Messala determined to bring to fruition.

Like Messala, what both President Trump and Jesse Jackson fail to understand is that matters of the heart cannot be remedied through government intervention or economic incentive.

Oh, you can send the Feds into Chicago to beat up people, arrest them, and throw them in jail. You can even designate certain areas of the city as Empowerment Zones in the hopes that doing so will reduce unemployment and provide economic relief to poverty-stricken communities.

But how do you deal with someone who, for whatever reason, has made up their mind that they’re going to murder someone else?

Does the threat of arrest in and of itself change the person’s mind?

Apparently not.

And how does simply being employed alter the sinful intentions one might have towards another of God’s image-bearers? Does merely having money in my pockets assuage the enmity and bitterness I harbor in the deepest recesses of my soul?

If so, what happens after the money runs out (Proverbs 23:4-5)?

After He called the crowd to Him again, He began saying to them, “Listen to Me, all of you, and understand, there is nothing outside the man which can defile him if it goes into him; but the things which proceed out of the man are what defile the man.” When he had left the crowd and entered the house, His disciples questioned Him about the parable. And He said to them, “Are you so lacking in understanding also? Do you not understand that whatever goes into the man from outside cannot defile him, because it does not go into his heart, but into his stomach and is eliminated?” And He was saying, “That which proceeds out of the man, that is what defiles the man. For from within, out of the heart of men, proceed the evil thoughts, fornications, thefts, murders, adulteries, deeds of coveting and wickedness, deceit, sensuality, envy, slander, pride and foolishness. All these evil things proceed from within and defile the man.”Mark 7:14-23 (NASB)

None of this is to suggest that the federal government should not do what is Constitutionally mandated to protect us, even from one another, as is evidently the case in  Chicago. Nor is it to imply that the government has absolutely no role in helping meet the essential needs of those who truly are poverty-stricken and destitute (Galatians 2:10).

Though I remain convinced that helping the poor is primarily the responsibility of the church (James 1:27), we who are Christians, especially those of us who, like myself, identify as socially conservative, tend to forget that governments are established by God (Romans 13:1) as minsters on His behalf for the good and welfare of its citizens (Romans 13:4a).

So, yes, there in fact is a role for government in such matters as these.

Not all government involvement in the welfare of its citizens is inherently bad (the operative word being inherently). Nevertheless, notwithstanding what governments may or may not be able to do to enhance one’s socio-economic station in life, one thing it most assuredly cannot do is change a person’s heart.

“The gospel is not a doctrine of the tongue, but of life. It cannot be grasped by reason and memory only, but it is fully understood when it possesses the whole soul and penetrates to the inner recesses of the heart.” – John Calvin, Golden Booklet of the True Christian Life

At the root of the hundreds of murders committed in Chicago in 2016, and well into 2017, is the same issue that compelled Cain to murder his brother Abel many millennia ago (Genesis 4:3-8).

With all due respect to the “reverend” Jesse Jackson, Cain killed his brother not because he didn’t have a job. Both he and his brother were gainfully employed – Abel as a shepherd and Cain as a farmer (Genesis 4:2).

No, Cain murdered his brother because he purposed in his heart to do so.

It’s that simple.

In fact, Cain was so determined to carry out the deed that he completely ignored God’s direct warning against it (Genesis 4:7).

You see, contrary to what Messala might say if he were alive today, what Chicago needs is not “another idea”.

It doesn’t need “the Feds” or “a plan” for jobs not jails.

What Chicago needs is what the world entire is in desperate need of: the soul-liberating gospel of Jesus Christ. For only the gospel can so transform a person that murder – or any other type of violence – is no longer a desire of the heart (Romans 1:16).

Our problem, if we were honest, is we don’t really believe the gospel is what it says it is or that it can do what it says it can.

Consequently, we think more like Messala than Sextus.

One need only look at Chicago to see where that kind of thinking has gotten us.

Humbly in Christ,

Darrell

A Biblical Theology of the Black-White “Wealth Gap”

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Much is being said today about the so-called wealth gap that purportedly exists among black households and white households in America.

I say purportedly not to deny that such a divide exists – it does – but to highlight that the very term wealth gap is inherently misleading, as it assumes that such imparity is innately unfair – if not immoral – and, as such, should be redressed under the nirvanic pursuit of “income equality”.

The publication The Economist defines income equality as:

the ratio of the share of national income going to the richest 20 percent of households in a country to the share of the poorest 20 percent.

When speaking of the wealth gap strictly in terms of numbers the data are indisputable.

But therein lies the rub.

A study on income inequality conducted by Pew Research found that:

From 2010 to 2013, the median wealth of non-Hispanic white households increased from $138,600 to $141,900, or by 2.4%. Meanwhile, the median wealth of non-Hispanic black households fell 33.7%, from $16,600 in 2010 to $11,000 in 2013. 

On the surface, these numbers appear to paint a rather disadvantageous and inequitable picture in and of themselves. Nevertheless, in today’s politically-correct, hyper-sensitive society, context is more important now than ever.

This is especially true considering that the default milieu in which matters of wealth acquisition and distribution are debated – in terms of race as opposed to socio-economic class – is that any “gaps” that do exist are solely the result of institutional and structural injustices committed by white people against black people.

Notwithstanding the above-referenced data from Pew, the truth is the black-white wealth gap should not be viewed strictly in terms of dollars and cents.

True, there are any number of quantifiable reasons for why such disparities exist, but that they exist does not suffice as a sufficient argument that they should not exist.

In other words, that there is disparity does not necessarily mean there is inequality.

“Pride gets no pleasure out of having something, only out of having more of it than the next man. It is the comparison that makes you proud: the pleasure of being above the rest. Once the element of competition is gone, pride is gone.” – C.S. Lewis, Mere Christianity

There is a fundamental problem with using “inequality” to describe the income disparity between black and white households.

The word inequality intrinsically conveys that the wealth “gap” is a problem to be remedied simply because there is a gap, and that the acquisition of wealth is the only solution to mitigate that disparity under the subjective premise that income inequality is patently “unfair”.

But to assert that income inequality is somehow unfair is to place oneself in the throes of a philosophical dilemma. For to argue that anything is “unfair” is, by definition, to introduce into the conversation the question of morality.

Consequently, one is forced to consider by what or whose standard of morality should income inequality be deemed unfair. Hence, what began as a circular discourse rooted in subjectivity and ambiguity has morphed into a theological exercise on the level of untying the Gordian Knot.

“When people look at questions of income and the disparity, they’re not looking for causes. They’re looking for blame. And those are not the same things.” – Thomas Sowell, from an interview with World magazine, 12/30/2014

A highly popular television sitcom The Jeffersons ran on the CBS network for 11 seasons (from 1975 to 1985).

The Jeffersons followed the lives of George and Louise Jefferson, an African-American couple who relocated from the poverty of Queens, NY to Manhattan, as a result of the success of George’s dry-cleaning business chain.

The theme song from The Jeffersons was titled Movin’ On Up, the lyrics of which celebrate the fact that the rambunctious George, and his beloved wife Louise, had finally achieved their dream.

In other words, they had conquered the wealth gap.

Well,, we’re movin’ on up (movin’ on up)
To the east side (movin’ on up)
To a deluxe apartment in the sky.
Movin’ on up (movin’ on up)
To the east side (movin’ on up)
We finally got a piece of the pie.

Fish don’t fry in the kitchen;
Beans don’t burn on the grill.
Took a whole lotta’ tryin’
Just to get up that hill.
Now we’re up in the big leagues
Gettin’ our turn at bat.
As long as we live, it’s you and me baby
There ain’t nothin’ wrong with that.

Well, we’re movin’ on up (movin on up)
To the east side (movin on up)
To a deluxe apartment in the sky.
Movin’ on up (movin on up)
To the east side (movin on up)
We finally got a piece of the pie.

“The rich and the poor have a common bond, the Lord is the maker of them all.” – Proverbs 22:2 (NASB)

Please understand that I do not believe there is anything inherently wrong with an individual endeavoring to achieve the “American Dream” and acquiring their own “piece of the pie”.

But when those pursuits are engaged in solely under the pretense of “income inequality”, a philosophy predicated on pitting the haves of the world against the have-nots, then perhaps the time has come for a re-evaluation of motives (James 4:1-3).

“Do not weary yourself to gain wealth, cease from your consideration of it.” – Proverbs 23:4 (NASB)

A major fallacy of the black-white wealth gap is it assumes a cause (e.g. systemic racism) without regard to other factors that might contribute to it.

A case in point is a report published by Demos, progressive public policy organization, which found that:

  • 42 percent of African Americans report using their credit cards for basic living expenses like rent, mortgage payments, groceries, utilities, or insurance because they do not have enough money in their checking or savings accounts.
  • African Americans carry an average credit card balance of $5,784.
  • Just 66% of African American households report having a credit score of 620 or above, compared to 85 percent of white households.  
  • 50 percent of indebted African American households who incurred expenses related to sending a child to college report that it contributed to their current credit card debt.
  • 71 percent of African American middle-income households had been called by bill collectors as a result of their debt, compared to 50 percent of white middle-income households.

What no one is talking about concerning the black-white wealth divide is the role human behavior plays in helping facilitate that gap.

It is a universal truth that when, in our self-centered efforts to “move on up” in life, we choose to violate the principles of God’s Word, we should expect certain outcomes as a result.

Scripture is clear on matters of:

This is not to suggest or infer that the black-white wealth gap is attributable solely to a collective disregard for biblical principles on the part of black Americans.

Not at all.

I am not naive to the reality that not all black Americans – nor Americans in general – are believers in Jesus Christ and submit their lives to the spiritual disciplines set forth in His Word.

To be sure, not even we who are believers in consistently abide by His precepts (Luke 6:46).

Nevertheless, the reality is personal responsibility is a major factor in the black-white wealth gap being what it is. It would be disingenuous, to say the least, to suggest that socio-economic factors alone (e.g. unemployment, racism) are at fault in creating this imbalance.

“The measure of our success cannot be defined by what we accomplish here on earth; it has already been defined by the fact that we are in Christ.” – Dr. Ian Duguid, from the January 2017 issue of TableTalk Magazine, p.13

It may not be politically correct to say this, but the truth is not everyone is destined to achieve the American Dream.

The sovereignty of God is such that, ultimately, it is He who determines to what degree we experience success in this world, whether material or otherwise (Joshua 1:8; Psalm 20:4; 118:23-25;  Deuteronomy 8:18; Romans 9:14-16). With this (God’s sovereignty) in mind, as followers of Christ, contentment should be our goal not closing the wealth gap (1 Timothy 6:6-8).

This is not to suggest that one should not aspire to improve their socio-economic station, but that they should do so with the larger picture in mind – eternity.

For, indeed, what does it profit a person to gain the whole world, and forfeit their soul (Mark 8:36)?

Humbly in Christ,

Darrell

Image credit:
huffingtonpost.com

Related:
Thomas Sowell on the Root Causes of Income Equality – World