Tuesday, March 20, 2018

Race, Racism, and the Gospel: Jarvis Williams on The Gospel - Pt. 3

In this post, I am going to focus my attention on Jarvis Williams’ theology of the gospel. Williams argues that Southern Baptists need to develop a biblical theology of the gospel. I think Williams is saying that Southern Baptists need to get back to the gospel. There can be no doubt that the SBC has a fully formed theology of the gospel. Some of them take a more Arminian perspective while a few take a Calvinist perspective in their soteriology. But to say that Southern Baptists need to develop a biblical theology of the gospel implies that they have yet to do so. Perhaps Williams just doesn’t like the Southern Baptist theology of the gospel. A theology of the gospel falls within the area of soteriology. Williams throws everything including the kitchen sink into his theology of the gospel. He includes: entry language (repentance and faith), maintenance language (walking in the fruit of the Spirit), racial reconciliation, and loving one another in the power of the Spirit. By throwing so many items into his theology of the gospel, he muddies the waters and creates confusion. So, if Williams includes too many items into his theology of the gospel, how is one to determine precisely what is the gospel? The best way to define the gospel is to allow Scripture to define it for us. I will attempt to do that in my closing comments of this post. For now, attention will be given to the claims made by Jarvis Williams about the gospel. One should pay Close attention to the argument Williams is making as well as the method he employs to make it.

Williams first move is to broaden the definition of the gospel. He says that the gospel should not be defined exclusively in terms of justification by faith. He grounds his theory in his interpretation of Paul’s work in Galatians, claiming that Paul’s gospel in Galatians includes more than justification by faith. For instance, he says that Paul does not use euaggelion, dikaiosynē, and dikaioō synonymously. Williams’ argument seems to be as follows:

1.     Unless Paul uses these terms synonymously, then the gospel must be more than justification by faith.
2.     Paul does not use these terms synonymously.
3.     Therefore, the gospel is more than justification by faith.

The argument is suspect because the major premise (1) is false on the face of it. It is not necessary for the terms "justify, " "righteousness ," and "gospel " to be synonymous in order for the gospel to be defined in terms of how someone is declared righteous or is justified. What then is the gospel? The gospel is that through the work of the Messiah on my behalf, I have been declared righteous, just, not guilty! That is good news. Now, does it follow that the consequences of my being declared righteous are also inclusive of the gospel? In other words, is regeneration also the gospel? It is surely related to the gospel, but it is not itself the gospel. Being declared righteous means that I am now filled with the Spirit, bearing the fruit of the Spirit, dying to self, etc. Williams confuses the gospel with the consequences of the gospel. The message of Christ, the gospel, the good news is that God was in Christ reconciling the world to himself. That is the gospel. Paul says that the gospel was simply this: Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, He was buried, and on the third day, He was raised from the dead. Because of this, we are declared righteous, justified by faith in his name! The noun means very simply, God's good news for man . The verb means, to proclaim the good news.  Why does Williams insist on extending the definition of the gospel? Why does he want to reject limiting the gospel to justification by faith? The answer seems to be that he wants racial reconciliation to be a gospel issue and the only way to do that is to broaden the definition of the gospel. It seems to me that once we open the door and accept Williams’ broad definition of the gospel that everything becomes a gospel issue. However, such a position is entirely unsustainable.

The verb euangelizō appears 22x in the LXX. The verb translates the Hebrew word bśr in 21 of those 22 occurrences. The sense of the Hebrew word is to bring news, a messenger of good news, to proclaim, to hear good news, to bring good news. Williams spills a lot of ink and several paragraphs attempting to show that good news may entail a broad category of meaning. But this approach is wide of the mark and quite unhelpful. Remember, Williams is trying to show that we should not think of the gospel only in terms of justification by faith. He says Paul’s gospel in Galatians includes more than justification by faith. Williams then spends several paragraphs in the LXX and even extra-biblical literature such as the Psalms of Solomon in order to strengthen his argument. His project fails. His argument is not strengthened. However, his agenda becomes clearer and that is a good thing for those who are interested in preserving the truth.

After several paragraphs devoted to the LXX use of good news, Williams brings us back to Galatians where he says the following: LXX Isaiah is especially helpful for understanding Paul’s use of ‘euangelizō’ in Galatians since he directly quotes and alludes to Isaiah throughout the letter. Now, this raises the questions, does Paul directly quote and allude to Isaiah throughout the letter of Galatians? How often does Isaiah use euangelizō? First of all, Isaiah never used the term euangelizō. Let’s be very clear about that. Isaiah used the term bśr. That is the word that appeared in Isaiah as it was originally inspired. And that word carries the sense to bring news, a messenger of good news, to proclaim, to hear good news, to bring good news. As one can see, it is essentially the same meaning as the Greek word used by Paul in the NT. I only raise the LXX issue in order to caution others who may not be theologically trained in using it. It is a translation of a copy of a copy of the original, somewhat removed. Moreover, we do possess the same copy of the LXX that Paul or any of the other NT writers used when penning their works. A right understanding of the nature of the LXX is critical if you are going to use it as a source in your Bible study. 

Does Paul make heavy use of Isaiah when he uses the word euangelizō? From what I can tell, Paul alludes to Isaiah 49:1 in Gal. 1:15 where he says he was set apart in his mother’s womb. And then in Gal. 4:27, Paul cites Isaiah 54:1 in the context of his analogy involving Sarah and Hagar. In fact, Paul uses the OT approximately 30x in Galatians and half of those uses come from Genesis. Other than these two texts from Isaiah, I can find no other place where Paul seems to lean heavily on Isaiah in his use of the word euangelizō. Williams points to the four places euangelizō translates the word bśr in Isaiah, but Paul never cites, quotes, alludes to, or even echos any one of these passages. That does not mean that Isaiah did not inform Paul’s soteriology. Surely, he did. It only means that Williams is exaggerating Paul’s references to Isaiah in Galatians. It goes to his tactics more than anything else.

Williams makes much of the number of times euangelizō is used to pronounce judgment in the LXX. But this is a serious gaffe. For example, Williams says that this word is used to pronounce judgment in Psalm 96 (95 in the LXX). But when one examines Psalm 96, one finds that the word appears in Psalm 96:2, which says, “Sing to the Lord, bless His name; Proclaim good tidings of His salvation from day-to-day.” Nowhere in the LXX is the word euangelizō used to announce divine judgment. There are contexts in which judgment is imminent, but the good news is that repentance always brings mercy and faith always produces salvation and deliverance. It is impossible to talk about justification by faith apart from guilt and judgment. To be justified means that we were previously condemned, under judgment. Williams fails to make the sharp distinctions necessary and as a result, he fails to strengthen his argument, which to restate it, is that we should not see the gospel as primarily justification sola fide.

Where is Williams going with all this? He wants us to think that the gospel itself not only has a vertical component but a horizontal one as well. He is confusing the gospel itself with the effects of the gospel. When I say I have good news, you just won the lottery, that announcement does not fill your bank account or put you on some exotic beach. It is a statement about the state of affairs that has obtained. Now, the consequences of that announcement are that I am a millionaire, debt free, living a completely different life. Williams goal seems to be to get to Peter’s inconsistent behavior when the Judaizers were present. Williams writes, Peter believed all the right things about justification by faith for Jews, but he departed from the gospel by imposing Jewish legal demands on Gentile Christians. His error stemmed from an incorrect view of the gospel’s horizontal component. How close is Williams to the truth of the situation in Galatians 2? He seems to say that Peter believed justification by faith for Jews, but not for Gentiles. I cannot imagine how Williams arrived at such a conclusion. The main problem in the Galatian churches was over the doctrine of justification by faith alone apart from the works of the law. That is the occasion for Paul’s letter to the Galatian churches. We can see this easily enough in Acts 15 at the Jerusalem Conference and the issue of Gentile salvation. When Paul first preached in the region of Galatia, he preached that everyone is freed from everything that the law of Moses could not free them from, both Jew and Gentile (Acts 13:38-39). Kostenberger writes, Paul wrote Galatians to defend the gospel of justification by faith alone against the false gospel of the Judaizers. [The Cross, The Cradle, and The Crown, 420] Did Peter really stray from the gospel? I don’t think so. Peter’s issue was that he let his fear get the best of him. He would eat with the Gentiles when these particular Jews were not around, and he would not do so when they were. Perhaps a current example will help. Martin Luther King accomplished tremendous good from a social perspective. Indeed, it is impossible to exaggerate the social good he accomplished. But, his beliefs were not orthodox, and his behavior was not consistent with genuine faith. He was, sadly, a heretic where the church is concerned. However, men who know this to be the case about King will still gather together, refusing to call him a heretic and instead celebrate him from the perspective of the Christian church, even though they know better. They are letting their fear get the best of them. This is because black Christians will label you a racist unless you endorse their man and truth has absolutely nothing to do with the issue. Politics is the issue. Billy Graham did tremendous harm to the Christian church with his revivalism and worse, his rejection of the exclusive claims of the gospel. Yet, conservative leader after conservative leader was heard to sing his praises even though, when the Billy Graham fans were nowhere to be seen, they would admit that they were not really a fan after all. They let their fear the best of them.

Peter’s behavior was indeed inconsistent with the gospel. But to say that Peter departed from the gospel is to overstate the situation. Did Peter's behavior depict an incorrect view of the horizontal component of the gospel? This assumes there is a horizontal component of the gospel. This is a theory that Williams et al. have failed to prove. The horizontal consequences of the gospel are loving your neighbor. The gospel itself is that all men in Christ are forgiven of their debt to God regardless of their ethnic background. There is neither Jew nor Gentile in Christ. There is only one man. All men are under sin, both Jew, and Gentile, according to Romans 3:9. Williams biggest problem is that he does not seem to appreciate hermeneutical and exegetical boundaries. He wants to take texts father than they should be taken.

When Williams says that Moses was establishing Israel’s racial identity in Deut. 7, he goes beyond the text. When he makes much of the word genos, he goes beyond the word. When he uses the LXX to try and show that euangelizō means more than just good news, he goes beyond the word. When he attempts to show that Paul was alluding to Isaiah throughout Galatians, he goes beyond the content of Galatians. When he says that Peter had an incorrect view of the gospel, he goes beyond what Paul actually said. And just for good measure, there is one more example worth mentioning. Williams writes, "When Paul condemned Peter as accursed in Gal. 2:11, he placed Peter under an apostolic curse. " What does Paul actually say in 2:11? It says, But when Cephas came to Antioch, I opposed him to his face, because he stood condemned. The word condemned is translated from the Greek, kataginōskō. The lexical evidence suggests convict, condemn, bring a charge against. The word is used in 1 John 3:20-21 where John talks about our heart condemning us and God being greater than our heart. The gist of Paul’s sentence is that Peter was wrong! Nothing more. There is no pronouncement of a curse and there is no implication that Peter had perverted the gospel. Williams is constructing a narrative that will support his agenda that racial reconciliation is a gospel issue. That much is now obvious at this point. Williams is wrong about Moses, wrong about the word genos, wrong about the focus of Paul in Galatians both in terms of justification by faith and in his view of Paul's use of Isaiah, and he is wrong in how he frames the incident with Peter in Galatians 2. In every case there is an exaggeration. In every case, it is obvious that the text is being stretched just beyond its limits. Williams has an obvious purpose in mind.

Williams says that in Paul’s view, one can conceptually confirm justification by faith and yet stand condemned by the gospel. And Peter is his example. However, one has to ask if this is actually Paul’s point or if Williams is once again reading something that isn’t really there? The resounding answer to that question is absolutely not. In fact, Paul is dealing with men who are publicly denying justification by faith alone. They are the reason Paul has penned the letter, to begin with. No one would dispute the fact that there are hypocrites in the church who confess one thing as their belief and practice something else entirely in their private lives. Again, this line of argumentation is unhelpful. It misses the point that Paul is making in Galatians. Williams is seeking to turn Paul's concern from that of justification by faith to that of the supposed horizontal component of the gospel. By painting Peter as being cursed by Paul, not only does Williams supposedly support his theory of this horizontal component, it elevates that theory to a place of extreme importance. Now, can you see what Williams is doing? Williams is going to argue that walking in the Spirit is the gospel and that walking in the Spirit entails the horizontal component of the gospel and that walking in the Spirit, or the fruit of the Spirit also entails racial reconciliation. With a wave of his exegetical magic wand here, and there, and here again, Williams thinks he has successfully shown that racial reconciliation is a gospel issue. And as long as you don’t ask any questions and ignore the numerous exegetical gyrations and logical fallacies in Williams’ argument, you might just be convinced he is right.

The gospel then is the good news from God that the human race can be declared righteous, justified by faith in the person and work of Jesus Christ. That is the gospel.

For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received, that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, and that He was buried, and that He was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures (1 Cor. 15:3-4)

For you are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus. For all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free man, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus. And if you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham’s descendants, heirs according to promise (Gal. 3:26-29)

There is something far more profound about the gospel than just limiting it to concerns of social justice. For the word of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God (1 Cor. 1:18).

It is because of the gospel that we can and do have fellowship with one another. We have fellowship with the Father and the Son and therefore, with one another. John writes, If we say that we have fellowship with Him and yet walk in the darkness, we lie and do not practice the truth; but if we walk in the Light as He Himself is in the Light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus His Son cleanses us from all sin (1 John 1:6-7). One is one. You cannot be more unified than being one in Christ.

I am rapid-fire posting these days because this issue is hitting very close to home for me. In my next post, I will interact with Williams’ section entitled, Racial Division and Reconciliation in the Bible and then I will turn to Racial Reconciliation and the Mystery of the Gospel. Once these posts are up, I will demonstrate just exactly how errors like this make their way into the rank and file of the church and result in a variety of errors. The end result is likely to lead to division in the body rather than unity. My final post in this series will address this topic in a direct, candid, and honest way. My hope is that the unity we find ourselves in is based on the unity of Christian truth rather than politics, political correctness, or melanin. 

Friday, March 16, 2018

Race, Racism, and Gospel in the Bible: Interacting with Jarvis Williams Pt. 2

In his argument for racial reconciliation, Jarvis Williams makes a LOT of the fact that the gospel is not just about vertical reconciliation, but it is also about horizontal reconciliation. The idea of horizontal reconciliation is employed by those who have embraced the narrative that there is racism in the church, that systemic racism exists, and is the concern of the church, and that white Christians are inherent racists due to their environment even though they are mostly unaware of their racist attitudes. The narrative seems deliberately vague, almost always lacking in specifics, especially where the church is concerned. The argument, as well as the narrative, deserves intense scrutiny because of the ethical consequences involved. After all, to falsely accuse people of being racists is malicious slander.
Williams provides advice to his SBC brothers and sisters: "If my fellow Southern Baptists want to remove the stain of racism from the SBC, we must admit that racism based on white-supremacist definitions of race still exists in our convention and that such ideas depart from Scripture's teaching on race." This argument raises a number of questions. What is the "the stain of racism?" What is the "white-supremacist definition" of race and where is that documented? Moreover, what does it mean to say that this definition still exists in "our convention?" Does this definition exist if 1% of SBC members hold it? If that is true, how does the SBC actually purge that leaven from its ranks? I don't know what percentage of SBC members routinely watch porn, commit fornication and adultery, or other sexual sins, but I would say that it is more than 1%. Does this mean that the SBC can never remove the stain of sexual sin from its midst? I really have no idea what Williams is saying here. If there is some visible, formal, larger percentage of the SBC that is engaging in racism, then it seems to me that those members ought to be called out, the specific behavior identified, and remedial action was taken without delay. It is unhelpful to talk about this problem in such a tenuous fashion. I also have to ask why Williams focuses on racism only based on white-supremacist definitions of race. Does he think that other kinds of racism are tolerable? For instance, it is a well-documented fact that racism is not isolated to one particular group of people with low levels of melanin in their skin. Racism is a global problem as old as sin itself. It isn't going anywhere until sin is purged from the world. So, if that is the case, how do we deal with the sin of racism? We cannot purge the culture of racism any more than we can purge the culture of fornication and we shouldn't try. That is not the mission of the church. But we can and must ensure that racism is purged from the body of Christ and that only happens one local body at a time, the same as purging any other error from our community.
I want to begin by talking about Williams' argument for racial reconciliation. Specifically, I want to look at the word reconciliation. Since we are the church and we are dealing with this issue primarily from a theological perspective, we should use theological and biblical terminology. Williams argues that the gospel is not just about men being reconciled to God, but it is also about men being reconciled to one another. This is described as that horizontal element of reconciliation. Now, in the interest of disclosure, I use the NASB95 addition most of the time with the ESV as my second English translation. Mostly, I like the NA28. So, when I research on the word "reconcile" and its forms, I discover that it appears in NASB eleven times. Reconcile is translated into the NASB from four different Greek words. Six of those times it is from the Greek word katallassō. In five of these six occurrences, reconciliation is between God and man and once it is between a wife and her husband. The word carries the sense of exchanging a hostile relationship for a friendly one. Three times, the Greek word is apokatallassō. This word is used to assert that God reconciled both people groups, Jews, and Gentiles, into one body to God. The word is used to tell us that God has reconciled all things to himself through Christ (Col. 1:20). Finally, two verses later, in 1:22, Paul says that he has reconciled you in his fleshly body through death. Matthew uses the word diallassomai in 5:24 where the reconciliation is between two brothers. It means to be restored to normal relations or harmony. Finally, Luke uses the word synallassō when he tells the story about Moses attempting to reconcile the two Hebrews in Acts 7:26. The meaning is the same. The idea is to restore a friendship that was interrupted for whatever reason. In every case where the word reconciliation appears in the NT, it is dealing with a very specific estrangement: mankind as being estranged from God; a woman who was estranged from her husband; all things being estranged from God; two brothers and two Hebrews who were estranged from one another. Nowhere does reconciliation imply that humanity is estranged from itself. The one thing necessary for reconciliation is hostility/estrangement. Do human beings become estranged? Of course, they do. Is it because of the fall? Of course, it is. But are we estranged from one another the moment we are born, that is to say, natural enemies of one another? While we may be prone to develop hostile relationships with each other due to our sin nature, to say that we are born in such a state is at best an exaggeration. Why such an exaggeration? I contend the exaggeration is being driven by the narrative that the racial reconciliation proponents want to tell. When the NT talks about reconciliation, does it ever intend to denote ethnic or racial reconciliation specifically? In the instances where the word reconciliation is used, it does not. Even the reconciliation of Jews and Gentiles is secondary to the reconciliation of humanity to God in Christ.
Now, when Paul talks about reconciliation in Ephesians, does he have racial reconciliation at the forefront of his mind? The text in Ephesians seems very straightforward to me. Since Paul never thought of race the same way that Williams and most moderns do, the answer has to be no. What then, was Paul thinking about? Paul was thinking about the mystery of the gospel. He was thinking about how the gospel is going out to both people groups. He was not thinking about how nice it is to finally have racial reconciliation. The promise from the beginning occasioned that enmity would be placed between the seed of the woman and the seed of the devil. This is made clearer in the Abrahamic covenant where God promises to bless all the nations of the earth through Abraham. Men from all people groups would be reconciled to God. The promise was even more clear in Christ, we are all one man, one race, having been reconciled to God. The mystery of the Messiah is that the gospel reconciles all men, both people groups, to God. The Messiah has mediated a covenant that includes all flesh/both people groups. There is no valid reason to narrow the focus to melanin or even specific ethnic groups. Have you ever wondered why that is never the focus? Why not focus on the fact that God has reconciled both the English and the Irish? Or the North and the South?
Williams goes on to argue that racial reconciliation is bound up in the gospel, that it is a gospel issue. And he claims that the Bible provides grounding and warrant for his argument. But when one examines the texts that Williams contends offers this grounding, the argument is seen to be unsuccessful. For example, in Ephesians 2, Paul talks about two people groups--Jews and Gentiles--being reconciled to God as well as being united together in Christ. Williams attempts to show that what is being removed, what is at issue, the focus itself, is racial estrangement. The nature of the division between Jews and Gentiles is supposedly racial. This is why Williams goes back to Deuteronomy 7 and attempts to show that Moses is creating Israel's racial identity based on geography, theology, and ethics. But Israel's identity had already been determined in Genesis 12 with the call of Abraham. Moses was not establishing anything like racial identity in Deut. 7. See my last post for my interaction with Williams on that argument. The division between the Jew and the Gentile, according to Paul, was the law. Gentiles were outside the covenants of promise and the Jews were God's elect. There was nothing racial about God's choice of Abraham or his decision to make from Abraham a great nation. Paul clearly articulates this in Romans 9 when he says that God's choice was based on his purpose according to his plan. The idea that we are all estranged from each other and need reconciliation is not the narrative portrayed in Scripture. But it is the narrative that racial reconciliation and social justice warriors tell. And if their narrative is to survive scrutiny, then it must stand up to the test of Scripture. For this reason, they frame the argument specifically to support their narrative and they don't seem to mind stretching the truth a bit so long as it fits their narrative and furthers their agenda. Paul does not paint a picture of humanity being splintered into individual finite enemies of each other. Paul talks about two people groups that are divided from each other, not by race, but by divine prerogative. God is responsible for the division and distinction between the Jew and the Gentile. And it is God who destroyed that distinction with the blood of his own Son! Reconciliation in the context of the gospel is the work of God alone.
The question that we all must ask is this: if we are all in Christ, and everyone who is in Christ has been reconciled to God, and united with one another in one body, then why does Williams think that the work of reconciliation has yet to be accomplished. Let's look at the language Paul uses again. Paul says in Eph. 2:19, So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints and are of God's household. God has reconciled us to himself through Christ. We are one man. Peter tells us that we are one chosen race! Whatever reconciliation was necessary from a gospel standpoint, it has been accomplished.
Williams wants to read racial reconciliation as we understand that expression, into the gospel and then turn that principle into a mandate for the Christian church to engage in the work of social justice by which he partly means ending systemic racism in the culture. He even goes so far as to claim that systemic racism exists in the church. However, Williams' argument is largely unconvincing. Is there anything, then, to this horizontal view that Williams is talking about? Yes and no. I don't know of any Christian who says that the gospel has nothing whatever to do with social concerns. What I do understand is that not everyone interprets the gospel to include social concerns in the way Williams implies. The gospel is the restoration and reconciliation of rebellious humanity to a holy God through the work of Christ. Man was created to image God. This imaging God takes two forms: to love God with his entire being and to love his neighbor as himself. These are the two greatest commandments. These commandments are expressed more clearly nowhere than in the Ten Commandments! The first four of those commandments tell us how to love God. The second six tell us how to love our neighbor. If you are looking for an explanation of what it means to love your neighbor, you should start with the last 6 of the ten commandments and work from there. And by the way, everyone is your neighbor.
Williams talks about reconciliation as if there are two parts to the reconciliation as it concerns the gospel: veridical and horizontal. As mentioned above, there is little support for this idea. To be reconciled to God in and through Christ is to be united to and enjoined with everyone in the body. Paul said it this way: So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God, built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus himself being the cornerstone, in whom the whole structure, being joined together, grows into a holy temple in the Lord. In him, you also are being built together into a dwelling place for God by the Spirit. (Eph. 2:19-22)
Peter says it like this: But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light. Once you were not a people, but now you are God's people; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy. Beloved, I urge you as sojourners and exiles to abstain from the passions of the flesh, which wage war against your soul. Keep your conduct among the Gentiles honorable, so that when they speak against you as evildoers, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day of visitation. (1 Peter 2:9-12)
In summary then, the reconciliation of Ephesians 2:11-22 is not racial reconciliation. In fact, it is not veridical and horizontal reconciliation either. It is humanity being reconciled to God in Christ. It is veridical reconciliation. Paul lays out the process clearly. The Jews and Gentiles are viewed as two people groups. The Jews are marked off, not by race, but by divine prerogative. They are the elect of God. God chose Israel according to his own purpose. By default, when you choose one man and his offspring to be your covenant people, you exclude everyone else. The covenant community is marked off by the law of God. The Gentiles were "strangers to the covenants of promise." However, the blood of Christ has abolished the one thing that stood between the elect people of Israel and those who were not called: the dividing wall. The dividing wall is also described as enmity, the law of commandments contained in ordinances. It was the blood of Christ, shed for all the elect, that broke down this wall. Christ shed his blood so that he might reconcile the elect to God. "The first purpose of rendering inoperative the law of commandments, consisting in decrees, namely, to create one new person." [Hoehner, Ephesians, 378] This seems far removed from anything remotely resembling modern ideas of racial reconciliation. After all, only those in Christ are joined together in this one person and the term reconciliation is not used to describe this work. "It is not that Gentiles become Jews as Gentile proselytes did in pre-New Testament times nor that Jews become Gentiles, but both become one new person or one new humanity, a third entity." [Hoehner, Ephesians, 378-379] From Paul's argument we can safely conclude that when men are reconciled to God, they also become one person in Christ. This is unavoidable. It isn't a two-step process. We do not become reconciled to God in Christ while still having work to do in order to be reconciled with one another. Based on Hoehner's observation we now have Jews, Gentiles, and Christians. But I think we still have two: the children of God and the children of the devil; the seed of the woman and the seed of the devil.
Jarvis Williams contends that there remains work to be done in the church where reconciliation is concerned. I do not disagree that the church always has cultural issues with which it must learn to grapple in any and every environment. I am not disputing that. But Williams and men like Russell Moore couch the language of racial reconciliation as a gospel issue because of the effect it has on their audience. It is a highly emotive expression. Using it is effective in the furtherance of the agenda. Everyone is doing that these days. What I am trying to do is to get the audience to think critically about these arguments and to measure them against Scripture. Whatever work there is to be done in the church where cultural gaps exist, it has nothing to do with reconciliation and more to do with understanding our cultural differences better. But there is a lot more to it than that. As long as there is a Christian church that transcends human culture, there will be cultural gaps. This is the beauty of diversity. The focus should be on ensuring unity in truth without impinging on cultural practices. Our cultural practices must be sanctified by biblical values. We need one another in order to ensure this is accomplished. Where cultural practices violate Christian principles and teaching, they must be abandoned. Where they do not, we have that old faithful expression: Christian liberty. Romans 14 is our guide.
In his article, How to Care About Social Justice Without Losing the Gospel, Russell Moore opens with these words: We need to stop pretending that Jesus does not call his churches to act on behalf of the poor, the sojourner, the fatherless, the vulnerable, the hungry, the sex-trafficked, the unborn. Now, the key expression to note here is "act on behalf of." Moore explains that the example Jesus gives us is one of holistic caring for the physical and economic needs of a wounded person, not to mention the transcending of steep ethnic hostilities. However, Scripture implies that Jesus did not enter the world to put an end to poverty, at least not in this age. He Himself says we will always have the poor with us. Moreover, His feeding of the 5,000 was indeed an act of compassion but the theological significance was really the point of the gospel writers. Why did the authors include that story? What were the authors trying to do? They were pointing us to a man who has power beyond anything we could ever imagine. And let us not forget that those who followed Jesus for these reasons were sharply rebuked in due time and they inevitably ended up abandoning him. So then, it seems to me the same can be said about Moore's contention that Jesus supposedly gave us an example of caring for the physical needs of people by healing them. Yet, we know that Jesus did not heal people in order to provide us with the example that we too should care for the sick. He healed people, out of compassion, but so that men would know that he was the Messiah, the anointed one come from God. Finally, it seems lost on Moore that this Jesus whom he says "transcended steep ethnic hostilities" would have been sued in our day for taking his ministry only to the Jews, for selecting only Jews to be his apostles, and for choosing only men to be his leaders. Williams and Moore are doing all they can in various ways to transform the gospel into an "evangelicalized" social gospel, so to speak. We are called to love the orphans and to provide for them. We are called to do the same with widows. The Scriptures are clear about that. But to expand the mission of the church and the gospel to end things like abortion, sex-trafficking, racism, injustice, etc. is going far beyond anything the Scripture teaches. Loving your neighbor does not equal becoming an abortion activist. I applaud those who are down at the mill every week. Follow your passion. Do your part. But do not confuse the mission of the church with transforming civil laws or society or the culture. Do not confuse the mission of the church with outlawing gay marriage, pornography, and prostitution. None of those things are included in disciple-making and anyone who claims they are is playing loose, fast, and free with the Scripture. This is mission drift in new garb, nothing more, nothing less.
Before I leave off this post, I want to share a bit more information about an article I read recently on why black Christians are abandoning white evangelical churches. The article is precisely consistent with my own observations regarding the public conversations taking place. Darrell Harrison tweeted an article that he will be talking about tomorrow on his podcast. The article is entitled, A Quiet Exodus: Why Black Worshippers Are Leaving White Evangelical Churches. The article appears in the NY Times. The thrust of the article is that Black Christians are leaving White Evangelical Churches after Evangelicals came out in full support of Trump in record numbers. The article chronicles the moves of a Ms. Pruitt who left her White Church after becoming disenchanted with her white brothers and sisters. The argument was really quite simple: Trump is a racist. How can these white Christians defend Trump? How can they vote for this man? Pruitt became uncomfortable in that environment and left the church. I bring this up because it is the heartbeat of this issue. The fact is that there is a real gap between white and black Christians and it has nothing to do with melanin for the most part and everything to do with more significant issues, like cultural values, practices, theological differences, and other deeply held beliefs. If there is any distance between those two macro-cultures, if you can put it that way, it is located in the area of culture, not biology. For example, Martin Luther King Jr. denied the virgin birth and resurrection Christ along with the inerrancy of Scripture. King once wrote that the resurrection was a mythological story. Nevertheless, if a white Christian classifies King as a heretic, someone who denies the faith, which is how one would classify a white preacher holding Kings views, most black Christians take the "touch not my anointed" attitude and a fight ensues. This is inexcusable. What is more important? The gospel? Or melanin? Do I remain loyal to the historic white leader even though I know he was an overt heretic? Do I accuse Voddie Baucham of being a racist when he issues a scathing rebuke to a Rob Bell or some white leader of prominence? I don't. And frankly, I don't understand those who do. The SBC is celebrating Martin Luther King, Jr. in a couple of weeks. I admit that this is very troubling. These leaders seem quite content to look past the heresy of King and grant him a high status within the community of faith. King deserves status in the culture; he accomplished great things where society is concerned. However, those accomplishments pale in comparison to the obscure missionary laboring in the wilderness while doing all he can to uphold the truths of the gospel, and in many cases, risking life, limb, and even family.
What we need more than anything else from our gospel leaders today is honesty, courage, and integrity. What we don't need is virtue signaling, politicking, and good-old-boy mentalities. The "I got your back, you got mine" nonsense has to be rooted out of the church either by loving correction or excommunication. Stand up, man of God, and be counted among the faithful men who have gone before you, giving up convenience and risking life and limb for the simple truth of the gospel, out of a love for God, for truth, and for those over whom God has placed you. Flee from the kingdom builders, the resume engineers, and the egomaniacs who obsess about their image day in and day out.
Between 850 and 859 AD, forty-eight Christians were decapitated in the Spanish town of Cordoba for religious offenses against Islam. All these martyrdoms were recorded by Eulogius, a Cordoban priest so that he could write up passions which would perpetuate the memory of these Christian martyrs through his martyrology.
The first of these forty-eight martyrs was Isaac. Due to his noble birth, he rose to the highest rank in the local government that a non-Muslim was allowed, Secretary of the Covenant (Katib Adh-Dhimam). He gave all this up and went to live in a monastery close to Cordoba, in Tabanos. Isaac visited Cordoba three years later to ask a judge about some details of Islamic law. This official spoke about Muhammad's life and this launched Isaac into a full-scale attack on Islam in which he affirmed that its prophet was being tormented in hell for misleading the Arabs.
The judge was amazed at this outburst and concluded that Isaac must be either drunk or mad. But Isaac assured the judge that he was compelled to so outspoken because of the "zeal of righteousness". Isaac was promptly arrested, sentenced. His decapitated body was left hanging for all to see. Mark Water, The New Encyclopedia of Christian Martyrs (Alresford, Hampshire: John Hunt Publishers Ltd, 2001), 532.
This man, one out of thousands, had the nerve to speak the truth in the middle of the most hostile of circumstances. He had to know that his outburst against Islam in such an environment would cost him more than he could pay. Yet, his passion and love for the truth drove him to take the most unpopular and dangerous path available to him. He didn't flinch. He regarded no one but God. And it cost him his life. What has standing for the truth cost you lately? Anything? We praise men who deserve ridicule because of what others will think. We aren't even willing to ruffle feathers for Christ, how on earth can we say that we would die for him?

Race, Racism, and the Gospel: Jarvis Williams on The Gospel - Pt. 3

In this post, I am going to focus my attention on Jarvis Williams’ theology of the gospel. Williams argues that Southern Baptists nee...