How Much Should A Gospel-Centered Christian Talk About Race?

How much should a gospel-centered Christian talk about race? 

This has been the subject of much debate in recent months as people on all sides of the issue have weighed in publicly.

I suppose now it's my turn.

Personally, I believe the answer has two key components. First, the more gospel-centered you are, the more (not less) you should talk about race and racial injustice. Second, the more gospel-centered you are, the more (not less) you should talk about race and racial injustice Christianly. In this post I hope to address the first component by providing two reasons for which those who talk the most about the gospel should also be those who talk the most about racial injustice.

@@Those who talk the most about the gospel should also be those who talk the most about racial injustice@@

1. The More You Talk About the Gospel The More You Should Talk About Race Because The Gospel Has Serious Implications for Race

The gospel tells us that Jesus has done everything necessary to reconcile us to God through his perfect life, substitutionary death, and victorious resurrection. In addition, thisgospel proclaims that Jesus has done everything necessary to reconcile us to one another through the same work. The Apostle Paul describes the reconciliation of both relationships in Ephesians 2:14-18 (NIV).

"For he himself is our peace, who has made the two groups one and has destroyed the barrier, the dividing wall of hostility, by setting aside in his flesh the law with its commands and regulations. His purpose was to create in himself one new humanity out of the two, thus making peace, and in one body to reconcile both of them to God through the cross, by which he put to death their hostility. He came and preached peace to you who were far away and peace to those who were near. For through him we both have access to the Father by one Spirit."

Paul is reminding the Ephesians of the incredible power of the gospel by showing that Jesus alone is sufficient to unite the un-uniteable. He illustrates this by showing that just as Jesus unites the two un-uniteable parties of sinful humans and a holy God he also unites the two un-uniteable parties of Jew and Gentile. In this context, he is not speaking of Jew and Gentile as simply two religious groups. He is also speaking of Jew and Gentile as two ethnic groups -- two racial groups -- that were not only divided from one another but were hostile toward one another. They are now united to one another in one body as one people.

Paul speaks of both divine reconciliation and racial reconciliation in the very same breath. He does this because both are the fruit of the gospel, which is his primary subject. If we twenty-first century Americans claim to preach the same gospel as Paul, we must be careful not to settle only for divine reconciliation -- as glorious as it is -- when God intends for it also to produce racial reconciliation. To stop short of applying the gospel to the race issue is to not be "acting in line with the truth of the gospel," which is precisely what Paul accused Peter of in Galatians 2:14 when he refused to apply the gospel to the race issues of his context.

@@Paul speaks of both divine reconciliation and racial reconciliation in the very same breath@@

Second, the gospel tells us that Jesus is restoring creation to the paradise that was lost through Adam's sin and that he will return to complete that work once and for all. We Christians live faithfully in light of this gospel when we allow Jesus to work through us to bring small tastes of his ultimate restoration into our present day. Justice is one such foretaste the gospel moves us to seek. This is why many gospel-centered Christians work to minimize abortions, for in Jesus' kingdom the powerful sacrifice themselves for the defenseless, and not the other way around.  It is why many gospel-centered Christians seek to end sex trafficking, for there will be no victimization, no evil, and no sexual immorality when Jesus returns. In the same way and for the same reasons, Christians who hold to the gospel must fight against the manifold racial injustices that exist in our country. How can we speak of a gospel that brings freedom, redemption, value, identity, and equity to all, while turning a blind eye as our brothers and sisters are treated as second-class citizens in their own land?

We can't.

2. The More You Talk About The Gospel The More You Should Talk About Race Because Race Has Serious Implications for the Gospel

If you want to talk about the gospel you will have to talk about race because the gospel has serious implications for the racial issues that surround us. You will also have to talk about race because race has serious implications for the gospel.

In John 17 Jesus repeatedly states that the unity of his people will be a convincing apologetic for Jesus and his gospel. Jesus prays that his followers will be brought "to complete unity" and states that when they are "the world will know that you [God the Father] sent me." The unity Jesus is speaking of must be both a visible unity and an abnormal unity. It has be visible enough for non-Christians to see it and abnormal enough for non-Christians to need an explanation for it which only Jesus can satisfy. It can't be unity of a group of people who are already alike in every way. Such unity is normal in our world and would not stand as evidence that Jesus really is who he says he is. It must be unity of people who would never otherwise be together, apart from Jesus Christ. This includes unity across socio-economic, educational, generational, and cultural divides. It also includes unity across racial lines. In fact, in twenty-first century America, unity across racial lines may be the most powerful demonstration of unity that Christians can provide as evidence of Jesus' identity.

We all see race. No matter how much we may claim to be "colorblind," when we walk into a room of people who are of a different ethnicity than us we recognize it immediately. Not only do we all see race, but we are all aware of the racial tension that exists in our country.  In fact, our awareness of the tension is one of the reasons we are tempted to say we are "colorblind" (so as to avoid the tension) or that we're uncomfortable with people talking so much about race (as we fear it will increase the already present tension).

We all see race and we all see the racial tensions in our country. But you know what we don't see? We don't see a lot of communities that display racial unity. Our churches are overwhelmingly mono-ethnic. Our political groups are the same. Our neighborhoods and schools are often divided along racial lines. Our primary friendships and relationships tend to be with those of the same race. In other words, racial unity is both visible to everyone in our culture and abnormal for most in our culture. It is the sort of unity that, if it were to be displayed, would require an explanation. An explanation that only the gospel can provide.  Imagine the gospel conversations and gospel credibility that would be earned if the majority of gospel-preaching churches were communities of multi-ethnic unity! 

We should talk about race and racial unity because it has serious implications for the gospel: it reveals the gospel's power and validity to people who doubt both.

Conclusion

How much should a gospel-centered Christian talk about racial injustice? Certainly more than those who are not gospel-centered talk about it. As seen above, the gospel we love has serious implications for racial justice, and racial unity has serious implications for the spread of the gospel. In conclusion, as gospel-centered Christians we must recognize that talking about the gospel does not replace talking about race and racial justice, it requires it. In fact, if the gospel we're preaching doesn't produce conversations about racial injustice we should revist the gospel we're preaching. 

@@Talking about the gospel does not replace talking about racial justice, it requires it@@

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Cole Brown is a Humble Beast author and speaker. He is the founding pastor of Emmaus Church, a multi-ethnic church in Portland, and now serves as a missionary helping plant churches in Mexico City, Mexico. His book, Daddy Issues: How the Gospel Heals Wounds Caused By Absent, Abusive & Aloof Fathers, is now available. Connect with him on twitter or facebook

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