Gospel & Race Project: Summer Reading PlanJune 4, 2021
We began the Gospel and Race Project this year with a focus on Learning, Praying, and Engaging with one another on a topic that is surrounded with controversy. To refresh your memory, we have small but tangible goals for this project. First, we want to grow in training our powers of discernment to distinguish good and evil on the topic of race and ethnic issues. Second, we want to grow in our desire and love for Jesus-exalting racial diversity in our relationships.
We began by reading John Piper’s book titled Bloodlines. The most valuable aspect of this book was how Piper helped us see the beauty of ethnic diversity from the perspective of God’s plan of redemption. He also helped us consider the issues of race and ethnicity foundationally through the lens of the gospel instead of the lenses the culture wants us to use. We then read Tim Shorey’s book, Respect the Image. In this book, Tim helped us see that part of our inability to display the reconciling power of the gospel in our relationships is because of the way we communicate with one another. As pastors, we wanted to emphasize this book and seminar not because it specifically addresses the larger problems in the church and culture as it relates to gospel and race, but because it might help us lay a critical foundation on how we enter into this conversation and engage with others with whom we might disagree. Both these books have given us guardrails for our journey both in discerning the content that we digest, but also in the manner in which we engage others on this topic. These tools will be critical for us as we enter into the second phase of our project this summer as we consider some aspects of the historical context surrounding black and white relations in this country and some secular perspectives on how to address the problem of racial disparities that still exist today.
There are many books we could read on the topic of race relations in the history of America. I wanted to pick a book that examines the complicity of the church in promoting racism and a letter that used biblical principles were used to combat racial injustice. Neither of these books is comprehensive but only provides a window into the complex and excruciating history of racial injustice in this country.
The first book we will read is Color of Compromise by Jemar Tisby. This is a book focused on historical accounting of the role of the church in compromising its gospel witness by failing to speak out against racism and even promoting racism in many cases. Before we can consider the victories of racial equality that Christians have promoted, we must take time to recognize what went wrong with the church in America concerning race.
Following this, we will read MLK’s Letter from Birmingham Jail. This letter was written in response to a letter from eight white clergymen who were calling for unity and protesting the civil rights demonstrations of the day. King’s famous letter draws from biblical themes of justice and love and helps us see how the Bible has the necessary framework for dismantling unjust laws.
Much progress has been made in dismantling unjust laws that promoted racism in this country. However, the deep racial tensions and ethnic divide continue to exist fifty years after the end of segregation. This problem is noticeable not only by Christians but by those in our secular culture who by God’s common grace also see racism as an evil that needs to be addressed.
There are two main reasons that I want us to read the secular perspective on understanding the problem of race in America. First, we need to try and understand what the secular perspective is trying to say. It does us no good to be angry at the secularists if we do not take the time to understand what they are trying to say. Remember the principles on Understanding What you Hear from Shorey’s book. Second, we want to be able to read a secular perspective through a biblical lens. There will be aspects of the secular perspective that are true because of God’s common grace. All truth is God’s truth no matter where we find it. Where there is truth, we can affirm it, where there is error, we must oppose it.
This summer we will read is How to by Anti-Racist by Ibram X. Kendi, who is a secular liberal scholar. The main thesis of Kendi’s book is that all persons are either “racist” or “anti-racist.” In his mind, there is no neutral category of “not racist.” For Kendi, not being “anti-racist” is necessarily “racist.” The next book we will read is Discrimination and Disparities by Thomas Sowell, who is a secular conservative scholar. The main thesis of this book challenges the idea that different economic outcomes can be explained by any one factor, be it discrimination, exploitation, or genetics.
A Caution and an Encouragement
I want to be clear that these books we are reading this summer from a secular perspective are not books we would fully endorse. I hope no one will read these books and come away with the conclusion that we are promoting these books at our church. Reading these books is primarily an exercise in flexing our muscles of discernment to think long and hard about how the biblical framework critiques secular ideologies. However, we also have the opportunity to put into practice some principles we have already learned from Respect the Image, e.g., Understanding What You Hear, Assume You Are Wrong, Think the Best, and the most important one… Chill!
- How can you humbly learn from others with whom you might disagree?
- How can secular perspectives help us sharpen our thinking from a biblical lens?
- That we would humbly learn from others with whom we disagree
- That the Lord would help us hold fast to what is good, and guard our hearts and minds against evil