In order to make sense of what I’m about to say, you’ll want to read my first article here.
I don’t want to come off as some kind of theological Superman. I don’t want to sound like I’m telling you that if you just listen to me then everything about worship in your church will be better and all your worship woes will be solved and your worship wars will be over.
However, I would like to say that maybe I was too angry in response. Maybe my tone wasn’t that great. I’m not going to apologize for what I said because I feel like this issue is something that needs to be addressed, but maybe I could’ve used more tact.
Now that the apology is out of the way, let me say that I’m not sure what needs to be done, but I know that as long as the Christian music industry is just trying to turn a profit instead of trying to make sure that they are devoted to theological clarity in song then we’ll see our mainstream churches turn to such music.
Ultimately, this is an issue of the heart. Worship leaders are often drawn to songs and gimmicks that have about as high a view of God as they do. As long as we have people in positions of leadership who will not place a priority on teaching the whole council of God through the medium to which they are called (in this case, music), then you’ll always see anemic Christians trying to feed other anemic Christians. This is why I believe that we should use the same qualifications that we would use to seek out a pastor (Titus 1 and 1 Timothy 2) and use those to seek out worship leaders.
Pastors who are passionate about the Gospel and passionate about feeding the flock of God will not allow their congregation to settle for anything less than music that teaches us about God, about His Word, and about His Church.
Ultimately, if we want to measure the worship in our church against the worship of the New Testament, then we just to read the Scriptures and be honest. Does our worship look anything like how the early church would worship if they any of them were still on earth today?
“Let the message of Christ dwell among you richly as you teach and admonish one another with all wisdom through psalms, hymns, and songs from the Spirit, singing to God with gratitude in your hearts.”Colossians 3:16, NIV
We may not think about this way, but according to this verse in Colossians, singing together in worship is one of the ways that we teach and build up one another. So, the two primary things going on when the church is singing together is education and edification. We are learning about God, and building up one another in the faith. This is important to remember that reading is a very recent concept within human history. According to one source, 1960 was the first year that the literate population outnumbered the illiterate population in the world. So, if someone can’t read, how do you get them to retain information? Through song.
Most of the hymns that were written over 150 years ago weren’t simply written because someone felt inspiration hit them one day, and they just had to get it down on paper. They were written out of the necessity to educate local churches which is why some of our most prolific hymn writers have also been pastors.
For Example, William R. Newell, is someone that we might not know by name, but he’s more famously known for a hymn that some of us have probably sang in our lives:
Mercy there was great, and grace was free;At Calvary, William R. Newell
Pardon there was multiplied to me;
There my burdened soul found liberty
Newell was not only a hymn writer, he was a pastor and Bible teacher at the Moody Bible Institute. You can read more about him here.
In our current time most of us can read now. This is good news, but modern hymns and worship songs aren’t written anymore to teach us about God, about the doctrine of the Church, or rich theological truth. Which is why K-Love’s Greatest Hits consist mostly of songs that describe Jesus more like a prom date rather than the Son of God lay waste to His waste to His enemies, and rule and reign for eternity with His bride on the earth.
I would describe most of the music that comes out of the modern Christian music industry  as junk food for the soul. It’s okay in very strict moderation, but overindulgence can lead to a poor theological health. There are better choices out there.
- Instead of Hillsong try Indelible Grace
- Instead of Chris Tomlin try Bob Kauflin and Sovereign Grace Music
- Instead of Bethel and Jesus Culture try Keith and Kristyn Getty
Let’s be honest, when you went to church and sang this morning, did you sing mostly about how God makes you feel, or about what God has actually done for you in Christ? Did you sing about God’s justice and holiness as well as His love and mercy? Was Psalm 2 anywhere near your worship set? That’s the one where God’s wrath flares up against those who do not submit to Christ’s lordship.
Was the worship set at your church this morning a biblical reflection of the character of God that feeds the sheep or was it simply a show to entertain the goats among us? You’re either feeding the sheep or entertaining the goats, you will not and cannot do both.
- My wife was a Pre-K teacher for five years and she will tell you that one of the best ways to educate children is through song, and adults are no different. She taught 3 and 4 year-olds who couldn’t spell their own name, but they could spell colors because they sang songs about them.
- As a result of the Christian music industry pushing these wares into the market, most skinny jean and v-neck t-shirt clad ‘worship leaders’ are usually looking at the Christian Top 40 for this Sunday’s worship set instead of seeking out that which would be most educational and edifying for the congregation.
As a Christian, I’m tired. I’m not tired of being a Christian. I’m not tired of looking to Christ. I’m not tired of trying to help others look to Christ. But I am tired. I think I’m disappointed and frustrated so much with the current state of affairs that it’s actually manifesting itself in tiredness.
So, for the sake of my own sanity, I think I’ll voice my frustrations. I know some aren’t going to agree with me on a lot of these issues, but I don’t particularly care. I just have to get some things off my chest, and just for clarification, some of these issues are not related to one another, they are just things I’ve been thinking about for a while.
Jesus Doesn’t Care About Making America Great
It’s really hard to get people to look to Christ when people who are Christians are looking to politicians to “make America great again.” Yep, you know who you are. With our mouths we tell people to look to Jesus and seek His kingdom, but with our Facebook posts we give the middle finger to everyone who doesn’t vote like we do. As a pastor, that’s something really hard to watch, but I see it all the time, and it kills me. I’m proud to be a Libertarian, but at the end of the day, I don’t care if you’re a Republican, Democrat, or a part of the Green Party. If you love and serve Jesus, then we can hold hands and fight the same battles side by side. The more Christians make political affiliation a matter of importance the more people will believe that Jesus is a flag waving, Republican or a Democratic Socialist, or a member of whatever party you affiliate with. You can either choose to make America great or you can choose to display the greatness of God’s kingdom. You can’t do both because the USA is not the kingdom of Jesus came to establish.
Christianity is a Religion, Get Over It
Secondly, can we stop pretending like “It’s not about a religion, it’s about a relationship” is not the dumbest thing to ever come out of someone’s mouth? Oxford (the only English dictionary that matters) defines ‘religion’ as such: “The belief in and worship of a superhuman controlling power, especially a personal God or gods.” Do you believe that God is personal? Do you worship Him? If your answer is “yes” to both of those questions then your relationship with God is your religion. Grow up and stop pretending like religion is a dirty word. If you think religion is a bad thing, then try to argue with God when He inspired James to write James 1:27.
Don’t know what James 1:27 says? Good, then I can move on to my next point.
READ YOUR BIBLE!
One of the biggest problems with the American Church is that Christians are biblically illiterate. It seems like no one in the south who claims they are a Christian reads their Bible, and if they do, then they tend to read it with preconceived ideas about what it means. According to Lifeway Research, 34% rarely or never read the Bible. That’s 1/3. That’s a lot of people!
If God has given you a book, and directly spoken in said book, and you rarely or never read it, then either a) you don’t care about what God has to say or b) you don’t really believe that God has spoken in said book. That’s a problem! The reason why there are pastors who continue to preach trash in the pulpit is because of biblically illiterate churches who let them.
Saved by Grace? Yes? No? Pick a Side and Stay Over There
I’m tired of hearing Christians say things like, “Well, we’re saved by grace, but…” and then they’ll follow it some with some qualifier that completely goes against the first part of their sentence. They put qualifiers on grace. If grace has qualifiers then it’s not grace that’s all there is to it. They might as well be saying, “Jesus loves you, but don’t let that go to your head.”
Sunday Morning Worship Isn’t About You, and America Isn’t a Christian Nation
“Well, I just didn’t care for the music.” How many times have you heard this to describe a church service? Or, “It’s just not my style.”
When people use words like, “I,” “My,” or “Me” to describe a worship service, then they are making themselves the center of worship. A Sunday morning service becomes a time where they can have their preferred music, their preferred hymns, their preferred elements in worship instead of what is pleasing to God.
On the Sunday before the 4th July, many churches sang patriotic songs including “America the Beautiful” and our own national anthem as part of their worship service that morning. Why? Because we either believe a) America is God’s country and therefore, America should be worshipped along with God or b) we just don’t give a damn about Sunday morning worship and we should be able to sing about whatever we want depending on whatever godless holiday the world is celebrating.
I can hear patriotic Christians now pecking away at their keyboard, “But ‘Murica is a Christian nation.” First of all, only people can be Christian not nations. The only way a nation can be Christian is if every individual who is considered to be a father of our nation is in fact a Christian, and if you believe Thomas Jefferson and Ben Franklin are Christians (as admirable as they both are), then you have terrible theology.
Before you recommend David Bartlett and Wallbuilders to me in an effort to change my mind, just know that it’s not going to work that easily, and I know I’m probably not going to change your mind either which is why this post isn’t longer than what it is.
I will finish this section of this post with this thought, when God gave Moses the law, the first command was first the Israelites to worship no other god before Him. They didn’t have freedom of religion. God told them Who they were to worship and the book of Leviticus told them how they were to worship. They didn’t have freedom of religion. So, it is with our nation. We cannot say that America was established as Christian nation while the first amendment people to worship whatever and however they choose. I have no problem with the Constitution, I think it’s a fine document, but I’m not going to pretend that it is a Christian document nor will I pretend that America is or was a Christian nation.
It up to the Christians of this nation, not to establish a nation or kingdom of our own, but to pray, “Thy kingdom come, thy will be done on earth as it is in Heaven.” God establishes His kingdom. He doesn’t need our help. Our job is to live as citizens of His kingdom first, and in so doing we provoke others to inquire about the hope that is within us. (1 Peter 3:15) Our hope is not that any politician will make things better, but that Jesus will make all things new.
Alright, I think I’m done for now.
Go ahead, type up an angry email.
Hello there, reader of Late Night Theology. I’m a new contributor here on this blog, and I’m grateful for any time taken by you to not only read this blog, but any tedious, meandering drivel I manage to produce for it. My prayer is that our Lord will open the foolish, sinful mind of this, the author whose article you are reading, and fill it with wisdom from above. May this writer pen (or type) the truth, unsullied by the falsehoods of uninformed teaching.
To be upfront and honest with you, my reader, I find it necessary to disclose a few things which, if found out after more than a couple readings of any future work, might shock you, and even cause you to have a bad taste in your mouth, fall ill, or find yourself in any number of stress related medical emergencies. Such emergencies may include, but are not limited to, toxic shock, gastrointestinal distress, hemorrhage, bursitus, or clinical depression.
- I am a Baptist
- I won’t agree with all of what the other contributors write (and they won’t always agree with what I write).
- I’m not here to fight the culture. I’m here for the sake of the gospel.
I am a Baptist.
Yes, I am a Baptist. (Insert gasp, spit-take, primal shriek etc. here) I am a member of a local church in the Baptist Missionary Association, thereby making me one of those types of Baptists known as “Missionary Baptist”. The local church I attend has adopted the BMAA Doctrinal Statement as well as the 1833 New Hampshire Confession, for guidance in interpreting the Bible, which we believe to be God’s only revealed word to His people.
To answer a few questions, yes, I believe in calling them ordinances. I’m not fond of baptismal regeneration doctrine. I believe in dunking folks (so long as they’re saved). I believe the principle of closed Communion. I think it’s weird and very romish to call it “Eucharist,” but I won’t give you a weird look for more than a few seconds should you call it that. No, I’m not an Armenian, but I wouldn’t call myself a Calvinist either. No, I’m not a Molinist. Yes, I’m aware of the organizational tie of the SBC, ABA, and BMA to the English reformation. Yes, I believe doctrines held by Baptists existed pre-reformation, but I don’t subscribe in whole to the landmarkist “Trail of Blood” line of thought. No, I’m still not a Calvinist. I jest in saying so, but where I’d consider myself mildly covenantal, I’d say my Presbyterian brethren are wildly covenantal. I believe in the Five Solas.
Conflict With the Brethren (and sister…en?)
Since I’m in a different denomination than the other contributors on Late Night Theology, conflict is sure to arise. I shall make a concerted effort to avoid such conflict, by focusing on the things I believe I have in common with my fellow contributors, unless prompted by the group to express views that could be considered uniquely “Baptist”. By focusing on what makes us different to an unhealthy extent, all we accomplish is division.
Where shall we then unite? Upon which hill shall we die? Despite disagreement on secondary and tertiary issues, may all the contributors continue in grace and love on this site.
Focus: The Gospel
8 For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God: 9 Not of works, lest any man should boast.
– Ephesians 2:8&9
One thing I hope all here have in common is the doctrine of justification, that we are saved from wrath by grace alone, through faith in Jesus Christ alone, as revealed to us in the scriptures, for the glory of God alone.
It should also be known here, that not one of my articles will be geared to fighting or changing the culture. The apostles didn’t go about, decrying the society in which our God had placed them, calling for social change either from the conservative side, crying out for the false godliness of a nominal patriotism, nor from the liberal side, crying out in favor of the idol worship of social justice. They preached the gospel, planted churches, and discipled men to lead churches and plant more churches. Forcing the culture to follow our warped, godless sense of godliness was never the scriptural model for Christianity, and I won’t personally be a party to it here or anywhere else. Voting one way or the other never saved any person’s soul, but hearing the gospel faithfully taught from God’s word, and repenting before God, putting on faith in the death, burial, and resurrection of the God-man Jesus Christ sure did, continues to do so, and shall continue, should Christ tarry in bringing that great day of judgement.
Dearest reader, I believe that is all I am able to produce for you at the moment. I hope that despite the meager effort on my part in this pitiful introductory article, something was gained in the reading of it. I look forward to the joys and discomforts of writing for your internet literary consumption, and I hope you take as much enjoyment in reading as I do writing. May you never experience the same discomforts, though.
(Editor’s Note: This article contains references to race-based slavery and racism, which could be distressing to some readers.)
Living in Mississippi has provided a unique opportunity for me to dive into the issue of race in America, because you really can’t live in Mississippi and not face the reality of a racialized society! Though much of my learning occurred through following a diverse group of people on social media, I kept hearing people reference a non-social-media medium (a book!) for learning about this topic—and specifically a book called Divided by Faith by sociologists Michael O. Emerson and Christian Smith. And so this month, I finally decided to give it a read. Spoiler alert: I loved it, I was challenged by it, and I quickly knew I wanted to share my findings with whomever would care to read them. And thus this article came to be. In it, I attempt to summarize the book, share some personal reflections, suggest ways for white evangelicals to respond, and pass along some additional resources.
Emerson and Smith begin with a brief definition of terms such as “evangelical” and “racialization” and then make a case—using a myriad of statistics—that race is the defining societal divide in America. “Evangelicals” are defined as those who believe the Bible to be God’s Word, urge personal salvation through Jesus Christ, and self-identify as evangelicals. They define a racialized society as “a society wherein race matters profoundly for differences in life experiences, life opportunities, and social relationships.” (page 7) And more specifically, “[i]n the post-Civil Rights United States, the racialized society is one in which intermarriage rates are low, residential separation and socioeconomic inequality are the norm, our definitions of personal identity and our choices of intimate associations reveal racial distinctiveness” and in which we are always aware of the race of people with whom we interact. (page 7) They then spend several chapters recounting the story of race and Evangelicalism throughout American history, starting with the 1700s and going through the present day (or rather the 90s, since the book was published in 2000). I’ll share some of the highlights.
In the 1700s as Europeans colonized what would later become the United States, people from West Africa were kidnapped, enslaved, and brought over to work the land. At first, there was no particular concern for the religious beliefs of the slaves. But partway through the 1700’s, attempts to “Christianize” enslaved people began. At first there was some confusion about whether converting to Christianity necessitated temporal freedom from slavery, but religious leaders quickly allayed those fears. For example:
Cotton Mather forcefully argued that the Bible did not give Christian slaves the right to liberty. Just as forcefully, he argued that neither the canons of the church nor the English Constitution made a connection between christianization and temporal freedom. (page 23)
In fact, Evangelical leaders argued that enslavement was good for Africans because it gave them the opportunity to convert to Christianity. (Some Christians hold this view to this day, and it is repugnant!) The social stratification of masters and slaves was understood to be God’s design for a peaceful society. These ideas were diligently catechized to the enslaved Africans, with Frederick Douglass later explaining, “I have met many religious colored people … who are under the delusion that God requires them to submit to slavery and to wear chains with meekness and humility.”
The American Revolution brought a fresh look at race-based slavery. People wondered if the principles behind the fight for freedom from England applied also to enslaved peoples. Thus began the rise of the anti-slavery movement among evangelicals. They were largely moderates and “gradualists,” believing that slavery would slowly be put to rest overtime as both masters and slaves were converted to Christianity. As Emerson and Smith point out, “Evangelicals of this time … held that by changing individuals, social problems would eventually dissipate.” (page 29) This movement had minimal results and petered out in the early 1800s.
The 1830s saw a rise in Evangelical “immediatists,” who demanded direct and immediate action to end what they saw as the great injustice of slavery. One such evangelical was Pastor Charles Finney. He connected his faith with abolitionism, going so far as to deny communion to parishioners who were slaveholders, believing that it was impossible simultaneously to own slaves and to be a Christian. (Personally, I think what he did was awesome!) However, as the movement gathered steam and begin to emphasize amalgamation of the races, Finney distanced himself. He saw slavery as a separate issue from race, and did not support amalgamation or integration. (This line of thinking paved the way for Jim Crow laws.) Emerson and Smith see Finney as representative of the views of many Evangelical abolitionists of the time.
If the well-educated and progressive Finney willingly spoke out against slavery, but not racial prejudice and segregation, it is reasonable to suppose the grassroots evangelicals, though perhaps viewing slavery as wrong, were often prejudiced, continued to view African Americans as inferior, and were generally opposed to the integration of the races. Although calling for people to be freed, they did not call for an end to racialization. (page 33)
Not all evangelicals took exception to slavery. In the mid-1800s, a robust defense of slavery was developed using so-called biblical, evangelistic, social, and political support. Enslaved Africans were also frequently reminded of the supposed rightness of slavery. For example, when slaves attended church with their masters, preachers would share an additional sermon reminding them of their “Christian duty” to submit to their masters.
After the Civil War and during Reconstruction, with slavery officially outlawed, white northern evangelicals sent money, teachers, and missionaries to the South to “raise up the Negro.” Condescending? Yes. But still a generally positive endeavor. Overall, Reconstruction was a time of social and political success for freed slaves. However, Southerners soon began to fear for their way of life, wanting to get back to what they saw as “Christian America,” and therefore imposed laws to restrict and oppress black people. This was the start of Jim Crow laws and institutionalized segregation. Northern evangelical interest declined, and most of them left Southerners to deal with “race problems” on their own.
In response to legislated segregation, African American people started their own churches while white Christians largely denied that there even was a race problem. In other words, even while Jim Crow laws actively worked against equality for African Americans, white Americans believed that equality already existed!
In the twenties and thirties, evangelicals were generally critical of violence between the races, though not of segregation. In 1919, the Commission on Interracial Cooperation began.
The goal during this period was to provide a better racial environment. … It advocated an end to lynching, portraying African Americans in a more positive light, and better facilities, such as school buildings for African Americans, though still within the context of segregation. Indeed, the commission never attacked segregation itself, but simply strove to improve race relations and the lives of black Americans within the institutional context of segregation. (page 42-43)
The Civil Rights Movement highlighted the extent of differences between black Christians and white evangelicals. Most evangelicals were critical of the Civil Rights Movement while most black Christians supported it. Those white Christians who did support it tended to be non-evangelicals such as mainstream Protestants.
Billy Graham is an interesting case study of the Evangelical mindset of the time. He was for improved race relations, but believed that organized efforts were harmful, especially because he perceived them as being connected to Communism. (Sound familiar? I guess this argument has been around for decades.) On the one hand, Graham removed the segregating rope between blacks and whites at one of his southern Evangelistic Crusades. But in another instance, he stated that he tried to work within the social framework of each city he visited. He invited Martin Luther King Jr. to pray at one of his Crusades, yet declined to join King’s March on Washington, believing King’s methods to be flawed. In response to the “I Have a Dream” speech, Graham remarked that black children and white children would hold hands in harmony only when Jesus returned.
To understand this, we must account for the premillennial view that had come to dominate the American evangelical worldview and played a role in limiting evangelical action on race issues. According to this view, the present world is evil and will inevitably suffer moral decline until Christ comes again. Thus, to devote oneself to social reform is futile. (page 47)
Graham, like most white evangelicals of the time, opposed racism generally, but viewed organized social reform as fruitless, unnecessary, and perhaps even dangerous.
The 80s and 90s brought a new wave of racial reconciliation efforts by evangelicals through organizations like Promise Keepers and people like Curtiss DeYoung and Tony Evans. Most whites who spoke against prejudice, urged personal repentance and reconciled relationships between individuals, while African American Christians generally focused on changing what they saw as oppressive structures, and unjust laws. The difference in approach is highlighted in the words of Pastor Cecil “Chip” Murray:
White evangelicals need an at-risk gospel. … Calling sinners to repentance means also calling societies and structures to repentance—economic, social, educational, corporate, political, religious structures…. The gospel at once works with individual and the individual’s society: to change one, we of necessity must change the other.
I’ll close this historical overview with a quote, which, though challenging, highlights Emerson’s and Smith’s overall analysis of evangelicalism and race relations throughout American history.
Because evangelicals view their primary task as evangelism and discipleship, they tend to avoid issues that hinder these activities. Thus, they are generally not countercultural. With some significant exceptions, they avoid “rocking the boat,” and live within the confines of the larger culture. At times they have been able to call for and realize social change, but most typically their influence has been limited to alteration at the margins. So, despite having the subcultural tools to call for radical changes in race relations, they most consistently call for changes in persons that leave the dominant social structures, institutions, and culture intact. This avoidance of boat-rocking unwittingly leads to granting power to larger economic and social forces. It also means that evangelicals’ views to a considerable extent conform to the socioeconomic conditions of their time. Evangelicals usually fail to challenge the system not just out of concern for evangelism, but also because they support the American system and enjoy its fruits. They share the Protestant work ethic, support laissez-faire economics, and sometimes fail to evaluate whether the social system is consistent with their Christianity. (pages 21-22)
Evangelicals’ Thoughts on Race Today
Emerson and Smith conducted an extensive telephone survey of 2,000 people to determine present-day thoughts of evangelicals on racial issues. They then conducted 200 in-person interviews. The results were enlightning. Smith and Emerson asked people to describe the race problem in America. Many people admitted there was a race problem, describing it as a problem of discrimination or violence between individuals. Other evangelicals denied the race problem altogether, instead suggesting that those who talk about race are the problem. Very few referenced structures, laws, or societal values that contribute to racialization.
When asked about the reasons behind economic inequality between blacks and whites, the two most common explanations given were 1) lack of motivation and 2) flawed cultural values among blacks. Fewer evangelicals ascribed economic disparity to 3) lack of access to quality education and/or 4) discrimination. In other words, evangelicals tended to blame economic hardship on African Americans themselves as opposed to historical, structural, or systemic problems. Most black Christians, on the other hand, pointed to structural issues or discrimination as the main problem.
As sociologists, Emerson and Smith explain that the cultural tools a person or group has affects the way they identify problems and solutions. They point out three cultural tools evangelicals use that heavily influence their views of race, which are: 1) accountable freewill individualism—“individual initiative conquers all;” 2) relationalism—“attaching central importance to interpersonal relationships;” and 3) antistructuralism—“inability to perceive or unwillingness to accept social structural influences.” Applied to racial issues, this cultural framework necessitates holding African Americans accountable for their struggles (accountable freewill individualism) and focusing almost exclusively on personal reconciliation (relationalism and antistructuralism). To begin to explore societal and structural components of a racialized society, white evangelicals would have to reexamine these core beliefs.
Emerson and Smith end the book by discussing various sociological principles that describe ingroup dynamics and contribute to de facto segregation today. They close by calling for an honest look at comprehensive solutions to the issue of racialization.
I think that Divided by Faith is remarkably well-written and well-organized. I found it easy to follow, and I appreciated the variety of information—historical, sociological, personal interviews, etc. In other words, I was never bored. I appreciated that this work was neither a puff piece nor a hit piece, instead seeking balance and honesty, focusing on facts over value judgments.
I learned a lot about various historical movements and historical figures. I was particularly interested in learning about the great Evangelist Billy Graham as I’ve seen a lot of diverse perspectives on his relationship with Civil Rights; this book seems to carefully lay out both the positives and negatives. I was also fascinated by Emerson’s and Smith’s exploration of how the white evangelical worldview affects the way evangelicals understand and address racial issues. Their sociological insights into group dynamics that prop up prejudice and racialization were also helpful.
In general, this book helped me honestly examine the past—my past, if you will, since I am both an American and a white evangelical. I’ve always known some of the positive ways that evangelicals have fought for human rights and civil rights for African Americans, but this book helped me honestly face the negative actions evangelicals have taken as well as the discriminatory societal structures that evangelicals have helped to maintain. And so I feel both thankful and grieved. I now acknowledge that taken as a whole, white evangelicalism has done more to hurt race relations than help. This is a sobering realization to come to. But sometimes truth leads to lament, and sometimes lament is the first step to change. (Side note: this increases my empathy for those individuals, particularly African Americans, who have chosen to distance themselves from the term “Evangelical,” even while maintaining theologically-conservative Protestant beliefs.)
On a personal level, as I read some of the quotes by modern-day evangelicals, I was humbled to realize that just a few years ago I might have said some of the same things—things like “the breakdown of family structures is the main cause of problems in African American communities” or “playing the race card is as big a problem as racism.” I’m embarrassed even to type those sentences, and my heart is rightly grieved. And I am truly sorry. For me it’s been a process, starting 3 years ago, of seeking to comprehensively understand racial issues in America.
I am profoundly thankful to have read this book! I highly recommend it to any American—especially to white evangelicals—or to anyone who wants to understand why race continues to be a defining aspect of the American story.
What is a White Evangelical to Do?
Maybe this information is new, and you’re feeling like a deer in headlights. Or maybe you’re familiar with these perspectives, but you’re not sure what practical actions to take. Either way, here are a few suggestions. First, accept uncomfortable emotions; don’t reject new ideas just because they feel scary. Second, know that lament and anger are appropriate responses to sin and injustice, and can be impetus for change. As Benjamin Franklin said, “Justice will not be served until those who are unaffected are as outraged as those who are.” Third, get educated; read a book like Divided by Faith (purchase on Amazon or read the first 30 pages for free on Google Books here). Fourth, sit under the teaching of minority voices: on social media, by listening to sermons, and by engaging in conversations (with a focus on listening to learn). And fifth, financially support minority-led organizations.
Here some of the people and organizations that have been particularly helpful for me as I’ve learned about racial issues in recent years.
Two of my favorite African American pastors are:
- Elbert McGowan at Redeemer Church in Jackson, MS. Listen to his sermons here.
- Dr. Mika Edmondson at New City Fellowship in Grand Rapids, MI. Listen to his sermons here.
The following are some theologically-conservative people and organizations I recommend financially supporting as a practical way to support African Americans and racial reconciliation.
- The Witness: A Black Christian Collective is an organization that puts out articles and podcasts on all things related to race and faith. Donate here.
- Reformed Theological Seminary offers the African American Leadership Scholarship, a 50% tuition break for qualifying African American students who are training to be pastors, professional counselors, and leaders. Donate here with a note that your donation is for the AALS fund.
- Kyle J. Howard is a Christian Counselor who works with and creates resources for those affected by racial trauma. Donate here.
- Peace Preparatory Academy serves children and families in the heart of urban Atlanta. Donate here.
As always, thanks for reading!
Check out some of of my other articles:
As some of you may know, I have endeavored to preach through the first five chapters of Acts at my church, Mount Carmel CP Church. So, I thought I would give a short word about the resources that I’ve been using to help me tackle this endeavor.
Acts for Everyone, Part One: Chapters 1-12 by N.T. Wright
This has been a tremendous resource for me. N.T. Wright has firm grasp on the history of the first century church. It’s almost as if he puts you there in the upper room with the followers of Jesus as they decide how they’re going to proceed with picking a replacement for Judas Iscariot.
I realize that Wright has his naysayers among the Reformed community for his views on Justification, but whatever. If you can’t enjoy the truth that he brings to the table without tossing out the parts where he’s off then you’re pretty much like a kid who has to eat McNuggets all the time cause he’ll choke on a chicken leg from Popeye’s.
It doesn’t matter what book it covers, the Christ-Centered Exposition series is a commentary set that’s made by the preacher for the preacher.
These commentaries, particularly the one over Acts, will help you break down a text in a digestible way so that you’re not giving people a bulk of information and no way to process it.
Forgive the second food reference, but it’s like giving someone a huge steak and telling them that they have to eat it with their hands in two bites. The Christ-Centered Exposition series gives you a knife and fork to work with so that you can break down the text and see the Gospel clearly on each page.
Although this isn’t a commentary over Acts, Phyllis Tickle, and her co-author, Jon Sweeney, do an excellent job of documenting the controversy surrounding the deity of the Holy Spirit, and how not much as changed over the last hundreds years.
This has been a helpful resource to me as someone who is trying to communicate the ancient truth about the Holy Spirit into a post-modern culture that only thinks of the Holy Spirit as some kind of impersonal force or power that was harnessed by the mystics of old.
As a couple of honorable mentions, I would like to also briefly talk about Jesus Continued by JD Greear and Rediscovering the Holy Spirit by Michael Horton. Horton’s book is easily 10x more academic than JD’s, but both are very helpful in understanding the deity and purpose of the Holy Spirit. I would say that JD’s book is more for someone who is new to the faith and would like more than just a base knowledge of the Holy Spirit, and Horton’s book is for the academic looking for something to mentally wrestle with, but all in all, I highly recommend both and find both of them helpful in articulating the importance of viewing the Holy Spirit correctly through the lens of Scripture.
Of course, there’s been some other sources that I’ve been using online such as WorkingPreacher.org, but those have been my “go to” books for this series, and if you plan on preaching or studying through the book of Acts I hope you’ll find these resources just as useful as I have.