Check out the videos below of a recent event held at Tim Keller’s Redeemer Presbyterian Church in NYC. The talks given by John Piper, Tim Keller, and Anthony Bradley are some of the best discussions that I’ve heard on the issues of race relations, social justice, and how they fit under the umbrella of Christian doctrine and theology.
The most impressive thing about the event, I feel, was the level of honest dialogue that is beginning to take place on real issues. Typically, in Christian circles the topic of race and race relations has centered around racial reconciliation. While that topic is still pertinent and needed it’s good to see the discussion going beyond the idea of reconciling and is crossing over into more practical discussions about change. It’s great to see people opening up and willing to discuss the often subtle and nuanced complexities of race problems.
I’m not really interested in giving a critique of each talk, but I’ll point out below what were the highlights for me in each talk.
I’ve listened to good number of Piper’s sermons on race relations, and he’s known for addressing the issue of race in his church around holidays like MLK Jr, or throughout black history month. What really caught my attention was his take on the root cause of racism. Around the 19 minute mark he summarizes it so well by saying: “Humans are in rebellion against God. That’s where that comes from. Exhalting oursleves over against our maker and of course if over against our maker, over against each other. That’s a given. Anybody who would have the audacity not to submit to the King of Kings and Lord of Lords would not have any problem putting you down.We find our pleasure in self exhaltation, being made much of – ‘If I have to use my ethnicity to do that, thank you very much’, I will do it….”
I love it when people are able to take more complex issues and break them down to their simplest elements. Piper did just that in explaining the root cause of racism. Racism, being the thought or belief that one’s race is superior to another. The habitual practice of racism actually requires that someone values themselves even above God. While plenty of people who are guilty of being racists or harbor feelings of hatred toward any people group would take offense to that charge, the bible supports it. “If anyone says, “I love God,” yet hates his brother, he is a liar. For anyone who does not love his brother, whom he has seen, cannot love God, whom he has not seen.” 1 John 4:20
Those who attempt to find an out, or a loop hole in the scripture by claiming that “brother” strictly means a fellow Christian brother and not others, should consider the following……… Some Christian commentators attribute this charge given by John as intended for a Jewish audience regarding their hatred toward the Gentiles. Also, we must consider the tougher texts in the New Testament delivered by Christ: “43 “You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor[a] and hate your enemy.’ 44 But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, 45 that you may be children of your Father in heaven. He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. 46 If you love those who love you, what reward will you get? Are not even the tax collectors doing that? 47 And if you greet only your own people, what are you doing more than others? Do not even pagans do that? 48 Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.” Matthew 5:43-48
If we were to put verse 47 into modern day context, we could say the following. If we all head out to church on Sundays with the intention to be around people that look like us, talk like us, and live culturally like us, in hopes that we do not have to interact with people who do not look like us, talk like us, and live like us, then what makes us so different from the world?
I applaud Tim Keller for bravely walking into the direct and resistant headwinds of the “social gospel”. He attempts to tackle systematic injustice in a very honest, and straightforward way, and what the bible has to say about our personal responsibility of enabling systematic oppression. The term “social gospel” has become a bogeyman of sorts with conservative evangelical Christians. Unfortunately, much of the resistance comes from a skewed picture framed by politicians and secular political radio and TV hosts. They’ve attempted, with a broad brush stroke, to paint any message of the gospel that extends beyond the atoning work of Christ on the cross, and into issues like feeding the hungry, caring for widows, the homeless, or standing up for issues of social justice as antithetical to the gospel. However, this couldn’t be further from the truth of the bible (think Isaiah, Amos, Proverbs, Psalms, Deuteronomy, James, Acts, etc..). This often truncated view of Jesus and the bible is largely a political message that’s slowly but surely become intertwined with their Christian worldview. Luckily, for people like John Piper and Tim Keller, they overcame this present day stumbling block. A stumbling block only overcome by maintaining a worldview shaped by the bible, which has the ability to polarize, filter out, and expose the difference between a cultural perspective and a biblical perspective. Keller is right, in that all cultures have blind spots shaped by personal experiences (from previous sermons). Those cultural experiences often shape our worldview and in our attempt to justify our way of life, attitude, or mentality we often compromise biblical teachings for personal preferences.
Tim Keller did a great job of using modern examples to describe the systematic injustice of corporate greed. One story that he told which I felt best described his point was around the 40 minute mark. He recounts the story of a car dealer who’s bargaining practices were studied. The study revealed that men (black and white) were best at bargaining for lower prices on vehicles, and African American females were the worst. As a result, it was determined that African American females were basically subsidizing the purchase of lower priced vehicles for men. As Keller points out, no one was intentionally setting out to sell higher priced vehicles to women of color, but in the end that’s exactly what was happening. Keller went on to state the following very insightful point: “There’s two things you can do. On the one hand you can say, because we’re not deliberately trying to hurt African American women and we make better profits this way, we have no responsibility. But the owner, a Christian man, said we do, and he changed the model, the whole approach. His own profits have gone down, but he says it’s the only way to be just.” Keller goes on to challenge the audience by asking – Do you have the eyes to see systemic evil?
His point is brilliant. Many Westernized Christian’s knee-jerk response would be – “That’s capitalism, why should the owner have to apologize for that”? Whereas, a person with a true Christian worldview asks first is this practice just? Why is that first response more biblical? Proverbs 11:1 states: “A false balance is abomination to the LORD: but a just weight is his delight.” Modern day translation: God loves fair business practices, but finds the opposite as an abomination. It’s understandable why verses like Proverbs 11:1 are not often preached about on Sundays in light of our current economic state, where corporate profits are skyrocketing, often times at the expense of others, or by means of unjust practices, . Our cultural frame of reference makes biblical topics like that into huge elephants in the room that no one is willing to acknowledge.
Anthony Bradley, did a great job of summarizing the previous messages of Piper and Keller. Using his own personal experiences to reflect on their talks he highlighted their main points with real world experience from a minority perspective. The one point that he made, which I believe is so true, is that the message of racial reconciliation and bridge building is not often enough framed in Jesus’ message of love. I too have noticed this mysterious oversight in many talks about race and race relations. Why would people speak on race relations yet leave out one of the most fundamental and essential messages of Christ??? I have a theory. I honestly believe that it’s answered by Piper in the Q&A session. At one point in the Q&A session Piper challenges Bradley, Keller, and the audience to not only be sympathetic, but patient with people who may be “first time hearers” of a racial reconciliation and bridge building message. Bradley seemed receptive to Piper’s point about being sympathetic to people who are not yet beyond first base, but if I had to guess he probably felt as if the love message alone, which forms the very bedrock of what it means to be a Christian should be a sufficient reason in explaining why racism and Christianity are literally incompatible. I’ve always been perplexed by radical or hateful “Christian” groups that claim the title Christian.
For that very reason, I believe that this was Anthony Bradley’s point of bring up the love message of Jesus. Hating any group of people or not associating with a group of people because you believe that you are superior is SIN. Unfortunately, the topic of “racism” is not preached as sinful in nature, but more often as a “moral wrong”. Almost as if it’s unethical.
I mentioned earlier that I had a theory on why race relations is often not framed in Jesus’ love message. The church has often fallen victim to the falsehood of prioritizing sins. Sin A is greater than Sin B, is greater that Sin C, is greater than Sin D. Okay no more sugarcoating, let me cut straight to the chase……… If I had to rank sins in America, in terms of how the average American thinks, then this would be my rough draft of their order:
Abortion is worse than Homosexuality (the practice of), is worse than Murder, is worse than Adultery, is worse than Stealing, is worse than Cheating, is worse than Gluttony, is worse than unfair business practices, is worse than Racism…….. Sin ranking is culturally biased. Although sin has no cultural boundaries, the standard by which we rank them is based on a combination of cultural norms and the most common idols that reside in the majority of households in a society. For instance, if a strong emphasis in a society is placed on the family, life/material success, and personal happiness then abortion may rank at the top of the list as possibly the worst sin. If personal life success and material wealth are common households idols then gluttony, personal giving/sacrifice and cheating may rank as lesser sins. On the contrary, if material wealth was shunned in a society (think Mennonites), then unfair business practices and gluttony may rank high on the list of sins. Among these cultural norms, racism, has a relatively long and arduous background in American history. For centuries systematic oppression by way of the African Slave trade formed a cultural norm in America and many other societies. At that time, the bible was even used to justify slavery and systematic oppression. The way of life was justified by a perspective of racial superiority (racism). What I’m getting at is that racism has often ranked low in American society as a sin. It was deemed morally wrong rather sinful. Shameful, rather than unrighteous. “A stain on human history”, rather than an grievous evil (in it’s un-biblical form). That whitewashed version of truth, to this very day, enables those with an unrepentant heart from facing truth. Unfortunately, that reality hasn’t quite caught up to the pulpit in America. I believe that conversations like this are creating this much needed change. Fortunately, we have a much greater hope. The love message of Jesus alone has the ability to set the captives free (John 8:32).
Martin Luther King Jr., in his autobiography explained how he believed that love was the most powerful force in the world and was a principle that stands “at the center of the cosmos.” . He was quoted as saying that “Love is the only force capable of transforming enemy into a friend.” No, that statement wasn’t Eastern Mysticism as some ultra-religious Christians like to claim, or an “Oprah-ism”. I’m obviously generalizing here, but it’s likely that few who believe those things about King have ever read his sermons or studied what he believed, but that topic for another blog post…….
King’s belief about the love message of Christ came directly from the bible. Jesus said that the all of the Laws and prophets hang on these two commandments: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’[c] 38 This is the first and greatest commandment. 39 And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.” Matthew 22:37 If we hold this as true, then perhaps the greatest force in the world is love (short of God himself) because God is love.
1 John 4:
7 Dear friends, let us love one another, for love comes from God. Everyone who loves has been born of God and knows God. 8 Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love. 9 This is how God showed his love among us: He sent his one and only Son into the world that we might live through him. 10 This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins. 11 Dear friends, since God so loved us, we also ought to love one another. 12 No one has ever seen God; but if we love one another, God lives in us and his love is made complete in us.
Race and the Christian:
Race and the Christian: Q&A Session