Racial Reconciliation, the Gospel, and the Church

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By Jarvis J. Williams - Posted at 9Marks:

The relationship between the gospel and racial reconciliation has been a contested topic among evangelicals of late.

Some Christians propose that the gospel and gospel action can solve the current racial divide in the church. I (an African-American) make this point in a book called One New Man, and biblical scholars Kenneth Mathews (European-American) and Sydney Park (Asian-American) make a similar point in The Post Racial Church.

However, there is hardly a Christian consensus regarding the church’s role in the work of racial reconciliation.

A SOCIAL ISSUE OR A GOSPEL ISSUE?


Michael Emerson and Christian Smith observe in Divided by Faith (Oxford, 2000) that evangelical Christians have traditionally viewed racial reconciliation and matters of race as a “social issue” instead of a “gospel issue.”

One white Southern Baptist pastor illustrates the point in his 2014 article “I Don’t Understand the Evangelical Response to Ferguson,” where he argues that racial reconciliation is a social issue instead of a gospel issue. Assuming the modern social construct of race, he strongly criticizes fellow evangelicals for suggesting, in light of the sad events in Ferguson, Missouri, that the Christian gospel speaks to issues of race and racial reconciliation.

To be sure, we should be extremely careful about referring to various issues as “gospel issues,” as D. A. Carson has observed. But Carson continues,

Certainly the majority of Christians in America today would happily aver that good race relations are a gospel issue. They might point out that God’s saving purpose is to draw to himself, through the cross, men and women from every tongue and tribe and people and nation; that the church is one new humanity, made up of Jew and Gentile; that Paul tells Philemon to treat his slave Onesimus as his brother, as the apostle himself; that this trajectory starts at creation, with all men and women being made in the image of God, and finds its anticipation in the promise to Abraham that in his seed all the nations of the earth will be blessed. Moreover, the salvation secured by Christ in the gospel is more comprehensive than justification alone: it brings repentance, wholeness, love for brothers and sisters in the Christian community. But the sad fact remains that not all Christians have always viewed race relations within the church as a gospel issue.
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