4 Distinctives of a Christian View of Race

Reposted from The Cripplegate.

As #BlackLivesMatter, White-Fragility, and White-Privilege become flash points in our society, and as entire organizations have grown up around the concept of “racial reconciliation” it is critical to remember that Christians should think differently than the world on the topic of race.

The world is fully embroiled in this issue. The phrase “Black Lives Matter” gets painted on streets, while others explain why they reject the organization. The problematic book “White-Fragility” becomes a best-seller, but there are enough secular take-downs of the book that its effect seems to be sufficiently blunted (although I’m sure evangelicals—often a year-late to cultural parties—will still entertain it for a while).

I don’t know if this is true for all pastors, but I have had more conversations and emails on race than I can recall having on any other contemporary issue. It seems like daily I am asked about my understanding of race and racial reconciliation within the church.

While the concept of race is increasingly used as a framework through which people understand society, it is imperative that believers remember that the Christian understanding of this issue is fundamentally different from the world’s. A distinctly Christian view on race is critical because it brings clarity to our thinking about conflict in our world, and it brings hope to individuals as they seek to live in peace.

And a Christian view of race is unique—it makes us stand apart from the evolutionary thinking that has gripped most of the world on this issue, and it separates us from the cultural Marxism that has forced its way into America’s current racial dynamics.

Here are four distinctions within the Christian view of race:

1. Race is a biological myth.

The common thread running through our world’s racial divisions is the myth that race exists as a biological reality in any meaningful way. Christians believe (or at least they should believe) that every human descends from Adam and Eve. Every person is a direct descendent of Noah. We cherish the reality that we are all “from one blood” (Acts 17:26).

There really is no biological basis for the concept of race. It goes against logic, science, history, and the Bible. It is a fiction invented to deprive others of rights and to justify sinful abuses of mankind.

I call this a Christian distinctive, but in God’s providence there are now also secular scientists that are saying that same thing. Here is a link to a National Geographic article titled “There’s no Scientific Basis for Race: It’s a Made-up Label.” The article points out that there are zero genetic differences between the so-called races. While language, cultural, and ethnic differences obviously exist in the world, they are not biological as the concept of “race” implies.

To the modern biologists and anthropologists that are finally stating the obvious, the Christian says, “welcome to the party.” We have been decrying race as an artificial concept ever since Darwin latched on to it in an attempt to buttress evolution. Spurgeon preached against Darwin’s evolutionary concepts, often rooting his objections in the notion that we are all one-blood (and occasionally with a stuffed gorilla joining him at his pulpit as a prop). I’m not saying that every Christian pastor has always rejected the concept of race—just as not every biologist has embraced evolution!—rather that the rejection of evolution along with race has long been a staple of evangelical anthropology.

Here is Latasha Morrison explaining why this is important:

Despite the Bible’s recognition of differing ethnic groups, there is no indication of race. Race, as we know it, is a political and social construct created by man for the purpose of asserting power and maintaining a hierarchy. When we believe the lies embedded with racial hierarchies, reconciliation becomes impossible. (Be the Bridge, 23-24.)

If you believe people are divided into racial categories by biological realities then you are going to end up believing in innate differences between the races, and this in turn leads to the impossibility of any kind of racial harmony (after all, if the differences are biological, then they become immune from spiritual experience). This leads to racial segregation, superiority, animosity, and every manner of hatred from holocausts to discrimination.

This is why the Christian belief that we descend from Adam and Eve matters. If we are all descendants of that same couple, then we are all in the image of God. If we are all descendants of Noah, then we have all been given dominion over the earth. We are all related. There may be differences between people, but they are all family differences.

2. Racism exists because sin exists.

Christians are able to identify the moral depravity behind racism. People are in sinful and societies (made up of sinful people) are likewise sinful. People invent new ways to hate God and each other. In the US, our country has gone through slavery, segregation, Jim Crow, housing restrictions, and all manner of racial discrimination.

Behind all of these injustices is the reality of sin. Sin presents itself in three forms—the devil, the flesh, and the world. There is the cosmic reality of sin which originated with the devil—this is the hatred of God. There is the personal manifestation of sin—this is the flesh, seen as one person hates another. Then there is the worldly systems of sin, seen as cultures put those sinful principles into practice at the societal level. But behind it all is sin. At its root, the problem isn’t sociological, but spiritual.

I’ve encountered some who have a hard time balancing these first two distinctive (race is a fiction, and racism exists). If race doesn’t exist as a biological reality, then how can racism? But the existence of racism doesn’t hinge on the existence of meaningful racial distinctions. Racism is real because sin is real. At its core, the lie behind race is not a scientific lie, or a biological lie, but it is a demonic lie. It is a denial of the Bible’s authority, and a rejection of the image of God in man.

Of course the evolutionary categorization of people leads to sinful expressions of those categories. One of these days evolution will find itself discarded into the same junk drawer as the flat earth. When that happens, don’t be surprised if its largest contribution to human history will have been a pseudo-scientific justification for racism.

3. There is forgiveness for racism in the gospel.

The fact that racism is primarily a sin problem is bad news, but it turns out to be good news because it means that the good news can offer forgiveness and restoration.

People can have their sins forgiven and their hearts changed. The racist can have his sins washed away. The animosity that exists in the flesh can be circumcised, and there can then be unity between people of different ethnicities in the church, as they share fellowship in Christ.

And you, who were dead in your trespasses and the uncircumcision of your flesh, God made alive together with him, having forgiven us all our trespasses, by canceling the record of debt that stood against us with its legal demands. This he set aside, nailing it to the cross. (Colossians 2:13-14)

The world realizes just how hopeless racial division can be. But the church does not. The church always holds onto hope, because as long as something is a sin problem, it is a problem that can be nailed to the cross of Christ.

Thus the church really does exist as an evangelistic enterprise. Many people discount this with trite comments like “’Just Preach The Gospel’ doesn’t work, and the church should instead be advocating political solutions in society.” I disagree. “Just Preach the Gospel” can sound like a minimalistic phrase, but it has maximum potential. We understand that the world will always be marked sinful division, wars, and rumors of wars. We can’t change that. Christians are a small flock on a narrow road. We don’t turn the tide of elections (regardless of what lies about exit pols say), and we don’t set out to restructure society.

We do set out to share the gospel with sinners, and watch God do his work in human hearts. But this is not an excuse for turning a blind eye to injustice because…

4. These distinctives reveal the church as an example of true reconciliation.

Follow the logic:

  • If we are all one race, and
  • if racism exists as a sin problem but
  • it is forgiven at the cross,
  • then believers have a new fellowship that transcends cultural and ethnic divisions.

We don’t pursue “racial reconciliation” as a goal in and of itself. In fact, “racial reconciliation” is a very problematic term —it is a mix of an unbiblical concept with a biblical mandate, united by a hyphen. Instead, we understand that as we are united to Christ through faith the gospel, we are united to each other in the church.

This union is an ontological reality. Right now, there is unity in the church, because the same Spirit indwells every believer. Whether you go to a multi-ethnic church, a predominately white or black or Filipino church, it doesn’t matter: you already are reconciled to God and those other believers in other churches that don’t look like you are already reconciled to the same God as you. You are one with them, whether you like it or not.

But you should like it, because where there is division in the church, there is sin. Racism in the church would represent a denial of the finished work of Christ on the cross and a denial of the transformative power of the Holy Spirit. This is why if you are at the Lord’s table and you have something against your brother, you are to go and be reconciled before taking communion (Matthew 5:23-24; Luke 17:3-4; 1 Corinthians 1:10, 11:18-20).

As Bryan Lorrits pointed out in his book A Cross Shaped Gospel, there are both vertical and horizontal elements of the gospel. But there can be no horizontal effects—no real reconciliation between people—without first a vertical reconciliation with God. But as true as the two beams on the cross, there will be a change in your relationships with others when you come to faith in Christ. True reconciliation always begins through the cross, and then our faith will transform our relationships with each other.

This view of life in the church offers hope. It guards us from the despair of the world, which can’t bear to break itself away from identity politics rooted in evolutionary thinking. The world will never be able to really confront the roots of racism, because it fails to understand the nature of sin. But Christians do, and this understanding motivates us to evangelism. Believing Acts 17:26 helps us reckon with reality, and reminds us that as much as racism exists, it does so because sin exists. This returns us to hope, because there is true union at /the cross, where we are all sinners, but we can all be forgiven.

Jesse Johnson bio


Jesse is the Teaching Pastor at Immanuel Bible Church in Springfield, VA. He also leads The Master’s Seminary Washington DC location.

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josh p's picture

Very good article thank you. This is an important time for Christians to think biblically about race.

Aaron Blumer's picture

EditorAdmin

We're all one race, one blood, but we're not all one ethnicity, and nations/coalitions of nations, mostly white, have oppressed other groups of nations, that mostly aren't white. (But the argument that Muslim nations have enslaved more humans over the centuries than Europeans ever did is also true, as far as I can tell.... but the oppression didn't align with skin color.)

So there is healing that needs to happen between predominantly white ethnicities and predominantly darker skinned ethnicities. We can't dismiss it all under the banner of "race isn't really a thing because we're all human." There's that ethnic/meta-ethnic history. And that's what most people mean by "race" and "racism."

But I agree with Jesse that getting the problem right starts with seeing how we're all alike before we start looking at how we're different.

The current dynamic is exactly backwards of that. Nobody gets around to talking about how alike we all are anymore. And if you say "all lives matter," it's seen, at least by some, as racist... which is bizarre. How can saying "Hey, we're equal. I affirm that" be racist? But there's a radical element that thinks there has to be a cultural battle in which "whiteness" is defeated... and in that battle you're either for one side or the other. I don't want to call this a new racism, but it's certainly fueling racial division rather than harmony. And if "whiteness" is supposed to be defeated how can that not be racist?

I miss the days when the message against racism was, "We're really all the same--all humans. Let's do a better job of acting like it." If everybody truly accepted that, there would be no more racism. This latest phase is regressive, not progressive.

Views expressed are always my own and not my employer's, my church's, my family's, my neighbors', or my pets'. The house plants have authorized me to speak for them, however, and they always agree with me.

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