Book Review - Bloodlines: Race, Cross, and the Christian

Image of Bloodlines: Race, Cross, and the Christian
by John Piper
Crossway 2011
Hardcover 304

A few weeks ago, my wife and I went to see the movie “The Help.” I was outraged that human beings were treated with such disdain. I felt like I wanted to go out and march on Selma or something. But, of course, that was back in the 50’s and 60’s long before my birth. I praise the Lord that such wicked segregation does not exist today. We live in a much more enlightened time today. So, the very next day I went off to worship at my overwhelmingly white church followed by a week of work at my overwhelming white Christian school.

I couldn’t help but think of this experience when I finished reading the book Bloodlines: Race, Cross, and the Christian by John Piper. Of course, I am always eager to read anything by Piper. I knew it would be about race, and I was ok with that. After all, I am against racism. I have no problem reading about the sins of others… But the book proved to be façade-shattering from the very first chapter. As Piper describes his early childhood, he shocked me with this statement,

John Piper was a racist

I was, in those years, manifestly racist. As a child and a teenager my attitudes and actions assumed the superiority of my race in almost every way without knowing or wanting to know anybody who was black, except Lucy. Lucy came to our house on Saturdays to help my mother clean. I liked Lucy, but the whole structure of the relationship was demeaning. Those who defend the noble spirit of Southern slaveholders by pointing to how nice they were to their slaves, and how deep the affections were, and how they even attended each other’s personal celebrations, seem to be naïve about what makes a relationship degrading. No, she was not a slave. But the point still stands. Of course, we were nice. Of course, we loved Lucy. Of course, she was invited to my sister’s wedding. As long as she and her family ‘knew their place.’ (p. 33-34)

John Piper was a racist? Really? Yes. I think the phrase “naïve about what makes a relationship degrading” is the key in all of this. We who are in the majority (as opposed to being in the “minority”) often are guilty of just not thinking about race issues.

The majority culture (which for a little while longer is still white) has the luxury of being oblivious to race (which would change in an instant, if we moved to Nigeria). But for minority peoples, race-related issues are a persistent part of consciousness. If these issues are silently ignored in our relationships, the resulting harmony will be shallow and fragile. That is why I am dealing with them in this book. (p. 72)

More than “being nice”

As long as we outwardly treat people of a different skin color nicely, we think we are covered. However, Scripture calls to much higher action. The glory of God will be magnified as people from every tribe, kindred and nation are brought together as one through the cross of Christ. Christ’s redemptive mission was to bring people into the kingdom who once were strangers and aliens. The call for racial reconciliation is more than merely treating people nicely, it is a gospel-driven pursuit that calls for intentional fellowship and burden-bearing. Bearing one another’s burdens, and so fulfilling the law of Christ, requires sensitivity and awareness – not just “being nice.”

Piper leaves no stone unturned here. Not only does he address the problems of structural racism, but he also takes on racist stereotypes being portrayed by thugs and hip-hop moguls who do nothing than promote a culture of anti-intellectualism, immorality and irresponsibility. He makes an excellent point asking what good was it to fight against segregated schools in favor of equal education opportunities if modern African Americans are refusing to learn?

But before we get too focused on these obvious sins, Piper reminds us,

In this progressing collapse of the last forty years, there can be no white or black finger-pointing. We have fallen together. And we who are white should be as keenly aware of the peculiarly white corruption. For example, in the months leading up to the writing of this book, the news has been full of several enormous financial fraud cases that have ruined hundreds of people and hurt thousands. The faces of these swindlers are white. In the last month, two more stories have been in the news of young killers mowing down students in school and random townspeople. What color do I expect to see on the television? A sullen, pale, white face in a dark coat. And together with every other race, whites are killing their babies and wallowing in their porn and taking their illegal drugs and leaving their wives and having babies without marriage. The difference is that when you develop patterns of sin in the majority race, they have no racial connotation. Since majority people don’t think of themselves in terms of race, none of our dysfunctions is viewed as a racial dysfunction. When you are the majority ethnicity, nothing you do is ethnic. It’s just the way it’s done. When you are a minority, everything you do has color. (p. 67)

An absolute must-read section is found in the chapters in which each of the five points of Calvinism are shown to actually lead toward racial reconciliation. In other words, reformed theology does not lead to racism but toward a global unity in Christ.

Toward the end of the book, Piper takes on two very controversial topics: interracial marriage and the curse on Ham that supposedly ensured black slavery. I can recall hearing both of these arguments many times growing up and even in college.

Action not apathy

I have to share one more quote, my favorite in the entire book. The context is a call to action, not merely a tolerant apathy toward these issues. Piper says,

[Apathy] is the inability to be shocked into action by the steady-state lostness and suffering of the world. It is the emptiness that comes from thinking of godliness as the avoidance of doing bad things instead of the aggressive pursuit of doing good things. If that were God’s intention for the godliness of his people, why would Paul say, “All who desire to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted” (2 Tim. 3:12)? People who stay at home and watch clean videos don’t get persecuted. Godliness must mean something more public, more aggressively good. In fact, the aim of the gospel is the creation of people who are passionate for doing good rather than settling for the passionless avoidance of evil. “[Christ] gave himself for us … to purify for himself a people for his own possession who are zealous for good works” (Titus 2:14). The gospel produces people who are created for good works (Eph.2:10), and have a reputation for good works (1 Tim. 5:10), and are rich in good works (1 Tim. 6:18), and present a model of good works (Titus 2:7), and devote themselves to good works (Titus 3:8, 14), and stir each other up to good works (Heb. 10:24).” (p.101)

By time I finished the last chapter, my heart was convicted. I saw within myself a racism that had been covered over by shallow excuses and ignorant denials. God used this book to reveal many things I simply had not thought about before—simply because I never bothered to. I never harbored hate toward those of another ethnicity (and by the way, the discussion in this book about race as opposed to ethnicity is fascinating), but I never bothered to give much thought to any other race but my own. That is selfish, unloving, and—dare I say it—racist.

This short review doesn’t even scratch the surface of the issues covered in this book. But I hope these few words stir up a curiosity and a desire to want to read more and delve into the depths of the issues raised in this book.

[node:bio/kevinjthompson body]

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There are 7 Comments

Dick Dayton's picture

Kevin, I am from the "previous" generation, having been born in Ohio in 1943. We used to read the New York Times each Sunday, and, from time to time, saw pictures of the extreme racism in some parts of the country. On trips to North Carolina for vaction, we saw the "separate but equal" policy. It was definitely separate, but also definitely not equal.

In God's great grace, He has started giving us more people of color and different nationalities in our primarily caucasian suburban ministry. I can look out and see people from Central America, Pakistan, and a number of African countries.

When our Nigerian family joined the church, I was greatly touched by her testimony. She said that, in Africa, they were told that white Americans did not like black people. Then she said, "But, you have loved us." That greatly warmed my heart, and I am thankful for the response of our church family to these brothers and sisters in Christ.

Heaven is going to be a great time of eternal worship, as those from every tribe, tongue, and nation unite voice to praise the Lamb on the Throne ! !

Dick Dayton

Aaron Blumer's picture

EditorAdmin

In general, I'm not for word-decay/concept-decay. Doesn't look to me like Piper was ever a "racist" and I don't think his use of the term that way is helpful to the current confusion. But he's right that relationships can be demeaning in more ways and more subtly than we might think.
It's just that if you call every slightly or moderately unhealthy racial attitude "racism," what word are you going to use for the desire to wipe out or systematically oppress every race but your own?
Racism used to be a strong word. Due to increasing and indiscriminate use, it's becoming a cliche.

It's also a bit odd to suggest that a person is somehow unchristian if he isn't particularly interested in one race or another. I mean, a race is a loose collection of ethnicities... am I a bad Christian if I don't find Norwegians or Swedes all that interesting and don't go out of my way to seek relationships with them? For the most part, I don't even know which of my friends are Swedes, Czechs, Greeks, Pols, Germans or whatever. Isn't it a better direction to take this attitude toward "race"? How about if we just look at people as people and stop emphasizing differences that are increasingly unimportant?

JobK's picture

I suppose that after the failure of the religious right - and yes, it has failed - there is the temptation to move left, to the side that actually appears to be succeeding in enacting their agenda. So, the battles against no-fault divorce, pornography, fornication, drugs, rock music, homosexuality, abortion etc. exit stage right, and get replaced with environmentalism, poverty initiatives, racial reconciliation, and tolerance towards homosexuality among the relevant/new evangelical/young, restless and Reformed crowds. It's the inevitable result of abandoning the gospel for issue advocacy.

The Bible contains no issue advocacy. The Old Testament may seem to, but it only addresses social justice issues in the context of what God commanded Israel to keep in the Sinai covenant. Apart from those, you didn't see the OT addressing such issues as, say, the lack of equal treatment of women by society. If anything, the New Testament does less with social justice than the OT, because it lacks the Sinai covenant theocracy laws as its framework. So, rather than agitating for the freeing of slaves (for example) Peter and Paul instructed slaves to be be subject to their masters, even those who treated them cruelly, in such places as 1 Peter 2:18-25.

Racism in larger society is not an issue for the church. Racism in the church is an issue for the church, but it has to be handled God's way. Not according to the world, who has gotten pretty much everyone - including evangelicals and fundamentalists - into believing that education, psychology, and a bunch of other nonsense that denies the existence of sin is the way to deal with sin. Especially since you aren't exactly going to see a Hollywood movie that presents the sins of - for example - homosexuality, abortion and divorce the same way that "The Help" manipulates the racism issue.

So when I see Piper and his contemporaries issuing "calls to action" after the manner of liberal "theologians", where are such "calls to action" in the Bible? There is Matthew 28:18-20 ... anything else? I reject the idea that because many fundamentalists and evangelicals were segregationists in the past that such is insufficient. The segregationists knew that they were wrong, which is precisely why they resorted to such contortions to justify their doctrines and behavior. The past positions of many theologically conservative Christians on race should be used to insist on MORE sola scriptura, not less, and sola scriptura is not abusing Bible texts to justify "calls for action" like Piper is doing.

I have to propose the opinion that with all the things going on in evangelical Christianity right now, i.e. the attacks on the Trinity doctrine, the charismatic movement, the increasing claims that the Protestant Reformation was wrong etc. a "call to action on race" that takes place decades after all reputable evangelical and fundamental Christian bodies have disavowed racism seems rather odd. At the very least, make the primary thrust of the book a Bible-based, gospel-centered treatise of how the Holy Spirit deals with racism via the sanctification process. And yes, that includes both the giver and taker: the racist and the target (I won't say victim!) of racism. The Bible gives both an equal burden. The unjust person must stop being unjust, and the person experiencing injustice must bear the injustice with not only dignity, but gladness (again see 1 Peter 2:18-25). It is liberal and liberation theology that teaches us to reject texts like Acts 5:41 in favor of cultivating and nursing grievances and resentment that we can use to fuel "calls to action." The other side - using guilt as an impetus for the call to action - is no better.

Suppose that a Christian comes to the conclusion that he or she harbors racist feelings. Oh horror, horror, dismay, dismay, what to do, what to do? How about humbly acknowledging that we aren't perfect after the manner of Romans 3:23-24 and 1 John 1:8-10 and wait for God to perfect us? Here is an irony: the temptation to pretend that we are perfect (whether because we are Christians or JUST BECAUSE) is pridefulness. Rather than come to grips with the imperfections due to our flesh (let alone our pridefulness) we would rather try to cure the imperfections using the arm of flesh, using human methods (even if they are overlaid and glossed over with Bible texts, they are still human methods) instead of acknowledging "I am imperfect, I need God to help me, and God is going to help me in God's way and on God's time, and not in the time and way of the diversity specialist in the HR department at my job!"

It is the same as for people struggling with idolatry, blasphemy, gambling, lust, alcoholism, gluttony, you name it. 1 Corinthians 6:18 said "flee fornication", but it could just as easily have said "flee racism." But whether it is racism, fornication or a host of other sins, we won't flee them unless the Holy Spirit gives us legs to run, the strength to run, and above all the desire to run away from it instead of towards it. And consider the racism versus fornication thing. It was a lot easier to be a racist 60 years ago in a society built on (de facto and de jure) Jim Crow, but a lot harder to indulge in certain forms of sexual immorality. Well, today it is a lot harder to be openly racist, but adultery after the manner of Matthew 5:28 is easily attainable for anyone with a television or computer. And surprise surprise: the evangelical preachers teaching segregation and racism back then have been replaced by http://religion.blogs.cnn.com/2012/01/06/pastors-detailed-book-on-sex-di... ]Mark Driscoll and http://www.nbcdfw.com/news/local/Pastor-Ed-Young-Wife-to-Stream-Time-in-... Ed Young , not to mention the attire and "dancing" seen in not a few contemporary Christian/gospel concerts and videos (the Carrie Prejean/Heidi Montag subculture I guess) pushing sexual immorality.

Just as it always was, the solution to all of these ills is a return to good Bible preaching, teaching and living. For those things there really is no substitute.

Solo Christo, Soli Deo Gloria, Sola Fide, Sola Gratia, Sola Scriptura
http://healtheland.wordpress.com

JobK's picture

Aaron Blumer wrote:
In general, I'm not for word-decay/concept-decay. Doesn't look to me like Piper was ever a "racist" and I don't think his use of the term that way is helpful to the current confusion. But he's right that relationships can be demeaning in more ways and more subtly than we might think.
It's just that if you call every slightly or moderately unhealthy racial attitude "racism," what word are you going to use for the desire to wipe out or systematically oppress every race but your own?
Racism used to be a strong word. Due to increasing and indiscriminate use, it's becoming a cliche.

It's also a bit odd to suggest that a person is somehow unchristian if he isn't particularly interested in one race or another. I mean, a race is a loose collection of ethnicities... am I a bad Christian if I don't find Norwegians or Swedes all that interesting and don't go out of my way to seek relationships with them? For the most part, I don't even know which of my friends are Swedes, Czechs, Greeks, Pols, Germans or whatever. Isn't it a better direction to take this attitude toward "race"? How about if we just look at people as people and stop emphasizing differences that are increasingly unimportant?

"Doesn't look to me like Piper was ever a "racist" and I don't think his use of the term that way is helpful to the current confusion."

So, he is a racist according to his definition but not according to yours. I will let Piper be the judge of his own heart and actions.

"It's just that if you call every slightly or moderately unhealthy racial attitude "racism," what word are you going to use for the desire to wipe out or systematically oppress every race but your own?"

There are degrees of racism just as there are degrees of burns. Sticking your hand on a hot iron isn't as dire as being in a chemical explosion, but it is still a burn. The problem comes when the claim is made that possessing a slightly or moderately unhealthy racial attitude is the same as being a Nazi. Or the claim that the existence of a few Nazis is as bad as having Nazis controlling the government and dominating society.

"Racism used to be a strong word. Due to increasing and indiscriminate use, it's becoming a cliche."

I would propose that it was a stronger word back when the vast majority of the population of this country defended its practice and mentality, and claimed that folks who didn't participate were part of some subversive Soviet plot to weaken and overthrow the country from within. (Seriously ... you had pastors - among others - back in the day claiming that integration was a communist plot to destroy the country.) Racism is a weaker term today precisely because there is so much less of it. Now the fact that racism is now being used in "bait-and-switch" fashion to give those who appropriate it an excuse to talk about other issues (i.e. the alleged need for more social programs) is legitimate.

"It's also a bit odd to suggest that a person is somehow unchristian if he isn't particularly interested in one race or another. I mean, a race is a loose collection of ethnicities... am I a bad Christian if I don't find Norwegians or Swedes all that interesting and don't go out of my way to seek relationships with them? "

According to the good Samaritan parable of Jesus Christ, in a strict sense the answer to that question would be yes. Also, there is the example of the apostle Paul, who worked tirelessly to bring - and keep - the Jewish and Gentile arms of the early church together. Paul demanded that the Gentile Christians find the Jewish Christians interesting, and also the other way around, and suffered many things towards that end. Jesus Christ also healed the daughter of a Sidonian woman, and cast devils out of the man from the Gadarenes, in addition to healing the son of a centurion and the servant of a centurion.

"For the most part, I don't even know which of my friends are Swedes, Czechs, Greeks, Pols, Germans or whatever. Isn't it a better direction to take this attitude toward "race"?"

Well, there are Swedes and Germans on one hand, and folks from Mozambique/South Korea (or for that matter Apache/Sioux ... the so-called native Americans) on the other. Any attitudinal direction that denies reality (i.e. the very high poverty, alcoholism and suicide rates of native Americans, http://goodnewsfl.org/article/full_story/5739 ]and the fact that only about 5% of native Americans are Christian because they associate Christianity with the folks who slaughtered them and stole their land ) is not superior.

"How about if we just look at people as people and stop emphasizing differences that are increasingly unimportant?"

That would make fulfilling the great commission kind of difficult, wouldn't it? Even in the earliest days of the church, the Holy Spirit saw fit to choose Peter, a Jew from Galilee, as the leader of the mission to the Jews, and Paul, a diaspora Jew and Roman citizen, as the leader of the mission to the Gentiles. Again, taking an approach that avoids reality is no superior than the manipulation of the racism issue.

Don't get me wrong, as you can probably tell from my own comment above, I am also skeptical of Piper's book. But "redefining terms to make them more helpful" is no better than Piper's apparent call to emulate the mentality of liberal civil rights activists. Example: the aforementioned Native Americans, who just might not want to be bothered with talk about our nation's glorious Christian origins (which came entirely at their expense) and traditions for example.

Solo Christo, Soli Deo Gloria, Sola Fide, Sola Gratia, Sola Scriptura
http://healtheland.wordpress.com

JD Miller's picture

I wrote an article about the race vs culture issue a couple of years ago. I thought I would pass it along because it seems to fit with some of the comments above. The version below was condensed for the local paper, but the full version can be found at http://bancroftbaptist.blogspot.com/2009/03/ive-got-culture-agri-culture...

Friday, March 12, 2010
Do We Have a Good Culture?
The following is a condensed revision of an earlier article:

Too often people form their values based on their culture. The problem with such an approach is that it allows culture to determine values rather than God.
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As we consider the subject of cultural relativism, is it acceptable to suggest that some cultures are morally inferior to others? For example, the Children of Israel were warned about a cultural practice of their neighbors the Ammonites who sacrificed their children to the false god Molech by burning them in fire. “And thou shalt not let any of thy seed pass through the fire to Molech, neither shalt thou profane the name of thy God: I am the LORD.” Leviticus 18:21. Few would disagree that the culture of child sacrifice is evil.
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The example of the Ammonites is not very controversial, for I do not know of any people who still worship Molech. Therefore I can use that example and not ruffle too many feathers.
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What about a culture that encourages its children to strap bombs to their bodies and blow themselves up in crowded public areas with the purpose of killing as many people as possible? What about a culture that prides itself in honor killings of relatives who they feel have disgraced their families? From a Biblical perspective, not only must I condemn the religious beliefs of Islam, but also their culture of violence. Some would call me intolerant for such a statement, but what is more intolerant, writing about those we disagree with or killing them? A culture of intolerance that leads to murder is something we all must be concerned about.
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I am saddened that the debate over culture often leads instead to a debate over race. Many Muslims are Arabs, but we must not come to the conclusion that all Arabs are more evil than anyone else. The issue is not their race, but what values they embrace.
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Many of those same issues come up when we examine the values of some of our inner city cultures in this county. For example, a culture that encourages drug use, out of wedlock births, and violence should be spoken against. Sadly, instead of speaking against such a culture, many speak against a race. These behaviors are wrong no matter which races are involved in them. Further, not every person of a particular race does such things, and it is wrong to imply that they do.
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At the same time, it would be just as wrong to ignore the sinful characteristics of a culture just because of a fear of offending a certain demographic within our society. What I am suggesting is judging a “culture” rather than a race by the content of its character, not by the color of its skin.
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What about the culture of our own area. It is easy to pride ourselves in our small town values, yet cultural relativism has crept in here as well. For example, we live in a culture where premarital sex (fornication) is accepted. We live in a culture where our possessions have become our gods. We live in a culture were divorce and adultery are all too frequent. We live in a culture where we covet and want whatever someone else has. We live in a culture where it is not uncommon for our citizens to get drunk.
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1 Corinthians 6:9-10 says, “Know ye not that the unrighteous shall not inherit the kingdom of God? Be not deceived: neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor effeminate, nor abusers of themselves with mankind, Nor thieves, nor covetous, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor extortioners, shall inherit the kingdom of God.”
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It is time for people to reject their cultures and embrace God.
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“Jesus saith unto him, I am the way, the truth, and the life: no man cometh unto the Father, but by me.” John 14:6
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“I tell you, Nay: but, except ye repent, ye shall all likewise perish.” Luke 13:3.

Aaron Blumer's picture

EditorAdmin

A lot of post to read on this...

I do agree that there can be degrees of racism. Also agree that Scripture's "calls to action" are not generally of the nature that many think.

We have to be careful not to fall into reductionism, though. What's in the Word has implications and applications for the problems we face, social and political as well as "moral" (though social and political are usually also moral). So, though there are not many socio-political "calls to action," there are plenty of calls to live holy, compassionate, exemplary lives... and these necessarily imply some calls to action in response to the problems around us.

Also agree that there is a major complication in culture vs. race. Nowadays, you can't generalize negatively about certain cultural phenomena without someone calling you a racist... as though pigmentation or the presence/absence of http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Epicanthic_fold ]epicanthic folds is somehow intertwined with a culture.
Of course, cultures are intertwined with ethnicities and histories and languages, but these have no intrinsic link to physical characteristics. So it's a bit odd how we tend to think about these things.

Joel Shaffer's picture

Quote:
where are such "calls to action" in the Bible?

I would say that our call to action in addressing racism comes from Jesus himself.

Quote:
25 On one occasion an expert in the law stood up to test Jesus. “Teacher,” he asked, “what must I do to inherit eternal life?”
26 “What is written in the Law?” he replied. “How do you read it?”

27 He answered, “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind’[a ]; and, ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’

28 “You have answered correctly,” Jesus replied. “Do this and you will live.”

29 But he wanted to justify himself, so he asked Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?”

30 In reply Jesus said: “A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, when he was attacked by robbers. They stripped him of his clothes, beat him and went away, leaving him half dead. 31 A priest happened to be going down the same road, and when he saw the man, he passed by on the other side. 32 So too, a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side. 33 But a Samaritan, as he traveled, came where the man was; and when he saw him, he took pity on him. 34 He went to him and bandaged his wounds, pouring on oil and wine. Then he put the man on his own donkey, brought him to an inn and took care of him. 35 The next day he took out two denarii[c ] and gave them to the innkeeper. ‘Look after him,’ he said, ‘and when I return, I will reimburse you for any extra expense you may have.’

36 “Which of these three do you think was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of robbers?”

37 The expert in the law replied, “The one who had mercy on him.”

Jesus told him, “Go and do likewise.”

Jesus making the Samaritan the hero of the story intended to shock his audience and confront the racial prejudice that Jewish people had towards the Samaritans. So I'd say that "Loving Your neighbor as yourself (doing like the good Samaritan that crossed ethnic barriers to help the ethnic person you'd never associate with in need) would constitute as a call to action when it comes to racism.

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