As a Christian, preacher, American, and Black man, I am amazed at how quickly we can move away from the radical essence of the Gospel, placing it in a benign and opaque category. Under every context, next to every sin and vice, the power of the Gospel is proclaimed. Paul said to the church at Rome, “For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek” (Romans 1:16 ESV). The Gospel is the power of God and delivers salvation, emancipation, and liberation to all that embrace and believe. The Gospel is the euangelion, the good news of Jesus Christ, and the powerful announcement of His ability to save.
The Gospel is the central message of the sacrificial cross. It is the redemptive prophetic message of power, possessing the dynamis to resurrect, split the veil (Matthew 27:51), and crush what is called the “middle wall of partition,” “dividing wall of hostility,” or “wall of hatred” (Ephesians 2:14). For whatever reason (it seems), when it comes to the Gospel of Jesus Christ in America and addressing the present wall of hatred and racism, the radical essence of the Gospel is no longer the answer. Instead of using the force of the euangelion to critique and resolve race, racism, and race-relations in America, the concepts are explained away as unimportant, resolved, mythic, hyperbolic, a distraction, or the attack of white people.
When the Christians in Galatia were being manipulated into embracing a false narrative and gospel, the power/dynamis (dynamite) of the Gospel of Christ was the answer. Paul used the cross and the Gospel’s centrality to course-correct a group within the ecclesia that Judaizers decentered in Galatia. Pauline love for Christ and the Gospel was the source of his love to fight for maintaining the integrity of the Gospel and Christian behavior. Paul said to the Galatian Christians, “I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting him who called you in the grace of Christ and are turning to a different gospel—not that there is another one, but there are some who trouble you and want to distort the gospel of Christ” (Galatians 1:6-7 ESV).
Addressing an issue affecting the church, Paul used the Gospel. He was thaumazō (amazed, astonished, astounded, shocked, and surprised). Paul was perplexed by how quickly many of the Christians in Galatia moved away from the purity and supreme power of the Gospel of Christ. Paul went on to say, “…Even if we or an angel from heaven should preach to you a gospel contrary to the one we preached to you, let him be accursed. As we have said before, so now I say again: If anyone is preaching to you a gospel contrary to the one you received, let him be accursed” (Galatians 1:8-9 ESV). To further reveal the appalled disposition of Paul, he said to the Galatian Christians, “You foolish Galatians! Who has bewitched you? Before your very eyes Jesus Christ was clearly portrayed as crucified” (Galatians 3:1 NIV).
Because of the purity of the Gospel, when Paul noticed Peter’s prejudicial behavior, he addressed him directly. It was important for Paul to share this encounter with the Galatian Christians; he did not conceal the episode. Paul said about Peter: “…I opposed him to his face, because he stood condemned” (Galatians 2:11). The hypocritical actions of Peter resulted in others following his behavior. The text says, “And the rest of the Jews acted hypocritically along with him, so that even Barnabas was led astray by their hypocrisy” (Galatians 2:13 ESV).
Race is a socialized construct, and though under development, it was not extant during biblical times. Despite the absence of an explicit racial critique in the Scriptures, race is in full bloom today and has been since at least the 17th-century. Regardless of what Donald Trump said when he was in office about The 1619 Project and his failed attempt to introduce the 1776 Commission, America was built and based on racism, white supremacy, and white superiority. The Gospel has a response to that American stain. Race and racism did not exist in the first-century when inspired writers proclaimed the theology of God. Still, the power of the Gospel can address any malignant, racial, oppressive, discriminatory, or unjust season, situation, condition, or epoch.
Some insert a formation of the Gospel, which is really that other gospel Paul discussed in Galatians 1:6-7. They use their version of the gospel to pacify and squelch efforts that relate to racial justice. For them, the gospel is an exercise in docility toward those that present with a righteous and forthright attitude in pursuit of justice. Slyly, they equate and locate peace, love, and silence as the heart of the gospel. Facing racial justice efforts in America, they are related with those of the Jim Crow and Civil Rights era, deemed gradualist. They exclaim that because your citizenship is in America, all should be thankful without critique, but they have not yet reconciled Galatians 3:23-28, and what it means for all Christians to exist under a heavenly Kingdom citizenship. Galatians 3:28 is why we must continue to fight; it is not the biblical text that informs us that the earthly fight is over.
Paul said to the Galatians, “Let me ask you only this: Did you receive the Spirit by works of the law or by hearing with faith? Are you so foolish? Having begun by the Spirit, are you now being perfected by the flesh?” (Galatians 3:2-3 ESV). Theologically, this passage is explosive and transfigurative. Paul was mortified—the Galatian Christians were equipped, empowered, and reborn of the Holy Spirit—but then attempted to improve upon the Gospel through physical or fleshly means. They existed in spiritual freedom/liberty and salvation (Galatians 2:4), but were seduced back into religious incarceration. Any kind of theology or epistemic that attempts to ignore freedom, oppression, trauma, injustice, racism, etc., relegating people consciously or unconsciously to a subordinate class or status is denying the Gospel and are attempting to be perfected by the flesh. Galatians 3:28 calls for Christians to see each other the way God sees us. Our views on anthropology inform our theology and treatment of humanity.
Through the guise and prism of injustice, an honest and sincere racial critique of America does not equal hate; only a hegemon could take such an arrogantly privileged position. The refusal to listen to the racial and justice critique reeks of an attempt to preserve the sick American purity of historical white male dominance and the white male image as supreme. Only God is above critique. The fight for justice is rooted in the love, energy, and power of the Gospel. Many castigate and label Christians concerned about justice as confused, unbiblical, secular, deceived, and worthy of being marked. The reverse is true, as it was with Christ; many saints are concerned about the marginalized, oppressed, and racially disempowered because it was the earthly messianic ethos of Christ (Luke 4:18-20). Any Christian that opines racism and injustice as a thing of the past and a current distraction to the movement of the Gospel has been deceived and is metaphorically like the woman of Babylon, “…Drunk with the blood of the saints, and with the blood of the witnesses of Jesus” (Revelation 17:6 NASB). Be careful in categorizing those who have a love for justice and righteousness because of their love for God.
Before moving into the radical essence of the Gospel and why the church has an unapologetic responsibility to center it in the racial justice enigma, let me share a brief word regarding individualism and collectivism. Identity politics, tribalism, groupthink, etc., are vilified because they travel along thematic lines, trends, and patterns. Within many cultures outside America—belonging to, loving, acting, and caring for the group is cherished. The South African proverb of Ubuntu is “I am because we are.” The same Christian groups that vilify people for tribalism or a village mentality, I would imagine, struggle to understand the culture and koinōnia of the first-century church that had all things in common. Paul urged the Philippian church to have commonality in their spiritual psychology and behavior toward each other. He said: “Let each of you look out not only for his interests, but also for the interests of others. Let this mind be in you which was also in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 2:4-5 NKJV).
Collectivist thought is shunned in America because it quickly identifies racism and white supremacy as a theme and pattern. Thus, if everything could be viewed through the actions of individuals and not groups, systemic patterns cannot be named, recognized, charged, or addressed. That kind of rationalizing is beneficial for any power-structure with a history of racial terror, marginalization, violence, and financial wealth. As my wife, Tonya, said, “If you ignore the elephant in the room, it allows for other animals to enter.” Ignoring group patterns and actions, especially along racial lines, benefits the societal elite and empire. Lastly, the same groups that call for a view of individualism have no problem denouncing the Black community for abortions and Black-on-Black homicide.
The Radical Gospel Contextualized
The Gospel has an answer for every condition, but somehow it has better things to do when assessing the maneuverings of race and racism in America. The apostles always contextually positioned the Gospel against anything that stood in the way of its message and integrity. The prophetic Gospel is the same wherever it is exclaimed, but what it stands against from region-to-region and place-to-place is often different. Let me explain.
Sin is always the element that stands against the Gospel, but how that sin or aversion manifests informs the sermon’s message or teaching to the contextualized setting. When Peter preached his first sermon, introducing the world to an invitation to join or be added to the body of Christ, he knew he had to deal with what stood within and against the Hebrew mind and epistemic. To prime the audience for what they needed to receive God’s inspired revelation, he did not talk about food, clothing, education, marriage, finances, or children. Inspired by the Holy Spirit, Peter knew he would have to deal with their Hebrew religiosity and supremacy in the face and embrace of a radical Messianic Christ. So what did he do? He juxtaposed the inferior life of king David to the superior life of King Christ. As a Hebrew, Peter knew the only chance the people had of embracing Christ was to know Christ was supreme.
It was by divine design that amid his keynote presentation, introducing a heavenly Kingdom to a secular world that he said:
Brothers, I may say to you with confidence about the patriarch David that he both died and was buried, and his tomb is with us to this day. Being, therefore, a prophet, and knowing that God had sworn with an oath to him that he would set one of his descendants on his throne, he foresaw and spoke about the resurrection of the Christ, that he was not abandoned to Hades, nor did his flesh see corruption. This Jesus God raised up, and of that we all are witnesses. Being therefore exalted at the right hand of God, and having received from the Father the promise of the Holy Spirit, he has poured out this that you yourselves are seeing and hearing. (Acts 2:29-33)
The strategic presentation of the Gospel was inclusive of the deific nature of Christ and what needed to be confronted in the minds of the Hebrew and proselyte audience. This strategy was true throughout Acts and the rest of the New Testament and strategically remains prophetically true today. When the deity of Christ was believed, coupled with doubt, God allowed the apostles to perform miracles, starting with the exciting healing of the cripple man in Acts 3. In Acts 5, deception and deceit stood against the obedience of the truth of the Gospel, so God allowed for the example of Ananias and Sapphira. Acts 6 reveals ethnic and linguistic discrimination in the face of the Gospel, so the apostles devised a plan for the Jerusalem church to operate with equity. The display was so powerful the Gospel-resistant priests of Jerusalem were converted to Christ (Acts 6:7).
In Acts 7, Stephen provides the essence of a radical witness of martyrdom and faith through persecution. It is the Romans 12:1-2 edict of what it means to be a living sacrifice. Standing against the truth of the Gospel, Simon the sorcerer in Acts 8 had to confront Peter after his conversion. Soon after the conversion, the carnal desire of Simon the sorcerer to deceive resurfaced. Whatever stands against the power of the Gospel must be addressed. For Saul, who later became Paul, it was his zealous ambition for upholding Mosaic Law, which stood against the Gospel. When Saul met Jesus on the Damascus road, Jesus boldly made clear to him that his persecution of the church was, in fact, persecution of Christ. Notice the exchange between Saul/Paul and Christ, “And falling to the ground, he heard a voice saying to him, ‘Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me?’ And he said, ‘Who are you, Lord?’ And he said, ‘I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting’” (Acts 9:4-5 ESV). There are many elements, internally, societally, familially, etc., that stand against the Gospel. If we are honest in sharing the Gospel, it must be inclusive of knowing what is in the way. That is Biblical.
We could walk through every chapter in Acts and point out how the Gospel was strategized, but time will not permit. After becoming an apostle, Paul used the same strategy. In Acts 17, when Paul addressed the Athenians, he highlighted their epistemologies, philosophies, and poets because he understood how it stood in the way of a full reception and embrace of the Gospel. In short, Paul said about their culture and context, “The God who made the world and everything in it, being Lord of heaven and earth, does not live in temples made by man, nor is he served by human hands, as though he needed anything since he himself gives to all mankind life and breath and everything” (Acts 17:24-25 ESV). Paul never planted a church in Athens, but it was not because he failed to proclaim a strategic and culturally precise Gospel.
Paul knew the Christians’ mind in Corinth; thus, he proclaimed the Gospel that shot against their sin. They prided themselves on intellectualism and knowledge, so Paul said, “…No one comprehends the thoughts of God except the Spirit of God” (1 Corinthians 2:11 ESV). They were trapped in a culture filled with sexual immorality, so about the man having a sexual relationship with his step-mother that the church knew about, Paul said, “It is actually reported that there is sexual immorality among you, and of a kind that is not tolerated even among pagans, for a man has his father’s wife. And you are arrogant! Ought you not rather to mourn? Let him who has done this be removed from among you” (1 Corinthians 5:1-2 ESV). Paul addressed what stood in opposition to the Gospel, whether sin, vice, thoughts, or behaviors.
From Genesis to Revelation, patriarchs, judges, kings, prophets, apostles, and Christ addressed humanity’s condition with the word of God. If the apostles of Christ were alive today and made a visit to the USA, their Gospel message to the church and world, they would prophetically include the topic of race and racism. If not, it would have been like Paul preaching in Athens but never mentioning their idolatry; or writing to Corinth, ignoring their division, envy, giftedness, and sexual immorality in the church. The apostles will not physically visit America, but those responsible for the prophetic word must proclaim what we know they would. The goal is not to deal with the theories surrounding the issue(s) but directly with the problem.
Biblical Exposition, Responsibility, and Application
Proclaimers of the word have a serious task and commission. The well-trained theologian, preacher, pastor, or Biblical student, understands that the Bible must be contextualized. Who was the audience, what was the region, purpose of the address, etc.? Once the expository preach has clarified the meaning, original, and authorial intent, it is now time to make responsible modern-day applications. The Bible is beneficial today because it gives us a view into God’s mind and reveals how He dealt with people.
Ecclesiastes 1:9 states, “What has been is what will be, and what has been done is what will be done, and there is nothing new under the sun.” Although there is nothing new, there are conditions or scenarios today, not explicitly mentioned in Scripture. Although we do not have an exact scenario dealing with race or racism during the Biblical era, there is enough said about discrimination and prejudicial treatment to make applications about the importance of the racial justice pursuit. We do not live in first-century Biblical church culture or world, but the Bible must be skillfully used to apply a word to the systems, patterns, sins, and epistemologies of today. Addressing race Biblically does not disrespect the hermeneutical process or result in eisegesis; it is a responsible and necessary Biblical project in America.
You say no solutions are stated, but you will not admit that racism is a pervasive problem and exists in the church. Instead, you are blinded by the secular theories that deal with race. In Galatians 2, Paul did not need critical theory, critical race theory, intersectionality, or social justice to confront Peter. Because of his love for Christ and the integrity of the Gospel, he acted and confronted. What is your evidence of confronting the pervasive reality of race and racism in America? The time you are spending addressing theories prevents you from actually addressing what is.
The Church and Racial Justice
To some, Americanized Christendom is at war, related to how the church must internally deal with race and racism. The ugly hand of racism, white supremacy and white superiority are at the core of establishing the United States of America. Regardless of Christian denomination or affiliation, the collective church struggles with the racial approach, purpose, need, desire, time, worth, priority, reality, epistemology, and axiology. From an African context, Christianity did not begin with slavery. If Africa is removed from the Biblical narrative, the book dies, and prophecies cannot be fulfilled. Despite deep African biblical roots, the first-century African Christian experience is in opposition to how some Black people were introduced to the risen Savior while in chattel slavery chains and toiling on plantations in America. As I coined in Eerie Silence: Race/Racism Explored Across Educational, Theological, and Justice Continuums Amidst America and Beyond, I call it colonized Christianity. If racial healing starts with the Gospel, why was it not enough for the planters and enslavers to repent? They still whipped and beat the Christian-enslaved, made them worship in the balcony, or at different times, viciously violating Galatians 3:28.
The Hebrew people entered Egyptian bondage as Hebrews and were emancipated as Hebrews. West Africans entered American chattel slavery as humans and departed as less than human. This American story is unparalleled globally. If the Gospel message does not address it and its lingering effects, we are not proclaiming the whole counsel of God or the fullness of the Gospel.
Within Evangelical circles, there is a precise movement to silence dialogue in the church that identifies, highlights, and locates racism and oppression in America. The most explicit effort I have seen is through the Sovereign Nations Conference and movement. I am not very clear on their history. Still, they have compiled some of the brightest Evangelical Christian minds across America and beyond and are attempting to silence any Christian ethos or dialectic that has a trace of Critical Theory, Critical Race Theory, Social Justice, White Fragility, Intersectionality, and all the other racial epistemologies connected to them.
The Great Awokening was the title of their most recent conference, perhaps 2020. To list a few, Phil Johnson addressed the topic, Social Justice vs. Authentic Biblical Justice. Tom Buck lectured on Woke Hermeneutics, and The Problem is Enmity, Not Ethnicity was proclaimed by Darrell B. Harrison. Tom Ascol covered Critical Race Theory and Christianity, while Diversity, Inclusion, and Equity was taught by James Lindsay. During the 2019 Sovereign Nations Conference, John Buice addressed Victimology as Doctrine, and White Privilege. Thomas Ascol also dealt with The New Original Sin. In 2019, Defining Social Justice was managed by Voddie Baucham, and James White delivered a word on An Exegetical & Historical Examination of the Woke Church Movement.
Contained above is not an exhaustive list of speakers, but Michael O’Fallon is the Sovereign Nations’ Founder. The Canadian, Jordan B. Peterson has also been a conference speaker, addressing Identity Politics & The Marxist Lie of White Privilege. Although the speakers vilify tribalism and identity politics, they are all cut from the same cloth and release a harmonized message. I must also include John MacArthur.
While often quoting Stanford Professor and Researcher Dr. Thomas Sowell and Shelby Steele, conference speakers reveal that racism is a waste of dialectic church and biblical time. Supported by the likes of podcast hosts and YouTube sensations, Allie Beth Stucky, Candace Owens, and Brandon Tatum, instead of attacking the ill of racism, the conference speakers seek to dismantle the theories created to assess, expose, and analyze white supremacy, systemic racism, racist ideas and policies, and the need for racial justice. They fixate on Kimberle Williams Crenshaw, Derrick Bell, Robin DiAngelo, Ibram X. Kendi, Delgado, and any other scholar that can be associated with formations of Critical Race Theory. I have personally read many for their writings, but their work does not inform my Christian position or approach to Biblical justice. The Sovereign Nation speakers collectively refuse to address racism; they express their belief that the racial epistemic of Critical Theory, Critical Race Theory, Social Justice, White Fragility, etc., are unbiblical because of their Marxian nexus and approach to power, whiteness, white supremacy, and white patriarchy.
They do not apply the radical Gospel to the American condition; instead, they hide behind the intellectual theories. Without stating it directly, they urge Christians to refrain from talking about race, especially if it highlights or names white supremacy or whiteness. Every Christian must understand how to Biblically deal with these men and women and those influenced by them.
Although stated but not with the same force as their colorblind analysis, their hidden fear of the theories is that they also are mixed with a queer-affirming agenda. The American church gets clumsy when it comes to dealing with LGBTQIA issues. Thus, instead of talking about the American stain and stigma of continued strained race relations, this group prefers to talk about transgender dynamics, abortion in the Black community, Black fatherlessness, and Black community violence. Besides, while doing so, there is no link or assessment to the influencing role of white supremacy or links to collective whiteness. The Black community’s group dynamics are open for critique, but any white historical patterns must be viewed through the lens of individuality. I have yet to hear them seriously deal with the creation of race and its racist and devastating outcome.
I have read and heard them exclaim that race and racism are not real; they do not like how privilege, power, and race are being addressed. The problem is, aside from attacking theories; they are not offering solutions aside from a desire for racial dialectic silence.
Closing Thoughts, Inquiry, & Exploration
In my opinion:
- Black people are not interested in handouts, but if support and reparations are being given to others, American Descendants of Slavery are genuinely worthy.
- American Descendants of Slavery and our ancestors have been victimized in America, but we do not operate with a victim-mentality.
- In the Black community, we care and are hurt just as much when another Black person kills someone in our community, as we are when the police kill a Black person. What we demand is that there be no expectation for our grief and outrage to be judged by America. The Black community lives in a constant state of grief, so do not tell us how our grief should appear in public when tragedy strikes our families and community.
- Black people in America do not believe that Social Justice is about taking wealth from others and redistributing it to Black people. We do not want what is in the hand or pocket of another, unless it has be stolen from us. Social Justice does include doing everything necessary so Black people in America have just chances at every opportunity afforded to Americans, with racist barriers and policies eliminated.
- Black people do not believe Social Justice is about mandating equality of outcome. Black people desire just and racially uninhibited opportunities to do all we need to succeed without a need to jump through any racist hoops, whether in America or across the globe. Outcome can never be guaranteed, but opportunity and the path to success must be racially uninhibited.
- Black people demand that antiracial dialogue, which leads to antiracist action, be part of every American institution’s normalized fabric, inclusive of the Christian church. We hold as negligent any church or preacher that fails to apply the Gospel to the race and racist narrative that is pervasive across America.
- The community and village approach within the Black community and family does not diminish our axiology of personal responsibility.
- This is in no way an exhaustive list. Until all of the above and so much more is accomplished, the fight against racism in America must be an explicit part of the Gospel message and motif. This is a mission and plea rooted in scripture and is not extrabiblical or a distraction.
It was the proverbial writer that said, “When justice is done, it is a joy to the righteous but terror to evildoers” (Proverbs 21:15 ESV). In addition, the Psalmist said, “Blessed are they who observe justice, who do righteousness at all times!” (Psalm 106:3 ESV). Biblical justice can never be defeated or stopped so quit hiding behind theories and deal with present American injustices.
Ammar Saheli, Ed.D, MS, PPSC