The Gospel and Race
The Gospel Has Serious Implications for Race
First, the gospel tells us that Jesus has done everything necessary to reconcile us to God through his perfect life, his substitutionary death, and his victorious resurrection. In addition, the very same gospel tells us that Jesus has done everything necessary to reconcile us to one another through the same work. The Apostle Paul describes the reconciliation of both relationships in Ephesians 2:14-18.
Paul is reminding the Ephesians of the incredible power of the gospel by showing that Jesus alone is sufficient to unite the un-uniteable. He illustrates this by showing that just as Jesus unites the two un-uniteable parties of sinful humans and a holy God he also unites the two un-uniteable parties of Jew and Gentile. In this context, he is not speaking of Jew and Gentile as simply two religious groups. He is speaking of Jew and Gentile as two ethnic groups — two racial groups — that were not only divided from one another but were hostile toward one another. They are now united to one another in one body as one people.
Paul speaks of both divine reconciliation and racial reconciliation in the very same breath. He does this because both are the fruit of the gospel, which is his primary subject. If we twenty-first century Americans claim to preach the same gospel as Paul we must be careful not to settle only for divine reconciliation — as glorious as it is — when God intends for it also to produce racial reconciliation. To stop short of applying the gospel to the race issue is to not be “acting in line with the truth of the gospel,” which is precisely what Paul accused Peter of in Galatians 2:14 when he refused to apply the gospel to the race issues of his context.
Second, the gospel tells us that Jesus is restoring creation to the paradise that was lost through Adam’s sin and he will return to complete that work once and for all. Christians live faithfully in light of this gospel when we allow Jesus to work through us to bring foretastes of his ultimate restoration into our present day. One such foretaste the gospel moves us to provide is justice. How can we speak of a gospel that brings freedom, redemption, value, identity, and equity to all while turning a blind eye as our black and brown brothers and sisters are treated as second-class citizens in their own land?
Race Has Serious Implications for the Gospel
If you want to talk about the gospel you will have to talk about race because the gospel has serious implications for the racial issues that surround us. You will also have to talk about race because race has serious implications for the gospel.
In John 17 Jesus repeatedly states that the unity of his people will be a convincing apologetic for Jesus and his gospel. Jesus prays that his followers will be brought “to complete unity” and then states that when they are “then the world will know that you sent me.” The unity Jesus is speaking must be a visible unity and an abnormal unity. It has to be visible enough for non-Christians to see it and abnormal enough for non-Christians to need an explanation for it which only Jesus can satisfy. It can’t be unity of a group of people who are already alike in every way. Such unity is normal in our world and would not stand as evidence that Jesus really is who he says he is. It must be unity of people who would never otherwise be together apart from Jesus Christ. This includes unity across socio-economical, educational, generational, and cultural divides. It also includes unity across racial lines. In fact, in twenty-first century America, unity across racial lines may be the most powerful of demonstration of unity that Christians can provide as evidence of Jesus’ identity.
That may sound crazy. But think about it with me for a minute. We all see race. No matter how much we may claim to be “colorblind” when we walk into a room of people who are of a different ethnicity than us we recognize it immediately.
Not only do we all see race, but we are all aware of the racial tension that exists in our country. Certainly we’re aware of the overt tensions of America’s history. But we’re also aware that much racial tension exists today, though often in a far less overt way. In fact, our awareness of the tension is one of the reasons we are tempted to say we are “colorblind” (so as to avoid the tension) or that we’re uncomfortable with people talking so much about race (as we fear it will increase the already present tension).
We all see race. And we all see the racial tensions in our country. But you know what we don’t see? We don’t see a lot of communities that display racial unity. Our churches are overwhelmingly mono-ethnic. Our political parties are the same. Our neighborhoods and schools are often divided along racial lines. Our primary friendships and relationships tend to be with those of the same race.
In other words, racial unity is both visible to everyone in our culture and abnormal for nearly everyone in our culture. It is the sort of unity that, if it were to be displayed, would require an explanation. We should talk about race and racial unity because it has serious implications for the gospel: it reveals the gospel’s power and validity to people who doubt both.
Excerpt by Cole Brown, church planter in Distrito Federal, Mexico. Used with permission.