Our theology is holding us back
Updated: Jul 24, 2020
In a recent article, reprinted in the Baptist Standard, Adelle M. Banks wonders how long the white evangelical push for racial reconciliation will last.
These are important strides. They deserve to be praised and promoted. I'm never been more proud to be a Baptist than when Greear said "Black Lives Matter."
People like Adelle M. Banks, however, are worried. They don't think these strides in pursuit of racial reconciliation will last. They think Greear and Osteen are like the fourth grade boy who strikes out in the annual 1 mile gym class run at the 5 minute mile pace.
They are right to be worried. Here are two theological reasons why.
Our soteriology is holding us back
We think that the gospel is primarily about and for individuals. We think that sharing the gospel is about getting someone to believe a narrow set of individualistic beliefs.
I am a sinner.
I deserve hell.
Jesus died in my place.
If I believe in Jesus, I will go to heaven.
This is why J.D. Greear says that "you can summarize the gospel in four words: 'Jesus' 'in' 'my' 'place'."
One big problem with this account of the gospel is that it makes no sense when we apply it to Jesus' words in passages like Mark 1. After John is imprisoned, Jesus rolls into Galilee “proclaiming the gospel of God, and saying,
"‘The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel.’”
When Jesus is “proclaiming the gospel,” is he telling people that he has died in their place? Of course not! Something is wrong with this understanding of the gospel.
I think we find a better definition of the gospel in Paul:
“Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come. All this is from God, who through Christ reconciled us to himself and gave us the ministry of reconciliation; that is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting to us the message of reconciliation."
2 Corinthians 5:17-19
The overly individualistic understanding of the gospel within the SBC leads us to the wrong conclusions. It leads us to think that a white cop killing a black man is solely an individual issue. It is an individual issue. Derek Chauvin definitely needed the transformation that can only be found in Christ. At the same time (and perhaps more importantly) this is a societal issue. Our society—not just the individuals in our society—is in need of reconciliation!
This individualism is the reason why 72% of white evangelicals cited individual prejudices--rather than systemic racism--as the bigger problem in our country today.
The ministry of reconciliation is not merely about the reconciliation of individuals. This is the mistake that we make when we employ a narrow understanding of the Gospel. We reduce the ministry of reconciliation to the shallow task of convincing individuals of the small set of beliefs listed above.
The ministry of reconciliation is about the reconciliation of all things!
Our societies are being reconciled.
Our institutions are being reconciled.
Our schools are being reconciled.
Our families are being reconciled.
The Gospel has social ramifications! Our society is literally becoming the Kingdom of God. As Jesus leads us to pray, “Your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven."
Our eschatology is holding us back
Billy Graham is famous for noting that,
“My home is in heaven. I’m just passing through this world.”
This idea, while enjoying the support of isolated passages in Scripture, threatens to undermine the white evangelical strides for racial justice.
Because of ideas like this, most white evangelicals are convinced that this world is on a downward trajectory that will continue until Christ returns. At that point--there is some debate here--he will either whisk all the Christians away and destroy the world, or whisk all the Christians away and leave Satan and the Anti-Christ to destroy the world.
If we think that this is what the future holds, we will not work very hard to effect change in our societies and institutions. Instead we will focus on individuals. We will share an individual gospel with individual people and pray for Christ to return.
When we look back at the Bible, though, we find Christ preaching that the Kingdom of God is at hand.The kingdom of God is not simply a future reality. It is already here! Not yet fully consummated, but already here and breaking in more and more each day.
Let’s join Jesus in proclaiming that the Kingdom of God is here, and in living that out as we relate to our brothers and sisters of color.