If Jesus Walked Into a Bar Would Everybody Know His Name?

Better yet, if Jesus walked into a bar would the people there be glad that he came?

The popular notion of Jesus is that he’d walk into a bar and all the down and out sinners would greet him by name and give him a high-five. He’d be the most popular dude there—because you know sinners just couldn’t get enough of good ol’ JC.

I’m being facetious—but only slightly. My portrait isn’t terribly far off. What we’ve done is taken the insults of Pharisees (Matthew 11:19) and constructed an entire portrait of Jesus as a response. But I’ve yet to see a portrait painted of Jesus dabbling in dark magic because the Pharisees said he cast out demons by the power of Satan.

We’ve got Jesus high-fiving his bro’s and hanging out with hookers, when the truth is that his face was set like flint towards Golgotha. Truth is, he didn’t hang out with hookers because he really didn’t “hang out” with anybody. He discipled people. He built relationships with people. He served people and loved people and laughed with people. And he did this in the context of living a real life, but that is a far cry from his being a bar fly.

Our fad Jesus has caused us to shake our heads at statements like this from Spurgeon:

That very church which the world likes best is sure to be that which God abhors.

Chummy “Jesus” isn’t down with that quote. You see worldly people liked Chummy “Jesus”. If he was a popular dude, like we are led to believe, then either Spurgeon is wrong or God abhorred the ministry of Jesus.

Or maybe what needs to go is Chummy “Jesus”.

Please, don’t read me wrong. Jesus was (and is) a friend of sinners and quite likely was a breath of fresh air in comparison to the religious elite of his day. For he taught with authority and compassion. But let’s not forget that he was also quite off-putting. In John 6a good amount of his disciples decided to leave him because he was saying hard things. And lets not forget that the crowd—likely filled with his former buds—shouted out a chorus of “Crucify Him!”

So if the church is going to follow in her Master’s footsteps then we would do well to set our eyes on the cross and not the latest opinion polls. Jesus might have had a season where he could walk into a bar and everybody would know his name. But those same people would crucify him a couple years later.

Thankfully, it was not our Lord’s mission to be liked. He didn’t die for his buds—he died for his enemies. And that’s the whole lot of us.

Racism Is A Symptom of a Deeper Issue That We Don’t Want to Address

Christian groups like the ERLC and the Kainos Movement are moving toward hosting discussions on racism in America and in the church in the 21st century, which is a good thing. But, if we are not careful, we will miss the deeper issues that animate the entire problem. I sought to explore those deeper issues in my book,
When Heaven and Earth Collide: Racism, Southern Evangelicals, and the Better Way of Jesus (NewSouth Books, 2014). Because the manifestation of racism has changed from the separate water fountains and lunch counters and busses of the Jim Crow segregation era, many whites do not believe that racism still exists. As sociologists Christian Smith and Michael Emerson explained in their groundbreaking book, Divided by Race (2000), we are now in an area of racialization, which means that “race” still affects us and divides us in many ways, even if it takes different forms from the past institutionalized racism.
 
 
We live in a 'racialized society': a society where race matters profoundly and there are differential rewards (economic, social and psychological) for specific groups. The form of racialization changes: it might look like slavery, Jim Crow segregation or de facto segregation and inequality. Racialization takes many different forms, but its unchanging essences are the same. Emerson said, “When I have students from other countries who want to get a sense of racism in America, I tell them to drive around any metropolitan area they can and they will see it. They'll see Black neighborhoods, White neighborhoods, Hispanic neighborhoods, and so on. You'll see it distributed that way, but also in the fact that the unemployment rate among Blacks is twice as high as it is among Whites, no matter what the economy is doing. Whites have roughly 10 times the wealth that Blacks do.”

Southern Evangelicals tend to see racism through the lens of the segregrated past that is shameful and embarrassing. When you accuse a Southern white Evangelical of being racist or acting in a racist way, he sees images of the Klan and lynchings and segregated schools and hears the racist ideology of white supremacy in his head. He knows that he doesn't agree with that, so he rejects any accusation of racism or racialization or of racial inequality at all. It is seen as a major insult. His view is that we are all individuals and that if he worked hard and made something of himself, then why hasn't everyone else done the same in America, the land of the free? There are no structural inequalities and the racism of the past has been completely dealt with through the courts, legislation, through the dreaded Affirmative Action and minority preferences, and through the creation of the Welfare State of LBJ's Great Society. Asking for anything else is just complaining/whining and betrays a shirking of individual responsibility.

When black leaders, especially in the church, bring up racism, whites are often insulted. The conversation stops and everyone goes back to their corners and the division increases. But, black leaders know that things are not right and they see the division falling along racial lines because that is where they have fallen historically. Whites see the divisions the same way, but they also know that they do not personally hold animosity toward people just because they are black so they often actually blame black people for the continued problems because they cannot imagine how they are part of the problem. So, we stay at an impasse while some keep calling for a national conversation on race in society and in the church. But, when we do talk, we talk past each other as blacks believe that whites do not want to see the truth and whites believe that blacks simply want to blame others and do not want to take responsibility for what is happening in their own communities. And the beat goes on … It is a mess.

Way of Life. I think that there is something deeper at work here and that RACE is a symptom or a marker that identifies where the division falls more than being a primary cause of the actual division. Because Race is visible, it carries more weight and is used in an horrendous way against others, but it is not the core issue. Race becomes a way for groups to identify who are with us and who are against us. But, it is just one way. It is not a rigid marker in the way that it used to be, even though it is still there. What is more important than race at this point involves ideology, belief systems, economics, and worldview. But race is still often a convenient short-hand that helps us identify who is going to help us enhance our own way of life. The Germans have a term for this called Lebensweise. One could also translate it as lifestyle or way of living. We talk about the American Way of Life and we seek to defend it at all costs and against all threats. A defense of the Southern Way of Life led to the Civil War and was the primary animator of the defense of Segregation by Southern whites up until the 1960's. Now, we defend our individual Way of Life or our Christian Way of Life or however we define what we consider the good life. We all do this and we do it at the expense of others who might threaten us – or who we perceive might threaten us. Unfortunately, that perception is often based on the old divisions manifested through racism.

Racial Division is not the hard, structured marker of who is for us and who is against us that it used to be. White Conservative Southern Evangelicals are happy to embrace black people like Tim Scott, the Republican Senator from South Carolina or Ben Carson, Herman Cain, Alan Keyes, Allen West, or J.C. Watts. They embrace them and prove to themselves that the color of one's skin is not the hard barrier that it once was. They are convinced that the divisions in our society are no longer about RACE, but are instead about VALUES. If someone shares my values, then I consider them to be an ally. If they have different values, then I consider them to be an enemy. The primary issue that divides us involves who will help me defend my own way of life and my values against those who threaten me and my lifestyle? So, we identify our values and we align ourselves politically, religiously, socially, and economically with those who have the same goals and values and then we defend ourselves and wage war against those who we see as a threat. Race is not the major issue. Worldview is. But, we have to recognize that this problem still often plays out racially.

The problem here is that we are not doing this in a vacuum. History matters and it speaks from beyond the grave. America is a nation that has been divided according to Race since the late 1600s. Race became the marker separating the labor of the poor whites who were allowed upward mobility and the blacks in servitude to whom it was denied. Economic and power interests were key and it benefitted those in power to separate poor whites from poor blacks. Racism became institutionalized and it became the lens through which we saw our world, from Slavery to the 3/5 Compromise of the Constitution to Dred Scott to the Civil War to Plessy v. Ferguson. Racial division became ingrained in us and even after it was no longer the de jure marker of what divided us as a people, it went on to be the de facto marker.

Americans have always sought to defend and enhance and promote our own way of life over and above others. We call it freedom. It plays out militarily, economically, socially, politically, and spiritually. When this plays out racially, we have a problem that keeps huge numbers of people separated from how the rest of us defines the “good life” in America, which creates frustration and angst. Many white people say that there is no inequality and many black people point to the continued division in every possible social and economic indicator. Many whites blame blacks for that and respond with statements like, “what else do you want us to give you?” and blacks are often not able to answer that question in ways that satisfy whites as being fair, since white people today did not own slaves or stand behind fire hoses in Birmingham. So, the impasse continues.

This problem is not going to be solved in the larger society that is built on selfishness and promoting and defending one's own personal life choices and lifestyle. The irony of the Liberal critique of Race Relations is that the source of Racism is the very same source of the modern iteration of Liberalism, which involves promoting one's own personal choice and pleasure over and above the constraints of society, tradition, religion, or anything else. Modern Liberalism (not in the classical sense) is not capable of dealing with Racism because it shares the same basic foundation.

The only way to deal with Racism and its offspring of Racialization is through true Christianity and the Cross. I am not talking about the American version of Christianity that seems to exist to enhance one's own desired way of life through making God a means to an end of gaining one's best life now. And, I am not talking about an understanding of the gospel that says that if we just get individuals saved, then all will be well in every area of life, including racial injustice. That is obviously and historically false. I am talking about the Christianity of the Cross that declares that if we try to save our life then we will lose it, but if we lay down our life for Christ then we will gain it. The Christian in America can only see his politics, economics, spiritual life, social issues, race relations, foreign policy, and individual/family life through the Cross. We are told to take up our Cross and follow Jesus. Jesus leads us to lay down our lives in sacrificial love and service to others, not considering our own interests first, but looking to the interest of others. That is considered basic Christianity. That is the Way of Jesus and that Way of Life affects everything and has implications everywhere, including areas of racial division, structural inequalities, and injustice that manifests in racial and economic ways. White people often fail to see these problems because it benefits us not to see them.

Racism will never be solved in America apart from the Cross of Christ and the sacrificial love that flows from Jesus's wounds into every area of life. The place for racism to be solved first is in the local church – a colony of heaven in the country of death, as Eugene Peterson calls it. It is in the local church that we must put aside our own personal preferences and individual choices of what WE like and what benefits US over and above others and where we learn to live for the benefit of others who challenge us. Then, those local churches that have been practicing Ephesians 2 gospel reconciliation where people of all different ethnicities and classes come together as one, together turn their eyes to their broken communities and world and lay their lives down for others who have not yet been reconciled to Christ or to one another. That is how we witness to the Kingdom of God. This plays out individually, yes. But, it also has communal, regional, and national effects as the Church seeks to be “salt and light” and bring Kingdom values to a world gone mad with selfishness.

We must stop trying to gain our life and promote our own way of life first. We must listen to others who say that things are broken in their world (even if we think that everything is fine, which is usually because the current situation benefits us in some way) and, instead of pointing fingers and laying blame and self righteously going about our business, we must seek to love sacrificially and lay down our lives for others in tangible ways. That is how we engage in gospel mission. If parts of our communities are suffering, then do we not all suffer? If hopelessness exists in people's lives, then do we not have hope that we can offer? If people are still suffering from the sins of the past in our nation in various ways, even ways that they are not aware of, then can the church not step in and provide healing through love, forgiveness, and service and through embodying Christ as we proclaim and demonstrate the gospel of the Kingdom?

As long as we keep trying to figure out if a person's ideology, politics, and theology is going to benefit US before we step in to serve and help them, then we are going to be constantly divided, and Race will be a primary way that that that division occurs in America because of history and culture and our own sense of desiring safety and security. However, the Cross of Christ sends us out of our area of comfort in this world because we now find our identity in Christ as the New Creation and we no longer see anyone from a worldly point of view. We are now Ambassadors of Christ and His Kingdom and are ministers of reconciliation, holding out the gospel news that God is now reconciling everything to Himself through Christ. That is our call. And, it effects everything.

We cannot bring reconciliation if we keep trying to figure out how to defend and promote our own way of life every time that our own sensibilities are challenged. Living like that undermines our gospel witness and just perpetuates the historical divisions, but with a religious sanction and veneer that is not that different from the way that the church gave a defense for race-based slavery 150 years ago. The only way out of this trap is through the Cross, where we die to ourselves, meet Jesus, and live for Him and love others sacrificially – even when they threaten us. Yes, this is hard and we all struggle with it no matter our race or background. We struggle because we are human and fallen and we do not adequately appropriate God's grace to our lives the way we should. We all need help and that is why we look to Christ and depend solely on Him and not ourselves or our own wisdom.

Racism is not THE issue. It is a symptom of a deeper issue that we don't really want to address because we don't want to die to ourselves and the practice of promoting and defending our own way of life. But, if we really want to live, we have to die. If we want to see Racism and its effects end in America because we believe that every person is made in God's image and has value before God and is loved by Him, then we have to die to ourselves and getting our own way and defending our own way of life over others. We need the Cross. We need grace. We need the Jesus of Christmas and Easter who came to serve and not to be served and gave His life as a ransom for many.

So, final question: Am I trying to benefit myself and my way of life, or am I looking out for the interests of others and considering them better than myself?
 

The Bible and Slavery

Few things in the Bible are more countercultural than what we read there about slavery. It runs contrary to ancient Greco-Roman slave culture. It runs contrary to nineteenth-century American slave culture. It runs contrary to twenty-first-century libertarian culture. There’s something here to afflict everyone.

First, the data:

  • Jesus nowhere advocated the abolition of slavery. Search for it in vain, for there is nothing in the gospels (or anywhere else in the New Testament) that delivers to us a clear abolitionist message. If you’re thinking to yourself, “Man, if I lived somewhere that practiced slavery, one of the first things I’d do is work to eliminate slavery,” then it has to make you uncomfortable as a Christian to see that neither Jesus nor any of the apostles ever did so.
  • Jesus did not ignore slavery. If He had, maybe you could reasonably say, “Well, Jesus had more pressing issues—what with the salvation of the world from sin and all—and the apostles had no political power to do anything about slavery. Therefore, they never got around to saying much about it.” And yet, they had enough time to write about the problems of eating meat sacrificed to idols and the wrong of filing civil lawsuits and the sinfulness of homosexual sex. What’s more, when Paul DID have the power to influence a slaveholder (see the Book of Philemon), rather than influencing him to abandon his slaveholding ways, he urged him to take back into slavery a runaway slave.
  • In fact, beyond refusing to push for the abolition of slavery, Jesus embraced slavery as one of the most prominent models used to describe Christianity. Christianity IS slavery, or else neither Jesus nor the apostles knew what Christianity was. This phenomenon is pretty ubiquitous in the New Testament. Consider a brief survey of the data:
    1. The most prominent word family in the New Testament relating to slavery (doulos) appears more than 160 times in its various forms across the New Testament.
    2. Salvation is described as a process of being enslaved (Romans 6:18).
    3. Jesus’ favorite metaphor to describe the relationship between God and His followers—used in parable after parable—was the image of the master and his slaves.
    4. Paul bragged that he had enslaved himself to God, that he had enslaved himself to other people, and that he had enslaved himself to himself (1 Corinthians 9:19, 27; Philemon 1:1).
    5. We are commended to make slaves of ourselves just as Jesus made a slave of Himself (Philippians 2:7).
    6. The pathway to greatness in Christianity is found through exploring the depths of lowly slavery to all (Matthew 20:27)
    7. An entire office of the church is named “the slaves” (“deacons,” 1 Timothy 3:8)

That’s a lot of data. I can’t say it any better than John MacArthur did:

When you think about terms used to describe Christians in the New Testament, we’re called children of God, right? We’re called heirs and joint-heirs. We’re called members of the body of Christ. We’re even designated as branches, sheep. And you don’t want to mix all those metaphors because each of those gives you a facet of understanding and aspect of our relationship to Christ. But the dominating word inside of which our full understanding of salvation is best seen as this word “slave.”

Now there’s a corresponding word that I want to mention as well, and that is the word “master,” right? If I were to ask you…let me ask you a fundamental question: “What is the foundational reality that defines what it means to be a Christian? What is the fundamental reality that distinguishes the believer’s relationship to Christ? What is our great confession in three words?” Jesus is Lord.

In fact, if you want to be saved, Romans 10:9 and 10 says, “You confess Jesus as Lord.” Kurios is the corresponding word to doulos. Kurios is “lord and master.” Doulos is “slave.” You can no more eliminate doulos from the believer’s relationship to the Lord than you could eliminate kurios. [emphasis mine]

You’re a lot more libertarian than Jesus ever was. That’s why discussing what the Bible has to say about slavery makes us all uncomfortable. And that’s what it needs to do, not in order to make us into Simon Legree nor to take us back to that awful place where we condoned nineteenth-century chattel slavery of blacks based upon race, but to teach us some other lessons.

First, slavery in the Bible teaches us that the way of salvation is counter-intuitive. I think sometimes we who have the job of explaining the teachings of Christ may do our jobs better than we ought. If you have made the gospel make perfect sense, then you have made it something other than what Jesus purported that it was. To lose your life for Christ’s sake is to find it. The path to exaltation is to humble yourself. The way to defeat your attacker is to forgive him. The way to inherit the whole world is to be meek. Christians embrace slavery because to be enslaved to righteousness is to be free and to become enslaved to the most people is to gain rank above them in the Kingdom.

The roles of slave and child are compared and contrasted in the New Testament (John 15:15; Galatians 4:7). Both slaves and children generally own nothing, can be compelled to obey, are not free to determine their own living arrangements, daily activities, relationships, or manners of behavior. When Jesus stated that one must become as a little child in order to enter the Kingdom, I believe that He was referring to that suite of attributes that children and slaves share in common. The way of salvation is the way of subservience.

Modern libertarian thought (I’m referring not to the political party but to the philosophy, which greatly influences all of American politics and culture) is not counter-intuitive at all. You have rights. Fight for them. Never allow yourself to be enslaved. Maintain your independence at all costs. The only path to freedom is to seize it and defend it. There’s no nuance there. The contrast between these two ways of thinking could not be more profound.

Second, God teaches us in the Bible that slavery is universal and that we cannot eradicate it. Rather we can only choose better forms of slavery over worse ones. We are slaves to sin or we are slaves to righteousness (Romans 6:16-18). There is such a thing as freedom, to be sure, but it is found in slavery, not outside of it. Emancipation, therefore, is a phantasm, a useful fiction.

Jesus did not advocate for emancipation for the same reason that He didn’t encourage riding pink unicorns down the streets of Atlantis—not because the experience would be so horrible, but because Jesus, rather than being Mr. Roarke, was someone who spoke honestly with us about our nature and our prospects.

Emancipation is not merely a simple fiction; it is an elaborate, carefully constructed fiction. It has a supporting legal fantasy: The notion of “property in the person.” The idea of “property in the person” is that when you sell your time, your effort, your skills, and even your health to your employer, you are not selling away yourself; you are merely selling away these items of “property” that you “own” and that just happen to be located within your body. This philosophical conceit masks the truth that everyone who has a job is selling away his or her freedom. Just try sending your skills off to your employer while you stay home. That’s one of the reasons why a definition of slavery is so difficult to create.

“Let’s go fishing next Tuesday.”

“I can’t.”

“What do you mean, ‘I can’t’? You’re a grown-up. You’re free. You can do whatever you want.”

“I have to work.”

Freedom gone.

Although this truth appears in greater eloquence and clarity in the Bible than anywhere else, you don’t have to turn to the Bible to find the truth of it. You can find it in “Ferris Bueller’s Day Off”: that adolescent dread of the inevitable servitude that is American adulthood. You can find it in Liberal, Feminist, Anarchist critiques of the wage-labor system that dominates our economy. The person determined to avoid enslavement is doomed to failure.

Look at the phenomenon of consumer credit. God explains it to us in the Bible: “The borrower is slave to the lender.” (Proverbs 22:7) In theory you can leave your job, but not if you’re walking off the graduation stage with a diploma in one hand and a promissory note for $100,000 of college debt in the other hand.

Look at the phenomenon of addiction. How many people are enslaved to alcohol? How many to drugs? How many to pornography? How many to cigarettes? How many to gambling? How many to gluttony? How many to their uncontrollable anger?

Look at domestic violence. How many husbands, wives, and children are in every way slaves to a bully in their homes?

Look at the entrepreneur. Ah, the great American dream! “I’ll be my own boss! I’ll answer to no one!” Only to discover that now your banker, your investors, and every one of your customers is your boss. You’ve traded one boss for one hundred.

Look at divorce. “I’ll get a divorce and get free of that rotten spouse of mine.” But you’ve got children together. You can’t be rid of one another. You live the rest of your life stuck with that relationship, only now it is more toxic than ever, and it hangs over every graduation, wedding, funeral, and holiday from now until death.

The evidence piles up all around us: The American libertarian experiment is an utter failure in delivering upon the promise of independence and emancipation. We trade one master for another. We can trade up or we can trade down. The black American who traded chattel slavery on a cotton plantation for slavery to debt and materialism has, in my opinion, traded way up. The black American who traded for a crack cocaine addiction instead? Not so much. It is always a trade up to become the slave of Jesus Christ. But nobody gets off scot-free. Nobody ever gets fully emancipated. That’s what the Bible says. That’s how the data stack up.

Third, the idea of the “Christian slave” is embraced with much greater enthusiasm in the Bible than is the idea of the “Christian slaveholder.” New Testament commands to slaves always make them more slave-like. New Testament commands to masters always make them less master-like. This is largely because of the Christian conception of personal rights. In my previous post, I almost defined a slave as a person without rights. The Christian life as presented in the New Testament is a life in which rights are relinquished and obligations are taken up. This idea fits well with the role of the slave. Indeed, God makes it clear that Christian slaves ought to make the very best slaves (1 Timothy 6:1-2, and please note how sharply verse 3 upbraids those who object to this biblical concept). When the master, however, begins to relinquish his rights and to take up additional obligations, this transformation alters the fundamental fabric of the master-slave relationship.

When you live as a slave, you are imitating Jesus (Philippians 2:7). When you live as a master, you are far less likely to do so in a Jesus sort of way. American libertarianism recoils against slavery because of what it does to the slave. From what I can tell, Christianity worries profoundly about what it generally makes of (reveals in?) the slaveholder.

Fourth, without condemning slavery, the New Testament actually condemns virtually every system of slavery that you know.

If a system of slavery is built upon any notion that the slaves are inferior to the masters, then that line of thinking stands condemned in Galatians 3:28.

If a system of slavery favors one’s countrymen and disfavors foreigners, then it collides smack into Leviticus 19:33-34.

If a system of slavery involves any form of sex slavery (and most do…just ask Thomas Jefferson), then it runs afoul of biblical sexual morality.

If a system of slavery keeps slaves in line by means of threats or outbursts of anger, or if it in any way denies due process and justice to a slave, then it is a violation of Ephesians 6:9.

If a system of slavery involves greedy masters, then it violates everything the New Testament says about the relationship Christians should have with material possessions.

In the comment thread, I welcome you all to identify which historical instances of slavery live up to this standard. I think there are a few, but they are very few, and none of them constitute the reasons why we hate slavery so much.

Of course, superiority complexes, xenophobia, lust, anger, and greed also show up quite frequently in wage-labor economic systems. After careful study, you may find that you are less troubled with what the Bible says about slavery and more troubled about what is says regarding the way you behave at your workplace.

Fifth, what rightfully displaces slavery in the New Testament is not liberation but love. We read that we are no longer slaves but are friends (John 15:5). We read that we are no longer slaves but are children (Galatians 4:7). We do not read that we are no longer slaves but are now emancipated freedmen. What is the difference between friends and children on the one hand and freedmen on the other hand? The latter is the termination of a relationship; the former is the maturation of it.

Hugh Lindsay’s Adoption in the Roman World provides some insight into the Roman phenomenon of adopting trusted slaves as sons. The servitude did not go away (for example, the adoptive father retained rights over all of the adoptive son’s possessions). The adoption was less about things taken away and more about things added. The adopted slave remained in the household and gained inheritance rights. The primary gain was not, however, something gained because of the adoption, but something gained that caused the adoption in the first place: the development of affection between slaveholder and slave that eventually transformed the relationship from master-slave to father-son. “Chains shall He break, for the slave is our brother, and in His name all oppression shall cease.”

Perhaps this teaches us something about what it means to mature as believers? Can those aspects of Christian living which may start out feeling like the obligations of the enslaved eventually blossom, well watered with love, into something more intimate and familial? I think so.

In conclusion, a culture that pridefully insists that we will be slaves to no one is a culture that will lead us away from Christ.

This was a sermon illustration that I heard years ago in chapel at SWBTS. A preacher told this story as true, so there’s at least a 30% chance that it actually happened.

An evangelist was preaching a youth revival in Texas. Toward the end of the week, down the aisle at the altar call came a young man. He was one of the most popular boys on the local high school campus. He was a “high-value target.” Friends had been inviting him to the services, sharing their faith with him. The congregation held its breath as the evangelist took the young man’s hand.

“I’ve been told,” he began, “that if I believe in Jesus He will forgive my sins and will take me to Heaven when I die. I’m ready to do that. But I want it to be clearly understood by you, by this church, and by God Himself that nobody, including God Himself, is going to tell me what to do or how to live my life.”

Behold, the libertarian spirit! It originates in Hell, and like a boomerang, it takes back to its origin all whom it catches along the way. “Better to reign in Hell than to be enslaved in Heaven!” Yes, few things are more countercultural than what the Bible says about slavery, and few things speak more poignantly to the rebellion of the sinful heart.

In the next post we will consider this question: Is slavery ever an improvement for anyone, considered strictly as an economic phenomenon? If we have something better available to us now (and I think we do), then have those economic alternatives always been available to all people? Can we, like the Prodigal Son, ever imagine a circumstance in which entering slavery would be an upgrade? We will bark over that bone next time.

Racism Is A Symptom of a Deeper Issue That We Don’t Want to Address

Christian groups like the ERLC and the Kainos Movement are moving toward hosting discussions on racism in America and in the church in the 21st century, which is a good thing. But, if we are not careful, we will miss the deeper issues that animate the entire problem. I sought to explore those deeper issues in my book,
When Heaven and Earth Collide: Racism, Southern Evangelicals, and the Better Way of Jesus (NewSouth Books, 2014). Because the manifestation of racism has changed from the separate water fountains and lunch counters and busses of the Jim Crow segregation era, many whites do not believe that racism still exists. As sociologists Christian Smith and Michael Emerson explained in their groundbreaking book, Divided by Race (2000), we are now in an area of racialization, which means that “race” still affects us and divides us in many ways, even if it takes different forms from the past institutionalized racism.
 
 
We live in a 'racialized society': a society where race matters profoundly and there are differential rewards (economic, social and psychological) for specific groups. The form of racialization changes: it might look like slavery, Jim Crow segregation or de facto segregation and inequality. Racialization takes many different forms, but its unchanging essences are the same. Emerson said, “When I have students from other countries who want to get a sense of racism in America, I tell them to drive around any metropolitan area they can and they will see it. They'll see Black neighborhoods, White neighborhoods, Hispanic neighborhoods, and so on. You'll see it distributed that way, but also in the fact that the unemployment rate among Blacks is twice as high as it is among Whites, no matter what the economy is doing. Whites have roughly 10 times the wealth that Blacks do.”

Southern Evangelicals tend to see racism through the lens of the segregrated past that is shameful and embarrassing. When you accuse a Southern white Evangelical of being racist or acting in a racist way, he sees images of the Klan and lynchings and segregated schools and hears the racist ideology of white supremacy in his head. He knows that he doesn't agree with that, so he rejects any accusation of racism or racialization or of racial inequality at all. It is seen as a major insult. His view is that we are all individuals and that if he worked hard and made something of himself, then why hasn't everyone else done the same in America, the land of the free? There are no structural inequalities and the racism of the past has been completely dealt with through the courts, legislation, through the dreaded Affirmative Action and minority preferences, and through the creation of the Welfare State of LBJ's Great Society. Asking for anything else is just complaining/whining and betrays a shirking of individual responsibility.

When black leaders, especially in the church, bring up racism, whites are often insulted. The conversation stops and everyone goes back to their corners and the division increases. But, black leaders know that things are not right and they see the division falling along racial lines because that is where they have fallen historically. Whites see the divisions the same way, but they also know that they do not personally hold animosity toward people just because they are black so they often actually blame black people for the continued problems because they cannot imagine how they are part of the problem. So, we stay at an impasse while some keep calling for a national conversation on race in society and in the church. But, when we do talk, we talk past each other as blacks believe that whites do not want to see the truth and whites believe that blacks simply want to blame others and do not want to take responsibility for what is happening in their own communities. And the beat goes on … It is a mess.

Way of Life. I think that there is something deeper at work here and that RACE is a symptom or a marker that identifies where the division falls more than being a primary cause of the actual division. Because Race is visible, it carries more weight and is used in an horrendous way against others, but it is not the core issue. Race becomes a way for groups to identify who are with us and who are against us. But, it is just one way. It is not a rigid marker in the way that it used to be, even though it is still there. What is more important than race at this point involves ideology, belief systems, economics, and worldview. But race is still often a convenient short-hand that helps us identify who is going to help us enhance our own way of life. The Germans have a term for this called Lebensweise. One could also translate it as lifestyle or way of living. We talk about the American Way of Life and we seek to defend it at all costs and against all threats. A defense of the Southern Way of Life led to the Civil War and was the primary animator of the defense of Segregation by Southern whites up until the 1960's. Now, we defend our individual Way of Life or our Christian Way of Life or however we define what we consider the good life. We all do this and we do it at the expense of others who might threaten us – or who we perceive might threaten us. Unfortunately, that perception is often based on the old divisions manifested through racism.

Racial Division is not the hard, structured marker of who is for us and who is against us that it used to be. White Conservative Southern Evangelicals are happy to embrace black people like Tim Scott, the Republican Senator from South Carolina or Ben Carson, Herman Cain, Alan Keyes, Allen West, or J.C. Watts. They embrace them and prove to themselves that the color of one's skin is not the hard barrier that it once was. They are convinced that the divisions in our society are no longer about RACE, but are instead about VALUES. If someone shares my values, then I consider them to be an ally. If they have different values, then I consider them to be an enemy. The primary issue that divides us involves who will help me defend my own way of life and my values against those who threaten me and my lifestyle? So, we identify our values and we align ourselves politically, religiously, socially, and economically with those who have the same goals and values and then we defend ourselves and wage war against those who we see as a threat. Race is not the major issue. Worldview is. But, we have to recognize that this problem still often plays out racially.

The problem here is that we are not doing this in a vacuum. History matters and it speaks from beyond the grave. America is a nation that has been divided according to Race since the late 1600s. Race became the marker separating the labor of the poor whites who were allowed upward mobility and the blacks in servitude to whom it was denied. Economic and power interests were key and it benefitted those in power to separate poor whites from poor blacks. Racism became institutionalized and it became the lens through which we saw our world, from Slavery to the 3/5 Compromise of the Constitution to Dred Scott to the Civil War to Plessy v. Ferguson. Racial division became ingrained in us and even after it was no longer the de jure marker of what divided us as a people, it went on to be the de facto marker.

Americans have always sought to defend and enhance and promote our own way of life over and above others. We call it freedom. It plays out militarily, economically, socially, politically, and spiritually. When this plays out racially, we have a problem that keeps huge numbers of people separated from how the rest of us defines the “good life” in America, which creates frustration and angst. Many white people say that there is no inequality and many black people point to the continued division in every possible social and economic indicator. Many whites blame blacks for that and respond with statements like, “what else do you want us to give you?” and blacks are often not able to answer that question in ways that satisfy whites as being fair, since white people today did not own slaves or stand behind fire hoses in Birmingham. So, the impasse continues.

This problem is not going to be solved in the larger society that is built on selfishness and promoting and defending one's own personal life choices and lifestyle. The irony of the Liberal critique of Race Relations is that the source of Racism is the very same source of the modern iteration of Liberalism, which involves promoting one's own personal choice and pleasure over and above the constraints of society, tradition, religion, or anything else. Modern Liberalism (not in the classical sense) is not capable of dealing with Racism because it shares the same basic foundation.

The only way to deal with Racism and its offspring of Racialization is through true Christianity and the Cross. I am not talking about the American version of Christianity that seems to exist to enhance one's own desired way of life through making God a means to an end of gaining one's best life now. And, I am not talking about an understanding of the gospel that says that if we just get individuals saved, then all will be well in every area of life, including racial injustice. That is obviously and historically false. I am talking about the Christianity of the Cross that declares that if we try to save our life then we will lose it, but if we lay down our life for Christ then we will gain it. The Christian in America can only see his politics, economics, spiritual life, social issues, race relations, foreign policy, and individual/family life through the Cross. We are told to take up our Cross and follow Jesus. Jesus leads us to lay down our lives in sacrificial love and service to others, not considering our own interests first, but looking to the interest of others. That is considered basic Christianity. That is the Way of Jesus and that Way of Life affects everything and has implications everywhere, including areas of racial division, structural inequalities, and injustice that manifests in racial and economic ways.

Racism will never be solved in America apart from the Cross of Christ and the sacrificial love that flows from Jesus's wounds into every area of life. The place for racism to be solved first is in the local church – a colony of heaven in the country of death, as Eugene Peterson calls it. It is in the local church that we must put aside our own personal preferences and individual choices of what WE like and what benefits US over and above others and where we learn to live for the benefit of others who challenge us. Then, those local churches that have been practicing Ephesians 2 gospel reconciliation turn their eyes to their broken communities and world and lay their lives down for others who have not yet been reconciled to Christ or to one another. That is how we witness to the Kingdom of God. This plays out individually, yes. But, it also has communal, region, and national effects as the Church seeks to be “salt and light” and bring Kingdom values to a world gone mad with selfishness.

We must stop trying to gain our life and promote our own way of life first. We must listen to others who say that things are broken in their world (even if we think that everything is fine, which is usually because the current situation benefits us in some way) and, instead of pointing fingers and laying blame and self righteously going about our business, we must seek to love sacrificially and lay down our lives for others in tangible ways. That is how we engage in gospel mission. If parts of our communities are suffering, then do we not all suffer? If hopelessness exists in people's lives, then do we not have hope that we can offer? If people are still suffering from the sins of the past in our nation in various ways, even ways that they are not aware of, then can the church not step in and provide healing through love, forgiveness, and service and through embodying Christ as we proclaim and demonstrate the gospel of the Kingdom?

As long as we keep trying to figure out if a person's ideology, politics, and theology is going to benefit US before we step in to serve and help them, then we are going to be constantly divided, and Race will be a primary way that that that division occurs in America because of history and culture and our own sense of desiring safety and security. However, the Cross of Christ sends us out of our area of comfort in this world because we now find our identity in Christ as the New Creation and we no longer see anyone from a worldly point of view. We are now Ambassadors of Christ and His Kingdom and are ministers of reconciliation, holding out the gospel news that God is now reconciling everything to Himself through Christ. That is our call. And, it effects everything.

We cannot bring reconciliation if we keep trying to figure out how to defend and promote our own way of life every time that our own sensibilities are challenged. Living like that undermines our gospel witness and just perpetuates the historical divisions, but with a religious sanction and veneer that is not that different from the way that the church gave a defense for race-based slavery 150 years ago. The only way out of this trap is through the Cross, where we die to ourselves, meet Jesus, and live for Him and love others sacrificially – even when they threaten us. Yes, this is hard and we all struggle with it no matter our race or background. We struggle because we are human and fallen and we do not adequately appropriate God's grace to our lives the way we should. We all need help and that is why we look to Christ and depend solely on Him and not ourselves or our own wisdom.

Racism is not THE issue. It is a symptom of a deeper issue that we don't really want to address because we don't want to die to ourselves and the practice of promoting and defending our own way of life. But, if we really want to live, we have to die. If we want to see Racism and its effects end in America, we have to die to ourselves and getting our own way and defending our own way of life over others. We need the Cross. We need grace. We need the Jesus of Christmas and Easter who came to serve and not to be served and gave His life as a ransom for many.

So, final question: Am I trying to benefit myself and my way of life, or am I looking out for the interests of others and considering them better than myself?