Ferguson, Race, and The Goodness of Created-Physical-Existence

Consider this one very small contribution to what is a huge and beyond complicated subject that I would much rather listen than contribute to.

One of the ways to approach this subject is to try to formulate a Christian account of race in light of the Gospel. A key text here is Ephesians 2:14-16–“For He Himself is our peace, who has made both one, and has broken down the middle wall of separation, having abolished in His flesh the enmity, that is, the law of commandments contained in ordinances, so as to create in Himself one new man from the two, thus making peace, and that He might reconcile them both to God in one body through the cross, thereby putting to death the enmity.” (NKJV)

In framing the discussion, I’ve heard some who seem be saying “We should talk about this subject as Christians. Not as black Christians or white Christians, but simply as mere Christians. In Christ there is neither ‘Barbarian, Scythian, slave, nor free’, after all. Paying special attention to a black perspective on this subject is divisive to the body of Christ where black and white don’t matter anymore.” And then those commentators who are perceived to maintain this kind of “spiritual neutrality” are praised for their “Christ centered objectivism” and those who “keep bringing up race” are accused of being divisive, and just throwing gas on the fire. “If you would quit bringing it up it would quit being a problem” is the (sometimes) unspoken hint.

I think we need to be careful here that we don’t unwittingly act out an unwarranted, almost gnostic, dismissal of our identity as physical beings in favor of a more “spiritual”, race-less, Christian identity. A robust account of our identity as persons created in the image of God with real physical bodies is essential to staying on course here. God created a physical world and called it very good. He’s not afraid of matter, and he’s not afraid of the physicality of our human bodies. He made us this way, and then he became embodied in physical flesh Himself! When he created humans and later divided them at Babel, he certainly knew of the thousands of different people groups, languages, cultures, perspectives, and skin tones (there are thousands) that would result. He points us to a future, not in which race is “done away” along with the tears and the pain, but one in which re-embodied people distinguished as from every tribe and tongue and people and nation are gathered around the throne praising the Lamb.

God created us in real bodies with real melanin, and that’s a good thing. In the body of Christ, we come from different perspectives that have been informed by our backgrounds, including our ethnic background. That’s a good thing. The mere existence of ethnic differences in the body of Christ is not in itself divisive, but only when those difference are allowed to form the basis for sinful division. Hence, the answer is not to pretend that those differences aren’t real, but to love one another through them, in them (and not “in spite” of them!). The glory of God in the gospel is when His Spirit takes those real differences and makes of them a unity in Christ–but not by pretending that those differences are not real or significant. What kind of glory is that? “Look, these people are getting along! (when they figured out that their skin color is illusory and irrelevant).” The unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace across ethnic boundaries is not made more glorious by ignoring those differences, but rather by robustly affirming them. The power of the gospel is not manifest by “not talking about race” but by bringing race to the table in all of its complications and messiness, and working through it in love. When a person becomes a Christian, does their physical body cease to matter? Is it merely an illusion, a distraction,–or worse–a necessary cause of division?

“Not talking about race” is not gospel unity–it’s superficial, and it might even be symptomatic of worse: a subtle denial of our good, created, physical, bodies, in color, no less.

I can’t wait until we have perfect unity around the throne. Until then, as a white-Christian, I need to hear from those parts of the body who can help me see my blind spots, and who are experiencing suffering because they are black-Christians, or otherwise. In my own limited and finite perspective, I need to hear from black-Christians. 

I’m not capable of participating in a “race-less” Christianity yet. If I’m reading my Bible right, I don’t think we ever will.

“We Ourselves are the Church”

71gdVElR+4LKarl Barth on the need for the whole Church in the theological enterprise:

To participate in this, and therefore to accompany even the work of erudite theology in the sticter sense, is the task of the community and therefore of each individual member. The Christian is not free to adopt any current religious idea, to espouse his own private philosophy, and then to urge this upon the community. On the other hand, he is both free and yet also summoned and obliged to reflect not he Word which underlies the community and is to be declared by it, and to give responsible expression to his reflections. No one will do this obediently unless he is prepared to let himself be stimulated, advised and guided by others, including professional theologians. No one will do it obediently if he is not in dialogue not only with God but also with his fellow-men and fellow-Christians. The freedom at issue is freedom int he community and not a foolish freedom on one’s own responsibility and on the basis of hopeful or defiant private inspirations. No one, however, can be content at this point to be a mere “layman,” to be indolent, to be no more than a passive spectator or reader. No one is excused the task of asking questions or the more difficult task of providing and assessing answers. Preaching in the congregation, and the theology which serves its preparation, can be faithful to its theme and therefore relevant and adapted to the circumstances and edifying to the community, only if it is surround, sustained and constantly stimulated and fructified by the questions and answers of the community. With his own questions and answers in matters of right understanding and doctrine, each individual Christian thus participates in what the community is commanded to do. If he holds aloof, or slackens, or allows himself to sleep, or wanders into speculation and error, he must not be surprised if sooner or later the same will have to be said about the community as such and particularly about its more responsible members. How many complaints about the “Church” would never be made if only those who make them were to realize that we ourselves are the Church, so that what it has or has not to say stands or falls with us!

Church Dogmatics III/4: The Doctrine of Creation: The Command of God the Creator, §55.3 p. 498

 

Modifying Career Goals for the Kingdom’s Good

41-utQ3519LDavid Clark, from his fantastic book on theological method. As a younger man at the front end of my life, thinking about goals and trajectories, the academy and the church, this was a very thought provoking quote. I wonder what ‘community-based scholarship’ looks like in practice. It also reminded me of this post and my follow-up on academia, amateurism, and envy.

It seems obvious that theology should access the personal and communal experience of many Christian believers. This means that actually retrieving the unity of theology is the work of the entire corps of evangelical scholars, pastors, and believers, not just of individuals. Vestiges of modernist academic values–the individual scholar, free of external constraint from bishops and creeds, protected by academic freedom and tenure, objectively viewing some small range of data–remain in evangelical academic contexts. But this model will not serve the church well. Actually achieving a unity of the theological disciplines requires a humble recognition of the various gifts within the body of Christ. No one person can read everything; no one person has all the best thoughts or insights; no one person has all the revealing experiences. When Christians with varied gifts and different areas of competence genuinely listen to each other in dialogue, their respective horizons can be pushed back and their perspectives unified. A community-based model of scholarship may require that those in the evangelical academy temper their individual quests for (academic) fame and fortune and modify their own career goals for the Kingdom’s good.

To Know and Love God p. 191