Love Your Neighbor: A Biblical Theology of Race and Ethnicity
For he himself is our peace, who has made us both one and has broken down in his flesh the dividing wall of hostility by abolishing the law of commandments expressed in ordinances, that he might create in himself one new man in place of the two, so making peace, and might reconcile us both to God in one body through the cross, thereby killing the hostility. And he came and preached peace to you who were far off and peace to those who were near. For through him we both have access in one Spirit to the Father.
— Ephesians 2:14–18
From the timing of this sermon it might look like it was a response to the recent Executive Order from President Trump. That’s not the case. Yet, the timing does seem providential as this final sermon in our series (Rhythms of Mercy: Cultivating Habits of Holiness in a Hostile World), comes to address the difficult subject of race and ethnicity.
Instead of tackling the problem of racism head on, something for another sermon, this message steps back to lay a biblical foundation for understanding what the Bible says about race. Following the contours of redemptive history (i.e., Creation — Fall — Redemption — New Creation) I try to show in this sermon how God’s intention has always been to bring reconciliation to all peoples. Clearly, this is the aim of the gospel and hence racial reconciliation is a central implication of applying the gospel to all areas of life.
You can find the sermon online and the sermon notes available here. Additionally, there are discussion questions below based on the sermon and many more resources that helped me think through these issues below. In particular, these resources focus on listening to African-American Christians whose various experiences have helped me tune in to the larger issues of ongoing racism in our country. I pray they will help you, as well, and that God would give us listening ears, loving hearts, and wisdom to pursue compassionate justice.
- On a scale of 1–10 where would you place race relations as a problem in the church? How much do you think your involvement/isolation from racism impacts that number?
- When you come to an ethical challenge, how do you begin to think about it? If you go to the Bible, where do you go? Why is it important to start with a biblical theology, instead of a proof-text approach?
- Before talking about the Bible, what are obstacles that we face in rightly reading the Bible? How do historic “mis-readings” of Scripture impact the discussion of a “biblical theology” of race?
- Now turning to the Bible, what does the doctrine of creation teach us about the image of God? What conclusions about race and ethnicity can we draw from a biblical doctrine of creation?
- The Fall impacted all areas of life. How did this impact race relations? Is the problem only individual racists, or are there (systemic / corporate) elements that are problematic? (If you only think racism is an individual issue, please read Walking While Black or listen to Sen. Tim Scott (R – SC)).
- How does the story of redemption teach us to think about racial reconciliation?
- What did you learn from Exodus 12:48 and inclusion of the nations in Israel’s history (e.g., Rahab, Ruth, Bathsheba, Phineas, Uriah the Hittite, 2 Samuel 7:19)?
- What does Isaiah teach us about God’s plan of salvation (see 2:2–3; 19:23–25; 49:6–7; 66:20–21)?
- What does Jesus love for Samaria say about cross-cultural ministry?
- Read Ephesians 2:13–17. What does it teach us about horizontal reconciliation?
- Read Revelation 7:9–17. How does this future vision impel you pursue of racial reconciliation.
- What are practical things you can do today to be a peace-maker? (Ideas: (1) lean in, (2) listen, (3) learn, (4) lead in reaching across boundaries)
For Further Consideration
Walking While Black by Garnette Cardogan
The Misappropriation of Martin Luther King Jr. by Jemar Tisby
Is Black Lives Matter the New Civil Rights Movement? by Mica Edmonson — this is the manuscript of Mica Edmonson’s sermon by the same title
Ugly Stain, Beautiful Hope: My Response to Mica Edmonson by R. Albert Mohler — this is Mohler’s thoughtful response to Edmonson
- Where the Gospel Meets Racial Reconciliation with Jesse Eubanks, Kevin Jones, et al. (a Love Thy Neighborhood Podcast)
- Sen. Tim Scott (R – SC) gives his personal testimony before the U.S. Senate (YouTube)
- Martin Luther King, Jr. and the Power of Unearned Pain with Mica Edmonson and Collin Hansen (a TGC Podcast)
Here are some of the books I read over the last few weeks in preparation for this sermon.
- Letter from a Birmingham Jail by Martin Luther King Jr. (audiobook)
- Divided by Faith: Evangelical Religion and the Problem of Race in America by Michael Emerson and Christian Smith — if any book might help white Christians understand their blindness to white privilege and systemic racism, this might be it
- From Every People and Nation: A Biblical Theology of Race by J. Daniel Hays — this is a strong biblical survey of God’s multi-ethnic plan of salvation; see Anthony Carter’s review
Here are other books on my bookshelf and reading list regarding racial reconciliation.
- A Testament of Hope: The Essential Writings and Speeches of Martin Luther King, Jr. edited by James M. Washington
- One New Man: The Cross and Racial Reconciliation in Pauline Theology by Jarvis Williams
- Removing the Stain of Racism from the Southern Baptist Convention: Diverse African American and White Perspectives edited by Jarvis Williams and Kevin Jones
- United by Faith: The Multiracial Congregation as an Answer to the Problem of Racism by Curtiss Paul DeYoung, Michael Emerson, et al.
- Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates
Finally, here is Bruce Ashford’s list of six books White Christians Should Read in Honor of MLK’s Legacy.
May the Lord give us grace to lean in, listen, learn, lament, and look to Christ in the proactive work of racial reconciliation.
Soli Deo Gloria, ds