Tuesday, November 8, 2011

The Gospel Coalition and Race

The Gospel Coalition has been talking about race recently. I appreciate this, mostly because I know that TGC's base is largely white. (Yes, there are also many other races represented, but for the most part...) In my experience, groups that are mostly White like to ignore racial issues, so I deeply appreciate the effort. In fact, more than the effort itself, I appreciate the repentance I have seen.

A lot of the conversations I have been reading about race by The Gospel Coalition have been brought about by the release of John Piper's new book, Bloodlines, in which he talks extensively about his own racist history. I look forward to reading his book at some point when classes are not in session.

Here's the 'but':

Then I saw this video. I'm not critiquing the actual content of the video, so there's no need to watch it, although I think it would help. Rather, it's the subtitle of the video that must be addressed. Here's a photo:

Let me type that out again:

Can anyone bridge the divide between historically black churches and gospel-centered theology?

I honestly don't even know where to begin addressing the problematic assumption behind a question like that. It seems like such an obvious problem to me that it doesn't need explanation.

But let me try to spell it out: The Gospel Coalition is saying that historically black churches are not gospel-centered. By saying that there is a nearly insurmountable separation between historically black churches and gospel-centered theology, they are assuming that black churches are not centered on the gospel. Sure, there are plenty of historically black churches that have preached a watered-down gospel, and some that have preached no gospel at all. But to claim that historically black churches as an entire group have been separated from gospel-centered theology is offensive and false.

Would TGC make such a blanket statement about historically white churches? I doubt it, because most of us are able and willing to accept differences within our own race, but we lump everyone of other races together. We, as whites, are able to separate ourselves from gospel-less white preachers and recognize and honor the rich heritage of faith we have received from historically white churches. Can we not extend the same honor to historically black churches?

Now, I don't think the men in the video are addressing the question posed by the subtitle. They are addressing the divide between historically black churches and reformed theology, but the subtitle does not inquire about the divide between black churches and reformed theology. Reformed theology is not the same as gospel-centered theology. If the subtitle had simply ended with "and reformed theology?" that would have been understandable. But, unfortunately, TGC often equates reformed theology with gospel-centered theology, which is a major problem. I don't know who is responsible for writing that subtitle, but they equated "reformed theology" with "gospel-centered theology," as demonstrated through the ease with which they used those phrases interchangeably.

Of course there are churches within every culture that do not preach the gospel. But historically black churches do not deserve to be lumped together and treated with such theological disrespect. Black Christians should be proud of the rich gospel-centered, Christocentric, incarnational heritage they have.

I truly do appreciate the efforts that The Gospel Coalition has made to foster racial and ethnic harmony and full participation. But it's missteps like this that reveal why black Christians often feel dishonored and disrespected by white Christians. I hope The Gospel Coalition sees the hurt this subtitle inflicts and corrects their error.

I know race is hard to talk about, but I'd love to hear from you. Am I being too sensitive or is this a legitimate problem that needs to be addressed? As a (mostly) white woman, perhaps my reaction is off base. I don't think it is, but I'm certainly open to the possibility.

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