If the church is to be on earth what it is in heaven, the church’s mission is to see sons of Adam become sons of God by the preaching of the gospel. More predestinarian, the mission of the church is to find the lost sheep in every fold (i.e., in every nation), and by so gathering God’s elect this increases the divide between sheep and goats. Truly, the truth of two races— one natural, one spiritual—is so important today, because there is a spirit of Babel that wants to unite the human race and eliminate the divide between sheep and goats.
Here is the thesis that I want to argue: Your race is more important than your ethnicity.
When defined biblically and not sociologically, one’s race is more important for identity formation than one’s ethnicity. And by extension, the mission of the church is to help you make that statement true. Which raises the question. What is race? And do you know what your race is?
As insulting as that question may sound at first, I am going to suggest it is an easy question to mistake—especially if we have fused biblical ideas with worldly ideologies. At the same time, if we can answer this question from the Bible and the Bible alone, then we have hope for knowing and growing the mission of the church. This is the point that I will argue here, and here is how I will proceed.
I will show why the concept of racialization in America is popular and pervasive, but ultimately unhelpful—if not harmful.
I will attempt to draw the lines of race and ethnicity according to the Bible.
With those lines in place, I will demonstrate that the mission of the church helps men and women, who hold PhD’s in ethnic Partiality, ethnic Hostility, ethnic Discrimination, grow up into Christ, who is the head of a new chosen race, redeemed from nation (ethnē).
So that’s where we are going today.
Racism (Re)Defined as Racialization?
If you have not seen or heard this word before, you probably have not been reading the newer books on the subject of race and racism. Not that I am counting, but this term has been used by John Piper (Bloodlines), Jarvis Williams (Redemptive Kingdom Diversity), Irwyn Ince (The Beautiful Community), and many others. And importantly, all of these works point to Michael Emerson and Christian Smith in their landmark book, Divided by Faith.
Irwyn Ince is a wonderful brother who has been a PCA pastor for years. He has served as Moderator of the General Assembly of the PCA. And most personally, I met him a few years ago when I sat in on one of his classes at Reformed Theological Seminary. After that, he preached in our church’s pulpit and delivered an edifying message from the book of Hebrews. So I deeply respect Dr. Ince and there are many parts of his book I appreciate. That said I find his use of the idea of racialization unhelpful.
In The Beautiful Community: Unity, Diversity, and the Church at Its Best, Ince describes the effects of Genesis 11 on America. And in that discussion, he cites Ibram X. Kendi and Kendi’s thesis that racist policies in America have always come from racist ideas (pp. 75–76). Affirming this sociological perspective, Ince makes a theological connection. He says, “Put in theological terms, our racialized society is an outworking of our ghettoization at Babel. And the devastating reality is that groups of people still seek to serve the interests of their ghetto.”
“Kendi’s point about the changing nature of racialization in America reinforces what Christian Smith and Michael Emerson explained in 2000 when they wrote: “The framework we here use—racialization—reflects that [post-Civil Rights era] adaptation. It [Racialization] understands that racial practices that reproduce racial division in the contemporary United States [are] (1) increasingly covert, (2) embedded in normal operations of institutions, (3) avoid direct racial terminology, and (4) invisible to most Whites.”
Without getting into all the details of racialization, we need to consider where this new, Post-Civil Rights racism comes from. If you look at Ince and all the other evangelicals who use this term, almost all of them cite Emerson and Smith. And where do Emerson and Smith get the definition of racialization, the idea of racist ideas hidden in plain sight?
The short answer is Eduardo Bonilla-Silva, a sociology professor at Duke and a leading proponent of Critical Race Theory (Divided by Faith, 9–11). What is important about Bonilla-Silva, is that racism after the Civil Rights movement has been transformed and is now embedded in social, political, and legal structures. The result is that racism can now exist without racists. That’s the title of his book (Racism with Racists), now in its sixth edition. This book was published after Divided by Faith, but Emerson and Smith cite an unpublished paper that he wrote in 1997.
Here’s the point. Without getting into the details of CRT, when you use, or hear, or see the word “racialization,” take note. It is not a concept that comes from the Bible, nor is it a word that comes from a sociology grown from biblical stock. Racialization is a term that comes from a view of the world that is wholly inconsistent with the biblical narrative. And thus, Christians should take caution whenever that word is used and should seek a biblical definition of race and ethnicity, as well of the universal sins of ethnic pride and hostility.
In what follows, I will argue that if we are going to rebuild our understanding of race, ethnicity, and the ministry of reconciliation, we must not borrow the idea of racialization. Instead, we need to go back to the Bible itself. We cannot simply employ the tools of CRT, or any other religious ideology (e.g., White Supremacy, Black Power, or anything else), to assist biblical reconciliation. Instead, we must mine the depths of Scripture to find God’s perspective on fallen humanity, its sin, and God’s plan of reconciliation in Christ. Because Scripture is sufficient to handle any type of sin, importing the concept of “racialization” does not give us a better understanding of Scripture. It only confuses the problem.
For not only does racialization, a concept drawn from the quarries of CRT, identify sin with groups of people—specifically, people with power—but it also ignores human agency in sin. Even more, it gives a view of the world that comes from sociology—and not just any sociology, but a sociology that redefines biblical words and concepts, so that in talking about race, ethnicity, justice, and the church, we end up talking the language of Babel. Therefore, we need to go back the Bible.
One Human Race, Or Two?
With our eyes fixed on Scripture we need to see what the Bible says about race, ethnicity, and the pride, hostility, and discrimination that arises in the heart of every son or daughter born of Adam.
The first thing to observe is that the Bible identifies two races, not just one. This might sound strange, if you have been schooled in the biology of Darwin and his kind, because various Darwinists have argued that different races came from different origins. This was the scientific rationale that supported the racial inferiority of blacks.
By contrast, Paul declares there is one human race, derived from one man. “And he made from one man every nation of mankind to live on all the face of the earth, having determined allotted periods and the boundaries of their dwelling place” (Acts 17:26).
Still, this singular human race, with one common ancestor, does not deny a second race in the Bible—namely, a people born from above (John 3:3–8). As Scripture presents it, every child of God has a Father in heaven and an older brother in Christ, not Adam. In Romans 5, these two races are set against one another. There is the human race whose head is the first man, and there is the new human race whose head is the last man. Maybe we do not think of Adam’s family and Christ’s family as two separate races, but we should. Peter does. Just listen to 1 Peter 2:9: “But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light.”
So, does the Bible teach us about race? Absolutely. Race is a biblical concept. For all the ways that sociology has (wrongly) defined race, there is something in Scripture that speaks to this very issue. The word “race” is the word genos, a word that can mean descendent, family, nation, class or kind. Indeed, it is a word that deserves its own study, but in 1 Peter 2:9, it is clearly speaking of a new humanity, chosen by God, redeemed by the Son, and made alive by the Spirit. And this “chosen race” is set against another “race,” the sons and daughters of Adam and Eve.
In this way, we should see in Scripture one fallen human race and one redeemed human race, thus producing two peoples, or as Genesis 3:15 would have it, “two seeds.” From the beginning, there was a single divide in humanity, producing two kinds of people. And in the fullness of time (i.e., when Christ came), this divide manifested in the two races referenced in 1 Peter 2:9. Today, all biblical thinking about race begins with this fact—there is not one human race, but two.
A Biblical Theology of Race
Moving across the canon helps us take the next step in a biblical theology of race. If we had more time, we could consider all the ways that the Law divided Jew and Gentile as two “races.” Indeed, if the language of Scripture means anything, it is striking that in Acts 7:19, Stephen speaks of Israel as his “race” (genos) not his ethnicity (ethnos). Indeed, because the divide in the Law separates Jew and Gentile as two peoples, set under different covenantal heads, the division between Jew and Gentile stands in typological relationship to Adam and Jesus. To put it in an analogy,
Jew : Gentile :: Christ : Adam
More fully, we can say that the legal division between Jew and Gentile, did not create a permanent, spiritual, or lasting division in humanity, but it did reinforce the divide created in Genesis 3:15, when God set at odds the seed of the woman against the seed of the serpent. Ever since, the biblical story carves out one people to be God’s chosen race. In the Old Testament, this was the nation of Israel according to the flesh (see Exod. 19:5–6). And during the time of the old covenant, there were two “races”—the Jews and the Gentiles. Typologically, these two races were roughly equivalent to the seed of the woman and the seed of the serpent, even though not every Israelite was truly a seed of the woman (e.g., Saul) and some Gentiles would become members of the covenant community (e.g., Rahab and Ruth).
In the fullness of time, however, this covenantal difference would be brought to an end, and the real, lasting, and spiritual divide, of which God promised in Genesis 3, and again in Genesis 12, would be created in the new race of men created by the firstborn from the dead, Jesus Christ (Col. 1:18). And this again is what makes two races.
Therefore, “racism,” according to Scripture alone, should be defined as the hostility that stands between seed of the woman and the seed of the serpent. Indeed, what is commonly called racism today is not racism at all, but ethnic hostility, ethnic pride, ethnic partiality. Moreover, what is called diversity, equity, and inclusion is actually an affront to the very division that Jesus is bringing into the world (see Matt. 10:34).
Now, in redefining racism according to Scripture, I am not trying to ignore the fact that our world is filled with pride and partiality amplified by color-consciousness. America’s history is filled with hatred and violence due to skin color. If there is anything redeemable in Divided by Faith, it is the selective but shocking history of slavery and Jim Crow that it reports. Those who deny the horrors of history should listen to the testimonies of Frederick Douglass (Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass), Booker T. Washington (Up from Slavery), and Solomon Northrup (Twelve Years a Slave).