It seems to be a fact of life that human beings cannot continue to do wrong without eventually reaching out for some rationalization to clothe their acts in the garments of righteousness. And so, with the growth of slavery, men had to convince themselves that a system which was so economically profitable was morally justifiable. The attempt to give moral sanction to a profitable system gave birth to the doctrine of white supremacy. (Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., Where Do We Go From Here?, p. 76-77)
Just as the New Perspective on Paul (NPP) has—for all its potential faults, both real and imagined—reoriented modern New Testament scholarship away from shoehorning 1st century Jew/gentile conflicts into the interpretive paradigm of 16th century Catholic/Reformation conflicts, so I’d suggest a new perspective on Christian antiracism is needed to reorient modern antiracists away from shoehorning 17th to 21st century racial “conflicts” into the interpretive paradigm of 1st century Jew/Gentile conflicts. Though NPP scholars were seeking to rid New Testament hermeneutics of a much later distorting imposition, I’m suggesting many Christian antiracists are unintentionally doing the reverse, viz., distorting our understanding of modern racism by the imposition of very unlike circumstances recorded in the New Testament.
As discussed in PART 1, the “gospel,” according to the Scripture, appears to be a much fuller concept than the mere facts of Christ’s death for sin and resurrection, though these are certainly of “first importance” (1 Cor. 15:3). Beginning with the New Testament epistles, we saw that the gospel also includes the certainty of impartial judgement on the Last Day, contradicts a host of both personal and social sins, dictates who we ought to eat with, and is actually something to be “obeyed.” Going back to the beginning, it became clear that the protoevangelium of Genesis 3:15 promised a restoration of all that was lost in the fall; that is, it promised resurrection of both body and soul, return to original righteousness, renewal of mankind’s natural habitation, and the restoration of society with both God and man (and in each case, much more than the original). The Apostle Paul calls this message of the Seed the “gospel” (preached to Abraham), and the author of Hebrews calls the promise of entrance into God’s seventh day rest the “gospel” as well (preached to the Israelites in the Wilderness), both drawing on Garden evangel themes.
The Gospel, therefore, is a public exhibition of the Son of God manifested in the flesh, (1 Timothy 3:16) to deliver a ruined world, and to restore men from death to life. It is justly called a good and joyful message, for it contains perfect happiness. Its object is to commence the reign of God, and by means of our deliverance from the corruption of the flesh, and of our renewal by the Spirit, to conduct us to the heavenly glory. For this reason it is often called the kingdom of heaven, and the restoration to a blessed life, which is brought to us by Christ, is sometimes called the kingdom of God… . (John Calvin, Commentary on Matthew, Mark, Luke)
The gospel is the power of God unto salvation. This is Biblically undeniable. But what is the gospel? There appears to be an underlying disagreement among Christians over this definition, fueling charges of both “Social Gospel” from one side and “Gospel-Only-ism” (or the like) from the other. The truth is, both of these systems obscure the true meaning of “gospel”; the former verging on Materialism and the eclipse of the individual, the latter verging on Gnosticism and the eclipse of community. I hope in this short series to offer some clarification, for I too believe that the gospel is the answer to all individual and social ills.
One of the possible pitfalls of the Christian argument for racial and ethnic reconciliation (RR), especially among those of the Reformed or Calvinistic tradition (of which I am a member), is the potential implication that only believers, i.e., those in Christ, are included in the scope of sought social equity and justice. Of course, RR advocates acknowledge that all men are created in the very image and likeness of God; that is,
the whole human being is image and likeness of God, in soul and body, in all human faculties, powers, and gifts. Nothing in humanity is excluded from God’s image; it stretches as far as our humanity does and constitutes our humanness. (Herman Bavinck)
But when it comes to the idea of “reconciliation” itself, the argument usually moves from the reconciliation between God and man wrought by Christ on the Cross to reconciliation between man and man premised on the same. In the words of the Apostle,
[I found it necessary later to offer one clarification to what follows. Though mentioned below, I want to make it abundantly clear that I do not think that the Jew/Gentile relation is one-to-one comparable to modern Western racial relations, but am only here responding in-kind to those who would press color-blindness via the passages discussed. Please see “What Does “Jew & Gentile” Have to do With “Black & White”? : A Clarification.“]
Among the greatest barriers to acknowledging—or even recognizing—the extent of racialization in American society, and the extent of white privilege in particular, is the post-Civil Rights ethic of “color-blindness.”
Not only does the color-blind ethic obscure the history and currency of the centuries-forged “color line” in America, it also allows for only historically unhinged explanations of current disparities, lending to the continued maintenance of the status quo, cemented through 450 years of both overt racism and racialized institution building. In fact, it renders racial and ethnic disparities nearly un-stateable, collapsing all problems into individual events among individual bad actors with “perfectly reasonable” individual explanations—usually some deficiency among minorities themselves.
While I intend to explore the interpretive patterns and social ramifications of color-blind racism in the next post, I would like here to first address the so called “color-blind theology” which is thought to furnish a Biblical justification for a color-blind ethic within the Church itself. Just as the majority of Americans today believe color-blindness to be the highest expression of anti-racism, so also many theologians seem to believe it is the God ordained basis for unity within the Church as well as the Gospel cure to any prejudice or disparity within the Body.
While reading Joshua Torrey’s A Lying Spirit over the weekend, I began to ponder again Gregory of Nyssa’s view of the Incarnation and Atonement. The fit is quite natural, both considering “holy deception” (as Torrey calls it)—the former explaining and justifying, the latter applying to the cloaking of God in flesh.
Torrey reviews many examples of deception in the Bible, from God employing a lying spirit to deceive a wicked king, to Rahab’s concealment of the Hebrew spies in the City of Jericho, to Solomon’s baby splitting ruse, in each case quoting the approval God and the commendation of Biblical authors. The book itself is set against the backdrop of Project Veritas’s recent public outing of Planned Parenthood’s wicked and disgusting practices. Deception was plainly used in gaining access to the facilities and employees, earning their confidence and gathering information. The question is, were these methods Biblically justifiable? Torrey answers, “yes.” He bases this not only on many in-kind Biblical examples, but in particular on the apparent narrative theme of deception used to despoil the Deceiver, all in order to save life, subvert the forces of injustice, and further God’s own historical redemptive program.
But of most interest to me, relative to Gregory of Nyssa, is Torrey’s observation that,
Contrary to the assumption of many, the Law was not simply a ministration of death (2 Cor. 3:7), that which slew Paul (Rom. 7:9), the sting of death (1 Cor. 15:56), etc., but was rather a very gracious act of God—a redeeming act of God—Christ Himself promulgating the Law to His own people from Mt. Sinai, carrying them on eagle’s wings through the Wilderness, and in the Law displaying His own perfect and most desirable character. As we discussed last time, the Law became death to apostate Jews, not because it was not holy, righteous, and good in itself, but because we are fallen and evil by nature. What the Jews had failed to see was the purpose of the Law, preferring in the pride of their uncircumcised hearts to “do this and live,” rather than believe in their hearts and confess with their mouths the faith that was by it brought near.
“The law was a schoolmaster unto Christ” (Gal. 3:24) and contained “the shadow of things to come” (Heb. 10:1), whose body and express image is in Christ. (Francis Turretin, Elenctic Theology, Bk. 2, p. 226)
But I would here like to begin a study of how even the moral aspect of the Law, the very “handwriting that was against us” (Col. 2:14), including the Ten Commandments, was also integral to the administration of the one redemptive work of our Lord Jesus Christ. Of course, this administration can be seen most clearly in the Sacrificial system and the many promises, but I believe it can also be shown that the Whole Law of God was part of the sufficiency and efficaciousness of Christ’s redeeming work in the Old Testament. After all, that is the underlying thesis of this whole series—that Christ’s work was dispensed by means of the Old Covenant, not in spite of it.
For the life of the flesh is in the blood, and I have given it for you on the altar to make atonement for your souls, for it is the blood that makes atonement by the life. (Leviticus 17:11)
All orthodox believers understand that the sacrifices of the Old Testament were typical of the one vicarious, life for life, substitutionary sacrifice of our Lord Jesus Christ. Christ is called the Lamb of God that takes away the sins of the world (Jn. 1:29), the Pascal Lamb (1 Cor. 5:7), the Sacrifice of Atonement (1 Jn. 2:2), and He who “gave Himself up for us, an offering of sacrifice to God for an odor of a sweet smell” (Eph. 5:2). This should not be disputed. But how were these ancient animal sacrifices “sufficient and efficacious, through the operation of the Spirit, to instruct and build up the elect in faith in the promised Messiah, by whom they had full remission of sins, and eternal salvation” (Westminster Confession of Faith, CH. 8.6)? A short perusal of the Book of Hebrews will help make this plain.