This is part 4 of what will likely be a 7-part series dealing with the racial reconciliation movement being pushed by Southern Baptists like Jarvis Williams and Russell Moore. This post is going to evaluate Williams’ arguments concerning racial division and reconciliation as he says it is taught in the Bible.
Williams beings this section by claiming the following: Scripture supports the notion that racial division is a universal power that rules and reigns like an evil tyrant over all Jews and Gentiles because of the historic fall of Adam and Even in the garden of Eden. Williams claims that the fall entails both vertical and horizontal estrangement. Not only has the human race been separated from God, it has also been separated from itself. Now, I fully admit that estrangement is the consequence of sin. But I must confess that I cannot see how the fall entailed the same kind of estrangement of man from man that it did of man from God. That again seems to me to be stretching the truth. Adam and Eve were not immediately (if ever) separated from one another as far as I know. But they were separated from God immediately. So, we would say that immediately, for Adam and Eve, there was a division between them and God and a need for reconciliation. But I cannot see how they needed to be reconciled to one another. Williams again seems to be reading his thesis into his exegesis.
Now, it is certainly the case that Adam and Eve would now have to manage competing priorities and even interests. Conflict was inevitable. Rather than submit to him, Eve would have an innate desire to rule over her husband. But this is still not the division that exists between humanity and God. It only opens the door for such division. The potential for division is not division. While it is true that division is the consequence of sin, it is not to be confused with the state of man’s relationship with God. Man was not cut off from man the way he was cut off from God after the fall. Adam and Eve were not cut off from each other.
Williams advances his argument with the following claim: Yet the Bible teaches that Jesus, the new Adam, died and rose from the dead to kill all forms of sin and to reverse the vertical and horizontal curse over the entire cosmos by restoring vertical and horizontal relationships. It is clear that Williams takes his racial reconciliation ideas to the text, exaggerates division between humanity, includes it in the curse, and the folds it into the gospel. This is not to say that there is no relationship between human hostility and the fall. Surely there is. But as he always does, Williams pushes this hostility too far. Williams positions the gospel as reconciliation in the broadest terms. But there are some serious problems with this understanding of the gospel. Those will be addressed in due course.
Williams says that the horizontal curse brings us to the topic of racial division. He says Paul generalizes racial division as Jews and Gentiles. Williams is right that there was a separation between the Jews and the Gentiles. He is also right to say that this division was based on the covenant. This division was due to the divine prerogative. We call it election. But Williams is wrong to classify it as racial division. Moses knew nothing about the sort of division that Williams is speaking of. It was not racial division at all. The Jews were of the seed of Abraham. They belonged to the family of Abraham. Abraham was called out by God and his seed was chosen to be God’s people. This created division between Abraham’s offspring and those who were not his offspring. It wasn’t sin that separated human beings from one another, it was God. Because of sin, God chose, according to his plan, to elect some to salvation from the very beginning. That component of God’s plan and more so, the act of God to choose some but not others is the actual cause of the division. All human beings were one man in sin. We see this in Genesis 11:6: The Lord said, “Behold, they are one people, and they all have the same language. And this is what they began to do, and now nothing which they purpose to do will be impossible for them.
Williams says that “Jesus died so that he would abolish the dividing wall of hostility between Jews and Gentiles so that he would reconcile Jews and Gentiles to God and to each other.” However, that is not exactly what Paul says in Eph. 2:13-16. Paul says that Christ died that he might reconcile both in one body to God through the cross. Hoehner writes, It must be understood that the reconciliation spoken of here is not between Jews and Gentiles “into” one body, for that would necessitate an εις rather than εν…rather it is speaking of those believing Jews and Gentiles, who are in one body, as reconciled “to God.” [Hoehner, 383] In Christ, Jews and Gentiles have been brought together into one man, unified. But it is off the mark to think of them as estranged in a way that requires reconciliation. What divided the Jew and the Gentile was the law, not race. God gave the law to the Jew and not to the Gentile. The point here is that Jesus did not die in order to reconcile races. He died to reconcile the human race to God. And through that reconciliation, the human race that finds itself elect of God, chosen by him finds itself as one new man in Christ. That is the point. The reconciliation to God results in a new kind unity in a new body, the body of Christ.
In summary then, man rebelled against God and as a result, God separated himself from man. God placed a curse on the human race. All men became equally separated from God through the fall of the first man, Adam. Nevertheless, God has acted to reconciled with some men from among the human race. He chose Noah to preserve some men from among fallen men. His choice was grounded in himself. And then, according to the gospel preached in the garden of Eden, God chose Abraham and his seed from among fallen men, to be his covenant people. Abraham’s family would be the covenant family that would grow in the covenant nation. It would be through this nation, the Nation of Israel, the Jews, that God would preserve for himself a people, a covenant people, a people whom he would redeem for himself, according to the purpose of his own plan for his own glory. The promise made to Abraham was that all nations would be blessed through his seed. Paul tells us with great clarity that that seed was Christ. In Christ, we are all, Jews and Gentiles, the seed of Abraham. The good news is that Christ reconciles all men to God through his own blood. By faith in the name of Jesus Christ, we are reconciled to God, partakers of the divine nature. We participate in the fellowship with God and now with one another by virtue of the fact that we have been placed into the body of Christ. We are all sons in the family of God. We are one in Christ.