Racial Reconciliation and the Mystery of the Gospel: Interacting with Jarvis Williams Pt. 5

It seems that Jarvis Williams’ argument for racial reconciliation necessarily entails that race is defined in terms of melanin and that the definition of the gospel is stretched and broadened beyond its historic meaning in Christian orthodoxy to something closer, much closer to liberation theology and the leftist notions of a social gospel. Paul said that the gospel is the power of God unto salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew First and also to the Gentile (Rom. 1:16) That is what the gospel is. It is the power of God that produces salvation, delivers from sin and releases from that divine legal debt we could never have paid. In the gospel, the righteousness of God is revealed from faith to faith. By faith, the righteous man comes to be, he lives. Better stated, But he who is righteous by faith, shall live. Otherwise, without faith, there is no righteous man. All men are dead in trespasses and sins. This is a narrative that is far more glorious than any finite mind could ever fully comprehend. For some odd reason, however, it isn’t enough for Jarvis Williams. The gospel must be broadened, and it must be broadened for the simple fact that Williams’ has an agenda and in order to support that agenda, and so that he might strengthen his argument, the narrative must be changed.

Williams claims that the gospel is broader than some are willing to admit. Historic Christianity and surely Southern Baptists, almost all of whom are Gentiles, have a very broad understanding of the gospel in the sense that the gospel of salvation extends beyond all believing Jews, and applies to all Gentiles who believe as well, or better, all believing Gentiles. I don’t think you can get any broader than that. But Williams has a different understanding of broad in mind. He says that the gospel does not just include entry-level language but, it includes maintenance language as well. But is this really the gospel? Is progressive sanctification as it has historically been called, the gospel? Or, it is related to the gospel? There is a difference between the gospel and those things that are related to the gospel. Once again, Williams creates confusion on this point because he wants to stretch the definition of terms and ideas and concepts. What is driving Williams’ method? The answer is simple: Williams’ agenda is driving his method and it is terribly influencing his exegesis. Like Steven Covey’s book on Seven Habits, Williams is beginning with the end in mind. He knows where he wants to go before he even begins his investigation of the text where this topic is concerned.

The Baptist Faith and Message states that Salvation involves the redemption of the whole man, and is offered freely to all who accept Jesus Christ as Lord and Saviour, who by His own blood obtained eternal redemption for the believer. Salvation is offered to ‘all’ is as broad of language as one can use. Williams says, “Paul argues that the gospel includes the reconciliation of Jews and Gentiles into one new humanity.” Williams is doing something very intentional with his use of the word “reconciliation.” He knows when he says “racial reconciliation” that the image that is created is the modern notion of gaps between black and white Christians. He knows that people will naturally want to read that image into Paul here in Ephesians when he positions it this way. But this is exactly how you do NOT do exegesis. The goal is to sit your modern baggage aside as much as is possible with the help of the Spirit. And you seek to see the argument from Paul in first-century terms. The Jews thought that the Messiah was coming to establish an earthly kingdom. They thought salvation was nationally deliverance. They thought all the nations would be blessed through their Jewish rule. They were wrong! That is NOT the good news. The good news is that Messiah himself is the seed of Abraham that would bless all the nations of the world by reconciling the human race from all those nations to himself. Foremost in Paul’s mind is correcting the Jewish mindset on the true nature of the kingdom, the true nature of blessing, and the true fulfillment of the promises to Abraham. If you employ modern ideas of race (ideas which are terribly misguided and always have been), when you come to the text, you will miss the true meaning of what Paul is getting at. And if you are not careful, you will miss the gospel in all its richness.

The mystery of the gospel that Paul is talking about is not the mystery of racial reconciliation. It is the mystery that Gentiles are fellow heirs and fellow members of the body, fellow partakers of the promise in Christ Jesus through the gospel (Eph. 3:6). Contrary to Williams’ point, Paul’s focus isn’t race. It is the summing up of all things in Christ who is the head. It seems odd to me that a Gentile in the body of Christ writing to other Gentiles in the body of Christ would write as if the work of reconciliation in the gospel remains incomplete. If there is anything that one should conclude from the passages Williams refers to in Ephesians it is that reconciliation to God has occurred and that Gentiles have been united to their fellow Jewish believers in Christ. You see, the very fact that Williams is writing about this is only made possible because the very reconciliation mentioned in Scripture is a fact of redemptive history. What then is Williams getting at?

Jarvis Williams writing to the church, and to Southern Baptists specifically says the following: One, evangelicals should be quick to listen and slow to speak on race when they do not understand the issues. White supremacy and racism are complicated issues. These issues relate to concepts such as racialization, critical race theory, mass incarceration, economic inequality, education inequality, and other forms of systemic injustice. See Source Here

Jarvis Williams is attempting to build a bridge from between the biblical category of Jew and Gentile to the modern category of black and white. It is easy to see the massive leap that must take place if he is to be successful. The bridge he constructed is designed to support his agenda. From the beginning, Williams tells Christians to shut up when it comes to racial issues and just listen. H. Wayne House, in his article on Black Liberation Theology, wrote the following: The focal concern or center of black theology is the white oppression of blacks. Therefore the usual theological discussions about God, Christ, and salvation are basically irrelevant. Instead, these points of theology have meaning for blacks only insomuch as they relate to the question of freedom from the oppression of blacks in this world.[1] Men like Williams will deny that their position is rightly located within the rubric of Black Liberation Theology. But as one can see, his solution to this problem is obviously geared in a very specific direction. First, do not challenge the black Christian on the issue. Just listen. Then the expression “white supremacy” is tossed out. What does Williams mean by that? He mentions several examples: critical race theory, mass incarceration, economic inequality, education inequality and other forms of systemic injustice.

It is clear that the secular black agenda is driving Williams’ own agenda because these are all issues that supposedly exist in American culture. What has the church to do with economic inequality, or mass incarceration, for example? These things all point to Williams’ true agenda. Black Liberation Theology has failed to garner support in Southern Baptist and other evangelical churches. As a result, men like Williams are working on the language, reframing the conversation, and modifying the narrative all in an attempt to prop up their agenda. Look at the language Williams uses. Let’s take mass incarceration as one example. What do you think Williams means by this expression? According to the Bureau of Justice Statistics, less than one half of 1% of Americans are incarcerated. Yet, Williams refers to it as mass incarceration, leading one to believe that blacks are being gathered up, put on trains, and escorted off to prison–all because of melanin on the one hand and white supremacy on the other. 

This kind of outlook coming from Williams and others will not unify blacks and whites. If anything, it will drive a wedge between them and those who agree that we should walk in unity as Christians will start to find it more difficult to do so. The reason why is that people do not like expressions like white supremacy or white normalcy. When they hear those expressions, they think about white hoods, burning crosses, and other heinous immorality that they want nothing to do with. Perhaps this is the strategy? The use of emotive language like white supremacy, white normalcy, white privilege, racist, mass incarceration, etc., is for effect. Since the arguments cannot be made in a way that is empirically or logically compelling, maybe the agenda will have a better chance if the use of emotive language is incorporated. After all, this is exactly what the homosexual movement does. It is exactly what the abortion movement does. And it works. However, just because it is effective, that does not make it ethical.

From the standpoint of Christianity, blacks and whites and browns and reds and yellows do not need to be reconciled with one another. Why? “But now in Christ Jesus, you who formerly were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ (Eph. 1:13).” “But if we walk in the Light as He Himself is in the Light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus His Son cleanses us from all sin (1 John 1:7).”  “But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for God’s own possession, so that you may proclaim the excellencies of Him who has called you out of darkness into His marvelous light; for you once were not a people, but now you are the people of God; you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy (1 Peter 2:9-10).”

If you are in Christ, you are in the church. If you are in the church, you are one man. We have been reconciled to God. Paul says that we who were far off egenēthēte engys have been brought near. The use of the aorist tense here indicates that Paul saw the action as an undifferentiated completed act. In other words, quite simply, Christ has brought us near. He is not working in the body to bring us near which is the obvious and unavoidable conclusion of the position argued by Jarvis Williams. At the end of the day, Williams’ argument is not persuasive. It is littered with eisegesis, exegetical fallacies, and logical fallacies. It should be rejected.

The next post will examine an article written by a pastor on staff in my own church and will serve as an excellent example of what happens when people take this topic far afield from the mission of the church. I was hesitant to post a response but given the number of things I am seeing in my own community around this topic, I think it is the right thing to do. My hope is that I will say something that will result in people being better thinkers, becoming better able to discern what is true versus what is false.

[1] Bibliotheca Sacra: A Quarterly Published by Dallas Theological Seminary (Dallas, TX: Dallas Theological Seminary, 1955–1995).

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