Racism: an explicit or implicit belief or practice that qualitatively distinguishes or values one race over other races.
That simple definition presents a complex challenge in this nation and around the world. Racism and all its wicked symptoms are not easily cured. If you want to see all of its horrific effects look no further than today’s headlines and breaking news stories on CNN. Ironically, the only thing that appears to be different is that the violent scenes of the Civil Rights movement are now presented in High Definition color instead of black and white. In fact, Time magazine depicted such realities by demonstrating an intense scene between protesters and police by simply decolorizing the photo and scratching out 1968 and writing 2015 over it.
The truth is, a lot has changed and sadly a lot has not. John Piper is a wise and winsome pastor who honestly acknowledges these issues in a theological yet pastoral tone. Honestly, there are few more suited for the task. First, Dr. Piper is honest about his own struggles with racial superiority. This level of honestly and transparency about one’s sin is often not found in evangelicalism but it is a candidness needed for such weighty discussions. Dr. Piper does not simply leave it with his struggle with racism but also brilliantly articulates his heart being empowered by the Gospel to heal his racist tendencies. Secondly, John Piper has a heart for reconciliation and the display of the Gospel in the church. This desire has been displayed in his diverse line-up at Desiring God conferences but more importantly in his living room. John Piper was willing to bridge the racial divide not just in the church through teaching but also in his living room through adoption.
The humility and sincerity is noticeable as the book progresses. Issues of systematic justice, mass incarceration, and the break down of the black family are discussed as Piper equally quotes both sides of the debate. On these larger systematic issues Piper was less likely to offer his opinion in such dogmatic fashion as other authors may have presented. The discerning reader recognizes that Piper’s ultimate solutions do not lie in education, economics, or politics. While Piper acknowledges those realities as significant and useful in our discussions, he explicitly focuses his attention to the Gospel and Christ’s church.
The heart of the problem is the human heart
John Piper does not step out of bounds with this book. He is still a gospel-centered, scripture-saturated, Christian hedonist. As he always masterfully does, Piper takes the implications of God’s gracious gospel and applies them to race. At the heart of the book he identifies two key cancers that must be cured by the Gospel to further our discussions on race.
The first caner in need of the mighty radiation of the gospel is guilt. He states:
“Guilt is a huge player in the way blacks and whites relate to each other. It’s huge and deadly when it is denied. It’s huge and deadly when it is wallowed in. It’s huge and deadly when it is exploited. There is no deliverance and no relief and no healing in any of those ways of dealing with guilt. Denial drives it below the surface where it creates endless illusions and self-justifications. Wallowing in it produces phony humility and obsequiousness and moral cowardice. Exploiting it gives a false sense of power that turns out to be only the weapon of weakness. If guilt is not dealt with more deeply, there will be no way forward.” (pg. 89)
Piper contends that in the cross, Christ took our guilt (2 Cor. 5:20-21; Acts 10:43). In Christ, we are free from guilt and the evil tactics it produces such as exploitation, denial, and despair.
The second cancer discovered is pride. Piper proclaims that:
“Racial tensions are rife with pride—the pride of white supremacy, the pride of black power, the pride of intellectual analysis, the pride of anti-intellectual scorn, the pride of loud verbal attack, and the pride of despising silence, the pride that feels secure, and the pride that masks fear. Where pride holds sway, there is no hope for the kind of listening and patience and understanding and openness to correction that relationships require.” (pg. 90)
Yet, Piper finds that the depravity of our sin and the depth of God’s love must cure us of such pride. We must come to the cross confessing we have fallen short of God and are in need of His grace, while extending it to others. This eradicates the motivation for violent protest and ravenous riots, “We Christians are called to love our enemies and to suffer injustice rather than return evil for evil (Matt. 5:43–48; Rom. 12:14).” (pg. 150)
It’s a book about the Church and for the church
Piper’s book is admirable for another reason: He values ecclesiology is our search for racial harmony. “The church is not called to be responsible for the way unbelievers run their lives. But we are called to be responsible, by the power of the Spirit and for the glory of Jesus, for the way believers live and the kind of relationships that are cultivated in the fellowship of the church.” (pg.46)
Piper believes the church must lead the way; not for the sake of racial harmony itself but for the sake of modeling and reflecting the power of the Gospel to the world.
This book cannot be read as a theoretical dissertation. This is a manifesto to be practiced and modeled. Piper calls us to take up the gospel to fight the battle of racial reconciliation. He concludes, “It is the aim of this book to encourage you to pursue Christ-exalting, gospel-driven racial and ethnic diversity and harmony—especially in the family of God, the church of Jesus Christ. I have tried to argue from the Scripture that the blood of Christ was shed for this. It is not first a social issue, but a blood issue. The bloodline of Christ is deeper than the bloodlines of race” (p. 227). May his tribe increase as Christ ransoms people from every tribe (Revelation 5:9).