A Fruitful Start

On the Friday morning before the recent Desiring God National Conference, I had the privilege of meeting together with a number of men to discuss various issues surrounding the central topic of racial reconciliation.

The most immediate reason for the meeting was my recent online interaction with Thabiti Anyabwile, coupled with the fact that I had been invited to speak at DG. I had also been scheduled to sit down with John Piper for a two hour video interaction about the busy intersection between the gospel and culture, sponsored by Bethlehem College and Seminary.

Because the ministries associated with the leadership of John Piper have long been known for their zeal in pursuing the hard work of racial harmony, it should not be surprising that there were a range of feelings about my coming to Minneapolis registered across the spectrum, from opposed, to concerned, to ambivalent, to supportive. But in some quarters there was consternation, some of it pretty intense.

In response to all this, a meeting was arranged with about a dozen of us in order to hash things out. I am very grateful to those who organized the meeting, and to those who were willing to attend it. In that attendance were black pastors and seminarians. There were also whites engaged in urban work, who were distressed at how my stance makes their work more difficult. There were some of the men involved with inviting me to Minneapolis in the first place.

We talked about a great deal, but I just wanted to mention two aspects of it now. Several other large issues involved with all this are gestating in my mind which I plan to write about in the near future.

But for now, the first thing is a reiteration of something I told Thabiti in our exchanges. When I write polemically against the pc-left, as I often do, I do it with mayhem in mind, and have no desire to take back a syllable of it. But if I find that my words have also given offense in quarters where I had and have no desire to give offense, I want to be eager to seek pardon or forgiveness, as appropriate. I hope that was clear in our meeting on Friday, and in a conviction that a second coat of good paint never hurts, I want to make it clear again now. It is no part of my purpose to create unnecessary barriers to fellowship for men like Thabiti—and I was privileged to meet with some men like him last Friday.

The second thing has to do with the value of meeting face-to-face. This is something the Scriptures clearly point us to as we engage in delicate operations like this. Paul wanted to be present with the Galatians, so he could change his tone with them (Gal. 4:20). John longed to be with his friends (2 John 12), but in the meantime a letter would have to do. The apostle Paul earnestly wanted to be present with the Thessalonians (1 Thess. 2:17) Good communication can occur via the written word, but for some things, talking in person is always better. It certainly was in this instance and, I think, in any other situation like it.

Written denunciations of racism can come off as perfunctory and obligatory, like a white man dutifully ticking boxes. That’s how some have heard me. But in person, if you really hate racial vain glory (as I really do), then it becomes possible to communicate more effectively.

One last thing. Stating that we had a profitable meeting should not be taken as agreement on everything, or that the need for meetings is over. I am simply saying that when we arrived together there was a lot more tension than when we left. We left in fellowship with one another, which is a God-ordained stepping stone toward like-mindedness. And I think the Spirit was pleased with that.

And a postscript: I have a few theological observations I want to make about all this in several additional posts, which you can look for coming up. In addition, some of my friends have asked me to consider some more specific aspects of all this, which I am also doing. I hope to address those things in my conclusion.

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32 thoughts on “A Fruitful Start

  1. Question for you. Why all the supercilious fawning over such a theologically confused man like Lewis? It was quite embarrassing to watch you all trip over yourselves in other-worldly praise for a man who on essentials of the faith got it so wrong?
     

  2. Thanks, Pastor Wilson! I’ve long thought that it takes courage to tackle these topics in the manner that you do, regardless of how people accept you. I look forward to reading your analysis of the meetings. 

  3. Mr. Camp — Golly…why the quickness to impute such ugly motives? You might find this a valuable place to engage in productive argument, but it helps if you actually seek to argue productively and not just pick quarrels (http://tinyurl.com/3sl4mre). I haven’t watched all of the conference videos yet, but a couple of speakers, at least, addressed issues with Lewis’s theology. If you would like to make a case for his being in error at some critical point, perhaps someone might recall whether the conference speakers dealt with the matter, or perhaps someone here could respond to the point.

  4. Why is the comment thread on this post not at al related to what the post is about?
    I sure am hopeful this fruitful start will be a step towards makingsignificant progress on this important issue.

  5. Reading Lewis really shaped a lot of my theology and worldview as a young Catholic Christian.  Although he obviously did not hold some specifically Catholic beliefs, I have never had reason then or now to question his orthodoxy.  I am not being argumentative but sincerely asking:  what essentials of the faith did Lewis get wrong? Given that intellectual clarity is the hallmark of his works, wherein consisted the theological confusion? 

  6. “I had also been scheduled to sit down with John Piper for a two hour video interaction about the busy intersection between the gospel and culture, sponsored by Bethlehem College and Seminary.”
    Has this been posted someplace on-line?

  7. On the slavery topic, I suspect that Paul (who wrote on it in several places) would not have criticised the American elites for being slave-owners, but may well have had some very stern words about how they were slave-owners.  The Scriptures have no qualms about putting one person in authority over another, but are quite clear that this puts significant obligation on the master, and also that such authority is to be God-given, not seized (hence the harsh condemnation of slavers).

  8. I wonder if Steve Camp listened to any of the speakers that he so glibly disparages. If he’d like a clear example of superciliousness, he can read his own comment.

  9. I believe I have crossed digital paths with Steve Camp before and his orthodoxy is as large as grey town in the “Great Divorce.”  It is so large there is no room for the small minded like Lewis.  And it is so large that his neighbor is such a distance away that they must take a long bus ride just to chat.  So large that the amoeba would be lost in its vastness yet a angel’s pinky toe would not fit.  
    The DG conference was superb (my first time).  Several speakers noted their differences with Lewis.  And what man could stand honestly and agree 100% with any one other man?  And why fawn over differences when you can fawn over likenesses?  I always wondered what the ultra orthodox elite would say to Jesus dining with the Pharisees.  I wonder how many Christians are actually Essenes?  
     

  10. I was fortunate enough to be at the Sunday night meeting with Piper and Wilson.  It was recorded, though I’ve not seen the recording posted online as of yet.
    Having heard the talk, I would like to ask you, Pastor Wilson to comment on one of the things that Piper said.  He said something to the effect that most blacks recognize the conviction of White Christians regarding their hatred of abortion, but are not convinced we share the same kind of conviction against the enslavement of the blacks in early America.  Is it fair to expect the same kind of emotional response to the sins of our forefathers and the sins of our own age?

  11. Having meetings about racial reconciliation.
    Wow. Give yourself a pat on the back.
    This is the problem with Christian leaders like yourself: you have a meeting where you all spend time like dung beetles pushing around sh*t and then do absolutely nothing to actually solve the problem. And then you have the nerve to post about it as if it was some paradigm shifting moment in the history of the universe.
    How about this: stop talking and start doing. I could care less what your theology is. If you aren’t actually acting out then it’s all bullish*t anyway.

  12. ” Is it fair to expect the same kind of emotional response to the sins of our forefathers and the sins of our own age? ”
    I am absolutely not answering or pretending to answer for Pastor Wilson. My take on that question is multi-faceted:
    If one decides to have an “emotional response”, why does that justify anything or anyone?
    If one decides to have an “emotional response” for things that were perpetrated in a past that no one objectively occupies, where is the “stop button”? In other words, how far back is far enough?
    Why one sin versus another? What about anguish regarding an embrace of communism, an ideology that has murdered tens of millions?
    Why anguish about the physical enslavement of someone in a specific time, and nothing about the spiritual and financial enslavement to a federal plantation still occurring?
    And this is not an exhaustive list by any stretch.
     
    How much of what is said or felt is the harboring of a continual grievance? I cannot ask for forgiveness on behalf of people long dead, nor do I believe that God requires such.
    I must repent of my sin, everyday, and continue in faithful loyalty to my King. That includes being objectively honest by saying things like, “Yeah, bad stuff did happen, I was not part of it, I did not and do not condone it, the players are all dead, so it is no longer in play except in people’s heads.”
     
     

  13. @ Pooper Scooper: I agree! It’s like all those medical students wasting their time talking in a classroom for years, when they could all just grab their scalpels and head straight to the hospital to “help” people! I could care less if they know what’s in the textbook as long as they’re willing to start “doing stuff” and cutting on people!

  14. RFB – although slavery is “no longer in play”, I think that you’re absolutely wrong to say “except in people’s heads”. What you fail to understand is the profound negative / destructive impact that 400 years of slavery in America has had on the modern black community. Familial breakdown, poverty, high crime rates caused by poverty and lack of aspiration due to a lack of opportunities. BTW as a black man, I hate seeing the “race card” being played for any reason which isn’t legitimate and many of these issues, we in the black community need to take ownership, responsibility and action on.  
    But we can’t deny the impact of this brutal history on modern day America. The U.S has come a VERY long way in terms of race relations since the Civil Rights era and we thank God for this. However covert and overt racism still manifests itself in numerous ways against the black community (and other ethnic minorities). These beliefs (in the inferiority of blacks) which underpin these racist attitudes had their roots in slavery (and of course, from a theological perspective, in mankind’s depraved and fallen nature). 
    So whilst you triumphantly state that slavery is “no longer in play except in people’s heads”, you fail to understand the pervasive after-effects (systemic and personal) of slavery and the impact it CONTINUES to have on many sectors of the black community. I think that this failing is a source of aggravation for many blacks whose white brothers in the Church don’t seek to understand but instead tell us to “get over it” (in the nicest, most diplomatic of terms of course)…..

  15. Well, my reply will probably be fruitless, but here it goes. I believe in the Word of God, and I believe that what He says is authoritative. When He says that in Christ ” There is neither…slave nor free,… for you are all one in Christ Jesus.” then I believe that. I also think that outside of Christ that’s all there is. By your statements such as “lack of aspiration, and “source of aggravation”, if those are not thoughts and attitudes from inside of a head, then what are they? Racism is sin. The answer to sin is Jesus Christ plus nothing. He is our only savior, and nothing else can save. Not government programs, not pleas for people to change their attitude, nothing. And, just so you know that this is not in a vacuum, (Oh, that you would bear with me in a little folly—and indeed you do bear with me.) I could make a joke and say some of my best friends are black, but I won’t. Instead I will say that I am blessed and privileged to be the grandfather of the most beautiful black granddaughter ever. And my goal is to assist her parents, and her parents goal is to raise her in the nurture and admonition of the Lord. Not white, not black, not Greek, not slave, but free in Christ.

  16. RFB — Would I be right in interpreting “no longer in play” as “the overt, legalized racism in the American system of race-based slavery per se is no longer directly the issue”? ‘Cuz I think we can all agree that the former system of slavery is not a current event. But, golly…I can’t agree that there are no after-effects. I’ll analogize from an individual: Say a soldier saw some bad stuff in Iraq. His tour of duty may be over, the war may be over, but he may have combat-related psychological problems that continue for years or decades. His own sin probably complicates that. The sin of others around him probably complicates it. But the fact that the war is over doesn’t make it all imaginary. And yes, in a sense, it is in his head, but it didn’t pop in there ex nihilo. There was a circumstantial catalyst — his experiences in the war. Or consider a child who was abused. She may be grown up now, and the abuser may have been dead for decades, yet she may have areas of brokenness that she needs to be healed of and sinful responses that she needs to repent of. But to say that the abuse is no longer a factor is unrealistic. She wouldn’t have her certain set of current problems if it had not been for her past problem. Taking it back to the larger societal category, the effects linger despite the fact that institutionalized slavery and Jim Crow-style bigotry is over. And other factors have fed and exacerbated those effects. Yes, we’ve still got a tangle of sin to deal with (from every whichaway), but that sin had a catalyst, and real, effective repentance isn’t going to ignore that.

  17. The “”the overt, legalized racism in the American system of race-based slavery…” has been over since circa 1865.
    It is now drawing near 150 years since it ended. No one who actually experienced it is now alive, and therefore no one “remembers” (as opposed to the analogized soldier) it. It is history in which no one living actually participated or witnessed, and so actual memory is nonexistent. Because of that, opinions regarding the issue are based upon a recitation of what happened. Everyone makes a personal decision that either involves “forgetting those things which are behind and reaching forward to those things which are ahead,” or a continual reinforcement of grievance regarding a historic event of which they did not participate. There is no such thing as “covert racism” if the definition of that is something not overtly manifested. Just as we do not possess Holy Ghost X-ray machines, we also do not possess a Jim Crow MRI (“massa” recognition imaging). God commands that Christians forgive. How can any Christian demand anything from someone who has done nothing to them, with the only supposed “guilt” being that they were born after a historic event in which the aggrieved party’s ancestors suffered. I have already discussed the remedy for sin, said remedy is always operable and the only One. As a military war veteran and the son and nephew of WWII veterans I will advance that the answer that those men, one who was literally blown out of a foxhole through the air at the Bulge, and another who gave me my first rifle that he took from the dead enemy that tried to kill him, as well as the men I served with, was always the same. Get busy living or get busy dying.

  18.     The “”the overt, legalized racism in the American system of race-based slavery…” has been over since circa 1865. It is now drawing near 150 years since it ended. No one who actually experienced it is now alive, and therefore no one “remembers” (as opposed to the analogized soldier) it. It is history in which no one living actually participated or witnessed, and so actual memory is nonexistent. Because of that, opinions regarding the issue are based upon a recitation of what happened. Everyone makes a personal decision that either involves “forgetting those things which are behind and reaching forward to those things which are ahead,” or a continual reinforcement of grievance regarding a historic event of which they did not participate. There is no such thing as “covert racism” if the definition of that is something not overtly manifested. Just as we do not possess Holy Ghost X-ray machines, we also do not possess a Jim Crow MRI (“massa” recognition imaging). God commands that Christians forgive. How can any Christian demand anything from someone who has done nothing to them, with the only supposed “guilt” being that they were born after a historic event in which the aggrieved party’s ancestors suffered. I have already discussed the remedy for sin, said remedy is always operable and the only One. As a military war veteran and the son and nephew of WWII veterans I will advance that the answer that those men, one who was literally blown out of a foxhole through the air at the Bulge, and another who gave me my first rifle that he took from the dead enemy that tried to kill him, as well as the men I served with, was always the same. Get busy living or get busy dying.

  19. Valerie,
     
    I (with full brainfade in gear) typed your name into the “Name” box when I started typing, instead of the text box. For some reason it actually attributed the post to you. Please forgive my ineptness.
    RFB

  20. Bringing this back around to Lewis ;-), I’m thinking of Aslan explaining that you only need to know your own story, not anyone else’s story. That includes your ancestors and your neighbor’s ancestors. While slavery and institutional racism had effects that continue to affect current the generation, the only real question for members of the current generation is “What will you do with the situation that confronts you?” If suffering from racism that continues is an aspect of your current situation, then there are godly ways to deal with that. If suffering the long-term economic or social effects of your ancestors’ experience is part of that situation, then there are biblical prescriptions for dealing with that, which generally have to do with living a quiet, sober, diligent life, and less to do with worrying about how you got where you are, and even less to do with seeking redress (whether material or symbolic) from people who didn’t play a part in your ancestors’ experience because they weren’t alive. Most people’s experience will include some mixture of the two, but the common facet is that how you live your life in response to what is actually happening to you is your concern; what responsibility others in the past or present who were not actually a part of your story have for it, it is really not.

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