Generational Guilt and American Vision
Race, Grace, and the Crimes the Ninevah: God’s actions towards Ninevah, even after their war crimes against his people, is one of the best biblical cases against the perpetuation of generational guilt. In all the articles rebuking the sustainers of white guilt I’ve seen from you and all the comments about it from others, I have not seen anyone reference the following Scriptures. When this whole thing began to appear on the evangelical scene, these verses were the first thing that came to mind. They may have been referenced already and I missed it. I just wanted to put them out there in case they haven’t yet because I believe they address the issue head on. Deuteronomy 24:16—Fathers shall not be put to death for their children, nor children put to death for their fathers; each is to die for his own sin. Referenced again in 2 Kings 14:6, speaking of Amaziah’s righteous ruling—“Yet he did not put the children of the assassins to death, in accordance with what is written in the Book of the Law of Moses where the LORD commanded: ‘Parents are not to be put to death for their children, nor children put to death for their parents; each will die for their own sin.’” Ezekiel 18:20—The soul who sins is the one who will die. The son will not share the guilt of the father, nor will the father share the guilt of the son. The righteousness of the righteous man will be credited to him, and the wickedness of the wicked will be charged against him.”
Rope, thanks. Those passages certainly need to be part of the discussion, especially when it comes to penalties applied by finite judges and courts. God can visit iniquity to three and four generations (Ex. 20:5), but we need to be very mindful of the limits to our abilities.
I have a question for you Doug. Since only about 380,000 or 4-6% of the black slave trade came to the United States (a fact well established), why is it that black slavery in American history is vilified as the worst of all, something to be repented of in perpetuity? I realize it was largely Christians that established it, but the same could be said wherever it was established in those days, except for the Muslim slave trade, which incidentally still goes on today.
T, I think the answer to that one is that in our country slaves were used to help build a very wealthy country, while it other places they were used to build poor ones.
When dealing with the unfaithfulness of previous generations in Israel, can it be demonstrated that the Lord required subsequent generations to repent of their forefathers’ sins, or were the dead presumed to have faced eternal judgment for their own shortcomings after their own deaths? Sure, the current generation may be living with the consequences of the previous generation’s sins (such as invading armies or exile), but where are they exhorted to repent of their forefathers’ sins rather than to focus on their own? If a biblical argument is to be made for what so many of the cool kids are now attempting, this seems like an easy place to start.
Mark, I do believe that downstream generations do have a responsibility to repent of their forefathers’ sins, but I think this applies when the sins themselves are being perpetuated. “That they might set their hope in God, and not forget the works of God, But keep his commandments: and might not be as their fathers, a stubborn and rebellious generation; a generation that set not their heart aright, and whose spirit was not stedfast with God” (Ps. 78:7–8).
Re: A Set of Brief Responses to Joel McDurmon. Great response to what has unfortunately become mainstream in evangelical circles. If I may, let me add to your thought here: “But one of the central negative consequences [of American slavery] is that our race relations are so inflamed that not one person in a hundred is willing to submit to the plain teaching of Scripture on the subject.” I’d suggest that the proximate cause of our inflamed race relations today is not slavery, or even the violent white racism of the 1950’s and 60’s. Instead, our inflamed race relations today are in large part a product of liberalism in politics and in the church. The civil rights act, the welfare state, affirmative action, the minimum wage, abortion, and seemingly unending confessions of white guilt and privilege contribute far more to black poverty and racial animosity today than white racism of the past, or the present. So, yes, the white church is complicit in black poverty and bad race relations today, but not because we are racist, privileged, or apologists for Lost Causers. The church, white and black, is complicit because it too often has surrendered to the culture and embraced liberalism. And it is complicit not just in the poor economic conditions of blacks and the state of race relations, but in the death of millions of blacks, both babies in the womb and young men on the streets.
Bill, right. And a big part of the problem in repenting of sins that have been in the grave for a century and a half is that it takes our hearts away from the needed repentance for our current sins. What are we doing right this minute?
Re: A Set of Brief Responses to Joel McDurmon. If you want to raise your kids where crime is low, you’re generally going to end up leaving black areas and moving to white areas (or Asian or Jewish). If you want to give your kids a first class education, the same pattern will generally follow. In all sincerity, how does the Christian man deal with these realities without becoming, in effect, a practical racist?
Steve, yes. That is a thorny problem, and a very practical one. In the hierarchy of duties and responsibilities, should parents prefer keeping their children safe, or properly color-coded?
I would like to express my immense gratitude for the life’s work of both Doug Wilson and Joel McDurmon. The both of you have encouraged me, increased my faith and expanded my knowledge of the Scriptures. In the full interest of Matthew 5:9 and Psalm 133, I offer the following bystander’s observation. I see the dangers which Doug warns about, and I also see the dangers which Joel warns about. I agree with much of what each of them have written on this topic in the past few days, while still mulling over the meaning of their disagreements. Unfortunately, the mutual challenges about biblical faithfulness, sanctification, gospel tenderness seem muddled and gray to me, so far. To shed more light, what I think would be helpful is a few short statements from both Doug and Joel reflecting on these questions; “What should the penalty be in the modern age for any Christian who buys a man?” and “What should the penalty be in the modern age for any Christian who buys a man who they have no plausible deniability of knowing had been a stolen man?” It’s not a rhetorical question; I don’t know the answer that well myself, so hearing the both of you expound would be very illuminating. I’m sending this letter to both Doug and Joel, in hopes of hearing more. God bless you both and thanks.
Judd, leaving aside the quirky exceptions (e.g. a man buying a man in order to set him free), I have no problem with a maximum penalty of death for slave trading. “And he that stealeth a man, and selleth him, or if he be found in his hand, he shall surely be put to death” (Ex. 21:16).
Re: “A Set of Brief Responses to Joel McDurmon” It’s really unfortunate the drift that is happening with Joel and American Vision on libertarianism generally, and theonomy specifically. American Vision was probably the organization that introduced me to postmillennialism and theonomy. I will forever be grateful to them for teaching me the richness of these theologies. And then I found you and CrossPolitic and Apologia Studios. Maybe one day you and he will be able to grace each other’s presence in a private meeting to hash out your differences scripturally and honestly, and then maybe a public “family meeting” hosted by CrossPolitic or Apologia Studios.
Trey, thanks. That would be wonderful.
It certainly seems bad that Joel still completely argues like those who call for social justice for the crimes of their ancestors. One way he shows it is when he says something about how most of our laws are racist in origin. Law doesn’t see race unless it specifically says it does (same as in the Bible). So you might have a law against interracial marriages (bad law), but laws against drugs aren’t about race, they’re about a crime and a sin that destroys people and society regardless of race. Just because there is a disproportionate amount of one race or another being convicted of those crimes only shows us that there is a cultural problem that those individuals have that needs to be dealt with by Christian application of biblical principles. Is he saying that we shouldn’t have laws against murder, because there is a higher proportion of one race convicted of that? I will always be amazed about how biblical theonomy can lead someone to be part of the libertarian left.
Regarding your back-and-forth with Joel McDurmon and slavery, I have a follow-up question. I understand your argument flowing from some “angular” texts in the Bible. I have not seen McDurmon, and many others, deal with those as you have (excepting Thabiti’s exchange with you). Granting Paul’s admonitions to both slaves and masters, it seems as though both could be members of the same church, enjoying Christian fellowship with one another. Given that situation, what would be the biblical impetus for a Christian master to release his slave unto freedom? What sort of exhortation (from the Bible) would a pastor give a slave-holding Christian that he should free his slaves? Second, is there any distinction to be made on the basis of ante-bellum slavery versus the basis of Greco-Roman slavery? Antebellum slavery was race-based, and (if my historical memory serves me correct, which it may not) it seems Greco-Roman slavery was based on something other than race (class, economic debt, etc.). Is there anything in the basis for enslavement that makes one more/less evil than the other? You may have written on this elsewhere; feel free to point me there. Your writing on this topic in general has been eye-opening and caused me to think long and hard about the connections to our current sexual insanity. Many blessings.
Kyle, in persuading Christian masters to work for the manumission of their slaves, I would center my argument in the book of Philemon. The basis for American slavery was worse in its racist premises, but Greco/Roman slavery was worse in its arbitrary and capricious treatment of slaves, and in the actual treatment slaves had to put up with.
Race, Grace, and the Crimes of Nineveh: I assume you’ll have seen/read his direct response to you at American Vision by now. Absolutely beyond me that he could think he’s refuting your argument by citing standards for individual sanctification. This gets even more audacious with reference to Luther and “a life of repentance” (MrDurmon’s own admission that even Mohler maintains our inability to “repent for the dead” provides a particularly damning backdrop on this point). It’s not that I’m surprised at this stuff in general; I’m a little surprised he thinks it’s a rebuttal on your terms. Who is he insisting be sanctified in light of “the complicity of [their] heritage”? Who must live a life of repentance for sins they did not commit? “Of course all of this is nonsense,” he says. Of course. As far as sticking the refutation, swing-and-a-miss. As far as putting his finger right on real nonsense, however, he’s knocked it out of the park.
Part of the problem there is that they have made microcaring one of their favorite forms of microaggression.
Why would a wordsmith use “blackness” to describe someone’s decrepit soul in an essay attempting to paint themselves as racially fair-minded? Me thinks his hand has been exposed before his bluff could be delivered :(
William, it wasn’t by accident. The central battle in all of this is a battle over the dictionary, and I am not about to cede control of the dictionary to those who can be offended by anything. And as far as the history of this kind of usage is concerned, let’s take white for an example. God promises to make our sins as “white as snow” (Is. 1:18), and was He racist? He also made Miriam white with leprosy as a judgment, as white as snow (Num. 12:10), and should this offend white people? Is God comparing us to a disease?
Commenting on “Race, grace, and crimes of Nineveh” and “In which Al Mohler . . .” Thanks, these two articles are very clarifying and encouraging to me. As one who works in an African context where the racial tension lines aren’t a binary black and white thing but a complex Shelob web of 72 tribes multiplied by centuries of war and the normal tribalism schtick . . . the only thing I’ve seen that has the power to cut that web in two is someone who deeply understands the gospel. It’s one who has freely received forgiveness and thus free enough to freely forgive. Simply recognizing the past wrongs and then pronouncing forgiveness. I’ve seen plenty of examples of this. Otherwise, another form of racism will keep popping up. Wormwood’s racism hydra will always be sprouting another head or two if one allows the woke warriors to ignorantly swing away. Only the free gospel can kill the beast. Blessings to you and your family.
Adam, thank you, and a thousand amens.
RE: “Race, Grace, and the Crimes of Nineveh” This entire situation and the feelings and pain involved have provided an incredible relief for the preaching of the true gospel. To say that there would be bad blood from some race-motivated crimes of the past is the understatement of several centuries, so I can imagine a limited number of groups of people in history that would have the same pretext for grievance as African slaves and their descendants. To erase this tension and bitterness between the generically stated “aggrieved” and “perpetrator” parties would be an accomplishment of cosmic proportions—it’s just that dark. In steps Christ, His decision from eternity past to unite us into eternity future forevermore, not as debased slaves and aggrandizing torture-loving masters, but as brothers and sisters. Our present dilemma is not a dilemma really, it’s actually one more sovereignly orchestrated devastating backdrop that makes the light which shines out of darkness so stupefyingly wondrous. So I praise God, Pastor Doug, that He is giving you this awesome opportunity to declare His glorious gospel in the face of being shamed and maligned even by who we recognize as some of our greatest evangelical brothers and sisters. I’m praying with you that scales would fall off of eyes, and no matter how greatly each individual has been sinned against, that they would see the miracle that God can change the heart of even us Ninevites.
Patrick, thank you, and thanks for the prayers.
For what it’s worth, this was sofa-incendiary-hotter, or at least as hot, as anything published in November. Thank you for not mincing words.
This is deflecting. “who have been treating one another wickedly for a long time”—that’s colloquially saying my sin is just as bad. Ergo admitting and downplaying your sins.
Jonathan, it is not deflecting at all. It is preaching the gospel. Paul teaches us in Romans 1 how bad the Gentiles were. Then in Romans 2, he shows us how bad the Jews were. And then in Romans 3, he piles them up in the same box together. This is not blame shifting. It is gospel preaching. Why do we shut black and white up under sin together? “But the Scripture imprisoned everything under sin, so that the promise by faith in Jesus Christ might be given to those who believe” (Galatians 3:22, ESV)
I just want to thank you for your response to Al Mohler. You have hit the nail on the head like no one else I know of. It gave me goosebumps as I read. I hope your piece gets a wide readership.
Re: “In which Al Mohler” Thanks, Pastor Wilson. You won’t be treated well for this little piece of text, but millions of Evangelical souls are counting on somebody willing to write it, even if they don’t know it.
This Sista_theology tweets “Reparations is a basic biblical concept and the gospel itself is a reparation. This is Christianity 101.” Begs the question . . . in the reparation, who is making amends and to whom? I think it’s much harder to see the horror of works righteousness in the tweet because of the acceptance of blame by Al Mohler. I still remember my father telling me his experience studying under the great A.T. Robertson at Southern. He graduated in ’34 the year A.T. died. Not only not a racial perp (he emigrated from Scotland in ’30), but one who rode in the back of the bus in Memphis for solidarity in the late thirties. Pastor Doug, thank you again. For cutting through the fog, and especially for the teachings.
Paul, thank you. And an article on real reparations is likely coming up.
RE: “Killing the fattest snake.” This is the kind of piece I love most when you write. My brother and I say things like “home run for Wilson today.” Thank you. I think you would find Jonathan Leeman’s piece at Mere Orthodoxy today very apropos, about what happens when the Christian life of discipleship gets separated from the local church experience. It’s ironic how much it describes both the way in which evangelical distortions like the current “race” fixation get traction, and what I suspect is the situation with many of those who read your blog in the absence of such robust scriptural teaching in their own local churches.
Michelle, thanks very much.
I’m not addressing here a specific post. I just wanted to say thank you for sharing your posts with me! I’m a classically homeschooled high schooler who really appreciates your writing. I’ve been heavily influenced by your childrens’ books, and I particularly like your works God Is, Writers to Read, and Wordsmithy (which I, as a writer myself, own and have read numerous times). While I disagree with you on some points, I’m very thankful for your clear voice of reason. So again, thank you! I do have one question, though: what do you believe about the true presence in the Lord’s Supper? It’s not completely clear from your posts, and that’s something I love talking about. Grace and peace,
Maya, the shortest way to answer your question is by saying that I am a sacramental Calvinist. I don’t believe in the local presence of Christ’s body in the bread and wine, but I do believe in the real presence. For a detailed treatment, you can see Keith Mathison’s book Given for You.
In “Take Me Instead” you once again claimed that husbands have authority over their wives . . . “Scripture plainly teaches that the husband is the head of his wife. This headship brings true authority with it, but it is an authority of a particular kind.” . . . but you once again did not define the word “authority.” Webster’s defines “authority” as “the power or right to give orders, make decisions, and enforce obedience,” but you teach the exact opposite of that. In your “21 Theses on Submission” you stated that “The Bible does not teach husbands to enforce the requirement that was given to their wives,” which means that a husband does not possess “the power or right to give orders, make decisions, and enforce obedience,” which means he does not have “authority.” So, if you don’t mean what the dictionary means by “authority,” what exactly do you mean by “authority?” And, why not use a word that actually means what you mean by “authority” and avoid the confusion?
Oscar, you are mistaken because you don’t know what I meant by “enforce” in my 21 Theses. What I mean by authority is something like this. A man receives a job offer in another state, which he thinks he should take. His wife differs. After extended discussion, they still don’t agree. At that point, as the deadline approaches, he makes the decision, and the whole family moves. That’s authority. It remains authority even if I deny him the right to lock her in the trunk and take her there by force.
Been so blessed by your writing. I had a question about this statement: “He did all that He did because the Holy Spirit empowered Him to do so. He did what He did throughout the course of His ministry as a Spirit-empowered man.” I had a lengthy back and forth with some Christians some time ago regarding this truth. They were maintaining this very truth— and thus claimed that we should be able to do “greater works than these” works that Jesus did. Or at least in par. You know, healing people, having special knowledge, raising the dead . . . Because I don’t believe we should expect the same miracle working power as a norm in our own lives, I have always considered Jesus miracles proof of his deity. Isn’t that what John says—the things are written that we may know that Jesus is the Christ? Love to hear your thoughts.
Allan, no. My take is this. To say that some men (who were not God incarnate) could be empowered to do the sorts of things Jesus did (like Moses, Elijah, Peter, et al.) is not the same thing as saying that any given Christian should be able to do them. These things are a sign that someone is a messenger from God. “Truly the signs of an apostle were wrought among you in all patience, in signs, and wonders, and mighty deeds” (2 Cor. 12:12). In this case, the identity of the messenger should be determined by the content of His message.
Regarding “Christmas with Both Feet on the Ground”—Can you run this by some trusted friends? There are enough bogus complaints held against you, and I’d rather not see a justified one added to them. If “Jesus did not do the great miracles that He did, and He did not know what He miraculously knew, because He was ‘God inside’” then nothing he did or taught shows his divinity. But the glory manifested at Cana was not merely that of a Spirit-empowered man. His messianic authority over demons, sickness, and the sea was not grounded only in his anointing with the Spirit. He knew people’s thoughts, and healed at a distance not simply as a human endued. We (as some teach today) would need to be pursuing the same power, since his example would show what human nature is capable of by the Holy Spirit. We should literally be doing even greater signs! The Bible gives glimpses, but no full accounting of the psychological import for Christ of his two natures. His human development, his messianic consciousness, and the interplay of the finite and infinity in him remain largely an enigma to us. Did he really act as messiah only by faith in the word of his mother, of Scripture, and of demons (or in the internal witness of the Spirit) that he was “Immanuel,” the Holy One of God? Was an experience of that reality never in his consciousness? When he spoke of heavenly things, was it only as revealed to him by the Spirit, and not from knowledge as the one come down from heaven? (Again, no, no, and no.)
John, the difficulty is that all the miracles of Jesus are miracles that are matched in some way elsewhere in Scripture by other prophets sent by God. The signs confirm the message from all of them, but the thing that distinguishes them is the content of their respective messages. Peter walked on water, Elijah raised the dead, and Moses transformed the nature of matter. But Moses said, “A greater prophet than I is coming,” while Jesus said, “I am the way, the truth and the life,” and “I am the resurrection.”