Update and clarification: I haven’t altered the letter below (except for cleaning up typos), but wanted to make sure everyone knew my comments about “monetizing” were not aimed at Thabiti. I don’t believe he is monetizing anything.
Greetings in the Lord.
You and I have had constructive interaction before, and so I know you are fully capable of gracious and thoughtful interaction on hard topics. And I also know that you have been—at least in the past—willing to discuss them with someone like me. I trust it will be the same here, though it may be difficult. This is because recent comments of yours (here and here) are enough to make those heartsick who love both you and the gospel of God’s free grace.
A Real Problem
It is not an example of a problem of lesser doctrinal insignificance, like getting the mode of baptism wrong. Like Peter at Antioch, this is an instance of a good man getting the ramifications of the gospel wrong. I want to try to explain why this is so, and I would like to conclude by pleading with you to repudiate what you have been saying recently. I want to beg you not to place on us a yoke that neither we nor our fathers were able to bear.
Because you have been talking about generational and cultural complicity in murder—a very real biblical reality—I want to work through a biblical example of that very same problem, and then point to the dramatic difference between how it is effectually and graciously addressed in Scripture, and how you addressed it in a spirit of law, which is to say, ineffectually.
To your credit, you do see that individualistic excuse-making doesn’t cut it. “Don’t blame me, I voted for the other guy” is not a biblical reaction to anything. “Don’t blame me, I didn’t do anything overt” doesn’t cut it either. Corporate complicity in things like the murder of Martin Luther King is a reality. But the way you applied it leaves everyone on this sorry planet without hope. Your message was both graceless and godless. This is a strong assertion, but I want to show you how this is so. Please bear with me because I have not become your enemy because I am telling you the truth (Gal. 4:16).
Complicity in the murder of King was, where it existed, bad enough. But why stop there? This is a sin-soaked world. Thabiti, after all that was revealed by David Daleiden concerning the sale of baby parts, you and I are both still paying taxes that are funneled to the people who run Planned Parenthood. This country post-Roe has killed 60 million infants, a disproportionate number of whom shared both the ethnicity and vulnerability of Martin Luther King. And the political party that insists on maintaining this abortion-as-sacrament stance is the Democratic Party, which happens to be the party that is overwhelmingly supported by black Americans. As long as we are waiting for repentance, should we wait for repentance there as well?
I bring this up, not because mutual recriminations would be helpful, but rather to show that all men everywhere are corrupt, hopeless, vain, contemptible, selfish, grasping, objects of wrath, conceited and proud. We need a solution that will deal with that, and such a solution has as big a challenge in the sins of black men as it has in the sins of white men. It was the work of God that made our skins all different colors, but it was the work of the devil that made all our hearts black.
The Only Way Out
Scripture gives us a touchstone for understanding the only way such things as cultural complicity in murder can be dealt with. The Lord Jesus taught that all the blood of all the prophets that had been shed through the course of Old Testament history was going to come crashing down on one generation (Matt. 23:34-36). Although the Triumphal Entry crowd received Him gladly, they were nevertheless still represented by evil men who engineered a sham trial, and ensured an unrighteous conviction of the only righteous man ever to live. They pressured Pilate to sentence Jesus to death, something that he was extremely reluctant to do (Luke 23:4). They made sure there was a bloodthirsty mob on the premises so that they could cry out, “Crucify!” and so that they could also say, “His blood be on us and our children” (Matt. 27:25).
And so it was, but the free grace promised in that blood was entirely unexpected.
So, like you, the apostles charged that generation with complicity in the worst murder ever. It was not just the crime of a few evil men at the top.
“Ye men of Israel, hear these words; Jesus of Nazareth, a man approved of God among you by miracles and wonders and signs, which God did by him in the midst of you, as ye yourselves also know: Him, being delivered by the determinate counsel and foreknowledge of God, ye have taken, and by wicked hands have crucified and slain” (Acts 2:22–23).
This was not a message being preached to just the Sanhedrin alone. Peter was not talking directly to the culprits. Caiaphas was not in the front row listening to Peter preach these words. And yet he said, “You have taken” and he said that their hands were wicked. This is the kind of cultural complicity you are talking about.
And yet, why did he want them to acknowledge their complicity in this crime? Why did he want them to be cut to the heart the way they in fact were? The answer is a gospel answer—so that they could go to bed that night with a clean conscience. When he preached that message, they cried out, “What can we do?” (Acts 2:37). And what did he tell them to do? He dealt with generations of wickedness—from Abel on down—in one moment. This is what he told them.
“Then Peter said unto them, Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins, and ye shall receive the gift of the Holy Ghost. For the promise is unto you, and to your children, and to all that are afar off, even as many as the Lord our God shall call” (Acts 2:38–39).
Repent and be baptized for the remission of sins. The gift of the Holy Spirit. As in, right now. It was not repentance so that the apostles could drag a newly awakened guilt over many jagged years of penance while they figured out a way to monetize it. This was a gift. It was free grace. It was gratuitous. It was undeserved. And it was offered to them as their full possession that day.
Many of them received the gift.
“And they, continuing daily with one accord in the temple, and breaking bread from house to house, did eat their meat with gladness and singleness of heart, Praising God, and having favour with all the people. And the Lord added to the church daily such as should be saved” (Acts 2:46–47).
The crime that Peter preached about was far worse than the murder of Martin Luther King Jr. And the effects of his message were quite different from yours. One of the things that God decided to do was convert Saul of Tarsus—a man who was worse than James Earl Ray—and make him into an apostle, not to mention the author of the majority of the New Testament. Saul was present at the murder of Stephen, holding the cloaks of the men who had been recruited to lie about Stephen. Who recruited them? Let me guess. Stephen had earlier been debating with men from the Synagogue of the Freedmen (Acts 6:9), who were from various places, one of them being Cilicia. A principal city in Cilicia was Tarsus. So Saul lost a debate with a saintly deacon, put up some false witnesses, and had him murdered. What kind of a gospel transforms a man like that? Not the kind you are talking about.
So what did you say?
No remission of sins here, just a “long journey.” This is the kind of systemic “sin” that cultural Marxism loves to foster, and you simply must stop reading those guys. You said that the world has cancer, but the only solution you offered appeared to be centuries of humanistic chemo, the kind of chemo that will make all our hair fall out, and will almost certainly not work anyway. Yes, the world does have cancer—but the message of Jesus Christ walks through the cancer wards, raising people from their beds. You guys are walking through cancer wards, reminding people of how much their great-grandparents used to smoke.
You hint darkly at a widespread conspiracy in the murder of King, and say (handsomely) that you don’t need all white people to feel guilty about the 50s and 60s. This ambiguity isn’t grace—it simply makes those affected by your words more vulnerable to manipulation. Were their grandparents on the side of the angels or not? And if they were good people, with a real distaste for all the racism, did they do enough to stand against it? Like all messages of salvation that are based on works, there can be no assurance, no real forgiveness.
You said “no sin has ever been eliminated from the world.” Then what is your message? What do you have to say to a room full of sinners? The apostles and their faithful heirs are tasked to preach the remission of sins. It is true that sins are “not eliminated simply with the passage of time”—they are not eliminated that way. They are forgiven by the blood of Christ. Forgiven. Cleansed. Washed away. As far as the east is from the west. They are buried at the bottom of the sea. So when you encounter the descendant of some toxic racist, your appointed task is to enable him to walk home free.
There is a strong a fortiori argument here. Martin Luther King Jr. was a sinner, and in some areas of his life, he was a grievous sinner. So however grotesque the murder of King was—and it was grotesque—the murder of the Lord Jesus has never had any parallel. The murder of Christ was in a category of its own. There was absolutely nothing like it in the history of the world. He was perfect, sinless. Not only that, He was God incarnate. He created every last one of His murderers, and it was His creative power that held their bodies together while they were murdering Him. If ever there was a sin that was unforgivable, it was that one. But—and who is sufficient for these things?—that unforgivable sin that all of us were entailed in has been used in the wisdom of God to establish the foundation of all true forgiveness.
What you are doing is nothing but guilt farming, and because guilt is a pretty hardy weed, the results can be spectacular. It is a growth industry. This is a grievance industry, and every industry naturally wants to increase demand for the product. Mind you, I am not saying that there were no historic grievances—there really were. But they were far worse than you have made out, they were not limited to white crimes against blacks, and they were so bad that there is no way we can negotiate our way out. We all must either die together in a giant fireball, or we must turn to Jesus Christ today.
So there is nothing wrong with preaching the law as you drive toward grace. There is nothing wrong with preaching repentance from dead works so that people might put their trust in the living God. There is nothing wrong with men and women seeing that apart from Christ they are nothing but objects of wrath, but this is so that they might—by the end of the sermon—see themselves as vessels of mercy. What comes to them—as the result of a simple proclamation—are the “times of refreshing” (Acts 3:19). Repent. Be converted. Walk home tonight a free man or a free woman. You must not preach the gospel, bring someone to faith, and baptize them, and then tell them that all their sins, except for the racist heritage part, are washed away. That is not gospel.
When the message is concocted by man, it helps nothing. Like the woman in the gospels, the more the doctors treat her, the worse this gets.
Too Much Whiteness
Thabiti, the more you traffic in this kind of thing, the worse everything around you will grow. Growing white guilt is about as difficult as growing morning glory. Monetizing white guilt is even easier. But the more you talk or write this way, the more you will gather around you the kind of white people who will never under any circumstances tell you the truth.
The more you upbraid them, the more aggrieved you are with all the horrendous things their great-grandparents did, the more they will crawl in shame for the glorious things their great-grandparents did. The more you chastise them, the paler they will grow. But if you don’t like all the whiteness, then stop subsidizing it. Stop feeding it. There is nothing whiter than soft liberalism, and evangelicals giving way to soft liberalism. The way white people simper around you, fawning and flattering as they do, the more it looks like some etiolated version of that Procol Harum song.
The loud confessions of complicity that you hear coming from many of the white people around you are not the kind of thing that will end in forgiveness tonight (the way gospel forgiveness would). Rather, it is white people scrambling for a piece of the action. They see a hot new thing that they want to manage and control, just like they want to manage and control everything else. In your reply to James White, you acknowledged that there are certain temptations that accompany particular ethnicities. Let me tell you what one of the central temptations faced by white people is. White people are officious busybodies, wanting to run everything. On top of that, they are wracked by evangeliguilt, enabling them to accuse their ancestors of appalling crimes while feeling superior in the accusation. Self-loathing and pride, rolled all into one. White people excel at that kind of thing, but if they repent, they can be free of it today—just as your people can be free of their besetting sins today.
In the gospel, wickedness is crucified. It is dealt with. The enmity between Jew and Gentile is not spread out over the subsequent centuries, to be carefully picked over, but rather God nailed their mutual animosity to the cross—making one new man out of the two. That is the potency of the gospel. That is gospel work—a work you are apparently distancing yourself from.
“This wisdom descendeth not from above, but is earthly, sensual, devilish. For where envying and strife is, there is confusion and every evil work. But the wisdom that is from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, and easy to be intreated, full of mercy and good fruits, without partiality, and without hypocrisy. And the fruit of righteousness is sown in peace of them that make peace” (Jas. 3:15–18).
Like Amos, we really do want righteousness. We really do want justice in the social realm, which is not at all the same thing as wanting social justice. “But let judgment run down as waters, and righteousness as a mighty stream” (Amos 5:24). But the only way to get there is by preaching the cross of Jesus Christ, and when you have gotten to His resurrection from the dead, you turn to the sinners assembled in front of you, and you offer them free grace on the spot. Not for some of their sins, but for all of them. And the only ancestral sin you really need concern yourself with is Adam’s—and you preach the second Adam to them.
“But you are a God ready to forgive, gracious and merciful, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love, and did not forsake them” (Neh. 9:17b, ESV).