With regard to the slavery fracas, I have said that the only issue is that of biblical absolutism. We must be resolved, as Christians, to have absolutely no problem passages. What this means is that, once the exegesis is done, and we know what the passage actually teaches, we will have no problem with it. Further, we must not flinch at the possible problems for us if the exegesis goes off in an unpalatable direction, and consequently take care to “steer” the exegesis in order to keep ourselves academically respectable. We may have a problem passage if what is meant by this is that we don’t know what the passage teaches. But once we know, because we are Christians, we should simply accept the teaching of the Bible. All this is to reverse Mark Twain’s famous dictum about the Bible — it wasn’t the parts he didn’t understand that bothered him, it was the parts he did understand. Because we are Christians we should never be bothered with the parts we do understand.
But we sometimes struggle with this. Liberals are sometimes more to be trusted with the text than evangelicals are. This is because the liberal is not stuck with the results of his exegesis. He can say, for example, that the apostle Paul taught the doctrine of male headship, and “wasn’t he silly?” But if the evangelical concludes that Paul in fact taught this, the evangelical has to go off and act as though he believes it. But if there are bad social consequences for him if he acts that way, then it is time for the old Greek word-study ploy. “The Greek word kephale, which is translated head, actually means ‘one who fetches.'”
Now in this twisted age, I can guarantee that biblical absolutism is going to generate flak. It is going to generate flak because it challenges the regnant idols in a way that nothing else does.
But biblical absolutism is related to another absolute — the absolute primacy of grace. Without the grace of God, we will be in no position to trust what God has revealed to us in Scripture. And with the grace of God, who we are and what we are doing will be transformed. Now there have been many successful efforts to truncate this grace in our common understanding, and turn it into a very narrow thing. We have turned it into a mere device for yanking us into heaven when we die, and that is what saving grace is good for. We think we are honoring God when we are actually rejecting what His Word tells about the potency of His grace for all things.
The grace of God transforms us. It transforms marriages, families, villages, towns, nations, and cultures, and it does so in this life. And of course, we do not forget that in the age to come, it bestows eternal life. Now because the wisdom of submitting to the graciousness of God is better than the stupidity of resisting it, the end result of this grace working its way through history (long before the Last Trump) is the development of superior cultures (for the time being). But these superior cultures are not superior because of the innate wisdom of their members. What do we have that we did not receive as a gift? And if as a gift, then why do we boast as though it were not a gift?
And this is the point where a tenacious adherence to the teaching of Scripture topples the idols of the left and the right. Because of the historical fact that the gospel worked its way (primarily) west and north, up to this point the European cultures that have grown in Christian soil have been far more greatly blessed. And the left goes crazy, and off in the distance I can hear the faint cry, “Great is Diana of the Ephesians!” I believe the mob is headed this way, but I have time to crank out a few more sentences. Let’s get a right-wing mob going. For precisely the same reasons, the culture of Nigerian Anglicans is already morally superior to the culture of New England Episcopalians. The Nigerians don’t have any bishops, for example, who have come to believe (after prayer and much fasting) that the anus is a sexual organ. And, if present trends continue, in another century that superiority will be visible in other cultural manifestations — across the board. Realizing that gnosticism is bad, we need to remember that grace results in far more than forgiveness of sins (which does, however, remain at the center). It also extends into other things, like advancements in dentistry, glorious poetry, and the building of suspension bridges.
So let us fix it fast in our minds. Without the grace of God, the vaunted white race would be living on a par with Swift’s yahoos. With the grace of God, black Africa is going to be a dazzling civilization. And since the prophets of God have promised that His grace is going to blanket the world like the waters cover the sea, the ramifications of this for all cultures will be glorious. And these cultures will differ from one another, certainly, as star differs from star in glory. Grace is not only offered to all the races and tribes of men, it will be bestowed. Jesus died to save the world, and He did not do this so the Africans could be the hewers of wood and drawers of water.
And with regard to absurd charges against me, anyone who can consider these words and extract from them any allegiance to evolutionary racism whatever, or any taint of the biblical sin of racial animosity or vainglory, needs to make sure they adjust their will to donate their brain to the nearest medical school. I am sure that someone there will want to keep it in a jar on their desk as a warning to freshmen.