Some time this coming week I may be in the position of defending the relevance of scriptural authority in our contemporary culture wars. If this happens, it will be on a nationally syndicated radio show with a liberal host. I will let you all know time and place if and when the whole thing is firmed up. For some the bad news might be that the occasion for this appears to be the Bible’s teaching on the subject of slavery. But this is not bad news at all.
I had various reasons for going into print on the subject back in the mid-nineties. The theological reason was that I was tired of evangelical Christian leaders apologizing for the Bible. When they attempted to take a stand on abortion (because of what the Bible says) or sodomy (because of what the Bible says), some clever unbeliever would invariably bring up slavery. “What about slavery? What about what the Bible says there?” And then the stalwart Christian would start explaining that “that was then and this is now.” Precisely so, says the gay activist, and two can play around with this hermeneutic.
Lest any of this be twisted out of all recognition, let me chisel a few caveats into stone. These are simple assertions, without a chain of reasoning between them. In the War Between the States, the South deserved to lose. The gospel is antithetical to slavery as an established and permanent institution. Slavery is gone from the United States, and good riddance. The North did not deserve to win. Racism is evil. Had I been alive then, I would have fought for the South. Because of the way the conflict was waged, we are paying a high price today in our culture wars. When slavery existed in our nation, it was possible for Christians to be either slaves or masters without sin, provided they carefully followed the requirements of Scripture. And the requirements of Scripture on this subject are far more nuanced than modernist neo-Confederates or secular Intoleristas might imagine. But whatever we say, apologizing for what the Scriptures plainly teach is out.
But in addition to this, there was a personal reason for publishing my views on slavery. I knew that I was privleged to be connected with a number of ministries that showed great promise, ministries that had the potential to make a significant difference in the advancement of the kingdom of God. But I also knew that the evangelical establishment knows how to swoop down on promising ministries like that, call in the suits and haircuts, hire a few PR consultants, shrink-wrap the whole thing, and trundle it off to the CBA convention. The ministry would be polished up right nice, made palatable to mass markets, and then the newly-appointed handlers would roll it out for public and evangelical consumption. So I decided to do something that no PR consultant would ever be able to swallow. Why not throw the cinder block into the goldfish bowl and be done with it?
This was not because I wanted these ministries to have no impact. It was because I did not want us to lose our soul in order to have that impact. Too often (in politics, ecclesastical politics, academic politics, whatever), Christians trim their convictions so that they might stick around to make a difference. But by the time they are (eventually) in a position to make a difference, they cannot. This is because they compromised fundamentally in order to get where they are. Rather than make a difference, they were actually made different.
I want, more than anything, for the contemporary evangelical and Reformed churches to regain their faith in the absolute reliability of Scripture. And so lest I ever be pressured into going native, I said what the Bible says on the subject of slavery. And this means that if I ever get into a position to “make a difference,” it will be the doing of God alone. If that happens, I will not have to look behind me and see a trail of explained-away passages, and swallow hard to try to get the guilt down. Because who would want to then turn around with a bright and shining face to try to convince those other people to not explain away the passages that are relevant in whatever the current fracas might be? May God have mercy.
I hope this radio gig comes together. If it does, I have the Intoleristas to thank for keeping this issue in play. They keep acting like I ought to be embarrassed by that cinder block in the goldfish bowl. But I put it there for a reason.