The heart of Baptist 21 beats to a Christ-centered rhythm. We love Jesus and we long to see “all things united in him” (Eph 1:10). This longing to see all things united to Jesus, of course, includes the way Scripture is read. Unfortunately, it isn’t always the case that people read the Bible in a Christ-centered way, and many who would like to do so don’t know how to do so. That’s why we are pumped to see David Prince’s “Simple Guide to Reading and Applying the Bible with Jesus as the Hero.”
This resource practically equips lay Christians with the tools necessary to read and apply the Bible in light of Christ but without getting bogged down in too much technical debate. Pastors and church leaders, this would be a great resource for Sunday School Teachers, Home Group Leaders and many more in your church.
B21 is very excited about the ERLC’s upcoming Leadership Summit on “The Gospel and Racial Reconciliation.” This summit will not only include the leading voices on the issue, but will also be an invaluable resource for your life and ministry. We cannot stress what a timely and beneficial summit this will be!
As a foretaste of the event, enjoy both the promo video and following blog post by the ERLC’s President, Dr. Russell Moore:
On this, the 50th anniversary of the Civil Rights Act, I am reminded of one of my favorite pictures, which sits on a shelf in my office. It’s a photograph of a line of civil rights workers—in the heat of the Jim Crow era. They’re standing shoulder-to-shoulder, each of them bearing a sign. The sign reads, simply: “I Am a Man.”
I love that picture because it sums up precisely the issue at that time, and at every time. The struggle for civil rights for African-Americans in this country wasn’t simply a “political” question. It wasn’t merely the question of, as Martin Luther King Jr. put it from before the Lincoln Memorial, the unfulfilled promises of the Declaration of Independence and the U.S. Constitution (although it was nothing less than that). At its root, Jim Crow (and the spirit of Jim Crow, still alive and sinister) is about theology. It’s about the question of the “Godness” of God and the humanness of humanity.
White supremacy was, like all iniquity from the Garden insurrection on, cruelly cunning. Those with power were able to keep certain questions from being asked by keeping poor and working-class white people sure that they were superior to someone: to the descendants of the slaves around them. The idea of the special dignity of the white “race” gave something of a feeling of aristocracy to those who were otherwise far from privilege, while fueling the fallen human passions of wrath, jealousy, and pride.
In so doing, Jim Crow repeated the old strategies of the reptilian powers of the air: to convince human beings simultaneously and paradoxically that they are gods and animals. In the Garden, after all, the snake approached God’s image-bearer, directing her as though he had dominion over her (when it was, in fact, the other way around). He treated her as an animal, and she didn’t even see it. At the same time, the old dragon appealed to her to transcend the limits of her dignity. If she would reach for the forbidden, she would be “like God, knowing good and evil.” He suggested that she was more than a human; she was a goddess.
That’s why the words “I Am a Man” were more than a political slogan. They were a theological manifesto. Those bravely wearing those signs were declaring that they had decided not to believe the rhetoric used against them. They refused to believe the propaganda that they were a “lesser race,” or even just a different race. They refused to believe the propaganda (sometimes propped up by twisted Bible verses) that they and their ancestors were bestial, animal-like, unworthy of personhood.
The words affirmed the thing that frightened the racist establishment more than anything. Those behind the signs were indeed persons. They bore a dignity that could not be extinguished by custom or legislation. I am a man.
The words also implied a fiery rebuke. The white supremacists believed they could deny human dignity to those they deemed lesser. They had no right to do so. They believed themselves to be gods and not creatures, able to decree whatever they willed with no thought to natural rights, or to nature’s God. The signs pointed out that those who made unjust laws, and who unleashed the water-hoses and pit-bull dogs, were only human, and, as such, would face judgment.
The civil rights movement succeeded not simply because the arc of history bends toward justice but because, embedded in our common humanity, we know that Someone is bending it toward a Judgment Seat.
“I Am a Man,” the sign said, with all the dignity that truth carries with it. And, the sign implied, “You Are Just a Man.” If that’s so, then, as Odetta would sing, “God’s Gonna Cut You Down.” The truth there is deeper than the struggles of the last couple of centuries. It gets to the root problem of fallen human existence, and it’s the reason white supremacy was of the spirit of Antichrist.
Behind the horror of Jim Crow is the horror of satanized humanity, always kicking against its own creatureliness, always challenging the right of God to be God. However often this spirit emerges, with all its pride and brutality, the Word of God still stands: “You are but a man, and no god” (Ezek. 28:2).
The gospel that reconciles the sons of slaveholders with the sons of slaves is the same gospel that reconciled the sons of Amalek with the sons of Abraham. It is a gospel that reclaims the dignity of humanity and the lordship of God. It is a gospel that presents us with a brother who puts the lie to any claim to racial superiority as he takes on the glory and limits of our common humanity in Adam. Jim Crow is put to flight ultimately because Jesus Christ steps forward out of history and announces, with us, “I Am a Man.”
A version of this article originally ran on January 17, 2011.
I hate it when my headphones get tangled. As a church planter that lives out of a backpack, it happens very often, unfortunately. The longer the headphones have been in my bag, the more difficult to unwind. The more urgent the situation, the harder it is to get them straightened out. It doesn’t matter how carefully I put them in my bag, they tend to come out tangled.
Having read what feels like an endless amount of articles and blogs on critical issues in our culture and churches, it seems to me that arguments and discussions tend to do the same things as my headphones. Arguments, like headphones, naturally get tangled and are difficult to untangle. The trickier the topic, the more difficult it is.
A recent blog exchange between two guys I know—Owen Strachan and Kyle Roberts—serves as a great illustration. I can’t settle their disagreement or ones like theirs, but perhaps a couple observations could move the conversation along in a way that will allow people to better hear the heart of their arguments.
“Epistemic Certainty” Characterizes Every Side of the Discussion, Even When It Isn’t Claimed
One of the criticisms that Kyle levies against Owen has to do with his “epistemic certainty.” Kyle does this more than once. This criticism, of course, is a tempting one. With it, you can both paint your opponent as a “quick to draw conclusions before you hear the whole story,” arrogant, and an epistemological bully, while coming off as a humble, listening, and careful person.
As effective as the criticism is, it’s not without its problems. In order to criticize someone for an unwarranted “epistemic certainty,” you need “epistemic certainty” that they are in error. In this blog, Kyle seemed quite certain that Owen’s “epistemic certainty” was unwarranted. For instance, Kyle criticizes Owen for having an “epistemic certainty” that allows him to say people are on a path to hell. While it seems that Owen is the lone bearer of this pejoratively used title, a closer look reveals he’s not. Is Kyle sure that Owen’s wrong here? It would seem so. That takes “epistemic certainty.” It seems Kyle is saying that these folks aren’t going to hell. Is he sure? Better have some “epistemic certainty” to make that assurance. When your position moves from “I don’t know” to “we can’t know,” you have moved from uncertainty to certainty.
Further, since we see “you’re on the path to hell” statements in Scripture, it seems reasonable for believers to provide similar warnings? Sure, let’s be careful throwing that indictment around. But let’s not act like it’s off limits and let’s not be silent, if indeed we believe people are heading down that path.
“Epistemic certainty” characterizes every side of the discussion. That doesn’t end the discussion, it advances it. Make your knowledge claims and let the debate be heard.
Everyone Characterizes The Motives Of Others, And Sometimes That’s Okay
Kyle doesn’t like the way Owen characterized the pastor’s motives. He focused particularly on Owen’s use of “self-congratulatory” in reference to the pastor’s actions and those like him. Should Owen have done that? Perhaps not. Regardless of the pastor’s motives, it is the action that he took that is central. His motives seem to be irrelevant to the heart of the argument. Plus, it is just flat out difficult to know a person’s motivations. The Scriptures say that our own motives can be hard to discover, much less the motives of someone else (Jer. 17:9). Kyle’s right that we should be careful when questioning motives.
But on the other hand, maybe Owen was right. As you read Scripture, it seems that, while it doesn’t happen often, characterizing another person’s motives is fair game. After all, the Apostle of Love, John, did such things. In 3 John 9, he tells us that Diotrephes “loves to have first place among them.” The Apostle Paul says Demas deserted him “because he loved this present world” (2 Tim 4:10). There seem to be basic indicators that allow for such motive indictments. Perhaps such was the case here.
Regardless of your thoughts on this particular case, it’s important to see that both parties characterize the motives of others. As is often the case, the person who criticizes the other for questioning motives, questions their motives in the process. In this case, Kyle uncharitably labels Owen and others like him “Self-Appointed Guardians of the Galaxy.” Using “Terror Management Theory” and an encounter with two college students, Kyle argues that “fundamentalists” like Owen are motivated by fear and anxiety. They aren’t just defending a view; they are “defensive.” All of this, of course, is simply the same kind of motive talk that Kyle criticized Owen for—perhaps even more blatant.
Kyle is painting a picture of the motivations that drive Owen and “those like him.” That’s a lot of motivational knowledge. Maybe Owen is driven by fear and anxiety? While doubtful, it is possible. More likely it is the case that he and others like him are doing their best to follow passages like Titus 1:9 where we’re told both “to encourage with sound teaching and to refute those who contradict it.” Surely this can be obeyed without wanting to be a “Guardian of the Evangelical Galaxy?”
It isn’t likely that Kyle would appreciate being characterized as a “Guardian of the Progressive Christian Galaxy?” Did someone else officially appoint Kyle the guardian who needed to call out Owen or did he decide to write that blog himself? Would it advance the discussion in any meaningful way if Owen labeled Kyle the “Guardian of the Progressive Christianity Galaxy?” I don’t think so.
When you negatively characterize the motives of the one you are criticizing for doing the same thing, it makes it hard for people to hear the truth of the argument. Mixed motives are on all sides and are hard to understand. Discussions will advance if we can admit that we all characterize the motives of others, not just one side; and it is justified in some cases—although rarely.
Criticizing one another for actions and/ arguments that we subtly do in the act of those criticisms doesn’t help the discussion advance. Let’s focus on the heart of the argument, admitting that neither side will do that perfectly. While I don’t think this brief post will cause Owen—whose position on LGBTs issues I share—and Kyle to agree on the issues at hand, perhaps the facts on both sides will be heard more clearly.
It’s been brought to my attention that some people in our churches point to Jesus’ exhortation in Matthew 7:6 to not “cast your pearls before swine” to justify withholding the gospel from some groups of people. Particularly in a climate with heightened concerns about terrorism, some it seems make the argument that Matthew 7:6 precludes sharing the gospel with Muslims.
That is not only a wrong interpretation of Matthew 7:6, it’s a wicked one. Let me give three reasons why.
We must interpret particular biblical passages in light of the whole Bible, and we should interpret difficult passages in light of passages that are easier to understand. Revelation 5:9 makes it clear that Jesus spilt His blood to redeem people from every people group on the planet, including groups that are majority Muslim, so Matthew 7:6 can’t mean that the gospel is not for Muslims.
Jesus says later in in this same gospel, “this gospel of the kingdom will be proclaimed throughout the whole world as a testimony to all nations, and then the end will come” (Matt 24:14). So, Matthew 7:6 can’t mean that there are certain groups with whom we shouldn’t share the gospel because Jesus says it will be shared with all peoples.
Third, it seems to me that what Jesus says in Matthew 7:6 is akin to what he tells his disciples as he sends them out in Luke 9:5. He says “wherever they do not receive you, when you leave that town shake off the dust from your feet as a testimony against them.” Jesus is not saying that there are groups of people with whom you don’t share. He is saying that there may be individuals who doggedly oppose your witness that you move on from and with whom you don’t indefinitely continue sharing the gospel. But, don’t miss this, these are people with whom you have already lovingly shared the gospel and been opposed. These are not people with whom you have a preconceived idea about their willingness to accept and refuse to ever share.
Allow us to give a brief response to Jay Adkins’ post.
1. B21 champions the primacy of the local church.
We stand by our oft-repeated philosophy that the local church is primary and associations and conventions are secondary. Churches and pastors aren’t “servants” of NOBA, as Jay stated, or any association. Associations are supposed to serve the churches. Associations don’t do ministry. Local churches do.
Never once in the article did we degrade compassion ministries. We are for both planting and compassion. However, the local church is the institution ordained by King Jesus to uniquely carry out the Great Commission, evangelism and compassion ministries. Our desire is to see a local church movement in NOLA. We pray this discussion leads to that end.
2. B21’s purpose is to advance discussions that no one else is having.
Our purpose in this post – as with similar ones we’ve posted in the past on various other issues – is to advance discussion about how to best advance the Great Commission. Good brothers with good intentions can disagree on this issue and the best use of these properties without questioning one another’s integrity. We are happy to have the discussion and to disagree but want to do so in the right spirit. Dean never suggested that NOBA isn’t passionate about church planting. The question is one of strategy not value.
3. There actually seems to be agreement on the basic facts.
NOBA owns properties they plan to sell rather than use to house church plants, and some of the funds from those sells will be used for compassion ministries. Jay admits this in his post, and this was Dean’s contention.
While Jay admits that there’s a plan to sell at least three properties (Carver, Sims, and Hopeview Baptist), he’s quick to say that Carver and Sims are not church properties, though he admits a small congregation did use one of the facilities for a short time. We didn’t intend for our post to get into the nuances of ecclesiology. We don’t think the church is the building anyways, but rather the people. So, even though at least one of these compassion properties did house a church for a short time, we are happy to update our post for the sake of clarity by changing the phrase “church buildings” to “NOBA properties.” But again, the basic facts remain the same. NOBA owns properties it plans to sell rather than use to house church plants.
4. B21 did not act in a way that lacks integrity.
Jay claims that our post was not Christlike, that we are ignorant of what is actually happening in NOLA, and that we had no right to talk about what’s happening in NOLA.
That’s not the case. There was no violation of Matthew 18, which governs local church interaction in cases of discipline. That is not the situation here. There is no sin issue to address here; rather, we were simply trying to advance a discussion.
Also, to suggest that we never talked to anyone locally in NOLA is incorrect. We have. Many are frustrated on both sides of the issue.
Furthermore, Dean Inserra, who is part of B21, is a key partner in Send NOLA, thus he has a vested interest in advancing the discussion about the local strategy to reach NOLA.
5. A further clarification
In the original post it was stated that the church building on Magazine St. was abandoned. Jay stated that the facility does house “Valance Street Baptist Church.” We are happy to update our blog to reflect this; the problem is the current status of the property on Magazine St. is confusing at best.
Jay states that this church has “entered into a partnership with NOBA,” but that it’s not NOBA’s “prerogative to force a church to [do] anything, especially as it has to do with property.” Our question for the purposes of clarity would be, what exactly is meant by “entered into a partnership?” Is it something more formal than simply being part of the association? Does NOBA now own the property on Magazine St?
It is our understanding from a conversation with a local church planter that NOBA does own the property. This planter approached NOBA leadership about acquiring that building, and they were denied. So, while there is a church meeting on Magazine St. at present, the property belongs to NOBA and has at least been denied to 1 church planter.
This will be the last we address this issue. We will make the updates to the initial blog, and we stand by what we have written.
-The B21 Leadership Team