Better than “Woke” – Biblical.
No one can deny that race relations is a key issue in our day. Not that this is new. We’ve had such seasons before. But they seem to cycle back around. And this one especially does. Often, in such discussions, movements and trends, the pendulum swings wildly, and seldom finds a permanent resting place.
In my generation, the idea of a Black President was quite remote until Barak Obama came on the scene. And when he was elected – as much as I cared little or nothing for his social and political stances – I was glad to see a day in the United States when a man of color could win the highest office in the land. Who can actually measure the leap from Antebellum America to that event? And yet, as some (many) racial disparities still exist and persist (some real, some imagined, some realized, some invented, some unrecognized – none of these in equal proportions) we see those on various sides of the question seek relief from the pain of the disorder.
There are clear voices pointing us back to the Gospel as the ultimate answer – rightly so, even as there are other voices saying that for all that, the Church still has a long way to go while society struggles to find answers which not only seem ineffective but actually destructive. How to proceed sanely, effectively and above all Biblically seems to elude us. Especially in a society (and dare I say it, even in a Church) which seems to reject Biblical authority while giving lip service to it.
It is into these turbulent and muddy waters that J. Daniel Hays wades in seeking to help the Church think through it all in his insightful and profitable: From Every People and Nation: A Biblical Theology of Race. Don Carson in his preface writes: “Dr J. Daniel Hays is able simultaneously to make us long for the new heaven and the new earth, when men and women from every tongue and tribe and people and nation will gather around the One who sits on the throne and around the Lamb, and to cause us to blush with shame when we recognize afresh that the church of Jesus Christ is to be already an outpost of that consummated kingdom in this fallen world. This book deserves the widest circulation and the most thoughtful reading, for it corrects erroneous scholarship while calling Christians to reform sinful attitudes. If the book is sometimes intense, it is because the problems it addresses are not trivial.”
If you want to think through the race issues we face today in a thoroughly Biblical and NOT simplistic approach, I cannot recommend it more heartily. I was informed, challenged and even surprisingly revealed in parts. I am grateful for Hays’ treatment. For his thoughtfulness, refusal to capitulate either to caricatures; trite, simplistic monotone platitudes; or the reactionary mischaracterizations which often infest various camps. It made me long to be more consciously engaged in Pentecost’s reversal of Babel. Especially in terms of White/Black relations in the Church today.
Working from an analysis of Old Testament passages on ethnicities and people groups, he explodes one preconception after another. Refreshingly. And then spending considerable time demonstrating how African Blacks play such an integral place in Israel’s history as the People of God, working through into the New Testament. It is not a book on being woke, or current. It is a book seeking to develop a truly Biblical concept of race, especially in light of the Gospel. Therein lies its power.
Weighing in at just a touch over 200 pages, it is not a ponderous tome, but it will give you much to ponder.
Let me give you just a couple of through provoking quotes to prime your pump. While exploring the numerous references to Cush and the Cushites in Scripture – referring to Black Africans – Hays notes: “In fact, there is a tendency among older commentators to assume that all Blacks (Negroes) that appear in Scripture must be slaves…However, when people of other nationalities are mentioned in the Bible, no one declares that they were slaves just because their nationality is given.”
Then after citing several eye-opening examples he goes on: “The quick jump, without evidence, from the term ‘Cush’ to the notion of slavery probably reflects an unintentional subconscious connection between Blacks and slaves in the minds of some White scholars. They assume—without doing adequate research—that if a character in the story is a Black African then he must be a slave.10 Such an assumption in the context of 2 Samuel is totally without historical or textual support. It reflects the kind of subtle prejudicial thinking among Whites that is so frustrating to the Black Christian community because White scholarship is so reluctant to admit it, or even acknowledge it.
Then in his “conclusions” to Ch. 7 he writes: “Several important conclusions relating to race emerge from our study of the prophets. First of all, the prophets emphasize that God cannot be tied to any ethnic community. Thus it is critical for the Church today to grasp the significance of the fact that God is not a Caucasian or a God only for Caucasians. Neither is he an American or a God primarily for Americans. Quite to the contrary, Yahweh is the God of all the peoples of the world. Likewise, the people of God are clearly portrayed as a wide-ranging ethnic mix. The biblical picture of this blended mix includes Black Cushites as one of the critical components. In fact, the Black Cushites generally function in the prophetic picture as representatives of the rest of the nations of the world.”
From Moses’ Cushite wife, to Phinehas, Ebed-Melech and others down to the Ethiopian Eunuch of Acts 8, the reality that all in Christ are of equal standing before God which becomes the necessary common identity is driven home.
In his closing portion he notes: “Also, it is important that White Christians guard against projecting a ‘White’ world back into the Bible. There is a tendency in many White Churches to assume that the Bible basically tells a story about White people and that the other races are simply added on as part of our gracious missionary enterprise. Pastors and teachers (and film directors) across North America need to correct this misconception and inform their people that neither Abraham, David, nor Paul had blond hair and blue eyes…One of the tragic legacies of Western civilization is the idea of White racial superiority. Consciously and subconsciously, both by individuals and by social structures, both in obvious and in subtle forms, this thinking continues in the West, not only in the secular world but in the Church as well. It is critical that the Church proclaim loudly and clearly that such thinking is explicitly contradicted by Scripture, which teaches that all peoples are equal. This truth is applicable for Christians around the world in situations where one ethnic group believes that it is superior to another…My hope lies in the next generation of Christians, aptly called ‘Generation X’. If parents, teachers, and pastors can proclaim this truth to the rising generation in a clear manner, I am optimistic that they can sever the ties with the ‘old man’ from our culture and make some real progress toward the vision of Christian unity that the Scriptures present…The White Church in the West does not define Christianity; indeed, the centre of Christianity is rapidly shifting away from the Western world.”
I will close with this comment from page 183: “all manifestations of racial and ethnic divisiveness are betrayals of ‘the truth of the gospel.’ ”