May 12, 2021

What I got out of Woke Church

As Christians, we are to love other people in the same way that the Good Samaritan loved the injured stranger. We are to love other people like Christ loved us, to the point that he died for us. We are to minister to their needs and also share the Good News with them. This includes all peoples: Immigrants, Foreigners, Blacks, Aliens, the undocumented, and those who don't look or dress or talk like you. To be effective at this, we need to be aware. We need to be aware of what is going on in our city, in our country, and in our world. We need to have empathy. We need to show love. We need to be steadfast in our commitment to fulfill the Great Commandments. (p22.)

I believe all of those things are Fruit of the Spirit. That doesn't come naturally to a fallen human. The Spirit can bear such fruit in us if we allow it. And we should allow it. We should ask for it. Don't extinguish the Sprit, the Bible says.

To be blunt, the Holy Spirit allows certain Christians to see things in our society that other Christians do not. The Spirit allows some Christians to have empathy, understanding, and love for others that some Christians still lack. The Spirit helps some Christians understand gospel truths that other Christians are still blind to. 

In my last post I asked "if there is any group of people that believes they are mistreated, disadvantaged, shouldn't we as Christians endeavor to heal their hearts, their fears, and at least understand their point of view, their problems? To listen?" Blacks are saying that they are suffering. Why don't we Christians care enough to hear and understand? In Woke Church, Eric Mason claimed that "God's intent is for us to hurt with one another, to care about the suffering of one another." (p24.) The Church should be the group that society turns to when hurting. The Church should be leading reconciliation. (A recurring theme in the book, but particularly addressed in p107-108.)

Why do we have to keep talking about race? "The question is evidence of a level of disconnectedness that is either willful or based on a lack of knowledge. This is what apathy looks and sounds like." (p150.)

Has the gospel given you a new heart? Does the Holy Spirit compel you to actively "seek what is good and right for [your] fellow man" (p40)? If not, then something isn't as it should be.

"He expects us to be active in good works for His glory as a response and proof that we have been transformed. As Jesus stated to His disciples in John 15:8: 'My Father is glorified by this: that you produce much fruit and prove to be my disciples.'" (p47.) 

Jesus said, “By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another” (John 13:35.)

And, we Christians are to be peacemakers. (p55.) Many of us need to consider whether our posts on social media make peace, or stir up strife and provoke. The underlying emotion behind so many posts seems to be not love but hate. (p134-135.)

Jesus said, "as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me" (Matthew 25:40)

The Review

I don't call what I wrote above a "summary" of Woke Church. Likewise, I didn't want to call this a book review. I don't think it is a fair or complete review. Now that I have read a few books on racism, I'm not noticing the stuff I already know. If I had read Woke Church a few books ago, I would have pointed out more great stuff. My notes here are just the things that stood out to me given where I am in my own personal journey. 

Nevertheless, I do have a few thoughts of a review nature. In Woke Church, the author makes great use of scripture, backing up his points in a Biblically sound way. I appreciate the amount of scripture used and the care with which it is used. 

I don't remember if the author gave any evidence about things like structures and systems that tend to disadvantage certain groups, or about things like privilege. If he did, he didn't give much. If you don't already believe that these things exist, I'm not sure that this book will open your eyes to that. Read one of the other books I've reviewed first. This book should convict you if you are lacking love, and should help you see the need to open your eyes.

Eric Mason addresses many other topics that a good Christian should be interested in, but I think his main point, or the main thing I got out of this book, is that we "must be clear on the issues of our day. We have to do our homework. In order to appropriately engage the issues, we must know them. There are many glaring issues that need a prophetic voice: classism, sexism, elitism, poverty, ignorance, wealth, greed, etc. … I'm not saying that we have to jump at every issue that comes up in the world. However, we should know when an issue reaches a boiling point. It is our job to be in the Word and to soberly assess the world around us." (p121 - 122.)  

The author dedicates a chapter to practical actions we can take. Many good suggestions.

I definitely recommend Woke Church to any Christian who has begun their journey of awakening, especially anyone who is any kind of leader.

May 5, 2021

what does the Lord require of you but to do justice

Today I'm thinking about the parable of the Good Samaritan, how Christians are to love their neighbor, help the oppressed, to love one another.

He has told you, O man, what is good; and what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God? ~ Micah 6:8 (ESV)

To do justice.

To be kind.

If a Christian brother or sister is hurting, we should minister to them.

This applies to people groups as well as to individuals. 

All of us Christians are ministers now. Romans 15:14. The priesthood of all believers. 

But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light. ~ 1 Peter 2:9

I'm thinking about Ezekiel 34. In the 1st half of the chapter the LORD is lambasting the priests, leadership, ministers and wealthy for not caring for the sheep, for abusing them. Stop and re-read that with the thought that you and I, us Christians, are ministers, priests. Ask how this passage might apply to us today.

We clothe ourselves, but do not help the weak or injured, or seek the lost, but treat others with force and harshness. I don't mean that we have not helped others at all. Many will counter this thought will all the good things they have done. All the good their church has done. But we, us WASPs, have we done all we should? Is there anyone neglected? Anyone mistreated? Any poor? Any that have trouble getting education? You may think not. Or you may think about you paying your fair share of taxes and about certain legalities, or illegalities. But if there is any group of people that believes they are mistreated, disadvantaged, shouldn't we as Christians endeavor to heal their hearts, their fears, and at least understand their point of view, their problems? To listen?

Around verse 10-11 the LORD says He will withhold blessings from those ministers (us Christians) and He will care for his sheep, all of his sheep, and in particular, those sheep who were neglected. 

17 “‘As for you, my sheep, this is what the Sovereign Lord says: Look, I am about to judge between one sheep and another, between rams and goats. 18 Is it not enough for you to feed on the good pasture, that you must trample the rest of your pastures with your feet? When you drink clean water, must you muddy the rest of the water by trampling it with your feet? 19 As for my sheep, they must eat what you trampled with your feet and drink what you have muddied with your feet!

20 “‘Therefore, this is what the Sovereign Lord says to them: Look, I myself will judge between the fat sheep and the lean sheep. 21 Because you push with your side and your shoulder, and thrust your horns at all the weak sheep until you scatter them abroad, 22 I will save my sheep; they will no longer be prey. I will judge between one sheep and another.

23 “‘I will set one shepherd over them, and he will feed them—namely, my servant David. He will feed them and will be their shepherd. 24 I, the Lord, will be their God, and my servant David will be prince among them; I, the Lord, have spoken!
    ~ Ezekiel 34 (NET)

Without being particular, in my lifetime, much damage has been done against certain people groups. I can't read that without thinking of groups that have been trampled in my lifetime. "We" muddied the waters. Those groups that some of us would like to scatter, don't want to deal with, don't want around here using our government benefits and consuming our tax dollars.

Here I quote from Matthew Henry's commentary on this passage:

Conviction spoken to those of the flock that were fat and strong, the rams and the he-goats (v. 17), those that, though they had not power, as shepherds and rulers, to oppress with, yet, being rich and wealthy, made use of the opportunity which this gave them to bear hard upon their poor neighbours. Those that have much would have more, and, if they set to it, will have more, so many ways have they of encroaching upon their poor neighbours, and forcing from them the one ewe-lamb, 2 Sa. 12:4. Do not the rich oppress the poor merely with the help of their riches, and draw them before the judgment-seats? Jam. 2:6. Poor servants and tenants are hardly used by their rich lords and masters. The rams and the he-goats not only kept all the good pasture to themselves, ate the fat and drank the sweet, but they would not let the poor of the flock have any comfortable enjoyment of the little that was left them; they trod down the residue of the pastures and fouled the residue of the waters, so that the flock was obliged to eat that which they had trodden into the dirt, and drink that which they had muddied, v. 18, 19. This intimates that the great men not only by extortion and oppression made and kept their neighbours poor, and scarcely left them enough to subsist on, but were so vexatious to them that what little coarse fare they had was embittered to them. And this seemed a small thing to them; they thought there was no harm in it, as if it were the privilege of their quality to be injurious to all their neighbours. Note, Many that live in pomp and at ease themselves care not what straits those about them are reduced to, so they may but have every thing to their mind. Those that are at ease, and the proud, grudge that any body should live by them with any comfort. But this as not all; they not only robbed the poor, to make them poorer, but were troublesome to the sick and weak of the flock (v. 21): ...

they did what they could to rid the country of, and so scattered them abroad, as if the poor, whom, Christ says, we must have always with us, were public nuisances, not to be relieved, but sent far away from us. Note, It is a barbarous thing to add affliction to the afflicted. Perhaps these rams and he-goats are designed to represent the scribes and Pharisees, for they are such troublers of the church as Christ himself must come to deliver it from, v. 23. 

I was once and even recently very callous to the plight of other groups. I was ignorant and cared not to listen. I repent of my old opinions.

April 6, 2021

Reading While Black -- a book review

"Are those who disdain the church correct that the Bible isn't up to the challenge of speaking to the issues of the day? Put simply, is the Bible a friend or foe in the Black quest for justice?" Esau McCaulley, p 73.

In Reading While Black, Esau McCaulley takes a look at well-known but overlooked, underinterpreted, and misinterpreted passages. This book opened my eyes to a wealth of scripture with depth of meaning that I had been missing. Esau explains how Blacks in America do and should interpret scripture. But Whites should interpret the same way, so this is an important book for pigment challenged people to read. 

I LOVE this book! It explains and stresses the importance of "naming and protesting evil, expressing anger, and pursuing freedom and justice, but also promoting reconciliation, practicing forgiveness, and living in hope -- all aspects of proclaiming the gospel of God revealed in Jesus", as it's put in one of the reviews in the front of the book. All things that I longed to understand, expressed in a very accessible way: It's written to the Black Christian in a way that I, a White Christian, never felt offended or attacked. 

Esau walks the reader through his own struggle with common (Caucasian-European-American) Biblical interpretation, especially in light of the injustices done to Black folk over the centuries by supposed Christians. Esau observes that there is a good connection between Evangelical belief and the Black church (p 9):

• Emphasis on Scripture and the Bible as the ultimate authority.

• The belief that all people need to be born-again, the Gospel of Christ. 

• The importance of Discipleship, the lifelong process of becoming more like Christ.

"God is fundamentally a liberator." (p 17.) Through and through you can see that He liberates His people, whoever His people are. Notice all the times God liberated the Jews. Notice how Jesus liberated believers from their sins. Notice the passages on setting captives free. Notice the apostles freed from prison. Notice those freed from illness, possession, and even death. We should emphasize "God as the liberator and humankind as one family united under the rule of Christ" (p 19). "There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus." (Galatians 3:28 ESV)

Esau addresses the fact that White Americans, in their culture, hear different messages from scripture than do Black Americans, Asian Americans, and etc. He makes the point this isn't necessarily bad unless each group keeps that message to themselves. "but if we all read the biblical text assuming that God is able to speak a coherent word to us through it, then we can discuss the meanings our varied cultures have a gleaned from the Scriptures. What I have in mind then is a unified mission in which our varied cultures turn the text in dialogue with one another to discern the mind of Christ." (p 23.) I like that. We need each other to more clearly understand the truth, and enjoy the richness of the message. "The job of the scholar is to probe and press and challenge simplistic readings. It is also important to challenge simplistic readings using our own experiences that might provide insights that others who do not share those experiences might have missed." (p. 181)

An "ah-ha!" moment I had reading chapter 2 is that Romans 13 is about submission to the laws, to the state. It doesn't say what to do with corrupt or evil or mistaken or errant individual officers or officials. Submit to the office, not the wicked office holder. The authority is the governing institution, not the individual. In fact, implied in the passage is an expectation for the good behavior of the individuals in the government. I.E., don't be a terror to good works. See Luke 3 for examples pointed to tax collectors and police ("soldiers"). 

Biblical evidence does show that we are to resist evil and immorality. (Good examples are given in chapters 2 and 3.) We Christians are indeed to work for positive change. We are to strive for peace, even if to achieve it requires some unrest. But it's a fallen world and we will suffer the consequences of challenging the systems or the individuals. That doesn't mean don't challenge. We have an inability to discern God's timing and God's means of righting wrongs. The author picks up this point again in chapter 3: "this does not mean that a Christian cannot protest injustice, it means that we cannot claim God's justification for violent revolution. Submission and acquiescence are two different things."

Pointedly, "Paul says that the government should not be a source of fear for the innocent. This problem of innocent fearfulness continues to plague encounters between Black persons and law enforcement." (p 35.) As Christians, white or black, we should work towards a country where Black citizens do not fear interactions with our police. They should not have to live in fear, though they still do. Nevertheless, "the Roman Christian's interaction with the power of the state bears some striking similarities to the potential encounters African Americans might have with the police in our day." (p 38.)

A lasting problem is that the laws we have today were written over more than just decades, but over centuries during a time in which Black disenfranchisement was a common and accepted practice. Many of those laws are still on the books and many of them still tend to disenfranchise Blacks. Esau calls this institutional corporate sin. (p 39.) Christians should endeavor to ensure that the laws reflect Christian values. We should shape public opinion and hold elected officials accountable for the just treatment of all. As stated above, we need insight from multiple Christian cultures to identify bad laws and proper solutions -- we Whites can't discern that on our own.

Chapter 3 reminds us of numerous passages in which Israel is criticized for its injustice and oppression of the poor. All the prophets and Jesus and the apostles spoke truth to power.

There are 2 interpretations of scripture made in this book that I disagree with, but I don't disagree with the author's ultimate point, so my disagreements are perhaps immaterial. First, on page 61, the author suggests that Galatians 3 is about more than spiritual enslavement. I don't see it. (But again, I refer to the point above about needing each other to understand the truth.) Galatians 1 thru 3 is about the Law and the circumcision party, Jews vs Greeks. I don't think Paul was calling for the equal political or social treatment of women, slaves, Greeks, and non-citizens. But I concur with Esau's point, which he goes on to back up with passages from Colossians. 

Secondly, on pages 65-66, Esau changes the word 'righteousness' in Matthew 5 to 'justice'. He acknowledges that he is giving his own translation, but of all the translations I use, only the NLT uses the word Justice. Look at the rest of Matthew 5 -- righteousness is meant throughout that passage, not justice. 

"Justice is making things right that are unfair in society; righteousness is doing right by people, especially the vulnerable. Justice is more about legal and systemic problems; righteousness is more about good deeds, acts of generosity toward those in need."

Sure, the terms are close. Amos 5:24 and Psalm 103:6 and over three dozen other places use both of those terms together, and synonyms and parallelism are often used in Hebrew poetry to reinforce a single point. (Right?) But changing one term to the other in a chapter that only uses one of those terms consistently, and that is not Hebrew poetry, seems wrong. Nevertheless, I agree with Esau's ultimate conclusion, which he backs up with other Scripture. 

Chapter 5 is a fun read. In it, Esau destroys the lie that the Europeans and slavery brought the Gospel to the Africans. Christianity was known by black and brown people at the very beginning of Christianity. It also persisted there through history. In fact, Joseph's sons born in Egypt, Ephraim and Manasseh, were multi-ethnic, namely, African and Hebrew. There are no biologically "pure" Hebrews. They too were a mixed "race". And in Exodus 12:38, a "mixed crowd" went up with them, meaning non-Israelites. Esau shows us over and over how God intends to bless all nations; all people groups. There are many many examples in this chapter that I had NEVER noticed before. Esau goes on to explain that the promotion of "colorblindness" is sub-biblical. Colors and ethnicities will exist in eternity! What a fantastic book!

Chapter six covers the rage of the Black American and rage in the Bible. Cry out to God about injustice. Cry out for vengeance. "Sometimes we need to lament injustice and call for God to right wrongs." (p 127.) Yet, there is also forgiveness, but "excepting abuse is inappropriate for Christians. … it is appropriate for those suffering unjustly to forgive their enemies from a distance if necessary. We do not have to stay. …  the New Testament also calls on believers to help those who are suffering. … James does not say, 'Tell the orphans and the widows to put up with suffering.' He says to the Christian, 'Help them!'" (p 133.) Christians should not allow suffering to continue when we have the resources to do something about it. I got a lot out of this chapter.

I got a lot out of this book. What I appreciated the most is that the author dug into numerous passages. It wasn't a light treatment of Scripture. When logic was called for, he used it with a sound theological underpinning and correct Biblical exegesis. The Bonus Track at the end of the book puts forward his thoughts on correct Biblical interpretation. 

Skipping ahead to the conclusion of the book, the author states that he didn't set out to exhaustively and conclusively answer questions of import today to Black Christians. Rather, his aim was to answer whether the Bible is reliable and useful to Black Christians. Returning to the question presented at the top: "Are those who disdain the church correct that the Bible isn't up to the challenge of speaking to the issues of the day? Put simply, is the Bible a friend or foe in the black quest for justice?"  He answers "that the very process of engaging these Scriptures and expecting an answer is an exercise in hope. It is an act of faith that has carried Black people through unimaginable despair toward a brighter future. The Bible has been a source of comfort, but it has also been more. It has inspired action to transform circumstances. It has liberated Black bodies and souls." (p 166.) In his book, Esau McCaulley answers through an examination of the Scriptures that Black Christians definitely have reason to hope! The One True God is the God of Liberation. He is the God of Justice.

February 7, 2021

White Awake - a book review

Subtitled "an honest look at what it means to be white", White Awake by Daniel Hill is indeed a pretty good look at what it feels like to be a white Christian in America going through a cultural or racial awakening. It's written to that white Christian to help them understand and process these new feelings.

This is not a hard-hitting book. I found it much more gentle than the other books on this topic that I've reviewed previously

White Awake has a similar approach as White Fragility, by Robin DiAngelo. They both instruct the white person who is just beginning a racial awakening about the feelings they are about to experience, and how to navigate those. Indeed, White Awake often quotes White Fragility.  

Whites who haven't had some initial shock, revelation, eye-opening, or disorienting experience just might not get much out of White Awake. I don't think you need to read White Fragility first, but reading that or How to be An Antiracist or Dispossession or something more hard-hitting first would be helpful for many whites. 

Would this make a good Bible study? In the back of the book are a set of discussion questions for each chapter. Those certainly would be helpful for conversation starters, but there's really not a lot of scripture in this book. It's written to discuss what white Christians will be going through as they have their awakening, and it will help them as a guide through that journey. The book includes examples from scripture to illustrate many points. The author takes a culturally-aware biblical worldview throughout. I suppose you could say that the author uses scripture as the foundation for everything he has to say. But it's just not a Bible study, and that's okay. Maybe you don't need a lot of scripture to back up a very simple truth. We all need to read the Bible, but we need to read lots of other stuff as well.

There are good, sound theological points made in the book, and a significant one is in chapter 6. That one goes like this: Scripture is full of good advice, but if whites are blind to the plight of the black American, they'll probably also miss the point made in much of scripture, or at least underemphasize actions they should be taking, and overemphasize other stuff. 

Don't let this ho-hum overview turn you off. I did get value out of reading this book. For example, I spotted my own behavior as "the annoying, self-righteous white guy [who had] finally seen the light,  and [was] determined to make everyone around me see it." (pg 11.) Daniel explains that this is bound to happen, but that we should strive to avoid it by being self-aware. Something I've heard in some of the books I've read, including this one, is a warning about coming across as a paternalistic rich white guy, coming to save the poor brown people (pg 15). I need to hear that over and over.

One point in this book not in any of the others is this: given the racial history in most of America, very few black people will attend a church with a white pastor, so there is no point in making integration the #1 goal or 1st step (p16). We enlightened whites immediately want to go into action, but that action is almost always misguided (p19, 105-106). Rather, our vision is likely still blurry. Let's just focus on making sure we can see (p21, 153-155, 162-165). Keep doing that. Never stop. Not only are do we whites not have the right answers, but we also don't even know how to ask the right questions yet, generally speaking of course (p23). 

There are some really great stories in White Awake. There were at least two that really woke me up. They were about how whites respond to blacks when their racial hackles are raised, and I could see myself giving the wrong kind of response.

Chapter 3 gives a great explanation of why trying to be "color-blind", or color neutral, seeing everyone in the same way, is a very bad strategy, and un-biblical. 

The author's recommendation for us whites is to engage in self-reflection and expose ourselves to perspectives outside our comfort level (p45). Among other recommendations is to get close to suffering (p165-172) and put yourself under the leadership of people of color (p172-173).

There were a couple things in this book I didn't agree with, but they are of no consequence. The author pretty much goes on to say that even if you disagree with that point, it's just one example of many and you can't deny the preponderance of the evidence.

In one place (p61) the author states that "assigning value to human beings… is a sin of the highest order." I don't know what he means by "highest order". Aren't all sins (except denying Christ) the same in God's eyes? The sin of the highest order is denying Christ. Perhaps this was a slip. The author, apparently protestant with a Pentecostal upbringing (p134), seems to have quite a bit of Catholic influence, so that remark gave me pause. I didn't notice any other issues with his theology, and even that one isn't a big deal. 

1. Does the author handle scripture accurately? Yes

2. Does their teaching lead to a greater understanding of reconciliation, unity, and witness in the church? Yes

3. Does it spark greater love for Christ and others in me? Yes

4. Is it consistent with the gospel by pointing to Christ? Yes

5. Does a study or discussion guide accompany the book? Yes

In conclusion, I recommend White Awake to white Christians everywhere but note that White Awake would make a better book study than Bible study.