The Color of Compromise: The Truth about the American Church’s Complicity in Racism by Jemar Tisby. Zondervan. 256 pages. 2019
This was a difficult book to read, as it should be. In his “Foreword”, Lecrae writes that the author challenges us to take history seriously and account for it. He warns us that the account we are about to read is sobering and challenging. I would add to this that it is heart-breaking. I believe that it is an account that all Christians should read, especially Christian leaders. It is a well-researched survey of racism in America, what the author refers to as more than 300 years of race-based discrimination. The author tells us that this history of racism and the church shows that the story is worse than most imagine. He states that the stories in the book tell the tale of racial oppression. It is up to the reader to determine whether the weight of historical evidence proves that the American church has been complicit with racism. Although the entire history is essential to know, I focused on the author’s emphasis, that is, the role of the church in racism.
The author focus is primarily on Protestant churches, and when he talks about the “Religious Right”, he focuses on those white evangelicals that align with the Republican party. The book focuses on prominent figures, precipitous events, and well-known turning points in American history. He writes that, historically speaking, when faced with the choice between racism and equality, the American church has tended to practice a complicit Christianity rather than a courageous Christianity. Even if only a small portion of Christians committed the most notorious acts of racism, many more white Christians can be described as being complicit in creating and sustaining a racist society. Christians deliberately chose complicity with racism in the past, but the choice to confront racism remains a possibility today. The book is a call to abandon complicit Christianity and move toward courageous Christianity. The author tells us that it is time to practice courageous Christianity.
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BOOK REVIEWS ~ More of this review…And reviews of Seven Leaders: Preachers and Pastors by Iain H. Murray, and How Can I Be Blessed? (Crucial Questions No. 24) by R.C. Sproul
BOOK NEWS ~ Links to Interesting Articles
BOOK CLUB ~ The Gospel According to Jesus by John MacArthur
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The book takes us through America’s history from early days of European contact with indigenous peoples and the first days of African slavery in North America to the current day. The author looks at reformed/evangelical heroes such as George Whitefield and Jonathan Edwards, civil rights activist Martin Luther King Jr., evangelist Billy Graham, the “Religious Right”, “Black Lives Matter”, and President Donald Trump. He offers this sobering statement “An honest assessment of racism should acknowledge that racism never fully goes away; it just adapts to changing times and contexts.”
After providing the historical survey, the author shares practical ways to address the current state of racial injustice in America. These ways include:
- Increase awareness of the issues and people involved.
- Develop interracial relationships.
- Take down Confederate monuments.
- Learn from the Black Church.
- New seminaries.
- Freedom schools and pilgrimages.
- Make Juneteenth a national holiday.
- Participate in today’s civil rights movement.
Overall, this is an important book, and one I recommend. I do think however that the author a little harsh on Billy Graham, understanding that Graham’s focus as an evangelist was to preach the gospel, rather than being a civil rights activist (not that we can’t be both). I was also a little surprised that he didn’t mention Lecrae loosening his ties with white evangelicalism in 2017, and John Piper’s response to him, or Propaganda’s song “Precious Puritans”.
I highlighted nearly two hundred passages as I read the book. Here are 20 of my favorite quotes:
1. The refusal to act in the midst of injustice is itself an act of injustice. Indifference to oppression perpetuates oppression.
2. Race is a social construct. There is no biological basis for the superiority or inferiority of any human being based on the amount of melanin in her or his skin.
3. (Thomas) Jefferson, as with so many of his day, did not consider black people equal to white people. Few political leaders assumed the noble words of the declaration applied to the enslaved.
4. (Jonathan) Edwards and (George) Whitefield represent a supposedly moderate and widespread view of slavery. Both accepted the spiritual equality of black and white people. Both preached the message of salvation to all. Yet their concern for African slaves did not extend to advocating for physical emancipation.
5. Harsh though it may sound, the facts of history nevertheless bear out this truth: there would be no black church without racism in the white church.
6. The divide between white and black Christians in America was not generally one of doctrine. More often than not, the issue that divided Christians along racial lines related to the unequal treatment of African-descended people in white church contexts.
7. Segregation and inequality defined most of American Christianity—even in an age of great revivals.
8. Throughout the conflict (Civil War), Christians of both the Union and Confederate forces believed that God was on their side.
9. Christians in the South believed the Bible approved of slavery since the Bible never clearly condemned slavery and even provided instructions for its regulation.
10.It should give every citizen and Christian in America pause to consider how strongly ingrained the support for slavery in our country was,
11.The KKK interspersed Christianity with racism to create a nationalistic form of religion that excluded all but American-born, Protestant white men and women.
12.Many white Christians failed to unequivocally condemn lynching and other acts of racial terror. Doing so poisoned the American legal system and made Christian churches complicit in racism for generations.
13.While some Christians spoke out and denounced these lynchings (just as some Christians called for abolition), the majority stance of the American church was avoidance, turning a blind eye to the practice.
14.Compromised Christianity transcends regions. Bigotry obeys no boundaries. This is why Christians in every part of America have a moral and spiritual obligation to fight against the church’s complicity with racism.
15.Precious few Christians publicly aligned themselves with the struggle for black freedom in the 1950s and 1960s. Those who did participate faced backlash from their families, friends, and fellow Christians.
16.The responses of (Martin Luther) King Jr. and (Billy) Graham to the Civil Rights Act, and their participation or lack thereof in achieving its passage, illustrates the gulf between the approaches taken by Christian activists and Christian moderates.
17.The Christian church of the mid-twentieth century often served to reinforce racism rather than oppose it.
18. Since the 1970s, Christian complicity in racism has become more difficult to discern. It is hidden, but that does not mean it no longer exists.
19.Christian complicity with racism does not always require specific acts of bigotry. Being complicit only requires a muted response in the face of injustice or uncritical support of the status quo.
20.Christian complicity with racism in the twenty-first century looks different than complicity with racism in the past.
Seven Leaders: Preachers and Pastors by Iain H. Murray. Banner of Truth Trust. 296 pages. 2017
The author is my favorite biographer, and I’ve read several of his books. He writes that the book originated in an invitation to speak on the subject of preachers and pastors in 2014. He has previously written biographies of three of the seven men here profiled – Archibald Brown, Martyn Lloyd-Jones and John MacArthur. I was familiar with Lloyd-Jones and MacArthur, but not the others included in this volume. The author includes biographical sketches of each man, and then covers important aspects of their ministries, often quoting from their writings.
He writes that we are to learn from leaders yet be imitators of none. While it is his hope that the book will assist younger men called to the ministry of the gospel, it is not meant for them alone.
I highlighted a number of passages as I read through this book. Below are just a few for each man profiled. I enjoyed the book and would recommend it, especially for pastors.
John Elias and Revival
- John Elias was a watchman, as well as an evangelist, and warned of dangers of which the succeeding generation failed to regard.
- He knew that if standards of membership are allowed to be relaxed, and worldliness tolerated, then it is only a matter of time before members want a type of elder and preacher suited to their condition.
- Elias believed in divine sovereignty. If no revivals were taking place it was not because the gospel was not being made ‘wider’ and more appealing.
- It was not only Calvinism but the Bible itself which was to be forgotten. In the 1880s Congregationalists in England were at the forefront of what Spurgeon designated the ‘down-grade controversy’. Deploring the change which was taking place, he commented, ‘We used to debate particular redemption, now the question is whether there is any redemption at all.’
- The attempt to gain more influence and unity through a ‘modified’ gospel was a tragic failure in England and Wales. The effects of error may be slow but they are sure.
Andrew A. Bonar: Fellowship with Christ
- Bonar and M‘Cheyne were at the centre of a group of a dozen or more likeminded young ministers which arose in the Church of Scotland in the 1830s. Marked by their close friendship with each other, by their preaching of Christ, and their love for their people, they were prominent instruments in a remarkable era of evangelism and revival.
- To read Bonar is to be convinced that there are great biblical lessons which we are not taking seriously enough.
- In 1878 a larger building had to be built near West End Park, and by the 1890s over a thousand made up the congregation. By that date Bonar had become something of a legend in the city.
- The life of Andrew Bonar shows us how closely the usefulness of servants of Christ is related to the holiness of their lives.
- What a preacher is as a Christian is of greater consequence than his natural gifts.
- Bonar was certain that the more he was filled with the Holy Spirit the more fully would he preach Christ.
The Rediscovery of Archie Brown
- It is therefore surprising to us that his ministry would largely pass from the memory of later generations until it became almost unknown.
- Times of revival always show the same characteristics, and foremost among them, is prayerfulness.
- He shared with Spurgeon in the Downgrade Controversy of the late 1880s, and together they were profoundly moved as so many in the churches ceased to regard all Scripture as God-given revelation.
- There was gospel in this sermon, too, but its burden was for the awakening of the careless. Such preaching is no longer heard from many pulpits.
- The key to Brown as a Christian and a preacher was the teaching of the Holy Spirit on the person and glory of Christ.
Kenneth A. MacRae: Preacher and Pastor
- For usefulness, it is the life of the man himself that matters most, and no one has ever become a true guide to others without a personal preparation at the hands of God.
- In addition to his own congregation, he had the responsibility for three other churches at a distance from his own, where he preached regularly.
- He believed that all that is of first importance for the life and prosperity of the church is already laid down in the word of God. This is a liberating principle.
- Kenneth MacRae preached to within seven months of his death on May 6, 1964. Two days later, Stornoway saw the sight of a Christian funeral such as is not often seen in this world, and which these pages cannot convey. The life of the town stopped still that Friday afternoon.
Understanding Martyn Lloyd-Jones
- The big thing for him was theology, what he believed about God.
- Man’s fallen condition is the biblical starting point for the presentation of gospel. While there is no one pattern of conversion, there is a common order or sequence in the way sinners are brought to Christ.
- To miss out the preaching of repentance because people have no sense of sin, and to speak to them only of ‘accepting Christ’, is to depart from the order of the New Testament.
- The work of the Spirit is not uniform in all periods, and Lloyd-Jones believed there is only one explanation for times of extraordinary blessing, namely, the sovereignty of God in his administration of grace.
- Sermons born out of a concern for unbelievers, and to lead them to Christ, formed half, if not more, of his entire ministry.
W.J. Grier: Against Frittering Life Away
- The result was that on October 15, 1927 the small company gathered at the café in Fountain Street decided to proceed with the formation of a new church organization. By the end of the following month, the name was settled as the ‘Irish Evangelical Church’.
- With James Hunter now in his mid-sixties much of the burden of the new work fell upon Grier. As well as the management of the bookshop, he now had the care of two congregations.
- Another consequence of these years was the maturing of his conviction that the doctrines of the reformed faith need to be spelt out definitely and in distinction from the ‘fundamentalist’ type of evangelicalism then prevalent in Ulster.
- These letters which he wrote to me, beginning before the first Banner publications of 1958, ran to hundreds, and no one played a fuller or more important part in decisions on books thereafter published than he did. A number of the Trust’s reprints had their origin in his suggestion.
- While Jim Grier reached the age of seventy in November 1972, he knew no retirement age for ministers of the gospel. He admired the words of Charles Simeon, ‘I am so near the goal that I cannot help running with all my might.’
- The life of Jim Grier exemplifies what can be seen by those who rely on God’s word and promises when success all seems to point to the need for compromise.
John MacArthur: Preaching and Scripture
- MacArthur was called to Grace Community Church as a twenty-nine-year-old Californian, and in that same charge he remains to this day.
- Obedience, not success, is the great thing. What counts supremely is the truth that is preached and in due course, one way or another, men will reap if they do not faint.
- No subject means more to him than the sufficiency of the word of God.
- Obedience, not success, is the great thing. What counts supremely is the truth that is preached and in due course, one way or another, men will reap if they do not faint.
- On occasion, MacArthur has been prominent in controversies which have divided evangelicals.
- He could never have done what he was given to do had he not also been given the support of a wide circle of fellow Christians.
How Can I Be Blessed? (Crucial Questions No. 24) by R.C. Sproul. Reformation Trust Publishing. 74 pages. 2016
In this booklet from the late Dr. R.C. Sproul’s Crucial Questions series he states that a benediction is a good statement, an announcement of blessing. What was referred to as a benediction in the Old Testament was sometimes called a “beatitude” in the New Testament. In this booklet he looks at a famous and beloved portion of the New Testament that speaks about what it means to be blessed. The passage is known as the Beatitudes, and it is part of the great sermon preached by Jesus known as the Sermon on the Mount, found in Matthew 5. The Beatitudes are so called because they begin with the word blessed.
In this booklet, the author looks at each Beatitude. Below are takeaways I had from each Beatitude:
Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
- For Jesus Himself was lowly, and He promised those who would forsake the riches of this world and seek the face of God that His Father would deliver them. To them is given the kingdom of heaven.
Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted.
- Some see it as merely a promise of comfort to those who experience grief. Others see a more spiritual dimension to it, specifically, a sense of grief or mourning over one’s sin.
- There is also that mourning of regret for what one has done, whereby, when the Holy Spirit convicts us of our sin, we are profoundly saddened and moved to sorrow for having offended God.
- Jesus talked about suffering that comes as a direct result of being identified with Him.
- That’s the ministry of God to His people. He promises to heal their broken hearts and restore their souls.
- The reason we are blessed in mourning is because God’s people are promised the consolation of Israel.
Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth.
- To be meek is not to be weak; in fact, to be meek in the biblical sense necessitates a certain kind of inner strength that is exceedingly rare.
- The opposite of meekness is an arrogant, rough handling of power and authority.
- The man who is meek before God and has that inner strength that enables him to be gentle before men will not be a violent man. This quietness of spirit will enable him to be temperate. A self-controlled or temperate person is not given to binges of excess, but lives within restraints. Ultimately, the one who is meek submits himself to the authority and rule of God. Rather than trusting in his own abilities and authority, the meek one trusts that God will safeguard him and will fulfill His promises.
- Meekness does not preclude boldness, but it does preclude arrogance. The Christian who is meek is bold in being obedient to the call of God on his life. Ultimately, to be meek is to be submissive to the rule of our King.
Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied.
- Being righteous is not all that complicated; it means doing what is right. We have to have a passion to do what is right.
Blessed are the merciful, for they shall receive mercy.
- It should be easy for us to be merciful, because we live every moment of our lives on the basis of God’s mercy.
Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.
- The thing that keeps us from having the vision of God now is our impurity, our sin.
Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God.
- The heart of the message of Christianity is a message of peace. The supreme peacemaker is Christ, because the supreme role occupied by Jesus in the New Testament is that of our Mediator. He mediates the estrangement between us and God.
- Just as He is the Son of God and is the peacemaker, so those who are His, who imitate His office of peacemaking at an earthly level, will be called sons of God.
- The best way to avoid conflict regarding the gospel is to water it down in order to make it more palatable to people.
Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
Blessed are you when others revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account.
- In this last Beatitude, Jesus said that those who are persecuted for a just cause—persecuted for Jesus’ sake—are going to receive the kingdom as their inheritance.
The author writes that the Beatitudes are God’s prescription for how we can be blessed. They tell us what pleases Him.
- New Malcolm Gladwell book. Malcolm Gladwell’s new book Talking to Strangers: What We Should Know about the People We Don’t Know, will be released on September 10.
- Ben Shapiro and the West’s Moral Vision. Andrew T. Walker reviews the new book from Ben Shapiro. He writes “The Right Side of History is an excellent book. Students of history will love it, and conservatives will see a reflection of their deepest convictions in it. Christians, however, should be encouraged to draw the conclusion that the moral reckoning our society needs is not just the moral foundations of Christianity, but Christ Himself.
- What We’re Reading This Summer. Looking for a good read this summer? Ivan Mesa shares what his editorial colleagues at the Gospel Coalition will be reading this summer.
BOOK CLUBS – Won’t you read along with us?
We are reading through John MacArthur’s classic book The Gospel According to Jesus. What did Jesus mean when He said, “Follow me”? MacArthur tackled that seemingly simple question and provided the evangelical world with the biblical answer. For many, the reality of Jesus’ demands has proved thoroughly searching, profoundly disturbing, and uncomfortably invasive; and yet, heeding His words is eternally rewarding. The 20th anniversary edition of the book has revised and expanded the original version to handle contemporary challenges. The debate over what some have called “lordship salvation” hasn’t ended—every generation must face the demands Christ’s lordship. Will you read along with us?
This week we look at a few quotes from the “Preface to the First Edition”
- From the beginning my chief goal was to take an honest and in-depth look at Jesus’ gospel and His evangelistic methods.
- Salvation is by God’s sovereign grace and grace alone. Nothing a lost, degenerate, spiritually dead sinner can do will in any way contribute to salvation.
- True salvation produces a heart that voluntarily responds to the ever-awakening reality of Christ’s lordship.
- Those who would come to Him for salvation must be willing to acquiesce to His sovereign authority. Those who reject His right to rule cannot expect to lay claim to Him as Savior.
- It is to those men and women in the pew that I write, for the gospel must be clearly understood by lay people, not just seminarians and pastors.
- There is no more important issue, after all, than the question of what gospel we ought to believe and proclaim.
- I am convinced that our lack of clarity on the most basic matter of all — the gospel — is the greatest detriment to the work of the church in our day.