It's Not Black and White

What's at Stake


Racial thoughts, attitudes, and beliefs have a long history and are deep-seated. How are Christians called to respond to the various issues at hand? John Piper says color blindness, though well-meaning, isn’t the answer. John is a prolific author, founder and teacher of desiringGod.org, and chancellor of Bethlehem College and Seminary. He sat down with Collin Hansen, editorial director for The Gospel Coalition, to talk about what's at stake in our pursuit of racial diversity and harmony. 


What’s your context? To what extent are conversations on race a part of the work you do, ministry you lead, and/or company you keep?
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What do you find difficult, challenging, or awkward about conversations on race?
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John Piper says that there’s a lot at stake in the pursuit of racial and ethnic unity and harmony, but two things stand out:

  • The glory of God in the diverse ordering of creation 
  • The glory of God in the cross


John says that God’s glory in creation is displayed most brilliantly when different cultures, nations, and races come together in harmonious praise of God.  

What experiences have you had seeing this kind of harmony?
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What distinct gifts and experiences have you seen other races and cultures bring into worship in particular?
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John talked about how beautiful it is when different kinds of people can love each other and show each other peace and respect. He said it’s God’s grace that enables it to happen.  

Describe a time of peace and mutual respect among different races in your church, a family, an organization, or elsewhere. What was the conversation about? What were the interactions like? Who took the lead in instigating that kind of community?
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Revelation 5:9 (ESV)

9And they sang a new song, saying,

“Worthy are you to take the scroll

and to open its seals,

for you were slain, and by your blood you ransomed people for God

from every tribe and language and people and nation,

Scripture quotations marked (ESV) are from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version®, copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.


Ephesians 2:14 (ESV)

14For he himself is our peace, who has made us both one and has broken down in his flesh the dividing wall of hostility

Scripture quotations marked (ESV) are from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version®, copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.



John says that, amongst other things, Jesus died so that different cultures and ethnicities could be reconciled to each other. He said If we don’t care about that, we don’t care about the effect of the atoning work of Christ. John referenced Revelation 5:9 and Ephesians 2:14 to illustrate. Revelation 5:9 says that Jesus’ blood purchased men for God from every tribe and language and people and nation. Ephesians 2:14 says that Christ is our peace, and he has destroyed dividing walls of hostility.  

In what ways does Christ’s atonement on the cross challenge or affirm your thoughts on racial reconciliation?
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When it comes to race, it’s easy to simply want everybody to all get along: white, black, Asian, Hispanic, etc. But colorblindness isn’t as helpful as you may think. As John said, if we ignore the color of others’ skin, we tend to leave them alone. People don’t typically move toward people who are different than they are. If God desires love and unity among all of His people, though, it’s important that we take steps toward others, and that means we must acknowledge their color because it’s part of who they are. 

Do you find yourself slow or unwilling to take steps toward people of another ethnicity? (Remember, taking steps toward someone is different than tolerating, even accepting, someone.)
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John has an African American friend. He says, on the one hand, he doesn’t want to think about his friend’s skin color. He just wants them to be friends! At the same time, though, the two are friends because John paid attention to the man’s skin color. Growing up in the segregated South, there was a time when John would have thought his friend was inferior to him. Because of God’s grace in his life, though, John began to see him as a friend, a brother. 

Essentially, John says, “Race matters, and it doesn’t.” Have you found that to be true? Explain.
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John says that most minorities would say they live in a reality of being seen as different. Even if people are accepting, even gracious, to them, people are not completely indifferent to others’ color.  

If you yourself are part of a minority, do you agree with John? If you’re not a minority, put yourself in someone else’s shoes. Imagine what it would feel like to be seen as different most places you go. Imagine what it would feel like at church. What is the experience like?
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John also said that we all have stereotypes, whether we realize it or not. Some are positive, and some are negative. It’s important that we acknowledge we have these stereotypes and work to overcome them. While we can’t expect a “solution,” we can expect God’s grace to fill our hearts and change us for the better.  

Could you share some stereotypes you currently have, or ones you used to have?
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In what ways has God changed your heart over time? In what ways do you need to ask God to work in you and bring more love and grace to you so that your current stereotypes change?
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As John says, “grace has to be the bottom line.” We need God to come in and guard our hearts from hatred, bigotry, or indifference. Without the reconciling work of Christ on our behalf, we would have no hope of racial love, unity, or peace.  

 
The Root of the Struggle


God’s grace is what enables Christians to not only accept people of different colors and ethnicities, but also to move toward them—to love and befriend them. In this next video, John elaborates on the severity of our world’s racial problem. It runs deep. It’s complicated. And it’s a sign of the much-larger problem of human sin.  



John says that we’re wrong if we think things have gotten better with regards to racial tension in the world. There has been a reactionary resurgence in racial hatred and violence in our culture at large.  

What evidence do you see for thinking John is right?
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Our culture has seen an increase in racial and ethnic diversity. Collin asked John if he thought this increase brought out more racism or helped expose, even eradicate, it. John said, “Both…Separation breeds ignorance, ignorance breeds suspicion, and suspicion creates misunderstandings and stereotypes that push people farther away. However, togetherness doesn’t necessarily breed respect.” In many ways, the more culturally and ethnically diverse our world becomes, racism can get worse, and dislike can go deeper.  

How have you seen separation of different races, ethnicities, or cultures to be harmful or hurtful to people? (Think small in your own context and much larger in the world as a whole and throughout history.)
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In what ways do you think the more racially diverse and “together” we are, the more hatred will stir?
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What progress do you see Christians making in growing in love and unity with people of other races and ethnicities?
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The root of our struggle is sin. Since he’s the “sinner he knows best,” John looks to his own life and shares his experience growing up in the segregated South. His father was a good, faithful, Bible-believing, gospel-preaching man who was, nevertheless, prejudiced. His father’s sin mixed in with the culture at large, and then “self justifications and rationalizations grew like weeds in a field of sin.” Essentially all Christians have been trapped in similar patterns of sin that become massive blindspots. 

Does your family have any history of prejudice you can elaborate on? In what ways have these sins affected you and your own thinking?
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Complicated and deep-seated sin patterns apply to areas outside of race. What other sins do you think are complicated because of your family or national history?
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It’s God’s grace that frees us from sinful patterns of thinking and behavior. Slowly but surely, God opened John’s eyes to his sinful racial prejudices. In the same way, God opens our eyes to sins we have no idea we’ve been guilty of.  

What are some sins you reject now that you didn’t think to reject five or ten years ago?
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What are some sinful attitudes and behaviors in your life now that you need God to work on?
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The good news of the gospel is that God invariably opens our eyes and overcomes our sinful blindspots. John encourages us to be aware of our need for this grace and to “listen to the witness of other centuries.” There will be times in the future when people look back and wonder how we ever tolerated certain things.  

What are some societal sins you think future generations will look back on and wonder how we ever let them happen?
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It’s good to walk humbly with regards to our sin and be vigilant in returning to God’s Word and the gospel over and over again. Take some time to pray about your blindspots. What sins might you be ignoring? With regards to race, how can you either enter or begin a conversation in your context? What is the potential for change?