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Ripping racial strife out by the roots

Black History Month | We close out Black History Month with John Piper’s personal, prophetic, and profound words on the power of the gospel in racial reconciliation

After seeing over the past three Saturdays the wisdom of Martin Luther King Jr. and Booker T. Washington, we close this Black History Month series with chapter six from John Piper’s Bloodlines: Race, Cross, and the Christian. Author and recently retired Pastor Piper produced a personal, prophetic, and profound book in 2011 about racial reconciliation and what needs to happen to chop away not just the branches but also the roots of racial strife. We thankfully publish this with the permission of the book’s publisher, Crossway. —Marvin Olasky

“I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek” (Romans 1:16).

“You have been born again, not of perishable seed but of imperishable, through the living and abiding word of God. … And this word is the good news that was preached to you” (1 Peter 1:23–25).

Chapter Six: The Power of the Gospel and the Roots of Racial Strife

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The previous chapter ended with the claim that the gospel of Jesus does not enter controversy as another ideology or philosophy or methodology for social improvement. It enters like dynamite. It enters as the power of the Creator to reconcile people to himself and supernaturally make them new.

But lest we leave these claims hanging in the air with no examples of how explosive the gospel may be in the matter of race relations, consider how the gospel can create new possibilities of life when it is lodged like dynamite in the cracks of these nine destructive forces.

1) The Gospel and Satan

Satan is called the god of this world. He is a real supernatural being who hates humans and is in diametric opposition to God. He comes to steal and to destroy. There is little doubt that where maddeningly hopeless, sinful, self-destructive behaviors and structures hold sway over large groups of people—white or black, left or right—the Devil is deeply at work. “The god of this world has blinded the minds of the unbelievers” (2 Cor. 4:4). “He was a murderer from the beginning, and has nothing to do with the truth, because there is no truth in him. When he lies, he speaks out of his own character, for he is a liar and the father of lies” (John 8:44).

What hope does a message of personal responsibility or structural intervention have against this supernatural power? None. None. They are like feathers in a hurricane. How shall any human stand against the deceitful, murderous power of Satan? There is only one answer: in the name of Jesus. Why is that? “The reason the Son of God appeared was to destroy the works of the devil” (1 John 3:8). How did he do that? By bearing our sin in his body so that “through death he might destroy the one who has the power of death, that is, the devil” (Heb. 2:14). When Jesus died, “he disarmed the rulers and authorities and put them to open shame, by triumphing over them in him” (Col. 2:15).

There is no other power in the world that can do this. The Devil is stronger than all humans, all armies, all politics, and all human morality put together. We have no chance against him except by one means, the power of Jesus Christ operating through us because he dwells within us. “He who is in you is greater than he who is in the world” (1 John 4:4).

The gospel of Christ conquers our hearts and brings us to repentance and faith in Christ. Christ enters our lives and dwells within us. All authority in heaven and on earth belongs to him. He commands the unclean spirits, and they obey him (Mark 1:27). Therefore, into the racial situation the gospel brings the only power that can set people and structures free from the bondage of the Devil. The Devil gives way to no other power than the power of Christ. And the power of Christ moves in the world through those who have believed the gospel and are indwelt by the Spirit of Christ. “Anyone who does not have the Spirit of Christ does not belong to him” (Rom. 8:9).

If Satan is to give way in his horrific influence on racist pride and paralyzing fears and feelings of hopeless inferiority, it will be through the gospel of Jesus or not at all. Who can imagine what a great awakening of faith in the gospel might look like as thousands of people resisted the Devil in Jesus’s name and watched him flee from their white and black lives and families (James 4:7)?

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FOOTNOTES

1. Juan Williams, Enough: The Phony Leaders, Dead-End Movements, and Culture of Failure That Are Undermining Black America—and What We Can Do About It (New York: Crown, 2006), 215.

2. Shelby Steele, The Content of Our Character: A New Vision of Race in America (New York: HarperPerennial, 1990), 43-44.

3. Shelby Steele, A Dream Deferred: The Second Betrayal of Black Freedom in America (New York: HarperPerennial, 1998), 91.

4. Richard John Neuhaus, “Counting by Race,” First Things, February 1996, 78.

5. Here is one expression of the gospel as Neuhaus spoke it. Ten years after his conversion, he wrote in his book Death on a Friday Afternoon (New York: Basic Books, 2000): “When I come before the judgment throne, I will plead the promise of God in the shed blood of Jesus Christ. I will not plead any work that I have done, although I will thank God that he has enabled me to do some good. I will plead no merits other than the merits of Christ, knowing that the merits of Mary and the saints are all from him; and for their company, their example, and their prayers throughout my earthly life I will give everlasting thanks. I will not plead that I had faith, for sometimes I was unsure of my faith, and in any event that would be to turn faith into a meritorious work of my own. I will not plead that I held the correct understanding of “justification by faith alone,” although I will thank God that he led me to know ever more fully the great truth that much misunderstood formulation was intended to protect. Whatever little growth in holiness I have experienced, whatever strength I have received from the company of the saints, whatever understanding I have attained of God and his ways—these and all other gifts I have received I will bring gratefully to the throne. But in seeking entry to that heavenly kingdom, I will, with Dysmas, look to Christ and Christ alone. Then I hope to hear him say, ‘Today you will be with me in paradise,’ as I hope with all my being—because, although looking to him alone, I am not alone—he will say to all” (70).

6. Later that year welfare reform in America took a remarkable turn in the direction Neuhaus was pleading. The Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act was a cornerstone of the Republican Contract with America, and signed into law by Bill Clinton on August 22, 1996.

7. It has been a decade and a half since Neuhaus wrote, but he would, no doubt, still be concerned today about disparity between black graduation rates and white ones. The New York City Department of Education reported that for 2008, the gap in the high school graduation rate between white and black students was 20.1 percentage points, with 51.4 percent of black students in the class of 2008 graduating in four years. Cited February 8, 2011, at http://schools.nyc.gov/Offices/mediarelations/NewsandSpeeches/2008-2009/20090622_grad_rates.htm. In my city of Minneapolis, in 2008 there was a graduation rate of 87.31 percent of white students but only 68.48 for blacks.

8. Neuhaus, “Counting by Race,” n.p.

9. William Wilberforce, A Practical View of Christianity, ed. Kevin Charles Belmonte (Peabody, MA: Hendrickson, 1996).

10. Ibid., 182.

11. Ibid., 198.

12. Ibid., 167.

13. Ibid., 66.

14. Ibid., 64.

15. Ibid., 166.

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