Why so many Southern Baptists do not believe in systemic racism

0ed47-southern-baptist-convention

If you want to understand what is dividing the Southern Baptist Convention today, watch this documentary produced by a group called Founders Ministries :

The discussion of race in America picks-up at the 33:00 minute mark when Thomas Ascol of Founders Ministries starts talking about “critical race theory” and “intersectionality.”

Why are some Southern Baptists so afraid of critical race theory?

I have never met a Southern Baptist who accepts every dimension of critical race theory. So I am imagining much of the concern regarding these ideas is best explained by the old slippery slope theory. In other words, critical race theory will lead to compromises in other areas of doctrine that will put Southern Baptists on the road to theological liberalism. These conservative Southern Baptists, like the fundamentalists of the early 20th-century, are always guarding against declension. In his wonderful book The Sin of Certainty, theologian Peter Enns compares this kind of Christian faith to “sentry duty.”

We can get at this issue in a slightly different way by thinking about the debates over social justice that have been raging in conservative evangelicalism.

There is much that is true about critical race theory. For example, it forces us to come to grips with the fact that some groups in society oppress other groups. In this sense, there are parts of critical race theory that illuminate the impact of human sin on modern life. Is anyone in the Founders Ministries group going to say that white people have not oppressed black people in American history? Is anyone going to deny that white Christians have used their power in ways that are unChristian? Critical race theory might be one way to make sense of this. If James Cone can help me become more aware of racism and teach me how to have a greater solidarity with the oppressed, then why wouldn’t I want to read him, engage him, and employ some of his ideas in my work? All truth is God’s truth. This seems to be the general thrust of the so-called Resolution 9 discussed in this video.

So what is really going on in this documentary? It seems like the folks who created it want to avoid having hard conversations about racism in America. In fact, it seems like they don’t want anyone in the Southern Baptist Convention to have conversations that might lead to more effective efforts at dealing with racism in church and society. They are trying to scare ordinary Southern Baptists by telling them that there is some evil Marxist force working in subtle ways to undermine Christianity. Be afraid. Be very afraid.

When I watched this documentary, at least the parts related to race, it seemed like I was watching the Southern Baptist version of a debate that recently took place in the House of Representatives:

Let’s remember that the Southern Baptist Convention was born as a pro-slavery denomination and remained committed to white supremacy for much of its history. As a result, white supremacy is deeply embedded in all of its institutions and has been for 150 years. Repentance, apologies, and spiritual transformation through the work of the Holy Spirit is necessary, but so is structural change.

Those looking to bring such structural change to the convention should be glad that Founders Ministries felt the need to produce this documentary. As an outsider looking in, it tells me that despite the Trumpism of Robert Jeffress, Jack Graham, Richard Land, Greg Laurie, and Al Mohler, some things are starting to change in the Southern Baptist Convention.

But I am also sure that folks like Jarvis Williams, Matt Chandler, Dwight McKissic, Matthew Hall, and Curtis Woods would say that the convention has a long way to go. As University of Virginia sociologist James Davison Hunter reminds us, these kinds of deep structural changes often take generations and can only “be described in retrospect.”

Over at Religion News Service, Yonat Shimron has some good reporting on evangelicals and systemic racism. She quotes Redeemer Presbyterian Church founder Tim Keller: “You can’t simply say, ‘We’re going to convert everyone and convict them of the individual sin of racism and everything will be OK.”

If you want to dig deeper, a good place to start is Episode 48 (Jemar Tisby) and Episode 70 (Scott Hancock) of The Way of Improvement Leads Home Podcast.

Robert Jeffress suggests that Tim Keller is a “wimpy Christian” who has “cloaked” his “cowardice in theology”

Jeffress SWBTS

Listen to this recent conversation with Eric Metaxas and Robert Jeffress, two leading court evangelicals.

Jeffress is pushing his new book Courageous: 10 Strategies for Thriving in a Hostile World.  After listening to this interview, it is unclear whether Jeffress’s book is about showing courage in the midst of warfare against sin and evil or showing courage in the culture war against the Democratic Party and the opponents of Donald Trump. I have not read the book, but I don’t think Jeffress sees any difference between these two kinds of “courageous” spiritual warfare. Metaxas, however, uses the interview to push Jeffress in a culture war direction. The host chastises evangelical Christians who are “not bold in encounters with other people.” Metaxas wants a fight. Jeffress quickly enlists on his side.

It is in this spirit that Metaxas brings up Timothy Keller, founder of Redeemer Presbyterian Church in New York City and a leading evangelical thinker. (Keller has co-authored a forthcoming book with Washington University law professor John Inazu titled Uncommon Ground: Living Faithfully in a World of Difference. The book focuses on showing respect to those with whom we differ and cultivating a robust pluralism in our nation). Metaxas says, “I was sorry to read that my friend Tim Keller talked about how Christians shouldn’t get in bed with any political party as though the two political parties were equal.” I am assuming Metaxas is referring to this New York Times opinion piece.

Jeffress then offers his take on Keller and others (he does not mention Keller by name) who are not willing to engage in “courageous” culture war politics:

What [people like Keller] have done  is they have cloaked their cowardice in theology.  They have found a theology that will excuse their unwillingness to take a stand. They don’t want to take unpopular stands in their church. They can’t stand any kind of criticism. They are wimpy Christians. And I think it’s increasingly hard to be a wimpy Christian in this culture.  There’s no mushy middle. You’re either on the side of righteousness or unrighteousness.

Metaxas then asks Jeffress about his role as a surrogate for Donald Trump in the upcoming election. Jeffress responds:

I am a well-known supporter of president Trump…Because of my role as a Fox News contributor there are limits to what I am able to do in organized ways but I don’t intend to back off at all in my vocal support for the president.

This is not surprising.  But notice what Jeffress said.  The reason he doesn’t organize for Trump is because he is a Fox News contributor, not because he is a minister of the Gospel.

Jeffress then talks about his evangelical critics:

I think there is an attempt to shame evangelicals like you and me for our support of president Trump and they think if they can try to tie us to everything he’s ever said or done in his life maybe we will disassociate ourselves from the president and not support him any longer.

On one hand, Jeffress says that the church should be involved in politics. But he only wants the church involved in matters related to his political views, which he believes are the only political views based on the Bible.

But a truly engaged church should call out corruption and immorality in our leaders with the same kind of zeal that it praises particular politicians. When Trump acts in ways that are blatantly immoral, people like Jeffress and Metaxas say nothing. The silence is deafening.

On this point, Metaxas says that he doesn’t like everything Trump does, but he won’t say anything about it publicly because he does not want to join the “drumbeat” of criticism. Silence in the face of evil is not a Christian response. It is people like Jeffress and Metaxas who lack courage. They seem to be the evangelicals who have cloaked their “cowardice” in theology. The call of the church, to quote theologian N.T. Wright, is to “denounce what needs denouncing.”

John Inazu’s Advice for White Evangelicals

InazuInazu teaches law at Washington University in St. Louis.  He is the author of Confident Pluralism: Surviving and Thriving Through Deep Difference and the forthcoming (with Tim Keller) Uncommon Ground: Living Faithfully in a World of Difference. Here is a taste of his recent piece at Christianity Today:

First, pay more attention to your words. Stop saying you’re living in a “post-Christian” country or that you are the “new minority.” These assertions generate antagonism rather than empathy. Similarly, take care in how you describe others. Invoking tropes like “social justice warriors” or “the gay agenda” assumes the same kinds of stereotypes that you don’t want people using against you. And invoking these tropes ignores the commandment to love others and treat them as individual image-bearers. By all means, speak truth and critique bad arguments and unjust policies. But don’t settle for lazy generalities and ad hominem attacks.

Second, diversify your personal networks. This won’t always be easy or obvious everywhere, but if you look closely, you’ll find people who, at the very least, think differently than you do. Some of you will need to risk finding your first cross-racial friendship. That might mean going to nonwhite spaces and institutions to learn and to experience the discomfort of a cultural baseline that is not your own. You should also diversify the leadership of your institutions. Who is in the room determines which questions get asked, and white evangelical institutions will not escape their insularity without greater racial diversity in circles of power.

Third, show up and take risks. If you want to be known as a pro-life people, advocate for all stages of life. Speak out about dehumanizing and family-separating policies like immigration detention centers and mass incarceration with the same fervor you have for religious freedom and opposition to abortion. Risk uncertain and messy relationships with your neighbors to help repair the social fabric. Step outside of your comfort zones and partner in common-ground causes with progressive and mainline Christians, with people of other faiths, and with nonbelievers. Defend the rights of Muslim Americans, Jewish Americans, and Americans of no faith. Stand up against bullying of LGBT people. Look for opportunities to seek counsel from and promote women rather than avoiding them because of the Billy Graham Rule or the Mike Pence Rule. None of these opportunities threatens your faith. But they all require rethinking the assumptions that come from cultural, racial, and relational insularity.

Will these suggestions win you political favor? Maybe not. But, frankly, political expediency matters far less than the faithful witness of the church. And these suggestions will help you toward a more faithful witness by lessening your insularity. They will lead to less fear and more hope. They will move you closer toward the example of Jesus, who stepped into messy and uncertain spaces with people who were different from him. And that seems worth doing regardless of what is to come in this world—because it is what the gospel asks of those whose citizenship lies in heaven and who believe that he who conquered death will prevail over all other earthly challenges as well.

Read the entire piece here.

Peter Wehner Interviews Tim Keller at *The Atlantic*

keller

Two evangelical Christians talk about faith, reason, and politics at, of all places, The Atlantic.   The Christian Right claims that the “secular media” does not respect people of faith, but stories like this remind me that such media outlets are more open to discussing issues of Christian faith than they were two decades ago.

Here is a taste of Wehner‘s piece on his conversation with Keller:

I asked Keller about the relationship of the Church, and in particular evangelicalism, to politics. The upshot of Keller’s position is that whereas individual Christians should be engaged in the political realm, the Bible makes it impossible as a Church to hitch your wagon to one political party, especially in these times. “For Christians just to completely hook up with one party or another is really idolatry,” Keller said. “It’s also reducing the Gospel to a political agenda.” (He pointed me to an address by Nathan Hatch, president of Wake Forest University, called “The Political Captivity of the Faithful,” with which he concurs.)

Keller noted that this danger isn’t new. As is his wont, he cited a book to help me more fully understand his argument—H. Richard Niebuhr’s The Social Sources of Denominationalism, which holds that denominationalism is primarily a social phenomenon that tends to be captured by different political and social classes. Keller observed that because Christianity properly understood is not a legalistic religion—“there is no New Testament Book of Leviticus,” he told me—it can be a part of almost any culture. In that sense, it’s a fairly flexible faith. “Christians are always more incarnate in the culture—and the danger of that is that they get captured by it. That’s always been a problem,” he said. There’s ever the danger of “cultural and political captivity.”

When I pressed the point further, Keller admitted he believes that “most Christians are just nowhere nearly as deeply immersed in the scripture and in theology as they are in their respective social-media bubbles and News Feed bubbles. To be honest, I think the ‘woke’ evangelicals are just much more influenced by MSNBC and liberal Twitter. The conservative Christians are much more influenced by Fox News and their particular loops. And they’re [both] living in those things eight to 10 hours a day. They go to church once a week, and they’re just not immersed in the kind of biblical theological study that would nuance that stuff.” Too often, he believes, there’s no relationship between a proper Christian ethic and the way it translates into political and cultural engagement. It’s not the doctrine that’s at fault, Keller would argue; it’s the way people are taught and interpret it. It’s a failure of imagination and hermeneutics.

Read the entire piece here.

Tim Keller: Evangelicalism Will Survive

keller

It is not often that a minister in the Presbyterian Church of America publishes a piece at The New Yorker.  Here is Tim Keller, Pastor Emeritus of Redeemer Presbyterian Church in Manhattan.

A taste:

Does the word, then, have an ongoing usefulness? For now, the answer may be no. These new urban churches are certainly not mainline Protestant, yet they don’t look at all like what the average person thinks of by the term “Evangelical.” Will these younger churches abandon the name or try to redefine it? I don’t know, but, as a professional minister, I don’t think it is the most important point to make. What is crucial to know is that, even if the name “evangelical” is replaced with something else, it does not mean that the churches will lose their beliefs. Some time ago, the word “liberal” was largely abandoned by Democrats in favor of the word “progressive.” In some ways, the Democratic Party is more liberal now than when the older label was set aside, evidence that it is quite possible to change the name but keep the substance.

The same thing may be happening to evangelicalism. The movement may abandon, or at least demote, the prominence of the name, yet be more committed to its theology and historic impulses than ever. Some predict that younger evangelicals will not only reject the name but also become more secular. That is not what I have been seeing here in New York City. And studies by the Pew Research Center and others indicate that religious denominations that have become more friendly to secularism are shrinking precipitously, while the evangelical churches that resist dilution in their theological beliefs and practices are holding their own or growing. And if evangelicals—or whatever they will call themselves­—continue to become more multiethnic in leadership and confound the left-right political categories, they may continue to do so.

Read the entire piece here.

Confident Pluralism, Princeton Seminary, and Tim Keller

PTS

John Inazu, a law professor at Washington University and the author of Confident Pluralism: Surviving and Thriving Among Deep Differenceshas weighed in on Princeton Theological Seminary’s decision to rescind the Kuyper Prize from evangelical Presbyterian minister Tim Keller.  Get some background on this story here.

Inazu raises some interesting questions in his post at the website of the University of Virginia’s Institute for Advanced Studies in Culture.  Here is a taste:

One of the core commitments of confident pluralism is that the First Amendment should permit private associations—including private institutions of higher education—to follow their own norms absent extraordinarily compelling governmental interests. Since interests of such magnitude are not implicated here, Princeton Seminary can do whatever it wants. It could give or not give the award to Keller. It could—as it did—offer and then rescind the award for just about any reason. It could—as it did not—disinvite Keller to deliver his lecture. Still, this whole episode raises questions, not only about the purpose of Princeton Theological Seminary, but whether or not the school has adequately articulated its sense of purpose.

According to its website, the seminary’s mission is to “prepare women and men to serve Jesus Christ in ministries marked by faith, integrity, scholarship, competence, compassion, and joy, equipping them for leadership worldwide in congregations and the larger church, in classrooms and the academy, and in the public arena.” Keller’s views on the ordination of women arguably place him at odds with aspects of that mission. But so would the beliefs and affiliations of past recipients of the same award, including a conservative rabbi who does not support the idea of female rabbis (Jonathan Sacks), the then-president of an evangelical seminary that does not recognize same-sex ordination (Richard Mouw), and an Anglican theologian who believes that marriage is limited to heterosexual unions (Oliver O’Donovan). The seminary’s mission statement seems even more in tension with its recent reversal: “In response to Christ’s call for the unity of the church, the Seminary embraces in its life and work a rich racial and ethnic diversity and the breadth of communions represented in the worldwide church.”

Of course, institutions frequently change their missions and identities, and maybe Princeton Seminary has simply evolved in recent years. Maybe a broader ecumenism worked for the seminary in 2010 but not in 2017, on the other side of the Supreme Court’s gay marriage decision and gender issues foregrounded in the last presidential election. Still, if these observations are accurate, Princeton Seminary’s evolution may have been more unconscious than deliberate, creating an institution that does not entirely understand itself: A better self-understanding might have prevented the school from offering the award to Keller in the first place, and perhaps the same is true for some past awardees.

Read the entire piece here.

Tim Keller Steps Down as Pastor of Redeemer Presbyterian Church

keller

This post is for my evangelical readers and for those who study American evangelicalism. You all know Tim Keller.

Here is the news as reported by Christianity Today:

Later this year, Redeemer Presbyterian will no longer be a multisite megachurch in Manhattan, and Tim Keller will no longer be its senior pastor.

Keller, 66, announced at all eight Sunday services today that he will be stepping down from the pulpit. The move corresponds with a decades-long plan to transition the single Presbyterian Church in America congregation—which has grown to 5,000 members since it began 28 years ago—into three particular churches.

His last day as senior pastor will be July 1.

This move does not mean retirement for Manhattan’s most popular evangelical pastor and apologist; instead, Keller will work full-time teaching in a partner program with Reformed Theological Seminary and working with Redeemer’s City to City church planting network.

“There’s a certain level of him that’s going to mourn the connection with a congregation and being their pastor,” said Kathy Keller, Tim’s wife and a staff member at Redeemer, in an interview with CT. “It’s a loss. But there’s also something very exciting that he’s going to.”

She said that her husband has been “so wired” to teach seminary courses already, and is excited to dedicate himself to teaching the next generation of pastors.

Because he won’t be preaching anymore, he’ll be involved with more mid-week events, including speaking at Redeemer’s “Questioning Christianity” series and this year’s fall retreats.

“He will probably be speaking the same volume of words as he does now,” Kathy Keller said.

Read the rest here.

Nicholas Kristof to Tim Keller: “Am I a Christian?”

22cb0-kristof-new-184Today Nicholas Kristof devoted his New York Times column to a conversation with Tim Keller, prominent evangelical minister and pastor of Redeemer Presbyterian Church in Manhattan.  The title of the column is “Pastor, Am I a Christian?

Kristof is not the first New York Times columnist who seems to be on a spiritual journey that involved a consideration of Christianity. His colleague David Brooks has also talked openly about such a journey.

Kristof’s conversation with Keller is one of the most openly religious pieces I have ever read in The New York Times.  

Here is a taste:

Kristof: Tim, people sometimes say that the answer is faith. But, as a journalist, I’ve found skepticism useful. If I hear something that sounds superstitious, I want eyewitnesses and evidence. That’s the attitude we take toward Islam and Hinduism and Taoism, so why suspend skepticism in our own faith tradition?

Keller:  I agree. We should require evidence and good reasoning, and we should not write off other religions as ‘superstitious’ and then fail to question our more familiar Jewish or Christian faith tradition.

But I don’t want to contrast faith with skepticism so sharply that they are seen to be opposites. They aren’t. I think we all base our lives on both reason and faith. For example, my faith is to some degree based on reasoning that the existence of God makes the most sense of what we see in nature, history and experience. Thomas Nagel recently wrote that the thoroughly materialistic view of nature can’t account for human consciousness, cognition and moral values. That’s part of the reasoning behind my faith. So my faith is based on logic and argument.

In the end, however, no one can demonstrably prove the primary things human beings base their lives on, whether we are talking about the existence of God or the importance of human rights and equality. Nietzsche argued that the humanistic values of most secular people, such as the importance of the individual, human rights and responsibility for the poor, have no place in a completely materialistic universe. He even accused people holding humanistic values as being “covert Christians” because it required a leap of faith to hold to them. We must all live by faith.

Kristof: I’ll grudgingly concede your point: My belief in human rights and morality may be more about faith than logic. But is it really analogous to believe in things that seem consistent with science and modernity, like human rights, and those that seem inconsistent, like a virgin birth or resurrection?

Keller: I don’t see why faith should be seen as inconsistent with science. There is nothing illogical about miracles if a Creator God exists. If a God exists who is big enough to create the universe in all its complexity and vastness, why should a mere miracle be such a mental stretch? To prove that miracles could not happen, you would have to know beyond a doubt that God does not exist. But that is not something anyone can prove.

Science must always assume that an effect has a repeatable, natural cause. That is its methodology. Imagine, then, for the sake of argument that a miracle actually occurred. Science would have no way to confirm a nonrepeatable, supernatural cause. Alvin Plantinga argued that to say that there must be a scientific cause for any apparently miraculous phenomenon is like insisting that your lost keys must be under the streetlight because that’s the only place you can see.

Read the entire column here.

Confident Pluralism

Confident PluralismI am looking forward to reading and possibly reviewing John Inazu‘s new book, Confident Pluralism: Surviving and Thriving Through Deep Difference (University of Chicago Press, 2016). If Inazu’s argument in the book is anything like his recent piece with Tim Keller at the Christianity Today website, I think I am going to enjoy it.

Here is a taste of Inazu and Keller, “How Christians Can Bear Witness in an Anxious Age.”

…One way that we can engage with the world around us is by attending to the practical needs of our neighbors. When tragedy strikes any community, Christians ought to be among the first to give time, money, and other resources to help those who have been harmed and to mend the social fabric. We can respond with compassion and love for the sake of our neighbors, with actions as well as with words. We can do so in response to tragedies that unfold in seconds, and to those that take shape over the course of decades.

Sometimes, loving our neighbors means engaging in politics. Washington Post columnist Michael Gerson recently observed that the maxim “politics always follows culture” is most often espoused by those who have the luxury of reflecting on culture. For many people, however, politics is not an afterthought but an urgent need. That is particularly true in areas where the social fabric is torn. In these settings, politics—and law, government, and public institutions—can often be a matter of life and death. Christians have a role to play in these settings, not as self-interested rulers but as active participants seeking the good of our neighbors. Of course, politics is messy, and Christians who engage in it will quickly find themselves working with people and institutions whose purposes are not gospel-oriented. But practical partnership does not require endorsing all of the goals or values of those with whom we partner.

Another area where Christians can bear witness in an anxious age is by committing to the work of racial justice. Despite the many failures of white-majority churches to take action in this area, the gospel has tremendous resources for seeking justice and peace across racial divisions. The death and resurrection of Jesus has broken down cultural barriers throughout history—no other major religion has spread as far and across as many cultures as Christianity.

For many people of color, frustration has outpaced hope. Yet Christians, as Thabiti Anyabwile notes, can resist “the temptation to hopelessness,” even in the “thick fog of despair that settles on entire blocks of families mangled and maligned by mass incarceration.” The consequences of mass incarceration are enormous, as are the ongoing realities of neighborhood and school segregation, education inequity, and employment and health care disparities. Christian hope is not blind optimism. But neither is it utter despair.

Christians of all races can learn how longstanding policies and practices around housing, education, and criminal justice disproportionately harm some of their neighbors. We can take the time to listen to the pain of our neighbors without presuming either easy solutions or insurmountable challenges (and sometimes we will need first to learn how to listen). Instead of walking away from challenges that seem “too big,” Christians who confront the barriers of race and class disparities can draw near to their affected neighbors through the power of the gospel. Suburban churches can engage in the hard work of understanding the personal and structural consequences of generational injustice. Through a posture of reconciliation and humility (not merely a vision of “community service”), they can engage urban communities through volunteering with early-stage literacy programs, partnering with ministries in underserved neighborhoods, and investing financial and human capital in local urban businesses.

Finally, Christians might engage in the cause of religious liberty with more hope and less anxiety. Many Christians today feel increasing legal pressures on their institutions and the ways of life they are accustomed to. Some of these challenges are significant: campus ministries experience hurdles to campus access, Christian adoption and social service agencies confront regulations in tension with their missional convictions, and Christian educational institutions face threats to their accreditation and tax-exempt status. We should not be naïve to these challenges, and we should work diligently to find appropriate legal and policy responses. But we must make our case in publicly accessible terms that appeal to people of good will from a variety of religious traditions and those of no religious tradition. In doing so, we cannot ignore the importance of religious liberty for all. There is no principled legal or theological argument that looks only to the good of Christians over the interests of others.

Focusing on others means attending to the challenges and limits that they confront in the practice of their faith. Today’s cultural climate makes it especially essential for Christians to defend the religious liberty of American Muslims. Whatever challenges Christians may feel to their practices pale in comparison to the cultural and often legal challenges that confront American Muslims. As one Muslim leader shared, “Muslims today are afraid to think in this country.” These challenges are exacerbated when some Muslims engage in acts of terror in this country. Even though Christians and atheists also perpetrate acts of terror and violence (in places like movie theatres, elementary schools, and shopping malls), many of our neighbors react with particular fear and judgment when the perpetrator is identified with Islam.

We can be encouraged by the work of the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty, which spends time and money defending people of all faiths, including Muslims. Other prominent Christian leaders, like Russell Moore, have rightly challenged the anti-Muslim rhetoric that has emerged from some segments of religious and political discourse. We can do this on the local level, too. Christians can engage with our Muslim neighbors through acts of friendship, sharing meals, and opening our homes and churches to refugees. And we can resist careless rhetoric that imputes the actions of some onto the beliefs of all. Just as we rightly resist charges that all Christians are bigots or that Christian teachings are responsible for violence against abortion clinics, we should be quick to do the same when the perpetrators of violence are tied to other faiths or identity groups.

Read the entire piece here.