Today’s post is an excerpt from a new book, A House Without Walls: How Christ Unites His Ethnically Divided Church. It is available for pre-order here.
I want to briefly address two aspects of Scripture that will affect our conversations about ethnicity: illumination and sufficiency. I’ll start with illumination.
If it’s true that the Bible doesn’t privilege certain human perspectives over another, then what is Paul getting at in 1 Corinthians 2:14-16? Paul writes:
The natural person does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are folly to him, and he is not able to understand them because they are spiritually discerned. The spiritual person judges all things, but is himself to be judged by no one. “For who has understood the mind of the Lord so as to instruct him?” But we have the mind of Christ.
On the surface, it sounds like Paul is breaking up humanity into the haves (“spiritual”) and the have-nots (“natural”) and then asserting that the haves are the sources of authoritative truth. But read that passage again carefully because that’s not exactly what Paul is saying. The truth resides in “the things of the Spirit of God” in “the mind of Christ,” which is to say, God’s revealed Word. And in quoting Isaiah 40:13, Paul affirms that God’s comprehensive knowledge is beyond any of us, despite the revelation He has given. Nobody can pretend to know everything like God does and so claim omniscient objectivity like God can.
But Paul also labors in this passage to make it clear that not everyone has the same kind of response to God’s revelation. The “natural person” responds with a rejection of God’s Word; he “does not accept” the truths of Scripture. The word in Greek for “does not accept” has to do with welcoming in, like you would a guest to your house. And the natural man won’t do that because God’s Word is “spiritually discerned”—that is, it requires the indwelling Holy Spirit to be accepted.
What is it about God’s Word that non-believers always, without exception, refuse to accept? It’s not necessarily mental assent to the facts contained in the words. Plenty of non-believers agree that Abraham existed, that David was king in Israel, and even that Jesus was a real Rabbi in ancient Palestine. So, what won’t they accept? The unbelieving, natural heart will always reject the intended application of the Word of God because by their nature, they won’t obey God (Rom. 3:10-11; Titus 3:3). As Paul puts it, “For the mind that is set on the flesh is hostile to God, for it does not submit to God’s law; indeed, it cannot” (Rom. 8:7).
So, if we put that all together, what we hear Paul saying is that non-believers who do not have the Spirit of God dwelling in them are unable to accept the truths of Scripture, meaning that they will not respond with a right application of Scripture. On the other hand, believers can and will appropriately read and apply Scripture, though to varying degrees. We “judge all things” in light of the truth of God’s Word, illumined by the Spirit, and so we have the ability to see truth rightly. Nobody can understand anything rightly unless they see its relationship to the ultimate Reality—God—and only believers have the spiritual enablement to do just that. And we live in light of that understanding given to us by God.
So, in a way, the Bible does create a group of haves and a group of have-nots. There are those who bow their knee to Jesus, rightly discerning and obeying His Word; and there are those who refuse to obey and, in so doing, completely miss the purpose of God’s Word. It’s not that unbelievers can’t do accurate exegetical work, rightly arriving at the intended meaning of the authors of Scripture. The problem for anyone outside of Christ is that they can’t respond to that meaning rightly, and they can’t respond rightly because in their sinful, rebellious hearts, they won’t. It’s a problem of the will, not the mind.
It’s worth taking the time to walk through the theological dynamic of the illumination of Scripture because it has huge implications for how we talk about ethnicity in the Church. Many voices in the conversation about ethnic division in the Church would have us lean on not just the Word of God but also on the wisdom of minority groups as a whole, regardless of their spiritual condition. And while I heartily agree with my own need for wisdom from different perspectives, I disagree that “the non-dominant perspective should be given heavier consideration due to the nature of the understanding necessary and provided by minoritized status.” Being part of a minority group doesn’t supply the applicational insight to Scripture that the Church needs—the illumination of the Spirit does! Likewise, European American Christians are no more privileged in their interpretation and application of Scripture than African American Christians. We all share the same Spirit, Who gives the same life and light to all regardless of our ethnicity.
Too often, non-believers and even the enemies of Christ have been lauded within the Church as wise guides on the topic of ethnic division. But “what partnership has righteousness with lawlessness? Or what fellowship has light with darkness? What accord has Christ with Belial? Or what portion does a believer share with an unbeliever?” (2 Cor. 6:14-15). I’m not saying that I can’t learn anything from the non-believing world—much of my formal education as an adult has come from secular sources, for which I am extremely thankful. But we would be foolish to think that the world will give us answers for spiritual problems or that ethnic tension in the Church can be resolved by solutions from outside the Church, like critical race theory and intersectionality. If non-believers can’t apply Scripture by the power of the Spirit, then how are they supposed to help us “maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace” (Eph. 4:3)?
Our solutions to ethnic division in the Church need to come from the Lord of the Church Himself, Jesus Christ. We’ve been given the mind of Christ through His Word and the Spirit of Christ in our hearts. We should be careful when seeking unity in submission to Christ not to heed the clarion calls of those who refuse to submit to Christ. Instead, we look to His Word for truth and to those who know and apply it well for wisdom, clarity, and help.
Sufficiency and Silence
My second and related concern is the sufficiency of Scripture. Richard Caldwell dramatically argues for the sufficiency of Scripture this way:
To state it simply, we believe in the sufficiency of Scripture. It doesn’t matter what the problem is. It doesn’t matter what controversy you want to discuss. It doesn’t matter what issue we want to organize around, and meet around, and think about. The Word of God is sufficient to address the issue.
Now, while I agree with his sentiment, Caldwell’s statement requires some nuance. The Westminster Confession of Faith provides a clarifying word on sufficiency:
The whole counsel of God concerning all things necessary for His own glory, man’s salvation, faith and life, is either expressly set down in Scripture, or by good and necessary consequence may be deduced from Scripture: unto which nothing at any time is to be added, whether by new revelations of the Spirit, or traditions of men.
So, when I say that the Bible is sufficient, I don’t mean it’s an effective manual for replacing the head gaskets on your Chevy Silverado. What I do mean is that every spiritual truth that you need to know in order to glorify God with your life can be found in the sixty-six books of the Old and New Testaments. The Bible contains the Gospel, by which we’re redeemed to God’s glory, and it holds every precious truth we could need to order our spiritual lives for the glory of God. The Bible is sufficient to help us respond in a godly way to every challenge we can face.
Paul argues for the sufficiency of Scripture to his protegé Timothy when he writes, “All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work” (2 Tim. 3:16-17). Complete. Every good work. That’s a comprehensive statement because we’re dealing with a comprehensive book. The sufficiency of Scripture means that if our souls need it, God said it. Period.
One destructive effect of perspective privilege in the Church is the fear of insufficiency that it can conjure. European American believers who might otherwise engage their African American, Mexican American, or Japanese American brothers and sisters in conversations about ethnicity are silenced by the gnawing fear that they just don’t know enough. “I can’t ask about that,” they might think. “I haven’t experienced what my friends have, so how could I possibly understand?” Add to that confusion the pressure from authoritative voices prescribing lengthy reading lists for those uninitiated in ethnic dialogues. Christians who should be speaking words of comfort, seeking genuine understanding, and taking the initiative to care for their fellow believers have shut their mouths in fearful uncertainty.
Add to that dynamic the differing worldviews at play in conversations about race and ethnicity. One group looks back in American history with nostalgia, wishing we could go back to a simpler time, afraid of a future marked by same-sex marriage, on-demand abortion, and wealth redistribution. Another group looks back in American history with horror, longing for a new age to dawn where the stain of American racism has been washed away and replaced with a utopian paradise of progress. If you put those two worldviews in the same conversation, it’s easy to see how we can talk past each other, frustrate each other, and eventually silence each other because of our pride in our own perspective. This is not the time for the Church to be silent!
If you have the Bible, you have everything you need to minister to souls. You don’t need to become an expert in African American history, critical race theory, or the American criminal justice system to talk about ethnicity today, though there are obviously ways in which extra-biblical study can be helpful. If the Bible is sufficient, then the Bible is what you need. Your required reading list is sixty-six books long—no more, no less.
In case you’re skeptical, let me summarize some of the essential truths that God’s Word holds for those who want to talk about ethnicity and racism. Most fundamentally, the Bible explains where different people groups came from (Adam, then Noah, then Babel; more on this in chapter three), why they exist (to glorify God through diverse, unified worship—Rom. 15:5-6), and where they’re all headed (the throne room of God or the lake of fire—Rev. 7:9-10, 20:7- 15). But it goes further than that. The Scriptures explain the roots of racism in the sinful hearts of men (Isa. 59:7-8; Jer. 17:9; Matt. 12:34; Luke 6:45; James 2:9) and how Christ redeems racists through the Gospel to become multi-ethnic bricks in the building of His Church (Eph. 2:11-21; Gal. 3:25-28; 1 Peter 2:4-5). God’s Word goes further still to instruct those bricks how to stick together in love and unity (Acts 10:28; Matt. 5-7; Eph. 4:1-16; Phil. 1:27-2:10; Rom. 12:1-21), how to bring comfort to those who are suffering (Job; Psalm 13, 42; 2 Cor. 1:3-7, 4:16- 18; 1 Thess. 5:14; 1 Peter 1:6-9), and how to confront sin in the heart (Psalm 51; Rom. 8:13; 1 Cor. 6:18-20, 10:1-13; 2 Cor. 7:10; Rev. 2-3). And maybe best of all, the Bible teaches us about the forgiveness of the cross of Christ, which enables us to step confidently into the lives of our fellow believers without guilt or fear, knowing that even if we say the wrong thing or fail to say the right thing, Jesus will not only reconcile us to Himself but will ultimately unite each of us to each other in perfect harmony (Matt. 18:21-35; Rom. 3:21-26, 14:1-23; 2 Cor. 5:16-21; Col. 1:19-20, 2:6-15; Heb. 10:18-25). Oh, how we need to hear the Word!
Think about how radically united the Church would be if we actually just obeyed the commands of Scripture to “do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves” (Phil. 2:3)! Think about how charitably we could disagree if we first were obedient to “welcome [the one who is weak in faith], but not to quarrel over opinions” (Rom. 14:1). Just think how conspicuously harmonious our fellowship halls would be if we fixed our eyes on our glorious Savior in Heaven and, in so doing, obeyed Paul’s commands to the Colossians:
Put on then, as God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, compassionate hearts, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience, bearing with one another and, if one has a complaint against another, forgiving each other; as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive. And above all these put on love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony. And let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in one body.
Oh, Believer, if only we were bonded together in obedience to God’s Word! Then we wouldn’t have to look to the world’s wisdom to staple us together in a flimsy fraternity of dying causes. If we would privilege God’s voice above any others, we would be one under the authority of the Lord Jesus Christ, and that’s just where we want to be.
To put it simply: the Bible is sufficient for every matter of the heart, and that matters for Christian hearts. We don’t live in fear of not knowing, but we humbly listen and confidently speak as those who have been given “all things that pertain to life and godliness, through the knowledge of him who called us to his own glory and excellence” (2 Peter 1:3). As the apostle John writes:
I write to you, not because you do not know the truth, but because you know it, and because no lie is of the truth . . . But the anointing [of the Holy Spirit] that you received from him abides in you, and you have no need that anyone should teach you. But as his anointing teaches you about everything, and is true, and is no lie—just as it has taught you, abide in him.
1 John 2:21, 27
Today’s post is an excerpt from a new book, A House Without Walls: How Christ Unites His Ethnically Divided Church. It is available for pre-order here.
 William Arndt et al., A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature, s.v. “δέχομαι,” (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2000), 221.
 “Critical Race Theory: Full Statement,” Be the Bridge, accessed August 29, 2020, https://bethebridge.com/wp-content/uploads/2020/08/ Full-Statement-Aug-7.pdf.
 Allison N. Ash, “White Fragility: Why this Book is Important for Evangelicals,” Christianity Today online, August 4, 2020, https:// www.christianitytoday.com/edstetzer/2020/august/white- fragility-why-this-book-is-important-for-evangelicals.html.
 Richard Caldwell, “The Sufficient Word on Racial Unity,” in A Biblical Answer for Racial Unity (Woodlands, TX: Kress Biblical Resources, 2017), 11-12.
 The Westminster Confession of Faith, 3rd ed. (Lawrenceville, GA: Committee for Christian Education and Publications, 1990), 1.6.
 Arielle Gray, “A Reading List On Race For Allies Who Want To Do Better,” The ARTery online, June 17, 2020, https://www.wbur.org/ artery/2020/06/17/reading-list-on-race-for-allies.
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