13 Jun 2012

Race and Reformed Theology

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“And if it cost the Father and the Son such a price, should we expect that it will cost us nothing? That it will be easy? That the Devil, who hates the glory of God and despises the aims of the cross, will relent without a battle? No. To join God in pursuing racial diversity and racial harmony will be costly. So costly that many simply try for a while and then give up and walk away from the effort to easier things.

But if you love God—if you live to spread a passion for his supremacy in all things for the joy of all peoples through Jesus Christ—you will trust him and seek his help and pursue with your life what cost Jesus his.” - John Piper from Bloodlines

John Piper recently wrote a book about race and theology that addresses quite a lot of the issues brought up in Duane’s sermon this last weekend. What follows is just a short excerpt that gets at the heart of both racial harmony and reformed theology, two things you might be/are probably struggling with.

Give it a read and consider checking out the free downloadable .pdf version of the book from the Desiring God website.

An Illustration of Particular Redemption and Racial Harmony

Perhaps the text in all of Scripture that displays the connection most clearly between the particular redemption of God’s people and the ethnic diversity and harmony of that people is Revelation 5:9. The inhabitants of heaven are singing to the risen Christ. “And 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.”

Notice that it does not say that Christ purchased all individuals in every tribe and tongue and people and nation. It says that Christ purchased people “from every tribe and language and people and nation.” In fact, in the original Greek, there is no direct object for the verb purchased, and so the emphasis falls very hard on every tribe. It’s as though I said, “I paid a huge amount to purchase from every booth in the market.” In that sentence, I don’t mention what I purchased. The emphasis falls not on what I purchased but on the fact that I bought whatever it was from every booth. That’s the way Revelation 5:9 reads—Jesus ransomed “from every tribe and language and people and nation.”

I know it is possible to interpret this text loosely, as though the purchase of particular people, with a particular composition from every tribe, was not designed by God—that it just happened that way because people in all the tribes simply choose to believe. And so the composition of God’s people (what kind of ethnic groups are in it) is by human chance and not a certain divine design.

If this were another kind of book, I would point to all the texts in the other writings of John besides this one—his Gospel and epistles—to show why I don’t think he means it that way (for example, John 6:44, 65; 6:37; 10:16; 11:51–52). But for now, I will simply appeal to the fact that when you purchase something (as Christ did his people), you generally purchase something particular. You choose it, and you buy it.

So when it says in Revelation 5:9 that Christ was slain, and by his blood purchased people “from every tribe,” it is not likely that it is a coincidence or merely by chance that those he bought do come from every tribe. In fact, Jesus said, “I have other sheep that are not of this fold. I must bring them also, and they will listen to my voice” (John 10:16). And John said that Jesus died “to gather into one the children of God who are scattered abroad” (John 11:52).

This was the design of his death. He bought a people who were scattered all over the earth among all the peoples of the world. By his blood he obtained them for himself, and he “must bring them also.” That is what world missions is for. Christ gathers his sheep through his ambassadors.

If the purchase of a people—a bride, a church, a kingdom, a priesthood—“from every tribe” is intentional, designed, and purposeful, and not a coincidence, not by human chance, then the implications for racial and ethnic diversity and harmony among Christ’s people are huge.

First, God intends to have a people not just from three or four ethnic groups (“red and yellow, white and black”), but from all ethnic groups. All shades, all shapes, all cultures. This is underlined by the four words “people,” “tribe,” “language,” and “nation” (Greek ethnos). This covers the whole range of ethnic diversity in the world. God intentionally pursued a people that is extraordinarily diverse.

Second, God intends for these people to be in profound God-centered harmony. You can see this in the words of Revelation 5:10: “You have made them a kingdom and priests to our God, and they shall reign on the earth.” All of them will be priests, and all of them will reign.

Now this would be utter chaos and religious anarchy if the single priesthood and the single reign of all these ethnic groups were not profoundly unified. You can’t have priests who hate each other and refuse to serve together in one temple, or live together in one neighborhood, or hang out together after hours.

If all those who are purchased from every tribe are priests to God and fellow rulers with God, who worship God and reign with God, then they must have a deep unity in the truth and in love. The kind of divisions and hostilities and prejudice and mistreatment and ridicule and suspicion that has existed in the church among races is unthinkable in view of what Christ is pursuing in this text.

The third implication is that this aim of ethnic diversity and harmony in the people of God (the one priesthood and kingdom) was pursued by God at infinite cost. The cost of diversity was the blood and life of the Son of God. This is not an overstatement. Consider the wording of Revelation 5:9 very closely: “You were slain, and by your blood you ransomed people for God from every tribe and language and people and nation.”

God paid the infinite price of his own Son’s life to obtain a priesthood of believers and a kingdom of fellow rulers from every race and every ethnic group on earth. Think on it. He paid this price particularly. It was for this particular people. He ransomed people “from the nations.” The issue of racial and ethnic diversity and harmony in the church is not small, because the price God paid precisely for it was not small. It was infinite.

Fourth, the final implication from the text is that this infinite price was paid and this racial and ethnic diversity and harmony were pursued by Christ “for God.” Don’t miss those little words in verse 9: “You were slain, and by your blood you ransomed people for God from every tribe and language and people and nation.” Racial diversity and racial harmony in the blood-bought church of God is “for God”—for God’s delight and for God’s glory.

What do we see this people doing who are gathered from every race and tribe? They were praising God and the Lamb of God and falling on their faces before him. They were saying, “‘To him who sits on the throne and to the Lamb be blessing and honor and glory and might forever and ever!’ And the four living creatures said, ‘Amen!’ and the elders fell down and worshiped” (Rev. 5:13–14). Blood-bought ethnic and racial diversity and harmony is for the glory of God through Christ. It is all aiming at the all-satisfying, everlasting, God-centered, Christ-exalting experience of many-colored, many-cultured worship, an aroma that delights the heart of God.

Implications for Us

And if it cost the Father and the Son such a price, should we expect that it will cost us nothing? That it will be easy? That the Devil, who hates the glory of God and despises the aims of the cross, will relent without a battle? No. To join God in pursuing racial diversity and racial harmony will be costly. So costly that many simply try for a while and then give up and walk away from the effort to easier things. But if you love God—if you live to spread a passion for his supremacy in all things for the joy of all peoples through Jesus Christ—you will trust him and seek his help and pursue with your life what cost Jesus his.

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