One Blood | Book Review


The most heated conversations I’ve witnessed on Facebook had to do with race. Whether the topic was Confederate statues or Black Lives Matter, the conversations typically began politely enough but almost inevitably degenerated into the online equivalent of a shouting match. Many words appeared in ALL CAPS. These conversations both surprised and disappointed me.

Unfortunately, most of these conversations were between Christians. American society is divided, and American churches all too often reflect rather than correct those divisions. That saddens me immensely. We can do better. For the sake of the gospel, we must.

One Blood, according to its subtitle, contains John M. Perkins’ “parting words to the Church on race.” I’m not sure that’s right, however. While race is the context of the book, its text is reconciliation. Perkins writes: “Biblical reconciliation is the removal of tension between parties and the restoration of loving relationship” (emphasis added). Given America’s tortured history of race relationships, how can Christians lead the way in reconciliation? That’s the question the book examines.

Perkins is the founder and president emeritus of the John and Vera Mae Perkins Foundation and cofounder of the Christian Community Development Association. Born in 1930 to black sharecroppers and raised in New Hebron, Mississippi, Perkins knew sorrow from an early age. His mother died of pellagra when he was an infant. (Pellagra is a vitamin deficiency that causes its victims to starve.) His father abandoned him at a young age. His brother, a World War II veteran, was murdered by a deputy marshal. When he was 17, his family urged him to migrate to Southern California in the hope he wouldn’t suffer his brother’s fate.

It was in California, at the age of 27, that Perkins became a Christian. In 1960, he and his wife and children returned to Mendenhall, Mississippi, to start Voice of Calvary Bible Institute, a ministry focused on personal evangelism and biblical literacy. Alongside this ministry, however, he and his wife, Vera Mae, began to minister to the material needs of members of their community. And he began to advocate for civil rights and public school desegregation. In 1970, he led a boycott of white-owned businesses that landed him in jail, where he was beaten by police.

In the following decades, Perkins increasingly became a black evangelical voice for civil rights, at a time when many white evangelicals were suspicious of the Civil Rights Movement. He advocated justice, of course, as well as help for the economically disadvantaged, but above all, he continued to urge reconciliation.

One Blood outlines the biblical case for reconciliation, as well as the kinds of practices that make it possible. More than any other, this single paragraph encapsulates the message of the book:

The Church must speak out with one voice against bigotry and racism. We have been too quiet. The time is now. A platform has been placed in front of us and we must speak with clarity and truth. We’ve made a mess of things, but there is a path forward. It will require us to hold fast to [God’s] vision for one Church and the biblical truth of one race. We need to lament our broken past and be willing to make some personal confessions about our own part in that mess. Then we’ll have to be willing to forgive and move forward toward true repentance. We must be committed to the right until the battle for reconciliation is won. And we must never forget that our power is not in guns, weapons, or armies. Our power is on our knees before God.

Perkins leaves no doubt that reconciliation is a gospel issue. “For too long, many in the Church have argued that unity in the body of Christ across ethnic and class lines is a separate issue from the gospel. There has been the suggestion that we can be reconciled to God without being reconciled to our brothers and sisters in Christ. Scripture doesn’t bear that out.”

At the outset, I mentioned my surprise and disappointment with conversations about race I have witnessed on Facebook. One Blood was surprising, too. Given what Perkins has seen, heard, and been subjected to in his 87 years of life, the lovingkindness of his message is stunning. It doesn’t detract from the hard truths he mentions about our nation’s — and the Church’s — failings with regard to race. Nor does it lessen the responsibility to make things right. But it does engender hope.

Book Reviewed
John M. Perkins with Karen Waddles, One Blood: Parting Words to the Church on Race (Chicago: Moody Publishers, 2018).

P.S. I wrote this review for InfluenceMagazine.com. It appears here by permission.

P.P.S. If you found my review helpful, please vote “Yes” on my Amazon.com review page.

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Understanding Sexual Abuse | Book Review


“In our society today, it is estimated that up to one in four girls and one in six boys experience sexual abuse in childhood. Experts also estimate that as many as half of the incidents are not reported. Millions of people, both children and adults, face each day with this hidden, complex pain.”

Tim Hein opens Understanding Sexual Abuse with this astounding and depressing statistic. It’s one that pastors and church leaders need to think about. Although we’d like to claim that sexual abuse happens out there (the world), not in here (the church), we all know that’s false. Sexually abused children and adult survivors of sexual abuse fill our pews, join our small groups and lead our teams. The question, then, is how well we minister to them in their pain.

This is not a book about “how to prevent abuse or how to deal with perpetrators.” Hein wrote this book out of his personal experience of childhood sexual abuse in order to help pastors and other church leaders “support survivors of sexual abuse.” He shares his story of abuse, without going into unnecessary and potentially triggering details, to help readers understand how a child experiences abuse, how it shapes his or her perspective on life, and what kinds of needs it leaves the child with.

Hein skillfully weaves together his personal story with psychological insights about the emotional toll abuse takes on child victims. As a Christian minister, however, he also brings biblical and theological resources to bear. He shows that the biblical narrative emphasizes justice for the abused, not just forgiveness for the perpetrator. He raises the question of theodicy, i.e., “Where is God when evil happens?” He shows how the Bible offers practical guidance for making sense of and lamenting our pain.

Most importantly, Hein shows that recovery is possible, though it may be a long process. “Wherever we are on our journeys of life,” Hein concludes, “including the journeys of recovery and healing, we can make choices about the paths ahead. We can choose life, and go on doing so, because Jesus, the author of life has come.”

Understanding Sexual Abuse is a short, but realistic book. Realistic not only about the pain of sexual abuse, but about the hope for healing. Given how widespread the problem of sexual abuse is, pastors and other church leaders will benefit from reading it and knowing how to serve the victims in their congregations.

Book Reviewed
Tim Hein, Understanding Sexual Abuse: A Guide for Ministry Leaders and Survivors (Downers Grove, IL: IVP Books, 2018).

P.S. Cross-posted from InfluenceMagazine.com with permission..

P.P.S. If you found my review helpful, please vote “Yes” on my Amazon.com review page.

Pentecostals, Race, Justice and Reconciliation | Influence Podcast


In episode 123 of the Influence Podcast, I interview Pastor Walter Harvey about “Pentecostals, Race, Justice and Reconciliation.”

Harvey is pastor of Parklawn Assembly of God in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, as well as vice president of the National Black Fellowship of the Assemblies of God. He also has the lead article in the January-February 2018 issue of Influence magazine, titled, “A Place Called Sherman Park: Eight ministry lessons that can help bring renewal to communities in chaos.”

 

The Radical Impermanence of the World and the Permanence of Christian Love


9-11-twin-towers

Today is the fifteenth anniversary of 9/11. The Friday after 9/11, I wrote this devotional for my church. Providentially, in this devotional, I was working my way through 1 Corinthians 13 that week, Scripture’s “love chapter.” I’m reposting that devotional today because, fifteen years later, it still expresses my heart and mind in the light of that horrific event.


OPENING PRAYER

This is the day the Lord has made, let us rejoice and be glad in it!

O God, grant us a vision of this city, fair as it might be: a city of justice, where none shall prey upon the other; a city of plenty, where vice and poverty shall cease to fester; a city of brotherhood, where success is founded on service, and honor is given to nobleness alone; a city of peace, where order shall not rest on force, but on the love of all for each and all. (Walter Rauschenbusch, 1861-1918)

SCRIPTURE READING

If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal. If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. If I give all I possess to the poor and surrender my body to the flames, but have not love, I gain nothing.

Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It is not rude, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.

Love never fails. But where there are prophecies, they will cease; where there are tongues, they will be stilled; where there is knowledge, it will pass away. For we know in part and we prophesy in part, but when perfection comes, the imperfect disappears. When I was a child, I talked like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I put childish ways behind me. Now we see but a poor reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known.

And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love. (1 Corinthians 13:1-13, NIV 1984)

DEVOTIONAL MEDITATION

The events of this week remind us of the radical impermanence of the world.

Who would have thought – on Tuesday, September 11, before 8:45 a.m. – that the day would end with the deaths of nearly 5,000 victims and the total destruction of the Twin Towers and the partial destruction of the Pentagon? Who would have thought that a peaceful nation would, within minutes, be transformed into a nation gearing up for war? Who would have thought that the terror visited upon other, distant nations would be visited upon us?

Life, strength, peace – gone in minutes. Sic transit gloria mundi. Thus passes the glory of the world.

In 1 Corinthians 13:8-13, Paul articulates the permanence of Christian love in contrast to the impermanence of everything else. The Corinthian Christians needed to hear this message because they had elevated impermanent things – the gift of tongues – onto a pedestal that one day would topple over. Life passes. Strength passes. Peace passes. The gift of tongues passes, as do the gifts of prophecy and knowledge. But love remains.

We are like children, Paul writes, who grow up. Activities appropriate to youth are inappropriate for grown men and women. Privileges reserved for adults are unavailable to children. Our very speech reflects the change; the halting lisp of childhood gives way to confident talk of serious adults. Our thinking matures. We are born, we grow, we live, and we die. Life passes. But love remains.

Faith itself passes away, as does hope. They are necessary only as long as God delays the final establishment of his kingdom and we enter into his rest. We believe in and we hope for only until our faith becomes sight and our dream a reality. When that happens, we no longer know partially, we know fully, and are fully known. Faith and hope pass. But love remains.

Why? Love remains because God is the only permanent reality, and God is love. Classical theology defines God as the unmoved mover, the being who shakes the heavens and the earth without being shaken. More recently, Clark Pinnock has called God “the most moved mover,” in recognition that his heart of love beats for suffering humanity. God remains, and so love remains.

At this moment in our nation’s history, love is – at the very same time – both close to and far from our minds. When we consider the victims of these terrorists’ attacks, our hearts go out to them and to their families. Throughout the nation, citizens have generously donated their prayers, their time, and even their blood to help those who are suffering. This is good. This is human life as God intended it to be lived.

And yet, I have also heard voices raised in anger. Calls for merciless and indiscriminate war against the citizens of Muslim nations, regardless of whether they perpetuated or supported the men who terrorized us all on Tuesday. This is bad. This is human life as Satan intends it to be lived. Love for our enemies, which Christ commanded, is far from our minds.

Please don’t misunderstand me. I’m all for justice, and if justice must come through the prosecution of war, then so be it. But after war, then what? In his second Inaugural Address, at the end of the Civil War, Abraham Lincoln expressed thoughts that we must keep in mind when we are done with our war: “With malice toward none; with charity for all; with firmness in the right, as God gives us to see the right, let us strive on to finish the work we are in; to bind up the nation’s wounds; to care for him who shall have borne the battle, and for his widow, and his orphan – to do all which may achieve and cherish a just, and a lasting peace, among ourselves, and with all nations.”

Charity for all. A just and lasting peace with all nations. That is what God is calling us to help establish once the coming war is justly prosecuted. The battle passes away, but love remains.

Sic transit gloria mundi. But not the glory of God.

CLOSING PRAYER

O heavenly Father, at whose hand the weak shall take no wrong nor the might escape from judgment; pour your grace upon your servants our judges and magistrates, that by their true, fruitful and diligent execution of justice to all equally, you may be glorified, the commonwealth daily promoted, and we all live in peace and quietness, godliness and virtue; through Jesus Christ our Lord. (Thomas Cranmer, 1489-1556)

Review of ‘Faith in the Voting Booth’ by Leith Anderson and Galen Carey


Voting_Booth_350Leith Anderson and Galen Carey, Faith in the Voting Booth: Practical Wisdom for Voting Well (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2016).

Today (March 15), voters from Florida, Illinois, Missouri, North Carolina, and Ohio cast ballots in the Democratic and Republican presidential primaries. Since I am a Missourian, I performed my civic duty and cast a ballot along with them. Voting is so routine in American life that we Americans often take it for granted. We shouldn’t, however. It is a great privilege and an awesome responsibility.

It also can be hard work. Choosing a candidate or supporting a referendum requires informed decision-making. What principles should guide us? What should our priorities be? Thoughtful citizens try to answer these questions as they enter the voting booth.

Faith in the Voting Booth is a primer on biblical principles and priorities for the thoughtful evangelical voter. Leith Anderson and Galen Carey are, respectively, president and vice president of governmental relations for the National Association of Evangelicals. The NAE is the largest organization of evangelicals in America, whose mission is “to honor God by connecting and representing evangelical Christians.”

Evangelical is “often portrayed as a political identity by the national press,” which Anderson and Carey note is fundamentally wrong. Evangelicalism is first and foremost a spiritual identity. The authors cite with approval historian David Bebbington’s list of “four convictions that identify evangelicals”: (1) conversion—having a “born again experience, (2) action—consisting of evangelism and social action, (3) Bible—Scripture is the top authority, and (4) cross—Jesus died to save people from sin. These four convictions unite evangelicals spiritually across partisan political lines.

Of course, it would be next to impossible for a person’s spiritual identity not to affect their political identity in some way. “The ultimate political statement is ‘Jesus is Lord,” Anderson and Carey point out. But American evangelicals do not always let their core convictions shape their political principles and priorities. For example, Lifeway Research conducted a survey of evangelical opinions on immigration. That study found, in part, that evangelicals were as likely to be influenced on that issue by “The media” as by “The Bible” and “Your local church” combined (slide 16). For people whose core convictions include the Bible’s supreme authority, that’s an alarming statistic.

The core of Faith in the Voting Booth is an examination of hot button issues from a biblically informed perspective. Anderson and Carey cite four broad areas “where most evangelicals agree most of the time.” These are biblical authority, life, religious freedom, and marriage. They then examine eight issues in more depth: poverty, racial and ethnic minorities, marriage and family, immigration, taxes, justice and jails, foreign policy, and environmentalism. The goal is to bring biblical principles and priorities to bear on public policies.

Faith in the Voting Booth is difficult to peg, ideologically. For those looking for a lawyer’s brief for their side of the political aisle, this is not your book. But it’s important to remember that the Bible is not captive to modern ideologies or political parties. It stands outside of them, critiquing them for what they get wrong and affirming what they get right. If we follow the Bible, then, our political principles and priorities won’t be easy to peg as merely partisan ideology. Personally, I found the book refreshing. In a few places, it caused me to reexamine whether my political convictions are as biblically rooted as I think they are. In a few places, I disagreed with it. That kind of critical self-examination is a good habit to develop, it seems to me.

Anderson and Carey close the book by making a case for civility in the public square. Given the taunting, name-calling, and isolated acts of violence that have marred this election cycle, the authors’ plea for civility is especially appropriate. I’ll close with this quotation from the book:

The practice of Christian civility brings the fruit of the Spirit into the public square: “love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control” (Gal. 5:22–23). We please God, display the love of Jesus, and bless our nation all at the same time.

Amen to that!

_____
P.S. This review first appeared at InfluenceMagazine.com.

P.P.S. Check out my Influence Podcast with Leith Anderson about the book.

P.P.P.S. If you found my review helpful, please vote “Yes” on my Amazon.com review page.

O Sovereign Lord, How Long? (Revelation 6.9–11)


Submission, peacemaking, generosity, and hospitality all require patience: Patience with a corrupt government to reform, with the violent to act peaceably, with the poor to move from dependency to productivity, and with the sick to heal. The last two items are borne with comparative ease. The first two items? Not so much.

It is fascinating to me that after describing the devastation wrought on earth by the four horsemen of the Apocalypse (Rev. 6:1-8), John turns again to a scene in the throne room of heaven (6:9-11). There, he sees “under the altar the souls of those who had been slain for the word of God and for the witness they had borne.” They are martyrs, in other words. (That this altar is a heavenly one rather than an earthly one may be ascertained by comparing 6.9 with 8.3, 5.)

What fascinates me is not the heavenly scene, but the cry of the martyrs: “O Sovereign Lord, holy and true, how long before you will judge and avenge our blood on those who dwell on earth?” Until I read Revelation 6.9–11, I had always thought that those whose souls had entered heaven existed in a state of uninterrupted bliss. This is not the picture John presents. Rather, those souls cry out to God for justice in no uncertain terms. Indeed, the absolute certainty of their cries is unnerving. “Avenge our blood” is not a request uttered in polite company, after all. (Perhaps we would think otherwise if we had been martyred.) Whatever the particular terms used, we understand the martyrs’ request. Is it too much to ask God that right be done on earth?

What I have written above about submission, peacemaking, generosity, and hospitality may have struck you as, well, a bit unjust. Why should we submit to corrupt politicians? Why should we strive to make peace when our enemies are making war? Because, quite frankly, God commands us to. And because we recognize that we live in between Christ’s first and second coming, when God offers grace to sinners like you, me, and our enemies. “The Lord is not slow to fulfill his promise,” Peter writes, “as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance” (2 Pet. 3.9).

That reason is why, I think, the martyrs were “given a white robe and told to rest a little longer.” The white robe is a symbol of sins forgiven, of being justified by Christ before God. Just as they had been made right through God’s patience with them, so now the martyrs are asked to exercise patience toward others, even if that patience results in the martyrdom of other believers. Until Christ returns, God asks us to be witnesses through our words and with our lives.

Justice and patience. Martin Luther King Jr., who knew both in equal measure, rightly said that while the arc of the universe is long, it bends toward justice. So, as we wait for God to do the right thing at the last, let us do what God is doing now, and patiently extend to sinners his gracious love.