In Search of the Beloved Community | Influence Magazine


Reflecting on race relations in the early days of the Azusa Street Revival (1906–1909), Frank Bartleman famously wrote, “The ‘color line’ was washed away in the blood.”That unity was short lived, however. Deep-seated feelings of white supremacy and Jim Crow segregation quickly redrew the line, resulting in decades of division and disparity between black and white Pentecostals that persist to this day, though to a lesser degree.

The same thing might be said about American Christians and American citizens more broadly. Though progress undeniably has been made, racial divisions and disparities stubbornly persist. This fact should be an affront to Bible-believing Christians, for the blood of Jesus Christ did indeed wash away the color line. What the apostle Paul said about the reconciliation of Jews and Gentiles applies to allracial and ethnic divisions: “[Christ’s] purpose was to create in himself one new humanity out of the two, thus making peace, and in one body to reconcile both of them to God through the cross, by which he put to death their hostility” (Ephesians 2:15–16).

The question is, therefore, why racial divisions and disparities persist among American Christians. And what should be done about them? Three new books from evangelical publishing houses point to answers to both questions.

In The Color of Compromise (Zondervan), Jemar Tisby recounts the tragic history of American Christianity’s complicity in racism from the colonial period to the present day. Racism, in this account, is not merely personal animus. Tisby defines it as “prejudice plus power,” the combination of personal animus with impersonal systemic inequities.

“Historically speaking, when faced with the choice between racism and equality, the American church has tended to practice a complicit Christianity rather than a courageous Christianity,” Tisby writes about white Christians. “They chose comfort over constructive conflict and in so doing created and maintained a status quo of injustice.” To take just one of many examples, white evangelicals and Pentecostals were silent about the Civil Rights Movement at best. At worst, they opposed it.

Charles Marsh and John M. Perkins take up “the unfinished business of the Civil Rights movement” in Welcoming Justice (IVP Books). In a 1956 speech, Martin Luther King Jr. proclaimed, “the end [of the movement] is reconciliation; the end is redemption; the end is the creation of the beloved community.” Beginning in the mid-1960s, the influence of black churches in the movement began to wane. “Removed from its home in the church, the work of building beloved community withered and died,” Marsh writes.

For nearly sixty years, however, and starting in rural Mississippi, Perkins has continued to seek the beloved community through faith-based community development. His model of development is based on “the three Rs” of relocation (“incarnational evangelism”), reparation (“sharing talents and resources with the poor”), and reconciliation (“embodying the message that ‘ye are all one in Christ Jesus’”). Perkins’ life and ministry thus continues the work of Dr. King.

Finally, in Woke Church (Moody), Eric Mason encourages the church “to utilize the mind of Christ and to be fully awake to the issues of race and injustice in this country.” (The word woke is slang for being conscientious about issues of racial and social justice.) According to Mason, a woke church is characterized by four things: awareness of the “overarching truths” that unite the Body of Christ; acknowledgement of our nation’s history of racism; accountability for Christians to “reclaim our roles as light and salt in the world”; and action to “bring healing and justice into our spheres [of influence].”

Each of these books is challenging in its own way. The Color of Compromise shines a light on American church history that whites often overlook or downplay. Welcoming Justice is a hopeful book, but it challenges “the cultural captivity of the church,” a captivity that promotes individualism and consumerism over solidarity and generosity. And Woke Church refuses to let readers separate the gospel from justice. All three books are well worth reading.

As I closed each book in turn, I found myself asking three questions: First, have I listened to the experiences of black brothers and sisters, which are often different from my own because our social locations are different? Two, have I taken what I’ve heard and used it for self-examination to identify wrong attitudes, beliefs, and behaviors? And three, what actions am I going to take to pursue the beloved community in my church and neighborhood?

Christ has washed away the color line with His blood. Let us lean into the reality of the “one new humanity” He has made!

Books Mentioned
Charles Marsh and John M. Perkins, Welcoming Justice: God’s Movement toward Beloved Community, 2nd ed. (Downers Grove, IL: IVP Books, 2018). Individual review here: https://amzn.to/2zwREIC.

Eric Mason, Woke Church: An Urgent Call for Christians in America to Confront Racism and Injustice (Chicago: Moody, 2018). Individual review here: https://amzn.to/2AthA7T.

Jemar Tisby, The Color of Compromise: The Truth about the American Church’s Complicity in Racism (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2019).

P.S. This review is cross-posted from InfluenceMagazine.com with permission.

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Woke Church | Book Review


The word woke is slang for being “aware of and actively attentive to important facts and issues (especially issues of racial and social justice).” Dr. Eric Mason appropriates this term to describe a church that has been “awakened to the reality of implicit and explicit racism and injustice in [American] society.” Such a church is characterized by four attributes:

  1. Awareness of the “overarching truths” that unite the Body of Christ, including the relationship of justice to the gospel (chapter 2) and the Church as the holy family of God (chapter 3);
  2. Acknowledgement of the history of racism among American Christians (chapter 4), which provides a list of beliefs and practices to lament (chapter 5);
  3. Accountability for churches to “reclaim our roles as light and salt in the world” by means of “prophetic preaching” (chapter 6) and advocacy for justice, which is understood to encompass how both individuals and systems act and react (chapter 7); and
  4. Action, which suggests “ten action steps” churches can take “to bring healing and justice into our spheres [of influence]” (chapter 8).

Mason concludes the book (chapter 9) with a brief study of the book of Revelation, which paints the “bigger picture” of God’s vision of the Church. “If the church can keep this image of what is to come before us,” Mason writes, “we will be energized to accomplish His purposes in the earth. We will work as one unified body, across all ethnic lines” (Revelation 7:9–10).

Mason is the founder and pastor of Epiphany Fellowship in Philadelphia, PA. He is a black evangelical who describes himself as “exegetically at home with my conservative family on the doctrines of grace, but ethically at home with my liberal family on issues of race and justice.” My guess is that Mason’s dual at-home-ness may frustrate readers. Conservatives may think some of his suggestions go too far, while liberals may think they don’t go far enough.

As a conservative white evangelical, the best piece of advice I can give to readers like me is this: listen. White and black Christians may read the same Bible, but they read it from very different social locations. And in my experience, white Christians are often unaware of the breadth and depth of racism in American history, including the history of the American church. Until we listen to our black brothers and sisters we cannot hope even to begin bridging the racial divide in our churches, let alone our country.

Dr. Eric Mason’s Woke Church is a right step in that direction.

Book Reviewed
Eric Mason, Woke Church: An Urgent Call for Christians in America to Confront Racism and Injustice (Chicago: Moody, 2018).

P.S. If you like my review, please vote “Helpful” on my Amazon review page.