Open up the newspaper, listen to talk-back radio, or scan social media and it’s not long before you come up against difficult questions of race and racism. Is there really, as some would claim, structural racism in our health system? Is there racism in our political system, or our legal system? Is racial discrimination and injustice embedded in our police force, our schools, our universities? 

And to what extent should we as Christians engage with these questions? As Christians, we take our lead from Christ and his word to us in Scripture. What does the Bible say about race and racism? Scripture divides human history into four main epochs: the creation of the universe, the fall of humanity, the unfolding redemption, and the ultimate consummation of God’s gracious plan to renew the world. Each stage in the biblical narrative has something to say about race.

1.    Creation

The Bible begins with God creating human beings in his image (Genesis 1:26-27). From those first two human beings, God made all the nations (Acts 17:26). So the story of creation affirms the fundamental equality of all people, and the essential unity of the entire human race. There is, at bottom, just one race – the human race, with all its beautiful variety and cultural diversity.

2.    Fall

When human beings turn from trusting and obeying God, the result is alienation with God and with one another (Genesis 3:7-24). As the story unfolds, and the virus of sin spreads, we see this fragmentation and division within humanity growing and spreading. Ethnic division and cultural prejudice are the ugly consequences of sin. 

3.    Redemption

In Genesis 12 God launches his plan to rescue and renew his creation through the election of Abraham and Israel. That plan comes to fruition in the person of Jesus Christ. Through his life, death, and resurrection, God creates out of Jews and Gentiles one new reconciled humanity – the church. 

Paul says that God’s intention is that “now, through the church, the manifold wisdom of God should be made known to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly realms” (Ephesians 3:10). As local churches, we embody the gospel through our unity in the midst of ethnic and cultural diversity. 

4.    Consummation

The climax of the Bible and of human history is pictured in the book of Revelation. In the new heavens and new earth, the people of God will come from “every nation, tribe, people, and language” (7:9ff). The kings of the earth “will bring their splendour” into the New Jerusalem, and “the glory and honour of the nations will be brought into it” (21:24, 26). Our final redemption, therefore, will not erase ethnic and cultural differences. It will be enriched by them. God’s purpose for humanity is unity in diversity.

Reflecting on this biblical narrative, it’s very clear that questions of race and racism, ethnicity and culture, are important to God. If we take the Scriptures seriously, these questions must also be important to us.

A Conversation

On Thursday the 14th of July at 7.30 Carey Baptist College will be hosting a conversation with Dr Willie Jennings, a Baptist theologian from Yale University. Jenning is one of the leading theological voices in the world today on questions of race. In his book, The Christian Imagination: Theology and the Origins of Race, he argues that the church is deeply entangled with the racism that blights so many lives today. 

His presentation will argue that we need a renewed vision of what it means to be the church, a vision that grasps the gospel power of radical life together. You can attend this event in person on our campus at 473 Great South Road, Penrose, Auckland, or online via Zoom. Register here.

Written by John Tucker, Principal of Carey Baptist College

Photos: Supplied by Carey Baptist College

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