Many of us involved in conversations about race and God’s people are in need of encouragement. It is all too easy to get hung up on what is wrong without building out a positive vision for diversity among God’s people. Jarvis Williams’s Redemptive Kingdom Diversity: A Biblical Theology of the People of God (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2021) is certainly a breath of fresh air in this conversation. He offers a robust biblical discussion of the people of God and calls us to marry orthodoxy with orthopraxy in ways with which the American Church has often struggled since its inception several hundred years ago. Rather than give a full summary and review, I want to share five ways I’ve been blessed by Redemptive Kingdom Diversity.
1. Drawn to the Word of God
I graduated from a liberal arts college in Kentucky with a bachelor of arts degree in sociology and a minor in religion. I have been simultaneously delighted and dismayed at the number of pastors and Bible teachers who have suddenly begun bringing sociology into their tweets, teachings, and books. I’m delighted because sociology is a common grace lens—though tainted by sin—to look at and learn about the world around us. It’s fun to look at society on micro and macro levels as we assess what drives actions, behaviors, worldviews, and cultures. However, I have been dismayed because it seems that theologians on both sides of the CRT/social justice debate are weaponizing sociology against one another while professing that we are together for the gospel.
When did all of these pastors become specialists in social theories? And when did one’s nuanced views on sociological theories become a litmus test for gospel fidelity? As pastors were talking more and more about social theories, I began to wonder when we’d get back to the sufficiency of Scripture we have so boldly heralded.
As I expected him to do, Williams drew me back to the text of Scripture rather than doling out the same bits of sociological jargon that have been circulating Fox News, CNN, and social media. In fact, Williams devotes 152 pages of his book to working through biblical theology, though not in the sense we commonly understand it. He walks the reader through a book-by-book analysis of how God’s people derived and lived out their God-given identity.
Here’s a little spoiler: “[S]ocially constructed identities do not determine spiritual status or privilege in the family of Abraham for those who are the transformed people of God through Christ by the Spirit” (p. 4). In other words, the Scriptures crush racial superiority and the notion that our primary identity is found in our skin tone, nationality, culture, or ethnicity. This isn’t to say that we shouldn’t celebrate them. But we ought not wield them as a tool of oppression or hostility toward others.
2. Drawn to the Gospel
Like drinking a cool, crisp glass of water after a long day of pickup basketball, Williams’s focus on the gospel was refreshing. As many point fingers claiming that Williams is drifting from the gospel into a form of the social gospel or cultural marxism, Williams says:
The fundamental and foundational hope for redemptive kingdom diversity in a fallen world is the gospel of Jesus Christ and the Spirit-empowered people of God walking in obedience to the gospel in the church and in society with our Bibles open, with common sense, and with common grace in pursuit of the redemptive kingdom diversity for which Jesus died and rose again. (p. 169)
Before moving into practical applications (orthopraxy), Williams emphasized that we must have hearts renewed and changed by the Spirit through the power of the gospel. He reminds us that “justification by faith in Christ is the great equalizer between Jews and Gentiles,” meaning that there is no superior or supreme race, ethnicity, nationality, or other humanly constructed means of constructing our identity (p. 119, emphasis added). We all need constant reminders of these gospel truths as we wade into the deeply divisive political and social waters of our day.
3. Drawn Away From Worldly Theories
Today, everyone on social media seems to have an expert opinion on Critical Race Theory (CRT) and Marxism. In evangelical circles, the ultimate trump card—no pun intended—is to lay the claim of social justice warrior, CRT sympathizer, or cultural Marxist. Sadly, even an unsupported accusation can tarnish a pastor’s legacy and reputation. Williams’s name has been dragged through the mud on social media and other outlets, but he has remained laser-focused on his spiritual and academic endeavors while staying true to the gospel doctrine he has so faithfully and passionately preached over the years. Though Christians need to engage these issues, Williams reminds us that “we must be rigorous exegetes both of the Bible and our own social locations” (p. 155).
On numerous occasions, Williams refutes white supremacy, CRT, and other cultural lies and half-truths. I’ll let him speak for himself:
Are there any superior races? “So-called biological races are not based on any real or measurable criteria” (p. 153).
Is racism the unforgivable sin? “[R]acism is one of those sins for which Jesus absorbed God’s wrath and one of those earthly and demonic powers that his death disarms” (p. 156).
Can minorities be racist? “[E]thnic minorities who commit racist sins must repent” (p. 158).
Should while people live in perpetual guilt while black people cling to perpetual victomhood? “Neither white guilt nor a victim mentality is a redemptive way forward for the people of God” (p. 164). However, “guilt because of sin that leads to repentance and restoration is helpful” (p. 166).
Is white supremacy the blame for every disparity in black communities? “One cannot (or ought not) blame White supremacy or racism for every disadvantage faced by Blacks,” though “the legacy of racism and White supremacy impacts certain (not all) Blacks in certain Black communities” (p. 165).
4. Drawn Toward Gospel Application
The trope “just preach the gospel” is often used to sidestep discussion and accountability with regard to racism, social justice, and the gospel. However, Williams’s entire final chapter is about the people of God and orthopraxy (putting sound teaching into practice). God’s people don’t have the choice to be doctrinally correct while living in neglect. Rather, we must be people who are not only hearers of God’s word but doers of it.
What does this look like today? How do we respond in biblical ways to the challenges we face in this cultural moment? Williams gives numerous examples, but for the sake of brevity I’ll highlight just one. Rather than merely speaking about the issues and lamenting the sin plaguing minority communities, Christians can mentor and disciple at-risk youth, teaching the gospel while modeling biblical manhood and womanhood. This means using the gifts, privileges, and resources we have to bring gospel-centered change rather than using political and secular models that “by themselves lead to a dead end” (p.173).
5. Drawn Toward Hope For Multiethnic Church Planting
Lastly, I walked away from Redemptive Kingdom Diversity with expectant hope as I pursue multiethnic church planting in a rural community. It sounds—and sometimes feels—impossible to think that God can do something like this, but I’m one of countless Christians with a zeal for this work who prays that I can stand in the face of fear and opposition. I am reminded that this journey will be a “long, painful, heartbreaking, joyful, and exhausting period of time” (p. 184), and I’m willing to pursue this work in my home, dinner table, living room, local church, and with people in the real world.
I don’t think I’m something special or even someone uniquely gifted for this sort of work. I am just a called man with a glimpse of redemptive kingdom diversity hoping to “patiently preach, teach, obey, pray, and act” (p. 185). Without the power of Christ at work in me, I won’t be able to do this work. But Jesus didn’t leave me as an orphan. I have the Spirit of Christ in me, Jesus interceding for me, and the Father generously giving me wisdom without reproach. Perhaps I can be a part of His massively glorious plan for redemptive kingdom diversity.
I don’t know if your takeaways will be exactly the same as mine. But I am quite sure that if you read this book you will be encouraged at the Lord’s faithfulness to build His multi-ethnic people. Thanks to Dr. Williams for writing it and I pray it will be widely read.
- Pray that we would be quick to hear, slow to speak (and write), and slow to anger as we embrace this discussion of redemptive kingdom diversity (James 1:19).
- Pray that we would be doers of the word and not hearers only with regard to the pursuit of this sort of gospel-rooted diversity (James 1:22).
- Pray that God would raise up laborers willing and able to step into this difficult work of preaching the gospel and pursuing racial unity in these divisive days (Matthew 9:35–38).