Headphones And Homiletics
We know several people who have been on short-term mission trips. Perhaps you’ve even been on one yourself and proclaimed to others that you gained more from that trip than the people you went to serve. Maybe you’re a full-time missionary living in another nation (at least for the majority of the year). Most likely, you’re an average church member who knows the Great Commission, but you don’t feel called to long-term overseas ministry. Regardless of where you stand, “Missions” by Andy Johnson is an excellent introduction to missions. Johnson provides readers with ways to be mission-minded, live missional lifestyles, and serve those who are on mission at home and abroad.
Starting with a biblical foundation of missions, readers are called to make the gospel the center of all missionary work. Churches and leaders must send and support our missionaries well, and this means providing for them abroad and hosting them at home. Johnson reminds readers that mission work involves both church planting and supporting church planters. This means that many of our missionaries will go to support current local churches and their efforts rather than planting new churches. It’s vital to remember that partnering with healthy local churches in unreached or barely-reached areas teaches our churches how to wisely serve and support global missions.
Whether we support missionaries financially, with hospitality, or through short-term trips, we are commanded to be on mission. Church leaders and pastors must lead the cause in teaching and modeling a missionary heart and mindset for the local church. Whether it’s overseas or in our own nation, Christians are missionaries. Johnson reminds us throughout the book that missions is not an option, it is a vital aspect of healthy churches. I highly recommend Missions for church members as well as church leaders. It will help spark some good conversation and move our churches toward more mission-centered living.
I received a free copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.
The World's Most Powerful Message
What is the Gospel?
The gospel is the world's most powerful message. This message is able to grip the hearts of the world's most wicked men and utterly transform them. It is a message so powerful that rulers of kingdoms and religious systems have fought fiercely to completely eradicate it from the globe. The message of the gospel has wrecked the lives of myriads of people (for the good) as they were transferred from darkness into God's marvelous light. Though the gospel is so powerful and has impacted the world for thousands of years, few people—even in Christianized nations—truly know the gospel and its implications.
Though millions of pages could be written about the gospel, it can be succinctly stated from many passages in scripture. Believing the gospel is required for salvation, and knowing the gospel is essential for fulfilling the great commission (Matthew 28:18-20). Have you believed the gospel? If not, keep reading. Do you know the gospel enough to share it? If not, keep reading. Do you need the gospel in your life daily? Yes, you do, so keep reading. Titus 3:1–7—one of my most favorite passages in all of the scripture—presents 4 aspects of the gospel. The gospel can be summed up four words: God, man, Christ, response.
God is the all-powerful and all-authoritative Creator of the universe. He demands that all live in light of that reality.
God is the all-powerful and all-authoritative Creator of the universe. He demands that all live in light of that reality. He is the upholder of the universe, and in Him we live, move, and have our being. Though this truth is not explicitly laid out in the passage, we can see it in the authoritative commands laid out in verses 1–2. The apostle Paul—one of God’s chosen and inspired authors— wrote these commands with no less force than the 10 commandments because "all Scripture is breathed out by God" (2 Tim 3:16). Every human being is called to honor and submit to God as holy and glorious through obedience and worship. Everything in all of creation was created for the purpose of worshiping God. In the case of Titus 3, God is glorified through our obedience to civil authorities and our fruitful good works toward others. Submission to earthly authorities exemplifies our faith and submission to God's ultimate authority.
There is one problem. In our sinful state, we don’t want anything to do with God or His commands. Look at verse 3, “For we ourselves were once foolish, disobedient, led astray, slaves to various passions and pleasures, passing our days in malice and envy, hated by others and hating one another”. There is nothing about that us that is pleasing to God apart from Christ. We were created in the image of God (Gen. 1:26–27), but sin entered humanity in Genesis 3 when Adam and Eve ate the forbidden fruit. Since then, every intention of the thoughts of our hearts is only evil continually (Genesis 6:5, Romans 3:9–20). We see this in ourselves and everyone else as we look at Titus 3:5. Foolishness, disobedience, addiction, hatred, etc. are characteristics that we despise in ourselves and others because they reflect the worst about us. We are not as bad as we could be because God graciously restrains our sin, but we really are bad people. We really are evil people. We really are enemies of God. Because of this, we are all destined for eternal death in hell because, “In Adam all die” (1 Cor. 15:22, Romans 5:12–14).
Without a remedy, we are all left hopeless and helpless. But God didn’t leave us in our sinful state to work our way back to Him. He also didn't leave us to face our much deserved eternal punishment without a Savior. Look at Verses 4–5b: "But when the goodness and loving kindness of God our Savior appeared, he saved us, not because of works done by us in righteousness, but according to his own mercy...” This is glorious! Christ is at the heart of salvation! When Christ appeared, He saved! He saved according to His own mercy! He did the good works and became righteousness for His people because they aren’t able to meet the requirements of the law (Romans 8:4, 2 Cor 5:21). Jesus’ goodness is transferred into their accounts because He took the full wrath of God as their substitute (see Romans 4 for further study). This is often called "The Great Exchange". How did Christ achieve all of this? He laid down His sinless life by submitting to death on a cross to pay for the sins of all who would believe in Him (John 10:17–18, Phil 2:8). He rose from the grave with power after three days (Romans 1:14, 1 Cor. 15:4). Finally, He ascended to sit at the right hand of His Father and prepare a place for His sheep until He returns (Col 3:1–2, John 14:3). Christ is the remedy for our broken relationship with God! But how do you apply this message to your life?
Without a remedy, we are all left hopeless and helpless. But God didn’t leave us in our sinful state to work our way back to Him. He also didn't leave us to face our much deserved eternal punishment without a remedy.
Throughout the scriptures, especially in the New Testament, we see the call to repent and believe the gospel (Mark 1:15, Matthew 3:2, Acts 17:30–31). The gospel is the “power of God unto salvation” (Romans 1:16), and it is a message that demands a response from us. We have two options, we can either believe the gospel (more than a mental assent to the facts) or we can reject the gospel. Belief in the gospel means a life that trusts and rests in Christ’s finished work for our righteousness and salvation. Every person in the universe is accountable to respond in faith to the call of the gospel. Notice the language in Titus 3:5b–6 that salvation is through Christ and also “by the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit, whom he poured out on us richly through Jesus Christ our Savior.” In our choice to believe, God is at work. He draws us to Christ (John 6:44). He gives us the new birth and eyes to see the kingdom of God (John 3:1–15). He places His Spirit in us and causes us to walk in obedience and repentance. This is the power that enables us to respond to the gospel (Ezekiel 36:25–27)! This power also carries us through the process of sanctification so that we may become a holy and blameless bride of Christ (Ephesians 5:27)!
How Will You Respond?
Now that you’ve heard the gospel message in it’s fullness, it is vital that you search yourself to see if you are believing and resting in this powerful message. Has your life been ruined by sin and death? Have you submitted to the lordship of Jesus Christ? Have you moved from death to life? If you haven’t, read and reread the numerous passages of scripture found in this post. The gospel is not a message to put off until later. Sin is deceitful and it only leads to death. Christ is glorious, and faith in Him leads to eternal joy and fellowship with Him for eternity! There is nothing more necessary for your soul than to rest in the work of Christ so your relationship with God can be restored!
A Departure From Evangelicalism? (Pt. 2)
Last week I wrote an article discussing the increasingly popular sentiment being embraced by many black Christian leaders and members loosely associated with reformed theology—namely, a departure from white evangelicalism. I must admit that I was a bit tongue-in-cheek with my definition of evangelicalism, and I understand that most of the Black leaders and congregants I’m speaking of are not leaving the foundational doctrines and teachings of the bible. I acknowledge that they are primarily departing from the notion that good ecclesiology is only found in predominantly-white churches and the way that they do things. Dr. Carl Ellis, Jr. stated, “evangelicalism is as much of a culture as it is a theological movement”. I understand why a lot of people didn’t jibe with my definition of evangelicalism.
Any church that preaches the gospel and strives to live out its implications is a good church, regardless of its racial makeup.
What I Wasn't Saying
Now that we have that out of the way, I want to offer some clarity to my original post. Here is what I was NOT saying:
I was not saying that all Black Christians are required to stay in predominantly-white churches under all circumstances. One of the primary pushbacks I received on my original post was that I implied that black and brown Christians staying in predominantly-white churches was the only way they could be in step with the gospel. That was far from my intentions, and I tried to make that clear in my post. I was responding to those whose attitude seems to be: “white people don’t agree with me on social issues or ecclesiology, so I’m done with them!” I find it more wise to call those white Christians who are guilty of the sin of elitism or racism to repentance and give them time to repent. Then, if there is an unwillingness to repent and church discipline does not take place, according to Matthew 18, then there is a good reason to leave that specific church. This does not call for a dismissal of all predominantly-white churches or believers; that would contradict the numerous passages in scripture calling for the unity of believers (John 17:23, 1 Peter 3:8, 1 John 4:12, etc.)
I was not saying that predominantly-minority churches are bad. I’ll be brief here. Any church that preaches the gospel and strives to live out its implications is a good church, regardless of its racial makeup. I’ll say it again: Any church that preaches the gospel and strives to live out its implications is a good church, regardless of its racial makeup. I appreciate my brothers in predominantly-minority and multiethnic churches. I am thankful that black and brown Christians have found a way to worship God together in spite of the hatred poured on them for hundreds of years in this nation. I rejoice in the fact that Christians from Latin America, Asia, Europe, the Middle East, and every nation across the globe can faithfully worship God in their cultural expression for His glory alone (Rev. 7:9). I pray that you do too.
I was not saying that the only people who have sinned in this situation are Black Christians. It is well-known that racism has been a stain on the American church since its foundations. It is well-known that some white Christians owned slaves. It is well-known that many white Christians sat back and did nothing during the days of slavery, Jim Crow, and racial segregation. Predominantly-white churches don’t do everything right. White Christians aren’t the final authority on all matters of doctrine and theology. Many of us have been hearing and reading this in books and blogs for the past couple of years. Therefore, my focus was not to point out what some white Christians have and haven’t done. My intent was to address the “new level” of freedom to constantly and unlovingly speak negative words about our white brothers-in-Christ and the isolation that could come as a result of such an emphasis on their flaws.
Instead of seeking to understand and love one another, I fear that Christians in this nation will never learn what it means to “weep with those who weep” and “rejoice with those who rejoice” (Romans 12:15–18) when that weeping and rejoicing pertains to believers of another race.
What I Was Actually Saying
The purpose of my original post was dual in nature:
First, I want to call those departing evangelicalism to be more specific when they address the issues they are seeing in the church. Rather than merely saying “evangelicalism is the problem” and vaguely defining the terms, I am asking for specificity and clarity in the conversation. I am asking for what is meant by “leaving”. I want to know what aspects of “white evangelicalism” they are specifically speaking of. There needs to be a thoughtful calculation of the potential outcome of such actions. That is something that doesn’t seem to be addressed in any of the conversations that I have seen up to this point.
Secondly, I want to ask black and brown Christians in predominantly-white circles to consider striving to persevere in their local churches rather than departing from them. Instead of a mass exodus of minorities, I want to see Black Christians work to educate white believers on their history and struggles in the church and the larger society. I fear that a mass exodus of black and brown Christians would further exacerbate the racial tension and confusion in the Church rather than fix it. Instead of seeking to understand and love one another, I fear many Christians in this nation will never learn what it means to “weep with those who weep” and “rejoice with those who rejoice” (Romans 12:15–18) when that weeping and rejoicing pertains to believers of another race. This could mean that Christians of all races would only sacrificially love those who look like and love them. Even unbelievers know how to do that (Matt. 5:46–47). In Christ, we can do far greater.
A Call To Live Biblically
The call in my original post was not a blanket or general call to every minority Christian in every church. It was a specific call to those struggling right now. I am pleading that we be biblical in our dealings with brothers and sisters in Christ—no matter the hue of their skin. I am imploring that we focus on Christ and the gospel when we meet disagreement and misunderstanding in our churches, regardless of the racial makeup or church culture. I am earnestly asking—Black Christians, specifically—that we pursue unity with the same fervor that we desire white Christians to show in their pursuit of unity in the Church.
May we never refuse to see the genuine efforts of others because we fail to take the plank out of our eyes before searching for their specks! Let us never be willing to throw away gospel-centered obedience when discussing racial unity! Let us never expect others to be walking in step with the gospel while failing to do so ourselves (Gal 2:11–14)! In the words of Curt Kennedy, “Both us have a few sin issues that we know need addressing… both of us think we’re both right and the other’s wrong because they’re stubborn.” We all need to search ourselves and see that we are looking to love Christ and love others more than ourselves.
A Departure From Evangelicalism?
A Shocking Statement About Evangelicalism
Webster’s Dictionary defines evangelical as synonymous with protestant, which broadly means “a Christian not of a Catholic or Eastern church” with more specific ties to the doctrines which separate Protestants from the Roman Catholic Church. With the exception of mainstream and liberal churches, most Christians in America would align themselves with such a definition. Notably absent from this definition is a discussion of race or cultural preference because evangelicalism is primarily tied to the broad theological unity among those who continue to “protest” the teachings of the Catholic Church in favor of the gospel as presented in scripture.
Ameen Hudson wrote a thought-provoking article on Lecrae's departure from “evangelicalism". Though much could be said about the position of Lecrae and others who want to leave “white evangelicalism”, I simply want to note the misunderstanding and misuse of the term. Though Hudson doesn’t explicitly define "evangelical" in his post, he points out that "only 6% of black people and 11% of Latinos" identify as evangelical and that these statistics “give us insight into how much of a minority African Americans and Latinos are in an evangelical world that’s largely white.” This statement—perhaps unintentionally—shifts the discussion away from theology to a focus on race.
These staggering statistics ought to be heavily considered as we seek to understand the causes and consequences of such a stark reality. However, we must also ask some questions. If such a small percentage of minorities identify as evangelical, what is their religious identity (in terms of their theology)? If, according to Pew Research, 53% of African Americans are not “evangelical protestant” but “black protestant”, what truly separates them from white, evangelical Christians? Do they affirm the 5 solas? Do they protest papal authority? Is race and culture the only difference between them? These are questions that must be addressed for the sake of clarity and unity in the body of Christ.
Two Areas Of Concern
Is the “whiteness” of evangelicalism the real problem?
The term “white evangelical” has been a buzz word in secular media as well as Christian circles lately to differentiate between conservative, white Christians and other groups of Christians (especially minorities). This term is often used when black Christians are discussing highly racialized issues such as the Michael Brown shooting or the kneeling of NFL players fighting systemic racism. In those cases, there are some white Christians who stand in disagreement on the issues, and they are quickly branded, and often disregarded, as "white evangelicals".
Regardless of the circumstances, it is often unclear what is meant by those who use the term because it is not often defined in the posts. The reality is that there are some white Christians who are ignorant of the struggles of black people in America. There are some white Christians who fail to ask questions before blasting their opinion on social media. There are some white Christians who refuse to acknowledge the wrong in the history of the church. But this does not represent all white Christians who identify as evangelicals.
Equally, there has also been a trend of sound, gospel-centered, rappers, preachers, authors, and bloggers rapidly and drastically changing the content of their music, social media presence, and response to fans and followers. Their discussions of racialized issues sometimes seem lacking in gospel application. Their conversations, at times, appear to shun all who disagree with them—especially white evangelicals. The truth in their messages sometimes feels like an unloving horse pill to swallow because they are writing from a place of pain, feeling misunderstood, broken, and sometimes righteously angry at the circumstances befalling them.
We have to ask some more questions, though. Should the animosity be aimed at white believers? Why is there so much talk about leaving “white evangelicalism”? Why is this “new level” of rebellion against evangelicalism something to be so celebrated? This mentality seems to fall short of addressing the root of the problem.
Is leaving evangelicalism a solution to the real problem?
At the risk of being shunned and considered a sellout, I am concerned that this new-found freedom and departure from evangelicalism will only lead to further isolation from white Christians in a way that will continue the segregation that began at the hands of white racism. How can we be of “one accord” (Phil 2:2) when we distance ourselves from the very people we need to be united with? If we speak our minds and people immediately (and perhaps, wrongly) disagree with us, should we turn our backs and give up on them?
If black Christians consider our white brothers and sisters to be in sin, shouldn’t our solution be to restore them with a gentle spirit, watching out for ourselves so that we also won’t be tempted to commit the very sin we feel that they are committing (Gal 6:1)? Shouldn’t we call them to carry our burdens and examine themselves to see if they are in sin, as well (Gal 6:4–5)? It seems that there isn’t much of this going on right now—especially via social media where most of these discussions take place.
The Way Forward
As a Christian who is black, I deal with some of the same struggles as many of the people I am speaking of. I am in a predominantly-white church in rural Kentucky. I mourn at the police shootings, I feel the weight of threats of white nationalist rallies in my home state, I feel uneasy at a traffic stop from time-to-time, and I weep over the lack of love shown by some white Christians on my newsfeed. I’ve been treated and viewed wrongly due to my race, even in churches within my community. However, as I consider Philippians 2:1–4 and Romans 12:1–8, I don’t think leaving evangelicalism will fix these problems or the problems in the Church.
God calls us to be united. God calls us to count others as greater than ourselves. God calls us to have the mind of Christ. If all non-white Christians leave all the predominantly white churches, we will not only be disregarding God's command for unity, but we will be equally guilty of the sin of kinism and dividing the body into sects and factions based on race and culture. If all non-white Christians look at our white Christian brothers with disdain as “those white evangelicals”, we will be just as guilty of partiality as some of them are.
My prayer is not that black and brown Christians leave evangelicalism—even with of all of its flaws and imperfections. My prayer is that we cling to the One who died for sheep from all nations in the world, and beg for His grace to cling also to one another. My prayer is that we keep Christ’s high priestly prayer in our hearts and minds as we navigate the challenging racial climate in this nation and our churches. May the Church be the first place we see racial unity in this nation.
Chrys Jones is a Christian, husband, father, teacher, and Christian Hip-Hop artist. I also write at Theology For You.