The Gospel, Racism, and an Invitation
This post is part of a feature series highlighting insights, encouragement, and inspiration from many of our speakers at this year’s National Youth Workers Convention in Tampa, FL. To join us, these speakers, and thousands of other youth workers, register today!
What would you do if you heard someone say, “If that church isn’t interested in fighting against racism, then I’m not interested in that church,” and it turns out they were talking about your church? What would you do if you heard a student say, “I’m not going to that youth group because there’s nobody there who looks like me,” and it turns out they were talking about the youth group you lead?
Your response to those two scenarios will depend on the size of the Gospel you preach. Some people preach a small Gospel. Other people preach a New Testament-sized Gospel. Here’s what I’m talking about.
By “small Gospel” I mean a Gospel that has a much narrower focus that what we find in the New Testament. A small Gospel only talks about being saved by Jesus so that we can go to heaven when we die. There are a lot of small Gospel churches out there. And when a church preaches a small Gospel, it usually has a narrowly defined idea about the Christian lifestyle. A small Gospel church focuses on three things; a) going to church; b) not getting drunk or high; c) not having sex outside of marriage. That’s it.
Now don’t get me wrong. Being saved by Jesus so we can spend eternity with Him is of ultimate importance. And I am all for not getting drunk or high (sobriety) and not having sex outside of marriage (chastity). But here’s the thing. Non-Christians (the people to whom Jesus sent us to share the Gospel) aren’t always concerned about sobriety and chastity. And eternity probably isn’t even on their radar. But they think about a lot of other things – everything from the environment to how to pay for college. And when those non-Christians are people of color, you can count on the fact that they think about racism. In all likelihood they have had a painful encounter with racism, both personal (hateful language, bigotry, exclusion, etc.) and systemic (disadvantages built into the economic and social systems that order life in our country).
So if the Gospel we preach is so small that it has nothing to do with those concerns, then these non-Christians are going to conclude that it has nothing to do with their lives. In other words, we will have made the Gospel so small that they can’t see it. However, if we proclaim a New Testament-sized Gospel, things are radically different.
A New Testament-sized Gospel covers everything a small Gospel covers. It talks about eternity, sobriety, and chastity. But it talks about a whole lot more. We’re not making this up. Check it out for yourself.
Jesus knows people are concerned about the practical necessities of this life. We know that because He talks about it in Matthew 6:25-33. The Gospel He preaches addresses those concerns. But there’s more . . . a lot more. Jesus is concerned about the poor. He is concerned about health care. He is concerned about people in prison. We can say this with confidence because He talks about poor people, sick people, and prisoners in Matthew 25: 31-46.
In Galatians 3:28, the Apostle Paul eliminates class, economic, political, and gender distinctions to the extent that they separate people from one another and create an unjust social hierarchy. He puts it this way:
“There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is
neither male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.”
This, along with the affirmation in Genesis 1:27 that says every human being is created in God’s image provides the foundation for the Gospel’s opposition to racism. Taking these verses at face value makes it impossible to say any one race is superior to another.
So when we preach the right-sized Gospel, it turns out that churches ought to be interested in fighting racism. It turns out that a diverse youth group is reflecting the many ways God’s image can be expressed. In other words, when we preach a New Testament-sized Gospel, it turns out we’re preaching a Gospel big enough for non-Christians to see, big enough to be relevant and life giving for everyone.
As you think about these things, you may find yourself wishing you had a chance to do a deeper dive into all this. If that’s you, you’ve come to the right place. We have two things to offer you.
First of all, check out the book, Black and White: disrupting racism one friendship at a time. It’s written by me, John Hambrick (a white guy), and my friend Teesha Hadra (a black woman). We tried to fill it with page after page of relevant content. We hope it will help you make the Gospel you talk about the same size as the Gospel you read about in Scripture. You can buy it at all the usual places where books are sold.
Secondly, Teesha and I will be at this year’s National Youth Workers Convention in Tampa, Florida. We’ll be doing a pre-conference workshop on fighting racism. We’ll also be doing a break out during the conference. We’d love to meet you and talk all this over. So plan to join us next month in Tampa. The conversations in our workshop and break out will be better if you’re there.
Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in the YS Blog are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the opinion or position of YS.