Today our good friend and guest contributor, Lisa Robinson, heeds James White’s insistence upon seeing through a gospel lens.
As the kerfuffle involving James White and his observations about a youth he observed has unfolded, needless to say the initial comments and subsequent backlash have been disturbing and leaves me to wonder if we have any hope of coming to consensus on issues of race within the body of Christ.
I don’t really want to rehash what has already been said. Marcos Ortega gave an excellent summary in a recent post. In a way, I do want to follow up on his post and leverage White’s response to my sister Ekemini Uwan’s post about white allies. White castigated the premise of Ekemini’s post, claiming that the problem with his detractors is that they were primarily looking through a racial lens and not a biblical worldview. Succinctly summarized in his title, according to White people just weren’t looking through a gospel lens as he was.
I’ve been stuck on this point about the gospel lens that White proclaims he is looking through, especially since he is convinced that deviations from his perspective accounts for a sub-par, sub-Christian worldview. So it leaves me to ask a basic question: what does seeing the world and its inhabitants through a gospel lens look like?
The starting point of course would be the gospel itself. I think anyone who aligns with Reformed theology can agree: the gospel is God’s rescue of his creation from the clutches of the Fall. That we are all born of Adam’s loins into a condition of sin wrought on by his disobedience is undeniable. The Fall tragically impacted God’s good intention for his creation. So, God set forth an elaborate scheme called the covenant of grace, sourced in redemption through His Son Jesus Christ, to reclaim and restore what was lost. Reclamation was anchored in man’s faith-filled turning to Christ for reconciliation and forgiveness of sins, and will culminate in his return to set everything right.
As I contemplate the historical-redemptive narrative, it occurs to me that the impulse and motivation behind God’s actions for his creation is to reflect the goodness in which he himself created all things. After all, Genesis 1-2 comes before the Fall in Genesis 3. This covenant of life is the starting point of any gospel consideration.
Of course, we know that ultimate redemption does not come until Christ returns, when heaven meets earth in the perfect creation it was intended to be. There, no more death, sin, pain or any other vestige of the Fall’s ugliness can reside (Rev 21:1-4). Yet, we can’t deny the impact of the Fall and how that has wrought havoc in the world. We don’t want to be dismissive of evil and law breaking where it resides. Looking at the world around us and the historical transgressions of the past lets us know that the Fall has had its tentacles within many aspects of life. And by no means can we deny that God’s justice of his creation involves punishment for those reject his law and free gift of grace through the Son.
But while I consider this overarching narrative, it occurs to me that if the gospel involves God’s gracious rescue, it involves hope. Hope for mankind. Hope for justice. Hope for reconciliation. Hope for restoration. And let’s not be Gnostics about it. Hope is not just accepting forgiveness and longing for glory days in heaven, floating around thankful to be rid of every earthly shackle. No, our hope has its expectations in a total reversal of the Fall’s decimation on all creation. Hope, then, must see things as they can be instead of what they are not. Hope brings a kingdom nudge that reminds us of God’s intentional pursuit of his creatures demonstrated throughout Scripture.
So I’m left to ask how looking through a gospel lens results in a hopeless characterization of a belligerent youth. Does the gospel compel us to look at those we think are ruining society because they look a certain way and heap every negative characterization on them? Or does it motivate us to remember there is a Redeemer who can rescue even what might be deemed the most hopeless of situations? It occurs to me that if our Gospel lens begins with Genesis 3, we are likely to see the world according to the tragedy of sin over and above the intention of God to redeem his creation. And that really is a tragedy.
The other day, one of my Facebook friends posted this:
“7 years ago, I was in and out of jail and homeless. Last week, I married my best friend, and today, I started my dream job (I literally get paid to share the Gospel with and aid in the flourishing of the lives of teens in the inner-city). God’s redeeming grace is astounding! I’m a living witness that He can and will redeem any person in any circumstance! Don’t let the news deceive you! God is still in the business of redeeming his people and the world around them through the Cross of Christ!”
Just this past week, I enjoyed some sweet fellowship with two ex-cons who are Reformed, love the Lord and have been touched by his redemptive love. There are so many stories like this: people in our churches whose lives have been turned around because somewhere through someone, God reached out and touched them with the living hope of reconciliation through Christ. I’m trying to imagine what it must have looked like to look at folks engaged in foolery, in questionable behavior and even caught in illegal activity to write them off as those who probably comply with certain statistics. I’m hard pressed to understand how Dr. White could heap damaging generalized traits onto a youth he knew nothing about, attribute to him the ills of society, and then call that a gospel lens.
Finally, consider a rerun of Undercover Boss that I watched recently. The mayor of Pittsburgh went undercover and worked with a carpenter who was a recovering crack cocaine addict and had a passion for ministry to the young boys of the public housing projects where he worked. Why? Because he had hope that these boys could be deterred from a life of unproductivity and crime that claimed so many. I dare say, that this gentleman demonstrates what seeing through a gospel lens looks like. Hope.