I personally do not know Thabiti Anyabwile, but I do know his theology and social philosophy; it exists for all to read, daily, weekly, monthly and year-by-year at his blog, Pure Church, which is hosted by The Gospel Coalition. Thus, this essay is not about Thabiti Anyabwile, personally, but theologically and philosophically. Further, it specifically has in view his stated desire for a marginalized people's justice theology to be created and adopted under the umbrella of the Great Commission and the protocols given to the church, the body of Christ.
That said, I do wish to make clear, unlike some of his peers at The Gospel Coalition and beyond, I do not believe Anyabwile to be guilty of theological/ecclesiastical malfeasance. He is sincere, earnest and makes genuine effort to hold himself (beyond the average celebrated Pastor-Bible Teacher) accountable to his own standards. Additionally, he appears, to me, to have a well developed conscience, more so than many. All of these are virtues to some extent.
However, in my view, while all of the above are good and worthwhile, they do not balance out bad thinking regardless of the good motives (and certainly not theology which claims to be conservative while at the same time calling for a an ecclesiastical construct which has been birthed and enlivened by way of leftist or liberal Protestant theology). This cannot be more evident than with his recent histrionic, as I see it, blog essay, Is It “Goodbye Evangelicalism” Or “We Join You In Your Suffering”? (This begs me to ask what collective "we" Anyabwile is referring to, isn't he part of the Evangelical collective?)
Anyabwile’s Demand to the Conservative Evangelical Community
I wish I could write both a long rebuttal to the many unreliable presuppositions contained in Anyabwile’s article (which alone defeats its seriousness) along with its other arguments, while I write this general essay but time simply does not permit. Thus, I will only highlight the climactic point(s) of the article.
In it, Anyabwile builds his argument by claiming blacks are marginalized as a people without being willing to discuss why they collectively, it seems, persist in disadvantage, as if it cannot be known by things other than outside causes identified or presumed by Anyabwile. Then he voices a lament toward inaction by Evangelical leaders regarding injustice saying, “they’ve been silent en masse” (I am certain theological leftists like Tim Keller who lead The Gospel Coalition, as left scratching their heads).
Anyabwile then attempts to enlarge his narrative in claiming that “racist systems and people so disfigure the body it can’t be shown” (in referencing the many funerals of black victims of violence), all the while ignoring that FBI statistics demonstrate that 91% of murders of blacks are black on black. I'm sorry, who is doing the disfiguring dear brother?
His audacious claim is theater, not truth. Thus, my claim of a descent into racial/theological incongruity (or what some might colorfully call “theological madness”) is because someone like Anyabwile, as I have seen him demonstrate, thus believe, knows better than to use such exaggerations and strongly prejudicial descriptions in dealing with serious and multifaceted issues. It seems he has abandoned his good senses in favor of a fictitious and racially-aggrandizing narrative in which he, as I see it, apparently has invested himself so greatly that retreat from this battle and its justification is far passed.
As I said, Anyabwile goes to great lengths to build a case for his grand ultimatum. As you read the article you will observe an absence of finesse, objectivity and full consideration of all possibilities, at least in my view. He is judge, jury and executioner (metaphorically speaking, of course). He begins and ends in a tightly formed narrow peep-hole which permits his view and his alone. Thus, he ends where any good self-righting crusader is expected to end, with the demand of believe or perish (metaphorically speaking, again). Finally, he comes to what he calls “The Call”. And here it is:
So here’s my call: Let there be the founding of a new conservative evangelical body with the aim of (1) providing clear, understandable, biblical theological frameworks for the pressing problems of the marginalized coupled with (2) organized calls to action and campaigns consistent with that framework. Let there be a body tasked with answering, “What does the Bible say about justice and mercy for the vulnerable and weak (of which there are many such groups)?” and stating, “Here then is a biblically-informed campaign for a genuine evangelical church living out that faith.” Let the leaders of the movement stand as leaders in this moment.
Following this are some details in which he prescribes to Evangelicalism the task of coming up with a “how to think, and how to act in these moments” theology, as if the “conservative church” has never historically or recently taught relative principles to such events (again principles he may not identify as such seeing they do not agree with his presuppositions and conclusions).
His incredulity does not stop there. He goes on to bemoan (because he is “soul-deep tired”), with veiled accusations toward the majority culture and specifically evangelicalism, many alleged failures (ultimately this has to be white society/white evangelicalism as the perpetrator as I deduce since he is talking to America) :
“How long evangelicalism before you show deep Christian love for your neighbor?” “How long evangelicalism before you both preach the gospel and show compassion?” “How long evangelicalism before you stop putting people on trial before you grant them your mercy?” “How long before you turn off the television and turn on the porch light for a neighbor?” “How long before you weep openly for someone that doesn’t look like you, earn what you earn, live where you live?” “How long before you stop reflexively identifying with the perpetrators and system administrators and at least show equal empathy for the outcast?” How long? How long before you come on out and say with loud unequivocal voice, “This is wrong!”Could Soul-Tiredness be from Something Else?
Could it be, Thabiti, your soul is tired and worn out by your pursuing only what God has promised in the next life? That your soul is weary because of emphasizing the wrong thing as a minister of the gospel and chasing the ghosts of a liberal utopia that cannot exist on earth and of swallowing many unorthodox ideas, narratives and theologies which have produced in you, unwarranted and unjust expectations of your brother and sister evangelicals resulting in you painting them in a light so unfavorable that you now crusade with unbridled passion against them with charges for which you appear to have but anecdotal evidence or very general claims? Yes that too will make one’s soul tired, dear brother.
The Fundamental Problem(s) with Anyabwile’s Call
First and foremost, there need be no “founding of a new conservative evangelical body”, we have one, and it is called, the church, the body of Christ. Are you, Mr. Anyabwile, suggesting a schism in the body; that we deliberately form a body within a body with “special interests” which do not either include the rest of the body or demand the rest of the body now revolved around this special interest? Because, brother Anyabwile, you do know that the body revolves, not around racial and/or social interests but around Christ and spiritual interests for his all of his people without distinction and toward the unsaved world we do so with the gospel, right? Is this a new paradigm you are designing?
Secondly, this has been done, over and over again by many, even in the conservative (whatever this means to you, Mr. Anyabwile, and the rest of us who likely all have something imprecise in view) sect of Christianity but likely you are unaware since you do not recognize any form, it seems, other than your own articulations on the matter. The fact is, dear confused brother, what you are proposing assumes certain propositions that are founded in liberal or leftist Protestant theology as well as their subsequent wayward conclusions and endeavors.
That is to say, you have charged the church to do this with both presuppositions and assumed conclusions that apparently you have special insight into and now demand acquiescence to! Have you considered that what is reflected in your essay and its very prejudiced and narrow narrative might not be what would be reflected in the product, even if such a body were formed for the advancement of race based and/or special interest theology?
Maybe, brother Anyabwile, someone will bring up Philippians 4:12, where we are exampled to learn how to be content, whether abounding or abasing. How does that work out in its application? Which brings me to a point.
Secular Regulations/Protocols vs. Christian/Spiritual Regulations Protocols
While social constructs are legitimate concerns of any member of any society and God frees us, as citizens, to pursue a better government and more righteous state, both individually and corporately, spiritual tenets which are prescribed only to believers (seeing they operate only under the Spirit empowerment of a regenerated individual) cannot apply to the rest of society.
Special and exceptional Christian/spiritual protocols for the believer only apply in that context. Unfortunately, in many of your essays, brother Anyabwile, you mix social contexts with spiritual contexts and passages meant for spiritually enlivened people (of which the general population of a state is never presumed in Scripture to recipients of these special orders, rather only the confessing Christian community), as if society in general can adopt these as social protocols. Thus, your prescriptions often are faulty in and of themselves, just from your lack of distinction between contexts which result in your use outside of proper contexts.
Yes, there are divine protocols for secular or human government but in Scripture there are very few that are absolute. Your discussion about justice assumes so many conclusions and divine rights which simply are not present in Scripture.
Moralizing Government forms and Personal Rights
Let’s take voting, for example. Is voting for a public official a divine right given to all humanity? No, that is nowhere found in the Bible. Suppose you live in a Monarchy, then what? I guess it is time to overthrow the Monarchy because no one is getting to vote?
The Bible does not present governmental forms in any nuanced manner as just or unjust, nor do the Scriptures present civil rights within a society with any detail as divinely ordained (all with the exception of the theocracy of Israel, a divine institution which, regardless of one’s theology, all recognize as nullified at this time). That is because, while nationalism/government itself is a divine institution and its function is intended to follow some elementary prescriptions, its details are determined by its people, its citizens.
What You Describe is the Work, not of the Church and its Resources, but of a People, its Government and Its Resources
The church, God’s bride, does not exist to determine the course of social matters and more specifically build in theory and then demand, in practice, special social constructs they view as more socially just than others. It can and must point out Biblical principles as it relates to God’s desire for divine institutions such as nationalism/government, marriage and so forth. But to build proprietary governmental constructs (specific forms of government) and demand they be employed, all in the name of God, is not the church’s call nor license. Those details beyond general principles are left for those people and their government to work out. And this, in my view, is the ultimate reach you wish to have with this new body.
Yes, Christian Citizens May and Must Involve Themselves in Government
And yes, it may involve Christian citizens whose value system is unique but contributory toward a good society. Still, even when believers are involved they are not so in the name of the church but in the name of their citizenry (and by God but all men, saved and unsaved, are equally called by God to involve themselves in government), that is, their human membership to a society and its national/governmental identity.
Thus, social justice in its detail and policy is a matter of social liberty in which such arguments, policy formation and empowerment are devised in the appropriate context, social/governmental contexts. The church is not called nor permitted to begin assigning moral status to governmental forms and governmental details, including civil order, where the Word of God does not.
Are there Biblical principles which can possibly shine a light on details? Yes, but most are not binding in any conclusive manner and may not be treated as dogma, which, again, seems the intent of your reach, Mr. Anyabwile.
Martin Luther King and the Civil Rights Movement’s Co-Opting of the Persecuted Hebrew Narrative: The Misuse of Scripture to Turn Social Issues into Moral Issues
The title of this segment is what was done by Martin Luther King in co-opting the Moses/Hebrew persecuted narrative in order to make civil rights for blacks a moral issue and not a social one. Now, I agree with King constitutionally, but not morally. That is to say, he did not have a Biblical commission, though he had a Biblical freedom, in his quest for civil rights. Ultimately, he did have a constitutional point which eventually is what convinced many lawmakers.
Unfortunately, King’s turning civil rights into a matter of morality thus, sin (that is to say, to deny civil rights is equal to a sin against God because God demands equal social rights for all people, which is not in the Bible anywhere but King and others elevated their arguments so successfully that this is the subconscious approach by society). Civil rights, as a moral issue, is a conclusion based on proof-texting which, unfortunately, became the model by which much of the church approaches racial issues seeing they dare not be labeled a “racist” – what a weapon that is – or be found guilty of promoting the “sin” of not agreeing with certain views of social justice.
Consequently, but erroneously, it no longer is a social issue in the minds of much of society including many Evangelicals, rather it is categorically a moral/sin issue. Thus, there can only be one right answer and to disagree is to take the side of sin, how dare we, eh? And let me guess, brother Anyabwile, your side is the righteous side and to disagree is to be…?
What, then is the Role of the Church?
Is the church, thereby to be impotent on principles of justice? Has anyone suggested such? I observe that different conclusions have been arrived at by Pastors and Bible Teachers down through the ages on this broad topic which, in and of itself, ought to inform us that crusadership mentality on such matters is destructive and never a means to a well-vetted social philosophy.
Marriage as the Example
The divine institution of marriage is given to mankind by God for his perpetuity. There are binding Biblical principles for all human marriages and exceptional or further ones for Christians who are married. The church is to teach on the subject with regard to what the Bible revels, both dogmatically and in principle.
However, apart from dogma and even toward principles which are applied by the two marriage officers as they see fit per their conscience before God, it is not the church’s role (because they are not licensed by God) to begin to attempt to micro-manage domestic administrations. When a child feels there is an injustice, does he or she appeal to the church? Certainly not.
The church isn’t the arbitrator of domestic conflicts nor governmental. Each has officers for that. In marriage it is a husband and wife, there are no other officers. The church cannot insert itself, rightfully, into a marriage and start demanding things a go a certain way. That isn’t the role of the church to usurp such authority, though it has been known to do this.
Jimmy got Ice Cream but Susie Didn’t
So let’s take it a step further. Last Sunday, little Jimmy was permitted a bowl of ice cream while Susie, his sister, wasn’t. She appealed to the church and asked the church to form a body who will speak on her right to receive what Jimmy receives, in her family. The church responds, “Sorry Susie, we will teach what explicit dogma is and then, by way of affinity, the order of principles for conduct in marriage and family, to your parents as members of the church. However, no such demand exists in Scripture that if you do not get ice cream like Jimmy, an injustice has occurred.” Little Susie said she is going to get some friends and protest outside her home and show the world what terrible parents she has. Her view of justice is not being affirmed and isn’t all so obvious?
The Same Principle Applies to Government
There is no Biblically presented right to many privileges we have in the United States. These are considered constitutional rights, not Biblical ones. Sadly, much of society has heightened the role of social privileges to that of Biblical rights, thus we have the crusading mentality and efforts with all of its anger and hostility present in our country.
How a national government or any government’s administration is constructed and carried out is not prescribed by the Bible in any real detail. The Bible talks about justice, indeed, but leaves those weights to hearts and minds of its people, something for which I am sure they will account.
In that manner, if Anyabwile were speaking and placing his efforts, as a citizen and constitutionally, even with Biblical principles in mind (with the willingness to concede he lacks commission for dogmatic insistence on many points because many principles are debatable in both interpretation and application and when he doesn’t get his way he may not parade around crusading in protest how wrong, sinful or evil those who denied his view are), he would have a proper context for his efforts. But he isn’t doing that nor suggesting that.
He is, in how I read him, attempting to recruit the church and formulate within the church, a specific prescription for what racial justice must look like in a specific society and national government (yes he did refer more largely to marginalized people but his emphasis and devotion in the article was mainly toward race. Also, remember he said this body formed for racial justice theology should teach the church “how to think, and how to act in these moments”, wow, talk about out of line micromanaging the private consciences of believer priests) And within his essay and other essays, he certainly has revealed that he has very specific conclusions in mind which all others ought to be coming to, suggesting a morally superior position on debatable issues which he does not have.
Anyabwile’s Trend, A Racial Preoccupation?
Finally, I have noticed over the past few years a graduation from broad ministerial emphasis on Reformed theology and Christocentricism in writing by Thabiti Anyabwile to one which has become increasingly race conscious. This and similar isolated pursuits by Ministers reduces them in ways they do not notice.
And I say this, not without prima facie support, as I see it. I suggest you spend some time looking through the history of his work and you will find an increasing devotion, at his website, to racial identification and its relevance.
A Christian minister is not a minister on behalf of blacks, whites, or any other group, they are so on behalf of Christ to toward their brothers and sisters in the Lord. Unfortunately, in my view, he seems to be drawn to racial polarization in his ministry. The call of the Shepherd in the church is not to right to social injustices of the world but to right to spiritual deprivation by preaching the good news of Christ.
Does this mean he may never work as a citizen for good? Of course not. But he is not doing this outside of the church. Rather, as I said earlier, he is attempting to recruit the church and its resources for a specific social justice end, one he has in view and wishes to prescribe to the country/state in the name of God’s Word, hence God himself. I believe he has been overtaken in this matter and is losing his way, very quickly, theologically.
The people you wish to find, brother Anyabwile, exist. They have a very developed social justice theology. But what you are wishing for does not exist. To formulate what you desire and see as right is a social justice theology which comes from the mind of a liberal/leftist Protestant which came to life in the 1950’s and 60’s. There is a reason a conservative body who holds to this theology does not exist, the two are not compatible.
Racial and ethnic conflicts between the unbelieving world, I believe, has some remedial answers. Answers, however, I also am convinced much of the world cannot endure.
However, I do not speak to the unbelieving world but to the believing world. We, in Christ, are co-heirs and have equal opportunity and equal access to Christ and his riches. He works, without distinction, in our lives, in bringing his promises to pass.
This does not mean your social context will improve, that is not his promise to us. He has promised us spiritual riches, wisdom and understanding. By these you will know the good and perfect will of God.
My suggestion is that you permit God to be your problem solver by applying his promises. Certainly Christian Brother, wherever you live, you have a right to pursue a better social order for yourself and fellow citizens but that is not a spiritual issue, it is a social one.
This is why God told slaves to be content and to work as though working for Christ. Not that they could not seek freedom but that the betterment of their social context was not the objective of Christ, which comes later, in the eternal life with the eternal body. Thus, our battle and preoccupation is a spiritual one.
Is God so weak that as a slave he cannot make you an invisible hero where your glory will be revealed at Christ’s return, though it appears to the world you are but nothing? But you are not a slave, you have so much freedom the world is still running to America for that freedom. Yet, it is not enough for some Christians because their emphasis is on this world accommodating them, affirming them and vindicating them when Christ said, he will come to do that for his children.