Dear Douglas

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Thank you for yours dated Monday, April 9. I appreciate the tone and content of most of what you’ve written. It may surprise you, or perhaps many onlookers to this exchange, that I very nearly agree with you at every point. You actually make a stronger case for a people’s complicity in inter-generational sin than I do! Thank you.

I would agree with you at every point were my post a sermon. But it was not. So I felt no obligation to “get to the cross” in those posts as I do in preaching.

Indeed, contrary to what many have falsely exclaimed, I make it a discipline as best I’m able to preach the gospel of our Lord in every sermon. This is a requirement in the pulpit I have the privilege of leading. It’s what I do at public events—like Prison Fellowship’s event this past Saturday in support of people returning to the community from prison. Even at pastors’ conferences where the overwhelming majority of attendees are thought to be Christians, I not only typically preach the facts of the gospel but try also to articulate the blessed benefits of the gospel and call people to repentance and faith as if there might just be one person in the room not yet a believer or one person there deceiving themselves.

I am, and hope to be until I die or Christ returns, a gospel preacher.

The Gospel in Every Post, Though?

But the posts you cite are not as you point out gospel preachments. I don’t feel obligated to include a discussion of the gospel in every blog post. I’m sure you can appreciate that, since including the gospel in every post or assuaging the consciences of readers with the gospel is not your practice either. I’ve read quite a number of rhetorical thrusts from your keyboard that lacked the gospel grace you so beautifully describe in your post. In fact, I’ve read quite a few things from your pen that seemed to me to lack any grace at all. You’ve defended having a “serrated edge” to your writing as a necessary thing when dealing with certain groups of people you find recalcitrant.

So, I wonder why you’ve taken such offense when I have spoken plainly and perhaps without grace about the sins of a time past and a people obdurate in the face of the Scripture and sound rebuke. It seems rather inconsistent of you. Moreover, in those posts where you too do not expound the gospel, you fail to show the very gospel urgency you insist on here. Must we only get to forgiveness now and tonight when the charge is racism but we’re fine to leave it off when blasting other sins?

Cheap Grace?

Perhaps you and I disagree about what should be front-loaded in racial reconciliation exchanges. You have called for the pronouncement of “no condemnation” and here call for a swift move to that only solution to man’s sins—the Person and work of Jesus Christ.

What I think you fail to comprehend is that the debate isn’t really about the gospel. It’s about whether truth is necessary for reconciliation and whether that truth-telling must come first. I think it is and it must.

You seem to envision a gospel that produces freedom without first requiring we tell the truth about our sins and repent of them. You seem to envision a Christian life unlike Luther’s wherein the Reformer understands that when Christ called us to repent he meant that we should keep on repenting.

It’s curious that you should hasten to the freedom the gospel gives after admitting in both biblical and historical example the complicity of which I spoke. If we agree about such complicity, how can it be wrong to point it out and to call for acknowledgement of it? If we agree about such complicity, how can we move so rapidly to the benefits of atonement while so many people around us at this very moment are decrying any charge of complicity itself?

You see, good gospel preaching still does what the ancients called “a good Law work.” Unless the thunders of Sinai frighten and awaken, men will not see the beauty of Calvary. The gospel first condemns us—you are guilty and need to repent—before it heals us. The effect of your post is to heal the wound lightly and to offer what I fear is a cheap grace rather than that grace that teaches us to renounce ungodliness and worldly passions and to pursue godliness, self-control, and uprightness (Titus 2:11ff). I asked people to say “No” to the ungodliness so well documented and you seem to want to say, “Yeah, but don’t worry about it very much.”

If any of what I say here is true, that, Douglas, is cheap grace.

Insinuations and White People

Now about the insinuation that I am somehow profiting off “white guilt,” it might be helpful if you substantiated your charge or perhaps clarify what you mean. As far as I can tell, I’ve faced a range of reactions from disagreement to open hostility for pointing out what I think was the characteristic sin of white Americans, including Christians, in the 1950-’60s and calling people today to admit it was true. I’m unaware of any profit of any sort. I certainly don’t write these things for popularity, just as I don’t think you write about hard things (say, homosexuality) expecting the universal applause of man or to exploit some guilt somewhere. I’m no martyr, and I don’t feel particularly courageous. But as best I know my own heart, I’m not after the light plaudits of people you describe as suffering from “evangeliguilt.”

Speaking of which, how is it that you can speak in such sweeping terms about a whole class of currently living people (white people, at that) to charge them with a weakness largely debatable and it be okay, but I cannot speak of a class of mostly deceased people whose records of sin are public and available to all without people being offended? Or, why can you (in my opinion, rightly) point to the cultural sins of African Americans or Americans in general and it be an exercise in truth-telling without prejudice, but my doing that is tantamount to abandoning the gospel, Marxism, and a host of other things? That’s at least inconsistent and quite possibly hypocrisy.

But in all of it, I think your opinions of white people are lower than mine. I believe the Spirit and grace of God can lead to genuine repentance and the conscience mercifully pricked can lead to tremendous fruit and grace. However, you seem to cast it all as white pandering. I think that’s beneath the people you criticize who, for the most part, are not “around me” but largely unknown to me. They’re onlookers on social media who have no reason to lie and no reward to gain by admitting their own faults and failures. If you knew me and the white people around me with whom I have these conversations you would not for a moment reach the unrighteous judgment you doled out in that post.

Conclusion

I don’t intend to have a back-and-forth with you at the length of our exchange on Black and Tan. This post will pretty much be my only response.

But let me sign off with this: It is not the mere articulation of the gospel in blog posts or the mere proclamation of the gospel in sermons that works the kind of new covenant and coming kingdom realities we hope to see in the world. Gospel preaching and writing are necessary, but they are not sufficient. We’ve had centuries of that “gospel preaching” that makes much of the cross and Christ while making light of sins the apostle defines as “contrary to the sound doctrine that conforms to the gospel” (1 Tim. 1). That “gospel preaching” has left us segregated churches with hardly a conscience bothered. That “gospel preaching” has been comfortable with the ownership of slaves while risking life and liberty against the British. That “gospel preaching” has made a fuss about seeing Jesus in heaven while allowing people to live like the Devil. And the heirs of that “gospel preaching” call on everyone to “just preach the gospel” perhaps because they instinctively know that kind of “gospel preaching” won’t cost them anything and they can go right on enjoying the complicity (whether abortion, Jim Crow, whatever).

We have had enough of that “gospel preaching” that will not confront a person or a people in their sin. It’s the “gospel preaching” of false prophets and the unrepentant religious. That kind of preaching is what prompted our holy God, who begins his judgment with his own household, to say long ago:

14 They have healed the wound of my people lightly,
    saying, ‘Peace, peace,’
    when there is no peace.
15 Were they ashamed when they committed abomination?
    No, they were not at all ashamed;
    they did not know how to blush.
Therefore they shall fall among those who fall;
    at the time that I punish them, they shall be overthrown,”
says the LORD.

16 Thus says the LORD:
“Stand by the roads, and look,
    and ask for the ancient paths,
where the good way is; and walk in it,
    and find rest for your souls.
But they said, ‘We will not walk in it.’
17 I set watchmen over you, saying,
    ‘Pay attention to the sound of the trumpet!’
But they said, ‘We will not pay attention.’
18 Therefore hear, O nations,
    and know, O congregation, what will happen to them.
19 Hear, O earth; behold, I am bringing disaster upon this people,
    the fruit of their devices,
because they have not paid attention to my words;
    and as for my law, they have rejected it.
20 What use to me is frankincense that comes from Sheba,
    or sweet cane from a distant land?
Your burnt offerings are not acceptable,
    nor your sacrifices pleasing to me.
21 Therefore thus says the LORD:
‘Behold, I will lay before this people
    stumbling blocks against which they shall stumble;
fathers and sons together,
    neighbor and friend shall perish.’” (Jer. 6:14-21)

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