Shai Linne didn’t know the difference between a Presbyterian and a pescatarian when he stepped into historic Tenth Presbyterian Church in Philadelphia. It hurt his throat to sing the hymns. He’d been catechized by hip-hop to believe that Islam is a better and cooler choice than Christianity, that Christianity is the white man’s religion. But Shai had been transformed by the power of the gospel.

For Shai, the cultural differences in music and dress never seemed to matter compared to unity in the crucified and risen Christ. Shai became a key figure in the growing movement of Christian hip-hop, musically like Wu-Tang Clan but lyrically like Billy Graham. The style was appealing, but the crowds seemed more excited about Jesus than anything else. He’s convinced that we’ll look back one day on this era, between 2002 and 2012, as a revival much like the Jesus Movement of the late 1960s and early ’70s.

In 2012, ethnic differences began to re-emerge with the shooting death of Trayvon Martin. As Shai writes in his new book, The New Reformation: Finding Hope in the Fight for Ethnic Unity (Moody), the subsequent high-profile shooting deaths of black men and women did not surprise many African Americans. His sense as a 16-year-old was that police beat up black people all the time. But Christian hip-hop began to decline when white and black Christians realized they did not see these incidents the same way. He writes:

White Christians were happy to have us as long as we just rapped about the gospel and kept quiet about the things we talk about among ourselves all the time that deeply affect us. But the moment we expressed the pain we felt about ‘racial injustice,’ many White Christians were quick to dismiss us, rebuke us, or silently ignore us.

Even so, Shai’s book points to hope for ethnic unity. It’s a book that cuts through the anger, sarcasm, unforgiveness, and mockery that characterize much Christian discourse today on this sensitive subject. He points us toward a better way of humility, gentleness, patience, and bearing with one another in love. Apart from massive revival, we may not expect the world to overcome these divisions. But in the church, through the power of the gospel, we can strive for unity and be a clear and compelling witness to the world.

Shai Linne joined me on Gospelbound to discuss the importance of ethnic unity and how we might get there.

Editors’ note: 

This episode Gospelbound is sponsored by The Good Book Company, publisher of Faith For Life. More information at thegoodbook.com.