Jesus Creed

Jesus Creed

The Church, Embracing Grace, and Racism 4

I thought I’d post today on the need for repentance and forgiveness, but instead I want to posit another way of looking at our problem — and it is a problem for whole Church. My contention is that the gospel comes to create the order designed by God — a kingdom order, an ecclesial order, a practicing Pentecost order. The gospel is more than the resolution of judicial bankruptcy, though it is that. It is designed to restore Eikons to their former and intended glory so they will be in union with God and communion with others, for the good of others and the world.
Let’s begin with Matthew 8:5-13:

Matt. 8:5 When he entered Capernaum, a centurion came to him, appealing to him 6 and saying, “Lord, my servant is lying at home paralyzed, in terrible distress.” 7 And he said to him, “I will come and cure him.” 8 The centurion answered, “Lord, I am not worthy to have you come under my roof; but only speak the word, and my servant will be healed. 9 For I also am a man under authority, with soldiers under me; and I say to one, ‘Go,’ and he goes, and to another, ‘Come,’ and he comes, and to my slave, ‘Do this,’ and the slave does it.” 10 When Jesus heard him, he was amazed and said to those who followed him, “Truly I tell you, in no one in Israel have I found such faith. 11 I tell you, many will come from east and west and will eat with Abraham and Isaac and Jacob in the kingdom of heaven, 12 while the heirs of the kingdom will be thrown into the outer darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.” 13 And to the centurion Jesus said, “Go; let it be done for you according to your faith.” And the servant was healed in that hour.


How, I ask, would the following “hear” this text?
1. A charismatic.
2. A white suburban evangelical.
3. Jesse Jackson (he’s easy to predict).
The answers, again dealing with stereotypical answers?
1. Charismatic: Jesus can do miracles even today.
2. White suburban evangelical: Salvation is by faith alone.
3. Jesse Jackson: Ethnic integration.
No one of us should dispute that each is justifiable, but what is the emphasis of the text and of Jesus’ ministry? Jesse Jackson is closest to the intent of the text.
Now, the point we have to learn about is this: we need to learn how to read the text from a Kingdom perspective instead of just from our own perspective. (This, of course, challenges simplistic postmodernity, for pomo types might say it can mean whatever you want it to mean.) One of the nice points of Bob Robinson’s recent posts is that pomo leads us to listen to the voice of the marginalized. We need to learn to be critical of our own readings, to see if our readings are culturally-enmeshed to the degree that we are simply passing off as gospel the powers that be rather than the Power who is to Be.
Now here’s a suggestion. If you haven’t read it or even heard of it, get yourself a copy of Brian K. Blount’s Then the Whisper Put on Flesh, and read about how an African American context can shape what is seen in the ethics of the New Testament. You may not agree with everything he says, but I promise you’ll see things you’ve not seen before. Brian teaches at Princeton, and I’ve never met him. I hope I do someday. We have e-mailed, and I told him how much I appreciated his book. My Jesus of Nazareth students read it last Spring, and we had a good discussion, which is a bit of an accomplishment for an 8am class.
He suggests that the whisper has put on “white flesh” (15) and that it deserves to put on a “flesh of color” (16).
Let me also posit another hermeneutical suggestion: Blount challenges the justification-as-judicial-redemption hermeneutic and summons us to a hermeneutic that is much more in line with Kingdom and therefore liberation (I’ve posted on Kingdom plenty, but my thread is Benedictus/Magnificat/Inaugural sermon/Beatitudes/Reply to John and the early chapters of Acts and Paul’s analogy of the Church as a Body of unity). Blount is not far from this.
African Americans have learned to read the Bible, not so much through the lens of Paul, but through the lens of Moses and the Exodus and Jesus and the Kingdom.
How are we reading the Bible? Are we reading it through a single lens only? Do we know which lens we are using?

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Bryan Murley

posted September 29, 2005 at 7:29 am

I must be a nut, because I don’t “hear” any of those interpretations completely. :-) I hear that God’s healing and grace are available to people regardless of race or ethnic origin who place their faith in Jesus. This might be a conflation of the three “hearings,” although I have the most trouble with hearing the charismatic interpretation from the text in question (specifically the “today” part). Indeed, even the evangelical “sola fide” reading seems forced.
I am “hearing” from Jesus that the doors are open to all, and that no group is preferred over any other on the basis of their birth. Perhaps in that sense, Jackson’s interpretation is closest to the mark.
In some sense, however, your suggestions about “hearings” tracks well with my studies in the theory of interpretive communities (from Stanley Fish), which states that the interpretation of texts (originally, Fish dealt with literary texts, but the theory is applicable to any area of interpreation) is not solely up to individual interpretation, but such interpretation is delimited by the community in which an individual resides (i.e., an academic theologian would read a text with an understanding that differs from an evangelistic preacher, not because the theologian and preacher are individually so different, but because their interpretations are so greatly influenced by the different communities they inhabit).

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D. P.

posted September 29, 2005 at 7:43 am

Thank you for this series of posts. You are putting in words things I have long felt without being able to articulate.

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posted September 29, 2005 at 8:57 am

Mr. McKnight,
So many of the differences between Anglo-Christians and African-American Christians can be traced to the point that your making here.
How do we see Jesus? The African-American experience made the Exodus and Prophets an extremely attractive lense through which to view Jesus and later we have come to appreciate Paul. Anglo-Christians seem to be following the opposite path.
Scott (if I may be so informal, not knowing you), my question is this. Do we need to start reading the scriptures starting with Jesus? Is that possible? Or do we need to start living in community with each other so that a convergence can take place?

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Kerry Doyal

posted September 29, 2005 at 9:52 am

Even just having the thot of needing different, more carefully tuned ears / hearig is a great start.
If I can change the analogy to seeing: My lens may be 20/20, but I may only be seeing the foothills of the mountian, not even knowing the mountian is back there.

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posted September 29, 2005 at 10:26 am

Indeed African Americans have read the biblical narrative primarily through the Exodus story and little through Paul. There has always been a suspicion of Paul. He seemed to uphold the status-quo for many black Christians. I think the recent work on Paul has helped in this regard. After reading Krister Stendahl’s work on Paul and the Introspective Consciousness of the West, N.T. Wright, Horsley, and others I have gained a deeper appreciation for Paul’s writings. Paul is quite a revolutionary figure if we take into consideration many of the recent works done on him.

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posted September 29, 2005 at 12:15 pm

Scot, simply excellent bro. Have you run across Colossians Remixed yet? It is one of those rare pieces of work that seems full spectrum.. it challenged me theologically and also brought me to my knees.
If what we see around us is congregations rather than communities.. if we see organizations which mostly limit the earthly expression of the movement Jesus died to birth, if we see a movement mostly in bed with the Empire… we see many gatherings not much “church”.. then we are witnessing the natural outcome of a gospel that is not the Gospel.
My thesis is this: the true Gospel produces what God intended – authentic and faithful communities of Jesus apprentices who are impacting their world. If what we see around us is not that.. then it is an expression of a gospel that is not the Gospel. When McChurch is the established order we are a long way from ekklesia.

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posted September 29, 2005 at 1:48 pm

Stimulating, thought-provoking, perhaps paradigm-shifting. I may have to read the Bible all over again with a new set of ears and eyes. Thanks Scot.

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Jim Martin

posted September 29, 2005 at 3:55 pm

I was especially struck by the last few lines of your post. “How are we reading the Bible? Are we reading it through a single lens only? Do we know which lens we are using?”
There is such value in just raising the questions. So often, (at least from my heritage and experience), our lens becomes THE lens. Perhaps if we would take more time to understand and appreciate another’s lens, we might come closer to the author’s original intent.
Anyway–found this post and series to be great.

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John Frye

posted September 29, 2005 at 4:09 pm

I have a friend, Dr. David Pilgrim, who created and oversees “The Jim Crow Museum of Racist Memorabilia” in Big Rapids, MI. It contains “everyday stuff” made and distributed in the USA. (You can visit the website) I’ve been challenge to read church history from the bottom up, from the margins, not the privileged center. This is a hard task and I feel like a fledgling. Howver, your posts on the church and racism make this imperative. I’m leaning strongly toward the opinion, other comments notwithstanding, that we cannot be racist and true Christ-followers at the same time.

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Scot McKnight

posted September 29, 2005 at 4:46 pm

Both — both read the Bible afresh and in community because, if our community is genuine, we’ll learn to hear the fullness of its message.
I’ve seen Colossians Remixed, kind of filtered my way through it, and liked what I read.

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Kerry Doyal

posted September 29, 2005 at 5:01 pm

JOHN: “I’m leaning strongly toward the opinion, other comments notwithstanding, that we cannot be racist and true Christ-followers at the same time.”
How about that “Acts 10, Peter on the roof top, Cornelius, take kill & eat” thing? Not to menion the Jewish supremecy that had to be addressed in the Epistles. We cannot stay willingly lodged in racism, but may still find ugly residues of it.

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Bob Robinson

posted September 30, 2005 at 9:12 am

Len mentions Colossians Remixed by Brian J. Walsh and Sylvia C. Keesmaat.
As I read this (and Walsh and Middleton’s companion book, Truth Is Stranger Than It Used to Be: Biblical Faith in a Postmodern Age, I have been struck by the idea that the EXODUS was the primary story of the Old Testament People of God, and that maybe the themes of the EXODUS needs to be seen as a primary theme for the story of the New Testament as well.
It is the story of God liberating a people from slavery and oppression in order to create an alternative non-exploitative community.
No wonder African-Americans have gravitated to this aspect of the Gospel! It is simply the TRUTH! And yet, we whites have been historically suspicious of such an interpretation of the Gospel.

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