Thabiti and TGC: A Response | The Baptist Reformation

People.

The object of the second greatest commandment in Scripture is people. It would, then, be no surprise to the outsider looking in that the church must be concerned with one another. We know one another by our love for one another. This is a distinguishing mark of the true Church. Love, for my family in Christ and love for those outside the church, even those who look at the church with the most hostile of gazes, should be an essential part of my life as a Christian.

That is why I must address what is being said by Thabiti Anyabwile.

Now, before the reader even gets past this line, there will be snarks, whispers, and perhaps even proclamations that will suggest I’m writing this because I’m not #Woke. Maybe I’m just not credible because, after all, as a white man I simply cannot give up the privileges afforded to me by my white slave-owning ancestors and privileged parents. In any case, opposition will come, but I do hope to find some thoughtful responses to what I have to say.

MLK50 and The Gospel Coalition

The context of my response and Thabiti Anyabwile’s words is the Martin Luther King Jr. Conference sponsored by The Gospel Coalition. It took place April 3rd-4th and sought to speak into issues surrounding race. There were several speakers, including Matt Chandler, John Piper, Trip Lee and others.

The “Art” of the Generalization

I need to preface with what I believe to be most destructive to this discussion on race: hasty generalizations.

I have written a number of blog posts on this topic in which I deal extensively with two types of generalizations. Generalizations are all the rage these days. They’re easy, provocative, and they do make a point. In that series I affirm that a generalization can be made in one of two ways. The first way is hastily. I define a hasty generalization as an unwarranted or unsupported claim about a group of people. The other type of generalization is a warranted generalization. These kinds of generalizations are justified by things like statistics, for example. “Most American citizens above the age of 18 have a right to vote,” is a generalization, but it’s warranted because that pertains to a general law of the land.

Our modern race-talk lacks the nuance necessary to produce many, if any, warranted generalizations. Often times, I have found there to be too much emotion tied up in the discussion which often leads to charged words and sloppy responses. This has only served to substantially degrade the situation. One reason for this is because the side being called to “repentance”—in this case the very general white evangelical demographic—is pushed further away. This doesn’t provide a conducive atmosphere for productive discussion on these issues.

Generalized people, especially when many of them disagree with the proposed warrant on a factual basis, are pushed out of the discussion primarily because they do not find any free air in the submarine! Every breath they take is used for their own demise while a great number of opponents continue to label this dissenting group what it wishes (privileged, racist, uninformed, etc). Anything said in response to the populace in the submarine is a use of the populace’s oxygen, and that has to change.

To be clearer, this movement often decides to write off any carefully thought-out response before the respondent can even be heard. The movement has taken a narrative for granted and any rational questioner of the movement is told they are blinded to their privilege; they are “uncle Toms (in the case they possess darker melanin),” etc. This is an across-the-board dismissal. This movement will write off anyone, no matter their skin color, experiences, etc. They claim a monopoly on the truth.

Thabiti’s Two Articles

Thabiti recently wrote two articles. The first article is about white people and their responsibility in the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. The second article is a follow-up to the first, as a result of blow back.

The First Article

Let’s start with the first article, ‘We Await Repentance for Assassinating Dr. King‘. Most of the rhetoric in the article does not deliver on the actual title. He does, however, write something pretty disturbing. Were all whites guilty of one man’s sin? Are whites obligated to apologize for their ancestor’s actions or worldviews? Let’s see what Anyabwile thinks:

I don’t need all white people to feel guilty about the 1950s and 60s—especially those who weren’t even alive. But I do need all of us to suspect that sin isn’t done working its way through society. I do need all my neighbors—especially my brothers and sisters in Christ—to recognize that no sin has ever been eliminated from the world and certainly not eliminated simply with the passage of time and a willingness of some people to act as if it was never there. If this country will make any significant stride toward freedom, it must have enough courage to at least make it clear that Dr. King didn’t just “die” but was “assassinated,” “murdered,” “violently killed” and with the approval of far too many in this country.

Seems well-intended enough, right? Thabiti seems to imply the whites of this generation are not guilty. But then he goes on to claim this same group needs to repent. He writes:

Until and unless there is repentance of this animus and murderous hatred, the country will remain imprisoned to a seared conscience. Until this country and the Church learns to confess its particular sins particularly, we will not overcome the Adamic hostility that infects the human soul and distorts human potential.

In the first quotation, Thabiti explicitly said he doesn’t “need” white people to feel guilty about the segregation of 1950s and the 1960s… especially if those white people weren’t alive. But then he goes on to mention repentance in reference to that same group of people. Immediately, a question arises. How do people who don’t need to feel guilty about 50s and 60s also need to repent concerning what happened in the 50s and 60s? Are we supposed to take upon ourselves the guilt of others? Are we guilty and not guilty somehow? What’s he trying to say here? He clarifies:

My white neighbors and Christian brethren can start by at least saying their parents and grandparents and this country are complicit in murdering a man who only preached love and justice.

So, young people must incriminate their parents on the basis of someone else’s sin (i.e. James Earl Ray)? I’m absolutely baffled by this article because it takes a completely anti-biblical line of reasoning and cloaks it in biblical language. First, Thabiti wants to say MLK’s assassin is the representative of an entire ethnic group in America. He also mentions the biblical head of sinful people, Adam. Is there another representative we’re missing here? The only other federal representative I know of is Jesus Christ—the new Adam. Second, how in the world would this corporate repentance fix anything? Repentance is followed by action; what action is required here? It would pay lip service, that’s for sure; but how would it fix the problem? Third, how does this work in our contemporary context?

Are all black people who are alive today guilty of the infanticide happening to black babies at Planned Parenthood? It sure seems like that’s where Thabiti’s reasoning is taking him. Is Thabiti complicit in the crime of abortion just because a lot of other black people have decided to murder their children? Surely that would be nonsense to any rational human being.

The Second Article

If you thought his words in the first article were rather odd and even unbiblical, the second article might have you scratching your head even more. Thabiti realized people were upset because of his first article. Who wouldn’t be? After all, he did basically incriminate a bunch of people’s parents and grandparents, many of whom were decidedly not racist. But he doesn’t acknowledge any of this in his follow-up article.

Instead, he characterizes those who disagree with him as if they were responding to the more reasonable things he said. The problem, however, is that the majority of people responding to his article were responding to the paragraphs quoted above. He writes:

Yesterday, reflecting on the 50th anniversary of the assassination of Dr. King, I wrote that until white neighbors and Christians could admit he was murdered (and didn’t just “die”) and that his murder was the result of 1950-60s white supremacy, racism, etc., we would not heal as we ought and make progress as we ought.

He has only deepened the chasm of division and has obscured the situation to the point where profitable discussion is almost an impossibility. Let’s see if he gets better:

That should not be a controversial statement to anyone familiar with the facts of the country’s history or anyone who has viewed even an introductory documentary on the Civil Rights Movement. What is racial segregation but a society-wide commitment to racism and white supremacy? What is the willful assassination of a Christian preacher because he is African American and opposed to segregation but the forces of hate unleashing itself against the preacher of love and justice? What are the many professing Christians marching and protesting in opposition to other professing Christians seeking basic civil rights but a sneering, shouting, sometimes violent demonstration that the sin of the country was also the sin of the Church?

Demonstrably, this doesn’t get at the heart of Thabiti’s previous article. He did not address the most inflammatory part of his piece, namely, that white Christians need to recognize the sins of their parents and grandparents. And, by the way, he assumes this based on people’s skin color (last I checked, this is textbook racism at work). As I mentioned above, hasty generalizations will get us nowhere. Thabiti is on a downward spiral, headed toward destroying unity rather than restoring it.

He goes on to say:

Admitting the racism and white supremacy of the 1950-60s should not be difficult.

But some people were “angered” by my writing that post. The now customary dismissals and Twitter outrage followed.

But stop for a moment and ask, “Why is this hard to admit?” Why is something so well documented and demonstrable such a difficult thing to acknowledge by some people? Why would a straight-faced denunciation of something so evil be considered unkind and unloving?

Again, Thabiti is inaccurately characterizing his own article. No one is angry because he claimed racism existed in the 1950s and 60s. Everyone knows and agrees with that. No one is denying that it was a racist behind the assassination of MLK. No one is denying the various supremacy groups during that time and prior. People are upset that Thabiti has mischaracterized a biblical definition of sin, making a group of people guilty of the sin of James Earl Ray, without exception.

This is not New Covenant justice, contrary to his claims.

People are upset that Thabiti has virtually condemned a swath of people without warrant. There are many who are offended at these articles for a very basic, emotional, reason. I’m sure many immediately thought of a grandparent or parent who has been influential in their lives, for the better, as they read Thabiti’s harsh (and inaccurate) words.

So, to sum up how this all looks: Thabiti wrote something inflammatory in his first article that actually worked to degrade the situation. Then, in his second article, he soft-peddled his first article to get himself off the hook and to make the angered party look bad.

“Why is this hard to admit?” he asks. Why is what hard to admit, exactly? His second article didn’t really mention anything that was hard to admit. His first article, however, did. It not only mentioned something hard to admit, it was a total mischaracterization of the doctrine of sin and the gospel itself. This is simply not how we hold each other accountable within the Church.

Finally, Thabiti writes:

The gospel begins with “Repent….” All the good of the gospel follows that action of admitting and turning. We wonder why “gospel-preaching churches” aren’t seeing more progress in racial reconciliation. Might I simply suggest that progress–of all sorts–begins with admitting.

If churches truly preach the gospel, they’re doing what they’ve been ordered to do by Christ Himself. Unbiblically admitting corporate guilt and biblical repentance unto new life in Christ are two very different things. This is the earmark of Thabiti’s gospel-distortion. He shifts the responsibilities of Adam and the New Adam upon an ethnic group (white people) based on two things: (1) They’re white; and (2) they, or their loved ones, lived during the 50s and 60s. Twisting the gospel into a social justice experiment is stomach-churning.

First, white people can’t be federal heads. That’s not how corporate repentance works in the Bible. In fact, even the corporate repentance in the Old Testament happened on the basis of Israel’s covenant relationship to God. There are no Scriptural examples of repentance appropriated based upon skin color. Second, if one is in Christ, he’s a new creation and is being sanctified according to the Spirit of God. If there is right preaching over a congregation of regenerate people, change will happen no matter whether or not a particular social issue is mentioned from the pulpit.

This is simply what God has promised. But Thabiti seems to lack faith in this promise, that God will faithfully complete what He has started by various means of grace.

People.

The object of the second greatest commandment in Scripture is people. I think, and I think many others do as well, Thabiti has done more harm than good in his two most recent articles. He’s hurt people and he’s done it by distorting the gospel. It’s one thing to have hurt feelings about something said concerning a parent or grandparent, it’s another thing when the gospel is mischaracterized in order to incriminate people for something they didn’t do.

I think another clarifying article is in order for Mr. Anyabwile. An honest one.

 

30 thoughts on “Thabiti and TGC: A Response | The Baptist Reformation

  1. Thank you for your unemotional, well-reasoned analysis of Mr Anyabwile’s unbiblical series of posts. You actually captured my thoughts & emotions perfectly. After reading his posts, I immediately thought of my mother & father, who taught me about the evils of racism from my earliest memories, neither of whom lived a life of privilege. My father was the oldest of 5, adandoned by his alchoholic father, forced to live on his own, working on a cattle ranch in Idaho, to feed his mother & 4 siblings, at the age of 13. My mother picked cotton side by side with poor black families in Texas, as young as 5 or 6 years old, just for survival. My maternal, great grandmother was a full blooded Cherokee, married to my great grandfather, an intenerent Baptist preacher who traveled by horseback to poor churches preaching the Gospel, ministering to families of all ethnicities. My grandmother always said thet they were “as poor as Job’s turkey” but were always joyous in the Lord. None of my ancestors owned slaves. So, yes, I have nothing to repent of when it comes to the assasination of any man, nor do I need to repent of any oppression of black people simply because I’m a white man who was a small child when Martin Luther King, Jr. was murdered.

      1. You have articulated very well the problems with Thabiti’s rhetoric. And it’s actually worse than rhetoric because it is not just words designed to persuade, but a wicked distortion of reality that will only (and already has) cause division and strife.
        I’ve seen things like this written by him before (i.e. Surrounding the 2016 US election) and have long been very wary of him as a “Christian” leader. The danger comes from his position (at least to this point) in christendom and in reformed circles. And sadly, as you said, he cloaks his distortion of the gospel in biblical language. He will answer for that someday.

        Thank you for your thoughtfulness in writing this. I hope it is widely read.
        God bless.

  2. It is so sad that Mark Dever unleashed this nut case upon the SBC and evangelicalism in general. Wow, why has anyone taken this Marxist seriously the last few years?

  3. You put words in Thabiti’s mouth and missed the obvious. Racism is present tense and needs to be repented of. Presently we need Christ for Trump supporting fake news advocate who blame every Black man that’s killed by police. The hatred of the South is almost unchanged since the Civil War.

    Neither of you has preached Christ, love to the racist and the afflicted. You’ve just blamed him for pointing out sin. Satan loves the division and the lack of gospel going forth.

    1. I do not think I put words in his mouth at all. Please re-read his words: “My white neighbors and Christian brethren can start by at least saying their parents and grandparents and this country are complicit in murdering a man who only preached love and justice.”

  4. Well said. It seems to me that the primary issue here is the fundamental worldview assumed by the racial reconciliation of Thabiti and TGC. The assumption is that the only way to look at or understand race is in the same manner the secular world does. This is assumed at such a fundamental level that when others suggests to these guys that their view of race is not biblical, they retort that we are racist or, as you said above, just not “#woke” enough. The idea that gospel centered churches are not diverse because they are white is ridiculous. I think the issue is that most black (and white) Christians have bought into this race narrative of the culture. This narrative only serves to push people further apart by highlighting race as a valid division of our culture and people. I can not help but think of the words of Martin Luther King in his famous “I have a dream” speech. A speech that was all about the message that no one should be categorized by the color of their skin. This is fundamentally the message of the cross as well. In Christ there is literally no black or white, Jew or Greek, slave nor free. We can only break down barriers by preaching the truth that the barriers are only figments of sinful imaginations, not by giving lectures on how tall or thick those barriers are. The message of the church is the only one that can bring full reconciliation is the message of the truth that in Christ we are one. It upsets me that a group with the word “Gospel” inits title seems to have forgotten this and bought into the culture’s racial narrative.

  5. Perhaps if you started your article by exclaiming how heinous the murder of MLK was. How despicable the racism and actions of thousands of white supremacists who claimed to be Christian. I don’t think he is asking you to repent for the sins of others. Just perhaps that the past actions of others were sinful and recognise the sin in your own hearts. It’s the silence that is deafening and offensive. I think you have misread his articles, I think you are projecting a stand point onto his words that are not his intention. You have been mean spirited opposed to being generous. But I’m a white European so maybe I just don’t get it.

    1. Started my article with (1) a subject it’s not even about and (2) with stating the obvious? I do not see how that’s helpful. If my article was about the assassination of MLK, then sure. Instead, I was responding to Thabiti Anyabwile’s two articles, neither of which I misunderstood (I’m open to correction).

      1. The problem is its not obilious that you think that or many of our brothers think that. TA wrote about the murder of MLK in his article and your are commenting on his article, errm I don’t think you can say that has nothing to do with it. My point is, with still prevalent racial tension and division in our churches and communities it is not merely enough to say “I didnt do it” but “this should not of been done”. We are part of a broken system and must make every effort to break division in our churches.

  6. The Gospel Coalition and Anyabwile’s approach is to try to tackle the issue of race relations by borrowing post modernist categories of thought and putting a thin veneer of “gospel” on them by rebranding them with Christian terminology. It is shameful. On a number of occasions, I have tried to engage them in a civil fashion to discuss it, but no one seems interested.

  7. First, sorry for the typos in my first comment, I was responding on my phone w/o my glasses. Second, I also find it interesting that Mr. Anyabwil refers to MLK, Jr. as a Christian pastor since MLK denied the virgin birth, deity of Christ, substitutionary atonement and the resurrection. While I’m glad that he was so effective at drawing the focus of the nation to the evils of Jim Crow laws & attitudes, I struggle with the idea that “Gospel centered” pastors can call him a Christian pastor and maintain that they are “Gospel centered”. PS: forgot to mention that MLK also denied the inerrency & thus sufficiency of Scripture.

    1. George Whitfield owned slaves until he died. Calvin killed anabaptist over immersion. They are both legends at southern seminary

  8. Joshua Sommer excellent and gracious response. Hopefully I am interpreting your article correctly but your primary premise seems to be that current white believers should not bear the guilt of what parents and grandparents did in the 50s & 60s. You would be correct and TA validated the premise in his article. TA did not call individual repentance but congregational and national repentance which is a general repentance. That is far different from individual repentance on the OT Daniel repented on behalf of the Israelites and he was not personally guilty of anything. TA understands each individual white brother is not guilty but we are guilty as a culture and especially as a church for the sin of apathy. Racism cannot continue to grow without apathy. At the bear minimum our churches our guilty. And I don’t mean this disrespectful but the reason a black church was started was because we were not allowed to worship with whites. Now that phenomenon is embedded in the culture. Post civil war the church was 3% diverse, during Jim crow 7%, and not 11% so since the civil war there has been an 8% increase in diversity. That is wicked. As late as 2015 a history textbook in Dallas Texas was still teaching that the slaves were indentured servants and treated well by their Master. This is what TA seems to be talking about . Do you know what it means to sit in a history class and have them teach on slavery for one class period, and only talk about the politics. Those are present sins not past. I had to take a black history course in undergrad to get a real understanding of the transalantic slave trade. White sins of the past are glossed over in the history books. TA point is that repentance cannot take place until folks can be honest about the true nature of the offense even if you didn’t do anything. Because although you may have not owned a slave or put on a klan suit you benefit financially, socially, culturally and religiously for what they did. Hey not looking for an apology just some real authentic EMPATHY

  9. Joshua Sommer excellent and gracious response. Hopefully I am interpreting your article correctly but your primary premise seems to be that current white believers should not bear the guilt of what parents and grandparents did in the 50s & 60s. You would be correct and TA validated the premise in his article. TA did not call for individual repentance but congregational and national repentance which is a general repentance. That is far different from individual repentance in the OT Daniel repented on behalf of the Israelites and he was not personally guilty of what he was repenting of. TA understands each individual white brother is not guilty but we are guilty as a culture and especially as a church for the sin of apathy. Racism cannot grow without apathy. At the bear minimum our churches are guilty of apathy. James said it best “when you know to do right and don’t don’t it that is sin to you” I dont mean this disrespectful but the reason a black church was started was because we were not allowed to worship with whites. Now that phenomenon is embedded in the culture. Post civil war the church was 3% diverse, during Jim crow 7%, and now 11% so since the civil war there has been an 8% increase in diversity. That is wicked. As late as 2015 a history textbook in Dallas Texas was still teaching that the slaves were indentured servants and treated well by their Master. This is what TA seems to be talking about . Do you know what it means to sit in a history class and have them teach on slavery for one class period, and only talk about the political aspects of not the moral aspects of it. Those are present sins not past. I had to take a black history course in undergrad to get a real understanding of the transalantic slave trade. White sins of the past are glossed over in the history books. TA point is that repentance cannot take place until folks can be honest about the true nature of the offense even if you didn’t do anything. Because although you may have not owned a slave or put on a klan suit you benefit financially, socially, culturally and religiously for what they did. Hey not looking for an apology just some real authentic EMPATHY

  10. Well said Mr. Sommer. Critical race theory is completely at odds with a biblical understanding of man, sin, and salvation. But many in evangelicalism are embracing it with both arms. I fear if more do not speak up, the evangelical talking-heads who have put themselves forward as the ‘guardians of the gospel’ today, will carry off many with a false gospel of ‘social-justice’ tomorrow.

    1. I’m so tired of the CRT canard. I wish people would do the reading before parroting this talking point.

      1. To be fair, Mark, it’s not entirely a canard. The adoption of human speciation by skin color and the talk of ethnic, or racial, guilt is the rudiment of CRT.

  11. Those who support MLK have become a Cult. They raise his image and likeness before us constantly and worship him. He has supplanted founding presidents’ birthdays in a national holiday . They do not take seriously his heresies whether gospel related or socialist according to scripture. To make MLK an Idol or put MLK above scripture or like a forefather or Apostle of the church is heresy and schism. Are they redefining the Original Sin as slavery or as the murder of MLK, imputing all sin to white people because of it, by ordinary generation? What new doctrine is this? Because it happened on Good Friday, to their idol, is it worse than or like the crucifixion of Jesus? What blasphemy! The script is like a perfect communist and Marxist plot for social revolution and upheaval consistent with the socialistic interpretation of scripture from history past. Its incendiary propaganda like that of its predecessor radical abolitionism.

    Romans 16 verses 17 to 18 clearly state that person’s or teachers who cause divisions or offences “contrary to the doctrine” of the Apostles, even by their “good words and fair speeches”, should be “marked and avoided”. Is this Baptist teacher not “causing divisions and offenses contrary to biblical Doctrine”? Then he should be marked and noted and avoided.

    He is introducing a new Orthodoxy and requiring all white people to agree with him because of their whiteness. Who’s the racist? It also sets up a false righteousness as if those who are black should be above those who are white because of slavery or any opposition to MLK. That kind of hints of black Supremacy doesn’t it ? Apparently we must now bow in servitude and total humility and abasement to our unelected supreme black Baptist Apostles (they identify us by color) who will now tell us what we must do for penance in the new church of PC Orthodoxy! “Repent ye” they preach, but define sin so differently! Is this not a social gospel? Is it not like even the same as the mainstream media? Why is it the same as the world?
    The words Love and Justice are being hijacked and redefined according to their terms similar to that of liberal and Progressive Christianity. A Schism has been introduced and this man and others like him should be avoided. Roman 16 teaches ecclesiastical and social separation from schismatics and heretics.

    And if slavery is always and necessarily sin, the premise and leaven of it all, then when will this Baptist preacher openly condemn Abraham whom God called righteous and whom the Angels did not destroy when they visited him for the judgment on Sodom? When will he preach against the 4th and 10th Commandments of God’s holy laws which justify and regulate slave relations as legitimate? When will he condemn Paul (Ephesians, Colossians Etc) teaching that servants (slaves) are to obey their masters ? When will he totally apostasize and entirely join with the left in the condemnation of Holy Scripture? The Logical consequence of his teaching lead to a total falling out from scripture and impugning the righteous Justice and Holiness of God himself! This is a dangerous leaven that must be removed before the whole lump is infected and spoiled and has to be thrown out. “Mark them” and “avoid them”.

  12. Has Thabiti biblically repented for the Egyptian’s harsh treatment and slavery of the children of Israel for 400 years? If not, why not?
    Why do I ask? Because Egypt is in Africa. Therefore by his own reasoning all Africans are responsible for this slavery as well. You mentioned people in your post. Yes, I would say sinful people are the problem. No culture, no people group, no honest person can say they are sinless. Nor can they say they are sinless in the matter of racism and/or slavery. This is another way that the gospel is being denied.

  13. How seemingly different is TA”s heart from that of the Apostle Paul! Paul wrote: This is a faithful saying, and worthy of all acceptation, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners; of whom I am chief. 1 Timothy 1:15

    Paul wrote: Of whom I am chief!! Not a pointed finger at “those people” over there, but me! This is a pastor’s heart, preaching as a dying man to dying men.

    Who among us, truly, shall cast the first stone? Shouldn’t we all, like Paul, humble ourselves before the LORD? Can we say like Paul, ‘I am the chief of sinners’?

  14. Excellent article! I pastor a non-denominational, multicultural church in the inner city of Columbia, SC. Our cultural breakdown is 45% black, 30% Latino and 25% white. It has taken us quite some time to work through what is very deep seated in the heart of many black people and even some latinos. What they have been taught by family and friends, seen in others in their own culture and been exploited through the Democrat Party, media and others, has deeply affected their view of themselves and those around them. Thank God that truth truly sets us free (John 8:32) but it has taken time. I want for Thabiti and others to speak and live Kingdom and no longer culture. When we place culture over Kingdom we will get it wrong every time and hurt others with our offense that is still lingering deep in the recesses of the heart. Bitter roots unfortunately still spring up (Hebrews 12:15). Jesus was the most mistreated and abused person who ever lived and yet when he was before His accusers remained silent and entrusted Himself to His Father (1 Pet. 2:23). Those who have been mistreated the greatest have also the greatest opportunity to reveal the glory of Christ through their trust in God and His sovereignty. Not by demanding repentance from others and accusing others of sin, but by forgiving and being merciful toward them that wronged you. Thanks again for the article and for standing for the gospel and the truth.

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