Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Together For The Gospel 2008: Session #2

Thabiti Anyabwile

Bearing The Image: Identity, The Work of Christ, and The Church

Thabiti began by telling us that the vast majority of us are living our lives with a wrong assumption that needs to be corrected.

That assumption is this: that there exists such a thing as race. If our standard of truth is the Bible, then the concept of race is as much a figment of our imagination as unicorns.

This requires a definition of terms. When Thabiti speaks of race, he is speaking of the idea that traces the distinction in people groups to biological differences, something different in our DNA. Ethnicity, he claims, is an entirely different concept. Ethnicity is that which traces our distinction in people groups to things such as region, language, and culture. And this is all based on the fact that the Bible teaches that all human beings descend from one man, Adam. Biblically speaking, race does not exist. Only ethnicity.

Many people often point to Genesis 10 and the account of the Tower of Babel as the origin of race by emphasizing the discontinuity among people groups that stems from the divergence of the generations of the sons of Noah. However, Thabiti pointed out that the chapter is bookended by the continuity that shows that these generations all come from one man. This adds to the Scriptural evidence (Genesis 3:20 and Acts 17:26) that we are not biologically different.

He structured his talk with a baseball analogy. He would move from first base to home plate:

First base: our union in Adam. (all people)
Second base: our union in Christ. (from this point on, Christians only)
Third base: our union in the Church.
Home plate: our union in glory.

Everyone, Christians and non-Christians alike, are related in Adam. Our relation in Adam, other than our all having fallen into sin through him, is in two ways:

1) We are all physical descendants of Adam

2) We are all created in the image of God like Adam

This means that there can be no biological difference that we call race. To embrace the idea of race is dangerous for at least six reasons:

1) It lends to abuse of people and Scripture

2) The distance from embracing race to embracing racism is a short distance

3) It undermines our ability to engage with other people

4) It undermines the authority and sufficiency of Scripture

5) It undermines the work of the Holy Spirit

6) It undermines the Gospel

When we operate under the notion of race, we become those who walk into a room full of people and define those who are like us to be those who look like us. In reality, we should walk into a room full of people and define those who are like us to be those who are descendants of Adam and those who are created in the image of God. That’s everyone.

Up until now, we are talking about all people, whether Christian or non-Christian. But when we get into the realm of only believers then with those who are like us there is an even greater tie. Those who are like us are not just those who descend from Adam and those who are created in the image of God, but this includes those who are in Christ, bought with the blood of the Lamb. Paraphrasing Sinclair Ferguson, our union in the blood of Christ is one that far surpasses any DNA match.

The part that I was struck by most was when Thabiti talked about how we are missing the point when we talk about having a focus on racial reconciliation, a reconciliation that majors on entering into other people’s racial experiences and embracing them for who they are in order to have a greater unity in Christ. When we do this, we are getting it backwards. Instead, we are to focus on our union in Christ as those who have been bought and washed and justified and sanctified and this will form the greatest basis by which we will be able to embrace each other as different as we may be. We shouldn't spend all our time looking at each other. But we should spend all our time together looking at Christ, beholding His person and work. This is what gives Christ glory.

The showcase by which we display this group of reconciled people is the church. And this is third base, after we have realized our unity in Christ (second base). And the church is an earthly representation that is only a taste and partial experience of what will be fully realized when Christ comes to wrap-up redemption and bring us to home plate, our union in glory where, gathered around the throne of the Lamb will be worshipers from every tribe, tongue, and nation.

Listen to this message. It is challenging and much needed for the church today. Earlier in the day, I met an African-American brother that told me he had seen me at another conference. He said that he had walked past me at that conference and said the word seven because he had only counted seven of "us" at that particular conference. By "us", he meant black people. Listening to this talk made me think that though there might be room for talk like this outside of the church, there shouldn't be inside where "us" should only represent those of us who were once far off but have now been brought near by the blood of Christ (Ephesians 2:13). It made me think about why I'm more inclined to call a black man brother than a white man even though the black man might be an enemy of Christ and the white man my true brother in Christ.

Lord, please continue to sanctify me by the power of Your Holy Spirit so that I no longer regard anyone from a worldly point of view as I still in many ways do. Thank You for Your patience and mercy in Christ. In His precious name, Amen.

Download the audio here.

And watch this clip to whet your appetite (HT: IndyChristian, Challies):

1 comment:

IndyChristian said...

Chris... Thank you so much for your in-depth review of Thabiti's talk... and for providing the audio of it.

At, we're providing our local Indianapolis constituency all the T4G video, audio, blogs and (hopefully Twittering, if we can find some) from the conferenece. Tim Challies, for instance, has provided a great video-clip from Pastor Anyabwile's talk. Perfect.

Re your observation about there only being '7 of us'... that's a noble thought. But our fruits (ie, the outcomes) betray our (real) beliefs. So the observable lack of color at T4G does indeed speak to the need for its steering committee to look real hard at what the inherent flaw might be. And then work hard over the next two years to right that situation... for yet greater impact in the future.

And that also would then be a great model for each of our churches... Look around on Sunday morning at 11am. If we do NOT reflect the multicultural Church we read about in the NT, then we need to get intentional about remedying the situation. Our neighbors, and the heavenly realms (Eph) are watching. John 17 says our unity/harmony is a witness to our witness. It should reflect the (IMHO, paradoxical) self-sacrificing nature of the Almighty (ironically, the ONLY one with a right to being self-serving).

Blessings 'brother'... Thanks again for your efforts of faith here to spread the impact of this great conference.