The antiracist argument from evil

Introductory Remarks

A common complaint from antiracists directed toward evangelicals is that gospel preaching is insufficient to address racism. If the gospel were sufficient, “whence then evil?”

Anthony Bradley, for example, skillfully condenses the sentiments of antiracists into a tweetable conditional statement:

The fact of the matter is that Whitefield was a slaveowner and lobbyist. Evangelicals have two options. Either they conclude that he wasn’t truly saved by the gospel he preached or dismiss the gospel as a sufficient means of social change.

Another more contemporary example of the insufficiency of the gospel, according to the antiracist viewpoint, can be found in the actions of the John Earnest’s attack on a synagogue:

 

Notice the parallel. Both Whitefield and Earnest partook in gospel preaching to a greater or lesser degree. Whitefield was a gospel minister and Earnest is (was?) a communicant member of the OPC. The gospel in no way precluded their sinful commitments or actions.

The Gospel Unloaded

It may be time for Evangelicals and their antiracist critics to back up for a moment and clarify what they mean when they say “the gospel”. To what does the gospel refer? In his own words, St. Paul refers to “the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek” when he uses the word most English translations gloss as gospel.  (Rom 1:16 NAS). In this gospel (i.e. the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes etc.), according to Paul,  the righteousness of God is revealed from faith to faith; as it is written, “BUT THE RIGHTEOUS man SHALL LIVE BY FAITH.” (v.17). My intention isn’t to conduct a lexical analysis, but rather clarify the gospel’s referent.

Bradley asserts that the synagogue shooter got the gospel right. It’s on this basis that evangelicals must concede, according to antiracists, that gospel preaching is insufficient to combat racism (and probably a number of other evils).

Getting the Gospel Wrong

Based on the clarification I provided earlier, evangelicals need not concede that Earnest “got the gospel right”. If we take the gospel to mean “God’s power for salvation” in which Jews are given some eschatological priority, then in what sense did Earnest get the gospel right? Perhaps Bradley is merely suggesting that if Earnest were given a pop quiz on the gospel, he’d make a passing grade. Would making a passing grade on a pop quiz about the gospel qualify as “getting the gospel right”? Maybe it would in a universe where one could obtain a doctorate by correctly naming all of the books of the New Testament, in order. In all seriousness, I do not think it is accurate to say Earnest got the gospel right.

Shoot-from-the-hip deconstructionism

This leads me to my next point. I mentioned earlier that unbelievers frequently use the problem of evil in an attempt to undermine Christianity. It is my impression that Bradley and antiracists unwittingly provide ammunition to those who formulate objections to the Christian faith. Now, I’m not saying that those who criticize a Christian or call out the sins of a Christian are always helping unbelievers. That isn’t my claim. Christians must correct error and sometimes publicly denounce the sins of other Christians. When I claim that Bradley and antiracists unwittingly provide ammunition to those who object to the christian faith, I’m referring to the shoot-from-the-hip deconstruction trend . For instance, Bradley carelessly asserted that Earnest “got the gospel right”. On twitter, there is no room to qualify that assertion.

 

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