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Once Again on Wheaton and Worshiping the Same God

Jan 19, 2016 | Kevin DeYoung

We have quite a few Wheaton alumni in our church, and we seem to send one or two high school graduates off to Wheaton every year. Recently, I got an email from one of our students at Wheaton. The email had a number of good questions (he’s a very bright you man), all having to do with the current controversy over whether Muslims and Christians (and Jews) worship the same God. I thought it might be worthwhile, with is permission, to post my brief letter on my blog.

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Dear Mike [not his real name],

I was going to write you an even longer reply, but then I saw this article on The Gospel Coalition website. It does a great job explaining why we should not say Muslims and Christians worship the same God. It also gets into the question you asked about whether Jews and Christians worship the same God. In a redemptive historical sense, there is a way in which this is true (certainly more than is true with Islam). But on this side of the incarnation, we still have the same Trinitarian and Christological problems.

One of the reasons this controversy is so difficult is because the phrase “worship the same God” can mean different things and can be heard in vastly different ways.

Consider a few examples:

Do Muslims and Christians understand God in the same way? No. The differences are massive. Either God exists in three persons and Jesus of Nazareth was God in the flesh or these notions are blasphemous errors.

Do both Muslims and Christians worship God in ways that are pleasing to the one true God? No. As evangelical Christians, we must say that worship that is pleasing to God is worship centered on Christ. The central affirmation of our faith—Jesus Christ is Lord—is categorically rejected by Muslims. Their worship is an affront to God’s revelation in Christ. I imagine most Muslims would say our worship is an affront to Allah.

Do Muslims and Christians both find salvation in their worship of God? No. We are saved by faith in Jesus Christ (John 14:6). While inclusivists argue that we can be saved through Jesus Christ apart from explicit faith in him, almost all evangelicals throughout history have insisted that conscious faith in Christ is necessary for salvation. Even if inclusivists are right (and they’re not), there is quite a difference between ignorance of Christ and a conscious rejection of Jesus as the the Son of God. Moreover, I think many Muslims would find it insulting to their faith for Christians to say, “You’ll be saved because you believe in Christ without knowing it.”

Does the worship of Muslims and Christians reach the same God even though their theology about God is vastly different? Perhaps the object of worship ends up being the same, despite the fact that the worshiping subjects are thinking of very different Beings. This is the sophisticated argument some are trying to make. But I don’t think this argument works either. Since there is only one God, it is true that the one God—the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ–sees Muslims worshiping and, perhaps, we can even say that the prayers and alms of some Muslims “have ascended as a memorial before God” (Acts 10:4) or that in one sense they are seeking after God and trying to feel their way toward him (Act 17:27). And yet, if this is what we mean to say, the language of “worshiping the same God” is bound to be confusing, for God does not “hear” the prayers of the Muslims (in the covenantal sense) and does not receive their “worship” as worship.

In other words, from a Christian understanding, the Muslim faith is not just a little off or incomplete, it is idolatrous, demonic, and false. It is hard to see how the language of “worshiping the same God”—despite whatever philosophical distinctions we may put in place—can stand alongside this theological evaluation.

In Christ,

Pastor Kevin

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Monday Morning Humor

Jan 18, 2016 | Kevin DeYoung

One reason I don’t put a lot of stock in opinion polls.

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Answering the Abortion Question that Is Sure to Come

Jan 14, 2016 | Kevin DeYoung

You are a staunch opponent of abortion rights. Many have argued, even members of your own party, that your position is too extreme for most Americans and could hurt your chances in the General Election. Would you really tell a rape victim that she must carry to term a child that was forced upon her by an act of such cruelty?

That’s a hard question, but I am going to answer it, because anyone running for President of the United States must be willing to answer hard questions. And I trust that my opponents who support unfettered access to abortion will also be made to answer hard questions.

  • Someone should ask my colleagues on the other side of the aisle if they oppose a ban on partial-birth abortion–the practice whereby a child half-way through the birth canal is stabbed at the base of the skull and then the brain is extracted with a suction device.
  • Someone should ask if they believe that abortion should be legal at any time in pregnancy, and for any reason–which is what Roe v. Wade mandated in all 50 states–or if they agree with 93% of Americans who do not hold this view.
  • Someone should ask if they believe their position constitutes a war on women, since 53% of women in this country believe abortion is too easy to get and 58% of women believe abortion is morally wrong in most cases.
  • Someone should ask if they’ve watched the Planned Parenthood videos and if they think selling baby parts for cash is in keeping with the values of this great nation.
  • Someone should ask when they consider a child becomes a full human person, endowed with certain unalienable rights, chief among them the right not to be killed.

So, yes, I’ll answer your hard question. But I hope all the hard questions will be asked.

Should abortion be legal in the case of rape? Let me make three points.

Number one, it’s tragic. The question is sometimes asked as a gotcha question for conservatives, but I know for those women in this situation, or who have been in this situation, the question is intensely painful and personal. Sexual assault is a terrible evil and a heinous crime. I can’t say that strongly enough. And I really mean it. I have a wife. I have sisters. I have daughters. For a man to abuse a woman or force himself upon a woman is always wrong. It is despicable and deplorable. There are few things more traumatic or more painful.

Number two, it’s rare. I don’t say this to minimize anyone experience, only to put into perspective what we are talking about. 99.5% of abortions are performed on pregnancies resulting from consensual sex. I have a suspicion that this hard question comes up every election cycle not so much because of the media’s great compassion for women, but because it seems like an easy way to shame pro-lifers. Let’s be clear: when we talk about abortion, we are virtually always talking about a pregnancy that came about because a man and a woman chose to have sex.

Number three, it’s a life. This the most important point and why, despite the very real physical and emotional pain that I don’t want to minimize, I cannot support abortion on demand. Not for any reason, not even this one. The leading textbooks are clear: life begins at conception. That’s not a religious belief. That’s a scientific fact. We all started out as a microscopic zygote loaded with all the genetic information it will ever need. That’s where you came from. That was you. Your life started at that moment. I don’t believe life is less valuable because of its size, or its level of intelligence, or because of its relative dependence or independence, or because of where it it lives. Every life is precious. Every life is a gift from God. A child’s life is not less deserving of protection just because it was conceived through the sins of another.

I know this is a real struggle for some people. Let me just say in closing that I haven’t come to this conclusion lightly. It’s based on the testimony of science and the testimony of my own conscience. The child in the womb is a human being, and, from very early in the pregnancy, he or she has finger nails, a beating heart, and the capacity to feel pain. We do not become human persons by traveling a few inches down the birth canal. Every innocent life deserves a chance to live.

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Seven Piper Books for His 70th Birthday

Jan 12, 2016 | Kevin DeYoung

Yesterday (January 11) was John Piper’s 70th birthday. I praise God for his life, his books, his sermons, and his friendship.

Few men, living or dead, have edified me and inspired me as much as John has. It’s amazing to think that 15 years ago I had never read a Piper book. A good friend of mine recommended Desiring God while I was in college. But once I saw you could get the book at a normal Christian bookstore I assumed the book was fluff, not worth my time. As a college student I was reading Calvin, Edwards, Luther, the Puritans, Lloyd-Jones, and whatever I could get my hands on from Banner of Truth. The only living person I made a point to read was David Wells. I was an evangelist for Calvinism and a book snob. I didn’t trust anything you could find on the shelf just below Testamints and Precious Moments dolls. I was wrong to be so prejudiced, but I have to say that for the most part the prejudice served me well.

I started reading Piper while in seminary. But first I listened. As much as I love John’s books and blogs, he has always been to me a preacher who writes more than a writer who preaches. As part of an assignment for our preaching class, we had to listen a number of sermons and note what we liked or didn’t like about the introductions. We were supposed to look for arresting stories, humorous quips, and good grabber questions. I didn’t find any of that in Piper’s preaching. I didn’t need to. His prayers were all the introduction I needed. There was such gravity, such passion, such God-besotted intensity (to use a hyphenated word John would like) that I couldn’t force myself to stop the tape (yes, they were tapes). Over the next several years I would listen to umpteen Piper sermons and read every Piper book I could get my hands on. There are over forty on my shelf at last count.

What are the best Piper books? That depends a lot on when you read them and whether you had come across this Big God theology before. My favorites are the ones that have proved most inspiring to me as a pastor and most foundational for me as a Christian.

In celebration of his seven decades, here are my top seven John Piper books.

7. The Supremacy of God in Preaching (Baker Books, 2015 [1990]). I must have listened to the preaching lectures he gave at Gordon-Conwell ten times. The book puts into print what I had been so captivated to hear. Not a how to book as  much as a why and what book. Don’t miss that the 2015 edition has several new chapters.

 

 

6. Desiring God (Multnomah, 2011 [1986]). Piper’s classic work has helped me think, feel, and worship more deeply. In some ways, every Piper book is a variation on the big idea in this one.

 

 

 

5. Contending for Our All: Defending Truth and Treasuring Christ in the Lives of Athanasius, John Owen, and J. Gresham Machen (Crossway, 2006). All the Swans Are Not Silent books are good. I’ve read or listened to almost all of John’s biographical sketches. This one was particularly stirring as a call to courage and faithfulness.

 

 

4. Let the Nations Be Glad (Baker Books, 1993). It’s not often that your first paragraph becomes famous the world over. “Missions is not the ultimate goal of the church. Worship is. Missions exist because worship doesn’t.” Exactly. And after the famous opening salvo, there is a lot of good missiological thinking and theological discernment in these pages.

 

3. What Jesus Demands from the World (Crossway, 2006). Where antinomianism, cheap grace, and easy believeism come to die. Who wants to learn from John Piper as he teaches from all the commands of Christ? I do.

 

 

2. Brothers, We Are Not Professionals (B&H, 2002). I can’t say there are many books that have made me cry. This one did. I read it in my first year of ministry and was profoundly moved by Piper’s convictions about the pastorate. It was just the right book at just the right time.

 

 

1. Future Grace (Multnomah, 2012 [1995]). I still go back–both in my head and in the book–to recall what Piper has to say about anxiety, lust, pride, shame, impatience, and bitterness. This is Piper at his best–exegetical precision in the service of personal transformation.

 

What is your favorite Piper book? I don’t often have time to read the comments, but in this case I’d love to hear what has been meaningful in your life.

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Monday Morning Humor

Jan 11, 2016 | Kevin DeYoung

Okay, I don’t know if we should really find this humorous, but I suppose it puts your Monday blues in perspective. At least you didn’t crash into a bridge (I hope!).

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Some Thoughts On Ministering to the Sick and Dying

Jan 08, 2016 | Kevin DeYoung

It is a privilege to be with the sick and dying, but it can also be scary, hard work. I have great respect for chaplains, calling pastors, solo pastors, and other believers who spend a lot of their time comforting the sick and suffering with the gospel.

As you minister to the sick and dying–and we all will have opportunity to do so–here are some things to keep in mind.

1. Be patient. Ask lots of questions. Don’t assume you know what they are thinking or feeling. Ask them.

2. Ask direct questions. I have found especially with older generations that they don’t respond well to some of the “jargon” questions like “how is your walk with the Lord?” or “What is the Lord teaching you?” Ask simple questions like, “How are you feeling?” “What’s been hard?” “How can I pray for you?”

3. If you can sing, open up a hymnal and sing some songs. If you can’t sing, try anyway.

4. Avoid questions that can be answered with a yes or no questions. If you ask, “Is it hard being sick” you may not get very far. Avoid leading questions too. For example, “Is it a great comfort to know that Jesus has forgiven all your sins and you will spend eternity with him in heaven?” may be good theology, but it’s not exactly a question. Better to just state that truth and ask a real questions.

5. Learn to live with your own feelings of inadequacy. No one knows exactly what to say in these situations. It usually feels a little awkward at first. But don’t let that keep you away. Be bold, and be yourself.

6. At some point I think it is appropriate to ask very specific questions, especially if the person is avoiding the harsh realities of the situation. You may have to say something like “There’s a chance you may not get better. Are you scared of dying?” Obviously, you don’t lead with this question as you visit the little girl having her appendix taken out, but in other situations you can’t avoid talking about death. Well, actually, you can avoid it (and you may want to), but you shouldn’t.

7. Don’t fall into the trap of talking only about all the medical jibber-jabber. Most people will start out by giving you the medical play-by-play. That’s fine and probably therapeutic. But don’t try to be their doctor. Move past talking about prescriptions, treatments, and the new medical vocabulary everyone is learning. Get to the gospel and the soul.

8. Don’t interrupt. Ask follow up questions. Be slow to correct their thinking. If they need to be challenged, do it after they know you care and take their feelings seriously. Nothing is more discouraging than a friend or pastor who quickly corrects all fears and immediately shines up all your struggles.

9. Remind people of things you know they already know. We forget. We doubt. It helps to hear others tell us the same truth one more time.

10. Open the Bible. Read the Bible. Teach the Bible. If our theology doesn’t help when people are sick and dying, what good is it?

A Few Scripture Suggestions

Verses to give assurance:

  • Romans 8:1 (no condemnation)
  • Romans 8:28-39 (nothing can separate us from Christ)
  • John 11:25-26 (I am the resurrection and the life)
  • 1 John 1:9 (if we confess our sins God will forgive us)
  • Ephesians 2:1-10 (by grace we have been saved)
  • Luke 23:39-43 (thief on the cross)

Verses to sympathize with hurting people:

  • Psalm 40 (stuck in the miry clay)
  • Psalm 42 (as the deer pants for water, so my soul longs for you)
  • Romans 8:18-27 (whole creation is groaning)
  • Hebrews 4:14-16 (Jesus as our sympathetic high priest)

Beloved passages that are always appropriate:

  • Psalm 23 (the Lord is my shepherd)
  • Psalm 46 (God is a refuge)
  • Psalm 103 (God’s compassion and mercy)
  • Matthew 6 (God’s care and do not worry)
  • Romans 8 (mercy, suffering, hope, assurance)

I also recommend the Heidelberg Catechism, especially questions 1 and 2.

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Across the Race Divide

Jan 05, 2016 | Kevin DeYoung

It’s a terrible and predictable pattern: A young black male, often unarmed, is killed by a police officer. After much public outcry and controversy, a grand jury decides against prosecuting the law enforcement officer. Social media explodes. Sadness, hurt, and anger overflow.

Many African-Americans and those on the social justice left are outraged. How can we let this keep happening? When we will address police brutality? Why aren’t body cameras mandatory? Who will speak out against the systemic injustice that plagues our judicial process? This is Jim Crow all over again. Black Lives Matter.

Meanwhile, many whites and those on the conservative end of the spectrum are outraged by the outrage. Why are we turning police officers into the bad guys? How are they to know someone resisting arrest or waving a real looking gun isn’t a dangerous threat? Who will speak up for the men and women risking their necks to protect us? This is political correctness all over again. All Lives Matter.

How can we bridge this deep divide?

The short answer is: I don’t know. The slightly longer answer is that we can start by trying to understand what things look like from both sides. And by “sides” in this case, I mean the law enforcement community and the African American community.

It was surprising to me when I first heard–and have now consistently heard–from my African American friends that the one thing they knew they never wanted to be when they grew up was a cop. My mom told me I could be anything except a boxer (too violent) or a magician (David Copperfield had just floated across the Grand Canyon). Although my family has no history of police work that I’m aware of, and although my parents probably would have worried for my safety if I had chosen that profession, I have no doubt they would have considered police work a brave and honorable choice. I’ve had virtually no interaction with the police in my life, and what interactions I’ve had–at neighborhood picnics, at public events, even getting pulled over and given a warning for speeding–have all been positive. In my book, law enforcement officers are honest men and women, doing a hard and dangerous job to make sure people follow the rules and the streets are safe.

But that’s not everyone’s personal history, not everyone’s default position, and I want to understand why as best I can.

Which is why I was helped (and moved) by the chapter “Across the Racial Divide” in David Kennedy’s book Don’t Shoot: One Man, A Street Fellowship, and the End of Violence in Inner-City America. Kennedy is white, with a background that is quintessentially liberal–raging against Vietnam, hating Nixon, reading Gandhi, going to Swarthmore, organizing anti-apartheid boycotts, and working at Harvard (5). I imagine his current religious, cultural, and political convictions differ from many of the people reading this blog. But Don’t Shoot, which is part memoir and part policy prescription, is unflinchingly honest and relentlessly focused on what works (rather than on what scores political points). What makes the book worth reading is that Kennedy, the director of the Center for Crime Prevention and Control and a professor of criminal justice, obviously knows and cares about police officers and obviously knows and cares about the inner-city communities he’s been working in and working with for twenty-five years.

It may seem uncouth for a white pastor to write about another white man’s experience with African American communities. I understand that posts like this are fraught with danger. But the alternative–for white evangelicals to refuse to think critically and refuse to speak about race-related issues, hardly seems like a healthy option. Caution, yes. Difference, yes. Complete silence, less helpful. I wouldn’t have picked up Don’t Shoot except that Ed Copeland, an African American pastor in Rockford, Illinois and a fellow council member of The Gospel Coalition, encouraged me to read the book in a private conversation a little over a year ago. Ed provided a formal endorsement for the book, and Ed himself is even quoted in the pages I’m about to summarize. I only mention this connection to make clear that Don’t Shoot isn’t just a “white person’s” book.

While I may not agree with every jot and tittle of his analysis, on the whole what Kennedy writes makes a lot of sense to me. I don’t know enough to know if his description resonates with other insiders, but for this outsider–an outsider to the African American community, and an outsider to the law enforcement community, and an outsider to the inner-city community–I found his description of the race divide realistic, sympathetic, and illuminating.

Let me try to explain.

Starting with the Summary

Here’s Kennedy’s conclusion, which he states at the beginning of powerful 16-page section (139-155) on race relations and the police.

The real issue was, the police thought the community was completely corrupt, from top to bottom.

The real issue was, the community thought the police were predators deliberately doing them horrendous harm.

The real issue was the way the relationship between the police and community was being poisoned by toxic racial narratives.

Here, things get real ugly. (139)

Kennedy then tries to explain what he’s learned by working closely for many years with African American communities and with police officers.

Listening to African American Communities

“Let’s start with the fact,” Kennedy begins, “that the idea, common currency in these neighborhoods, that the government is running a carefully organized racial conspiracy [e.g., introducing crack into the inner city so that blacks can be arrested and whites can have good jobs in jails and in police departments] against black America is not as crazy as it sounds” (140). We have to remember that it wasn’t that long ago that Jim Crow and separate but equal were legal, and even more recent that all sorts of illegal injustices (like lynchings) were overlooked by law enforcement agencies in cahoots with the KKK. “This was America, our America. Whites tend barely to know it, or to diminish it, or to set it aside as then against whatever it is that now begins.” (141). But in living memory for many in the black community, and in the collective memory of many more, are remembrances of police dogs and fire hoses set against peaceful demonstrators, of Bloody Sunday, of Klan-directed terrorism, of real racial injustices in our judicial system that most of us would find cringe-worthy and cruel. This may all seem like a long time ago, but not when it happened to your grandma or to your pastor.

Furthermore, according to Kennedy, illegal police activities still persist in our inner cities, like “clearing corners,” going beyond the allowable pat-down without probable cause, and arresting everybody at a crime scene as a material witness (143). All of this is so routine in our inner cities, says Kennedy, that “Officers forget it’s even crossing a line” (143).

I was on the street with drug cops not long ago. Where isn’t the point, they’re not the point–they’re good guys, I liked them–the point is this is what goes on. They stopped a group of young black men, held them, got ID, called in to dispatch to check wants and warrants. The young black men had been through this before, knew their part, waited. One was respectful, contained, and very, very angry. After half and hour or so the radio check came back–nothing. The unit’s supervising officer told them that they could move on. There was no explanation or apology or word of thanks. There almost never is. The angry one–still civil and respectful, but furious–said, I live here. My house is on the next block. All I was doing was going home. Then stay in front of your house, the officer said. This is a drug area. You know what’s going to happen. (143-44)

What happens when the narcotics officers go in to a suspected drug house is worse. Everybody is shouted down, put on the floor, and cuffed. The place is turned upside down. Drawers pulled out and dumped on the floor. Beds upended and mattresses slit. Everything is torn to pieces. The guys in armor are hoping they don’t get shot, but they still stomp around and tear the place apart. The community hears the stories and repeats the stories. It’s another example of the outside world not caring about what happens in our world. It’s another cautionary tale of what might happen to you just because you’re black and don’t get to live in the suburbs or in the hip, foodie part of town.

And then add to this lethal concoction the epidemic of mass incarceration. Let’s set aside whether each arrest and imprisonment was fair or not, Kennedy suggests. Let’s suppose that each crime is real, each arrest and prosecution is fair, and each sentence is statutory. That still doesn’t undo the damage. One in nine: that’s the number of black men, twenty to thirty-four years old, in prison. Kennedy isn’t arguing about criminal justice reform at this point. What he’s emphasizing is the cultural and psychological effect of such widespread imprisonment: “People who know someone who’s been imprisoned tend to think that criminal justice authorities are racist, are less likely to call the police when they need help, are less likely to support community standards and actions against crime” (148).

It’s no surprise that many in these communities are so adamantly opposed to snitching and so reticent to cooperate with law enforcement officials. They just don’t trust that the police are on their side. “Given the truth of our American history, it is all too easy for angry black communities to believe that this is not just incapacity: that it is malign….It becomes not so hard to understand why conspiracy might seem a live option. Overseer, slave catcher, Ku Klux Klan, cop, DEA–all seamless” (149). Of course, there is no conspiracy. Kennedy doesn’t even think racism in the police force is the problem. “But if we were trying to play to the idea that there is, we could hardly do a better job. To a people that has suffered systematic abuse under color of law, that has not been accorded equal protection under the law, that has been deprived of economic opportunity, that has in cold fact been abused in long and terrible ways, it is no stretch to imagine outcomes today are the result of similar things done and left undone” (150).

Listening to the Police

So what do they think on the law enforcement side? That’s pretty simple, Kennedy says. “They think the community likes what’s going on, or at least doesn’t care enough to stop it” (150). Many people in law enforcement, both black and white, come from pretty gritty backgrounds themselves and are apt to think, My parents taught me right from wrong. I worked hard. I stayed out of trouble. I took responsibility when I made mistakes. Why don’t people try raising their own kids and stop looking for someone else to blame? Whether that’s a fair indictment of those in the inner-city, or whether it takes into account the problems inherent in rampant fatherlessness and imprisonment, the fact is that many in the police force see a community they are supposed to serve that doesn’t give a rip about its own problems (150-51).

While Kennedy doesn’t think this is an accurate assessment, he understands why the cops feel the way they do.

They’re right that there’s no consistent community voice against violence, against the dealing, against getting arrested over and over, against going to prison. They’re right that black men are killing each other but that nearly all the open community outrage is against the police. They’re right that the kids are working the corners and dropping out of school and the community voice says: racism. The big open meetings–The precinct commander will address crime in the neighborhood and discuss police/community relations–are hopeless. The cops sit at the head table and take a hail of fury. (151)

Kennedy’s been to many meetings like this. Too many. After being accused in one open meeting in Baltimore of not really caring about black people and only getting into this line of work for the money, Kennedy made a vow (that he’s been unable to keep) never to attend these police-community meetings. The cops, for their part, don’t understand the anger. They see excuses and victimhood. Kennedy says the police get tangled up in specifics, trying to explain standard police procedure, explaining how to file a complaint, promising to look into a particular case of alleged wrongdoing. They “miss the raging subtext: Why do you treat us like this?” (152).

The police wonder why the community is silent about the criminal behavior in their midst. “They’re your sons, what are you doing about it,” they think. The community is reticent to stand against guns and drugs and violence when that means standing on the same side as your race enemy. And so, in too many communities there is silence–at least publicly, privately is a different matter. The police hear the silence and interpret it as complicity and corruption (153). They don’t hear how much the community hates whats happening, how much they want the violence to stop, how much it hurts to lose a son or daughter to drugs, or to prison, or to gang violence. They don’t hear how much the community hates that too many people assume all blacks are “that way.” Perhaps, Kennedy suggests, there is too little awareness for how routinely aggressive policing, even from good people risking their lives day in and day out, can add more fear and mistrust in a community already filled with both.

Here is the perfect, awful, searing symmetry of it. Both sides look at the other and say, You want this. You are corrupt and hollow and beyond hope.

They’re both wrong. It’s infinitely complicated, but it’s also at its heart very, very simple. Both these core ideas are wrong. Law enforcement is not indifferent, is not deliberately implementing a genocidal conspiracy. Troubled black communities are not all living off drug money, do not support violence, are not filled with sociopaths.

Not true. (154)

It’s a classic case of the worst suspicions being confirmed every day. Except that the suspicions are wrong and the confirmation bias is real.

What About Racism?

So here’s the big, provocative question in most people’s minds (at least those inhabiting the Twitterverse): Is racism the main issue?

Not really, says Kennedy, at least not very much. He believes there is disproportionate treatment of blacks all the way through the system and that this treatment is evil and wrong. But he doesn’t think racism is the driving force. “I’ve never heard a racist word spoken in all my years with cops–never” (154). Kennedy doesn’t discount the presence of unconscious stereotyping, but he doesn’t think cops are motivated by racial animus. The police have not written off black people; they’ve written off certain neighborhoods. “It’s why what many hoped would change these dynamics, having more black cops, hasn’t. Black cops don’t hate black people. This isn’t about black and white. It’s about the community of the cops and the community of the neighborhoods. The first has given up on the second” (154). And the second doesn’t trust the first.

Racism may not be the driving problem, but the whole problem is soaked in race. “The racist history, the long trauma of black America, makes relations between cops and black neighborhoods especially jagged, especially hurtful, especially explosive. It shapes them, gives them different meanings” (154-55). Which is why whenever a Michael Brown or Eric Garner or Tamir Rice dies at the hands of the police, we end up arguing about much more than the particularities of a given incident. We are arguing about the Big Picture and lamenting that the other side just doesn’t get it.

I imagine there are parts of Kennedy’s analysis you like and parts you don’t like. What about the systemic racism I’ve faced? What about the ways I’ve seen the tough on crime policies of the 90s make my city safer and its urban core revitalized? What about all that black leaders have done in my city to speak out against drugs and gang violence? Maybe Kennedy has not described your experience with the inner-city or your experience in law enforcement. Maybe you think he’s out of his element trying to summarize either. I found his analysis helpful not because I presume it’s true everywhere all the time, but because it makes sense of wildly different and equally plausible narratives–competing narratives I’ve heard from people I respect on both sides of this issue.

Does any of this help solve the problem? Perhaps not. But if it helps us understand–or at least begin to strain to try to understand–why brothers and sisters in Christ who agree on so much precious doctrine can see these incidents so differently, maybe that’s worth something.

Get to Know Me

One last thought in an already way too long blog post. I’m reminded of Rod Dreher’s poignant piece from last summer on why he loves the South, even though he abhors aspects of its history. This was the money paragraph for me:

At the same time [i.e., facing the full moral horror of what his white Southern ancestors did], the moral preening and hypocrisy of many Northerners is extremely hard to take. Just about every white Southerner who has lived outside of the South for any time has had to deal with it. It’s as if there were nothing to know or to be said about the South except slavery and segregation. Many of us Southerners who agree that the violent, racist legacy of our region is an indelible stain on our history, and who agree that we whites have not fully dealt with that legacy, either in public or in our hearts, can easily get our backs up when some fat-mouthing Yankee scold presumes to lecture us on our wicked, wicked ways, without knowing the first thing about us.

Isn’t this what makes seemingly intractable problems even worse–hectoring someone or some group of people without knowing the first thing about them? Isn’t this why evangelicals get upset when those in the mainstream media think they are in a position to lecture us about doctrines they don’t believe? Isn’t this why African Americans get so frustrated when the response to the loss of another innocent black life is to talk about abortion rates or homicide statistics? Isn’t this why you’ll complain about your own family and then defend them to the death if someone else tries to do the same?  Listen to me, we want to say. Try to understand–at least a little. Get to know me first, just as you’d want someone to know the first thing about you and your hurt and your history and your heart.

Love as you want to be loved. That’s not the only answer. But I think Jesus would say that’s a start.

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Monday Morning Humor

Jan 04, 2016 | Kevin DeYoung

Welcome back kids. Christmas vacation is over.

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Ten Check Up Questions for the New Year

Dec 31, 2015 | Kevin DeYoung

It’s the New Year and that means it’s time for resolutions. Of course, resolutions can be bad if you make vows you don’t keep or set standards for yourself without relying on the gospel to change you and forgive you. But if done in the right way I find resolutions a helpful way to clarify priorities and goals.

Several years ago, in our pastors group, we decided to be more precise in how we want to be held accountable. So we each set off to write a series of questions.  My ten questions are below. Though they are six years old by now, I try to come back to them at the start of each year. No doubt, the questions reflect my own weaknesses, temptations, and priorities. There may be better questions for you and your friends. But perhaps these ten questions will be a good place to start.

After each question, I’ve added a sentence or two of self-evaluation (i.e., how have I been doing with these goals over the past several years).

1. Am I spending time slowly reading God’s word and memorizing Scripture? Lately I’ve enjoyed tracking with the daily lectionary readings (something I’ve not done before). This has been a helpful break from the usual read through the Bible (more or less) straight through. Scripture memorization comes and goes in spurts. I’d like work on Philippians in 2016.

2. Am I having consistent, focused, extended times of prayer, including interceding for others? Yes and no. I pray for others, but getting “consistent, focused, and extended” is more difficult. I’m impressed by people who keep up to date prayer cards or a prayer list. I want to improve in this area. I wish I were more of a prayer warrior.

3. Am I disciplined in my use of technology, in particular not getting distracted by emails and blogging in the evening and on my day off? Better than I used to be, but always a challenge.

4. Am I going to bed on time? I wish it were 30 minutes earlier. But normally I get upwards of seven hours of sleep.

5. Am I eating too much? This has improved a lot (see #6).

6. Have I exercised in the last week? It was encouraging to see that I was asking myself this question several years ago, because there has been a new found discipline in this area in the last 18 months. Now I exercise almost every day. Trust me, it’s worth the time. I’m sure I get more done in less time by making exercise a priority.

7. Am I patient with my kids or am I angry with them when they disobey or behave in childish ways? You’d have to ask my kids. There are good days and bad days. I find things are harder in the winter when it’s almost always dark and the kids can’t get outside as much.

8. When at home, am I “fully present” for my wife and family or are my mind and energy elsewhere? I think my wife would say I’m not nearly as bad as I used to be. She’d probably also say I’m not doing as well as I could be.

9. Am I making sermon preparation a priority in my week or am I doing other less important things first? Not where I’d like to be. I’d like to get in some solid preparation on Tuesday/Wednesday and not leave everything for end of the week.

10. Have I done anything out of the ordinary to cherish and help my wife? Well, I have a date night planned next week for our anniversary, but there’s always room for more in this category.

I praise God that we don’t have to pass a checklist to be righteous in Christ. I also praise God that in Christ he gives us strength to pursue growth and godliness and (slowly) make progress.

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Top Ten Blog Posts of 2015

Dec 29, 2015 | Kevin DeYoung

I like lists-top ten lists, book lists, year end lists, new year lists, all kinds of lists. I’m always interested to see the list of best books put out by various magazines and bloggers at the end of the year. I also enjoy it when the blogs I frequent list their most trafficked posts of the year.

So, in case you were curious–or missed some of these the first time around–here are the most viewed posts from my blog in the past year. Not surprisingly, several posts are related to gay marriage, and a number of others had to do with pop culture events. It was nice to see three posts (5, 6, 10) of a more general theological or pastoral nature get some traction too.

(1) 40 Questions for Christians Now Waving Rainbow Flags

If you consider yourself a Bible-believing Christian, a follower of Jesus whose chief aim is to glorify God and enjoy him forever, there are important questions I hope you will consider before picking up your flag and cheering on the sexual revolution.

(2) No Grey Area

This is a black and white issue. Don’t go. Don’t watch it. Don’t read it. Don’t rent it.

(3) But What Does the Bible Say?

I’d rather not talk about homosexuality again. But the world hasn’t stopped talking about it. And the Bible hasn’t stopped saying what it has always said.

(4) Why Not Gay Marriage?

Are there any decent, rational, non-bigoted Americans who are willing to consider why other Americans might have plausible reasons for opposing same-sex marriage? This blog post is my way of saying “yes” to the first question and “let’s hope so” to the second.

(5) 9 Marks of an Unhealthy Church

Here are nine marks that your church–even one that believes the Bible, preaches the gospel, and embraces good ecclessiology–may be unhealthy.

(6) A Brief Defense of Infant Baptism

No matter where you fall on this issue, I encourage you think through the topic with an open Bible and some good resources in hand.

(7) Immigration Policy Must be Based on More than an Appeal to Compassion

My plea is that the conversation reflect the complexity of the situation and goes beyond the familiar dichotomies of love versus hate, inclusion versus exclusion, and fear versus compassion.

(8) Yeah, Well, What About the Crusades?

Isn’t it wise to know at least a little something about the Crusades before we borrow them to get an advanced degree in self-recrimination?

(9) Why Is a Wedding Any Different?

A wedding is not a dinner invitation or a graduation open house or retirement party. Even in a completely secular environment, there is still a sense–and sometimes the wedding invitations say as much–that our presence at the event would honor the couple and their marriage.

(10) Ten Diagnostic Questions for Your Marriage

When the silliness slows down, it may be because you are in a season of suffering, but it may also mean you’ve exited a season of peace and trust. The couple that laughs together lasts together.

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