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Incidents in the country have been rearranging the evangelical landscape for the last couple of years now. Not any of the incidents involving typical “culture war” issues, like homosexuality, gay marriage, and abortion. Apart from some fraying between older and younger evangelicals, the evangelical phalanx stands tall and strong on those fronts.

But mention “justice” and that wall of evangelical troops splits like the Red Sea and turns against itself. Men who worked as fellow combatants in the traditional “culture war” begin to suspect and even attack one another when “justice” becomes the topic.

Case in point: My brother in Christ, Phil Johnson, had this to say of me recently on his Facebook feed:

Phil's Facebook Post


So, according to Phil, I’m now “an agitator for the radical left #BlackLivesMatter movement.” And, apparently, I’m no longing “arguing for a more biblical, gospel-centered approach to ministry.” If I understand this correctly, I’m the one now suffering “mission drift,” one swept so powerfully to the left that the Bible and gospel have lost its center in my ministry.

So much could be said here. But I don’t want to risk saying more than I ought to say. I want to say only what needs to be said. The lines that follow are meant to be crisp so that I don’t sin in saying too much. They’re not meant to be curt or clipped as if to communicate anger or personal animus. Until this, I’ve never had anything but pleasant interactions with Phil. I hope such pleasantry continues, but his Facebook post needs reply. Here goes:

1. “Justice” and justice in its “social” implications are biblical terms and ideas. To the extent that Phil (or anyone) rejects “social justice,” then they’re rejecting the Bible. Not me. From the OT prophets, to provisions in the Law, to the ethical teaching of our Lord, the Bible is replete with calls to justice socially concerned and God regularly chastises His people for failing to establish it. Some of my evangelical friends have a curious way of ignoring those texts and any application of them to things other than homosexuality, gay “marriage,” religious freedom, or abortion. All of those are justice issues with social implications requiring a biblical address. But they simply are not all the issues the Bible would have us address in the pursuit of justice. So, I’m eager that we not give “justice” or “social justice” over to the “left.” Those are Bible words and ideas that Bible believers ought and need to consider deeply.

2. Everyone should know that the “agitator” language Phil uses here has an ugly history that Phil probably does not mean. Dr. King was called an “agitator.” Frederick Douglass was called an “agitator.” In fact, nearly every African American that’s ever stood up for African Americans has been called, usually by white racists–and sometimes scared African Americans, an “agitator.” It’s not a good look on professing Christians who should disavow the racist past and work harder to use terms free from that taint. To be clear: I am most decidedly NOT suggesting that Phil Johnson is a racist. I am saying he’s using a term here that in the historical context of struggle between Blacks and Whites was used regularly by White racists. In doing so, Phil, you’re provoking some things you may not be aware of and conjuring a history many people find problematic. Now, when we’re talking about justice, “agitator” should never be a dirty word. It’s what people of conscience should do–whether the issue is abortion and gay marriage (see all those agitators using their constitutional rights to carry signs and protest) or the issue is police mistreatment of unarmed civilians. If you want to talk, let’s talk about the issue and drop the coded and freighted language associated by many with a racist past and not used today of others similarly using their right to speak out and protest about justice issues they care about. We can talk without the name calling, especially the names that some of us hear in association with racists. We’re better than that.

3. I support #BlackLivesMatter as a matter of principle and I support people’s rights to say so. For nearly two years now, some evangelical friends have acted as if to say my life, my son’s life, the lives of all Black people matter is tantamount to saying that the lives of others don’t matter and is racist towards whites. Interestingly, many of those people can’t seem to bring themselves to even utter the phrase. They can’t bring themselves to say publicly, in principle, “Black lives matter.” And, beloved, there is a world of difference between affirming that principle and offering anything that looks like institutional support for some website or some particular organization. I support the principle. I think it’s incontrovertible. I don’t think it should be difficult for any reasonable person to utter or hashtag. If Genesis 1 is true (and it is), then “Black lives matter” is also true because God made us in His image and likeness. People who cannot or, better, refuse to distinguish between fellow Christians who hold the principle and people who are not yet Christians who may tout a variety of things Christians never would fail to extend Christian charity or the benefit of the doubt. They carry on a political and polemical conversation when many of their Christian brothers are having a principled one. I should point out, a biblical and gospel-centered principled conversation. Which is what makes Johnson’s assertion to the contrary so problematic for Johnson and many white evangelicals who perhaps assume his view. They don’t hear the Bible or a foundational doctrinal aspect of the gospel when they hear their fellow Christians say, “Black lives matter.” Brothers, the imago Dei is bound up with that statement for your brothers and sisters of darker hue.

4. Finally, the Thabiti of 2010 is the same Thabiti in 2016. Johnson links to my T4G sermon wherein I was asked to give a biblical theology of “race.” I stand behind that talk and wouldn’t change much of anything in it–except to add more strongly some words that prevent people from doing precisely what Phil seems to do with it here. If you watch the panel discussion in follow up to this talk, I think I state again and more clearly that nothing in the talk should be understood as denying the reality of racism. So while “race” is a pseudo-scientific, theological, historical and social fiction, racism is very real. Some conservatives want to make the former a denial of the latter. I never did that, said that, or believed that. Then or now. Really what should happen is Phil should take a listen to the sermon and the panel and read a host of things I’ve blogged since and understand there’s no contradiction. In fact, I think it’s imperative that everyone understand what’s argued so powerfully in Racecraft: It is racism that gave us the false doctrine of “race.” We only talk about “race” because of the racist past that erected it as a theory for the supremacy or inferiority of “races.” But evangelicals have done so little theology and reflection on race and racism that they’re unable and at points unwilling to work through this truth. There’s so much “white guilt” and “white denial” that some seize upon “race doesn’t exist” as an assertion that racism and it’s concomitant problems doesn’t exist either. That’s a dangerous mistake that imperils good will between whites and blacks and even threatens unity among white and black Christians.

So, Phil, I got nothing but love for you, your ministry, and your consistent fight for theological truths that I share and cherish. Keep fighting the good fight, brother. But I’m not your enemy. Even if we disagree about some of the current cultural skirmishes and problems, I’m not your enemy. If you ever want to talk/write (privately or publicly) like brothers through our differences, I think over the years I’ve proven I’m open to that. You even have close friends who have done that with me from time to time on these very topics. We’re capable of better representing each other–even in disagreement–than you did with your Facebook post. In fact, I think your Facebook post demonstrates that you need to talk to someone about some things you’re clearly not understanding–both about others and perhaps about your own rhetoric and position. Not to get too far ahead in the calendar, but next year, Lord willing, The Front Porch hopes to host a conference themed “Just Gospel” on these very issues. More to come later. You’d be welcome and I think you’d be helped.

The Lord bless you and keep you, brother.

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162 thoughts on “I’m Happy to Talk with Dr. Phil”

  1. Steve says:

    I’m a huge respecter of both of these men and am anxious to see this conversation find a common ground and shared conviction; though tolerating inevitable differences. This is not helped, however, when one is accused of using a term, “antagonist”, that causally links to a more treacherous meaning while, at the same time defending his use of the term, “#Blacklivesmatter”, as if it carries no similarly treacherous links. #nowaytosolve

    1. Hey Steve, like you, I admire both men and look forward to this particular episode of “Dr. Phil” between both men. When I read this blog post, I took note of the same issue you raised in terms of the usage of certain words and their linkage to more nefarious meanings behind them. I wonder though (and maybe Thabiti himself is the best one to raise my question since it’s his piece–if my question is at all helpful) if you see a difference between a term like “agitator” and the hashtag, “blacklivesmatter” in that the former has an established, historical context whereas the latter is related to current issues that, while carrying good bit of baggage, is still being worked out in time? In other words, I’m asking if the usage really the same since “agitator” has a fixed history in connotation while “blacklivesmatter” is still in development?

  2. Thabiti Anyabwile says:

    Hi Steve,

    Thanks for joining the conversation and for your well wishes. I’m grateful for your warm tone.

    To be clear, the term was not “antagonist” but “agitator.” One difference between his use of the term and my use of “black lives matter” is he uses the term without qualification or sense of its clear history of association with racism, while I explain precisely what I do and don’t mean by “black lives matter.” I’m not sure it’s the same thing. And, in any case, I really don’t believe Phil meant to use the word in that way but I’m very confident some will hear it that way. As much as anything, I wanted to alert him to how that term is heard and protect him by saying I don’t think he’s a racist. If that wasn’t done effectively, I’m certainly sorry. I tried. I hope this clarifies.


    1. Steve says:

      Sorry for inadvertent use if the wrong word; especially given the discussion largely focuses on that word. Grateful that the intention was still recognized. #wordsmatter

    2. Alan Gertonson says:

      Dear Brother, I’m a have great admiration for you both. I’m looking forward to possibly meeting you at T4G in April. Perhaps we can talk more then.

      I have wondered why you are pointing out that the term Dr. Johnson uses is not acceptable because it is associated with so much negative baggage. Conceding that point to you, I can’t help but notice that you’re ignoring the same thing in your own co-opting of the phrase “black lives matter.” Your own writing defends that your use of the phrase “black lives matter” is a philosophical position not to be confused with those who are marching under that banner in ways and following principles that are antithetical to the Gospel.

      This said; how do you justify that a discussion of the background of the word “agitator” is even relevant while simultaneously making the case that your self-association with the more worldly, totalitarian, and violent applications of the phrase “black lives matter” should not come under the same scrutiny? I might make the opposite argument, Your phrasing – being more culturally relevant due to its contemporary nature – is probably more likely to associate you with things that I do not believe you stand for than anyone else’s use of the word “agitator.” While I certainly agree with your points as a whole, I happen to be white. I also happen to know and understand the reality of racism. Because I happen to have black adopted children in my home and I happen to participate in Arabic and Asian ministries for the Gospel, I am constantly fighting these fights. However, there are no circumstances under which I would adopt a “black panthers” emblem or a “Muslim Brotherhood” emblem and then try to say that I don’t “mean those things, I just think the principles they fight for have some level of merit.”

      Sadly, I’ve probably offended every group with this response. But, dear Brother, I can’t see why your rhetoric on this topic seems to apply to everyone else’s association by speech but you seem to resist when people apply that same standard to you.

      Again, hoping we can talk about it over tea or coffee at T4G. God bless you, sir.

      1. Zema says:

        Alan, it’s telling that you would come to this blog and try to make this about you. This isn’t about the Afrikan (aka “black”) children you’ve adopted, and the Arabic and Asian ministries for the gospel you participate in (which is just an underhanded way to state that Afrikans aren’t the only ones enduring racism, even though that’s the subject at hand, you’re the type to burst into funerals, giving dissertations on the loved you have lost).

        You sound like you adopted those children, so that you could let people know you did it. It’s like those people who take a lot of pictures with Afrikan children, so that they can post them on the internet to show what they’ve done.

        This post is about Phil slandering Thabiti. Lastly, “Black Lives Matter” was a phrase and a hashtag way before the organization. It is not “adopting a ‘black panthers’ emblem or a ‘Muslim Brotherhood’ emblem and then trying to say that ‘I don’t “mean those things’. So, not only is Phil slandering Thabiti, but so are you.

        1. Alan Gertonson says:

          Many blessings in the Gospel, friend. I don’t know who are, and I’m sorry that you’re angry. What I’ve done here is to try to empathize from personal experience and have a discussion with the author. If you’ll read down later in the thread, you’ll see that TA agrees that this is a blind spot for him. Knowing him to be a man following God, I would’ve expected nothing less. Cheers, friend.

          1. Zema says:

            Not sure why you assume I’m “angry”. His “blind spot” has nothing to do with what I addressed. He does not “agree” that using the phrase/hashtag is “adopting a ‘black panthers’ emblem or a ‘Muslim Brotherhood’ emblem and then trying to say that ‘I don’t “mean those things”.

            1. Alan Gertonson says:

              Many blessings to you. :-)

            2. Alan Gertonson says:

              If you want to use the phrase “Black Lives Matter”, I agree. That said, don’t correct me when I refer to my sons as black. You can’t say, “Black Lives Matter”, but don’t point out that people’s skin tone is darker. You’ll need to change to “Afrikan Lives Matter”. I’ll still agree, but at least you’ll be logically coherent.

              Try as I might, my kids look at their arms and mine and they know that they are different colors. It’s not a surprise to them, so we, tending to think that we should treat them like rational human beings don’t refer to them as Africans (no matter how you personally prefer to spell it) because they have never lived in Africa and they weren’t born there. We refer to them as Americans.

              As we have conversations about race and social issues, my kids know that they are loved. Your opinion of the truth, rightness, or wrongness of that will not change their opinion. Adoption is a demonstration of God’s grace. After all, He adopted me. And yes, that changes EVERYTHING. Not just in the next life, but this one.

    3. Alan Gertonson says:

      On another level: If the word “agitator” is associated with Frederick Douglass and Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., then wouldn’t I desire to be called an agitator if I stand for social justice and “racial” equality? Much like people called the Believers a term of derision as they called them “Christians” or “little-Christs”? So now, we who follow behind proudly bear what once was a term of derision for another sense and in the world’s eyes (and still may be today).

      I clearly see that your intent and heart are to defend another brother against unnecessarily and inappropriately being called a racist. I applaud that. I’m just not sure that it’s relevant. I’d LIKE to be associated with the works of Dr. King and Mr. Douglass. So I guess if that makes me an “agitator” in anyone’s mind, I’ll print myself a tee-shirt; for the same reason that I proudly bear the emblem of the cross whether i get spit on, fired, hated, or just jeered at.

      Maybe I miss the point. I recognize that many around me suffer things I don’t. I wonder if they recognize that I suffer things they don’t? But I also think that we fall into our own trap of saying to each other, in any context; you can’t understand me because you haven’t walked a mile in my shoes. That is logically untenable.

      Hebrews tells us that we have a Great High Priest who knows EVERYTHING about what it is to be human. But that doesn’t mean he tried on different skin colors every month so that he could associate with each group that existed. What it means is that we have a commonality of experience of rejection, pain, suffering, and the effects of our own sin and others’. That is what Scripture means when it says that Jesus knows everything about what it is to be “us”.

      I am in no way believing or asserting that you would argue any different. But certainly, the organization “Black Lives Matter” is a part of the worldly system that encourages just that type of self-exulting separation that says, “No one understands me except me.” What a wonderful opportunity this gives us to call them out of themselves and into the light of the Gospel that says, “Jesus is not you. You’re right. No one else on the planet knows EXACTLY what it is like to be you. But the Gospel tells us we are all ‘the same’ in our sin and ‘the same’ in Christ’s offer of redemption. Jesus knows EXACTLY what it is like to be you, and He died for you anyway.”

      1. Zema says:

        Alan, it’s telling that you would come on this blog and try to make this about you. This isn’t about the things you suffer. This is about Phil slandering Thabiti.

        It’s also telling that you would bring up a person’s inability to relate to Afrikans, just to silence us by telling us that Jesus understanding the injustice we face somehow negates that injustice. You slander when you say “Black Lives Matter” is “self-exulting separation” and I’m sure you know that. It’s not rocket science that “Black Lives Matter” means that “Black Lives are treated like they don’t Matter”. The gospel wouldn’t pull a racist diversion tactic, under the guise of “we are all ‘the same’ in our sin and ‘the same’ in Christ’s offer of redemption”.

        1. Alan Gertonson says:

          I’m sorry that you feel that way, Zema. I don’t see the Gospel as a diversion from anything. I think it is the only thing. Sadly, yes, there is still racism and injustice. What I did was called empathy; being able to relate to other people. Praying that you and I will both find peace in the Gospel. I’m genuinely trying to have a discussion with the author on a civil, theological, and rational level. Maybe he’ll answer. Maybe he won’t. Either way, I wish you many blessings.

          1. Zema says:

            I never said the gospel was an diversion. I said bringing up a person’s inability to relate to Afrikans is the diversion. The Bible would disagree with you that the gospel “is the only thing” to address injustice. The gospel is for salvation, not justice. Whether people get converted or not, justice must still be sought. Laws must still be changed, people still must be imprisoned and put to death. God said to speak up for the oppressed and to seek justice. He didn’t say preach the gospel for justice. The gospel is for mercy, not justice.

            1. Alan Gertonson says:

              Again, many blessings to you, friend. :-)

            2. Alan Gertonson says:

              The True Gospel Justifies, but He also Sanctifies. That is the testimony of Scripture.

    4. Mateo says:

      brother, delete this comment after it’s fixed, but there’s a typo in para. 4, instead of “no longing” it looks like it should be “no longer.” love you. blessings.

      1. Zema says:

        Alan, I didn’t “correct” you when I used the term “Afrikan”. I simply used the term I wanted to use.

        Spelling it “Afrikan” isn’t a matter of preference. It’s a matter of accuracy. You should look it up.

        You apparently don’t call the children you adopted “Americans”. You just said you call them “black”, even though no human is “black” or “white”. Those are racialized terms that you can use if you like them. I don’t use them.

        If you claim they are “white”, then they are of European decent, whether you like it or not, whether they’ve been to Europe or not. Just like I am of Afrikan decent, whether I’ve been to Afrika or not. That’s why Afrikans are referred to as “Afrikan-Americans”. I don’t have to add the “American” part if I don’t want to.

        I don’t have an “opinion of the truth, rightness, or wrongness” of anything, as that is a contradiction in terms. It’s either truth or an opinion. It can’t be both.

        And again, the gospel doesn’t give us justice. It gives us mercy. Justice is all created humans going to Hell.

        1. Alan Gertonson says:

          Zema, your comments and trolls all over this page are not advancing the cause of social justice for different ethnic groups which Thabiti and I share. All you’ve done is throw ad hominem all over this thread. Your comments do not represent black people, poor people, disenfranchised people, or the Gospel. Your lack of ability to consider the best possible motivation in anyone else’s comments makes you appear as hateful and angry as Fred Phelps and Westboro.

          I’ve seen your other writings all over the Internet. You’ve constructed a world in your mind of which you are the center and no one is allowed to have a different perspective. Your feeling of isolation has nothing to do with the continent of origin of your ancestors or anything other than the fact that you behave in a way that makes you appear to be a real jerk.

          The Gospel IS about mercy, but it is also about justice. The Mercy of God means ZERO without the Justice that God will bring on those who fail to repent and put their faith in Him alone. Sadly, He tells us that many will say to Him on that day, “Lord, did we not do great things in your Name?” and He will tell them “Away from me you worker of lawlessness,” I never knew you.

          To attribute racial and prejudiced motivations to someone who is living a life attempting to be an ally to all races – admitting that he doesn’t fully understand and asking clarity in humility – is not advancing the cause of Afrikans, Asians, Latinos, or any other group. It does not bring unity in the Gospel. In a funny way, you actually helped me understand Thabiti’s point better because you are treating me, a white man trying to build a bridge, in the same way that Thabiti is getting treated as a black Brother in Christ trying to do the same. So God is using the pain and anger in your heart for good.

          I pray for you that you will come to understand what the Gospel of love and grace is. Thabiti clearly understands it. The fruit in your life does not show it. The fruit of the Gospel is love. Read 1 Cor. 13 sometime. Love trusts all things. Love hopes all things. Love sacrifices “self” for others. Your comments have done nothing but call names. It is truly sad, but your comments have shown me a new side of racism in evangelicalism that makes me more committed to humble myself and stand with men like Thabiti and Phil as we work together in the Gospel to bring unity – despite people like yourself who do more to display the Spirit of Westboro in the Church than the Spirit of the Lord of Love. No matter. His agenda will be victorious. When He returns, peace will reign. In the meantime, I have prayed for you, and I pray you will be filled with light and grace. I pray that where your accusations of me and others here have been right, that He will convict us and change us. May the JUSTICE AND MERCY of His Gospel of truth reign forever.

  3. Nathan Campbell says:

    Excellent response TA, I could barely concentrate on the rest of his comments after reading the word “agitator” – clearly this is someone with no understanding of the civil rights movement and history. I was coming to comment on just that and am glad to see you picked up on it as well. FWIW – I’m a white male in my mid-30s. If I have enough understanding of what that word means and how it was historically used, so should Phil. There is literally no excuse for that. I think he knew exactly what he was saying.

    1. Eric Van Dyken says:

      Hi Nathan,

      I find the hyperbole in your comment to be unhelpful and you actually end up contradicting yourself. First, you hyperbolically say that Phil “clearly” is a man with “no understanding of the civil rights movement and history”. No understanding? None? Then you go on to read Phil’s mind and posit that he really does know the history of the term and “he knew exactly what he was saying”. So, which is it? He knows nothing, or knows exactly? It it’s so clear that he has no understanding, why do you immediately state that he has informed and nefarious intentions?

      I’m glad that Thabiti was much more measured and gracious in his response.

    2. John Sather says:


  4. RJ Garner says:

    Thabiti, the fact that you would endorse Sanders, who supports abortion, because you THINK he has blacks best interests in mind (despite empirical evidence that liberal policies have only hurt blacks) is dreadful.

    You’d endorse the continued slaughter of millions of babies, most of whom are black, because Sanders has given lip service to #BlackLivesMatter? Really?

    This is why Phil correctly rebuked you, sir.

    1. Thabiti Anyabwile says:

      If that’s why Phil “rebuked me,” then neither you nor Phil can read. Your first paragraph, despite the ways I’m sure you’ll squeeze “evidence” out of tweets, is completely and utterly false. I have never endorsed Sanders and I do not support abortion.

      1. Pastor Wayne says:

        Brother Thabiti, I just ran across Phil’s FB post. What is the source that resulted in his post? I’d like to educate myself before arriving to any conclusions. Blessings!

        1. Thabiti Anyabwile says:

          I don’t know. You’d have to ask Phil about that. I certainly haven’t endorsed the organization #BlackLivesMatter or anyone in it. Perhaps it’s conflating the principle with the organization? Not sure.

          1. Pastor Wayne says:

            I’ve read your twitter response to someone who asked who would be a good presidential candidate for the African American and your response was that if you had to say at this time it would be Bernie Sanders. I’m curious, as a minster of the Gospel of Jesus Christ, how can you suggest to another that currently Bernie Sanders is the best option knowing that he supports abortion?

      2. RJ Garner says:

        You told someone a pro-abortion candidate is a good candidate for the AA vote. This is a fact, not a bad interpretation or misrepresentation

        1. Thabiti Anyabwile says:

          RJ, it’s a fact stated without any context whatsoever, including the fact that I immediately said in the next tweet that I’d never vote for Sanders. Never mind the comment comes after I posted an article slamming Dem policies and their effect on African Americans. Never mind that my tweet linking that article said “I wish I could get EVERY African American voter to read this.” Never mind that I was asked a question by a good friend who would assume the best of me, who read the article, and would know I’m not supporting abortion. Forget the posts I’ve written over the years against abortion or my participation in anti-abortion activities. Nope. One tweet and you feel justified in spreading this slander and trolling this blog as much as you can.

          You need help, man. Seriously, I’m praying for you.

          1. Alan Gertonson says:

            The one who recognizes that there are two legitimate, reasonable perspectives and bows to the other’s first in asking for forgiveness, ultimately shines the light of grace. No? TA has clearly not demonstrated that he would support anything Bernie stands for. Woe that all of my words would be counted against me! BTW, I think the response demonstrated in this article in the first place did a GREAT job of engaging in Christian grace. I applaud Brother TA. That said, I know that I sometimes say things that can be taken “another way”. Rather than defending them, may the Lord make me quick to realize what I’ve done and help me ask forgiveness quickly.

            I remember one time having a Gospel conversation one time about “where we go when we die” while waiting to board a plane. Then realized that standing next to security talking about death was probably not the smartest thing to do. Sadly, even innocuous comments can harm us and our witness. It doesn’t excuse inappropriate responses, but I can’t deal with those. May the Lord deal with my mistakes in me first and foremost.

        2. John Sather says:

          You truly need help—your tone and wording appears to be racist.

    2. Pastor Wayne says:

      RJ Garner, where did you learn Thabiti is supporting Bernie Sanders?

      1. Michael Boling says:

        The statement that he supports Sanders could possible have come from this site:

        1. Charles says:

          Would people PLEASE stop reading Pulpit & Pen? That site is absolute garbage. It reminds me of the “World Weekly News” you would see standing in line at the grocery store. Nothing but distasteful, mean-spirited slander coming from JD.

          1. Michael says:

            I do not read that site. Just sharing where the opinion on his stance likely derived from. Given people Google and believe whatever they read in this drive by tweeting world, not surprised confusion again reigns supreme.

            Social media is a bane of actual quality communication.

          2. JD Hall says:

            I think your comment is slanderous. Demonstrate a specific untruth, please. We posted screenshots. Screenshots aren’t lying, here.

            1. BlackCalvinist says:

              Thabiti actually addressed this a little bit above, JD Hall. Your site and your article (and I have read them) did exactly what most liberal sites do with things conservatives believe – cite some of it, ignore the rest and then state what you think he means. Your insinuations about what you think he actually believes are contradicted by his own words here in this thread. Your site is actually what’s slanderous.

            2. David Drake says:

              JD: You are either by nature or choice being ignorant… Language has meaning and so does context, I assume, since you would claim to be a man of the book you know this. TA has clearly shown that he did not intend at all what you attribute to him. Only a man who was more concern with clicks, attention and sensation than he is truth and following Jesus would stick to your position. Screen caps without context aside, a half truth is still a full lie.

              TA has shown he is clearly pro-life and you have shown you are clearly a liar… Perhaps someone should write a blog post about you.

    3. Haze says:

      Given that presidents have very little power to do anything about abortion (the current state of abortion law in the US having been determined by the Supreme Court), I don’t think this issue should be given a huge amount of weight in determining which presidential candidate is best for the country.

      1. Eric Van Dyken says:

        Who appoints Supreme Court Justices, I wonder? Are there any current justices approaching death or retirement?

      2. Alan Gertonson says:

        Who can veto (and thus effectively block) pro-life legislation?

    4. Zema says:

      RJ, your claim that “slaughter of millions of babies, most of whom are black” is false. There are at least 80,000 more European (aka “white”) babies who are murdered each year than are Afrikan (aka “black”).

    5. John Sather says:

      Your comment is outrageous!

      1. Zema says:

        John, whose comment are you referring to? If it’s mine, what’s outrageous about it?

  5. Luke says:

    I am so disappointed that TGC has Thabiti Anyabwile on their council. He is one of the reasons I decided not to attend the 2015 conference once I found out he would be one of the group’s representatives and speakers. Pastor Phil is completely on the mark and one of these days TGC will figure that out.

    1. Luke Geraty says:

      Hmmm. Thabiti is one of the reasons why I think TGC has so many great resources and direction. So while the above Luke may be disappointed Thabiti is on the TGC council, this Luke is very glad he is!

      1. lpadron says:

        Indeed, sir, indeed….

    2. Stephanie says:

      The first Luke, why do you say that? For you know Phil? Do you know Thabiti? How can you so strongly assert that Phil was right on the money when Thabiti just clearly explained himself. How can you not leave room for error in your judgement of 2 men you quite possibly do not even know personally?

      1. Luke T says:

        I can say that because I’ve known for years that the man is a race-baiter and this is just the latest example of it. I’d be happy to ignore him if he wasn’t part of an organization (TGC) that I otherwise highly respect and appreciate.

        I don’t know what you mean by “explained himself,” unless you’re referring to the Bernie Sanders tweet. I can’t say that there’s any context in which it should be acceptable for a pastor to tell someone to vote for an extremely pro-abortion candidate or to imply that the needs of “the living” outweigh the needs of the unborn (who an actual pro-life person would consider just as much alive as those outside the womb).

        (I changed my username to Luke T to differentiate between other possible Lukes.)

        1. Caleb says:

          Luke T,
          You are making yourself look foolish. Thabiti has never approved of abortion, nor has he ever endorsed Bernie. In what way have you known that Thabiti is a race-baiter for years? He has done the best job of anyone out there critiquing the theology of the post-civil rights movement African American Church in his book “The Decline of African American Theology.” He has never preached or blogged about the superiority of one race over another.

          I commend you for your strong support of the pro-life movement. If you would simply read anything that Thabiti has ever written or listen to anything he has ever said, you would know that you are on the same side of that argument. No religious leader (including Phil Johnson) has ever accused him of being anything other than fully dedicated to the cause of life. This is because he is dedicated to the sanctity of human life.

          I do not know how it is possible for any reasonable person to have read or listened to Thabiti’s work for years and still deem him to be a race-baiter. You give no evidence of your claims (credible or otherwise). You do not back it up with any of his words or sermons. Instead you rely on the subjective nature of your personal feelings about him. It seems clear that you are not interested in truth, but in degrading and condemning others with false accusations. I hope that you can find grace, love, and mercy and stand with those who support life in all its forms. Most of all, I hope you know Christ.

          1. Luke T says:

            Caleb, I never said “Pastor Thabiti endorsed Bernie Sanders” or “Pastor Thabiti approves of abortion.” You’re putting words in my mouth, creating a strawman and being dishonest. I have known he’s a race-baiter for years because I’ve seen his commentaries for years (not reading every single one, just enough of them to pick up on his schtick).

            He even does it in the above article! “Everyone should know that the ‘agitator’ language Phil uses here has an ugly history that Phil probably does not mean.” No, the word “agitator” means “a person who tries to get people angry or upset so that they will support an effort to change a government, company, etc.” according to Merriam-Webster. That’s what the word actually means and that’s exactly how Pastor Phil used it. Pastor Thabiti tried to make it about racism when it had absolutely nothing to do with that. Instead of simply defending himself against the word as Pastor Phil used it, he tried to nullify it because of the color of his skin and completely irrelevant history of how it has been used in the past. It’s a distraction from the real issue. It’s race-baiting.

            If you’re going to accuse me of looking foolish and being uninterested in truth, you could at least be truthful yourself. Saying Pastor Thabiti told someone to vote for Bernie Sanders is one thing, and is factual, and what I said. I did not say he endorsed Bernie Sanders, which is a different thing, and a lie, and what you said. Saying Pastor Thabiti said that the unborn are not “the living” is one thing, and is factual, and what I said. I did not say he approved abortion, which is a different thing, and a lie, and what you said. Please get the facts right before accusing me of dishonesty.

            1. Thabiti Anyabwile says:

              The fact is: I never told anyone to vote for Sanders.
              The fact is: I believe the unborn are “the living.”

              You’re building the straw man with right strawy tweets. What world are we living in when 140 characters “proves” more than entire posts written over years?


            2. SS says:

              Luke T – I have actually read ALL of TA’s posts over the years, including ALL of the race ones. Until you have read ALL of his posts, you can not make a fully formed opinion of his beliefs. And even though I have read TA’s thoughts on race on different websites (not just TGC), I still hesitate to say that I truly know his thoughts on race. I have an idea, but not a fully formed picture. TA does say things that I may not always agree with, however, it is good to be challenged and to think about the experience that our brothers and sisters in Christ have as people of color. For if you are white (as I am) you do NOT understand what they go through. You can’t. I will say this though, next time before you make a judgement on someone before reading a few of their pieces (or skimming) think about what you would want them to think about you if they only read or skimmed a few of your pieces and give grace.

  6. Pk says:

    From what I note, Phil Johnson’s perspective is mainly colored by the fact that he views the #blm movement as radicalized by the left wing. That’s where I would start with the discussion, Because if someone has a view that #blm is tainted in this way, it will affect everything they think or say about it. I would want to know why he believes it be radical and left wing.

    1. Pk says:

      I guess my point being that often we get way down the road of a discussion without defining our terms. Phil used some specific terms in his post that I would want to know what was meant before going further. What do you mean by “radical left-wing?” Why did you choose those terms?

      1. RJ Garner says:

        They’re queer affirming, transgender affirming, and love liberal policies like socialism. They’ll deny that they hate cops but their leaders frequently sing the praises of Assata Shakur who killed a cop and fled the country not to mention they never condemn their protesters who chant things like “what do we want? Police! How do we want them? Dead!”

        The fact that Thabiti supports this terrorist group is despicable.

        1. lpadron says:

          That’s like saying because you’re against abortion you also support the murder of abortion clinic doctors and clini bombings. One can affirm the biblically relevant aspects of a position without supporting its entirety.

          1. Pk says:

            I think that’s the point TA is trying to make in #3. Not everyone will agree with that approach, but he essentially says its not about supporting the movement, as much as the point that black lives DO matter. It’s tough though, because almost all good movements seem to get co-opted in no time flat.

        2. Frank Turk says:

          “The fact that Thabiti supports this terrorist group is despicable.”

          Why do I find myself agreeing with the point of what is said here and cringing at how it was said?

          1. Thabiti Anyabwile says:

            It must be because you never accept Thabiti’s clear statement that he does not support the organization #BlackLivesMatter. You should be cringing not at how it was said but that it was said and blatantly misrepresents me.

            1. Frank Turk says:

              The internet continues to express its true nature at every opportunity. I’m going back to hiatus.

            2. Mark says:


              Though you claim that you do not support the organization #BlackLivesMatter, you did say, “I support #BlackLivesMatter as a matter of principle . . .”

              To have used the hashtag, instead of the statement “The lives of black people matter”, is at best a bit confusing, even misleading. It does make one wonder if you have drifted as Phil claims you have.

              If you do NOT stand with #BlackLivesMatter, as you say you do in this comment, then I recommend that you do NOT reference them.

              Also, please do not call us to support them in any fashion. Supporting a movement structured in the manner #BlackLivesMatter has conceived of it, cannot be the right thing to do. Why? As you surely know, they are (1) “. . . committed to disrupting the Western-prescribed nuclear family structure”, and (2) “committed to fostering a queer-affirming network . . . with the intention of freeing ourselves from the grip of heteronormative thinking”, as well as (3) intending to do the “work required to dismantle cis-gendered privilege and uplift Black transfolk . . .” (If this is new to you, go to

              These are some of the principles/goals of the #BlackLivesMatter movement. They are not Biblical and I pray that they never become mine! I hope you will clearly state where you stand on these issues, for #BlackLivesMatter has as an integral goal the destruction of what God created, i.e. marriage, by declaring that what He created, male and female, is both wrong and without a basis in reality.

              When those who claim to be oppressed want me to come alongside them and fight for justice, then let them do so without in ANY WAY calling upon me to believe that God is evil and/or to act in such a way that I destroy what He has created.

              Under His Mercy,

          2. Luke says:

            I don’t know, why? I’m curious.

            1. Zema says:

              Mark, the phrase, hashtag, and movement were created long before the organization. The creators of the organization did not start the movement, nor do they lead it. The organization is not the movement. I recommend you learn about hashtags, phrases, and movements before you speak on them. And no one needs you to fight for them, especially when you accuse of them of lying about being oppressed.

            2. Mark says:


              One of the points I’m making is that the hashtage links back to the website. What is found on that hashtag and website is what the majority of people think about this movement. If Thabiti doesn’t want us to think he’s associated with the website, then he shouldn’t use the hashtag. Make it CLEAR where you stand. If he wants to associate with the hastag/website, then I can’t stand with him.

              Under His Mercy,

            3. Thabiti Anyabwile says:


              I’ve had this conversation more times than I can count now. I tried to make it clear in this post. The organization #BlackLivesMatter, which claims to be the founders of the movement and has a website outlining its principles, is not at all what I’m supporting. I’ve never been to that website. Only learned of it about 3-4 weeks ago when someone on twitter raised a similar concern as yours.

              My comment to that person and my comment to you is very simple: What we’ve come to call the “Black Lives Matter Movement” is and was at its origin a very grassroots, organic series of protests from people all over the country. There is no central organization steering it. There is no central spokesperson, despite whatever is on that site. This is not the CRM with a clear public head like Dr. King. The claim to “own” this “brand” or be the “official” anything is spurious at best and certainly isn’t what any number of your Christian brothers and sisters are supporting. There is a world of difference between believing ‘Black Lives Matter’ as a meaningful, incontrovertible principle and supporting that organization. For people to insist I’m supporting the organization when I’m clearly telling you otherwise is to blatantly misrepresent me and to willfully refuse to listen.

              I should think that as Christian brothers you would extend to me the charity of taking me at my words rather than taking the words of unbelievers you apparently disdain and insisting contrary to plain writing that I must be supporting them. I know I would give you that grace.

              The Lord bless and keep you,

        3. Matthew says:

          He doesn’t support the group. He makes that pretty clear in what he wrote: “there is a world of difference between affirming that principle and offering anything that looks like institutional support for some website or some particular organization. I support the principle. I think it’s incontrovertible. I don’t think it should be difficult for any reasonable person to utter or hashtag.”

          In other words, he supports the principle that “black lives matter” and does NOT thereby express support for any organization or website just because they may affirm that same principle. So it sounds like you’re in violent agreement with our brother on this one.

          1. Zema says:

            Mark, the hashtag doesn’t have a link in Thabiti’s article. If you punch it in on Twitter, it doesn’t link back anywhere. The way hashtags work is that they show what people are saying when they use any hashtag.

            Most people who use the phrase, don’t even know anything about that site and organization. So, no, people don’t think about that site when the hashtag and phrase comes up. They just think about what the phrase means and the movement to end terrorism against Afrikan lives and the protesters around the world. Just because you, a person who knows nothing about the site, organization, and movement, assumes that they are the same, doesn’t mean he shouldn’t use the phrase and hashtag. You’re making assumptions that others are not.

            And no, what is found on that website is not “what the majority of people think about this movement”. To align the website with the hashtag is to say the site is the movement, which exposes your ignorance on this subject. It’s ok to be ignorant. It’s not ok to instruct people on a subject you’re ignorant of.

            The movement to end terrorism against Afrikan lives was not started and is not led by the “Black Lives Matter” organization. The movement is not called “Black Lives Matter”. That is a name people use because they don’t know what to call it because it doesn’t have a name. And because people who want to end terrorism against Afrikan lives use that hashtag and phrase, people think the movement is called that. The movement is worldwide and doesn’t have a leader or a name. It’s not led by a person, a group, or organization.

            The hashtag and phrase (not the movement) was created when Travyon’s murderer (Zimmerman) was acquitted.

            The movement (again, separate from the hashtag and phrase) started in Ferguson when Mike Brown was murdered and people protested in the streets for months. Then several people all around the world got the courage to protest, and the movement was born.

        4. Matthew says:

          Brother Thabiti says he supports the principle that “black lives matter,” not any group. So the question is, what is so objectionable about that? We live in a society where there really ARE still many people who deny this, or believe that black lives do NOT matter (or matter less). Just two weeks ago in my very diverse, integrated Maryland suburb we had a high school kid posting a video where he went on an on about, “Who cares if some black man dies?” And apparently that sort of attitude has some popularity at his school. Even here, which is the last place you’d expect. Who knew.

          So there is plenty of reason to say that “black lives matter.” Because they do, and because there are still plenty of voices in our world who say they don’t. They matter to Thabiti. They matter to me. And they matter to God.

        5. Justin Runyan says:


          In your zeal to criticize, it seems you are willfully disregarding some clear statements that Pastor Anyabwile has made. He hasn’t said that he supports the organization that you call a terrorist group. He supports the principle that black lives matter. (And seriously, the fact that any God-fearing, Biblie-believing, Cross-clinging Christian takes issue with that clearly biblical principle is astounding and tragic.)

          Here is a clear quote demonstrating this from the very article that you are commenting on: “And, beloved, there is a world of difference between affirming that principle and offering anything that looks like institutional support for some website or some particular organization. I support the principle.”

          Word of advice: Read before commenting; comprehend before criticizing.

    2. lpadron says:

      I think he believes the movement is radical altogether and not that it’s been radicalized by the left.

  7. I am white, middle-class, and a big Thabiti fan and am very grateful he is part of TGC. I wouldn’t have it any other way. A few of my classes at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School helped me, I believe, understand what Thabiti is getting at and what Phil is missing. One was Political Theologies with Dr. Bruce Fields. We read from Feminist Theology, Liberation Theology, and Black Theology. When people accuse Thabiti of leaning towards or being part of Black Theology, they really need to go read the sources. Thabiti is solidly evangelical.

    The other course I eventually had to drop was Culture Exegesis by Dr. Peter Cha. Analyzing why the south side of Chicago is predominantly black and poor was eye opening.

    The two courses together made me at least sensitive to what it means to be black in America. Black lives do indeed matter. And the reason we have to say that is because they are being treated as if they don’t. Is that a tacit denial that all lives matter or police lives matter? Not at all. As evangelicals we believe that all people are created in God’s image and therefore all life is sacred. But when one segment of our population is disproportionately incarcerated, poor, on welfare, and shot by police while unarmed, we have to say that something is wrong.

    Before assuming that Thabiti is wrong because he used a buzz word we don’t like, perhaps we should look at this the other way. Thabiti has a long history of biblical faithfulness and gospel fidelity. When he uses a buzz word we don’t like, perhaps we should investigate why. He may have a very valid point.

    1. Andy Stevenson says:

      “Thabiti has a long history of biblical faithfulness and gospel fidelity.”

      This is a salient point. I’m reminded of the children in CS Lewis’ The Lion, The Witch, and the Wardrobe struggling with how to process Lucy’s claims of a magical country inside the wardrobe, as they had always regarded her as truthful up until that point. If that is so, the Professor observes, maybe they ought to continue to regard her as truthful.

  8. Paul P. says:

    And Facebook was most def not the place for that especially for a brother in Christ.

  9. Andy Stevenson says:

    I love Phil Johnson, and God has used some of his projects in the past (such as the Team Pyro blog and the Spurgeon archive) providentially in my life to confront me in my shallow spirituality and awaken theological thirst in me. I do think he’s in the wrong in this instance, but I can certainly relate to the social media temptation to fire off an opinion that I would probably have tempered given more time.

    I was shown a quote last night by Adoniram Judson who was counseling missionary candidates in the early 1800s that they would encounter fellow believers in the field from other cultures, practicing many things that would shock them culturally, and urging them not to become disillusioned or discouraged. I think there’s something similar going on here.

    Let’s praise God that he uses clay vessels to manifest his surpassing power, and let’s pray that he would continue to unify and sanctify his elect through our fellowship with one another—that we would hone our comrades in the battle, as iron sharpens iron.

  10. G. Meadows says:

    Bro. Thabiti, A gracious response with a gracious tone. I was in a similar conversation yesterday about “social gospel”. Of course, you articulated much better. My position was that I don’t believe there is a “social gospel” but simply “The Gospel”. However, it cannot be denied that the Scriptures do affirm that the Gospel has both a Spiritual and a Social dynamic, in that order. Horizontal (relationship/reconciliation with God) then Vertical (relationship/reconciliation) with our neighbors. Luke 10:29 & James 2 testifies to this. I don’t think this should considered “mission drifting”. No difference from any other humanitarian effort that evangelicals engage in.

  11. Betty says:

    I am so very appreciative of you Pastor Anyabwile. I read this article and what came through was an unapologetic follower of Christ first of all and an unapologetic black man. This makes me so proud. I listen to Voddie Baucham’s fox interview and his statements on the panel on race and I was repulsed and disappointed. The man denied the reality of systemic racism in America and showed no charity or grace on the issue. Perhaps in the tradition of so many, Mr Johnson was expecting you to say exactly the sort of thing that Voddie Baucham said. I am so glad you have refused to behave that way and that you have stood up for what is right even at the expense of this type of criticism. Even in this article you make sure to explain that you are not angry simply because you know you will be painted as the ‘angry black man’. if you got angry about homosexuality or abortion they wouldn’t mind. This shows you that you are only allowed to get angry when they say you can. Please continue to stand up, your children have an amazing example of a man to look up to. No cooning or saying your own race celebrates crime in order to ingratiate yourself with white reformed people. I’m so proud of this response, gentle yet firm.

    1. John Sather says:

      Amen Bettty

  12. lpadron says:

    TA, thanks (yet again!) for demonstrating what the fruit of the Spirit looks like when addressing members of the *family* in public. Keep up the excellent work!

  13. Eric Van Dyken says:

    The word agitator is historically loaded. I don’t think it’s helpful for Thabiti to say that if one rejects “social justice” then one also rejects the Bible. The phrase “social justice” is every bit as much a loaded term as agitator. Pure Biblical justice? Sure. Social justice as understood and promoted by many (including BLM) today? Absolutely not.

    1. John Rabe says:

      This is exactly correct. I genuinely believe that Thabiti is well-intentioned, so he can’t see the enormous contradiction involved in calling out Johnson on the freighting of the term “agitator” while at the same time claiming that one can use terms like “social justice” and “black lives matter” as if those terms weren’t enormously freighted as well. He does the same thing to Johnson he thinks Johnson does to him.

      1. Thabiti Anyabwile says:

        Hi Eric and John,

        I appreciate your observations. You’re correct. I didn’t consider or write about the ways “social justice” is a loaded term. My blind spot, I suppose, is that I want Bible believing Christians to recover rather than abandon the term. But I accept your critique that it’s a loaded term and I failed to demonstrate that.

        Having said that, I want to offer one distinction, though. “Social justice” refers to a set of principles and activities, however defined. “Agitator” refers to a person. So, where I am here parsing terms and ideas, calling me an “agitator” is an ad hominem attack against me as a person. They’re both loaded, but one is fired at the person. Maybe this is another blind spot, but that seems like a very big and significant difference.


        1. Eric Van Dyken says:

          Hello Brother Thabiti,

          Thank you for your kind response. One note of follow-up: I offer a challenge to the idea that “social justice” is term that Christians should seek to “recover” in some way. I don’t see the Bible using such terminology. I think the term to be recovered is “justice”, which is explicit Biblical language and has been in many modern cases been redefined to mean some combination of mercy, self-pitty, retribution, and plain-old stealing.

          I can see your distinction in use of terms. I’ll note, however, that you sweepingly accuse many Christians of rejecting the Bible (sounds personal to me!) because they don’t embrace what you admit is a loaded term.

          Thank you for your gracious interaction.

          1. Thabiti Anyabwile says:

            Hi Eric,

            You can drop the modifier “social” if you like. That’s fine, brother. But when you read the Bible’s use of justice it’s inescapably social. The entire idea of “justice” presumes some social setting and responsibilities. It, in fact, includes things like mercy, restoration, retribution, and even redistribution or restitution. A biblical view of “justice” has to involve these other biblical notions. It strikes me as deeply problematic that sometimes when some people say “biblical justice” they shave off these very notions and end up talking about a “justice” that’s quite foreign to the Bible.

            If that feels sweeping it’s because I think the problem is sweeping. This is no small issue. I think the evangelical Church on the whole fails to grasp much of the biblical data on justice. It’s not about semantics. It’s about the actual concepts represented by those terms.


            1. Eric Van Dyken says:

              Hello Thabiti,

              I agree wholeheartedly that Biblical justice must necessarily apply on a broader scale than just personal – i.e.: it must also be social. I will offer that it in today’s culture, speaking of justice and speaking of social justice are two very different things, so I think removing the “social” is a big deal as we choose our terminology. And I don’t think that you really believe that I reject the Bible because I make that distinction.

              I’ve said enough, and will leave it at that. Thank you.

            2. Thabiti Anyabwile says:

              Hi Eric,

              You’re absolutely correct that I do NOT believe you reject the Bible because you’d want to drop the adjective “social.” As I said, I think that’s fine. I have no problem with that at all–especially since you’re calling for a well-orbed, biblical understanding of justice. Which I, too, want to see held.

              Grace to you, brother.

        2. Jeremy says:

          Ron, firing at the person is not necessarily an ad hominem. It only becomes ad hominem when the character of the person is then used as a reason to reject the argument. “Agitator” is perfectly accurate, and it is not presented as the reason your perspective is wrong.

        3. Alan Gertonson says:

          Love this, dear brother. Thanks for demonstrating grace in this all. Well said.

        4. John Rabe says:

          Thank you for your gracious response, Thabiti. I certainly–obviously–get behind the very vital notion that God loves justice, and that the lives of black people are eternally (and temporally) important. And I further agree that not enough evangelical attention is currently paid to justice in society (a discussion which would need to encompass a number of worldview issues, including the God-given role of the state in the new covenant). The difficulty comes because the terms “social justice” and “#blacklivesmatter” entail a rather specific political and social outlook–program, even–that is not shared by everyone who genuinely cares about true, biblical justice for all and the valuing and protection of black lives–which is the “freighting” I appreciate you acknowledging. The social characteristics the labels take on do matter. (For instance, my primary “identity” is as a “Christian”–and I would be foolish to therefore proclaim myself in favor of “Christian Identity”– a abhorrent movement has taken that name and made it famous, even though the constituent terms make sense and would be affirmed by every Christian).

          While Phil’s comment may be ad hominem and can be criticized on that point, the issue I’m getting at is that two things are possible, and we all need to give each other some charity on them (which I know you’ll agree with):

          1). The societal meaning placed on certain terms really does matter
          2). It’s possible to be ignorant of the societal meaning placed on a term and to not mean it in its freighted sense. This is what I hear you saying about your use of “#blacklivesmatter,” and it’s possible that Phil meant “agitator” in the literal, un-freighted sense as well. And we should assume the best of both of you, and you of each other.

          1. John Rabe says:

            [And I know you’ve received precious little of the charity I’m advocating when it comes to this discussion, and I’m sorry about that.]

      2. tamara says:

        When Mr.Thabiti used his term of black lives matter it was not in the form of negative reference to Mr. Johnson. Where as Mr. Johnson although not maliciously but in fact did seek to use a word such as “agitator” to draw some reference to Mr. Thabiti actions.

    2. Luke says:

      The fact that Pastor Thabiti equates the “social justice” of the Bible with the “social justice” that Pastor Phil rejects is totally dishonest (or at least disingenuous) on his part. Anyone who was a Thabiti Anyabwile fan before and saw through that deception should be disappointed in him now.

  14. Krillian says:

    Thabiti, thank for taking the time to carefully and with great eloquence express your position. I’m a 42-year old white male who’s been striving to be a strong follower of Christ for the last 12 years. I remember hearing the question, “Do #BlackLivesMatter or Do #AlllivesMatter” at one of the Democratic debates? I would respond that the question in and of itself is misleading as an either/or question. Of course, as Judeo-Christians we embrace the notion that all human life should be honored b/c we understand that we were all created in God’s image (as you referred to in Genesis)- that includes the full spectrum of races, creeds, ethnicities, etc., so naturally black lives do matter under the umbrella of the notion that “AlllivesMatter”. So why ask the question? And why is this statement #BlackLivesMatter a hot-button?

    Difficult to make this concept fully tangible, but even while the essential definition of words are true to our Judeo-Christian message, the perceived cultural interpretation of those words could still distort them into another meaning. The #BlackLivesMatter, just like the term “Agitator”, in and of themselves could have more innocent intentions given their essential meaning, but cultural interpretation and usage has arguably shaped them into another.

    Also, I humbly feel the term #BlackLivesMatter, while essentially true, predisposes itself to cultural controversy b/c it highlights a specific classification of people without the inclusion of others. Martin Luther King Jr. understood this- He always lead his charge in Civil Rights with the understanding that all lives matter which provides the equally important justification and desired unity for all races and classes of people. It lifts up those who are struggling, while at the same time never (albeit unintentionally) excluding others. The exclusive potential for #BlackLivesMatter has resonated negatively with both blacks and whites alike, and rather than creating an opportunity to come together it has created more racial insecurity and division. That’s fully realized when you see two respectful and admirable Christians such as you and Phil arguing over these words.

    Having said that, “social justice” also has become distorted from its biblical truth understanding to a politically charged statement. Those words within the American culture, no longer have the same meaning as the biblical intention. I was humbled in learning this when I spoke out for the biblically intended “social justice” in one of my bible studies. I had no idea or familiarity with what those words now represent to the politically-minded. Now you may still appreciate and respect the more political definition (which incorporates more government control over matters of social justice- that’s an independent political debate worth having), but its new interpretation and the biblical definition are no longer really the same.

    Just my humble opinion…hope it helps in providing more context to a dense and multi-faceted area of Christian discussion. I applaud you for sharing your own understanding in a respectful and loving manner. Grace and peace to you my brother.

    1. Zema says:

      Krillian, you appear to trying to give Thabiti an MLK pill, which is what Europeans (aka “whites”) often do to try to silence Afrikans when racism is brought up. MLK said:

      King on confronting systemic racism:

      “The thing wrong with America is white racism.” –Martin Luther King Jr. (1968)

      “I am sorry to have to say that the vast majority of white Americans are racists, either consciously or unconsciously.” – MLK (1967)

      “White America has allowed itself to be indifferent to race prejudice.” – MLK (1968)

      “Large segments of white society are more concerned about tranquility & the status quo than about justice & humanity.” – MLK

      1/2: “The doctrine of white supremacy was imbedded in every textbook and preached in practically every pulpit…” – MLK

      2/2: “… It became a structural part of the culture.” –Martin Luther King Jr. on white supremacy (1967)

      “The great majority of Americans… are uneasy with injustice but unwilling yet to pay a significant price to eradicate it.” – MLK

      “There aren’t enough white persons in our country who are willing to cherish democratic principles over privilege.” – MLK

      “The first thing that must be on the agenda of our nation is to get rid of racism.” – MLK (1968)

      “However difficult it is to hear, however shocking it is to hear, we’ve got to face the fact that America is a racist country.” – MLK (1968)

      “We must come to see that the roots of racism are very deep in our country.” – MLK

      “There must be something positive & massive in order to get rid of all the effects of racism & the tragedies of racial injustice.” – MLK

      “Racism is a philosophy based on contempt for life.” – MLK (1967)

      King on police brutality:

      “The beating and killing of our… young people will not divert us. The arrest and release of known murderers will not discourage us.” – MLK

      “When we truly believe in the sacredness of human personality, we won’t exploit people … we won’t kill anybody.” – MLK (1968)

      “We can never be satisfied as long as the Negro is the victim of the unspeakable horrors of police brutality.” – MLK, Aug. 28, 1963

      “The white man does not abide by the law… His police forces are the ultimate mockery of law.” – MLK (1968)

      “We can never be satisfied as long as our children are stripped of their selfhood and robbed of their dignity.” – MLK, Aug. 28, 1963

      “We have got to go all out to deal with the question of segregation justice. We still have a long, long, way to go.” – MLK (1965)

      “How long will justice be crucified and truth buried, how long?” – MLK (1962)

      “Wounded justice lying prostrate on the streets of our cities.” – MLK (1962)

      King on the importance of direct action and civil disobedience:

      “The blanket of fear was lifted by Negro youth. When they took their struggle to the streets a new spirit of resistance was born.” – MLK

      “When [Black youth] cheerfully became jailbirds & troublemakers… they challenged & inspired white youth to emulate them.” – MLK

      “I’ve just come to a conclusion that our country doesn’t really move on these issues until a movement is mobilized.” – MLK (1968)

      “I’m talking about poor people’s power. That is what is needed.” – MLK (1968)

      “Every [person] of humane convictions must decide on the protest that best suits [his or her] convictions, but we must all protest.” – MLK

      “There must be more than a statement to the larger society; there must be a force that interrupts its functioning at some key point.” – MLK

      “Our power lies in our ability to say that we aren’t gonna take it any longer.” – MLK (1967)

      “I’m worried today when there are those who try to silence dissenters.” – MLK

      “We aren’t going to let this attempt to crush dissent turn us around.” – MLK (1968)

      “Our experience is that marches must continue over 30-45 days to produce any meaningful results.” – MLK

      “I believe in dissent. We must never lose this.” – MLK

      “The greatness of our nation–and I don’t want to see us lose it–is that… it does keep alive the opportunity to protest and dissent.” – MLK

      King on the question of “Riots”

      “Social justice and progress are the absolute guarantors of riot prevention. There is no other answer.” – MLK (1967)

      “Riots are not the causes of white resistance, they are consequences of it.” – MLK (1967)

      “There are many persons who wince at a distinction between property & persons—who hold both sacrosanct. My views are not so rigid.” – MLK

      “Three hundred years of humiliation, abuse and deprivation cannot be expected to find voice in a whisper.” – MLK

      “It is clear that the riots were exacerbated by police action that was intended to injure or even to kill people.” – MLK (1968)

      “Our summers of riots are caused by winters of delay.” – MLK

      King on interconnection and linking issues and movements:

      “It really boils down to this: that all life is interrelated.” – MLK

      “The black revolution is much more than a struggle for the rights of Negroes…” (1/2) – MLK
      (2/2) “… It is, rather, forcing America to face all its interrelated flaws: racism, poverty, militarism, and materialism.” – MLK (1968)

      “Local problems are all interconnected with world problems.” – MLK (1968)

      “I’m still convinced that the struggle for peace and the struggle for justice… happen to be tied together.” – MLK (1968)

      King on economic justice and ending poverty

      “The time has come for an all-out world war against poverty.” – MLK

      1/2: “The nation doesn’t move around questions of genuine equality for the poor and for black people…”

      2/2: “… until it is confronted massively, dramatically in terms of direct action.” – MLK

      “Many white Americans have never connected bigotry with economic exploitation.” – MLK

      “I still have to ask, why do you have 40 million people in our society who are poor? I have to ask that question.” – MLK (1966)

      “Poverty, the gaps in our society, the gulfs between inordinate superfluous wealth & abject deadening poverty have brought about… despair” – MLK

      “There’s going to have to be more sharing in this world.” – MLK (1967)

      “I think it is absolutely necessary now to deal massively and militantly with the economic problem.” – MLK, 10 days before assassination

      1. IQ says:

        Don’t you love Malcolm X for this reason though? He never said anything that people can use in this way. I have listened to an entire sermon by John Piper where he basically let us know everything bad that Martin Luther King ever did, he was a Liberal theologian, he committed plagiarism and adultery etc. Well that makes no difference to me as I don’t think MLK was a Christian and I certainly don’t look to him for spiritual guidance. I respect Malcolm X’s call to black people to assert their 2nd amendment right to bear arms under the Constitution. They try to vilify the people or organisations that express the truth about the situation of black people by showing everything wrong with the person or organisation in question. Newsflash white Reformed people, anyone can speak truth and just because a Christian supports a statement doesn’t mean that the Christian has to fully endorse every other statement ever made by the person/organisation or indeed the person or organisation as a whole. The only thing I need to support 100% is the Bible. :)

        1. Zema says:

          Funny thing about Piper is he doesn’t emphasize everything that Jonathan Edwards ever did wrong.

          I don’t believe Jonathan Edwards is a Christian. Jonathan Edwards defended his ownership of slaves by saying: “If [the critics of slave owners] continue to cry out against those who keep Negro slaves, they would show themselves to be hypocrites, because they too benefited from the slave trade. Let them also fully and thoroughly vindicate themselves and their own practice in partaking of Negroes’ slavery, or confess that there is no hurt in partaking in it, otherwise let them own that their objections are not conscientious.” I’d post the link but I don’t know if links are allowed on this blog.

  15. Thabiti Anyabwile says:

    Dear Krilian,

    Grace and peace to you, too, brother. Thank you for your irenic tone and your earnest engagement with these issues/discussions.

    I completely agree that the term “social justice” gets freighted with a lot of meanings, many of them neither biblical and, consequently, just. So, in my opinion, we have to be careful to say what we mean when we say these things. And if there are better terms, I’m happy to use them. But “justice” is all over the Bible and belongs to God’s people as a call and an inheritance. That’s why I think it’s important not to concede it to “the left” or any such group, but to breathe biblical life into it.

    As for Dr. King, I think it’s important to note that King very clearly fought for the dignity of Black people against a country and system assaulting and denying that dignity. I find his efforts miraculous in its utter stress of love, forgiveness, redemptive suffering and reconciliation.

    But we have to be careful here lest we slip into some revision of his message and that history. Dr. King and the CRM very self-consciously and vocally asserted that Black lives matter. They used a thousand other phrases, but that’s the message. Picture the protestors holding signs that say, “I am a man,” itself a later iteration of the abolitionist protest “Ain’t I a Man?” The CRM asserted that black lives matter without reviling others, but the message was “black lives matter.” There was a particularity about black lives. There are people out there who appropriate King to deny that particularity. We don’t want to do that because it’s not accurate. I’m not saying you do that; I’m trying now to guard against the next commenter who would.

    And we should also note one other thing: Dr. King was killed for that message. Though he affirmed love and life while championing the dignity of Black people, his message was not accepted and his life was violently taken. It wasn’t taken because he preached love or because he believed all lives matter. It was taken because he dared say black lives matter as much as everyone else’s. He was deemed an “agitator” and was eliminated by avowed racists. I raise that to point out that acceptance of the dignity of African-American life has never been easily accepted, even when the messenger was the preacher of love. We need to learn from that and we need to avoid language that conjures that past.

    Grace and peace to you as well,

  16. Jason says:

    I came across this post/article by accident(providentially?). I have no idea who you are, lol.
    But I want you to know that I was very impressed with how you responded to the accusation leveled against you. How you wrote was exceedingly gracious, kind, and loving. All I can say is “wow”. You are definitely a gifted writer being able to write such a kind and friendly response. You are an inspiration on how to respond to a critic and I am keeping your article to refer to and learn from when I respond to a critic.

    1. Thabiti Anyabwile says:


      Welcome to the blog and the conversation, friend. Thank you so much for this very kind encouragement. I’ll keep the encouragement for days when in this fallen life I’ll surely need it. And thank you for encouraging my wife, who has been reading through the comments and let out an “Awww” when she got to this :-). You encouraged my wife and that, dear friend, I count as a tremendous gift!

      Bless you,

  17. Bob Browning says:

    I would absolutely LOVE to see Phil come to the porch!

    I pray these differences can be settled in a God-honoring fashion by these brothers who I’ve benefited so much from.

  18. Pk says:

    I’m kind of a bottom line guy. Judging from Thabati’s post and responses, he isn’t too thrilled with the idea of being labeled in ways he doesn’t believe represent him. And I sense he finds the term “agitator” a bit disconcerting as it was, in times past, a term often employed to discredit people who were trying to accomplish something.

    I don’t know if it relates, but I know that last month when David Bowie died, I posted something positive about his artistic talent. This post evoked from a few people responses of bewilderment. They wondered how I could support an artistic who was obviously so wrapped up in cultic confusion and immorality. They assumed that my appreciation of the man’s talent meant I approved of his entire life. IOW, I ought not say anything well of him if I couldn’t approve of everything about him.

    1. Pk says:

      Sometimes in life it’s wise to think about our associations and take special care to think about how we communicate things to others. But sometimes you just can’t care about the different ways people will nitpick the ways you try to communicate your views.

  19. Jason Daugherty says:

    Gracious response my brother… how do you determine which critics “need a reply?” I’m not implying this one wasn’t needed but i’m curious what criteria you use?

    1. Thabiti Anyabwile says:

      Hi Jason,

      As a rule, I believe people like me who write and comment publicly are accountable for what they write. So if I write something confusing, I try to clarify. If I write something that’s factually or morally wrong, I try to take responsibility for it in an appropriate way. If someone offers a solid critique of my position, then that deserves acknowledgement at the least and modification at times. And if people take the time to read and interact, as long as I think I’m dealing with a reasonable person, I try to repay the courtesy by responding to their comments or questions. I can’t always do the latter, but I try. It just seems like it’s the best way to do something truly “social” on “social media.” Finally, there are times when either the issues at stake or the persons involved simply demand reply. So you try to find a way to respond then.

      Hope that helps,

  20. Wayne Smith says:

    I appreciate this discussion and specifically the careful way we use terms whether seen as personal attacks or discussions of biblical principles. Thanks for attempting to clarify your positions and terms, Pastor Thabiti. The United Nations identifies social justice with the following, “Social justice is not possible without strong and coherent redistributive policies conceived and implemented by public agencies.”

    I think this understanding is internationally understood as “social justice”, at least until I began hearing it from Christians in the last number of years. It aligns fairly closely with its use in Liberation Theology, as I understand it.

    Is the above statement what Pastor Thabiti is advocating and insist is biblical?

    1. Thabiti Anyabwile says:

      No, I think that’s an insufficient definition. For example, to argue social justice is not possible apart from policies “conceived and implemented by public agencies” is a bridge too far. I think public agencies have their place. But they’re not the originators or final arbiters of justice. God and His word is. Hope that helps.


  21. Greg Smith says:

    My problem with the words “Black Lives Matter” is not the principle… Black lives DO matter. But the politics of the situation become painfully clear when one simply puts another race as the identifier: “White Lives Matter” or “Asian Lives Matter” or “Russian Lives Matter”. When the people who use that hashtag “boo” people off stages for saying, what is the most Biblical statement “All Lives Matter”… then we know that the base wording “Black Lives Matter” has been infused with a deeper meaning which should generate caution. Having said that… I enjoy what Thabiti Anyabwile has said and his short but clear response. We can be deeply Biblical and Gospel centered yet struggle with the implications of applying that Gospel to the challenges of a sin soaked world in different ways and contexts. That is where humility is of utmost necessity.

    1. Zema says:

      No, Greg. You simply don’t know what the phrase means. “Black Lives Matter” means “Black Lives are treated as though they don’t Matter”. Please stop falsely accusing people of being “un-biblical” because that is a lie.

  22. IQ says:

    Pastor TA this is so great to see. As soon as I read ‘this is not a good look’ in reference to Mr Johnson’s use of the term ‘agitator’ I knew I was dealing with an unapologetic black man lol! More seriously, Mr Johnson’s statement lets me know what his response would have been were this about 60 years ago on the topic of civil rights or on a ‘leftist’ like MLK. They say they are only about the gospel when black people outside of the womb are being killed with impunity by law enforcement, however the issues of abortion and homosexuality somehow are able to be dealt with by them while being firmly anchored in this same gospel. Curious. Please keep being unapologetic, the JD Hall fellow in response to criticism for his bad behaviour said that ‘God gave you the name Ron Burns’. This man is a friend of Phil Johnson. Keep standing up for us. Your allegiance is to Christ, you don’t have to call black people criminals and say they deserve what they are getting in order to prove how reformed you are. I love that you are involved with ‘the front porch’ and that you were involved with the panel on race with Voddie Baucham and others where one of the brothers (and by brothers I mean black men) said during the second session that for him, racial reconciliation within the church in America would be complete when a white man could submit concerning Christian Discipline to a black elder. This shows you where most people are coming from and quite frankly still are, they only recently let you even worship in the same churches with them so you should be grateful and only support what they support. The fact that a JD Hall can tell you what your own name is and instead of Johnson publicly calling him to order, he makes this kind of statement makes you wonder.

  23. Missy Markum says:

    Claiming special status for use of acceptable and normal vocabulary and worse, suspecting bad motives and assigning historical ignorance to P. Johnson and claiming subsequent victimization both destroys free and honest expression and sets up a false vocabulary morality. It is ugly posturing. You’ll never have real dialog with that kind of paradigm.
    Phil Johnson’s comment isn’t the only public rebuke I’ve noticed of late toward you by well-known or read Evangelicals, Mr. Anyabwile. Maybe another consideration is that you are wrong.
    This may be a watershed moment that has building for some time.
    I believe also that your Evangelical brothers don’t ignore any verses/passages but interpret thus, apply them differently than you.

  24. Jon Oren says:


    I’ve been reading engaging with your work for a few years now, and greatly appreciate the clarity you’ve brought the American Evangelical world especially in the past two years. My wife and I (both white) lived/worked in a predominantly AA community for two years some time ago. During that time, our lives and understanding changed. Furthermore, we have two sons who were born in Ethiopia. I think it’s safe to say we are fundamentally different from those 2 years, and we continue to change in this regard. I’m convinced my views were impermeable until life was lived up close with folks unlike myself. Painful at first, because I had to confront some ugly, subconscious realities, but wouldn’t trade the outcome for anything.

    All of this to say, I am astounded, and thank Jesus above all in the ways that you’ve spoken with clarity, conviction, and patience toward my ’15-year-ago’ self. I imagine that the constant explaining, re-explaining, defending, patience, and re-explaining can be exhausting. Let’s be honest, your hair is nearly all white now :)

    Brother, I love and respect you from afar. I point my boys toward your modern example of love for Jesus Christ and fellow man even when hostility is within the household

    1. John Sather says:


    2. Alan Gertonson says:

      Love this. Amen.

    3. Thabiti Anyabwile says:

      Dear brother,

      That’s a very gracious encouragement and I’m thankful for it. Even thankful for the laugh. My hair is nearly all white now! Not sure how that happened so fast! LOL

      Every blessing on you, your wife, those two dear sons of yours, and all you do for Christ our Savior!

  25. Caleb says:

    Hello Thabiti,
    Thank you for your gracious response to Phil. I love both of you and have been greatly blessed by both of your ministries. To be honest, I am very surprised by the amount of angry and uninformed responses to your post. I cannot help but think that many of the commenters have either failed to read your post thoroughly or they have elevated a political stance above the obedience of the clear Scriptural mandates to seek justice. Perhaps some readers are unaware that you have been very consistent at being an advocate for all life regardless of age or race. In the comments I have read, some have asserted that you are affiliating yourself with terrorists by affirming the truth that black lives matter. I do not know how you could have been more clear in your post that affirming the obvious Biblical truth that black live matter does not mean that they matter more, or at the expense, of other lives. Some people just see what they want to see.

    Due to many of the events that have garnered national attention over the last two years, racism has once again been brought into the light of public awareness. I am thankful that this issue has not simply been swept under the rug. I have been very disappointed that so many Christians have either denied that racism has been a factor in these terrible events, or denied that there is any part for the church to play in restoring (or in many cases initializing) racial justice to our society.

    From my limited viewpoint, it seems that there are very few reasonable voices that are being heard through the noise on this issue. As you pointed out, so many evangelicals cannot even bring themselves to utter the phrase “black lives matter.” I hope that your stand on this issue will help many Christian leaders to stand for life in all its forms.

    I am very thankful for your ministry and your stand for justice. As a father who desires for his children to live in a more just world, a pastor of a multi-ethnic church, a Christian who desires to honor Christ in every aspect of life, I thank you for your strength to stand up for Biblical truth in gracious ways.

    1. John Sather says:

      Thank you Caleb!!

  26. John Sather says:

    Phil Johnson’s comment about our brother Thabiti is disgusting and disturbing. And the comments on his FB page by so called “Reformed evangelicals” border on being racist. The white majority is scared to death of biblical truth of justice.

  27. Stacey C says:

    After reading Phil’s original post, T’s article, and the comments that have followed, all I can add to the conversation is ‘Come quickly, Lord Jesus’! At some point, the Gospel has to be enough . . .

    1. Chad R says:

      Whenever I hear someone say “Lord come quickly” I always ask, what if he would’ve come one day before you were saved? However I use that to get people off their rears to start evangelizing. I new what you meant, hope you don’t take offense. Picture a chubby white guy with freckles saying this with a chipped tooth smile.

  28. Joshua Olivero says:

    Phil should have reached out privately before he slandered TA publicly(I read that somewhere). Its funny, if you google John MacArthur or Phil you’d first find articles, interviews, and sermons where they are bashing what they believe to be heretics. That might sound noble until you realize that one of the most brilliant theological minds of our day(and his faithful sidekick) is more known for what he is against than for what he’s for. Whats more troubling is their tendency to always bash people publicly without reaching out to people privately.

    1. John Sather says:

      so true Joshua

  29. Thabiti!
    I commend you for your wise words and your clear and gracious language. Thank you, brother.
    And really, I’m probably most impressed and encouraged by your PATIENCE with your ongoing discussion of racial injustice with evangelicals. Dang, brother. I can imagine how easy it would be to throw up your hands and give up. May God give you much joy and peace and wisdom and patience as you stand up for the gospel, both its deep and its wide implications for broken individuals and broken systems in our world. There are many, many Kingdom-minded people who are with you.

    To the comment above, “At some point, the Gospel has to be enough…” The gospel is enough! And precisely because it’s enough we are strengthened and compelled to confront sin issues in our world and the church with conviction and endurance and kindness and love. Racial injustice in America, like abortion, is a gospel issue.

  30. Larry Johnson says:

    This very interesting commentary folks dont realize the bias coming out of their responses to Thabiti principle support of the hashtag “black lives matter” I have seen hashtag “standing up for the unborn” which I wholeheartedly support and I believe most on this comment list would also. Why is alright to support the hashtag “standing up for the unborn” but not black lives matter. When a person says they support the unborn it doesn’t mean that they totally disregard the lives of toddlers and young children it only means that they realize that the country has failed to provide equal and fair treatment to a large swath of society vis a “the unborn” and when I say I am for the right of the unborn, that doesn’t mean that I support the idiots who shoot up abortion clinic. Affirming the core premises of a statement doesn’t mean that you inscribed to the cultural redefinition of the term

    1. Alan Gertonson says:

      I agree with you, Larry. And I agree with TA on that point to the core. I think that, sadly, some vicious, hateful people have made the #blm “movement” into something ugly. I think if people would publicly advocate murdering people and hashtag it with #standingfortheunborn (and some may in fact do this), I think we would do well to be circumspect about how and when and in what conversations we would associate with that.

      Reading through this thread, and a author’s responses, I see much better what his association with this phrase is, and I it doesn’t surprise me. Sadly, there are others trolling these comments that think they’re “on his side”, when the bitterness they display actually damages his point.

      Glad to see some deeper understanding and discussion coming from this.

      1. Zema says:

        Alan, you are a relentless slanderer. You sound racist and prejudiced (2 different things), as you’re so desperate, like all other racist and prejudiced people, to find something to discredit those trying to end this disgusting system of racism that you benefit from, that you would make something up because you can’t legitimately discredit the movement. No one “publicly advocated murdering people and hashtagged it”. Associating those who “publicly advocate murdering people” with those who use the hashtag is as slanderous as associating those who protest to end abortion with those who have committed (not just “publicly advocate”) murder against abortion “doctors”.

        And in case you didn’t realize this, those who “publicly advocated murdering people” were payed by the government or forced by the government to do what they did. The proof is that it’s on tape and they were not arrested, yet peaceful protesters have been arrested and tear-gassed en masse.

        1. Tom says:

          Serious charge, there, Zema, Legally actionable.
          Prove it.

    2. Alan Gertonson says:

      Everyone has a bias. Wise men realize their own. May we all be so by grace alone.

  31. TC says:

    Thabiti. The tragic thing about the African American reformed/evangelical movement is how smart brothers like you have to waste so much time and energy proving your credibility to white people. It makes me sad in so many ways.

    If you say that Black Lives matter you are suspect.

    If you point out systemic injustice you are suspect.

    If you talk about the ways you’ve personally experienced racism you’re suspect.

    Anything other than a denial of racism’s existence and a conciliatory tone toward people who don’t want to talk about racism makes you suspect.

    One of the ironies many of the readers of this website will miss is how this very discussion makes Thabiti less influential in the very community he hopes to influence. The average person of color would be puzzled by the hostility he encounters and would conclude that he must be “selling out” on some level. The African American community has always valued the prophetic courage of its preachers but once black men enter the white reformed world they somehow become muzzled.

    To any person familiar with the historic injustices in this country, and concerned about the way black lives have not mattered, and still don’t matter, a few theological types questioning Thabiti’s carefully nuanced endorsement of the term Black Lives Matter is eminently laughable.

    Malcolm X once famously said “What do white people call a black man with a PhD.” The answer was “a negro.” In my experience a similar question could be asked. “What do you call a faithful, gospel-centered, thoroughly reformed, black man, who wants to be credible in the eyes of white people?” The answer would be “a house negro.”

    I don’t by any means think Thabiti is a house negro, but I do think the docile, muzzled, prophetically impotent black man is the only type who will ever be welcomed in certain white reformed/evangelical circles.

    1. Alan Gertonson says:

      I feel sad because I feel the frustration that leaves no room for grace and hope in the last statement. I can’t support that as the final conclusion for any reason other than I believe that the power of the Gospel will make a bigger impact than that.

      How would I minister if I said to the lost, “I don’t believe you’ll ever be anything other than a trashy degenerate who makes poor decisions,”? There is not Gospel or grace in that. Some of us white reformed evangelicals – and I don’t assume meant your statement to be without exception – waded into this conversation looking for genuine conversation, understanding, clarity, and unity. Thank God, He has provided some. But it would be good to notice that some of those attempting to do so have been treated pretty badly in this thread, accused of a lot of dastardly things, and essentially written off as deliverance-worshipping racist hillbillies who adopt black kids and do ministry with minorities to “feel good about ourselves” or “show off”. To be sure, there are some of those people that fit the stereotype here, too. Do those things happen? Yes. But anger will never bring about righteousness. I didn’t say it, God did.

      James 1:19-20. 19My dear brothers and sisters, take note of this: Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry, 20because human anger does not produce the righteousness that God desires. 21Therefore, get rid of all moral filth and the evil that is so prevalent and humbly accept the word planted in you, which can save you.

      Romans 12: 21 – Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.
      Forgive me for replying on your post, friend. I hear your frustration, too. Let us find hope together in the Gospel. This black/white thing is real. Agreed. So we know where we are at. How can we lock arms and get out together? The Gospel is the power and the answer. The Gospel justifies AND sanctifies. The alternatives will get us about as far toward bearing the image of Christ as a Palestinian/Israeli argument over “who hit whom first”.

      Let me be the first to volunteer: Hit me last. Crucify me. I can’t save you, but if it makes anyone feel better, so be it. Maybe my Lord can use it. And I know where I’m going because I know in whom I have believed.

      Many blessings, friend.

    2. GM says:

      Wow. Sadly but true!

    3. Thabiti Anyabwile says:

      Dear TC,

      Thank you for your comment and for joining the conversation. You wrote:

      “One of the ironies many of the readers of this website will miss is how this very discussion makes Thabiti less influential in the very community he hopes to influence.”

      That is a rich irony indeed. I won’t recount them, but few will ever know the mounting costs on every side associated with trying to inhabit this space between two communities so often distrusting of each other. Thank you for saying it. If I am going to be completely honest, this cost inside my own community is why I have for a few years seriously contemplated leaving these spaces to only pastor the local church the Lord has given me to shepherd. Almost every day that seems like the very best route. Were it not for the many folks who receive some encouragement, feel represented, and feel like some good was resulting (their comments have very often kept me going), I would have dropped back a long, long time ago. I’m trusting it’s worth it and trusting the Lord will give us all grace.

      Lord I believe; help my unbelief.


    4. Wyeth Duncan says:

      TC, sadly, I think so, too.

  32. Pk says:

    And I imagine there has been a cost to your own spirit as well. People rarely know or appreciate the person who inhabits the in-between space.

    1. Pk says:

      More specifically, people rearely know or understand the stress and strain the in between person experiences.

  33. Ryan says:

    Thank you, Pastor Thabiti for speaking up about this. This man has slandered many of my heroes and friends. He has rarely been held accountable for his words. I think you’re the first to speak up.

    Black Lives Matter is a lot of things. It isn’t a radical left wing group. It’s a loose network of people decrying institutional racism, and police brutality. Young people from the local churches are involved. To be sympathetic to the movement is only to unite around those two issues.

    Institutional racism is more present in conservative churches than it is in the society at large. It exists in assumptions and presuppositions that people aren’t aware of. It is revealed in attitudes about issues like these.

    Lastly, Ronald Reagan, George Bush, and George W. Bush all did nothing to stop abortion. They did promote a war on drugs that turned into a war on people of color. They also promoted wars that resulted in death, destruction, and debt. It is not unChristian to consider voting for Bernie Sanders.

    You are giving a voice and encouragement to many.

    I can’t thank you enough.

    1. Salvatore Mazzotta says:

      Ryan, you could say the very same things about Obama as you have about Reagan and the Bushes. And your conclusion? Ought we to vote for the pure socialist, pure pro-abortionist, because we have had presidents who were semi-socialist and not so concerned about the lives of babies? Absurd. It is unchristian.

  34. Terry C says:


    I am a black and reformed Pastor (although I did not grow up that way or even knew it was such a thing) and I highly admire your courage and graciousness in continuing to respond to the comments of people whose reading comprehension levels seem to be pretty low. I have probably spent the last hour or so reading through all of the comments and my frustration levels have risen pretty high. As a young man who constantly engages in conversations such as this one between you and Phil Johnson (and others in the comment section), I often wonder when is it a good to time to end the conversation? I do see tremendous value in engaging in these important (dare I say necessary) conversations, but I also don’t want to give too much energy into conversations that end up going nowhere and distract me from things like sermon prep or family time or other conversations that get squeezed out. Is there any wisdom you you can lend?

    I appreciate your work and your commitment to the Gospel (and all its implications) as a black man and more than that, a Brother in Christ.

    May God continue to grant you the grace keeping fighting for the Kingdom!

    Terry C.

  35. Brendt Wayne Waters says:

    Pastor Thabiiti, your presumption of Johnson’s overall innocence is honorable, but I think it’s also naive.

    My parents were still citing my age in months when Dr King was assassinated, so I was too young to understand what was going on at the height of the civil rights movement. And yet, I am keenly aware of the lightning-rod nature of the word “agitator”. To be honest (but bowdlerized), I nearly misplaced my feces when I read that word. Admittedly, part of that outrage is due to the fact that I’ve often heard “agitator” in polite company morph into “uppity n*****” behind closed doors.

    Even if he was unaware of this “code”, I still find it extremely hard to believe that someone who lived through much more of the civil rights movement than I is ignorant of the history of that word. The fact that Johnson’s “response” on Pyro assumed zero culpability, but was just a diatribe about how wrong you are, cements my view.

    This is, to be frank, Johnson’s stock-in-trade. Extend an olive branch to him and he’ll use it to smack you in the face.

  36. Inge Sorensen says:

    Problem with guys like Phil and their ilk is they are more concerned about the unborn child (which is legitimate and I support it) which they can’t see, than the many LIVE and already born lives of the minorities (blacks especally) that they can see. How can you say you love God whom you haven’t seen and hate the person you can see? Pitiful hypocrites. They always hide in an abstract gospel, like one of Phil’s friends who would rather ‘preach the gospel’ than talk about the removal of the confederate flags. Just racists they are, and they don’t care nor pretend any more. They have made God in their own image, a white God who is American.

    1. Rick says:

      I think part of the obsession with abortion has to do with sex. It seems that the sexually promiscuous are avoiding the “consequences” they deserve by aborting the fetus. These same people that are outraged by crimes against the unborn are rarely outraged by crimes against the living.

  37. Graham Miller says:

    Let’s us pray much. Thank you Pastor Thabiti – continue in his grace.
    We stand up for vulnerable babies, even though our campaign is joined by right wing clinic bombers, Catholics, and Muslims
    We stand up for vulnerable black kids even though our campaign is joined by left wing protestors, gay celebrities, and communists
    Our yearning for justice is not defined by who we stand with, but who we stand for.
    We stand for Jesus and we see the image of God in others and long for his righteousness to reign among the lepers, Samaritans, tax collectors, bankers, black kids, the babies, the vulnerable widow, the homeless.

    1. Alan Gertonson says:

      Couldn’t agree with this more. Well said.

  38. Missy Markum says:

    Sadly the majority of responses here have not been responses at all, just racial elitism condemning Johnson and any others that do not agree with Anyabwile/his supporters as simply unenlightened and uninitiated covert white racists.
    Good job in reinforcing the color line where it does not belong, in the body of Christ. Just shaking my head.

  39. Robert Walters says:

    Mortification of spin recently did a piece on the black lives matter where they say the movement stands for this:

    “Black Lives Matter is a unique contribution that goes beyond extrajudicial killings of Black people by police and vigilantes. It goes beyond the narrow nationalism that can be prevalent within some Black communities, which merely call on Black people to love Black, live Black and buy Black, keeping straight cis Black men in the front of the movement while our sisters, queer and trans and disabled folk take up roles in the background or not at all. Black Lives Matter affirms the lives of Black queer and trans folks, disabled folks, Black-undocumented folks, folks with records, women and all Black lives along the gender spectrum. It centers those that have been marginalized within Black liberation movements. It is a tactic to (re)build the Black liberation movement.”

    This is from the BLM website via Mortification of Spin. Surely you understand that stance is not compatible with the gospel nor the bible…. You can love black people and stand up for justice and social issues and not stand with those who do so with the wrong heart motive.

    1. Zema says:

      Robert, clearly you’re ignorant of this issue and it’s ok to be ignorant. It’s not ok to instruct people on a subject you’re ignorant of.

      Most people who use the phrase, don’t even know anything about that site and organization. So, no, people don’t think about that site when the hashtag and phrase comes up. They just think about what the phrase means and the movement to end terrorism against Afrikan lives and the protesters around the world. Just because you, a person who knows nothing about the site, organization, and movement, assumes that they are the same, doesn’t mean he shouldn’t use the phrase and hashtag. You’re making assumptions that others are not.

      The movement to end terrorism against Afrikan lives was not started and is not led by the “Black Lives Matter” organization. The movement is not called “Black Lives Matter”. That is a name people use because they don’t know what to call it because it doesn’t have a name. And because people who want to end terrorism against Afrikan lives use that hashtag and phrase, people think the movement is called that. The movement is worldwide and doesn’t have a leader or a name. It’s not led by a person, a group, or organization.

      The hashtag and phrase (not the movement) was created when Travyon’s murderer (Zimmerman) was acquitted.

      The movement (again, separate from the hashtag and phrase) started in Ferguson when Mike Brown was murdered and people protested in the streets for months. Then several people all around the world got the courage to protest, and the movement was born.

      1. Robert Walters says:

        Zema thank you for the ad hominem and passive aggressiveness. Go with God.

  40. Dillon Kenniston says:

    Hey there Thabiti, thanks so much for another thought-provoking post. Yours always tend to generate lots of discussion :)

    I admit that I don’t have my own thoughts totally sort out yet on these issues, though I tend to share some of Johnson’s concerns. That said, I very much appreciated your first point. It’s always helpful to be reminded that whatever side we come out on in conversations like these, God’s Word reserves an important place for some understanding of social justice that can’t be ignored. Thanks for that good reminder.

    That said, I do have a question, and I hope it’s taken as from a good faith critic. Are your second and third points at some level contradictory? Here’s what I mean. In your second point, you seem to be pointing out the historical context of “agitator.” You seem to be saying, “Look, this word has more baggage than Johnson intends to communicate. And because of its destructive potential, it’s probably best left out of the conversation.” In your third point, you seem to be saying, “The slogan ‘black lives matter’ should, in principle, be Biblically obvious and uncontroversial. Black people have intrinsic dignity having been made in God’s image. We need to separate this principle–that black lives matter–from those of its social expressions rooted in unbelief.” I hope I’ve interpreted you rightly.

    But I hear in this, at some level, a double standard. After all, Johnson (as far as I can tell) isn’t denying the intrinsic dignity of black lives a la Gen. 1. What he’s concerned about are precisely those social expressions that (for better or worse) have given the slogan “black lives matter” its context. It’s that context Johnson challenges, which you want to strip. When it comes to the word “agitator,” you’re insisting that the social/historical context of the word be kept in mind. Personally, I agree with your second point–I do think the social/historical contexts of words are important, and when they carry as much baggage as “agitator,” are best left behind. But I disagreed with your third point for the very same reason. (Certainly, I agree with the insistence that black lives matter–Biblically, Genesis 1 is a great place to go.) But it seems unbalanced to insist that those offended by Christians defending the “black lives matter” slogan be forced to strip out those strands of social context, when it’s precisely those strands that Johnson objects to. Just like Johnson doesn’t want his use of “agitator” to be read in line with the wickedness of racism, you don’t want “black lives matter” to be read in line with “pigs in a blanket, fry em like bacon.” And both you and Johnson seem insistent that these respective contexts be kept in mind–I think, for good reason.

    (Parting thought: I think legitimate question could also be raised about whether or not those “unbelieving” social expressions even *can* be separated out, or whether certain unbelieving worldviews are endemic to the movement’s core beliefs. Let’s grant for a minute that all Christians can agree that black lives truly do matter [even if we disagree on how that should manifest itself in public policy]. Let’s also grant that one of the foundational constructs that the BLM movement depends on promoting is the reality of white privilege. The BLM movement’s Christian supporters, I think, will continue to hit a wall of accusation that the movement is tied to unbelief so long as, to take one example, “white privilege” is still tied to its Marxist [read: unbelieving] roots in Critical Race Theory. As long as that connection is still there, we can all agree that black lives matter, but folks more in Johnson’s camp will probably continue in hesitance to jump on board the BLM train, even while agreeing that black lives truly do matter.)

    1. Zema says:

      Dillon, clearly you’re ignorant of this issue and it’s ok to be ignorant. It’s not ok to instruct people on a subject you’re ignorant of.

      Most people who use the phrase, don’t even know anything about that site and organization. So, no, people don’t think about that site when the hashtag and phrase comes up. They just think about what the phrase means and the movement to end terrorism against Afrikan lives and the protesters around the world. Just because you, a person who knows nothing about the site, organization, and movement, assumes that they are the same, doesn’t mean he shouldn’t use the phrase and hashtag. You’re making assumptions that others are not.

      The movement to end terrorism against Afrikan lives was not started and is not led by the “Black Lives Matter” organization. The movement is not called “Black Lives Matter”. That is a name people use because they don’t know what to call it because it doesn’t have a name. And because people who want to end terrorism against Afrikan lives use that hashtag and phrase, people think the movement is called that. The movement is worldwide and doesn’t have a leader or a name. It’s not led by a person, a group, or organization.

      The hashtag and phrase (not the movement) was created when Travyon’s murderer (Zimmerman) was acquitted.

      The movement (again, separate from the hashtag and phrase) started in Ferguson when Mike Brown was murdered and people protested in the streets for months. Then several people all around the world got the courage to protest, and the movement was born.

      Associating those who chanted “pigs in a blanket, fry em like bacon” with the movement to end terrorism against Afrikans is the same as associating those who protest to end abortion with those to have litterally (not just chanted) “fried” abortion doctors ” like bacon.

      Did you go on Phil’s site and say he’s contradicting himself by using the term “agitator” and condemning the Thabiti for the use of the term “Black Lives Matter” or did you just wanna erroneously condemn Thabiti? Also, Phil never condemned Thabiti for the term, he condemned him for standing with the organization (something Thabiti does not do), a conclusion he came to that goes beyond him using the term.

    2. Thabiti Anyabwile says:

      Hi Dillon,

      Thank you for joining the conversation in a warm and gracious spirit. Thank you for attempting to comment in a nuanced way. I appreciate that.

      Since I’ve heard a number of times a retort along the lines of yours here, I updated the post with a comment addressing your concern. In short:

      1. I agree both terms have social and political baggage. For that reason, both terms require care in their use. But there are two differences between the terms.

      2. The first difference is “Justice” is a biblical term and it’s often talked about in its “social” implications. Phil and I agree on that. In my defense of the term I’m wanting to re-establish that biblical pedigree and not concede the term either to a Christian liberalism it a secular one. It’s so plentiful in the biblical record I think everyone should at least pause before they give up on it, if for no other reason than to avoid the appearance of being evangelicals who not only don’t care about the term but also don’t care about the principle and practice of justice. Now, at the end of the day I’m quite happy if someone wants to say “biblical Justice” instead. I’m not trying to die on the hill. I’m simply trying to keep the noun in my (and evangelical) discourse because it’s a good Bible word and something God actually requires us to do along with loving mercy and walking humbly before Him.

      3. The second difference is “Justice” describes a set of ideals and practices while “agitator” describes a particular person. I want to thank Phil for removing the word from his post following our exchange. That was gracious and kind of him. So this comment is now about the general use of the word, not some open issue between the two of us. And what I would point out as a difference in light of that general historical use is that “agitator” is often used as a pejorative by those in power against leaders of the marginalized seeking redress for some injustice. And historically, when used enough, it’s use has created the condition for dehumanizing the one so labeled and the conditions for even worse actions, like assassinations. That is precisely what happened to Dr. King, Medgar Evers, Goodman, Cheney, and Schwartz and a host of others just to cite a few examples from the CRM. Look at the list of “agitators” listed in Michael Corral’s comment. What do they have in common? Attempts were made on all of their lives, sometimes successfully. Wild-eyed zealots kill “agitators.” It’s a dangerous term. And in the crazed days of social media that label can spread with a speed and distance unimaginable a generation ago. We can easily create a dangerous to deadly climate for a particular person with a RTd post. You can’t do that with the use of “social justice” applied to various cultural battles, IMO.

      So, at a semantic level, I agree that both terms have baggage. At the level of confirming “to the pattern of sound words,” I think there’s reason to talk at least in terms of “justice” and to think in terms of its “social” applications. And the word “agitator” applied to particular person poses possible dangers for that person, at least historically.

      Hope that helps explain why I don’t think it’s quite the inconsistency or contradiction you see.

      Grace and peace,

  41. Well it’s ABOUT TIME we had a Christian without the title “Reverend” involved in matters dealing with race. And an agitator is a political troublemaker, one that stirs up public opinion. Who exerts oneself continuously, vigorously, or obtrusively to gain an end or engage in a crusade for a certain cause or person.
    Wasn’t Jesus an agitator? And also John the Baptist, the Apostle Paul and the rest of the Apostles, and all the way up until their executions? Martin Luther was an agitator. The Protestant reformers were agitators. And all the Christian martyrs were agitators.
    Pastor Thabiti, if the world labels you an agitator, wear that as a badge of honor brother, and use it for God’s Glory. If they associate you with the Black Lives movement, use that as an opening in to that door, and bring in the light of the Gospel, doing everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, and all for the glory of God.

  42. Annette Friesen says:

    Thabiti, thank you for being who you are. I am honored to have met you and appreciate your pastoral heart. I am a 60 year old white woman with absolutely no experience in racial issues, except to say that this lack has graciously opened my eyes so that now I strive to understand the indelible mark that being black in this country means. I am already weary of the political battles in this election cycle, but I do not want to grow weary in well doing. Continue to teach those of us who want to know and understand, and pray that we take this wisdom and love others well, all of them. Blessings to you!

    1. Thabiti Anyabwile says:

      Bless you, sis. So good to hear from you. I pray the entire Friesen clan is well and the hand of the Lord’s blessing continue to keep you!
      Your brother,

  43. Tom says:

    So, a few points here.
    1. I’m seeing a lot of accusations of ignorance thrown around here, when it should be obvious that “ignorance” in this case means that you have a different interpretation of a movement’s goals and objectives than someone else.
    2. I’m also seeing slander being thrown around a lot. That’s a pretty serious charge, seeing as it’s legally actionable. And I don’t think it fits either Anyabwile or Johnson.
    3. It should be noted that Phil Johnson might have good reasons for not knowing the connotations of “agitator,” as that term was largely used in the American South during the Civil Rights Movement, usually with “outside” on the front.
    4. “You disagree with me because you’re (fill-in-the-blank)” is not an effective arguing strategy.
    5. Saying that there isn’t something funky going on somewhere is kind of ridiculous when 13% of the nation’s population makes up at least a plurality of its homicides, and said homicides tend to be solved less often than others.

  44. Ron says:


    I appreciate that Thabiti has been clear regarding his use of BlackLivesMatter. I’m starting to believe though, that there’s a regional disconnect going on with the term. I live near the Twin Cities. The BLM movement as associated with the website that has been disputed in the comments here, has been and is very active in the Twin Cities. Everything about its stated beliefs and actions are in direct conflict with the gospel. They are vulgar bullies who have no interest in genuine discourse. If you would have seen that named group chanting in September at the Minnesota State Fair “Pigs in a blanket, fry’em like bacon” towards police officers, you would also find #BlackLivesMatters repulsive. I understand that Thabiti would reject what they stand for. The concern for me is BLM does mean that particular group to me and most where I live because they control the narrative in this area. Media here would immediately connect the term to that movement.

    I do not think Phil Johnson helped with his comment about Thabiti. I do ask though that Thabiti and those who do not seem to understand that the term represents the worst, please be aware that for some of us it is the worst because that’s what we’ve experienced it as for a long period of time.

    Grace to all of you,

  45. Adam says:


    You know, because you blocked me from your Twitter, though I never cussed nor said anything inappropriate, that many are seeing through you. TGC will probably not allow this comment. But, I’m being truthful. You need to stop and repent. You’ve quoted Rachel Held Evans in the past for your case, using a known heretic and linking to her article. People acted like it was nothing. When rioters roamed the streets burning cars, you cried justice and told people not to go home, and then pretended a peaceful approach.

    You can’t even see your own arrogance. It was one thing when I, a little nobody from a small church who has known much sin, called you out. But, now, better and more mature brothers in the faith like Dr. Phil call on you, and you still refuse to listen.

    You are quick to counsel others and slow to listen to rebuke. I pray you will once again become a minister.

    But, a long time ago, I got rid of my beloved Thabiti book; I gave up reading any of your articles; and, I perceived that you were causing racial divides in the body of Christ and using the pulpit as your pedestal for an angry, racist, radical cause.

    I don’t even know your faith. I won’t determine it. That’s with God. But, assuming you are a brother, how many brothers in Christ will it take for you to repent?

    I’m sure your defenders will come to your aid here. But, you should listen to Phil Johnson. You should heed the call of a brother. You should put down your leftist arms, which you deny, look at yourself honestly, and come back to the gospel. And you should step down from your pulpit until you remember the gospel and apply it accurately in this culture.

  46. Mary Elizabet Palshan says:

    And the winner is, Alan Gertonson. This comment is brilliant: “Hebrews tells us that we have a Great High Priest who knows EVERYTHING about what it is to be human. But that doesn’t mean he tried on different skin colors every month so that he could associate with each group that existed. What it means is that we have a commonality of experience of rejection, pain, suffering, and the effects of our own sin and others’. That is what Scripture means when it says that Jesus knows everything about what it is to be “us”. “

  47. tamara says:

    Praying for reconciliation between these two friends and pastors.

  48. Bill Hickman says:

    It’s absurd that Thabiti has to defend himself on these issues, but that’s the state of the reformed evangelical church in America.

  49. Levi Carter says:

    So grateful for the Grace-full, mature, way you are carrying on this dialogue!

    On another note, “2. Everyone should know that the “agitator” language Phil uses here has an ugly history that Phil probably does not mean. Dr. King was called an “agitator.” Frederick Douglass was called an “agitator.” In fact, nearly every African American that’s ever stood up for African Americans has been called, usually by white racists–and sometimes scared African Americans, an “agitator.” It’s not a good look on professing Christians who should disavow the racist past and work harder to use terms free from that taint.” is something I wish all caucasian followers of Christ (of which I am one) would read and understand, before they weigh in on any of these issues.


    -

  50. Flynn says:

    I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ, for it is the power of God to salvation for everyone who believes, for the Jew first and also for the Greek.
    — PAUL THE CHRISTIAN (Rom 1:16)

  51. Ray Ortlund says:

    Thabiti, I am just seeing this for the first time today. Man, if you ever get in a street fight and need a brother near so that you don’t get beaten up alone, please call me. It would be a privilege.

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Thabiti Anyabwile

Thabiti Anyabwile is a pastor for Anacostia River Church in southeast Washington, DC and a council member of The Gospel Coalition.

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