Bob Stevenson

Pastor. Can’t get enough of the gospel.

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The Church, Society and Race: Part 8b (Moving Forward)

This is a multi-part series. Read part 1, part 2, part 3, part 4, part 5, part 6, part 7, and part 8a.

In part 8a, I attempted to capture the eschatological and glory-filled vision for the diverse unity of the church. But the question remains: what now? Here and now, for the sake of time and concision, my focus is on what the average church member can do.

 1. Start Seeing Color

One of the great misguided ideas of our day is the suggestion that we must approach culture with “colorblindness.” That is, in contradistinction to our forefathers who made color the basis of value, we must go the other way and choose not to see color at all.

The problem with this idea is that it doesn’t work. It might in an idealized society, untouched by our particular past. But we cannot ignore our past. Indeed, colorblindness often mutates into a white majority culture refusal to care about the...

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The Church, Society and Race: Part 8a (Moving Forward)

This is a multi-part series. Read part 1, part 2, part 3, part 4, part 5, part 6, part 7, and part 8b.

 Introduction

Over the past seven posts, I have been exploring the way the church should engage with broader society. I began by presenting a four-pillar model for cultural engagement. In light of these four pillars, I also suggested that our membership in the kingdom of God demands that we live out the ethic of the kingdom transparently and boldly. If the ethic of the kingdom is righteousness, and righteous living brings about peace, unity, love, wholeness, etc., as it is aligned under God, then it follows that this ethic can only be good for the rest of the world around us. Therefore, we are salt and light in our world, always seeking to do good to the world around us. We honor God when we live faithfully, and when we bring the fragrance of God’s righteousness into the dark...

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The Church, Society and Race: Part 7 (Race and Racism Today)

This is a multi-part series. Read part 1, part 2, part 3, part 4, part 5, part 6, and parts 8a and 8b.

 Introduction

Over the past few posts, I have attempted to cover some 340 years of history, surveying the racialized landscape of the United States. We began by looking at the institution of slavery beginning back in 1619, and ending only in 1865. We continued by examining the post-emancipation Jim Crow era from the late 1870sto the mid- to late-1960s.

Now, in one sense, these are the most difficult sections to cover, because of the explicit dehumanization of non-white peoples, the brutality of enslavement, and the abject and crystal clear injustice of discrimination and segregation. It is impossible to deny that, prior to the structural and legal changes of the 1950s-60s, American society established, promoted and preserved a racial caste, whereby white people were at the top...

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The Church, Society and Race: Part 6 (Introducing Racism)

This is a multi-part series. Read part 1, part 2, part 3, part 4 part 5, part 7, and parts 8a and 8b.

In this post, we continue our woefully brief historical survey, covering several high-level movements to help unpack why we are where we are today. We focus our attention on the period spanning from emancipation to the Civil Rights movement.

 Slavery, Emancipation and Reconstruction

We left off with the institution of slavery in full swing. We don’t have time to unpack the horrific sin of slavery, the corrupt justifications for the institution, or the innumerable injustices committed by white slaveholders, but I will commend you to the history books. If you’ve never seriously studied this part of our family history, now is the time. Read through Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass for a frank and brief overview of one man’s experience. It is right and good for us to stand...

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The Church, Society and Race: Part 5 (Introducing Racism)

This is a multi-part series. Read part 1, part 2, part 3, part 4, part 6, part 7, and parts 8a and 8b.
The oft-quoted maxim, “Those who fail to learn history are doomed to repeat it” is not so much a modern construction as a timeless reality. Scripture itself constantly points back to Israel’s history for this very reason. In Psalm 95, for example, after inviting the worshiper to enter God’s presence with a joyful noise, he exhorts them,

“Today, if you hear his voice, do not harden your hearts, as at Meribah, as on the day at Massah in the wilderness, when your fathers put me to the test and put me to the proof, though they had seen my work.” (Ps. 95:7-9, ESV)

In short, “remember your history – don’t be like your forefathers.”

In Stephen’s famous speech in Acts 7, he gives the religious leaders a history lesson and draws a present-day application: “You’re responding just like...

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The Church, Society and Race: Part 4 (Introducing Racism)

This is a multi-part series. Read part 1, part 2, part 3, part 5, part 6, part 7, and parts 8a and 8b.

It is no secret that the United States has a long and checkered history of racism. And it’s no secret that the white American church has an equally dubious track record in confronting racism and racist ideas. It is also clear that, while significant structural advances have been made in our country, not all is well. There are some who believe that we have entered into a “post-racial” society – yet the reality is that our society is still very much “racialized.”

This phrase, advanced by Emerson and Smith in their helpful study Divided by Faith, describes a society “in which intermarriage rates are low, residential separation and socioeconomic inequality are the norm, our definitions of personal identity and our choices of intimate associations reveal racial distinctiveness, and...

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The Church, Society and Race: Part 3 (Exiles and Sojourners)

This is a multi-part series. Read part 1, part 2, part 4 part 5, part 6, part 7, and parts 8a and 8b.

In the last post, I briefly discussed the idea that we, as citizens of the kingdom of God, live our lives in this world now as exiles. In this post, we build and expand on this point.

 1. The Christian as Exile

Let’s begin by unpacking what I mean when I call us exiles. Scripture is replete with descriptions of dominion transfer. That is, when we become Christians, our loyalties, citizenship, identity all transition. For example:

  • “We know that our old self was crucified with him in order that the body of sin might be brought to nothing, so that we would no longer be enslaved to sin. For one who has died has been set free from sin.” (Rom 6:6-7, ESV)
  • “He has delivered us from the domain of darkness and transferred us to the kingdom of his beloved Son, in whom we have...

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The Church, Society and Race: Part 2 (A Model for Social Engagement)

This is a multi-part series. Read part 1, part 3, part 4 part 5, part 6, part 7, and parts 8a and 8b.

As mentioned in the first post, the first half of this series will be spent building a biblical-theological model for social engagement. It is important that we carefully lay this theological framework before getting into the details, lest we lose the forest for the trees in this ever-important subject.

Last week, we spend our time in a brief flyover of the biblical theme of the Kingdom of God, concluding with three observations:

  1. The kingdom is composed of those who belong to Jesus. That is, God’s kingdom is not something we are born into, or can physically emigrate to. Belonging is open to all – but only through faith in Jesus Christ.
  2. The kingdom is already, but not yet. We looked at Jesus’ teaching on the kingdom and recognized that the kingdom of God has been inaugurated...

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The Church, Society and Race: Part 1 (The Kingdom of God)

This is a multi-part series. Read part 2, part 3, part 4, part 5, part 6, part 7, and parts 8a and 8b.

Every generation of Christians faces difficult often complex questions of how they should relate to the surrounding culture. As culture constantly changes and asks new questions, or issues new challenges to the unchanging gospel, Christians must do the hard work of thinking hard about how to respond faithfully.

And this is no mere academic exercise. Each of us lives one life, in a particular historical moment, in a particular location, called to live faithfully under the one God who transcends it all. We are given a charge, and if we would be faithful, we must wrestle through the difficult questions of how the culture-transcending gospel shines in the midst of our particular cultures.
It is important to consider cultural matters, as each culture contains unique expressions of...

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When Not to Email

How we communicate matters. My aim in this post is to commend to you, dear reader, the benefits of in-person conversations, over against our typical forms of communication : email and/or text. 

Now, let me say at the outset, this is not a unified theory of communication by any stretch of the imagination. I write as a pastor, in the context of Christian community — and here for those who who find themselves in contexts of conflict, or with criticisms to offer. I aim to see the church (and society at large) grow to be healthy humans who can say hard things in love, and not destroy relationships (or society) in the process. The following is but one step of many in that direction.

 Simple Ideas: The Limits of Email and Messages

First, let’s explore the inherent limits of text-based communication — particularly emails and texts. 

We communicate with words. Our words are symbols functioning...

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