Kenneth A. Mathews (Old Testament) and M. Sydney Park (New Testament), professors at Beeson Divinity School, attempt in The Post-Racial Church to “better equip the church in answering why Christians claim that the gospel and the Christian church are the first and last best hope for peace in a racially diverse world” (25).
To help readers understand how churches can more faithfully reflect “the wonder of God’s human kaleidoscope,” they work their way through the arc of the Old and New Testaments to reveal God’s plan for reconciliation. Reconciliation, they believe, “can only be fully and finally achieved by a Savior who redeems and transforms the human state” (57). Their call to racial/ethnic unity in the church is an unabashedly Biblical program. They write, “Genuine unity must be predicated upon a commitment to the Lord God, not based on anything or anyone else. Otherwise, the unity is circumstantial, which means that it is superficial and fragile” (72-73). They ground their call for ethnic unity in the Church firmly in Scripture.
Mathews writes the introduction and chapters 1-4 on the Old Testament, addressing God’s design in creation, his covenant with Noah and then with Abram to bless all nations, as well as God’s heart and provision for the immigrant among the people of Israel. Park traces the New Testament development of the theme of the inclusion of all people in God’s covenant. She explores Jesus’ stories concerning reconciliation, as well as how Biblical characters like James, Peter, and Paul came to grips with a deeper understanding of God’s desire for trans-ethnic unity in the Church. (Park’s interpretation and application of the Prodigal Son parable opened up new understandings of that story that I had never considered—despite having already heard and read it many times.)
The Post-Racial Church is excellent in the thoroughness with which it treats Biblical texts that have to do with multiethnic reconciliation (and reconciliation more generally). In this sense, it greatly succeeds in being what the book’s subtitle claims it will be: A Biblical Framework for Multiethnic Reconciliation. Even though the introductory chapter clarifies what the authors mean by various terms they use, the phrase “post-racial church” as such is not really explored in the book itself. “Kaleidoscopic Church” or “The Post-Racist Church” would have been more fitting titles for the book. (So if you, like me, express skepticism at a Church or any institution being “post-racial,” don’t let that stop you from checking out this book. The authors don’t actually advance that we be “color-blind” or “ignore race” as part of their thesis.)
On the one hand the book at times felt a bit over-dense (especially the first half). But on the other hand, other books I’ve read about multiethnic church-building or racial reconciliation often give what feels like too short a treatment of Biblical texts on the topic. Mathews’ and Park’s detailed exegesis was in the end refreshing in this sense, and makes a unique contribution to the genre of book into which The Post-Racial Church fits. I also appreciated that they drew on the original Hebrew and Greek to further illuminate the texts they expounded. This made their work even more compelling.
Each chapter concludes with “Thought Provoker” questions, a high point of the book. For example, one question (p. 171) asks,
If loving our neighbors is a critical factor in our discipleship, and if loving our neighbors self-sacrificially serves as the litmus test for our discipleship, does the test prove positive for you and your church?
One could easily use this book in a small group discussion to great effect.
The reader who takes the time to work carefully through the authors’ guided exegetical tour through the Scriptures will be greatly rewarded. If indeed, as Park claims, “the proper understanding of racial reconciliation is possible only in light of God’s saving activity throughout human history,” then those who desire to join God in drawing all people to himself will want to avail themselves to the solid Biblical exposition that the authors provide.
(Per FTC guidelines, I note that I received a complimentary copy of this book from Kregel in exchange for an unbiased review.)