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As with many things in Christian history, the cultural climate and cultural trends often determine the direction and the vocabulary of the American Christian movement. We’ve recently seen evidence of this with the different versions of the worship wars, as churches have moved from traditional to contemporary worship. We’ve witnessed this with emergent church and missional church movements, as churches have sought to become community focused as opposed to building oriented. We’ve seen this in preaching styles, as the sermons of certain pastors have become less like expositions of biblical texts and more like 20-minute coffee shop talks and comfortable conversations about positive thinking and tips for a healthy and happy life.

Most recently, we’ve seen the culture’s influence on Christian discussions about race and reconciliation. Some Christians for different reasons limit discussions about race and the need for reconciliation to the black and white divide.

This is unfortunate, because Christians have often historically been on the wrong side of reconciliation, from slavery, the Holocaust, and to the current resistance in Christian churches to pursue the unification of all things and all people in Christ as the scriptures exhort Christians to do (Eph. 2:11-3:8). However, on the other hand, it is my view that many Christians who care deeply about justice and reconciliation at times use questionable methods and language identical with movements that oppose to the gospel.

For example, some who identify with the Christian faith have embraced certain so-called social justice movements without critically assessing or challenging either the ideas or the methods of certain movements that are contrary to the gospel. This reality makes it difficult for some Christians, not to mention the world, to discern the difference between a non-Christian social justice movement and an explicit Christian movement in favor of gospel justice and reconciliation.

I have heard lately from some Christians (ethnic majority and ethnic minorities) that gospel “re-conciliation” is an inappropriate phrase to use when discussing racial division. Instead, they suggest that it’s better to talk about “Christian unity,” “conciliation,” “restoration” or something similar to these since the relationship between “blacks” and “whites” in this country was already broken and that relationship was destined to be broken in the church due to racial hierarchy and slavery before the first black body touched the soil of the new world. Re-conciliation is something, say the critics, that can happen only when previous relationships have been broken. Blacks and whites, they say, can’t be re-conciled because they have never experienced conciliation in the U.S.

In my view, the above arguments against using the term re-conciliation to describe the restoration that needs to take place between blacks and whites wrongly assume at least two things. First, they assume that reconciliation only relates to the black and white divide. Second, the arguments assume that reconciliation is not a biblical category.

I’ve recently been persuaded from my studies of ancient texts (both biblical and extra-biblical) and from my readings in critical race theory that when talking about the universal work of God in Christ to restore the cosmological unity between God and his creation, Christians should not use the phrase “racial re-conciliation.” Instead, we should use the words “re-conciliation,” “new creation,” or “restoration,” for these are all biblical categories. However, as I have argued in numerous places,[1] arguments against using the term reconciliation to refer to the needed restoration between God and humanity are false and cannot withstand biblical exegesis. Because of limited space, I’ll spend the rest of this piece arguing two truths to support that Christians need to continue to use the language of gospel reconciliation, and they need to pursue it with all different kinds of people in their churches and in their communities for the sake of making disciples of all the peoples of the world.

The Current Cosmological Curse

Genesis 1-3 is the foundational biblical text that informs us of the reason the entire cosmos and everyone and everything in it needs to be reconciled to God and to each other. In Gen. 1-2, God created the heavens and the earth. The entire creation was perfect and without sin; God calls everything that he makes good (Gen. 1:18, 25). In Gen. 2:17, God commands Adam, the first man, not to eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil lest he should die. Unfortunately, the woman listened to the voice of the serpent, the voice of the woman instead of God’s voice, and he brought the universal curse of death, sin, and judgment into the world (Gen. 3:1-19).

Immediately after Adam and Eve sinned in Gen. 3, both their relationship with God was broken (Gen. 3:8), which is why they ran away from him in the Garden; humanity’s relationship with fellow-man was also broken (Gen. 4), which is why Cain (the son of Adam and Eve) murdered his brother, and the entire cosmos was thrown into chaos, which is why the Old Testament has numerous episodes of violence (Gen. 14:2; Judges 19-20), famine (Gen. 12:10; 26:1), etc. Thus, humanity’s separation from God and its need for restoration (re-conciliation) is fundamentally the result of the devastating effects of sin’s entrance into the world through the sin of our first parents, Adam and Eve.

In Rom. 8:18-25, Paul interprets the fall of Adam and Eve in the Garden in a similar way. According to vv. 19-25, the entire creation is groaning as it awaits its redemption/liberation. In vv. 20-25, he describes the current agony of creation by saying creation was submitted into the realm of futility by the one who submitted it in hope.

The futility of creation is that God cursed the entire cosmos as a result of Adam’s transgression (Gen. 3:14-19). This curse severed and shattered unity between God and his entire creation, especially the unity that existed between humans and God. The latter, after all, is Paul’s precise point in Rom. 5:12-21 since humans are the prize and pinnacle of God’s creation in Gen. 1-2 and since Paul highlights the need for humans to be redeemed by the blood of Jesus in Rom. 3:25; 4:24-25.

The hope in Gen. 3 occurs in 3:15. God promised to crush the seed of the serpent by means of the seed of the woman. And Paul says in Romans, specifically 5:12-8:39, that God has crushed the serpent, reversed the effects of Adam’s curse, and will finally defeat the effects of Adam’s curse by means of the crucified, resurrected, exalted, and soon to return Lord Jesus Christ (Rom. 16:20). John affirms this in Rev. 12, when the Serpent (=the devil) is dethroned from heaven by means of the cross and resurrection of Jesus, and in Rev. 21-22, when God creates the New World by restoring through Christ what Adam lost in the Garden.

Jews and Gentiles Reconciled into “One New Man” through Christ

Paul states in Ephesians that God accomplished re-conciliation for Jews and Gentiles. Paul asserts that Gentiles were brought near God’s promises of salvation to Jews “by the blood of Christ Jesus” (Eph. 2:13). Paul interprets Isa. 9:6; 52:7; and 57:19 in light of the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ to emphasize this reconciliation (Eph. 2:13-18; see also 1:15-23). The proclamation of peace in Eph. 2:17 refers to the proclamation of the gospel. In Isa. 9:6, “peace” refers to the salvation of the Jewish Messiah. In Isa 52:7 and 57:19, “peace” refers to the salvation (=the good news) that YHWH promised to bring to Israel through the Jewish Messiah.

According to Eph. 2:13-16, the good news of the gospel is that the Jewish Messiah, Jesus, died so that he would put an end to the dividing wall of hostility (the law of Moses) between Jews and Gentiles, so that he would re-concile Jews and Gentiles to God and to each other, and so that he would re-create Jews and Gentiles into one new man into one body through the cross (Eph. 2:14-16; Col. 1:21). Jesus imparts to this one new man in Christ one Spirit and one baptism so that the one new man would pursue and achieve unity in the Spirit in the bond of peace through the blood of Christ, through the gospel, and through the church (Eph. 2:1-3:8; 4:1-6).

By means of Jesus’ death (Eph. 2:13, 16) and resurrection and exaltation (Eph. 1:15-23), God re-conciles and re-creates Jews and Gentiles into one dwelling place of God, in whom the Spirit dwells (Eph. 2:18-22). And Jesus himself provided the model for this re-conciliation in that he preached this gospel of peace (reconciliation) to Jews ethnically near the promises of salvation and to the Gentiles ethnically distant from these promises of salvation (Eph. 2:17; see also Matt 15:21-28).

Conclusion

Gospel re-conciliation is a biblical phrase. Regardless of the changing cultural trends, Christians must not abandon biblical language when discussing race, justice, and re-conciliation. When we speak about race and injustice in ways that challenge the biblical witness, we make ambiguous the message by which God has ordained to unify and to re-concile all things and all people to himself through the blood of Christ. By all means, Christians must keep speaking about and pursuing “GOSPEL RE-CONCILIATION” with all people, and we must be clear how this message is distinct from every other call for justice, unity, and reconciliation that we hear from groups whose ideas, message, and methods would contradict the Christian gospel!

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