Race and Responsibility

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Phil, thanks for raising the question about covenantal contexts and responsibility with regard to race. I think you may have landed here on a genuine disagreement between us.

My fear is that in having such an expansive understanding of "covenant" the concept becomes almost meaningless, stretched beyond its breaking point. Yes, the family is structured covenantally. But am I in covenantal relationship with the people on my street--my district--my city--my county--my state--my country? As a caucasian, am I in covenantal relationship with other whites? Or does my partly Italian heritage make me in covenantal relationship with other Italians? Is my (African American) son in covenantal relationship with other blacks?


You are surely right that the Bible is filled with covenantal examples of collective judgements, corporate sins, corporate exonerations, etc. But I'm not as certain that this is normative for today, in so far as there has been a significant change from the old covenant to the new. I'm trying to think of a NT situation, e.g., where members of a group are held responsible for sins they did not personally commit. Ananias and Sapphira--not the early church as a whole--were judged for their deception (Acts 5). The incestuous man in 1 Cor 5 was personally disciplined--not his whole church (1 Cor 5). Those wrongly partaking of the Lord's Supper personally died--not the whole church (1 Cor. 11). This is not to say that churches don't have corporate responsibilities, but those responsibilities require concrete action--not praise or exoneration for things they cannot or did not personally do. Insofar as individual members have personal responsibility for concrete actions, they are held accountable.

In the OT the covenants were often constituted between nations, tribes, and other earthly parties. But in the NT we are only under the new covenant. One is either in or out. I just don't see in the NT any notion that I am somehow in a covenant with other members of my nation or ethnic group.

Let me give a personal example. An African American woman relayed to me once that a white guy came up to her at church and apologized for slavery. (She thought that was a bit absurd, though I'm sure she thought he was well-intentioned.) This would seem to be a legitimate application of this expanded covenantal notion of responsibility. But I'm not persuaded it's right.
Posted September 18, 2006 @ 4:49 PM by Justin Taylor
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