Lloyd-Jones on Racism and the Gospel
There was a recent advertisement on Twitter for a Christian event in Mobile, AL titled, "Shrinking the Divide: A Gathering for Racial Reconciliation" featuring John Perkins and Russell D. Moore. There were some immediate negative responses from numerous professing Christians on Twitter. In summary, the comments basically asserted that Jesus has already conquered the divide on the cross and that this kind of conference wrongly implies there is something lacking in what Christ has done. According to the critics, talking about division is what really divides. These kinds of responses have become all too common along with pejorative name-calling against anyone who speaks out against racial injustice as SJW's (Social Justice Warriors) and cultural Marxists.
Such comments are often followed with the idea that talking about race or racial injustice at all is a waste of time and distracts us from the gospel. After all, it is frequently said, the gospel is the only answer to racism. Racism, they suggest, automatically disappears when the gospel takes prominence. It is a bizarre sentiment coming from conservative evangelicals. If racism disappears when someone is genuinely converted to Christ then do they believe that slaveholders Jonathan Edwards, George Whitefield, and R.L. Dabney were unconverted men who didn't really believe the biblical gospel? If not, such rhetoric is empty.
D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones, who I have never heard anyone describe as a Marxist, gospel-compromising, SJW, preached a sermon on John 4:13-14 titled, "Spiritual Dullness and Evasive Tactics," in which he brought up the issue of racism. Early in the sermon on Jesus's encounter with the woman at the well Lloyd-Jones explains,
"We have dealt with some general prejudices that hindered this woman. She turned to our Lord in amazement when he asked her for a drink of water. She said, "How is it that thou, being a Jew, askest drink of me, which am a woman of Samaria?" We face national prejudices, class prejudices, race prejudices, gender prejudices, and so on. There is almost no end to them. What harm they have done in the life of the individual Christian, and what harm they have done in the life of the church throughout the centuries--the things we cling to so tenaciously simply because we have been born like that!"
Lloyd-Jones then proceded to address the prejudices that the church battles both societally and personally. He explained that falling into this type of sin is a mark of spiritual dullness and gospel evasiveness. Regarding the woman Jesus meets at the well, Lloyd-Jones says, "She shows us that you can be intelligent, you can be quick and alert, you can be subtle at disputation, and yet the whole time be spiritually dull." He goes on to clarify, "You see, this is not a question of learning; spiritual understanding has nothing to do with natural ability, nothing at all." Of the "hindrances and obstacles" this woman used to evade the fullness of Jesus gospel message Lloyd-Jones declares, "As they were true in the case of this woman, so they are, in principle, still true of all of us."
Anticipating the objection that the prejudice and gospel avoidance of the women at the well was merely because she was an unbeliever and such sins could not be found in a genuine Christian who believes the gospel Lloyd-Jones explains what he refers to as a fallacy:
"It is assumed, therefore, that while this spiritual dullness is true of an unconverted person, like the woman of Samaria, it cannot be true of a Christian. But it can! The fact that we have become Christians, that we are born again, that the Spirit of God is in us, does not mean that we have solved all our problems; that is only a beginning. We now have to go through a great process of readjustment, and it is because so many people fail to realize that and, still more, fail to act upon it that they are constantly in trouble."
Lloyd-Jones attacked this fallacy when he says, "Spiritual understanding is not something that happens automatically. Not at all! You must work out your own salvation in this way." He goes on to note the multitude of imperatives directed at Christians in the New Testament by declaring, "All this is addressed to Christians, and it is because we fail to realize this that we are so frequently in trouble and raise these hindrances that prevent us from receiving this well of water that springs up into everlasting life." He provides five reasons Christians struggle with spiritual dullness and gospel evasiveness in our lives:
(1) Old pre-conversion habits we still struggle with.
(2) The feeling that we have everything; we received it all at conversion, and there is nothing more to be gained.
(4) The magical view of faith, people seem to think that faith is a magic word that completely changes everything.
(5) In preaching and teaching we tend put too much emphasis upon the will and upon momentary experience of decision and surrender.
According to Lloyd-Jones, we are all experts in the kind of gospel evasiveness that we find exhibited in the woman at the well, shifting the ground and changing topics. We will even use the fact of our Christian conversion to avoid living out the gospel,
"How we evade the issue, how we parry the question! It is because we do not like being searched, we do not like being examined, we do not like being disturbed. This is 'the natural man,' the old nature that is still with us. You do not get rid of your old nature when you become a Christian, when you are born again. The old man has gone, but the old nature has not gone; and the old nature, the natural self, does not like being searched. That element remains in us. We resent it; we do not want to be made to feel that we are wrong. We even dislike the very process that disturbs us out of our sloth: 'Why, we are Christians! I was converted.'"
Lloyd-Jones went on to insist that the gospel is meant to disturb and confront us. He then pressed in on our responsibility to apply our lives to the truth of John 4:13-14 by exhorting, "He searches us for our own good, but it is painful; so we evade it by taking up other issues. We have seen how the woman of Samaria did it, but what about us?" Thus, he brings up the horrific sin of racism again and explains that it is even possible to denounce someone else in order to evade dealing with your own sins. Lloyd-Jones explains, "You see, in denouncing somebody else, you are shielding yourself." That is precisely what the racists does and it it also what some who denounce racists are doing to shield themselves.
Every way that Christians evade walking in line with the gospel must be confronted with specificity and clarity. We have this responsibility in regard to racism and every other anti-gospel attitude we embrace and action we take. Yes, Jesus has already conquered the racial divide on the cross and the gospel is the answer to the sin of racism. Absolutely true! Nevertheless, as Paul notes, it is sadly often the case that we still "walk as the Gentiles do" (Eph 4:17) in far too many ways. May we keep reminding one another without apology, "But that is not the way you learned Christ!--assuming that you have heard about him and were taught in him, as the truth is in Jesus" (Eph 4:20).