Postmodern thinking, critical theories, and racial strife are the new talking points, both in society and the church. Most recognize that there is racial tension in America, but few know how to solve it. What is needed is a biblical answer, and that is what is promised in One Church, All People.
The author, Dr. Bill Victor is the Scholar in Residence for the Missouri Baptist Convention. He holds a Ph.D. from Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, and he has taught as an adjunct professor at multiple schools. In this book, he proposes to show ‘that diversity and racial reconciliation are biblical issues…When one examines Scripture with an eye for healing these tensions, perhaps a biblical mandate can be found, asking believers to work to heal the wounds of racial division.’
With regard to this purpose, the book does an admirable job. The book provides clear biblical exposition that convincingly reveals that racial reconciliation is biblical. Dr. Victor systematically destroys the foundations of racism and mono-cultural Christianity. Indeed, there is very little in this book that is controversial, because almost all of the content is drawn from Scripture and simply presents Scriptural truth.
The difficulty comes from the fact that the book goes farther than its stated purpose. Having shown that racial reconciliation and diversity are important for the church, the book raises questions and suggests controversial viewpoints. It does so, however, near the very end of the book, and these viewpoints are not discussed in detail. This makes it difficult to clearly pin down the author on his perspective. Since most of this thinking does not pervade the book, it is difficult to criticize or even question most of the work.
What this means, in particular, is that much of the wording is vague, written in such a way that critical race theory (CRT) advocates would agree with it, while those who oppose CRT could also agree with the same statements, understood in different ways. This happens multiple times, especially near the end of the book.
Controversy first arises on page 83, where the concept of ‘equality’ first seems to surface. As if out of nowhere, the author asserts, “They [Christians] are afraid that working toward true equality in their communities will cost them something.” This is followed by a quote from an African American pastor: “Everyone loves equality until they realize it means they might have to give something up.” What is very unclear is why the discussion (which, to this point, has been very biblical) suddenly turns to equality. It is as if the author assumes that equality is obviously part of racial reconciliation, without ever discussing that assumption.
This is, in fact, contrary to what he wrote on page 78 – “As seen earlier, the definition of reconciliation is more than just a change in feelings or attitudes. Reconciliation is not simply a cessation of hostilities or an uneasy truce. It refers to the mending of broken relationships.” Thus far, the author has admirably proven the value of reconciliation, but what he has failed to show is that reconciliation requires equality.
On page 92, the author seems to implicitly link the concept of equality with the concept of human flourishing. It is the closest that he gets to providing any basis for the concept of equality being part of reconciliation. At some level, this is a valid argument: Christians should care for human flourishing, and if some believers are so disadvantaged that they cannot ‘flourish’ (however that is defined), those who are flourishing need to help them. Paul’s collection for the needy saints in Jerusalem is an example.
The question remains, however, whether all Christians must equally flourish in terms of economic prosperity. This concept is neither seen in Scripture, nor even practical. The final chapters of this book, however, seem to take it for granted. Further, it is hard not to see that the author has bought into some the CRT thinking, for the final pages of the book contain constant references to ‘privilege’ and ‘privileged believers.’
There is nothing wrong with recognizing that some people have more advantages than others. There are many reasons for this, including historical reasons (slavery, etc.). Dr. Victor even goes so far as to discuss the biblical reasons why some people are ‘privileged’ more than others. He correctly points out that “Those with the power and influence should be initiating efforts to bring about reconciliation and flourishment” (p. 93) This is biblical: God privileges us, not so that we can selfishly enjoy those privileges, but so that we can serve others. As the author asks on page 95, “How do believers leverage privilege for the good of others?”
But is privilege ‘wrong’? The implicit answer in this book is ‘yes.’ It is only subtly hinted at, and some of those hints may be valid and correct points (such as that seen on page 93 about ‘laying down privilege’). The approach is more clearly seen on page 102, where the author approvingly quotes Mark Croston. Croston says, “When they [church leaders] try to implement concepts like forgiveness and repentance for privilege, it won’t go over well in many cases.” Here is CRT thinking: privilege is a ‘sin’ that must be ‘repented of.’
Earlier it was pointed out that the book is often vague, making statements that could be held by CRT and non-CRT advocates, because both understand the statement in different ways. One example is seen on p. 101, where the author agrees with Duke Kwon that the church needs to “undo racist and exclusive policies and procedures while rebuilding leadership structures around power-sharing and inclusion.” This is completely true, of course, but it does not really describe what is meant by ‘power-sharing and inclusion.’ Is this an open door for affirmative-action type processes within the church? The language is too vague to be sure what is meant.
The book concludes with some examples of different churches and how they are pursuing racial reconciliation. The final question that comes up with some of these examples is the effort to pursue minorities for leadership positions. This is a complicated situation, which requires some explanation. CRT advocates an affirmative action-type approach, in which an institution (like a church) is inherently racist if it does not have a sufficient ‘quota’ of minorities. A more biblical approach recognizes that minorities may be able to minister better within certain minority communities. Hence, efforts to train minority leaders may be valuable for a missional perspective. Further, healthy churches should model the community in which they live through their racial makeup. This is not about filling quotas, but simply about reaching out to all members of a community.
The concluding pages of this book, and the churches that they highlight, value pursuing minorities, both for church membership and for church leadership. Here again, the reasoning is vague. Why is this important? The author never mentions or discusses this topic. Some of the churches were obviously motivated to change because they realized that they were not reaching their communities (potentially, a good reason). But in some ways, the approach may be unhealthy, such as the example of the ‘minority pastor residency’ on page 107. Should the church prioritize a special residency for people based solely on their ethnic status?
The majority of this review has focused on the controversial side of this book. However, the vast majority of this book is very balanced and biblical. Most of the application throughout the majority is directed against racism. Because the CRT-influenced thinking only comes out near the end, this is a book that could be profitably used in a bible study on reconciliation and diversity, if the teacher has thought through and is prepared to discuss the topics that are brought up near the end. Outside of taking a harsh stand against racism, the book is otherwise quite ambiguous in its assertions. For the most part, it does not take an obviously CRT approach. In other words, it (mostly) lives up to its subtitle: ‘Biblical truth about diversity and reconciliation.’