Racial reconciliation has been a primary topic of cultural discussion, in America in the past couple of years. In 2020, American culture saw a massive uptick in protests regarding issues of race in the aftermath of George Floyd’s death at the hands of police in Minneapolis. This event was simply the current example, at the time, of the deaths of unarmed black men at the hands of law enforcement in recent years. Along with other cultural discussions around COVID, politics, and police reform, these events exposed a deep chasm in American society. Both sides of the political spectrum have opinions on how to move forward on these issues, particularly regarding race and racial reconciliation. Yet the divide seems so deep that it seems impossible for society to find real solutions to real problems facing western culture in general and America in particular. This raises the question: there must be a better way forward? In fact, for the follower of Jesus, there is a better way. Spoiler Alert: This better way forward is found only in the gospel. The question then becomes: how so? This is what pastor Isaac Adams discusses in his new book Talking About Race: Gospel Hope for Hard Conversations (Zondervan Reflective, 2022).
Isaac is the pastor of Iron City Church, a congregation planted in the heart of Birmingham, AL. This city has a rich, yet dark history during the American civil rights movement. In the 1960’s Birmingham made headlines during the Freedom Riders campaign, where police chief Bull Conner infamously ordered that bus riders and protesters alike be hosed with fire hoses because they attempted to integrate bus routes in the South. Birmingham is also the setting for Martin Luther King Jr’s famous Letter From A Birmingham Jail, where he called on white congregations in the South to join forces with the civil rights movement for the sake of Christian unity. For these reasons, Pastor Adams knows full well the road ahead regarding racial reconciliation in America. Yet he is hopeful, because the gospel is the only hope for world..
The book is broken into two parts. In part one, Adams shares the fictional story set in a church named Lincoln Ridge Bible Church. The story centers around the death of an unarmed black man at the hands of police. Each chapter shares the perspective of characters with LRBC and their response to the shooting and the aftermath. At the end of each chapter, Adams breaks down what was read in that chapter and he shares the pastoral counsel he would provide each character as if they were members at his church. At the end he provides questions that allow the reader space to reflect on the topics discussed. In part two, Adams provides a biblical theology of race and how Christians can move forward in a gospel-focused way. Each chapter ends with similar questions for reflection.
I found Pastor Adams’ approach very compelling, biblical, and practical. The manner in which he approaches this topic shows the wisdom and discernment of a seasoned pastor. His approach in part one proves helpful because it allows the reader to take a step back and experience the issue with fresh eyes. The events depicted could have been plucked from recent headlines. Their fictional nature, however, help to bring down the temperature and allow for deeper reflection on this important issue. I found his pastoral counsel very helpful. He found the good in each situation, however he never ended the “session” without pointing to the gospel. The truth is that all people, no matter our skin color, are sinners in need of a savior. Jesus came to take on the sin and pay the penalty for people of all ethnicities, genders, ages, and socioeconomic statuses. The Apostle Paul put it this way, “There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. And if you are Christ’s, then you are Abraham’s offspring, heirs according to promise” (Galatians 3:28-29, ESV). For this reason, if anyone is in Christ, they are part of the family of God and should be treated as such. In addition, all people should be treated with equality because the ground at the foot of the cross is level. The gospel is good news for everyone.
Talking About Race is a very helpful resource, and is very timely. It is a must read for pastors, church leaders, and church members alike. As followers of Christ, we must engage on cultural issues that face the church today. We cannot simply put our heads in the sand and hope an issue goes away. The issue of race and reconciliation is a biblical issue, because the Lord wants people from all nations and peoples to know and worship him as the one true God. Yet we must have a biblical foundation from which to approach all cultural issues, and Isaac Adams provides just that on the issue of race and racial reconciliation. Some will dismiss Adams’ arguments discussed in Talking About Race and label them as “too woke” or even “critical race theory”, but those would be misguided. Only one word came to mind while reflecting on this book: biblical.
Editor’s note: This book was provided by the publisher in exchange for an honest review.
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