Over the past week, we have been deeply grieved by the events that have played out in our world: the senseless death of George Floyd, the nationwide protests for justice and riots that have broken out in some of our largest cities. In light of such events, Christians cannot be silent.
In times like these, we first want to come together to seek God’s help, comfort, strength and wisdom. We want to come together to pour out our grief and sadness before God. We want to hear from God’s Word.
On Friday, June 5, Dr. Ken Keathley of the L. Russ Bush Center for Faith and Culture hosted a conversation with Drs. Danny Akin, Walter Strickland and Mark Liederbach at Southeastern Seminary. They discussed theology, ethics, and racial injustice. Watch the video above, or read a handful of excerpts below (edited for clarity).
Dr. Danny Akin on the influence of Enlightenment philosophies on the church.
“This is another example where the culture had a greater impact on the church than the church did on the culture. All of us on this panel are Southern Baptists, and yet if you go back we were founded on May 20, 1845 in the context of would we support slave owners going to the mission field. And Baptists in the North said no, Baptists in the South said it should not be a problem or an issue. And out of that was birthed the Southern Baptist Convention.
“Then you move forward to our founding seminary, The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, and all four founding professors were slave owners. Two, John Broadus and J.P. Boyce, served as chaplains in the Confederacy…. It’s very clear that these enlightenment philosophers (and clearly they were not as enlightened as history as pegged them) [their ideas] absolutely worked [their] way into the thinking of the church. I fear tragically we’re still working to get back to what the Bible says about the image of God in all human beings, in terms of an equal worth, equal value, equal imagers. It grieves me that we’ve made progress, but clearly we’re not where we need to be.”
Dr. Walter Strickland on race and theology.
“There was a desire to produce a theology that allowed those who evangelized slaves, like a Francis LeJeune, to be able to say, ‘The gospel is for you; it frees your soul, but your body is still enslaved by human beings.’ So a theology was developed that allowed for that. This was the theology that was proclaimed throughout the Great Awakenings, which is why there were so many Africans and slaves who came to know Christ in the Great Awakenings, but they remained in their servitude. As countercultural as the Great Awakenings were, what we find is that in this particular era it conformed to culture. Then it was the abolitionists— there were a lot of believers who were abolitionists — who then began to say, ‘Well, our theology actually ought to inform all of life. So as our soul is free, the gospel speaks to this idea of the body as well, and we should work toward these kingdom realities we’ll see in the fullness in the kingdom, but making them a reality now.’
“I think what that’s done, and if I can say in the theological imagination of Southern Baptists, it’s given us the permission to say, ‘You know, our theology is one where we cannot engage social issues, and we can call them secular issues, because the real issues are the issues of the transformation of the soul — issues of piety, issues of scripture memory, these spiritual disciplines which are part and parcel of any robust Christian life.’ But then when it comes to the issues that were pertinent to people of color, not necessarily to the people who were of the majority of culture, when you begin to talk about issues that the people of color had to have answers to, it was relegated as a social issue because it wasn’t their issue. And I think that what we’ve seen is a sacred-secular divide in the thinking of many Southern Baptists because there was this need to be able to say early on that you can be a Christian, we can share the gospel with you, freeing your soul, making you a part of this forever family, yet your body is still enslaved.
“I do think we’re still trying to recover from that. But the tragic thing is I don’t know that we could even put our finger on it to begin with so we don’t even know we’re fighting against a theological legacy that justified that.
“While Christianity was unfortunately used as a means of enslaving people and keeping them docile, those who were proclaiming that gospel began to believe it themselves. And then we’re now beginning to recover from that, and it gets pretty nasty at times.”
Dr. Mark Liederbach on doctrine of creation properly informs us.
“You see this [unity of the human race] from the very beginning in Genesis, and then in Acts 17:26 Paul on Mars Hill, speaking to the Athenians, says we all come from one blood. So it’s a crucial thing for us to see that both the Old Testament and the New Testament affirm that human beings are one race.
“Those who argued for ‘Mongoloid’ and ‘Caucasoid’ and ‘Negroid,’ they were using a ridiculous form of almost scientism to try to justify slavery by dividing one race into several different races. And we as Christians need to outright deny that that is not only not biblically founded, but scientifically all the modern studies of biology completely debunk those kinds of theories. When we say we’re one blood, we’re one race and there are multiple ethnicities, but we need to celebrate the fact that we’re one race and God created us to look a little different. That’s a beautiful thing.”
Dr. Walter Strickland on the need for a relationship with Christ.
“If we’re not bathed in Scripture, if we’re not hiding God’s word in our heart, then we’re going to be useless out there — even if you have all the intellectual tools to do the work…. If I didn’t have the relationship with Christ, I don’t know how you do anything to combat evil.”