This review appeared in the Jul-Sep 2012 vol. 169 no. 3 issue of Biblotheca Sacra, DTS’s quarterly academic journal.Subscribe Today
Bloodlines: Race, Cross, and the ChristianCrossway, Wheaton, IL September 8, 2011
In the preface Piper summarizes the thesis of this book this way: “The bloodline of Jesus Christ is deeper than the bloodlines of race. The death and resurrection of the Son of God for sinners is the only sufficient power to bring the bloodlines of race into the single bloodline of the cross” (pp. 13–14). This is a deeply personal and intensely theological topic by the pastor of Bethlehem Baptist Church in Minneapolis.
After acknowledging that “race” and “racism” are not biblical terms or concepts and that they are emotionally loaded, Piper defends continuing to use them. “The heart that believes one race is more valuable than another is a sinful heart. And that sin is racism. The behavior that distinguishes one race as more valuable than another is a sinful behavior. And that sin is called racism. This personal focus on the term racism does not exclude the expression of this sin in structural ways” (pp. 18–19).
In the book’s first part, “Our World: The Need for the Gospel,” the author begins with a brief summary of the American civil rights movement of the 1960s, with particular focus on the leadership of Martin Luther King Jr. He then tells his own story, from his childhood and teenage years when he was “manifestly racist” (p. 33), through the decision to live within walking distance of “the poorest and most diverse part of the city” of Minneapolis (p. 38), to his life-changing choice to adopt an African American daughter when he was fifty (p. 39). This first chapter concludes with the assertion that the gospel “is our only hope for the kind of racial diversity and harmony that ultimately matters” (p. 40). Using his own church as a case study and based on statistics about the changing demographics of American cities, as well as the voices of Bill Cosby and his vocal critics, Piper lays out the need for “greater pursuits of racial diversity and harmony” and “a passion for a public life of engagement in the community and the political arena” within the Christian church (p. 106).
In the second part of the book, nearly twice as long as the first, Piper discusses “God’s Word: The Power of the Gospel.” He argues that “when we understand that God’s act of justifying the ungodly (Rom. 4:5) is by grace alone, through faith alone, on the basis of Christ alone, for the glory of God alone, we begin to see how shattering it is to ethnocentrism and racial pride” (p. 144). Since Piper’s reputation as a defender of Calvinism is well known, no one will be surprised by his defense of the Reformed tradition. That he devotes so much attention to it in a book against racism also should surprise no one, for the only solution to this and every sin is good theology, the gospel. Non-Calvinists and Calvinists of a different sort than Piper will likely find Piper’s identification of Calvinism with the Bible, the gospel, and the solution to racism a bit too simplistic and reductionistic. Surely Christians who read the Bible differently than Piper does can also find in the gospel the solution to ethnocentrism and ethnic pride.
In the conclusion Piper summarizes the goal of this work. “It is the aim of this book to encourage you to pursue Christ-exalting, gospel-driven racial and ethnic diversity and harmony—especially in the family of God, the church of Jesus Christ. I have tried to argue from the Scripture that the blood of Christ was shed for this. It is not first a social issue, but a blood issue. The bloodline of Christ is deeper than the bloodlines of race” (p. 227). On this point surely all Christians can agree. In addition the hope of the gospel, the resurrection of Christ as the first fruits of the dead (1 Cor. 15:20), provides assurance that one day racial diversity will be experienced in its fullness as a great multitude from every nation, tribe, people, and language will worship the Lamb (Rev. 7:9).
By telling his own story and interweaving it with the story of the church he pastors, Piper has shined the light of the gospel on a pressing need. This book is recommended for students, pastors, teachers, and all those interested in putting the gospel into practice to bring redemption to this pressing social evil.
—Glenn R. Kreider