Jesus, Me, And the Other: Evangelicalism and White Privilege

I’ve been an evangelical Christian all of my life. Though I’ve drifted away from much of what goes under the flag of evangelicalism certain emphases of the movement will remain dear to me. One of these is the centrality of the person and work of Jesus Christ. For evangelicals, the personal relationship with Christ matters more than anything. It starts with the question whether one has accepted Jesus Christ as savior and lord in one’s life. The direct unmitigated relationship with Christ is at the center of the evangelical experience. I still resonate with what theologians call a Christocentric emphasis. It’s all about Christ; nothing else matters.

In this essay, I will argue from that very Christocentric position, from the Jesus-and-me relationship. I will first trace how, as a European studying in the USA, I became aware of white privilege and racism and the way these two are inscribed in political and economic systems. In this development, I slowly but definitely moved away from what I started to perceive as skewed aspects of evangelical thought and praxis that kept me from seeing the truth. It became clear to me that evangelicalism’s theology in its attempt to gauge the precise will, mind, and ideas of God, came up with claims and concepts that actually facilitated racism and white privilege. In the second part of the essay, my talk about Jesus becomes an attempt to preserve the evangelical Christocentric attitude but now in combination with gains made from an awareness of the truth that emerges in the world of empire and oppression. Where the first part is predominantly biographical, the second part is more constructive in character and will argue for a number of reversals; three to be exact. I will draw from Bonhoeffer’s work to make my two main points. I hope that my evangelical readers will understand what moves I have made and how these better express some of the core values embedded in our common Christian faith.

Me (and Jesus)

I came to the United States to study at a well-known evangelical seminary in the Mid-West. One of the first books I was assigned to read there was Mañana by Justo Gonzalez[1] in which the author showed that some doctrines in the Christian Church were developed at least in part as an attempt to cement the power of a few. This was entirely new to me. I knew no better than that sound analytical thinking would automatically lead to absolute truth. I wanted to become a Christian apologist and expected no less than the most rigorous work from the theologians that I studied. I soon began to be puzzled by certain discussions in class. Some students had the audacity to call America an empire. That was not done with a positive connotation. I remember vigorously defending my host country. More puzzling, however, were the discussions about race. It was obvious to me that evangelicals couldn’t be racists. After all, we were serious about doing God’s bidding, loved Jesus, and ardently studied the teachings of our Lord. One of my classmates, an African American, seemed to be getting into heated discussions a lot with most every other classmate, particularly on this issue. He seemed to disagree with both African Americans and white evangelicals.

A major eye-opener presented itself during my second year. An African American classmate complained one night complained on social media about how she was stopped by the police in her own neighborhood for running a red light even when she hadn’t. She added that this happens to her all the time. Suddenly it started to dawn on me. There I was, daily cruising down the local freeway well over the speed limit and occasionally running red lights without any fear of the police. I realized that even though I’m a foreigner in this country I got to enjoy the privileges of the privileged simply because I’m white. I can fake a pretty good American English accent if I have to, but that wasn’t it. I simply didn’t get stopped by the police in the first place. The police were not on my mind because I was not in their field of vision. Unlike my African American classmates, I automatically escaped their radar.

I now began to see more things that were off. Not just “in the world” but within the world of faith. I noticed, for instance, that the committee burdened with the task of promoting diversity in my seminary was headed by the one Asian-American prof at the seminary. It oddly felt as if this was just so that everyone could feel that diversity was dealt with without, however, this work on diversity impacting the reigning white culture. After all, diversity is something for the “diversity people.” Let them do their “thingy” and all will be well. The Seminary only paid lip service to the concept, I realized. Where these “diversity people” were actually able to have an impact they were met with fierce resistance at every level. In those case, however, the issues were never “about racism,” but the quality of education, reorganization, doing what’s best in the student’s interest, etc.

This was the beginning of a process of discovery for me. I had finally bumped into the reality of white privilege. In this, I found myself on the wrong side of the fence, not just because of my own enjoyment of white privilege was at odds with the truth, but also because what happened touched on evangelical theology as such. My theology! Evangelicalism’s unawareness of this meant that its analytical and common sense theology operated on the basis of a certain blindness which stood in stark contrast to its analytical prowess. The syllogistic deductive logic, that my apologetic teachers promised would yield pure and absolutely true conclusions, began already with a certain blindness. Of course, these teachers were not dealing with race issues but proofs for the existence of God, but if blindspots can occur in one area they can occur everywhere. And so my suspicion of evangelical praxis began to extend to evangelical theology.

I realized that if evangelical theology is not able to adequately address the issues of diversity and white privilege if it is not able to take away the blindness to matters of racial inequality, it might not be so trustworthy in other areas as well. Jim Wallis reminds us in America’s Original Sin that “white privilege is the legacy of white supremacy.”[2] It is therefore far more dangerous than an unfortunate but otherwise rather innocent blind spot. For this reason, my mistrust joined other strands of thought that became increasingly critical of the evangelical project. It seemed designed from the outset to protect a certain privileged group rather than protect groups in need of protection. Its blindness was deliberate rather than innocent. It supported a culture of privilege rather than prophetically speak truth to the powers of empire (this in spite of the evangelical outcry against the liberal agenda as something trying to oppress evangelical Christianity).

I also began to see that certain cherished theological themes are subconsciously designed to keep things “as they are,” so as not to disturb the tranquility of white evangelicals as they enjoy the advantages of a system designed in their favor. I could see this desire inscribed in the insistence that the Christian faith is about a personal relationship with Jesus Christ as your savior and lord. The exclusive verticalization (Jesus-and-me) and individualization (it’s about a personal relationship with Jesus) of faith here prevents one from applying the gospel to the horizontal and communal dimensions, respectively, of society at large. I saw it also in the related insistence that all evils in society are the result of personal sin. Many evangelicals believe that only when people accept the gospel in large numbers will societal ills such a racism disappear. They will then disappear automatically, as a necessary corollary to personal conversion. This conveniently prevents evangelical Christians from addressing systemic sin, which would entail an unmasking of their own privilege. Besides, it was very odd that those evangelicals who claimed to have been touched by that all-issues-resolving gospel were themselves still blind to their own white privilege. Something didn’t fit here.

Soon my criticism extended from American Evangelicalism to my own country. Things came back to my mind that helped me see my own nation’s involvement in racism. I was reminded of Spielberg’s movie Amistad that had left me shaken. I realized that my own nation, the Netherlands, had been heavily involved in slave trade including the very stomach churning practices I witnessed in Amistad. And yet, at the dedication in 2002 of the first monument in Amsterdam commemorating the Dutch involvement in the slave trade, the actual descendants of the slaves were not invited at the official ceremony. This caused a lot of anger at the time.[3] Up to this date, the Dutch government has refused to issue a public apology for Dutch involvement in the slave trade for the incredulous reason that at the time slavery existed it was not an unlawful practice.[4] In a typical empire-like fashion, the law still trumps justice in the Netherlands and is a faithful ally of a nation that seeks to avoid paying reparations. Injustice is repeated: not only were black people enslaved; their descendants have to hear that their ancestor’s enslavement is not worthy of an official apology. Black people were enslaved for economic gain while their descendants do not see this fact sufficiently acknowledge, again, for economic gain.

These narrative fragments of my life, like watching Amistad, learning about the Dutch slave trade, or hearing about stoplights in black neighborhoods, were not in themselves theological. Rather my theological development followed the trail of these “mundane” events that announced themselves as a message from God. I only needed to recognize it as such. My watertight evangelical theological system had become impervious to the life-transforming, healing, and reconciling love of the gospel. I had to crack it open in order to do theology properly and in order to do justice to my neighbor’s humanity, as well as that of my own.

The theology I had constructed around “me” to facilitate the Jesus-and-me dynamic was deconstructed and it was to lead to a few reversals. In fact, I believe the “Jesus and me” relationship was the basis for this deconstruction, or if you prefer, this subversion of the “me” with all its desire for security and its assumptions about who Jesus is and what Jesus wants. Had I initially drawn Jesus into the “me,” I was now forced to acknowledge that this Jesus was, to a large extent, the product of the imagination of my own faith community. The real Jesus, however, is an active agent. An Other over against me, who addresses me. My evangelical belief about the living Jesus turned out to be radically true in the sense that this Jesus demanded my heart. I had to surrender all to Jesus and relinquish control. However, I realized this was not to be conceived of in the evangelical sense of vertical devotion toward my Lord in heaven, but as a conversion toward the other, the horizontal reversal, that is, a reorientation toward those that my evangelical faith had allowed me to remain blind to. My black sister. My native brother.

Jesus (and Me)

Jesus in the other

What had really been missing in the Jesus-and-me dynamic up to that point was the other; Jesus-and-me was in many ways an exclusive relationship that left no or little room for my neighbor as an “other.” The other, who is the least of these who receives a cup of water, some clothing, some care, a visit, some food, or a welcome, was conspicuously absent. That other was absent in her otherness. When Jesus addresses that particular category of the least of these in Matthew 25, he points out that caring for the naked, the thirsty, the hungry, the stranger, the imprisoned, and the sick, is really a caring for Christ. He says: “I was hungry, I was thirsty, etc.”

In evangelical praxis, there is an awareness of the other. This other is both internal and external. Internally, the other is the sister or brother in the church community whom one needs to love (although many Christians will agree that this loving often degenerates into a disguise for proof of one’s superior spirituality). Externally, the other is the one who is “lost,” whether they be rich or poor, powerful or weak. As such they are the object of efforts to “save” them, which happens in the form of evangelism or missions. However the external other is defined, he cannot possibly be identified with Christ. When Evangelicals read Matthew 25 they typically prefer to interpret that other exclusively internally: the naked and the thirsty are Christians persecuted for their faith.

What happens in Jesus’ discourse, however, is that he paints a radically different picture of the other: nothing in the text suggests that this other is the exclusively Christian other. The internal-external division is shattered as Jesus’ words could equally apply to individuals who belong to the “chosen” as to individuals who, as outcasts of society for whatever reason, do not belong to God’s people. In shattering a human division of good and bad others, Jesus invites us to a radical reinterpretation of that other: “in so far you have done this to the least of these you’ve done it unto me.” Jesus so self-identifies with the other beyond the good-evil, in-out, saved-lost categories of evangelicalism that a gift to any other is a gift to Jesus. Stronger even: The other, beyond and outside of the saved and lost binary, takes on the identity of Jesus. Jesus now is that other. Let’s call this our first reversal. This other is to be found beyond the normative categorization performed by the church community and beyond the regulative practices that assign to the other the position of other, so other, in fact, that she is no longer our concern or duty; so other in fact that the other of Matthew 25 can only be understood as “Christian.”

A few years ago I wrote a blog post for my former seminary in which I, partly taking the passage of Matthew 25 as my starting point, suggested that we should construct Jesus as the other. Because, if it is true that the face of Jesus shows up in the thirsty and naked, we receive there one of the most important hints of what Jesus really is like. To say it in theological language: the ontological reality of Jesus manifests in the otherness of the weak who occupy the margin of society rather than in the center of power or, rather, our center. Churches throughout history have always imagined Jesus as one of them, be it in the icons of the Orthodox Churches, the statues in Catholic Churches or some version of the blond-haired blue-eyed Jesus often encountered in American Protestant circles. In a way, this is a good thing, because it means that people identify Christ, in whom God became their Father and in whom they draw near to God, as one of them. But there is one nasty side-effect of this Jesus-is-one-of-us, this Jesus constructed in our image. The more Jesus is seen as one of us the less he is seen as the One over against us who questions us and demands our transformation. Jesus constructed as one of us is never far from becoming the one whom we have control over. Throughout most of its history the Western Church has, with the cross as its banner, lorded it over minorities and conquered and subdued enemies, thus acting out the human thirst for power rather than giving expression to the humility of Christ.

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This problem of identification can thus have very grave consequences, especially if those who construct Jesus in their own image are a dominating force in a given society and even more when they subconsciously understand this likeness of Jesus to be a condoning of the practices and policies of this dominant group. Jesus all too easily becomes an accomplice in the oppression carried out by one group over another group. Willie Jennings in his  The Christian Imagination: Theology and the Origins of Race talks about this problem as he discusses the theological (!) roots of the colonial aspiration of the Europeans.[5] The peoples of Europe saw themselves as the inheritors of the Biblical promises to whom it was given to dominate the world. Their construction of whiteness over which Christ reigned in God’s kingdom allowed them to see non-Europeans as black and inferior. To bring it home for me as a citizen of the Netherlands: while the Dutch Calvinists were singing their psalms for Christ their Lord in their beautiful Dutch churches, their economic emissaries with the aid of Dutch military forces went around killing, raping, and subjugating indigenous peoples in what is today Indonesia, Sri Lanka, and South Africa. It didn’t occur to them that their Lord could also be (and is in fact) brown and black.

It is good to imagine Christ as one of your own group as long as this does not become a method to filter away the true Christ out there in the other. For white Christians in America, this is a grave danger. Most evangelicals see Christ as a middle class urban white guy who is as individualized as they are themselves and who preaches a privatized gospel of forgiveness of personal inward sins. He has as little to say about social injustice and harmful economic practices as the gospel that these evangelicals have invented. Their Jesus is a Jesus of Jesus-and-me. Sadly, social change comes only as an afterthought for most white evangelicals and then only as something only indirectly related to their faith, while they themselves remain comfortably blind to their own white privilege. Their Jesus is not only white, blond, and blue-eyed but also specifically designed to address vertical personal sins rather than those that according to the Bible truly matter: oppression and neglect of the least of these naked, thirsty, hungry, sick, strange, and imprisoned ones.

When we construct Christ as the other—my semi-official theological language for seeing Christ in the other person—things start to change. If white Christians start imagining their Lord as an African American arrested by the police, as a Chinese worker in a sweatshop, a bent figure from the mountains in Guatemala, a man with a turban, a native on the reservation, things start to change radically. Two things happen. In the first place, one’s heart opens up for the otherness of the other in her otherness. One’s eyes open for a reality beyond the suburban Church. This other is then not an object of distant pity or conversion efforts but a person in whom the most precious reality of Christ is present but in otherness. Secondly, one’s heart opens up to the plight of the other. Since Christ is constructed (or visualized) as someone in the margin, the plight of the other suddenly becomes the Christocentric problem. And whatever is Christocentric is at the heart of the matter for the evangelical Christian. Isn’t it?[6]In his book Bonhoeffer’s Black Jesus, Reggie Williams makes exactly this argument as he analyzes the German theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s development when he was a young exchange student at Union Seminary in New York in the early 30s of the last century. Coming from a place of privilege, Bonhoeffer had not been exposed much to the marginalized in society. But in New York, he joined Abyssinian Baptist Church, an African American Church in Harlem.[7] There, Bonhoeffer was allowed, what W.E.B. Dubois[8] calls, a glance behind the veil, that is, he saw African American people as they truly are, as they see themselves, and, what is more, was given to participate in their perspective of the world as marginalized. It was there that Bonhoeffer learned to see Jesus as the other, as it were, as a Black Jesus. Incorporating this insight into his understanding of Luther’s theology of the cross, Bonhoeffer would later say “Only the suffering God can help.” Bonhoeffer understood well what it meant that Jesus identifies with the least of these. In Jesus God comes as one suffering, vulnerable, and marginalized. Only as suffering God does Christ encounter us and transform us into people who can see others. In a proposal for a book he never got around writing he wrote, connecting the suffering of Jesus with the marginality of the minority neighbor:

“Our relationship to God is no ‘religious’ relationship to some highest, most powerful, and best being imaginable—that is no genuine transcendence. (…) The transcendent is not the infinite, unattainable task, but the neighbor within reach in any given situation. God in human form.”[9]What Bonhoeffer tried to say is that if we focus in our relationship with God on the heavenly God or Christ seated at God’s right hand, we do strangely enough injustice to God, Christ, and neighbor. The proper relation to God comes about by making the horizontal relationship vertical; that is, by seeing the face of Christ in our neighbor. Rendering the service of love to the neighbor is the greatest and most real worship of our transcendent God, for God’s transcendent otherness hides in the earthly otherness of our neighbor. This is how Bonhoeffer made Matthew 25 concrete for today.

Jesus in me

In the book proposal we discussed above, Bonhoeffer has more to say and it is to that “more” we need to turn for our second reinterpretation of the meaning of Jesus in the Jesus-and-me relationship. In the previous section, we have seen that the encounter with Jesus, when followed by a sustained relationship with Jesus, inserts the notion of the other in such a radical way that Christ disappears first behind, as it were, and then reappears in the face of the other. The previous categorization of others undergoes a reversal. We will now see how the same thing will happen to the “me” in Jesus-and-me. Evangelicals often talk among themselves about a process called sanctification. For them, it is a process of purging sin from oneself and keeping oneself pure and holy away from the world. However, in this focus away from sin and sinfulness, evangelicals tend to make a serious mistake. Sanctification should lead one to the world, not away from it. A proper subversion of “me” redefines and intensifies the relationship with the other, with the neighbors that surround us everywhere. It doesn’t sever that relationship. How? Bonhoeffer writes:

“Our relationship to God is no ‘religious’ relationship to some highest, most powerful, and best being imaginable—that is no genuine transcendence. Instead, our relationship with God is a new life in ‘being there for others,’ through participation in the being of Jesus.”[10]Bonhoeffer again addresses the theme of transcendence. This time it is not applied to the way God shows up in the face of the other. It is applied to “us” and “me.” In Bonhoeffer’s writing that word transcendence is an ambiguous term. It is sometimes applied to the “you” in the relationship and sometimes to the “me.” One thing is clear, though, Bonhoeffer doesn’t like to apply the term to God above because of its sterile and otherworldly connotation. It doesn’t do justice to the way God is present in Christ in the world and on the cross. It doesn’t reflect Jesus’ words about himself being the naked, thirsty, hungry, imprisoned, or sick.

Bonhoeffer now applies the term transcendence to our relationship to God in the way it shows up as a new life in us that expresses itself in “being there for others.” In other words, worshipping the transcendent God is done by being like Christ in our actions toward others. That may strike an evangelical Christian as odd, but Bonhoeffer merely carries the logic of Christ’s teaching to its end. Just as Jesus in Matthew 25 is wary of false religion[11] so Bonhoeffer is wary of religiousness,[12] which is merely a modern variant of false religion. Religiousness occurs where people make a false opposition between being religious and not being religious; being religious is then considered a proper state of being. Being religious then exists for itself. Seen from this perspective, Jesus was not really religious. He simply came to do his Father’s will which entailed carrying out the divine love for the world to its ultimate consequence, even death if need be.

Right from the beginning in his academic career, Bonhoeffer sought to redefine revelation and divine presence in the world as that which manifests in the life of the Church in its very being and also as that which, because of God’s affirmation of the world in Christ, shows up in the world. As a Lutheran, it was very important for Bonhoeffer to conceive of revelation as present in the being of Christ on the cross. Since Christ is no longer here, it is now the Church that is “Christ existing as community.” This existing is only real to the extent that Christians actually live out this new life of “being there for others.” On this understanding, our transcendent relation to God consists in this, that our actions are evidence of a new kind of being that manifests in our bodies toward real others in the world. This being is the being of Christ. Jesus-and-me is subverted into the incredible reality to which we are invited as believers: Jesus-in-Me. Christ is not only in the other; Christ is also in me. This is the second reversal.

Now at this point, an evangelical Christian might say: “Oh, I know about me-in-Christ and Christ-in-me. The apostle Paul writes about it all the time. And since Paul is the mainstay of our theology, this is part and parcel of our vocabulary.” The problem here, however, is twofold. In the first place, we understand this Christ-in-me in our own reformatted evangelical way which draws Christ into “me” without the “me” truly being subverted and opened up toward the other in the way Christ intends. Christ often becomes a function of the “me” in its religious self-sufficiency. It retains a vertical orientation aloof from the world in its privacy which is as unlike Paul’s theology as can be. The second way in which this is a problem brings us back to the white privilege we talked about before. Evangelical Christians who engage “Pauline” theology and talk about being in Christ and Christ in us, do so as part of the dominant group in society that is almost exclusively made up of white people. Just as the Reformed tradition enabled the aspirations of The Netherlands to be a colonial power[13]—again, I’m borrowing from my own heritage to make my point—so evangelical theology, influenced as it is by the values, narrative, and self-justification of the nation that conquered and colonized much of North America and subsequently became a superpower, is complicit in the vices of the empire it belongs to. The worst of these vices is the blindness that allows these very vices to remain or become invisible. Many evangelical thinkers are completely unaware that “their Paul” is a white evangelical Paul, whose Christ-in-me and you-in-Christ are part and parcel of the evangelical vertical escape from horizontal responsibility.

It has literally taken me 4 to 5 years to come to a basic understanding of how my own evangelical theology with its emphasis on propositional logic and neutral, universal truth claims is actually a skewed—if not shrewd—system designed to divert my gaze away from the injustice carried out by the empires I belong to and to shield me from responsibility to address the other where and when she is oppressed by the mechanisms of those empires. Empires exist for the concentration and wielding of human power. They are nowhere worse, however than when they proceed in the name of some god to establish a theocracy. Sadly, many evangelicals today have succumbed to the desire to establish exactly such a theocracy. Their vision of America is white empire under a blond evangelical Christ. In doing so they are distorting the gospel, subverting it for the sake of their theocracy, by hurting those that are suffering in the margin. And that is exactly what happens when evangelicals say that salvation is about having a personal relationship with Jesus in your heart, when they say that conversion comes before social change, or when they claim Christ victorious when they vote in a racist president. But as Jim Wallis reminds us: “God is always personal, but never private.”[14] A personal God wants a personal response to the national sins of racism, white privilege, economic exploitation, and violence. The defensive rationalization that says “I’m not a racist,” becomes little more than a self-righteous posture that denies the very doctrine of justification by faith that is purportedly at the heart of the evangelical tradition. What is rather needed is repentance and a conversion to the other.

The Surprise Comes at the End

Bonhoeffer shows us that true worship of God is to be found in seeing the face of Christ in the other and in embodying that same Christ in our being for others. The Jesus-and-me relationship is transformed where Jesus shows up in the other and where the “me” becomes the location of Jesus’ presence as well. The Jesus-and-me relationship becomes the gateway to self-transformative engagement with the world. But we need to add something to this because if we simply make Bonhoeffer’s idea universal, all we get is another static piece of absolutized theology that we enlist in the attempt to evade responsibility. We, therefore, need to contextualize Bonhoeffer for our particular location in white privilege and empire. If we do so, we find the face of Christ not just in any other but, just like Jesus himself indicated as he talked about the least of these, and just like Bonhoeffer discovered himself by seeing the world through African American eyes behind the veil in Harlem, in the other who is in the margin, the other who is oppressed, the other who does not live in suburbia, the other who does not attend the evangelical church, the other who is un-American in appearance (i.e. “non-white”), the other who has a different accent or skin color. It is actually particularly appropriate in today’s America to say that only a black Jesus or a native Jesus can help evangelical Christians to encounter the Jesus they so publicly profess to serve.

And what about the “me” in the Jesus-and-me? That “me” can only properly express the reality of Jesus when it journeys to where Jesus shows up in the marginalized others, particularly the black and the native Jesus. How can the “me” be a Jesus unto them? By allowing the black Jesus to minister to them. How can the “me” learn to see Christ behind the veil of the other? By opening up to and learning from the native Jesus. And this, then, leads to yet another most startling, third, reversal.

Where evangelicals steeped in white privilege see themselves as self-sufficient and, at best, benevolently reaching out to the urban jungle or the Indian reservation, they find, that when they open themselves up for the black and native Christ, they themselves are recognized as the naked and thirsty ones. With all their wealth and privilege they finally learn to see themselves for what they are. It is they who need their black and native neighbors to discover who Christ really is. In this way, Bonhoeffer’s being there for others is turned on its head. As evangelicals allow their theology to be upended and seek to become like Christ in being there for others, they find Christ ministering to them from the margin. It turns out that the center of power with its white privilege is the true place of poverty and sickness. The oppressed in the margin turn out to be the ones who always were those ideally positioned to live out this Christ-like being for others. And so the surprise comes at the end: many first shall be last and many last shall be first.

Rather than providing an analysis of racist attitudes in evangelical praxis and thought, I have simply performed an “evangelical theology.” Perhaps one with radical implications, but in the final analysis not that radical theologically. What I have attempted to do in this essay is to creatively engage the evangelical theological concepts of Christ-in-me and Christ-in-the-other through a rather “literal” reading of Matthew 25 to show, with Bonhoeffer’s help, that there are enough resources within evangelical thought itself to undo its own white privilege and make a genuine step toward overcoming racial prejudice and, with it, undoing the victim syndrome prevalent in current evangelical politics. Perhaps the punchline at the end of my essay may come across as overly harsh. But does it really in the light of deep-seated racial prejudice and an ongoing exploitation of the developing world by Western powers? Evangelicals, therefore, need to heed the warning from Revelation 3:17 “For you say, ‘I am rich, I have prospered, and I need nothing.’ You do not realize that you are wretched, pitiable, poor, blind, and naked” (NRSV).

Image Credit

Olayinka Babalola at


Baskwell, Patrick. “Kuyper and Apartheid: A revisiting” HTS Teologiese Studies / Theological Studies Online, Volume 62 Number 4, (

Bonhoeffer, Dietrich. Letters and Papers from Prison. 1St English ed., Christian Gremmels, Eberhard Bethge, Renate Bethge, Tödt Ilse, and John W De Gruchy, eds. Dietrich Bonhoeffer Works, V. 8. Minneapolis, Minn.: Fortress Press, 2010.

Du Bois, W. E. B, and University of Virginia. Library. Electronic Text Center. The Souls of Black Folk : Essays and Sketches. Charlottesville, Va.: University of Virginia Library, 1996.

González Justo L. Mañana : Christian Theology from a Hispanic Perspective. Nashville: Abingdon Press, 1990.

Jennings, Willie James. The Christian Imagination: Theology and the Origins of Race. New Haven Conn.: Yale University Press, 2010.

Wallis, Jim. America’s Original Sin : Racism, White Privilege, and the Bridge to a New America. Grand Rapids: Brazos Press, 2016.

Williams, Reggie L. Bonhoeffer’s Black Jesus : Harlem Renaissance Theology and an Ethic of Resistance. Waco, Texas: Baylor University Press, 2014.


[1] González Justo L. González, Mañana : Christian Theology from a Hispanic Perspective (Nashville: Abingdon Press, 1990).

[2] Jim Wallis, America’s Original Sin : Racism, White Privilege, and the Bridge to a New America (Grand Rapids: Brazos Press, 2016), Kindle ed., loc. 235.

[3] See

[4] See

[5] See Willie James James, The Christian Imagination: Theology and the Origins of Race (New Haven Conn.: Yale University Press, 2010).

[6] I realize that questions emerge for Evangelical readers at this point. What does it mean to “construct Christ”? How can it be theologically justified to talk about Christ’s present in the other? Further and more elaborate theological work (and dialogue) would be necessary to trace the theological arguments made here. This essay does not allow for enough space to do this. I would like to make two observations with regard to the two question, though. In a way we always construct Christ. As ardent Bible readers, Evangelicals parse the text of Scripture to create a mental picture of who Christ is. My call for construction and visualization is only different to the extent that I involve the extra-biblical datum of the other in this process. Secondly, that Christ is found in the other is simply a faithful elaboration of Jesus’ own teaching in Matthew 25. As such involving the other in learning to understand who Jesus is solidly biblical.

[7] Reggie L. Williams, Bonhoeffer’s Black Jesus : Harlem Renaissance Theology and an Ethic of Resistance (Waco, Texas: Baylor University Press, 2014).

[8] W.E.B. Du Bois, The Souls of Black Folk : Essays and Sketches (Charlottesville, Va.: University of Virginia Library, 1996),

[9] Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Letters and Papers from Prison 1St English ed., Christian Gremmels, Eberhard Bethge, Renate Bethge, Tödt Ilse, and John W De Gruchy, eds., Dietrich Bonhoeffer Works, V. 8. (Minneapolis, Minn.: Fortress Press, 2010), 501.

[10] Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Letters and Papers from Prison 1St English ed., Christian Gremmels, Eberhard Bethge, Renate Bethge, Tödt Ilse, and John W De Gruchy, eds., Dietrich Bonhoeffer Works, V. 8. (Minneapolis, Minn.: Fortress Press, 2010), 501.

[11] Jesus’ discourse is to be placed within a context of criticism of the pharisees, priests, and scribes. We could closely define this false religion as the tendency to follow the proper rules out of self-preservation, to stay aloof of a messy world, and to focus one-sidedly on the outward ritual elements of a religion.

[12] Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Letters and Papers from Prison 1St English ed., Christian Gremmels, Eberhard Bethge, Renate Bethge, Tödt Ilse, and John W De Gruchy, eds., Dietrich Bonhoeffer Works, V. 8. (Minneapolis, Minn.: Fortress Press, 2010), 427.

[13] The culture-affirming brand of Reformed theology that Abraham Kuyper promoted in the Netherlands which developed the concept of sphere sovereignty at the dawn of the 20th century was quite amenable to the doctrine of apartheid developed by the descendants of the Dutch colonizers in South Africa. See for instance Patrick Baskwell, “Kuyper and Apartheid: A revisiting” in _HTS Teologiese Studies / Theological Studies Online_, Vol. 62 No. 4, (

[14] Jim Wallis, America’s Original Sin : Racism, White Privilege, and the Bridge to a New America (Grand Rapids: Brazos Press, 2016), Kindle ed., loc. 479.

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