The Permanence of Racial Identities?

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In a post about how white evangelicals often do but should not assume what he calls a "white presumptive" perspective (something I wholeheartedly agree with and have discussed in the past under the term 'normative whiteness'), Mark Dever says something in passing that I'm not sure I agree with.
African-American Christian history is more fundamentally Christian than it is African-American. I realize that may be a controversial statement, but inside the body of Christ, we must realize that our racial identities (while seeming in Revelation to last into eternity) are not as fundamental as our Christian identity.

Again, his main statement there is something I wholeheartedly agree with. Black evangelicals, in my experience, are more likely to resist this biblical truth than white evangelicals, at least in their explicit beliefs. But white evangelicals can often give it lip service to it without realizing how much they are in fact tied to their white identity, as instanced by the very occasion of Mark's post. Whiteness is invisible to most white people, and the fact that white people affirm this statement doesn't mean they really understand what it amounts to and how their lives would have to change were they really to incorporate its truth into their lives.

But the disagreement I have with this statement is not in what it says overall but in what he says in passing in parentheses. He says racial identities seem in Revelation to last into eternity. Is that true? Now it may be that the things that inform our identities racially do last into eternity. Does that mean we will still have races in eternity? I don't think that follows, but I think the question of whether we will have racial identities in eternity is separate from the question of whether the book of Revelation includes anything that should seem to indicate that racial identities will continue in eternity. There are strong indications that the believers gathered around God's throne is a united body of people from every tongue and nation.

But two things make me think it is not teaching that racial identities continue into eternity. First, these descriptions are not just about eternity. They are about the gathered people of God, who are spiritually speaking around the throne of God in heaven. This isn't a resurrection scene. It's a teaching about the nature of the church now. Second, it doesn't say that these are people defined in terms of racial identities. It says that there are people there from every tongue, tribe, and nation. These are people called out of the world and into the people of God. It doesn't mean racial identities are wiped out, but it doesn't say they're not. It simply says that people who were of all the tongues, tribes, and nations are gathered together as one.

4 Comments

I think we all live on the world.Why we can not
get along with each other very well.Especially the
white and the black.I often talk about it with some black friends on www.blackgirls connect.com
I find they are very good and kind.I sincerely hope that the racial different view can disppear.

Daniel Pennant

The more basic answer to your first question is sin. We are fallen people, not even remotely like how God created us.

But one specific reason there are still difficulties between black people and white people is that the historical and social problems are much more complex and significant than you seem to understand. They're the sort of thing that won't ever be resolved by white people simply saying that black people are good and kind and hoping that racial differences will disappear (or hoping that the view of races as different will disappear; I'm not sure which you're suggesting).

Jeremy, in my experience, I have know black evangelicals to be very Christian because their Christianity is tied very closely to their culture, just like white Americans. I am a Chinese-Canadian and from my personal experience, I know that our Christianity is not at all tied, or is very distant to the Chinese culture. Chinese North Americans have not had a long history of being enculturated into the Christian culture.

You said: It simply says that people who were of all the tongues, tribes, and nations are gathered together as one.

I agree. This is a teaching about the nature of the church now. People of all tribe, nation and language are there right now--including you and me because as of this very moment, we are united as one in Christ .


I have know black evangelicals to be very Christian because their Christianity is tied very closely to their culture, just like white Americans. I am a Chinese-Canadian and from my personal experience, I know that our Christianity is not at all tied, or is very distant to the Chinese culture. Chinese North Americans have not had a long history of being enculturated into the Christian culture.

Yes, that is all true, but we're speaking relatively here. When compared with a culture whose Christianity is only decades old, both black and white Americans seem in comparison to have absorbed Christian values much more thoroughly. My point is that many black American evangelicals have seen their race as much more fundamental to their identity than their religion. I've seen polling that shows that many black Americans will explicitly admit this even, moreso than white American evangelicals will.

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