Talking about Race: Gospel for Hard Conversations
Isaac Adams is the lead pastor of Iron City Church in Birmingham, Alabama. Previously he served Capitol Hill Baptist Church in Washington, DC. He believes that “If we better appreciate the difficulty of conversations about race, we will better appreciate one another. We will be slower to grow angry, quicker to confess, and quicker to forgive. It is popular nowadays to highlight the problems of God’s people when it comes to race, and indeed, if one is looking for fault, people can find it” (xiii). He explains his purpose for writing: “I sought to write a book that didn’t just name the problem but also charted a biblical way forward. I wanted the book to burst with stories because stories are powerful” (xiv).
Adams is an excellent storyteller. Each of the chapters in the first part begins with stories of people interacting with one another in a church setting. These stories set the context for suggestions about how conversation could move forward. Contextualizing the advice in these stories helps make the author’s advice concrete, since the reader can likely identify with one of the parties in the interaction. Then in part 2, Adams addresses three key questions. On the first—“Why should we talk about race across color lines?”—he summarizes the need in this way: “We should talk about racial matters because of the American evangelical church’s disturbing track record on race relations” (120). Second, he asks, “Why is it so hard to talk about race across color lines?” and lists several causes, among them the pain and history of the topics, as well as the deeply ingrained patterns of thinking. Perhaps the reasons can be summarized as fear: fear of people who are different, fear of saying something hurtful, fear of having to change, and fear of being misunderstood. Finally, Adams asks, “How should we talk about race across color lines?” His answer acknowledges the complexity of the question and then provides several helpful guidelines. A final chapter asks, “When the next racial tragedy happens, what can you do?” He reminds the reader, “The next viral video of a racial tragedy won’t be the first of its kind, and unfortunately, until the Lord returns, I fear it won’t be the last” (163). An appendix addresses specifically how to talk about race with children.
This is an excellent resource. It provides practical, real-life examples along with well-grounded steps to follow. Each chapter includes a set of questions for reflection and discussion. A glossary of terms and lists of additional resources add to the book's value. Adams has written in a conversational style that engages the reader. People who want to know how to have these conversations and then put into practice steps to improve relationships will find this book helpful. Adams writes, “Can’t the gospel overcome any barrier, including ethnic diversity (Ephesians 2:11–22)? If so, why is it so hard for us to speak with grace and truth about issues of race?” (xvi). His aim in this book is, first, “to help us think, in light of God’s word, about why conversations regarding race and racism are so hard—and also so important—for Christians in America. Second, this book aims to help us think about how we can have these conversations more helpfully. If both aims are accomplished, by God’s grace, we’ll be better equipped to faithfully pursue that which we supposedly desire regarding race relations” (xvii). This book achieves what it sets out to do, and if the suggestions are taken seriously, then people’s conversations and relationships will be enhanced.
About the Contributors
Glenn R. Kreider
Prior to teaching at DTS, Dr. Kreider served as Director of Christian Education and then as Senior Pastor in Cedar Hill, TX. His research and writing interests include Jonathan Edwards, theological method, theology and popular culture, and our eschatological hope. Dr. Kreider believes that grace really is amazing; it is a thought that will change the world. He is married to his best friend, Janice, and they have two grown children and one granddaughter, Marlo Grace. He and Janice enjoy live music, good stories, bold coffee, and spending time together and with their rescue dogs—a terrier/greyhound mix named Chloe and a black lab named Carlile.