Entitled, lazy, obnoxious, and presumptuous — words that should only describe a cat, never a Christian.
The believer’s work ethic should be nothing short of exemplary. Yet many of the worst workers also claim to belong to Christ. They see work as a necessary evil, not a means of God’s provision. They are allergic to prolonged effort and magnetized by ease. They proclaim salvation by grace but lament that their paycheck is earned by works. The Bible calls them sluggards (Prov 6:9-11).
They lurk where Christians gather. They abscond supplies needed by the widows and orphans, siphon off the generosity intended for the disabled, and erode the fibers of strength that hold relationships together. Their parasitic hooks dig into the muscle of the church and consume its ministry capacity. Male sluggards rebel against God’s design and are worse than insurgents in their own homes (1 Tim 5:8). Female sluggards chew the cud of gossip and spew the venom of slander (1 Tim 5:13). Together they are intoxicated with leisure (Prov 26:14), envious of ease (Prov 19:24), carnivorous for comfort (Prov 13:4), and prolific with excuses (Prov 26:16). While some may find minimal employment, the vast majority of able-bodied sluggards will perpetually find their home in the comfort of the couch.
The Scripture wastes no time trying to reason with sluggards. The rule is simple: “If anyone is not willing to work, then he is not to eat” (2 Thess 3:10). But that is not the way the church often handles the lazy. If a prodigal son shows up in most churches today, he would be given a place to live, meals to eat, probably a car to drive, and never feel the full weight of his sinful heart. God’s plan is for lazy people to repent and work; then they will see how he provides.
The Apostle Paul exemplified this when serving the church at Thessalonica. He said, “For you recall, brethren, our labor and hardship, how working night and day so as not to be a burden to any of you, we proclaimed to you the gospel of God” (1 Thess 2:9). He refused to let his personal needs become an obstacle to others hearing the gospel. He even refused to “eat anyone’s bread without paying for it, but with labor and hardship we kept working night and day so that we would not be a burden to any of you” (2 Thess 3:8).
Hard work is nothing new to God’s people. From the Old Testament through the New, the history of God’s people is a history of hard work. Scripture gives us many examples of a hard working God follower, from Noah building the ark to Ruth gleaning diligently to provide for herself and those in her care. There are even more examples of believers known for their work in the New Testament. Imagine the discredit it would bring if Joseph was a reckless carpenter, or the damage done to the gospel if Paul made poor quality tents.
Their capability in the workplace gave them credibility in the marketplace. Recklessness in the workplace undermines any level of gospel influence we may hope to have. Our example in the workplace is critical to any gospel we proclaim. Paul said it this way: “With labor and hardship we kept working night and day so that we would not be a burden to any of you; not because we do not have the right to this, but in order to offer ourselves as a model for you, so that you would follow our example” (2 Thess 3:8-9).
Yes, there are sluggards in society, sluggards in the church, and sluggards in the pulpit. But the sluggard of greatest concern is the one in us: the embedded tendencies that weaken our resolve and threaten our witness. The seeds of laziness grow in the fertile soil of an undisciplined heart. It’s the pastor’s duty to root out idleness, destroy lethargy, and bring every impulse under the control of the Spirit. The preacher’s credibility is at stake. Paul said, “I discipline my body and make it my slave, so that, after I have preached to others, I myself will not be disqualified” (1 Cor 9:27).
The DNA of a believer’s work ethic is described in Colossians 3:22-24: “Slaves, in all things obey those who are your masters on earth, not with external service, as those who merely please men, but with sincerity of heart, fearing the Lord. Whatever you do, do your work heartily, as for the Lord rather than for men, knowing that from the Lord you will receive the reward of the inheritance. It is the Lord Christ whom you serve.”diligence – Colossians 3:22a
Obey. It’s a simple command. Do the job, right away, in the right way. In Ephesians 6:5, Paul exhorts us to immediately carrying out our responsibilities, without delay, without excuse, without debate. It does not take salvation to obey an employer; a faithful believer, however, does this work with an attention to detail where only God will see. That awareness is what drives our diligence.
Diligence does the job. Perhaps no other word summarizes the believer’s work ethic better than the word diligence. It encapsulates the obedience, discipline, endurance, and attention to detail that is critical to a job well done and a life well-lived.
Diligence is being concerned with both the quality and quantity of the work. More than just working hard, it is working smart so as to maximize both the time and resources available. Our goal is to work with sincerity of heart (Eph 6:5), doing our work heartily, as for the Lord rather than for men (Col 3:23).integrity – Colossians 3:22b-23
Spurgeon once asked a young girl who worked as a maid how she knew she was saved. She answered, “I now sweep under the mats.” Her transformed heart was concerned with honoring God where only he would see. That is what separates a believer’s work ethic from the world. We are concerned with excellence in the places that only an omniscient God will inspect. The world seeks only to gain the approval of the employer but disregards the heart visible only to God. We work for God. He expects us to have the same work ethic regardless of any human audience.
Be a faithful employee. Integrity in our work demonstrates the beauty of God’s transforming work in our lives. Whatever we do, we do it before the Lord, in his presence, in his name, and for his glory.
How does God evaluate our efforts? Is he pleased with our honesty and excellence in our work? Is our attention to detail fitting for one who has been saved by the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ? Remember, it’s not what we are doing that makes the difference; it is how we do it. A dishwasher with a pure heart trumps a preacher with a putrid heart.ETERNITY – Colossians 3:24a
The world has its eyes on the paycheck. Christians have their eyes on eternity. Yes, that paycheck is critical, but it is not satisfying. It is immediately absorbed by bills, taxes, and necessities of life. Like sand through a sieve, it slips away.
Our reward for a job well done is so much more than any monetary gain. Our reward is the eternal inheritance of a home in heaven. It is the Lord Christ whom you serve and it is he who is preparing that eternal home for us.
Work is not our enemy. It is not punitive. It existed before sin began on earth and is a perfectly balanced part of God’s design. In the perfect garden of Eden, Adam was tasked with subduing, cultivating, and caring for creation (Gen 1:28; 2:5, 15). The fall of man invoked the curse that complicated the environment in which man would work (Gen 3:17–19), showing us that work is not a result of sin, but sin will complicate our efforts to work.
Work is a means of God’s provision. It is a common grace given to humanity as the primary way the necessities of life can be afforded. With every ounce of strength, we are saying “thank you” back to God not only for the power to engage our work, but for the privilege of providing in this way. The sluggard presumes on the goodness of others while shutting down a natural conduit of God’s blessing.
Work is often where we find our mission field. It is where our transformed lives are on display so that unbelievers may “see your good works, and glorify your Father who is in heaven” (Matt 5:16). The works they see are not just done to earn a paycheck — they can be an act of spiritual service, an act of worship (Rom 12:1).
Our goal is to honor Christ until we see him face-to-face and hear the precious words of our Lord: “Well done good and faithful servant … enter into the joy of thy Lord” (Matt 25:21).
We labor with diligence, integrity, and our eyes focused on eternity so that we say along with Paul, “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the course, I have kept the faith” (2 Tim 4:7).
James Petigru Boyce, Southern Seminary’s co-founder and first president, was born into a family that thought carefully about money. His father, Ker Boyce, was a shrewd businessman of Irish descent who had cut his teeth in financial expertise as a tax collector in South Carolina’s Newberry District before becoming a bank president in the early 19th century. Ker Boyce’s defining moment as a financial entrepreneur came during a panic in 1825 that threatened to crush the local cotton industry. While other banks closed fearing insufficient funds to cover their large advances to planters, Boyce leveraged an accumulated $50,000 in requisition to save his business and inspired sufficient confidence in other financiers to weather the storm. Comparable to a real-life version of George Bailey from It’s a Wonderful Life, Ker Boyce’s prudence and perseverance earned him a high reputation with his business partners.
As a youth, James Boyce stayed close to his father, often traveling into town together so that he could check out a pile of books from the Charleston Library while his father attended to banking duties. He also took advantage of the privileges available to him through his father’s patronage of Charleston’s great institutions, one of which was membership in the Charleston Library Society. Library access allowed Boyce to read hundreds of books despite the fact that he did not have the funds to start a personal library until after his college graduation.
After a brief stint as editor of a Charleston Baptist newspaper, Boyce attended Princeton Seminary to strengthen his educational acumen, but he left prior to graduation in order to pastor the First Baptist Church of Columbia, South Carolina. In addition to his preaching and pastoral service to the congregation, Boyce put his financial prudence to use by leading a campaign to construct a new worship house. Even after resigning the pastorate, he pledged $10,000 from his personal reserve provided the church could raise an additional $15,000, a decision which spurred other churches across the state into greater giving.
Perhaps the most difficult chapter of Boyce’s life prior to his founding of Southern Seminary was the heavy burden which fell upon his shoulders in 1854, when his father passed away after an apparent cardiac attack while visiting him in Columbia. Boyce became executor chief responsible for his late father’s estate, which made him more wealthy but also bound him to the work of designating inheritances between Ker’s seven children and other connections. The specifications of Ker’s will were complex in detail, as he had owned stock holdings, outstanding loans, and properties in multiple states. Boyce continued to pay out distributions and interest on investments (sometimes hundreds of thousands of dollars annually) until 1886, two years before his death.
Boyce opposed the Confederacy’s secession from the Union because he believed it would bring about the financial ruin of the Southern states and their institutions. In that regard, he was correct; though he served as a Confederate chaplain, his own personal fortunes suffered greatly as a result of the Civil War and its aftermath. The seminary’s endowment was also wrecked, and Boyce spent much of his next two decades traveling extensively to find willing donors for the institution. Even periods of financial strain did not prevent Boyce from being a generous giver, and, by some assessments, he might have given away more money in the service of others than he had spent on his own family’s interests.
Throughout his life, Boyce handled large financial trusts with faithfulness and prudence. Though he attended to the needs of his own nuclear family, he was often responsible for stewarding over money for extended family and institutions such as Southern Seminary. Boyce’s trustworthy reputation for handling money instilled confidence with many other benefactors of the seminary that their contributions would be put to good use in service of Christ’s kingdom.
The James P. Boyce Papers and Boyce’s personal books are accessible in the Archives and Special Collections office on the second floor of the James P. Boyce Centennial Library.
 John A. Broadus, Memoir of James Petigru Boyce (Louisville: Baptist Book Concern, 1893), 7–8.
 Ibid., 18.
 Thomas J. Nettles, James Petigru Boyce: A Southern Baptist Statesman (Phillipsburg, NJ: P&R Publishing, 2009), 36.
 Broadus, Memoir of James Petigru Boyce, 20–21.
 Nettles, James Petigru Boyce, 101–102.
 Ibid., 102-106.
 Ibid., 186, 532.
 Ibid., 533. Broadus, Memoir of James Petigru Boyce, 174–75, 362.
In December 2001, Jane Kratz said “yes” to the man she would marry. His name was Stephan. Before their marriage, her pastor’s wife, Annemarie Lombard, asked, “Jane are you sure this is what you want?” She didn’t ask this question because of a flaw in Stephan’s character or concerns that they were incompatible. Lombard asked her this question because she knew that Stephan could die at any moment.
“He is my best friend and I am going to have to deal with his death one way or another. Yes, I am sure I want to marry him,” was Jane’s reply. She knew that Stephan had cystic fibrosis, an incurable, genetic disease that progressively worsens throughout a person’s lifetime. But since her conversion when she was about 30, Jane had prayed for the Lord to send her a godly husband.
Jane and Stephan, both from South Africa, met after she had only been a believer for a short time. Within months, she started attending his church and developed a relationship with his mother as well, who helped encourage her in her faith.
Jane was no stranger to overcoming disability to live a full life. She was born with no thumb on her left hand, her left arm is shorter than her right, she has fused vertebrae in her neck, and is unable to bear children. When she and Stephan were dating, she sat beside him at the funeral of one of his friends who also had cystic fibrosis. The friend and her husband had only been married for one year when she passed away. Jane knew that could be her and Stephan’s story, too. But she also knew she was supposed to marry him.
Although his illness meant that he had to live every day with permanent lung infection, diabetes, asthma, chronic pancreatitis, and in his case, also cirrhosis of the liver, the first seven years of their marriage he was “relatively healthy,” Jane recounted. However, he still took pills daily to help his food digest, as well as multiple other medications. He spent several hours nebulizing each day and his pain-free days were few and far between. But his illness didn’t keep him from working, co-owning a campus bookstore with Jane, and going for hikes. The two even considered adoption or foster care from time to time, but God continually closed those doors, she said.
While he was still alive, the Kratz family was no stranger to grief. Jane’s mother became terminally ill with cancer in 2002. In 2004 Stephan’s dad died suddenly of a stroke. Her mother passed away later that year, as well as five other friends.
“All those deaths heightened my anxiety and fears about whether I would be able to cope with Stephan’s death one day. Nevertheless, we both lived with the awareness that every sunrise together was a precious gift of life from God,” Jane said. “Our mutual faith in Christ and in the promise of resurrection life, strengthened our gratitude to God for the gift of ‘life.’ God graciously granted Stephan and me ten-and-a-half years of marriage.”
The last three years of Stephan’s life were challenging, as he was in and out of the hospital five separate times in each of those years. However, Jane was encouraged by the generosity of her church family during that time, she said.
Eventually, Stephan took a turn for the worse. Jane stayed faithfully by his side, juggling his care and work. He slipped into a coma, and a week later, Stephan passed away.
“In spite of being ‘prepared’ for death in the sense of expecting it, ultimately one cannot be fully prepared for it. I had no idea how deep the anguish of searing loss would be,” Jane said. “Though my faith was strong and I never doubted my faith and union in Christ, I found it difficult on an experiential and emotional level to reconcile God’s sovereignty and his goodness with my experience of suffering. I found it difficult to understand and make sense of the suffering that I had not only witnessed Stephan endure, but the suffering I had endured in watching his journey of dying. Having been united to my husband in marriage as one flesh, I felt as though a part of me had died with him.
“While I knew without a shadow of doubt that I will see him again because of the promise of resurrection from the dead for those who are in Christ, that truth did not diminish the initial feelings of loneliness, of loss, and of sorrow,” she said.
But Jane, who always had a love of a new adventure, resolved to channel her grief into something greater. Although her church family was supportive, she saw firsthand a need for a better approach to grief counseling in the church.
Having studied psychology as an undergraduate and earned a postgraduate diploma in theology, she knew she wanted to continue her studies in grief counseling. Jane became acquainted with the biblical counseling concentration at Southern Seminary and moved to the United States, enrolled at the school, and began work on her Th.M. in summer 2016. Her Th.M. research seeks “to move the bereaved person to a place where he or she experiences deeper communion with God in the midst of suffering so that the bereaved will find peace from the God of all comfort.”
This is not only the goal of her research, but seeing this implemented practically is a focus of her time in Louisville, as she is involved in the care ministry at Sojourn Community Church Midtown.
“I’ve seen Jane grow, first of all, with her growing understanding of what’s offered in the field regarding grief,” said Robert Cheong, pastor of care at Sojourn Community Church and Jane’s Th.M. advisor. “I think that in her studies at Southern and her experience at Sojourn, she was able to better understand the deficits in the field of grief. I think she’s not only grown in a biblical/theological understanding of the dynamics of the heart, but also that through her ministry experience and the theology of care that we have at Sojourn she has a better understanding of how grief is part of the experience of living in a fallen world. That’s given her perspective.”
Jane hopes not only to use her training to work with women in a church setting, but maybe to develop a Sunday School curriculum for dealing with grief in her home country.
“There’s such a need in South Africa,” she said. “I’d love to be able to take what I’m learning back and share it with them.”
The post Blessing the bereaved: Jane Kratz turned her grief into ministry appeared first on Southern Equip.
A few summers ago I was doing my “Atheist Encounter” at a large student Christian camp in the Midwest. While the interaction with the audience sometimes gets heated (since I role-play an atheist, after all) the students in this session were far testier and argumentative than normal ...
Dear Dr. Craig
I have been a fan of your work for about 2 or 3 years now. I used to be an atheist until one of my Christian friends directed me to your website and now I would consider myself to be struggling with atheism/scientism and Christianity. The last few days an idea has shaken up my worldview and my trust that philosophy can prove the existence of God. I think I can best sum up the idea as such ...
A young man starting out in life was given a key to a treasure house. The room was filled with piles and piles of gold coins. Some of the coins were counted and neatly stacked, others were in bags, but many more were just piled in the corners. He soon discovered that he could cover a day’s living expenses, entertainment, food, and lodging with a single gold coin, though he sometimes spent more.
On long trips, he would take a hefty bag of coins and exchange a coin for each day of his travels. He lived year in and year out just as he pleased, and without much thought about anything for many years. One day, he opened the treasure house door and noticed his sacks of gold coins were nearly empty, the neat stacks of coins on the shelves were long since gone with dust gathering in their place. As he looked in the corners, he realized that while he had been thoughtlessly exchanging coins for the days of his life, his wealth was now three-fourths gone—his piles of coins were much smaller.
As he considered his remaining coins, they were now so precious to him that they seemed of inestimable valuable. He wondered what he had done with all the coins he had been given at the start. He realized for seemingly the first time ever, how casually he had been exchanging his coins for each day of life without really thinking seriously about it. Now, he so highly valued the few that were left to him that he determined to spend them wisely, making sure to get as much as he could out of each one.A lesson
That is the story of all of us; everyone is like that. We begin our earthly pilgrimage without much serious thought about how many days we will live. Our carefree days of youth are spent running, playing, making silly mistakes, and starting over again with a fresh do-over every day. But the day comes when we realize that our days are not as plentiful as they once were, and that more sand has run through our hourglass than remains at the top. Many suddenly panic and want to somehow stop their sand from running out, others determine to pamper themselves in their remaining days before time runs out, but others hear with clarity the words of Moses in Psalm 90:12, “Teach us to number our days carefully so that we may develop wisdom in our hearts.” This is my fervent prayer.
This year, 2017, brings several important milestones in my life: I am turning 60 years old, my wife and I will celebrate 40 years of marriage, and I have been involved in international missions for 30 years. While God shaped, moved, taught, and led us down many twisting roads in our missions career, it all started for me 30 years ago.An invitation
“Want to go on a mission trip to Ecuador?” Never having gone on such a trip, I nervously accepted the invitation from my fellow church members, Phil Posey and Shirley Fulton. That 1987 Partnership Evangelism trip to Manta, Ecuador was my first international mission trip. The Foreign Mission Board had begun facilitating short-term trips to countries around the world to allow SBC church members to spend a week with FMB missionaries to do evangelism, preaching, singing, share testimonies, and see first-hand what missions was all about.
Charles Shelton, a layman from South Carolina, was organizing one of those trips to Ecuador and some from our church wanted to go, in part to visit a former pastor and his family who were FMB missionaries there.A life changed
God changed my life, plans, and career path as a result of that trip. I had only been a believer for a few years and really didn’t know what to expect. God opened my eyes, heart, and mind to missions, and I have not doubted his call since. The Lord knit my heart together with those of missionaries, other team members, and national believers, both those who were part of our team and those who came to Christ that week.
A national believer named Aída de Plua from a town called Jipijapa had prayed for years for someone to come and help start a work in Puerto Cayo, the small fishing town where she was born. She worked there with us all week and then invited us into her home for a meal after our week’s work. She shared through our missionary interpreter, Tommy Larner, how God had spoken to her through Paul’s writings in Romans 10:15 and through the teachings and example of Jesus in John 13.
Abruptly, she left the room.
I assumed she was just overcome with emotion but she returned with a pitcher, a basin, and a towel. She came and knelt before each of us, removed our shoes and socks, washed our feet, dried them, replaced the socks, emptied the basin, and started with fresh water on the next team member. As you can imagine, there wasn’t a dry eye in the house. Unable to communicate with words, she looked into my eyes after washing my feet and saw a man whom God had changed forever.A call confirmed
I am so thankful that Phil and Shirley asked me to go, that Briarwood Drive Baptist Church was supportive, and that the Foreign Mission Board was willing to risk allowing thousands of untrained short-term volunteers to participate in their work. I wonder how many people I will meet in Glory who heard of and came to Christ through Partnership Evangelism trips. I am especially thankful for Charles Shelton, the layman who organized the trip. That wasn’t his first trip, and it would not be his last—not by a long shot.
He contacted me the following year and invited me to go on a trip he was leading to Puerto Rico. Manuel and Berta Sosa, FMB missionaries who worked with us in Manta, were home on furlough and would go with us on the trip. Mary went with me this time, after hearing me go on and on wondering whether God was leading us to missions. As we walked down the road to the Puerto Rican church service one evening, she looked at me and said, “I think we could do this.” My heart soared.
On the last day of that trip, Charles was sharing the final devotion time with us. He read the team roster and mentioned a verse for each person. For Mary and me, he said, Acts 16:9, 10.
“And a vision appeared to Paul in the night: a man of Macedonia was standing there, urging him and saying, ‘Come over to Macedonia and help us.’ And when Paul had seen the vision, immediately we sought to go on into Macedonia, concluding that God had called us to preach the gospel to them.”
The next year we eagerly accepted when Charles invited us to return with him to Ecuador, this time to work on the coast. We began making plans to participate, but he called back and said there was an opportunity to split up the team and let some work in the mountains. We opted for that location and there we heard God’s call to go and minister as missionaries to those people.A summons to you
Some people wonder why I like taking teams, even teams with some unlikely participants, and I always think back on Charles and smile. The Lord called us, but he used Charles Shelton powerfully in the process. The Lord called Charles home before I could tell him that, but I try to say thanks by keeping alive his work of casting vision through short-term trip volunteers. Thank you, Charles. I pray that your “Welcome home!” included hearing about how many lives you impacted for the kingdom.
Do you know how many coins you have left in your treasure house to exchange? No, I don’t know either. But I do know that the piles are getting smaller, and night is coming when no man can work.
Who wants to go on a mission trip?
EDITOR’S NOTE: Below, Jarvis J. Williams, associate professor of New Testament interpretation at Southern Seminary, and Kevin Jones, assistant professor of teacher education at Boyce College, talk with Towers editor S. Craig Sanders about their book, Removing the Stain of Racism from the Southern Baptist Convention.
CS: What prompted this book project to come out this year?
KJ: Jarvis has a long history being a part of the Southern Baptist Convention and being a student at this institution in particular, and I have been a member of churches that were involved with the Southern Baptist Convention and early on saw a separation between many of the African-American churches and the predominantly Anglo churches. It was all just rooted in racism.
Dr. Mohler preached through Genesis 11 during one of our chapels, and what he said in that message verbatim was we have a “stain of racism.” So, following the chapel service in our faculty meeting, there were some other discussions about it, and I just felt this unrest: “Yeah, we know the stain is there, but what are we going to do about it?” And Jarvis and I had been praying together through a church plant prior to that, and I was thinking, “We should write a book about it, and I think we ought to get as many guys in their own areas of expertise to speak into what it really means to remove the stain of racism — guys who are trusted, who love not only their own institution, but the institution of the Southern Baptist Convention as well.” So that’s what kind of prompted it about two years ago.
CS: In Dr. Mohler’s chapter he mentions how other denominations have roots in slavery or racism. It wasn’t just the SBC. Are there any principles in this book that you think could help other denominations remove the stain?
JW: Even though we are, in the book, focusing on our beloved SBC, I think what we say with respect to the gospel, education, leadership, and curriculum development also apply to any Christian community or organization striving to live out reconciled community with diverse people.
We love the SBC and want the book to serve the diverse SBC, but our prayer is that we can also reach the larger evangelical Christian community. So absolutely, I think if folks from PCA backgrounds, Pentecostal backgrounds, mono-ethnic or multiethnic backgrounds, you name the denomination or Christian organization — if they will read this book with Bible open and hearts open, I think they can contextualize what we say in the book for their own ecclesiological or Christian context..
KJ: And I think some of it, I mean, it’s really black and white. So what I say in my chapter about adapting curriculum, you can do that anywhere. Or what Mark Croston says about administrative steps, like promoting guys who are minorities, who have the ability to lead — give them that opportunity. You can do that at IBM. So, a lot of it is pointed directly at the SBC because of our affiliation, but I mean, it’s broad.
JW: And if I could add — what I say in my chapter about the gospel is an issue that relates to every Christian (red or yellow, black or white). Certain descriptions of the gospel only focus on one’s vertical relationship with God. In my chapter, I make the argument that the gospel is both vertical and horizontal. Therefore any Christian who wants to know examples of how to live out the gospel in ways that promote Christian unity and reconciliation can read that chapter and say, “This is applicable to my denomination, even though I am not an SBC person or will never be an SBC person. I love the gospel, therefore let me hear what this brother has to say about what the gospel is saying about Christian unity.”
CS: I want to focus on both of your backgrounds, individually. Jarvis, you’re a four-time alumnus of Southern Seminary and a faculty member. You’re one of four people who have gone from Boyce to a Southern Ph.D. A great portion of your life so far has been spent at this institution, one founded by slaveholders. How does that experience shape your passion for this issue in particular and your hope for this project?
JW: To my knowledge, I’m the first and only four-time graduate from Southern with a bachelor’s from Boyce College, an M.Div., a Th.M., and a Ph.D. from the institution. That’s very powerful symbolically because I am an African-American with a multiethnic heritage who graduated four times from an institution that was, frankly, founded by slaveholders who were racist. Let’s be honest about that. The founders had virtues, and they also had vices, and one of those vices was that they were racist. And so for me, as a Southern Baptist Christian, who has only been a Southern Baptist and a four-time graduate of this beloved institution, these experiences in part inform how I’m understanding this issue in the SBC as a brown-skinned, multiracial person.
As a racial minority Southern Baptist professor, preacher, and church member in a predominately white SBC, it is impossible for me to go about my daily work in the SBC without being aware of the fact that I am a racial minority in a predominantly white evangelical context. So, as a black Southern Baptist who personally has a lot of privilege and who is also a member of a racial minority group within the SBC, my privilege intersects with my marginalized status as a racial minority. I think these realities in part inform how I’m understanding this issue with respect to a few ways the gospel should be lived out in our SBC context, in a way that someone who is white or black or brown and not a Southern Baptist might not be able to see because he or she is coming from majority cultural privilege or a different denominational context as opposed to coming from both privilege and racial minority status within the SBC.
Bringing my 21 years of experience as a Southern Baptist and preaching in many Southern Baptist churches in those years, serving on staff in Southern Baptist churches, studying at three different Southern Baptist schools, having many conversations with white and black and brown Southern Baptists from different parts of the country and from different areas of SBC life, and teaching at two very different kinds of Southern Baptist schools (a university and a seminary) to this project in conjunction with Kevin’s expertise and experiences in traditional black churches and in SBC churches, I think enables us to highlight some things that we hope people will listen to and receive with an open heart.
CS: While you grew up in a largely white community of eastern Kentucky and were the first black member at an all-white First Baptist church, your experience is different than Kevin, who grew up in a majority black west Louisville neighborhood and attended Little Flock Missionary Baptist Church. How do you each learn from your varied experiences?
JW: Well, I have blind spots I’m not aware of. I see the world through a certain ethnic lens. With the exception of one year of community college, all of my academic training was in a Southern Baptist theological context and my church memberships have only been in predominately white Southern Baptist churches. I think working together with Kevin has helped me to see some of my blind spots.
There are times when our perspectives are shaped by our cultural experiences, but we normalize those experiences for everybody without asking whether this is a cultural preference or a biblical or theological mandate. One of God’s gifts to me in the last probably five or six years has been his bringing many diverse black and brown and white brothers into my life with whom I share the same core biblical and theological convictions, but with whom I share many different experiences. So to bring Kevin’s background — a predominantly black church context and also a predominantly secular educational context — into my Christian world that’s been predominantly influenced by white evangelicalism and white churches and into my world that’s exclusively shaped by theological education and focused on New Testament scholarship has helped me to gain a different set of lenses through which to see this issue as a black Southern Baptist Christian scholar and churchman with a multiethnic heritage.
So, for example, educational inequality. I don’t think about that most of the time. I think about exegesis most of the time. Kevin is trained in education, he’s trained in educational leadership, and so what he says about educational inequality, even though I don’t understand that experientially, I need to listen to what he says and learn from him because he has the statistical background to back that up because of his experience and research.
KJ: I think that’s the beauty of the crossover. When I was hired by Boyce College, I really began to sense and feel the rub of racism and the rub that African-Americans felt every time I said “Southern Baptist Convention.” I’ve been a member of an SBC church since 2005. I was licensed to preach in an SBC church. I served with Kevin Smith at Watson Memorial Baptist Church, but not until I started to work here did I really see and hear from guys as I would try to recruit black guys, they would say, “I’m not going there because it’s a racist institution.” Now, I think what we have is a jewel and a gem here. But what kind of evidence can I give to guys and say, “Yes, the past in some senses is horrid, but there is hope”?
My background as an African-American growing up in west Louisville has everything to do with that. Southern and Boyce were never on my radar as an institution. So I’m like, How did I live, literally, 9 minutes from the institution? You jump on I-64, you’re in west Louisville in 8 to 10 minutes, you’re right at my house, but how did I never hear about this? Because the black guys that I went to church with were opposed to the SBC because before 1995, in some sense people in the SBC were still holding on to the fact/ideal of racism but just wouldn’t say anything about it.
And because my degree is in education, I’m looking at everything through an educational lens. So I’m saying: What if we would just expose faculty and students to the work of Booker T. Washington? To Beloved. To The Miseducation of the Negro. What would it mean for them to have to read through the lens of what I would consider “Great Books”? I think that’s the beauty of us merging.
JW: I’m 39 now, and the older I get, the more I realize that it’s important to collaborate with people from different fields because I think collaboration can make a work better. Especially if you’re going to deal with some issues outside of your field. So, one reason I think our co-editing collaboration is helpful to me is because, as a New Testament scholar, I spend most of my time in the ancient world, thinking about ancient texts.
I don’t spend a lot of my time thinking about the current educational system or the history that led up to that. I usually don’t spend a lot of time thinking about everybody else’s experiences because I’m naturally self-centered, and so collaborating with someone trained in a different way than I am enables me to see that what I think about the gospel might apply to educational inequality. The gospel may apply to a variety of social realities that affect people on a daily basis, but I don’t always know how. But the more I collaborate with folks who are specialists in those areas, the more I will be able to say, “Ah! Here’s how I can use my gifts and skills to speak gospel into that space that I know very little about, and to partner with this brother who knows more about that.” And hopefully there’s a reciprocation taking place here — that he can say, “Ah! Here’s a text that could apply this way that I never thought about before because of this brother’s work in that particular area.”
KJ: And that was the beauty of all the guys who agreed to write and contribute to the work. My research in some senses is very narrow because it has been in education. And like Jarvis is saying, his work in some sense is very narrow. It’s very robust in one sense but narrow in another. And I’m like, Who can speak on this from the pulpit to guys?
Who better than Kevin Smith — a guy who started a multiethnic church plant, pastored an African-American church, pastored a predominately white church. Who better can talk about the stain of racism from the pulpit than Kevin Smith? I remember, we started receiving the chapters, we were reading them and were just like, Yes!
JW: And I would say, racism (both systemic and personal racism) is a product of the Fall. It represents the present evil age. And the more weapons that we can throw at it, the greater the chance that in our churches, we can defeat it. So, if we’re throwing educational weapons at it that are transformed by the gospel as well as historical and theological weapons and exegetical weapons and weapons with respect to preaching, and hitting racism and the devil with all these weapons, I think there’s a chance that we might see even more victory in the area of Christian unity in our churches and in our denomination. I think that collaboration (or better cooperation) can help us. But this is hard. It is hard for me as a New Testament scholar because scholars tend to be territorial and we love our territory. But as Christian scholars, I think Kevin and I desired to invite people from other disciplines (and races) into our space and share space with each other so that we can join forces with other diverse brothers to produce this work that promotes Christian unity in our churches.
Collaborating with Kevin should also show that black people aren’t monolithic. I think one of the racist lies that we have believed in our churches is this idea that all people from the same race are the same. I’m a New Testament scholar. He’s trained as an educator. He’s from west Louisville. I’m from east Kentucky. I’m a Wildcat fan. Even though he’s a UK grad, he’s not a Wildcat fan. Even though we are members of the same race, we’re very much different in many respects — which at some level should help shatter some of these racialized barriers that divide us in our churches.
CS: What do you see as signs of hope in the Southern Baptist Convention? How do we get past having the right things to say and actually start demonstrating reconciliation in our churches?
KJ: I think some of the things that are taking place at different institutions are progress.
Supporting minority-led programs and scholarships. I think having a space to speak right now is progress. But it’s slow, and I think sometimes it takes a while for change to happen, and I’m okay with that because the masses may not see what Jarvis and I are privy to.
I mean, the masses are not privy to conversations that are held in whatever kind of meetings are taking place here on this campus or at other institutions. But we see small walls, even large walls, being nicked at and broken down. I hope that even the fact that people are preordering the book is a sign of hope. We have these 10 guys who in their own areas of expertise are contributing to this book. That’s a sign of hope.
I think what is in the book is truth. It’s gospel-saturated by guys who have in every sense lived lives that highlight Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior. So I think as people meet the truth, they’re going to have to do one of two things with the truth of the book. They’re going to have to say, “Yeah, I’ve been racist, and maybe I’ve supported some racist practices.”
JW: Let me say a word about some hopeful things, but also some areas where we can do better. Along the lines of hope and encouragement, the fact that right now we’re sitting in the Boyce Centennial Library, and we have several white Southern Baptist images looking at us on these walls as two white guys are interviewing two black guys who teach at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary about a book that they’ve co-edited about racism speaks quite powerfully to the progress that we’ve made. That you have so many brothers and sisters in the SBC and the broader evangelical movement who are using their privileged voices to pursue Christian unity in our denomination and in our churches is evidence of progress. That you have folks who are placing themselves in spaces voluntarily to reach multiethnic communities speaks to progress. That diverse groups of Southern Baptist Christians are partnering together to plant multiethnic churches in racially diverse communities is evidence of encouraging progress. That churches are becoming more diverse is evidence of progress. That black and brown Christians serve on staff or in leadership of white churches and that white brothers and sisters serve on staff or in leadership at predominantly black and brown churches demonstrate progress. And that there are intentional efforts being made on a regular basis in SBC life to include more black and brown people in SBC leadership throughout the various areas of SBC life speaks to progress. And the list could go on.
However, one of the things we hope our book can speak into is the need to include even more vetted black and brown Southern Baptists into denominational leadership in the various areas of denominational life. We don’t think that we should ever hire someone just because he or she adds ethnic diversity to the denomination or to our churches. We should be faithful to our Great Commission vision and to our doctrinal commitments. And we should never fall into tokenism simply to gain diversity. But we should at least as a denomination and as churches ask the questions: Can we find vetted and qualified black and brown folk who can do that ministry, this ministry, speak at that conference or this conference, teach this class or that class, pastor this church or that church, write this curriculum or that curriculum? Or are there black and brown academics teaching in our convention who can say something helpful about this issue or that issue when and if needed (and not only about issues related to race)? Thankfully, there are folks asking these questions in the SBC and taking action to find answers, but we should keep asking the questions about vetted and qualified diversity to people who can help us find answers to these questions. If we’re not intentionally looking for vetted and qualified diversity, we likely will not find it.
Also, sometimes I hear certain folks in the SBC when they speak about non-white people, they categorize them as “ethnic.” This gives the impression that white people are normal but black and brown people are ethnic. As an ethnic minority, I hear this kind of talk to suggest that a non-white person is the “other.” In my view, we’re all ethnic, and everybody is somebody’s “other.” One of the things we must do in terms of reconciliation and Christian unity in the SBC is make sure our words are consistent with the gospel, that we attempt to build up the different races in our convention with our words even when we speak hard truths to each other, and that we do not perpetuate racism and dehumanize people by the words that we speak.
We can never forget as Southern Baptists that our identity is historically connected to white supremacy, and we have to admit that and understand how white supremacy works — not only in terms of historically burning crosses on lawns and recently shooting nine black people in a church, but also in terms of the subtle and more socially acceptable systemic ways it shows up in the culture and in Christian spaces.
This is a word that ethnic minorities need to hear too. As ethnic minorities, we often wrongly think that being part of a race that has been traditionally marginalized gives us the right to direct racist speech or behavior toward white people. Christian unity requires Spirit-empowered living and speaking by those from every tongue, tribe, and people, and nation in our convention. Christian unity requires that the majority white brothers and sisters and racial minority brothers and sisters must pursue each other in Spirit-empowered love on a regular basis.
KJ: Every time I hear my students say “Great Books,” that rubs me the wrong way. It’s white men determining that books written by white men, particularly about white people, are great books. Minorities who come on this campus have to read the Great Books — and none of the Great Books are written by people who look like them. I never want minority students to leave this institution and say, “I’ve never read a book by someone who is Japanese, Chinese, Hawaiian, Pacific Islander, or African-American.” I want to tell them to take 200 hundred to 300 books, right now, written by and about people who don’t look like you. If you can start reading books like that to people who are 5 and 6, then maybe their view of the imago dei will be different by the time they’re 18 and 19 years old.
JW: There are students at evangelical institutions who can graduate without reading very much of, about, or any black or brown authors. Certain disciplines are more difficult than others to include black and brown voices. But this lack of exposing students to black or brown voices or to black or brown contributions to Christian history is at times due in part to a system of educating that we’ve inherited that has traditionally prioritized European and white contributions to the Christian movement. These contributions are very important contributions to the Christian story and need to be emphasized. But we often emphasize them to the neglect of other voices.
As a professor of New Testament, I don’t think I intentionally try to dismiss or neglect black and brown voices, but I often neglect black and brown voices because they have not been traditionally prioritized in my field. And if I don’t intentionally go searching for black and brown voices, I will have a hard time finding them. Since racism historically and systemically worked to minimize the role of black and brown people by keeping them in the posture of subjugation to white people, this inevitably affected the voices who could contribute and who would be heard. And since liberals often historically welcomed black and brown people into their institutions and conservatives generally did not, it’s no surprise we have a paucity of black and brown voices in conservative evangelicalism to expose our students to today.
But we do have black and brown voices from the Christian tradition to expose them to, and we have a rich Christian history from Africa, Ethiopia, and Egypt about which we need to know more and say more in our Christian institutions and in our churches. There were white evangelicals (and white Southern Baptist evangelicals) who historically worked to end racism and many evangelicals and Southern Baptists who are working now to pursue Christian unity today, but, as Emerson and Smith showed in Divided By Faith, evangelicalism was a racialized movement. And we’ve inherited the systems stained by racism because of racialization, even as our hearts are genuinely transformed by the gospel. And we still feel the effects of this today in our Christian institutions, organizations, denominations, and churches. Another way we can improve in the area of Christian unity is to educate people in the faith in our churches and institutions, helping them see that black and brown Christians play a role in and have made contributions to the Christian story too.
CS: Kevin, when we talk about progress, it can make white evangelicals feel that their actions are being called into question, they feel sensitive and targeted. How do you speak to white Southern Baptists in such as way that you’re able to navigate those frailties and show them that this is a gospel issue?
KJ: I try to point people to two things — to the text and to history. Repeatedly. So, this is why I’m still unsettled about education. First, read your Bible so that you know sin really exists. And then bone up on the history between 1500 and 2017, the things that have taken place. We read a book called Self Taught: African-American Educations in Slavery and in Freedom, and the kids are weeping when I’m explaining to them that hands were cut off for trying to read the Bible. You know, these are African-American slaves trying to read the Bible! They’re being castrated and dismembered because they were trying to read the Bible. When you see that, you know we’ve made a little progress but we’ve not made a ton.
Because if you don’t know that, maybe you’re not valuing the same Bible the way that I am, you’re not valuing education the way I am. In a class a couple of weeks ago, we were reading a book called Academic Profiling: Asian Americans and Latinos in Education and a student said, “I just don’t know what to say.” And I told her: “Just don’t say anything for the next four years — on race — until you’ve read these books, and then you will have a different posture to speak from.” I wasn’t trying to belittle her, but if you want to speak, you have to have the knowledge to be able to speak so that you’re no longer asking the question, “What’s the deal?” When someone asks, “What is the issue?” I say, “You just haven’t been exposed enough. You’re not around enough people who don’t look like you.”
CS: When we talk about removing the stain from the denomination, there’s also individual stains. My ancestors were slaveholders and that’s something that grieves me. A lot of people don’t bother to find out. They’d rather not know their family history. They’d rather not feel responsible for it. I don’t think shame should define me but I do want to be cognizant of the sins of my ancestors and be driven to pursue reconciliation. How would you encourage whites to look at those dynamics, and should that shape how they pursue reconciliation?
KJ: First, recognize that there is another side out there. Second thing, I want to encourage our brothers that there is no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. And that’s biblical. There is no condemnation. So as we wrestle with the truth of all of our sin, we know that there is no condemnation in us. But we have to do something, we have to work out the gospel, we work out our salvation to make our calling and election sure. So, when you’re assaulted with the truth, what do you do with it? You work it out in whatever fashion you can — in your local church, in your local school, in your local small group. You work those things out. That’s a part of working out our salvation: taking knowledge and doing something with it to help those who are marginalized people.
JW: I would encourage people to keep learning the gospel on a regular basis, to keep learning how the gospel intersects with every area of our lives and to plead with God to show us how the gospel changes everything. We should also keep learning about racial hierarchy, racialization, white supremacy, and the different ways in which racism manifests itself both systemically and individually.
Race and racism are complex. And no one has all of the answers. But they exist in the American context because of original sin and because of the old belief in a pseudo-scientific, racist, racial hierarchy that was rooted in a biological fiction and eventually given scriptural sanction. Racism drove years of slavery, lynching, Jim Crowism, and the residue of the construct of race and racism still affect Christians today, both individually and systemically. This is part of our heritage as American Christians, and this is part of our heritage as Southern Baptists. So, we need to own that history. We need to work to understand that history, and then to baptize that history in the gospel as we seek to learn from the past and to live out the new life in Jesus in the present in our churches and in our communities.
So, when I walk into Southern’s library, I love the fact that it says “Boyce” at the top of the building. He was a founder of this institution, its first president, and he was a racist. I’m blessed to teach at his school. I love his school. I’m a four-time graduate of his school. His school is my school. I check out books from his library. I’m having this conversation in his building about race as the racist past of Boyce and our founders haunts me. And I want that ghost here, to haunt me, as I am talking about the redemptive power of the gospel in front of that shadow and as I seek to serve our denomination and Southern Seminary well. Kevin and I are living testimonies to the power of the gospel and the progress that we’ve made as Southern Baptists since our founding. And we pray God will use our book to help us make even further gospel-centered progress on this issue in the SBC and beyond.
Summer movies are often the stories of heroes; whether real-life or Marvel®, both are super. These stories inspire as they entertain us. The problem is, most of the time, we are content with letting someone else be the hero. We are too busy, too passive, too self-absorbed, or too afraid of what would happen if we got involved; and so the people around us stay unknown to us and do not receive the help they need. The result is preconceived biases that isolate us from one another and a lack of care and compassion for those who need a place of refuge and relief ...