John Piper Reflects On MLK Day


The biblical doctrine of human depravity is a great antidote to racism. I have seen this recently in two very different articles. One is by Andrew Walls called “The Evangelical Revival, the Missionary Movement, and Africa” (The Missionary Movement in Christian History, Maryknoll, NY: Orbis Books, pp. 79-101). He points out that the Great Awakening in America and England (1730s and ’40s) gave rise to the modern foreign missionary movement. One of the ways it did so was by clarifying the unity between the sinful homeland and the sinful heathen.

There was no difference between the spiritual state of a pleasure-seeking duchess (though baptized and adhering to the prevailing religious system of the higher and middle classes) and that of a South Sea Islander. That spiritual parity of the unregenerate of Christendom and the heathen abroad had important missionary consequences. . . . A consistent view of human solidarity in depravity shielded the first missionary generation from some of the worst excesses of racism. (p. 79)
In other words, a dark view of our own depraved hearts, and a sense of brokenness before God, and a dependence on mercy in Christ make it harder for us to view others humans–whatever race–as less advantaged before God. The doctrine of total depravity unites us in desperate dependence on mercy. The early missionaries–with all their flaws and biases–knew this. And it helped them count others better than themselves for the sake of Christ (Philippians 2:3).
The other illustration of how the doctrine of depravity works against racism comes from a review of the book, A Stone of Hope: Prophetic Religion and the Death of Jim Crow by David L. Chappell. Elisabeth Fox-Genovese shows how the theological convictions of the black leaders of the civil rights movement were very different from those of the white liberals who supported the movement. Liberalism as a movement has a high degree of confidence in human reason and in the inevitability of human progress away from barbarism. So they saw the civil rights movement in those terms and supported it.
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SOURCE: Crosswalk
John Piper, Desiring God