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Thoughts on Bloodlines by John Piper

First of all I want to share my love, respect, and honor for my Brother, Dr. John Piper and the ministry God has given him in Minneapolis and beyond. I was born and raised in Minneapolis, Minnesota and served in Ministry there in various capacities for almost 20 years as a youth pastor, associate pastor, and church planter. I have seen up close the ministry fruit of Dr. Piper and Bethlehem Baptist Church in downtown Minneapolis. I know of many African-Americans who lives have been transformed by God thru that ministry. I also know of African-American pastors who have been given the opportunity of ministerial leadership and development there. I know of African-American and Christian hip hop artists whom have been mentored by Dr. Piper. Praise God for all of this. Most recently Dr. Piper has released a book on the topic of racial reconciliation called, Bloodlines: Race, Cross, and the Christian. Here are my thoughts after reading this book.

First, as one who is involved with a growing group of humble leaders speaking, preaching, writing, teaching, and advancing multi-ethnic and missional ministry, I am excited that Dr. Piper felt led by God to write this book. Someone of his stature writing on this topic will only bring it more into the forefront of the evangelical movement where he is so well respected. As an evangelical myself, I see how important this is. Within evangelicalism multi-ethnic and urban ministry and racial reconciliation, especially when led by people of color has been marginalized greatly.

Leading multi-ethnic and urban ministry is not new for Dr. Piper. He has served in this area for decades and has been preaching on this topic from his pulpit for the last ten years. What is new is Dr. Piper bringing his passion, personal stories, and theology around racial reconciliation onto his national and global ministry platform thru the writing of Bloodlines. I have spoken at many conference on reconciliation and multi-ethnic ministry across the evangelical spectrum and have never known Dr. Piper to attend or speak at one of these conferences. I’m not aware of a book prior to Bloodlines where Dr. Piper has made racial reconciliation the central issue. I don’t believe this is criticism, but truth.

Because I’m from Minneapolis, I’ve known of many times when race was a major issue in the city. I’ve been a part of many of the discussions and initiatives to bring about racial reconciliation in Minneapolis, I don’t remember Dr. Piper being involved in these discussions or initiatives. This is why thru facebook and twitter, I welcomed Dr. Piper into the discussion of racial reconciliation and multi-ethnic ministry. This was not a “shot” but a welcoming praise. When I was in Minneapolis I worked very hard to meet with and partner with Dr. Piper. I met with many of his associates to try to make this happen. I know Dr. Piper is very busy and has a number of people trying to meet with him, so I get why our partnering never happened. I am thankful though that before I left Minneapolis to serve as a Superintendent within the Evangelical Covenant Church, Dr. Piper came to visit the Sanctuary Covenant Church where I served. Okay, really to the book now-

I like the way the book begins, but not so much how it ends. I love that Dr. Piper shares his personal story. I love that he shows biblically that Jesus took on ethnocentrism as He walked the earth in human form. I love that he goes into great depth to show that race is not biblical and racism is a sin. The book shows his commitment to racial reconciliation within the church he leads in Minneapolis. His commitment is shown, though he doesn’t share in great detail in the book, thru the multi-ethnic staff he has built with his church board over the years. He shares that he has struggled in living this out in the community where he lives, which happens to surround the church he leads. I am moved by knowing more of his personal story. It’s why I wish I could have gotten to know him more personally when I lived in Minneapolis. I praise God for his commitment to urban ministry.

The second half of the book is the problem that I have. Dr. Piper presents Calvinism as the theological framework for living into racial reconciliation biblically. I must respectfully disagree with him. He states in the book that Jesus deals with ethnocentrism, but then presents a theology rooted in Eurocentric ethnocentrism as the solution. In Dr. Piper’s commitment to racial reconciliation he can’t just have great love for theologies developed by European men. By presenting Calvinism this way, he actually goes against what he is writing about. Structural racism exists in the church in the United States because theology is dominated by White theology. Just because some African-Americans are sold on Reformed theology and seem to have no regard for theologies developed by Africans and African-Americans doesn’t mean its the best frame work for reconciliation. This is actually assimilation, not reconciliation. What makes the Evangelical Covenant Church strong is that White leaders are allowing the theologies and ministry practices of so-called minorities to come into this Swedish immigrant denomination historically and give it the second wind of becoming a Christ-centered and multi-ethnic movement. The key is that these theologies and practices not compromise the evangelical foundation of the movement.

Piper also only offers politically conservative and Republican solutions to dealing with structural racism. He only offers school choice and welfare reform as solutions. These are political solutions not biblical ones. Matthew 25, John 4,  Matthew 9,  the Book of Leviticus, the Book of Exodus, and the Book of Nehemiah are better frameworks for dealing with structural racism. Still, I believe it is good that Dr. Piper has written this book and I hope to both have healthy conversations with him and hope to see him speaking and writing even more on this important topic for kingdom advancement in an ever-increasing multi-ethnic and multicultural world.

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Efrem Smith is an internationally recognized leader who uses motivational speaking and preaching to equip people for a life of transformation. He also consults on issues of multi-ethnicity, leadership, and community development for churches, educational institutions, and other organizations. Efrem served as Founding Pastor of The Sanctuary Covenant Church and President of The Sanctuary Community Development Corporation in Minneapolis, Minnesota. Currently, Efrem is the Superintendent of the Pacific Southwest Conference of the Evangelical Covenant Church. He is the author of the books, “Raising-up Young Heroes,” “The Hip Hop Church," and his newest, "Jump Into a Life of Further and Higher."