The Book That Has Divided Reformed Evangelicalism: 6 Problems with “Divided by Faith”

The Book That Has Divided Reformed Evangelicalism: 6 Problems with “Divided by Faith” July 12, 2021

In recent years, various evangelical leaders have embraced or voiced support for elements of the ideology I call “wokeness.” One of the most important–and surprising–instigators for this shift is the widespread embrace of a small, 172-page sociology book. Divided by Faith: Evangelical Religion and the Problem of Race in America was written by Michael O. Emerson and Christian Smith and published in 2000 by Oxford University Press.

Sociology textbooks like Divided by Faith (henceforth DBF) have historically had little place on the reading lists of Reformed pastors. But this book somehow made it through the gates, and has had an outsized effect on Reformed churches. Mark Dever has promoted it publicly, and a 2018 Gospel Coalition article credits the book with influencing Ligon Duncan and David Platt.

In this review essay, based off my new book Christianity and Wokeness (and a presentation I gave at the Wokeness & the Gospel conference in Denton, Texas some weeks ago—all material accessible here), I engage Divided by Faith. My purpose is quite simple: to show that this book should not be used by churches as a trustworthy resource on issues of race, justice, and church life in America. This is not because of a reflexive dismissal; the book raises some hard questions, uncovers some stances worth challenging, and tackles numerous complex matters. We cannot fault this text for a lack of ambition. Yet we can fault it for other reasons: six, to be precise, which we now examine.

Six Problems with Divided by Faith

First, the authors have taken past stances that will greatly trouble conservative Christians. Those who train pastors for ministry know that it is essential to choose formative books with great care. Part of the selection process involves commending sound and trustworthy voices. For this reason, it is surprising that DBF was recommended in years past by trustworthy men. The authors of the book are no friend to conservative evangelical doctrine. Christian Smith, for example, published a 2011 book entitled The Bible Made Impossible that presented “biblicists” in an unflattering light:

I have no interest in psychoanalyzing individual biblicists, but I think it is fair to say that the general psychological structure underlying biblicism is one of a particular need to create order and security in an environment that would be otherwise chaotic and in error. That orientation seems itself to be driven by fear of disorder and discomfort with things not being “the way they ought to be” (64).

Lest anyone think that Smith merely registered concerns about “biblicists,” he sharpened the point to a skewer: “Thus, it is hard to conclude otherwise than that biblicists are shamefully untrusting and ungrateful when it comes to receiving God’s written word as God has chosen to confer it” (128). Turns out that Smith is ardently against “biblicist” convictions, but not against leftist conclusions. For example, he cites (recent Biden supporter) Ron Sider’s book Rich Christians in an Age of Hunger as one that makes “a clear biblical case about poverty and hunger” (32).

His coauthor, Michael Emerson, is equally ready to affirm social gospel ideals and torch conservative evangelicals. Emerson has a habit of blaming “white” Christians for our nation’s sins, as this peroration shows:

The time is now to imagine what our nation could look like if evangelicals invest in an honest reckoning with our nation’s racial sins and our role in perpetuating them. The time is now to imagine what it would look like for white evangelicals to stand in solidarity with the people — Black, poor and sick — who our willful blindness and our nation’s policies crucify.

This might have turned heads some time ago. Now we know this kind of language as Wokeness 101. Our country is shot through with systemic evil, and it is “white” Christians of the conservative kind who are to blame. Emerson wrote as much in a Christianity Today essay:

We have a massive swath of the church whose dedication to ignoring and minimizing injustice is straight up evil and causing severe damage. We have people encountering and being discipled in such churches that they are unable to see it ever changing, so they leave. In doing so they continue to be racialized and act out of a race-limited understanding.

Both Smith and Emerson are respected in their fields, and in some cases have made real contributions (we think of Smith helpfully mapping “moralistic therapeutic deism,” for example). But neither of these men swims in doctrinally conservative streams. It is more than strange that these authors, no inerrantist Reformed conservative in either case, would pass muster with key gatekeepers. But so they have.

Second, the book is a work of sociology, yet it functions like a work of theology. On the back cover of this Oxford Press title, it says “Religion/Sociology.” DBF is not a study of doctrine. It is not a survey of Scripture. It is not even, in a secondary sense, an extended historical treatment of how Christianity has engaged the concept of “race.” (It does include some brief and discomfiting context on past Christian approaches to slavery and race.)

Though it is cited as an authoritative guide to race in America, and a pace-setting work by which to address our fractious racial climate in a pastoral sense, its self-assigned remit is much more modest than this:Through a nationwide telephone survey of 2,000 people and an additional 200 face-to-face interviews, Michael O. Emerson and Christian Smith probed the grassroots of white evangelical America.” DBF purported to take the “racial” temperature of the church through conversations.

While it is entirely fine to survey people by telephone, doctrinal formation and pastoral training must not be anchored in surveys, polls, or opinions. To be sure, you can find out many things in surveys, good, bad, and otherwise. No doubt there are some attitudes and views represented among the respondents of DBF and the broader evangelical church that do not meet the biblical standard. But what you cannot find in such methodology is the authoritative divine revelation of Almighty God that speaks the normative word for us on a topic. We point those we train to the Word of God, which never changes, never waxes, and never wanes (Psalm 119:89).

DBF, to hone the point, should in no way be referenced as a theology work. It offers no constructive biblical case for its perspective. Even if one did find it sound, one would still need to assign another doctrinal resource to shape biblical thinking on “race,” ethnicity,” and related matters. One of the problems with the influence of DBF, however, is that it is often treated as what it is not: a book giving us a biblical vision of the aforementioned subjects. It is no such thing, and does not explicitly attempt to fill that role.

Third, the book assumes the “racialized” view that it critiques. DBF promotes the lie of “hidden” racism. In now standard woke terms, racism according to Emerson and Smith is “covert,” “embedded in normal operations,” and often “invisible,” especially to “Whites” (9). As noted previously, DBF is a thoroughly woke book, one of the earliest to market. The “racialized” worldview it critiques creates, per the authors, all sorts of “racial inequality” seen in disparate conditions (more on disparities below). Instead of the traditional perspective on racism that sees it as promoted by intentional partiality based on skin color or some such factor, DBF promotes the very same vision of structuralist racism that Critical Race Theory, Intersectionality, social justice ideology, and wokeness most generally advances.

It is true that we can all grow in how we engage people different from us. But to read “White” people in this stereotyped way shows us that DBF is not impartial or unwoke. In its vision, you’re racist without knowing you are, your whiteness inevitably implicates you in racism, and there’s little you can actually do about this problem in personal terms. In such dire straits, structuralism–looking to societal patterns, and sweeping governmental solutions, usually–is the answer.

Here is one passage that shows us that Emerson and Smith are not impartial observers, but are in fact strongly committed to structuralism:

As carpenters are limited to building with the tools in their kits (hammers encourage the use of nails, drills encourage the use of screws), so white evangelicals are severely constrained by their religio-cultural tools. Although much in Christian scripture and tradition points to the influence of social structures on individuals [footnote here to Ron Sider’s Rich Christians in an Age of Hunger], the stress on individualism has been so complete for such a long time in white American evangelical culture that such tools are nearly unavailable (78-79).

The reference to the leftist pot-stirrer Sider is a tell, showing us that the authors are sympathetic to leftist Christianity. Sider is known for views like his neo-liberal insistence that God sides with the poor, that universal health care is a pro-life issue, and that we must practice “creation care” to overcome “climate change.” This is no conservative book for those paying attention.

In this stinging indictment, Emerson and Smith do not make a biblical case for a certain form of social gospel perspective, but rather do something far more dangerous: they assume it. Their book is essentially about how evangelicals apply their theology, but in the course of mapping this application, DBF offers a regular stream of commentary both on evangelical practice and doctrine. They have their cake and eat it too.

Not only this, they sharply critique those they disagree with, arguing that “white evangelicals” are “severely constrained” by what they see as an individualistic outlook. Here is another glaring example of the “racialized focus” of DBF. It is ironic: while critiquing the “racialized society,” the book actually promotes it by reading “white evangelicals” in a monolithic and biased way. Never mind that not only “white” evangelicals disagree with structuralist solutions; there are many “people of color” both Christian and not who do as well. (One thinks today of leading voices like Darrell Harrison, Virgil Walker, Voddie Baucham, Jr., Larry Elder, Thomas Sowell, among others.) Instead of recognizing thought diversity across backgrounds, Emerson and Smith racialize what should not be racialized, and torch “white evangelicals.”

I want to linger on this last point for a moment. If no one else says this, I will: it is wrong to stereotype and burn down a whole group like this. Emerson and Smith’s work helped pave the way in evangelical circles for treating “white” and “black” Christians in static terms. Our culture makes this move with enthusiasm, but the church should not. Where does the Bible encourage us to offer wholesale condemnation or praise for groups of people based on their skin color? It nowhere does. As those who love and follow Scripture, we should resist such race-driven thinking, instead emphasizing the uniqueness of each person. (See Chapter 3 here for more on this important subject.)

Fourth, DBF is not grounded in the gospel. This is in truth the gravest problem with DBF: it purports to be about finding unity and overcoming division, but it is bereft of the cross-work of Jesus Christ, which is God’s once-for-all-time appointed means of achieving unity and destroying hostility (Eph. 2:11-22).

There is no account of how the substitutionary death of Christ has forged nothing less than a new Christocentric humanity (1 Cor. 15:20-23). There is no treatment of how wrath has been dealt with for all who are in Christ by faith. There is no coverage of how Jew and Gentile, and people of every kind and type, form “one new man” in Jesus (Eph. 2:15). But in sound Christian theology, we base every last molecule of our unity as the church in the definitive atonement of Jesus Christ, the one who pays our sin-price, drinks the Father’s just wrath against sin, and constitutes the church by his blood (Revelation 1:5-6). This is not 1/10 of our message on unity across human boundaries; this is our message on this theme. The cross of Christ is where we go to find unity, justice, love, and reconciliation.

Instead of this powerful biblical solution, Divided by Faith offers us an anodyne social gospel. In truth, it provides what we could call the outlines of a social gospel, one that has little definition on the “gospel” part, though more on the “social” part. Again, at risk of repeating myself: it is surprising that the so-called “big gospel” Reformed movement has seized upon this book as a key resource to chart the way forward on the most contentious issue of our day. In the starkest terms, there is no gospel identified as the solution to what ails us. There is a stinging indictment of the “white” church’s supposed lack of social compassion and social justice, but there is no deep presentation of the invincible anthem of the crucified and resurrected Savior as our shared war-song.

We Christians can talk about all of life with aplomb, and our theology is not reduced to soteriology alone. We don’t only shout the word “Gospel!” in response to every question. We build a whole worldview from the sacred text, addressing innumerable matters. Yet if you are discussing the topic that most divides modern people—“race”—in terms of the evangelical church, you would expect to see extensive attention to the force that Paul said melded Jew and Gentile into one holy family. This is especially true if leaders of the Reformed world are commending the book to you. But alas, there is no celebration in DBF of the “power of God unto salvation” (Romans 1:16). (You’ll find such material in Voddie Baucham’s excellent book—unlike DBF, the gospel is at the center of this text.)

That the gospel is missing from this text is not a detail, a quirk. It means everything. The gospel must be at the center of our efforts to be unified. Simply put, we are not unified as we should be today because we are not claiming the oneness that is ours in the message of Christ. Unless we locate our unity in the gospel—not in our skin color, our shared commitment to woke liturgies of lament, nor our performative white guilt—we simply will not experience it as God intends. For Emerson and Smith, however, it is not the euangelion, but rather a structuralist and generically humanist vision of religion that needs recovery in the church. DBF is not really about distinctly Christian unity. It’s about making society more equitable per their own worldview.

In the aggregate, this is a book that pulls you away, slowly and subtly, from confidence in the biblical gospel. Like a gentle rolling stream, it is a book that eases you toward a more generic religious humanism that targets social division. Did Jesus die to inaugurate structuralist theories of societal betterment? Did the Son of God yield his life to solve the problem of inequality? Or, to change the question: is Jesus in any way necessary, for woke texts like DBF, for the project of unity? Or is the blood of Jesus Christ ultimately superfluous to this whole improvement project?

Fifth, the book depends upon the “disparities equal injustices” argument that has been soundly refuted. This argument, which we will treat at some considerable length due to its prevalence today, comes to expression early on in the book. According to Emerson and Smith, America is a “racialized society.” Here are a few quotations that make this view clear:

Economic inequality between blacks and whites is pervasive. Occupationally, white Americans tend to be concentrated in the prestigious, better-paying jobs, while black Americans tend to be clustered in low-prestige, lower-paying jobs (12).

The United States is indeed a racialized society, always was in the past, and in many respects is becoming more so (17).

Because our racialized society often both produces and reflects hostility, disorder, unequal treatment, misunderstanding, conflict, violence, compromised life opportunities, and other social ills, our nation has historically, with varying degrees of intensity, searched for ways to overcome it (17).

This material means that racism is common in America, and is structural and systemic. In fact, it’s becoming more so than in days when slavery and Jim Crow dominated. (What a wild claim this is–not unlike what Ibram Kendi and Robin DiAngelo falsely argue about America today.) Christians, however, don’t care much about this racialized society; they like evangelism, after all, and they are born capitalists:

Evangelicals usually fail to challenge the system not just out of concern for evangelism, but also because they support the American system and enjoy its fruits. They share the Protestant work ethic, support laissez-faire economics, and sometimes fail to evaluate whether the social system is consistent with their Christianity (22).

Here we see yet another strong comment, and also another dose of the liberal theology smuggled into this book. Capitalism is not consistent with Christianity, Emerson and Smith nudge us to see. Individualist evangelicals would rather “enjoy the fruits” of the free market, greedily grabbing what they can, rather than evaluating whether doing so is truly Christian. (They seem not all that different from our coauthors, who presumably made some money from the sale of this book on the academic free market.)

Back to the matter of disparities. Perhaps the most tried-and-true woke ideal is this: the way you spot structural oppression and “systemic racism” is in statistical differences between “racial” groups. DBF engages a few, and also includes a table on household net worth. Yet the case Emerson and Smith make here is remarkably thin. Their entire presentation of the “racialized society” runs from 11-17, and at least one of those pages addresses commentary on how response to rap lyrics is evidence of the racialized society. By any standard, this is not much material on which to draw, but much hay is made of this scant harvest, both by the authors, and by later readers of the book.

The issue of disparities is a complex one. Let me call to the witness stand Thomas Sowell and his landmark text Discrimination & Disparities. (I engage Sowell’s work at no small length in Christianity and Wokeness.) Overall, Sowell notes this about the “disparities equal injustice” argument: “Racial, ethnic, and other groups are of course seldom, if ever, identical in everything else. That makes the prospects of equal outcomes even more improbable, and disparities in outcomes even more questionable as automatic indicators of discrimination” (D&D, 24).

This observation from a veteran economist should get our attention in light of DBF’s big claims. Is the difference between household net worth among different “races” indicative of racial oppression? It could be. We all know America’s past failings, which we do not fail to catalogue alongside the failings of most every civilization in human history. (Slavery, suffering, and persecution are far more the rule in global human experience than America-haters would have you know.) But while Sowell notes this possibility throughout his writings, including books written some decades past, he also leaves room for a much more complex answer, one that fits far less easily with the one-size-fits-all answer of “systemic racism” (one of the fuzziest concepts yet introduced into Western thought).

For example, if disparities equal injustices, then must it automatically be true that we see racial oppression reflected in the fact that Japanese American households have higher per capita income than Mexican American households? Sowell shows that such a conclusion has a ready-at-hand explanation, one having exactly zilch to do with “systemic racism”: “Japanese Americans have a median age more than two decades older than the median age of Mexican Americans” (D&D, 40). Their household members are, it stands to reason, far more advanced in their careers, and thus earn a good deal more. Racism is nowhere to be found, despite considerable differences between the two groups.

Or, on a separate matter, why do Indian children make up huge number of British medical students? Sowell observes that “The children of immigrants from the Indian sub-continent make up a quarter of all British medical students, twelve times their proportion in the general population. They are likewise overrepresented in the law, science, and economics faculties of our universities” (D&D, 127). Sowell does not exactly know why this is so—for in many cases it is very, very hard to know why some groups succeed and others do not—but it seems likely that different elements of Indian culture promote such striving. This, and not “systemic racism,” likely accounts for this statistical quirk. Here again, disparities do not equal injustices.

In similar terms, Sowell reveals why Jewish boys have prospered in competitive settings. It is not because of European “Jewish privilege,” a concept I just made up that would defy belief in light of historical suffering. Instead, this relative prosperity owes to Jewish culture, much like the success rates of Indian children mentioned above:

Jewish boys, for example, faced an intellectual task when they reached the age for a Bar Mitzvah to mark their passage from the world of childhood onto the road to manhood. In Eastern Europe during the years between the two World Wars, young people who were the first member of their families to become educated had no such tradition for the world of higher education. Not surprisingly, such students lacked the intellectual background of Jewish students with whom they were in competition in universities, and students from such groups became prominent among members of anti-Semitic movements (D&D, 197).

If one was uncareful, one might have assumed as I alluded to above that Jewish success owed to proximity to the fuzzy concept of “white privilege.” (Such arguments are made by woke folks today, and anti-Semitic violence is skyrocketing in our time.) In that case, Jewish success would owe to “systemic racism.” But in truth, when one sets aside the woke tropes and actually thinks hard about why some groups succeed, in this case one spies an eminently sensible answer for such accomplishment. It is culture, not privilege. The traditional Jewish bar mitzvah readied Jewish young men to write and think in a form not present in other European groups. Once again, invoking racism here muddies the matter. Disparities in this case simply do not trace to unfair preferences for young Jews. It’s almost as if a pattern is developing, is it not?

In such examples, we see the benefits of careful, thoughtful, objective analysis. Sowell’s judicious and even-handed assessments—always cognizant of lacking an oracular answer—stand in marked contrast to the unproven yet iron-confident assertions of DBF. Why do black people fare lower in certain statistical categories? It is not immediately apparent, to be forthcoming. Racism is a possible explanation and contributor, sure. But as Sowell’s work shows us, groups frequently differ from one another for all sorts of reasons. Sometimes those reasons emerge readily, as in the case of higher Japanese American earnings. Culture matters, after all; traditions matter. Religion matters. Habits matter. Sin matters. Righteousness matters. Common grace matters. But in other cases, reasons for disparities are not so easy at hand.

Yet Emerson and Smith, and those who build off their work and treat it as authoritative, assume the “disparities equal injustices” (DEI) mantra as stone-carved fact. They do so, of course, without showing how the “system” accomplishes this evil magic in our time. The “racialized society” for them is an article of faith, and the possibility that groups might differ from one another for any number of reasons does not draw their attention. For those who have encountered different forms of this DEI argument, I commend Sowell’s analysis as a surer engagement of statistics. Grand narratives like “systemic racism” as the explanation of all that ails us may initially appeal, but it is better to let reason and logic be our guide than leftist slogans.

Sixth, there are numerous questionable claims made in the book. In this section, I will not engage these claims at length. I will instead treat them briefly, doing so to show that beyond the aforementioned problems, there are several other ways that DBF’s ideas clashes with conservative evangelical convictions.

A) Racialization is structural: “Suggesting social causes of the race problem challenges the cultural elements with which they construct their lives. This is the radical limitation of the evangelical tool kit” (89).

This is, as I have pointed out, tendentious. Evangelicals clearly believe that sin can take societal form. For example, we know that slavery was wicked, and was practiced at the level of law. But what we contest—and what DBF is basically about—is that racism obtains at such a level today as it did in the 18th and 19th centuries. This is because, in the plainest assessment, racism flatly is not the problem now as it was then. It has not vanished, and there are real social conditions to address in our country. But this does not mean that the common evangelical rejection of “systemic racism” is a failure of the “evangelical tool kit.” It means, actually, that the toolkit is working well, and that evangelicals are not falling prey to woke lies.

B) Accountability and responsibility at the personal level is insufficient: “Apart from undoing bad laws and government programs, those offering individualistic explanations, when asked what the government or businesses or labor should do about racial inequality, respond that they should do nothing. The contemporary evangelical perspective, like that of its ancestors, is one that strongly supports laissez-faire capitalism. Individuals should be free to pursue their own ends, and rewards should be distributed based on effort” (109-10).

Emerson and Smith see an approach that emphasizes accountability and responsibility as basically insufficient for bettering society. Yet Scripture plainly teaches the importance of such concepts: “It is the hard-working farmer who ought to have the first share of the crops” (2 Tim. 2:6). Based on such texts, many Christians will be slow to believe that the way to solve social problems of varying kinds is straightforwardly to throw money at them. The lackluster effects of “The Great Society” program, for example, abundantly backs up such concerns.

The “disparities equal injustices” argument is employed today to demonstrate that inequality exists, and to call for more government assistance of those who are struggling. It seems right to leftists to ask for more structural assistance, but many Christians will rightly support policies that favor the unleashing of the free market, the promotion of the importance of work for the individual (especially men as wage-earners and familial providers), completion of high school, and the strengthening of the natural family as ways to lift up the struggling.

C) There is a certain “white” way of thinking, and it is bad: “Most white evangelicals, directed by their cultural tools, fail to recognize the institutionalization of racialization—in economic, political, educational, social, and religious systems. They therefore often think and act as if these problems do not exist. As undetected cancer that remains untreated thrives and destroys, so unrecognized depths of racial division and inequality go largely unaddressed and likewise thrive, divide, and destroy. The solutions evangelicals propose and practice…simply cannot make much headway in the face of these powerful countercurrents that undercut and fight against their well-intentioned, individualistic solutions” (170).

As I have pointed out previously, the assumptions made here are sweeping, uncharitable, and scorching. Emerson and Smith essentially stereotype a whole group of people—“most white evangelicals,” a huge number of people in truth—as being collectively blind to suffering. What solutions they do offer are inadequate, and they are thus the reason why there is evil “racialization” of “systems” in America. This explanation is devastatingly simple, and thus is very common today. But it is fuzzy in extremity. Which “systems” account for this “undetected cancer”? How precisely do we solve “inequality”? If Marxist countries have given such intense attention toward this end, why have none of them overcome inequality, and in actual fact made hundreds of millions of people’s lives far worse than under free market systems?

Instead of a naïve vision of inequality that sees it as an easily solvable item on the to-do list, it is better to see it as a function of life. By this I mean that there is no way to prevent it, whatever our feelings on the matter. Further, the worst way to treat poverty is through the levers of big government. The best way forward is to seek the unleashing of the free market, the strengthening of creation order and God-made institutions like the family, and to know that differences in earning are not a marker of victimhood, but a feature of a diverse world in which—for various reasons—some will earn more than others, and that is okay. Sowell shows that firstborn siblings tend to excel in many walks of life, for example; whether or not this is “fair,” it is often the way things work. Perhaps it is best to square with reality, accept that this is a world of “tradeoffs” as he says and not utopian options, and work to strengthen what systems we have, rather than tearing them down to the studs.

This is not, by the way, a “white way to think.” As I cover in Chapter 7 here at some length, there is no “white way to think,” just like there is no “black way to think.” There are sound ways to think, and unsound ways to think. Thinking is not colorized, much as we hear otherwise today—from people of different skin colors who all repeat the same bad idea, and do so while living irony-free.

D) Evangelicals are read as only opposing that which counters individualism: “Welfare is clearly seen as violating the Protestant work ethic, either causing people to lack individual motivation and responsibility, or catering to the human tendency to look for the easy road” (104).

DBF portrays evangelicals as ruthlessly individualistic. This mindset is read negatively in the book. But we must handle with care here. The Bible focuses its attention on the individual soul and heart; we think, for example, of how we must all keep our own heart with all militance (Proverbs 4:23). For such reasons, yes, evangelicals are quite skeptical about programs that lesson responsibility, weaken accountability, and foster dependence on structures.

It is not that evangelicals dismiss all structural help, as if we are anti-governmental. For example, we want pro-life laws on the books that will, en masse, protect the unborn. Or, on the other side, if there are laws that clearly promote racism, we will fight to overcome them. But where DBF reads opposition to welfare—governmental dependence—as a failing of evangelicals, such a stance should be read as a strength of the church. Better to locate charity not in the state, but in non-governmental organizations, the “little platoons” of society as De Tocqueville called them.

E) Religion is ordered to solve social problems: “Religion has tremendous potential for mitigating racial division and inequality. Most religions teach love, respect, and equality of all peoples. They often teach of the errors inherent in racial prejudice and discrimination. They frequently proclaim the need to embrace all people. They speak of the need for fairness and justice. They often teach that selfishness and acting in self-interested ways are counter to the will of the divine” (153).

Throughout the book, DBF gives us a largely instrumentalist vision of religion. (It is, as noted numerous times, a sociology book.) Religion, we learn, is good in its opposition to racial division and inequality. This is what “most religions,” in fact, teach. Christianity of the American evangelical kind should be more like this—more about fighting “racial inequality,” and less about selfishness (read that as capitalism). This is in truth the message that DBF broadcasts most clearly in terms of the positive character of Christianity. The Christian faith is about a generic “love, respect, and equality” of everyone. Everyone should be “embraced.” If Christians would open their hearts more to such a view, relinquishing their greedy ways and focusing more on solving social problems through governmental means, the church wouldn’t be so divided. Inequality would disappear.

Perhaps without meaning to do so, Emerson and Smith have made religion sound like a HR session for the local universalist society. Instead of the above instrumentalist manifesto, scrubbed of meaningful biblical texture, let me suggest an alternative charter for the church:

Christianity is about the glory of God. It is about living according to God’s perfect Word. It is the one true faith, and it rebukes every competitor. It does teach the oneness of Christ’s blood-bought body, but it teaches no saccharine social improvement scheme. In Christ, there is neither Jew nor Greek, but one new man. Christians are saved to exalt their Redeemer and be salt and light in the world. We cannot heal the world; we cannot make society right; we certainly cannot overcome all disparities, let alone injustice itself. Yet in Christ, racial reconciliation has already happened—it is not up to us, but has been accomplished by the work of the Son, and is realized through justifying faith.

While the American church has failed in different respects in the past, “white” Christians are today are not inherently guilty of racial oppression, nor is America “systemically racist.” Though the church is imperfect, and though America is imperfect, the people of God can, by the grace of God, gather as the church in these fractured days, letting nothing come before our unity in the Savior. We can seek to do good to all men, waiting for our translation to glory, when every evil will be undone, every tear will be dried, and all the sad things will come untrue. God is the beginning of all things for us, and God is the end.


Divided by Faith is a short but consequential little book, as will now be apparent. While I do not dismiss it, I do not recommend it as a sound guide to American “race” or society. Like other woke texts, Divided by Faith actually will foster more confusion, more hostility, and more separation between those who buy its ungrounded assertions and those who hold fast to the trustworthy Word.

Men I have looked up to and admired greatly have recommended DBF far and wide. In responding to their recommendations, I offer public response to public actions, which is the biblical pattern. My writing here is not a declaration of war or a personal attack. I care greatly about Dever, as one example, and hope that he and I end up agreeing on the subject of this review essay. So too with any brothers who are embracing wokeness, whether in piecemeal form or as a system. My prayer is that God will bring repentance and change, necessary pursuits for every last one of us, for we all stumble in many ways (James 3:2).

But that noted, I cannot mince words with regard to Divided by Faith. It is not in any sense a work of sound doctrine, nor is it a work of the gospel at all. In fact, it is not too much to say in conclusion that Divided by Faith is the book that has, by directing our focus on unity away from the atonement, divided Reformed evangelicalism and arrested much spiritual momentum. Here is hoping it will not succeed in doing so any longer. Let us leave sociology to the sociologists. In the ministry of God’s truth, let us bring the gospel back to its rightful place in our discussion over “race,” identity, and unity: the burning center.

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