The Collective Question

September 2, 2021 | by: Dale Thiele | 0 Comments

Posted in: Pastoral Encouragement

This is part 4 of a multi-part series reviewing Thaddeus J. Williams’ book, Confronting Injustice Without Compromising Truth: 12 Questions Christians Should Ask About Social Justice. This book is published at a critical time when many in our nation, including Christians, wrestle with the concept of justice. Williams starts with the clear biblical command that Christians must “do justice” (Micah 6:8) and “seek justice” (Isaiah 1:17). Not everything labeled “justice,” however, is necessarily biblical justice. Therefore, Williams poses twelve questions to help Christians discern true, biblical justice, while calling us to do true justice. I commend this book if you want to dig deeper and be more faithful in seeking justice. 

The fourth question Williams poses is the “Collective Question.” He asks, “Does our vision of social justice take any group-identity more seriously than our identities ‘in Adam’ and ‘in Christ’?” (p. 43). Williams begins by telling the stories of two young men who were searching for “identity, community, and a sense of purpose” (p. 43). One joined a radical far right group, the other joined a radical far left group. They were both “propelled by the same human drive – the need to belong” and they were both “swept up in groups that used categories like race, economic status, and oppression to see themselves as angels and others as demons, although one man’s angels were the other man’s demons” (p. 43-44). 

“The need to belong” is a God-given need. He has made humans to be connected with other humans. “The Bible’s answer to the need for belonging is far more inclusive” than any man-made grouping based upon ethnicity, race, gender, economic status, political persuasion, etc. (p. 44). God’s design for unity, our connection with others, is based upon being in Christ. Williams unpacks the theology of this from Paul’s letter to the church at Rome. All humans are equal and united in their sinfulness as descendants of Adam. And only by faith in Christ, will any human be saved and united in grace. Therefore, Paul exclaims, “There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus” (Gal. 3:28). Our identity in Christ is superior to and transcends any other identity marker the world seeks to promote. 

Williams then contrasts Paul’s approach with James Cone, who is considered the father of black liberation theology. Cone “has become a celebrated voice among many Christians,” especially in the recent discussions about racial justice (p. 49). Williams quotes Cone in a lengthy passage to highlight the danger of allowing group-identity to take precedent over our identity in Christ. 

“When whites undergo the true experience of conversion wherein they die to whiteness and are reborn anew in order to struggle against white oppression and for the liberation of the oppressed, there is a place for them in the black struggle of freedom. Here reconciliation becomes God’s gift of blackness through the oppressed of the land. But it must be made absolutely clear that it is the black community that decides both the authenticity of white conversion and also the part these converts will play in the black struggle for freedom…Unless whites can get every single black person to agree that reconciliation is realized, there is no place whatsoever for white rhetoric about the reconciling love of blacks and whites…Just because we work with them and sometimes worship alongside them should be no reason to claim that they are truly Christians and thus part of our struggle” (God of the Oppressed, p. 222; quoted in Williams, p. 49). 

Cone denies universal sinfulness, unity in Christ, and God’s role as the sole justifier of people by faith in Christ. Cone’s vision for racial reconciliation is devoid of what the Bible teaches as the foundation of our reconciliation. 

Williams concludes this chapter by drawing the reader’s attention to Paul’s personal testimony in Philippians 3. Paul rejects tribalistic identity markers of ethnicity, social status, religiosity, education level, etc. in favor of the “surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus” (3:8). Williams observes, “If we can’t see ‘the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus’ as infinitely more important than everything else – including our ethnic differences, our political passions, and our historic grievances – that he ‘is all, and in all,’ then there is little hope of unity in the twenty-first-century church” (p. 50).


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