Crossing the Tracks

Dolphus Weary with Josh Dear and William Hendricks. Crossing the Tracks: Hope for the Hopeless and Help for the Poor in Rural Mississippi and Your Community. Grand Rapids, MI: Kregel, 2012. 192 pp. $11.99.

What an inspiring story! As one blurb put it, “[Dolphus Weary’s] journey out of physical, emotional, and spiritual poverty will challenge you to cross the racial divides in your own community and discover what it really means to serve one another.” That’s for sure.

Dolphus’s first book, I Ain’t Comin’ Back, told the story of how God enabled him to escape the poverty and discrimination of 1940-50s Mississippi to become one of the first black students in Los Angeles Bible College and then a missionary in Asia.

Crossing the Tracks: Hope for the Hopeless and Help for the Poor in Rural Mississippi and Your Community is the rest of the story, the account of how God not only overcame Dolphus’s opposition to return to Mississippi but also equipped him to serve its people in gospel ministry.

Earlier in my life, I had fled Mississippi with the vow, “I ain’t never comin’ back.” But then God called me back, and I obeyed. Now to my utter amazement, I was declaring, “I can’t ever leave!” I’d never felt such freedom. (56)

Using the story of his own fascinating life, Dolphus guides us to four action items: (1) Gospel-centered racial reconciliation; (2) Repenting of sins of omission as well as commission; (3) Just affirmative action policies; and (4) Practical bridge-building for Christians and churches.

Gospel-Centered Racial Reconciliation

Racial reconciliation is ultimately a spiritual issue. “Yes, racism manifests itself in ways that are very ugly and obvious,” Dolphus admits. “But if we only work on the social aspects of racism and never introduce the gospel, then we’ll never see complete transformation” (32).

Although Dolphus argues persuasively for political and social action, he always keeps the gospel central. Indeed, God taught him that “proclaiming the gospel of Jesus Christ and working for racial reconciliation were two sides of the same coin” (53).

Sin of Silence

Racism can be a sin of omission as well as commission. Dolphus observes:

You don’t have to be a member of a racist group to practice racism. You don’t even have to feel prejudice against an entire race to practice racism. All you have to do is watch someone from another race being treated unjustly and remain silent. (70)

It’s not enough to not be racist, in other words. There has to be a resolve to oppose racism and promote racial reconciliation. Without that positive commitment, we can be guilty of passive racism.

Just Affirmative Action

I’ve never been a fan of affirmative action as commonly understood and practiced. However, the way Dolphus introduces it, defines it, and works it out in practice is both compelling and convincing. “In its purest form,” he explains, “affirmative action is a policy that considers race after all the other qualifications have been met” (125).

Dolphus insists it isn’t enough to say “Great idea!” Clear policies are essential to make sure the ideal becomes reality. “Policy is a discipline that ensures that we follow through on our good intentions,” he writes. “It’s an objective reminder of what we said we want to do and be” (128). For colleges and seminaries, that means not just having racially and ethnically diverse students, but faculty, management, and staff as well.

Affirmative action is controversial, and, as I mentioned, I initially read this section with deep skepticism. But Dolphus’s version is highly persuasive. Read it before you jump to conclusions. Even if you’re not persuaded, I’m sure you will be convinced of the need for some policies and actions to level the playing field in many spheres of everyday life.

Bridge-Building on the Ground

Apart from its gospel-centered focus, what I liked most about Crossing the Tracks was how it demonstrated that racial reconciliation doesn’t require grand public gestures but can begin right where we are.

“How many Christians do you know who don’t look like you?” Dolphus pointedly asks. He challenges churches to reach out to other congregations of different racial composition, and provides two pages of ideas for how racially different and divided churches can partner together in kingdom work. According to Dolphus, when Christians who don’t look like each other come together in the ways he proposes, three powerful things happen (165-166):

1. They actually address a real need in their community.

2. They show the world what racial reconciliation looks like by coming together as brothers and sisters in Christ and living out the unity Christ desires.

3. Because of that unity they offer a compelling witness to the world that Jesus is Lord of a united people, answering Jesus’ prayer in John 17.

Unique Man with a Unique Calling

I assure you Crossing the Tracks is not an anti-white polemic or a politically correct tract. Dolphus comes across as a kind, gentle, loving Christian man whom God has raised up to call his church to greater Christlikeness in its pursuit of racial reconciliation.

Writing a review of such a good book is easy. Now for the hard part—crossing the tracks.

This review was first published at The Gospel Coalition

Everywhere grace does not save but points us to the One who does

Everywhere grace (see here and here) does much good to all who experience it. It enhances people’s characters, lives, and surroundings. We don’t want to even think what we and our world would be like without it. All the happiness, joy, peace, contentment, order, etc., in the world is the result of this almighty blessing.

And it’s not just the externals – the outward person or the external environment – that it impacts. It also influences the inner person, though without going so far as to save the soul. It imparts and stirs up human virtues such as generosity, patience, and parental love. It exerts a moral influence, giving our consciences a sense of right and wrong, and provoking  guilt to restrain further sin. It works on the heart but it does not renew nor regenerate it.

More grace is needed.

Or rather a different kind of grace is needed: the special, sovereign, and saving love of God.

However, we mustn’t separate these two kinds of grace entirely; they are intimately connected; the one should lead to the other. Everywhere grace is given to lead people to seek God’s special saving grace. So much everywhere grace is given that it leaves us without excuse for not seeking special grace (Rom. 1:20).

Everywhere grace is intended to draw us and call us to the special grace that’s located only in Christ. Paul challenges all recipients of everywhere grace: “Do you despise the riches of His goodness, forbearance, and longsuffering, not knowing that the goodness of God leads you to repentance?” (Rom. 2:4).

Do you see that? One of the most powerful tools in our evangelistic armoury is the goodness of God. If we only tell people about their sin, and refuse to point out God’s mercy and grace already in their lives, we are missing out a vital evangelistic lever. By highlighting God’s existing mercy and grace we encourage sinners to seek even more of it (2 Peter 3:9).

Everywhere grace does not save, but it does point us to the One who does.

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God’s Every-Animal Grace

Why doesn’t the rain fall only on the Christian farmer’s fields? Why do the wicked enjoy vacations in Hawai? God’s everywhere grace (commonly called “common grace”). “He makes His sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust” (Matt. 5:45).

Why do the evil have such full freezers and why do the wicked have such happy times? God’s everywhere grace that fills their hearts with food and gladness (Acts 14:17).

God’s everywhere grace is everywhere and experienced by everyone. Or to put it negatively, there is no one and no place on earth that is devoid of everywhere grace (Ps. 145:9; Acts 14:15-16).

Scottish islands and North Korean Gulags
That’s not just true of the Grand Canyon, the Niagara Falls, and the Scottish islands. Go to the the most notorious high security prison in Venezuala, go to North Korea’s gulags, go to Al Qaeda training camps in Pakistan, and there you’ll find some evidences of God’s everywhere grace.

Find the most sadistic child-abuser, the most disturbed serial killer, or the most monstrous terrorist, and you’ll find everywhere grace somewhere in their lives. You’ll find some faint traces of God’s undeserved kindness. Even breath itself.

It’s hard to see – the evil is so thick and dark that it almost envelops everything else – but awful though these places and people are, none of them are as bad as they possibly could be. The Lord lightens every person that comes into the world (John 1:4).

Even the most hardened criminals have some code of honor that draws the line somewhere in what they would do or not do. North Korean prison guards can still extend surprising mercy to their terrified captives. Al Qaeda operatives cook one another food and share funny stories around their camp fires. These are only traces, the remaining vapors of God’s everywhere grace, I know, but still, if we can see it there and in these people, can we not more easily see it in our workplaces and in our boss?

Grace for animals?
And even if for a time you cannot see God’s everywhere grace in the people around you, what about the animals? Yes, God’s everywhere grace extends to animals too. Why don’t the animals tear one another to pieces until there’s only one left? What can explain the affection of our dogs, the playfulness or our cats, and the cuteness of our hamsters? Yes, God’s every-animal grace.

Of course, God’s everywhere grace is not everywhere in the same proportions. God gives it according to His sovereign wisdom and power, and He chooses to give more of it to some people and places than to others.

Here’s a question for you: Does God sometimes give more of His everywhere grace to unbelievers than he does to believers (those who have been given His special saving grace)? Does that explain why we sometimes find unbelievers are kinder and just nicer people than some Christians?

See Previous Post: God’s Everywhere Grace

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