In a culture of contention, confusion, division, and demonizing, Christians need to hear a different message. Shai Linne brings us this message in his book The New Reformation: Finding Hope in the Fight for Ethnic Unity. Linne’s book is a hope-saturated, grace-filled alternative to many recent books on this topic laced with hate and animosity. He is uncompromisingly committed to Scripture and the church as a whole. This commitment is evident throughout his book. It comes out when he tells his own story, evaluates some reformed theology, discusses ethnicity and explains unity in the church.
Linne begins the book with his own story. He tells how he was a “Jesus-hating, New Age-embracing, weed-smoking hedonist” (35). He describes the marvelous transformative work of God that redeemed every part of him—including his culture. He writes, “Jesus wasn’t calling me to abandon my culture . . . at least not the God-honoring aspects of it. Rather, He was calling me to leverage my culture for the glory of God” (46). For Linne, this meant moving out of his comfort zone to worship and work alongside his White brothers and sisters. It also meant forgiving past sins in order to learn biblical truths from his White (sometimes “racist”) forefathers. He justifies this decision in the second section of his book.
In part two, Linne reminds us of the truths of Scripture. He argues that these truths neither promote “racism” nor overlook people’s sins—whether Black or White. He concludes that we cannot discard our faithful forefathers who upheld these truths (even if, in their sin, they sometimes contradicted the very truths they taught). He writes, “all faithful preachers and teachers are gifts from God to the church, to be used by the church, for the building up of the church” (69, emphasis original). This building up of the church is more important to Linne than merely pointing the finger at others for problems in the church—even serious problems.
Just because Linne accepts sinful teachers, does not mean he ignores their (or other people’s) “racism.” In fact, he peppers the beginning of his book with comments on “racism.” However, in the third section, Linne replaces the term “racism” with “ethnicity.” He argues that we should not use the term “race” simply because our culture does. He calls “racism” an unbiblical term. He adds that it is unscientific and so broad as to be next to meaningless. Ethnicity, however, is not meaningless. On the contrary, many sins are related to our view of ethnicity. Helpfully, he spends the remainder of the section discussing these sins and the implications of ethnicity for the life of the church.
In the final section, Linne discusses the what, why and how of church unity. He is careful to explain that unity around the gospel must take precedence over every other form of unity, including ethnic unity. The implications of this are profound. They require that we willingly lay aside everything, save Christ and the gospel, in pursuit of unity. They require that we—all of us—“labor to develop a Spirit-cultivated affection and sympathy for the other” (179). Though Linne is obviously referring to affection and sympathy between Blacks and Whites, the implications are broader. His broad view is one of the things I found commendable about The New Reformation.
Linne refuses to limit the discussion of ethnic unity to Black and White unity. He knows that any form of ethnic disunity is a result of sin; sin such as pride, favoritism, even envy. He makes it clear that our personal sins are ultimately the cause of the lack unity in the church. And, by nature, these sins extend beyond how we treat those of a different pigmentation. If we are prideful, we will look down on those who hold different political views, have different childrearing methods, dress differently—not only on those whose skin is not like ours. By peering into the devastating disunity our sins create, I found myself longing for unity with all believers, whether Black or White, old or young, Conservative or Liberal.
Linne’s account also made me want to leave behind any sort of ethnic superiority I have. Before reading his book, I would not have considered myself guilty of ethnic sins. However, as he defined and described the sins of, and behind, ethnic disunity, I realized that I am guilty. My sins don’t look like avoiding my Black brothers and sisters. They look like pridefully mocking people’s food choices, clothing styles, accents, etc. They look like favoring the company of those who look and act like me. Linne helped me see these sins. His words made me want to turn from them to Christ and to all my siblings in the Lord. And he did so in a way that doesn’t require I alienate one group in favor of another.
Linne is able to encourage unity without alienation because his primary allegiance is to the Bible, not a particular ethnic group. Therefore, when he calls for reform, it is not of the gospel or sound doctrine. While so many think it necessary to compromise the gospel and disregard sound doctrine for the sake of unity, Linne knows this ultimately ends in fracturing. He reminds us that true unity originates and is found in Christ. Abandoning the gospel and sound doctrine is abandoning Christ. However, when we make Christ alone our common ground, we are able to pursue true and lasting unity. His book gave me hope that this Christ-centered unity is possible.
He writes in a humble style. He writes respectfully of his White brothers. He doesn’t hide his own sin, and extends to others sympathy and forgiveness instead of nursing past hurts or playing the victim. His humble approach disarmed me and gave me hope. In an atmosphere of bitter animosity and finger pointing, Linne stands out. He, unlike so many, is more concerned with unity than winning the argument. This gives me hope that there are more people like him. People who are ready to listen and willing to forgive.
Because of Linne’s emphasis on ethnicity, as opposed to race, I would have liked to see a little interaction with other ethnic groups. For example, Linne tends to emphasize the need for White people to listen to Black people, but does not emphasize as much the need for White and Black people to listen to other ethnic groups, etc. He focuses a great deal on the Black American’s story, and says next to nothing about the experience of other ethnicities. Of course, his book is not meant to be a survey of the experiences of various ethnic groups. But a broader sampling would allow readers better to see that the forgiveness and sympathy required for unity is a two way street. Regardless, I found Linne’s book refreshing and hope-filled.
Whether you struggle with ethnic sins or not, I encourage you to read The New Reformation. It is an important reminder of how much God cares about unity in His church. Linne’s book offers us just one more way that we, as Christians, can pursue unity. After all, learning to live in loving community with our diverse brothers and sisters is preparation for heaven, in which is “a great multitude that no one could number, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb” (Revelation 7:9a).
Elisabeth Bloechl is a member of the Orthodox Presbyterian Church, house cleaner, and aspiring writer. She lives in Indiana with her husband and daughter.