Book Review: The New Reformation: Finding Hope in the Fight for Ethnic Unity

The New Reformation: Finding Hope in the Fight for Ethnic Unity. By Shai Linne. Chicago: Moody Publishers. 2021. 222 pp. $12.79 (paperback), ISBN 978-0-8024-2320-7.

The turmoil of the last two years has put on full display the labored gasps of a dying world. Our only ultimate hope, as ever, lies in the promise of the gospel. Entrusted with guarding that message from corruption and preaching it to the lost, the church visible has struggled to define in any unified way, the best approach to pursuing its mission in this cultural moment. What is more sobering perhaps, is that the fracas outside of the walls of Christ’s embassy on earth has breached its gates. Christians have taken to conferences, books, and social media to stake out their positions, often casting what many might have considered prudential matters in zero-sum terms. Of particular concern, of course, have been questions on race and the church. With The New Reformation, Shai Linne steps right into the fray, winsomely offering a biblical way forward for Christians stuck in a Bunyanesque ‘Slough of Despond’ over the present tumult. He wrestles with the American church’s fraught—often reprehensible—record addressing the sin of racism, all the while keeping his eye to more general, biblical insights on race relations that are applicable beyond the borders of the United States. As a black Christian hip-hop artist, “raised up from the stony sidewalks of West Philly”, who embraced the gospel-truths recovered in the Reformation, his perspective offers much to those who are willing to look “also to the interests of others” (Philippians 2:4).

On the whole, Linne eschews an engagement with the debates du jour in favor of a broader examination of what the Bible has to say about ethnic unity and the church. As he notes at the outset, his treatment of the topic is not intended as an academic exercise but is offered up rather as the reflections of “a fellow learner”, with experience “in various ministry contexts, from church planting to pastoral ministry to Christian artistry” (16). Linne is a “concerned Christian who loves the church” appealing to “other Christians who love the church” (17). Consequently, the book is concerned most fundamentally with “the unity of the church” and “the church’s witness to the world” (15). 

Divided into four parts, The New Reformation starts as an autobiographical reflection in miniature, drawing out Linne’s conversion, entrance into the Reformed community, and struggle to come to terms with the disjuncture, at times, between the biblical orthodoxy espoused and propagated to good effect by Christian figures in the past, and questions about their heteropraxis on issues related to the sin of ‘racism’. The book then shifts to biblical exposition, where Linne applies the explicit and implicit mandates of scripture on the subject of “ethnic sins” and Christian unity to church life (113). Throughout, he is keen to hew closely to scripture and therefore rejects the terms ‘race’ and ‘racism’ in favor of the less culturally resonant, and more biblically consonant, ‘ethnicity’ and ‘ethnic sin’. As he notes, ‘race’ and ‘racism’ “are loaded with unbiblical assumptions about anthropology”, which could stymie “understanding and effective communication” on this topic (16). Finally, the book ends with an email he wrote in response to a well-intentioned member of his church, who asked after him in the wake of the killing of George Floyd.

At its core, this is a book for the local church. Linne is concerned to see God’s people live and grow together as one – a goal best accomplished through the outworking of the responsibilities and benefits that accrue from membership in a community of believers who have covenanted together to care for one another. Rather than playing to the tune of the current dustups in the evangelical world then, Linne is keyed to the Christian’s duty to pursue unity in the church for the sake of God’s name. The unified church, brought together under the cross from “every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages”, is powered by the Holy Spirit “for the glory of God” (Revelation 7:9; 168). Christian unity, born from our union with Christ in conversion, speaks to God’s oneness (John 17:20-23) and serves as an evangelistic tool “that God uses to convince unbelievers that the God of the Bible is real” (162). Christians, urged by the Apostle Paul to be “eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace” as “one body”, must endeavor therefore to pursue unity, including ethnic unity, by “bearing with one another in love”, and demonstrating humility, patience, affection, sympathy, and gentleness towards other believers (Ephesians 4:1-6; 163-64). These things are possible because as Christians, justified by a holy God on the basis of His work, not ours, we have the freedom to admit when we have wronged others and to forgive when we have been wronged. Furthermore, when it comes to ethnic sins, this justification (properly understood) “removes all notions (conscious or unconscious; spoken or unspoken) of ethnic superiority” (150). Both of these implications of the doctrine of justification by faith alone make clear that it is “[t]he key to addressing ethnic disunity in the church” (138). This premise undergirds the whole of Linne’s careful treatment of the issue and is an edifying reminder that Christians can trust in the power of the gospel to quash any attempt to rebuild the “dividing wall of hostility” that Christ “has broken down in his flesh” (Ephesians 2:14). 

This power is embedded in the lives of believers, who bear gospel fruit in keeping with their adoption into the family of God. Indeed, it is in living out the implications of the gospel’s power that ethnic unity begins to be realized in local churches. Perhaps the book’s greatest contribution on this front is its reminder that in ‘bearing with one another in love’, believers are not called to question the validity of another’s pain. As Linne helpfully notes, “[o]ne of the most hurtful things we can do is to make mourners justify their pain” (221). “[W]eep with those who weep” comes without qualification in Romans 12. Some may notice that I do not note any formal disagreements with the book. My lack of overt criticism was intentional. Given the charged nature of this particular topic among evangelicals, I want to commend a resource I think handles the ‘main things’ well without getting stuck in some of the particulars that are less important but can be kind of flash points for certain ‘sides’ of the debate. Thus, while I have some minor qualms, I thought it would be too ironic to praise Linne’s emphasis on the importance of not letting prudential disagreements keep Christians from unifying, while at the same time quibbling with a brother in Christ. Thus, while Christians may prudentially disagree on the nature or extent of ethnic sin in society at large, or even in the church, they are nevertheless called to walk alongside their brothers and sisters suffering from the weight of perceived injustice. In so doing, a believer might even come to realize that their perspective on things may not be as normative as they thought. What matters is that Christians care for one another in a way that reflects our union with Christ and gives glory to God. In fostering this response to the problem of ethnic disunity, Shai Linne has served the church well.

Editors Note: The London Lyceum confesses the 2LCF. If the content of the book rejects the 2LCF at any point, we find reasons for concern and the need for revision. However, it is not the mission of the London Lyceum to always publish work that agrees with our confession of faith. We seek to generate thinking and foster an intellectual culture of charity, curiosity, critical thinking, and cheerful confessionalism.



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