It has often been said that Sunday morning is the most segregated time of the week in America. You have predominantly white churches, and you have ethnic churches of all sorts–Hispanic churches, Chinese churches, Korean churches, African American churches. It’s rare to see churches that are ethnically diverse. Homogeneity is even more prominent in Reformed circles. During my graduate studies I attended a Reformed church for the first time1, and I was one of only three non-white members. Though there were some difficulties, to me they didn’t ultimately matter because I was ecstatic to be part of a gospel-centered church where the Word of God was preached faithfully and the doctrines of grace were cherished.
The wider evangelical world has focused on issues of ethnic diversity and reconciliation for some time, with prominent white and non-white voices such as Rachel Held Evans (Caucasian American), Soong-Chan Rah (Asian America), Brenda Salter McNeil (African America), and Orlando Crespo (Latino American).
While I’ve read a number of books from the broader evangelical world, I am always cautious because while they get much right, they also get things wrong. I’ve always longed for more attention on issues related to ethnicity from the Reformed perspective.2 That is why I was so excited about Trillia Newbell’s United: Captured by God’s Vision for Diversity.
In United, Trillia invites us along on her journey of faith and of discovering a Christocentric vision for diversity. Having experienced racism and reverse racism early on in life, as well as having heard stories of the civil rights movement, a desire to one day see unity was formed in Trillia from a young age. After becoming a Christian in her early twenties, Trillia soon came to understand that her identity was not primarily in being a black female, but it was in Christ. This is not to say that her new identity in Christ erased the obvious cultural and physical differences between her and her brothers and sisters at her predominantly white church; she was different, and the differences were sometimes clearly felt; but she realized that she was also the same in Christ. Trillia’s identity in Christ was secure, but there was a deep longing in her heart that she eventually realized was a longing for a culturally diverse environment.
“[A]s I began to read and understand God’s Word, it became clear to me that built into the pages of His Word is a theology of diversity. I began to see that my desire for diversity wasn’t only okay – it made sense, given the manner by which God speaks in the Word about tongues, tribes, ethnicity, and ultimately diversity, both indirectly and directly” (49-50).”
Most of the content of this book is Trillia’s personal story held together with a crimson gospel thread. Trillia makes it clear that what makes diversity both possible and beautiful is that Jesus Christ died for every nation, tribe, and tongue and does not discriminate based on ethnicity when it comes to salvation. She also provides a short introduction to a biblical theology of race as well as practical suggestions for pursuing diversity.
“What I am after as I share the beauty of diversity in the church is one thing and one thing only: the glory of God. I don’t want the church to find yet another trendy pursuit to latch on to. The pursuit of diversity is important, yes, but not because it’s trendy, this generation’s “hip thing.” It’s important because the nations fill God’s world. Seeing the importance of diversity in Scripture should make us want to explore how we can emulate this today. Ultimately it’s all about His glory on this earth and reflecting Him to a broken world” (127).
In United, Trillia Newbell paints a Christocentric, gospel-centered vision for ethnic diversity in the church. Through sharing her personal story, Trillia invites us both into the pain of being different as well as the joys of sameness in Christ; she shows through her life the great gains to be discovered in pursuing ethnic diversity. Through it all, the glory of God and the gospel of Christ are at the center. My only qualm is that I wish this book would have been longer, going deeper into both the theology of race/racial diversity as well as practical issues. However, I still highly recommend this book for all in the Church, especially for those in the Reformed camp. There is not a dearth of books from the Reformed world on this topic, but there are a few. What is completely missing is a female voice in general, including an African American female voice specifically. As an African American woman, Trillia offers a unique perspective on the topic of ethnic diversity from the Reformed perspective.
Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from the publisher. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”
Jennifer Guo is a bean counter by day and a book eater by night. She is passionate about the gospel and loves biblical and theological studies. She also loves the arts and is part of a performing arts ministry that uses a variety of mediums to communicate the gospel, God’s heart, and His design for sexuality, relationships, and marriage. Jennifer also loves running and cooking (and not because running allows her to eat more). You can follow her @JenniferGuo or read more reviews at her blog Jennifer Guo.