The following is condensed from a conversation between Towers editor Andrew J.W. Smith and authors Jarvis Williams and Curtis Woods, who are also respectively associate professor of New Testament interpretation and assistant professor of applied theology at Southern Seminary.
AJWS: How would you articulate the overall purpose of the book? What are you hoping it accomplishes?
JW: This conversation is a matter of discipleship, and one of the things parents need to do is pre-empt potential racial challenges their kids will experience. This book is a way for parents to understand how the gospel informs why we have racism. We need to explain to our kids the combination of how race was invented in the American context alongside the larger biblical narrative of race: God created one human race, then sin entered creation and devastated the cosmos in a way where human beings began to fight against God’s good creation. We need to tell parents: “Here’s how you can disciple your kids in a context where sin permeates everything, including how we perceive each other.”
AJWS: Why do kids especially need to hear about racial issues like this?
CW: We often say here at Southern that “theology matters.” When people really understand theology, they are able to take those complex categories and make them simple. A child should see themselves in light of the imago Dei. When you are doing theology rightly, a child would be able to understand and appreciate it. If we say we’re doing theology, it has to get outside of the classroom. It should also be at home as parents are discipling their children to bear the image of Christ.
JW: My son is 10 now, but when the book was being considered, he was 7. As a 7-year-old kid, he had encounters with racism and asked some difficult questions. I didn’t have the option to say to my little boy, “Don’t worry about that. This is just an aberration.” I had a responsibility to help him understand, as a 7-year-old who believes who loves Jesus, how sin created the context for that problem and how the gospel provides the solution. I also needed to help him understand that this is something he will have to experience for the rest of his life — but there are gospel ways to respond to this. He cannot let it defeat him.
I felt responsible to create something that would help my son and other children like my son understand that there is nothing wrong with their brown, black, yellow, or white skin. All shades of skin are beautifully created by God and reflect God’s diverse power to create people who reflect his beauty in ways mono-ethnicity would not.
AJWS: In a lot of people’s minds, racial reconciliation is exclusively political. It seems like in this book, you are helping families and kids understand that matters of race are deeply theological too.
CW: We live in a political economy, and in taking an Augustinian worldview, we try not to divide the City of Man from the City of God. We understand that there are two cities in constant conflict. If we take a biblical and theological framing, we observe that the seed of the woman is in constant conflict with the seed of the serpent. Within the chaos that comes from the fall, we see that creation has an ongoing struggle. The serpent’s desire has always been to create division within humanity.
JW: The ultimate solution to the race problem is the gospel, fundamentally. The gospel says that the City of God will conquer the City of Man. A new kingdom has invaded this present evil age — which is the Kingdom of God in Christ. We can’t fully see the Kingdom of God on earth because it’s like a mustard seed that grows, but we do get glimpses of Spirit-empowered Christians, from tongues and tribes and peoples and nations, walking in the Spirit and loving their neighbor. We see that the Kingdom of God has already begun and that it will ultimately triumph over the kingdom of man. That is a political and theological and social statement! Since the Kingdom of God stands, the kingdoms of man and the devil cannot.
CW: I knew the preacher would come out eventually!
JW: The new heavens and earth is a society governed by God and ruled by Christ. It has been inaugurated now, so you can’t nicely and neatly separate the holy from the secular. That is not a way you want to live your life. Therefore, as Christians, we have a responsibility to help our kids to think through what it means for me as a brown, yellow, black, or white boy or girl to grow into a man or woman to live for Jesus in the real world. We’ve tried to help folks prepare to do that.
Editor’s Note: The original version of this interview that appeared in the September-October print issue of Towers included a quote mistakenly attributed to Jarvis Williams instead of Curtis Woods.