Lauren Laskowski | Assistant News Editor
“Racial harmony and diversity is not a social issue. It is a blood issue. The blood of Christ has grafted us in together by one spirit,” said pastor and theologian John Piper in Wheaton College’s Edman Chapel on Wednesday, Oct. 5. Piper’s message centered on the issue of race, based on his recent book “Bloodlines: Race, Cross, and the Christian.”
The Record had a chance to interview Piper about his experiences as a student at Wheaton and the issue of race.
This interview has been edited for length and for clarity.
The Record: When you were a student at Wheaton, how did you feel about race?
I was blasé, I was naïve. I was in the middle of questioning lots of things. When I finished here, I knew that one of the questions I needed to settle was the interracial marriage issue. So I wrote a paper for Lewis Smedes in an ethics class at Fuller, because I had to settle this issue – is it unbiblical to marry across races? So, I was being challenged here, and my old views were being shaken, but I don’t think I had settled a lot of things. When I went to seminary, my mind just became riveted on the Bible. It should have been here, and it’s not anybody’s fault but mine, but when it became riveted on the Bible a lot of things became clear that I had just postponed while I was here.
Has Wheaton improved in racial harmony since your time as a student?
My memory is so stilted by my own sinfulness that I would lack authority but I’ll give you my impression. I think in that day it was so explosive and the battle was so heavy, to try to rescue the privileges and rights that had been denied to blacks during the Jim Crow era that everybody was in flux, there was a lot of sinful bitterness and anger on the black side and a lot of sinful pride, superiority and fear on the white side. A lot of that has been settled, issues have been resolved at the legal level, and we’ve had quite a few decades now to grow in our understanding of what remains to be done. So I would venture to say that Wheaton is way more sensitive, more wise and more proactive in their efforts.
How can students and Christians in general tangibly try to promote racial harmony?
Do a biblical study of the issue of ethnicity and people groups and the implications of the cross for interethnic relationships – interethnic rather than interracial because race is not a biblical concept, but ethnicities are. You need to read books about, that have been written about this. Number three: Move toward real live people.
Ask God to lead you into relationships with people that are different from yourself. Speak wherever you can in your relationships from a biblical, reconciling perspective. Be a proactive advocate. Don’t let the issue define your life; Let it become natural fruit of gospel life. It’s the gospel and its Christ, the cross, God, walking by the Spirit that should be the dominant theme in your life. But the implications of that for racial relations are many and so they should feel like that. They should feel like implications rather than sentiment.
You adopted an African-American daughter. Can you comment on the challenges and blessings of an interracial family?
Surprisingly, it’s not all that unlike raising the boys who had been birthed to us. When you compile all the challenges of parenting, the ones that are common to your biological children and your adopted children are vastly more than the ones that are distinct.
When she was little, I had one or two black men approach me and defend her, thinking I’ve done something bad, walking hand in hand with a little 3-year-old black girl away from a house or toward a house and (I’d) have to explain to those guys, I’m her dad. I don’t think about it much anymore because there’s just so much transracial adoption around our city and our church. My guess is people are not putting the worst face on that. Being in a church where there are a lot of people who have been adopted transracially makes a huge difference.
What’s it like to be back at Wheaton?
I love coming back, especially in the fall when it’s so beautiful. It fills me with a sense of remembered anxiety because as a student I was so insecure, and I showed up in the fall of 1964 and I remember how nervous I was about so many things. Will I find my classes? Will I be able to do college work? It’s funny how 44 years later those emotions are real. And then (I feel) awesome gratitude to God for how he led me and gave me a wife here and he gave me a call to the ministry here. He gave me an exposure to C.S. Lewis and a whole life of the intellect here that had suited me so well.
What are some of your favorite memories from your days at Wheaton?
Falling in love with Noël. In the summer of ’66, we met in the basement of Fischer Hall, which was then called the fine arts room. It was called the fine arts room because it had a record player in it. People were playing Beach Boys – that made it fine arts, I suppose. That was a wonderful summer, the summer of ’66.
Number two, I got mononucleosis and was in the health center. I was in the hospital there for three weeks. And I was planning to be a doctor, and I was listening on the radio to Harold John Ockenga, and God turned my whole life around. I had to drop organic chemistry because of my sickness, and I fell in love with the Bible listening to him, and I just date my call to the ministry and the Word from that day. That’s huge that God would do it this way. And the third thing I might mention would be I, as a lit major, came into contact with C.S. Lewis so that (I understood) the beauty of nature and the beauty of literature and the robustness of the life of the mind and the life of the heart. Those don’t have to be at odds.
If you could give one piece of advice for Wheaton students today, what would it be?
God is most glorified in you when you’re most satisfied in him. Which means: Make glorifying God the main goal of your life and realize that the treasuring of God in your heart is essential. Don’t fail. At this school of very heavy intellectual efforts, don’t fail to cultivate the affections of the heart, toward God mainly. Be a whole person of rigorous thinking.
Additional reporting by Guest Writer Benjamin Hoyer.
Photo credit: Allison Freet
Printed in the October 5, 2012, issue of The Wheaton Record. Send comments to firstname.lastname@example.org.