Discussion about race have taken up a significant part of public discourse. The voices are many, as is often the madness. None of it is surprising to the Christian. But even in the church, emotions are running high, and the opinions are far from unifying. How are we to think about these issues? Music artist Shai Linne’s new book “The New Reformation” gives biblical, balanced, and practical advice.
Growing up, my music taste reflected that of my peers. At first that was metal, and when my social circle changed, it became hip hop. My wife listened to alternative rock, so when we met that became my music. With salvation come new desires, so after God saved me I sought to “Christianize” my music. Unfortunately, I found Christian rock to be incredibly shallow. Eventually I stumbled upon Cross Movement’s Higher Definition (I think at Mardel’s Christian Stores!), later HIStory, and some of the solo albums by Ambassador and Phanatik. The last track on Ambassador’s The Thesis featured another rapper called “Shaolin”. I loved his flows! I needed more! Unfortunately, none of my searches came up with anything.
Working from home during college let me listen to a lot of sermons and other good stuff. One of the regulars was Todd Friel’s Way of the Master Radio (now Wretched). In one of his episodes he talked about a rap song that exposits the book of Romans, by that same rapper, Shaolin! Here he was again! Maybe through the episode’s show notes I finally figured out that this rapper’s name was really “Shai Linne”. Blame this German’s obsession with Asian culture and kung fu movies to get it wrong. From that moment on I devoured anything that Shai produced and started supporting him financially on Patreon as soon as he set that up.
Shai’s music is consistently gospel- and bible-centered. So I was excited to hear about his new book about ethnic unity in the church: The New Reformation. I wasn’t quite sure where he’d fall, but any doubts were unfounded: His book is solidly biblical and practically useful. Let’s dive in (and sorry for the somewhat long intro…).
Whenever you have a contrasting majority/ minority cultural dynamic, there will inevitably be growing pains as the two cultures seek to understand each other and live together.
The New Reformation consists of four parts. Part One is Shai’s story, which, despite following his music from early on, was mostly unknown to me! Part Two is the “Back Story”, a look into the past to see if our Reformed heritage is inherently biased about race. Part Three is “His Story”, bringing biblical language and teaching to bear on the discussion, and Part Four is “Our Story”, a way forward for the Church today. I want to focus on three aspects of the book: It is biblical, it is balanced, and it is practical.
As I briefly survey the Five Solas, I see nothing inherent in the teaching itself that would lead to blind spots concerning “racial” injustice.
Like Shai’s music over the years, this book is unashamedly biblical. Not just a few verses here and there, but careful and detailed exposition of key passages. As I was reading I found that I hadn’t considered some of what Shai was saying and hesitated to agree; until he brought Scripture to bear on his point (again, not by proof-texting but in the context of exegeting a passage) and my hesitation vanished: Oh yeah, of course, that makes sense.
So when it comes to the issue of “race,” we should look to the Bible, rather than the culture, to guide how we think about it. I can’t stress this enough.
Shai applies biblical categories to the conversation, centering on the word “ethnicity” instead of “race”. He outlines what the difference is and why it is a more helpful term than racism. He lists ethnic sins like ethnic pride, hatred, or favoritism, among others, and as someone who values precise language, I much appreciated this section. It will help me think more accurately and biblically about racism.
Ethnicity has worth. It’s valuable, beautiful, and reflects the wisdom and creativity of God. But compared to knowing Jesus, it’s “loss” and “rubbish,” along with anything else that would keep us from gaining the Lord.
Shai then proposes the answer to the problem of ethnic disunity: justification! If you’re wondering what justification has to do with ethnic unity, you’re not alone; that was my first thought, too. But this is where the book shines! The Bible dealt with ethnic unity in the very beginning of the church with the conflict between Jews and Gentiles. The exposition is spot on and really pulls together Shai’s points. If I was on the fence about that answer, his biblical exposition sells it.
[W]hen there are people who love Jesus and the Bible on the “other side” of the argument, we shouldn’t automatically assume that we are the ones who are correct and in exact alignment with Jesus. In fact, we both might be wrong.
Shai is balanced and fair. As somewhat of an outsider to US history (I am a first-generation immigrant to the US), this was helpful to me. After some of the police shootings I had questions, too. “The New Reformation” provides a bit of perspective. For me, this quote captures Shai’s fairness:
[T]here’s the fact that I can often relate to the people who were killed because they look like people I know. Sometimes, they actually resemble our uncles, cousins, sons, coaches, and neighbors. Some of the people who were killed were engaged in criminal activity at the time they were killed by police. I certainly don’t condone that. And I’m not even saying that the police were always unjustified in their use of force. Every case is different, and should be examined individually by each local jurisdiction to determine culpability. My point is that it’s difficult for me to distinguish the people killed in those videos from the people I run into all the time at the corner store, the barbershop, cookouts, or family reunions. It takes very little imagination for me to put myself in the shoes of some of those who died.
I hadn’t considered that, but now I understand. The next time something like this happens (Lord have mercy!), I think I can better serve my brothers and sisters.
Finally, Shai’s book is practical. As someone who blogs at “Applied Theology”, this has me excited! Good thing, too, because the reality is that we have had—from the very beginning!—an ethnically diverse church, and we should celebrate our diversity (contra “I am color-blind”) while finding our identity in Christ (contra “our ethnicity sets us apart”).
So what do we do? We walk in unity. Shai explains why that is important (it was Jesus' wish and prayer, see John 17) and how we do it based on an exegesis of Ephesians 4 (like I said, it’s biblical!). The penultimate chapter looks at Philippians 4:2-3, the conflict between Euodia and Syntyche, and what we can learn from their situation and Paul’s advice. In the final chapter, Shai gives several exhortations and reminders to send us on our way. They are too good not to list in their entirety, but since I don’t have the space here (and quoting a whole chapter may be frowned upon), I encourage you to grab your own copy and read it for yourself. You won’t regret it.
Shai ends the book with a vision of the future. Revelation gives us a glimpse into what heaven will be like: a multitude from every nation, tribe, people, and language. The church should reflect that reality today and I believe Shai’s book helps us do that.