“Racism never goes away.”

In this book, Jemar Tisby paints a picture of America’s racist history and of his vision for an America without racial inequality. His evidence is selective, his rhetoric is vivid, but what’s missing from the earliest chapters is anything resembling a good and tight argument. Beginning with Tisby’s definition of racism on p.19, announced without hesitation as if it was wisdom from on high, he introduces unproven assumptions at each stage in the development of the book. It’s not a coincidence that at several points in his survey of American history he chastises “reasonableness” as a problem to be confronted. “Reasonableness,” for him, is a failure to recognize urgency (p. 137).

Everything you need to know about his endgame can be found in the last chapter, “The Fierce Urgency of Now.” At the end of the survey of America’s dark past, the reader is invited to ask “what now?” So what will Tisby offer his readers? What is the most urgent thing that needs to happen now? For the previous ten chapters, he is trying to convince the American church that they are complicit in both past and present racism/racialism. If he’s right (and sometimes he is), will he now preach to them freedom from the guilt and from the power of sin? Will those guilty and complicit be offered freedom before they close the book? Don’t hold your breath. Plenty of action items are offered, but none of them are grounded in anything like the objective and permanent justification in the blood of Jesus Christ. For all the talk about a “truncated” gospel among his opponents, it is that very gospel that got left out of the book. Endless action is demanded, with no end in sight (“racism never goes away”), and no assurance of righteousness for those involved.

Chapter 11, the last chapter of the book, does not mention the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, nor the forgiveness and new life sinners can find in Him. If you’re a Christian dealing with serious multi-generational sin, as Tisby claims to be, you can have a multifaceted response to sin (including dealing with its societal consequences), but at the center of them all should be the preaching of the cross of Jesus Christ and its application to sinners by the power of the Holy Spirit. That’s the obviously missing gospel from Jemar Tisby’s project. All the “solutions” offered by Tisby could have just as well been cooked up by the pagan materialist down the street. Is this the best Protestant Christians have to offer?

Tisby’s prescriptive section at the end of the book deserves a response in the style of J. Gresham Machen. This is not Christianity anymore, but a whole other religion, with its own original sin, its own cathedrals (schools, activist organizations, etc.), membership (“allies”) and sacraments (“transformative pilgrimages”). There are even instructions for how to practice secular church discipline. The Color of Compromise tells us that “racism never goes away,” while the Lord Jesus promises us that “the names of their gods shall no longer be remembered.”

If you’re an American Christian who’s not convinced this book’s approach is not Christian, ask yourself this question: if every American believed every sentence in this book, would you have a justified America?

Other reviews: Donald Fortson, Elbert McGowan.