Dr. Gregory Thompson and Rev. Duke Kwon are two elders within the Presbyterian Church in America (PCA). Thompson had been a teaching elder, i.e. a pastor, but no longer is. Thompson is perhaps the loudest advocate for critical theory within the heavily conservative PCA.
As I’ve noted before, Thompson has assailed criticisms against critical race theory on the grounds that the critics, in that case, Rev. Tim Keller, is not a practitioner of critical theory and so should not criticize that which he does not understand. In the same diatribe, he defended the role of Marxists within Christianity. Thompson has also attacked the United States as being the longest-lasting nation founded on white supremacy in the world.
Kwon is a PCA pastor in Washington, DC who has sought to bring the gospel to the city. He’s blended a gospel message with a call for social justice.
Together, the two men have written a book entitled Reparations: A Christian Call for Repentance & Repair. The book purports to make the biblical case for reparations. It is notable in that it is inarguably the best effort put forward so far within evangelicalism to make that case. It has naturally received fawning praise from the press.
Dr. Kevin DeYoung is a pastor in North Carolina and one of the most notable evangelical theologians in the country. He is a recipient of Christianity Today’s Book Award twice and is a member of The Gospel Coalition.
DeYoung wrote a review of Thompson and Kwon’s book for The Gospel Coalition. You can read his review here. His review was not very favorable including noting that Thompson and Kwon rely on John Tillotson’s Two Sermons on the Nature and Necessity of Restitution from 1707. As DeYoung points out:
Kwon and Thompson emphasize how strongly Tillotson insists on restitution as a sign of true repentance when property, wealth, or reputation are stolen. Tillotson’s messages on Zacchaeus are a fine pair of sermons. I don’t think I disagree with anything in them. But there is a section from Tillotson’s two sermons that Kwon and Thompson do not mention, and it undermines one of the central arguments of their book.
DeYoung points out Thompson and Kwon leave out the part of Tillotson’s sermon where Tillotson notes you cannot go back in time and right every wrong. Here is DeYoung summarizing that portion of Tillotson’s sermon:
Sometimes there are “infinite difficulties” which prohibit us from determining who was wrong, who did the wrong, and how restitution could possibly be made in the present without inflicting new wrongs. Sometimes the “necessities of the world” make restitution for crimes committed in the past impossible.
DeYoung also copious cites scripture to back up his review of the book and also suggests Thompson and Kwon’s arguments are lacking. In part, DeYoung notes that Thompson and Kwon rely on white supremacy to do “a lot of heavy lifting.” It is important you read this part of DeYoung’s review.
For Kwon and Thompson, White supremacy is the evil that has been essential to America’s past and remains inescapable in the present. One can question, however, whether the category obscures more than it illuminates. To be sure, very few White Americans prior to the Civil Rights movement held views about Black Americans that we would consider acceptable today. We should not gloss over this sad history. In so far as White supremacy entails believing and acting as if your racial or ethnic identity makes you superior to others, it should be repudiated wherever it is found. And yet, when “White supremacy” covers everything from the horrors of slavery and lynching to the more common blindspots of self-centeredness and indifference, the result is that little effort is made to understand people in their own time and on their own terms. Moreover, the category of White supremacy, as a totalizing heuristic device, often lacks basic Christian charity in so far as it measures peoples, churches, and nations by their worst failures (as we see them) and pathologizes everyone and everything associated with the sin of partiality as being complicit with the most egregious catalog of sins in our nation’s history.
Thompson and Kwon said they would respond to DeYoung’s review. The review came out in April. Now, in the middle of July, Thompson and Kwon made their response yesterday. You can read the full thing here. It is far longer and less precise than DeYoung’s review of their book. It is also really unfortunate and shows why Christians should stop even engaging on or taking seriously the issue of reparations.
Because we are not insensate to the potentially inflammatory impact of our words here—especially in our particular cultural moment—we wish to be as explicit as possible. Do we believe that Reverend DeYoung, in his personal beliefs and public ministry, is in any way sympathetic to the convictions of white supremacy? We do not. Do we believe that Reverend DeYoung is both heir to and practitioner of a mode of theological reasoning that, in both past and present, has been a crucial factor in sheltering and sustaining the cultural project of white supremacy? We do.
In fairness, we do not believe that Reverend DeYoung is in any respect unique in this regard. To the contrary, we believe it to be endemic to much of the American church, especially in its evangelical and Reformed manifestations. Indeed, this is why we suspect his review felt familiar to many readers and found natural resonance with them. This is why, having been trained in the same ecclesial tradition, we anticipated what many of his concerns would be before we even read the review. And this is why we are taking the time to write this response. For we believe that if the evangelical church is ever to play a constructive role in the critical work of healing our nation from the manifest and enduring ravages of white supremacy—a work we believe to be central to any integral missionary vocation in America—we will have to fully and finally reject the pernicious ways that the cultural impulses of white supremacy continue to exert methodological control over the theological life of the church. And we believe that Reverend DeYoung—because of his integrity, his gifts, and his influence—ought to commit himself to that work.
Got that? Kevin DeYoung, they argue, cannot see past his whiteness and is therefore propping up white supremacy by disagreeing with them.
Their entire review amounts to an ad hominem attack against DeYoung, including this:
In our opinion, a significant measure of the responsibility for this tragic and unrepentant retrenchment is to be laid at the feet of American evangelical pastors and theologians such as Reverend DeYoung. The reason for this, we should say again, is not because of their explicit advocacy for the ideas of white supremacy. Indeed, a great number of these leaders explicitly disavow racist ideas. No, the reason for this is that the methodology they employ—a methodology passed down and perfected across many generations—inevitably produces a theology that, by its very nature, centers white cultural concern. In this regard, while they disavow racism, they nonetheless perform and perpetuate its most elemental instincts. And in so doing, they provide moral sanctuary for others to do the same.
Unfortunately, DeYoung is too much of a fan of Augustine of Hippo and his methodological and theological traditions. He’s also a fan of Matthew, Mark, Luke, John, Paul, James, and Jude — all white dudes ya know.
From Conversation to Ad Hominem
Not too long ago, like a year ago, people who supported government-based reparations said they wanted to talk about it. They wanted an open conversation. We’ve gone from “let’s talk about it” to “you’re a white supremacist if you disagree with us” in a year.
They don’t actually want to talk.
It is notable that while DeYoung fills his review with multiple references to scripture, Thompson and Kwon offer no scriptural response. Instead, they blast DeYoung for not spending enough time citing non-white pastors. I suppose, however, if DeYoung had cited Voddie Baucham they would have considered Baucham too impacted by white supremacy.
Because Dr. Kevin DeYoung disagreed with their call for reparations based on his reading of scripture, he and you if you agree with him are just too influenced by white supremacy.
This is not only unfalsifiable, but it is idol worship. They have made a god of their cause and any who disagree are heretics or, in this case, white supremacists.
The two men claim DeYoung started with a conclusion and worked to get his work there when they started at their own conclusion and worked to get there. Now, instead of defending it scripturally, they engage in character assassination.
By the end of the week, anyone who defends DeYoung will undoubtedly be accused of defending white supremacy. Amazingly, they also admit they don’t really have a full understanding of their own path forward.
DeYoung raises important questions about reparations. And we happily acknowledge that we have not fully resolved some of these questions—either in print or in private. He is right, for example, to ask for clarity about who exactly is culpable for reparations and on what grounds. He is also right to press for greater clarity about the nature of reparative obligation and about when that obligation is met. And he is right to wonder about the impact of time—the passing of generations—on the shape of reparative action. Indeed, we are ourselves in daily and ongoing conversation with practitioners around the world seeking to clarify these very matters.
All of this is exactly why Christians should not go further down this road and entertain this. It is idol worship. It is yet another progressive attempt to use scripture to do something men want. There really is not a ton of difference between those who’d use scripture to defend racism and those who’d use scripture to accuse others of white supremacy. The segregationist still segregates, just the other way around. These men condemn the evangelical and reformed traditions for being too centered in whiteness. Perhaps they would be better served moving out of those traditions.
Frankly, though the Presbyterian Church in America is diffuse in its organizational structure, its ruling elders are going to have to stand up again this year as they did this last year against Revoice and put these progressive academic elders applying their post-modern theories in their place. The denomination should not be welcoming to this sort of smear against Christians who disagree. Take heed of these words from my friend Rev. Grant Castleberry.
I still can't get over that none of these people writing this stuff and calling for reparations have any black friends, nor do they know any black people. Nor do they know any Native Americans. I find that amazing. Come sit in my chair for a day and do what I do. We have given reparations already. Some of my patients have gotten 10,000$ in the form of this most recent handout which I don't decry. Clark Howard even said this is unprecedented and he had never seen anything like this before. OK, so move on folks there is nothing to see here. I hand out reparations every day in the form of a better life, mental illness treated, hearts mended, lower drug costs, helping to set up entitlements so patients can get a disability check, freeing the slaves from fear, healing and integrating the scars of life long childhood abuse and neglect, correctly diagnosing a misdiagnosed case of schizophrenia. Yes Virginia, with the mere stroke of a pen, I hand out reparations every day. Sorry, not sorry.
Rev. Castleberry's words are also an admonishment to the schism in the United Methodist Church.