Review: ‘White Awake’ by Daniel White

White Awake: An honest look at what it means to be white
Daniel Hill (Intervarsity Press, September 2017)

I’ll admit to a certain degree of resistance to this book. One can reasonably be weary of self-righteous pronouncements about “white privilege” from quarters of our society where people don’t seem to understand the difference between justice and revenge. It makes sense to discount critiques from people whose ideology is based on a faulty worldview.

At the same time, you can’t ignore the reluctance of many “whites” to acknowledge – much less discuss – the systemic aspects of injustice in this country. It’s hard to take seriously complaints about “reverse racism” from people who are ignorant of the atrocities that created today’s circumstances of poverty and inequality. People who aren’t struggling every day with poverty and injustice let themselves off the hook too easily when the question “What should I do?” arises.

Both “white folks” and “people of color” can benefit from this book. Daniel Hill takes a stand between the strident voices complaining about “white guilt” and the complacent yawns or (worse) angry condemnations of those who think they bear no personal responsibility for either past atrocities or current injustices.

The heart of the book for me is when Hill quotes Mark Charles quoting Georges Erasmus: “Where common memory is lacking, where people do not share in the same past, there can be no real community. Where community is to be formed, common memory must be created.” Once you get past the book’s opening personal testimony and the necessary lecture about cultural identity, Hill journeys through an insightful and helpful discussion about cross-cultural friendship, denial of injustice, the disorientation that comes with awakening, dealing with shame, the problem of self-righteousness in regard to “bad” people, seven markers of racial awakening, and practical suggestions for changing the status quo.

The cause of Kingdom justice is being harmed by both strident voices and complacent yawns. But we don’t have to buy into someone else’s ideology or political agenda to acknowledge that the status quo in our communities doesn’t begin to approach God’s Kingdom design. We ignore at our own peril the fact that God requires his people to open their ears to the cries of the poor and oppressed, love compassion, and do justice. Let Daniel Hill talk with you about serious issues with which we need to come to terms.

* I apologize for the quotation marks. So much of the conversation on the subject deals in stereotypes that oversimplify the complexities of these issues.

Perpetuating poverty and hindering salvation

If we believe salvation is more than securing our destiny in the next life,

If we believe the gospel is for the whole person, not just his spirit,

If we believe redemption is of the entirety of a person’s being and circumstances, in this life as well as the next,

then what about the assertion that much of the “help” we give to people in chronic poverty actually keeps them trapped in poverty and dependence, rather than moving them toward self-sufficiency and prosperity?

And what about those who manipulate good-hearted people to escape the hard work of supporting themselves?

And what about those who don’t have to face their own brokenness because they can count on others to enable them with money, food, and housing?

If you claim a holistic theology of salvation, isn’t your “help that hurts” actually hindering that person’s salvation?

Is this what happened to the Anglo church in America?

Deuteronomy 8 speaks to America’s comfortable Christians by what the Lord said to Israel after bringing the people to the good land:

— God led the people through a great and terrifying wilderness experience, where they often were hungry. Yet he provided for them and brought them into a wealthy land. (vv.15,7-9)

— God’s purpose in the trial was to humble the people and test their character to find out whether they would obey his commands. (v.2)

— When the people arrived in the good land, they were encouraged to praise God and never say to themselves that they had achieved such wealth by their own strength. They were to remember the Lord is the one who gives them the power to succeed. (vv.10,17-18)

— But the Lord warned them to be careful: “Beware that in your plenty you do not become proud and forget the Lord your God and disobey his commands ….” (v.11,14)

— And the Lord explained what happens to the proud: if you refuse to obey the Lord your God, if you forget the Lord your God and follow other gods, you will certainly be destroyed. (vv.19-20)

— God’s people, then, were called to obey the Lord’s commands “by walking in his ways and fearing him.” (v.6)

The Anglo church in America became wealthy, by God’s grace. We began to believe we had done it in our own strength. We began to worship the gods of our Egypt and forgot the Lord who gave us the strength by which we succeeded. We focused so much on the love of God that we forgot his fearsome majesty and blazing holiness. We no longer have any idea what it means to walk in God’s ways and to fear him. And all the organizations we have built, all the programs we have designed — everything teeters on the brink of collapse.

Our preachers call for repentance, and certainly we need to repent, but we need more than that. We need to recover the healthy fear of God and learn once again how to walk in his ways. We need not just repentance but also to learn how to produce the fruit that goes with repentance. (Matthew 21.33-43)

We need a revival of making disciples who obey their Lord by doing justice, loving mercy, and walking in humility before Almighty God. The Lord is going to destroy everything else.

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