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I didn’t always love Paul for his work of ethnic reconciliation. There are years in my past for which I am ashamed — years of racism when I was so in the thrall of my Southern culture of the 1950s and 1960s that I could not see what was staring up at me from the pages of Paul’s letters. I don’t say it that way to lessen my own guilt, as though I could somehow blame my blindness on culture. I was a more-than-willing accomplice in the racial ugliness of those days. I’ve told the whole story in Bloodlines: Race, Cross, and the Christian.
But there came a time when the scales began to fall away. (I say began so as not to imply the total absence of blinders still.) Of course, it was the work of no mere man. “Never since the world began has it been heard that anyone opened the eyes of a man born blind” (John 9:32). No. This was a gracious, sovereign work of Jesus by his Spirit. But, as always, he used a human agent. He used human words. In fact, he used the apostle Paul.
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Paul could help me because he had at one time been as prejudiced against Gentiles as I was against African Americans. Paul called himself “a Hebrew of Hebrews” (Philippians 3:5). He considered his ethnic and religious pedigree, with the zeal of a persecutor and the blamelessness of a Pharisee (Philippians 3:6), to be almost without peer in his generation (Galatians 1:14). He would have said with his fellow Jewish apostle Peter, “You yourselves know how unlawful it is for a Jew to associate with or to visit anyone of another nation” (Acts 10:28).
Apart from Jesus, no one has shaped John Piper more than Paul, the famous persecutor-turned-missionary. In 30 short...
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