by Editor-in-Chief Michael Brooks
This is my first book review and I am planning to keep reviews short and effective. I think the best reviews are not too time-consuming but helpful and to-the-point. I plan to break my reviews up into four groupings: why I read the book, synopsis and structure, agreements/positives, disagreements/negatives, and reasons to read at the end.
Why I Read the Book
As our country has been facing how to deal with racial reconciliation and looking for paths forward a number of solutions have been brought to the table. There have been many poor suggestions and approaches to this problem as well as some better ones. This book, Beyond Racial Gridlock: Embracing Mutual Responsibility, came suggested by some trustworthy sources and places. I decided to read this as I knew it would be unique and a good starting point in forming my own understand of how God would have me think through this issue and put it into practice.
The author is George Yancey, a Christian sociologist that teaches at Baylor Christian University. This book was written in 2006 but reads as relevant today, or more relevant, as when it was written.
Synopsis and Structure
The book is a quick one-hundred-fifty-page read where Yancey proposes his Christian model to racial unity and reconciliation. He claims that there are no current Christian models made to solve this issue only secular models that Christians have Christian-ized. In this book he proposes his Christian model called the Mutual Responsibility Model. His thesis is that the four secular approaches, while having strengths and weaknesses, are all incomplete and will ultimately be ineffective. Thus, we need a new path forward. He believes that Christians must bring forth a unique solution based upon foundational Christian truths just like we have with issues like abortion.
The book is divided up into tow major sections. In the first section he describes the four major approaches to the issue of race-relations in our country. This, to me, was as valuable as any other part of the book. It laid out well the four popular models (two generally conservative approaches, two generally liberal approaches). He treats them fairly and seeks to be positive about their intentions as well as strengths. In the second part of the book he fleshes out his model. He self-admits that the book is not a complete work on the model but a place to begin. I found many areas I wished he had expanded on or described in more detail. But, his intentions were to get a new conversation started based upon a new proposal. That is a step in the right direction.
Agreements & Positives
The greatest strength of this book is the first seventy or eighty pages where Yancey describes each of the four secular models for racial reconciliation. This gives a great lay-of-the-land for readers and will equip people to identify who espouses what and where certain blind spots may be.
The second part of the book is also good but incomplete. He lays out Christian principles in relationships to help bridge racial gaps, gives advice on how to create spaces for safe and real race conversations, and much more. Most importantly he lays out key pillars of the Mutual Responsibility Model. The power of the book is that since the author is a political moderate or even slightly left-leaning it can be read by anyone–and yet still challenge and speak to them because of the tone and fairness in which it is written. You may not agree with everything but you will walk away challenged to integrate or change some of your views while appreciating a lot of what he says.
Yancey does a great job of never going overboard. He is quick to guard his language and claims with responsibility on the other side. He often reminds readers that although he making point a–that point b is also true while not discrediting claim a. This is helpful and keeps the reader going and appreciating the points that are being made. He provides a lot of nuance which is something I loved.
Disagreements & Negatives
This book is not without faults. While I appreciated a lot of what he had to say I feel that the biggest weakness of the book was that it did not provide a lot of specific examples or reasons why he claimed certain things. He made a lot of claims that he seemed to assume were facts. He defined things a certain way when presenting the problem without much clear argumentation. This is important because factual claims and claims that something is a certain way under-gird an argument in an important way. I did not walk away feeling I had a better grasp on what he thought were the reasons minorities (specifically black Americans) struggled. In his defense he did footnote a lot, but, a footnote is different than an argument. This may have been a planned weakness because of the purpose of the book but to me it reduced the overall effectiveness of the book.
Some specific disagreements were in regards to his work on reparations and corporate repentance. While I appreciated that he did not think reparations were in any way a path toward reconciliation on its own but only a tool, he still supported it.
Another major disagreement I had was his positive support for corporate repentance (page 94). He did not show effectively that it was appropriate or biblical. He mentioned some brief passages in the Bible and moved quickly to how that would help heal racial wounds. This might have been his intention, but as said above, it again took away from the effective nature of his arguments. One major weakness in his argument was in how he saw this corporate repentance lived out. He used examples of his wife (white) and how she relates to minorities as an example of integrating a healthy idea corporate repentance into her mindset. The behavior he described was nothing like biblical repentance and looked much more like caring, Biblical love. Repentance is a loaded term and to claim corporate repentance is necessary he needed better Biblical arguments as well as more precise examples. Since I believe corporate repentance is not possible it was not surprising that the examples he used were not what I had envisioned.
Why Should I Read This?
So, why read it? This book is a quick read and worth the time. This book will inform you on the approaches to racial tensions in a very succinct and fair way. You will be instructed on how they are incomplete and insufficient and even if you disagree with Yancey, you will be made to think and examine why these approaches are incomplete.
Another reason you should read this book is to start changing the conversation in your own mind and with others. Yancey does a good job introducing new ways to think through the problem. Whether you are left-leaning or right-leaning on this issue you will be challenged. This is good for us and good for you. I was challenged in a variety of ways. I was challenged to re-think some things but I was also challenged to understand why I thought Yancey was wrong. Both exercises are good for you. And, as Yancey concludes (page 149-150), this is an incomplete work and is just the beginning of his vision. I am happy to keep thinking through his approach and how it can be better developed.
I have been challenged to think and behave differently after reading this book and I hope you will as well.