Trillia Newbell to Speak on "The Race-Transcending Gospel" June 26 in Charlottesville
Right around the time we started putting together plans for Think Well 2018, the news headlines that put Charlottesville on the map happened. Those of us who live in or near C’ville experienced those events of August 12, 2017, in a unique way—and many of us continue to wrestle with issues that rose to the fore at that time: love and justice, hatred, racism, and bigotry. How do we as Christians think and engage with others well on these topics? Most importantly, how do we make sure we're living out what we say we believe?
Our keynote speaker at Think Well, John Stonestreet, wrote eloquently about the Charlottesville events last fall (his full post is here), saying this (emphasis added):
Look, America has a race problem. Political parties, special-interest groups, and the media aren’t helping. In fact, too often, they make things worse. Ours is a culture that loudly pays lip service to ideas like “human dignity,” “value,” and “human rights,” but renders them meaningless by tethering them to made-up identity politics or disgruntled, angry appeals to “heritage.” Only the biblical vision of the image of God can ground universal dignity, value, and establish human rights.
So, what exactly is that well-grounded biblical vision? And how do we communicate and live it out?
Few Christian voices today are as capable of articulating that vision in a clear and compassionate way as Trillia Newbell. Having grown up experiencing both racism and reverse racism, she has a unique and important perspective—which goes well beyond the issues of ethnicity and race—told, in part, in her book United: Captured by God’s Vision for Diversity (Moody, 2014).
We are thrilled that Trillia will also articulate this vision in a special evening session open to Think Well students and their families as well as members of the Charlottesville community on Tuesday, June 26, at 7 p.m. at CrossLife Community Church. Her talk, entitled “The Race-Transcending Gospel,” is anchored in the message of Ephesians 2:14–18.
“Jesus reconciled us to God and one another,” Newbell writes. “Only the gospel is powerful enough to make us family. Because of how we are loved, we are compelled to love one another.”
Her talk will last approximately an hour, with time for questions at the end. Because seating is limited, be sure to arrive early. (Location: 1410 Old Brook Rd., Charlottesville, VA 22901. We're just east of Fashion Square Mall at the corner of Rio and Old Brook Roads. See Google Maps for detailed directions.)
A Passion for God and His Vision
In United, Trillia concedes that many Christians are “tired of the conversation about race,” preferring to ignore it, deny its importance, or leave it to others to deal with. But as the Charlottesville events of August 2017 (and other similar events) have shown, there really is a problem—it’s undeniable, and it’s not going away. The question is, what is the problem, at root, and what’s the solution?
Trillia is not concerned with diversity for diversity’s sake, nor is she out to earn the plaudits of others. She cares about diversity for one reason alone: God’s glory. Diversity of all kinds (not only skin color), as God’s Word tells us (see Revelation 7:9 and Ephesians 2:14), is a distinguishing characteristic of His family. One body, many parts, all united under the single head of Christ.
Trillia dives deep into God’s Word in her books—as she will do at her June 26 talk—to show us why diversity (no matter how much baggage that term carries) should matter to us. Can it be overemphasized for superficial reasons? Of course. But we can also downplay it to our own impoverishment, and to the detriment of the gospel (see Galatians 3:28).
As is often the case, firsthand experience adds even greater weight to her message.
Trillia wrestled personally and deeply with issues of identity and race growing up (the two were integrally intertwined in her life). When she became a Christian, however, she says, “God wrecked my identity crisis.” She understood for the first time, “My identity is not solely that I am a black female, nor is it dependent on what others think of me. My identity is in Christ.”
Attending a predominantly white church didn’t bother her initially as a new believer, but over time, she began to feel “profoundly ‘different,’” and old questions and fears resurfaced. Many of them she wrestled with silently, alone.
Searching for answers, Trillia realized the crux of her problem was one familiar to the entire human race: the fear of man.
“The world’s prescription for the cure of the fear of man is to find ways to be proud of oneself and find security in and through the self,” she writes. This leads to a focus on the self, rather than on God. God’s prescription is different: rather than find pride and security in oneself, He tells us to find these things in Him alone. What’s more, the answer to both our internal division (caused by our own sin) and to all of our divisions and tensions in relationships (also caused by sin—ours and others’) can only be found in one place: Jesus Christ. In Him, the dividing wall comes down, and we’re free to love those who are different from ourselves.
As Trillia points out, “It wasn’t cultural differences that caused the great divide among men—it was sin.” When we embrace others no matter what their personal traits and background are, we’re demonstrating the fact that we’re part of a new, grace-based family, not united by a common bloodline but by a common Father who loves us and gave His only Son up for us.
So Why Talk about Diversity?
So if sin is the main issue, and Jesus is the answer, why should we still spend time talking about diversity? One reason is, of course, to combat the lies of the culture. But there are positive reasons, too, as Trillia discusses in her book. “The pursuit of diversity is important," she says, "not because it’s trendy, this generation’s ‘hip thing' ... [but] because the nations fill God’s world. ... Ultimately it’s all about His glory on this earth and reflecting Him to a broken world.”
In addition, evangelism and discipleship of the next generation are at stake. In 30 years (when today’s young people are at mid-life), the USA is predicted to be majority-minority. Yet, the common (and sadly accurate) refrain is that Sunday morning is the most segregated hour of the week. How can we show God’s love to, and live well in, a multiethnic society if we don't get more intentional about caring for and learning from, those who are different from ourselves? Jesus Himself emphasized the boundary-defying nature of the gospel and the inclusiveness of His Father's love for all people.
“There is a richness in knowing—really knowing—someone who is different from you," Trillia writes. "God thought it important to let us know in His Word that every tribe and tongue and nation would be present on the last day, worshiping together. Shouldn’t we desire to reflect the last day before He returns?”
In a day when we’re bombarded with messages about race and identity, I think you’ll find Trillia’s perspective in equal parts uplifting, challenging, and biblical.
For a glimpse into Trillia’s heart on this issue, watch the video below and read more about her book United here.
 Newbell, United (Chicago: Moody, 2014), p. 31.
 Ibid., p. 30.
 Ibid., p. 43.
 Ibid., p. 45.
 Ibid., p. 83.
 Ibid., p. 127.
 Ibid., p. 127.
 Ibid., p. 17.