In this episode of Mind + Heart, Phillip Holmes interviews Isaac Adams, Lead Pastor of Iron City Church in Birmingham, Alabama. Rev. Adams is the author of Talking About Race: Gospel Hope for Hard Conversations. He interned at Capitol Hill Baptist Church under Mark Dever, and is the founder and host of United? We Pray, a podcast about healing racial divisions in the church. Adams talks with Holmes about his book, Christian communication, social media use, and conversations about race.
Holmes asks Adams about his testimony and personal history. Adams talks about growing up in the Washington, D.C. area, his schooling in North Carolina, and his international travels before doubling back to his childhood years in the PCA. Adams discusses his earliest attempts to follow Jesus, the complexities of his testimony and the process of sanctification, and his early connection with Mark Dever. Holmes and Adams discuss his time at Capitol Hill under Dever’s tutelage, and Adams’ calling and move into pastoral ministry.
Holmes talks about the value and uniqueness of Adams’ book and discusses how it spoke to Holmes’ own background. Holmes observes several important qualities in Talking About Race’s content and broad scope in terms of perspectives. Adams and Holmes discuss the demanding nature of the craft of writing.
Holmes asks Adams what inspired Talking About Race. Adams talks about the murder of Ahmaud Arbery and actor Sterling K. Brown’s public statement about the masks that racial minorities are forced to constantly wear. Adams talks about the threat that such pressure represents to the church, and the importance of Christians learning to disagree well with one another.
Holmes and Adams discuss social media and the value and pitfalls of social media communications. Adams talks about the foundational nature of trust for valuable dialogue to occur, and Holmes shares a few social media “best practices” for engagement. Adams also makes a case for face-to-face conversation where possible, especially when dialoguing about sensitive or difficult topics that need non-verbal forms of communication.
Holmes asks Adams a series of questions submitted from social media. Adams shares encouraging stories from conversations about race, discusses the importance of humility, and addresses the concept of colorblindness.
Finally, Holmes and Adams talk about what it looks like for believers to “bear with one another in love,” Adams’ hopes that his book will serve the white evangelical church, and the importance of building up fellow Christians in love and unity.
Mind + Heart Bonus Episode: Race
Phillip Holmes: Welcome to the Mind + Heart podcast, which features interviews and more from the faculty and friends of Reformed Theological Seminary. We created this podcast to assist you in your daily quest to love God, and love your neighbor. I’m your host, Phillip Holmes, and this week I’m joined by my guest, Isaac Adams. Isaac Adams serves as lead pastor at Iron City Church in Birmingham, Alabama, and is the founder of United? We Pray, a ministry devoted to praying about racial strife. He is a speaker, and author of the new book, Talking About Race: Gospel Hope for Hard Conversations. Isaac, my brother, welcome to the show, man.
Isaac Adams: Hey man, it’s good to be with you, bro. I’m honored to be here.
Phillip Holmes: Yeah, man. I’m glad you were able to join us. Isaac, you and I have known, probably, of each other for a while, but we most recently got a chance to get to know each other more on a regular basis. And brother, one of the things that I just appreciate about you, is your pastoral heart. Getting to know you in various conversations with other brothers has just been kind of a sweet thing, to watch you kind of lead, and reside over things, and not really mediate, but more so, manage. There’s just all these leadership abilities that you often don’t see in someone as young as you are. How old are you, Isaac?
Isaac Adams: Man, this is so funny. I’m 32, I think. I was talking to a group of students the other day, and I said, “I’m 31 and I just had a birthday, so I’m pretty sure I’m 32.” I was born in ’89. So whatever that makes me. I’m 32.
Phillip Holmes: Yeah, that’s funny. I’ve started to have that response when somebody asked me. I think it was a family get-together about two or three months ago—somebody asked me how old I was, and I was like, “I’m 35.” And I was like, “Wait, I think I’m 34!”
Isaac Adams: Yeah! I think it must be the little kids, bro. Like, I think we just like, “I don’t even know what day it is right now.” Having little kids, man.
Phillip Holmes: So before we dive into the topic for this episode, tell us a little bit about yourself. What’s your origin story? Where did you grow up? How did you become a follower of Jesus, and why did you become a pastor?
Isaac Adams: Man, I like that. “Origin story.” Man, feels like a Marvel movie. Um, let’s see. Born and raised in Washington, D.C., and never had any desire to live in Alabama — and I’ll circle back to that. Born and raised in D.C., and I’ve loved that. My whole life [was] basically lived there. I went to school in North Carolina. I lived overseas for a hot minute, but there was always the asterisk of returning back to D.C. I thought I was saved from a young age. I remember being seven—I was like five, six, seven—and asked my friend who was also seven, “How do you become a Christian?” He said, “You have to pray.” I said, “For how long?” He said, “For five minutes.” And I remember thinking, “Man, I don’t know if I can make it.” Like, I distinctly remember this. But I tried to love the Lord. Grew up in a faithful PCA church. I love my PCA brethren. But got to college and it was clear that while I might have professed faith, I’m not sure I possessed faith. And I was really trying to have a foot in the world and a foot in the church, and we know that doesn’t work. I had some friends who loved me enough to say, “You can’t really live like that and call yourself a Christian,” and God in his grace, as the Psalmist says, “Before I was afflicted, I went astray, but now I keep your word.” And so I became a Christian through that, and really soon, wanted to go into the ministry. I had no idea what the ministry really was, but I went to a tiny Christian school, liked theology, so figured like, “Man, let me pursue ministry,” which I basically thought was just public speaking on some level. And I remember calling Mark Dever, and I was like, “You know, I went to a big state school,” so I was like, “I guess I should go to seminary, like, grad school.”
Phillip Holmes: So what do you mean, you just called Mark Dever? Like, hold on!
Isaac Adams: So, growing up in D.C., Mark’s kids went to school with me.
Phillip Holmes: Ah, OK, I got you.
Isaac Adams: I mean, maybe like early days of 9Marks. I mean, this is like, pre-T4G. I’m just chilling at Mark’s house, like, he’s just my friend’s dad at this point. Like, I have no categories for any of, you know, the ministries you and I are familiar with. But because Mark is a fatherly kind of dude — and yeah, I mean, we can have a whole ‘nother podcast episode about my dad and that hard relationship, but anyway — you know, he was always like, “Man, stay in touch.” And so I called him for wisdom just to be like, “Hey, should I go to this seminary? This seminary?” And I just start rattling off these incredibly theologically liberal seminaries, and Mark was like, “No, don’t do that, just come and do my internship.” So anyway, to make a long story short, I did the internship and soon, just sat under Mark’s tutelage for a number of years. Became an elder at Capitol Hill Baptist Church, joined the staff, and wound up in Birmingham, Alabama.
Phillip Holmes: Wow, that’s crazy. I think you told me you grew up in the PCA, right? Did you mention that?
Isaac Adams: Yes sir. Yeah.
Phillip Holmes: OK. So was it one of those situations where like, you grew up in the PCA, but you were sort of a nominal Christian at the time?
Isaac Adams: You know, I mean, I think about this often, right? Like, people’s testimonies are messy. I think I sincerely meant to love the Lord, like, I’ve done communicants class. But I think — and I want to be clear, like, I don’t think they’re — while those things might be correlated, I don’t think they’re causal. I think nominal Christians grow up in plenty of Baptist churches, plenty of Methodist churches, whatever it may be. So I don’t think it was the PCA, per se. But yeah, I mean, like, I don’t think I did not subconsciously think, “I’m faking it,” right? So if I get to heaven and the Lord is like, “I heard that prayer when you were seven,” and like, “Your sanctification was slow and messy because I needed you to understand what slow and messy meant as a pastor.”
Phillip Holmes: No, that’s helpful. That’s super helpful. So, you just wrote a new book that was released — or I guess you wrote a book a while back and it was — we’re just seeing it.
Isaac Adams: Yeah, you’re married to an author!
Phillip Holmes: Yeah, I know! You know how long it takes. Talking About Race — a few observations as I read through this book. It makes sense. The author of the book and the content of the book make perfect sense. You know, sometimes there are books out there, unfortunately, where you’re just like, “He wrote that?” But I thought it was very reflective of who I’ve come to know you to be. So it’s pastoral, it’s practical. It reflects diverse dispositions towards race. And I think you did a really good job of capturing the complexity and the emotions that are often triggered, or that often surface when we’re trying to have a conversation related to race. It’s also biblically and culturally insightful. You know, one of the things that I appreciated about this is that I could tell that you were pulling from [a] diverse upbringing and background. So, you have very intimate knowledge of where all these individuals are coming from. And I’m sure that that plays a large part, too, in your pastoral ministry as well, pulling from stories and people that you’ve gotten to know personally. But at the same time, you know, that’s not always a given for pastors, right? Because oftentimes pastors grow up in very monocultural contexts, so they only know one type of people, and they have a hard time empathizing with the concerns and plights of people who don’t come from the same background that they did. But I thought that you did a very good job, and I say that as someone who has also been in a lot of diverse backgrounds. Now growing up, my church life was all black Baptist. That’s all I knew. I started preaching when I was 11 years old. I was deep in — you know, licensed when I was 12, so I was deep in the black Baptist church. But when I was 18, I ended up at a Presbyterian white school, and then I joined a ministry called RUF, and then I joined the PCA, and the rest is history. So I’ve kind of been there, you know? And then, I lived in Minneapolis for a year, lived in Houston for a year. So I’ve gotten to know these different types of cultural backgrounds that have also affected my beliefs, because my beliefs were evolving. Like, I didn’t go into these various cultural backgrounds with strong convictions. I went into them learning, and I was affected, and changed my mind here, and changed my mind there. And so, I’ve always been able to understand, at least, the argument that this person would make. And what I thought this book did a really good job at, is representing the concerns, the frustrations, the arguments of the other. You did a brilliant job at that man. And I want to emphasize that, because I think we live in a day and time where we don’t do that well.
Isaac Adams: Thank you, bro. Well, praise the Lord, man. Praise the Lord. Yeah, I mean, right before I think you hit the record button, you were offering some of this encouragement, and I really appreciate it. And you know, I think you just said, like, “I like the book,” and I was like, “Man, praise God, because it nearly killed me.” I think writing — I mean, you’re a writer, Philip, and your [wife,] Jasmine, right. You know, good reading is hard writing, and that’s obvious. And I think in this book, it was the stress of representing these very common — so, I’m very honest. I try to be very honest in the book — this is not every experience, because people are complicated. And you need a thousand pages to represent every unique experience. But I do think these are very common experiences, these five or six experiences I highlight. And so, I mean, there’s the general toxicity of the present-day conversation, the spiritual warfare, that I really felt was just acute. And then the stress of being like, man, am I doing this person right and representing them as best as I can, as a man with his own biases and slants and perspective? So yeah, man, I bless the Lord that that came through clear, because that’s all his grace. And I mean that. You know, sometimes you’re like, “Oh, that’s God’s grace,” but you’re like, “Oh, that’s really me.” It’s just — he brought me so low during this joint that any fruit is really him, so. Bless the Lord.
Phillip Holmes: Yeah, praise God for that, man. Yeah, I mean, people are complex. And you showed that in, you know, you have this sort of rhythm that you do in the book where you tell the story — by the way, I mean, any aspirations to dabble into fiction someday?
Isaac Adams: Man, I mean, fiction like this is as much as I’ve done. I tell my wife regularly like, I think people are like, “Oh, if you’re a writer, you write.” And I’m like, right now, I’m still hungover from this book. So like, I’m just taking a break. So maybe, man. But I will say this: I’ve been amazed at how powerful fiction is. And I really feel like if you want to communicate something, write fiction. Because it just — it does something. There’s something wired in us where we listen to stories differently, whether we — and that’s why I think Nathan and 2 Samuel, 12, is like, “David, come check out this story,” right?
Phillip Holmes: You know, that’s actually a really good point. Yeah, so you have this rhythm where you tell a story from a particular person’s perspective, and then you offer encouragements, and then you offer a gentle rebuke. And I thought that that format alone simply showed that people aren’t all bad or all good, right?
Isaac Adams: Yeah, that’s right.
Phillip Holmes: I thought that was [a] super helpful way to demonstrate that.
The Bible says so much about our speech. I mean, it really is stunning.Isaac Adams: I remember — just quickly on that Phillip — I remember a friend who does not agree with me on everything. So I tried to also — when I had peers kind of reviewing the book, I was like, “You, I know, disagree with me on X and Y and Z. So why don’t you read this and tell me what you think?” I had a friend once — he read it and said, “I can’t tell—” I think he was trying to give me negative feedback, and it was the feedback I wanted — he said, “I can’t tell who the bad guy in this chapter is. Is it this person or this person?” I was like, “Yes. Perfect. Perfect. That’s what I’m after.” That ambiguity actually represents the complexity of life, because I’m the bad guy, and so is that person on the other end of the spectrum.
Phillip Holmes: That’s good. So, as the title suggests — but I think it could be easily glossed over — the book is just as much about communication as it is about race.
Isaac Adams: That’s right. Yes. Yes, good.
Phillip Holmes: And so, you know, we say “talking about race,” but there’s a lot of people talking about race, right? But I don’t think that we’re very good at communicating — back to my previous point. So I want to rewind a bit. Like, what inspired this book? Like, why did you choose this particular angle?
Isaac Adams: Yeah, man, thank you. That’s a very astute observation, bro, I don’t think I’ve heard someone state it as flatly as that, and I appreciate that. Because what I tell people is this book is really a theology of speech applied to race, and the Bible says so much about our speech. I mean, it really is stunning. I mean, with what means did Satan deceive Eve? He spoke to her, you know? And this is why Proverbs says death and life are in the power of the tongue. And anyone who says, you know, “Sticks and stones can break my bones but words can never hurt me,” is a liar. Or they haven’t been to middle school. You know, one of the two. And so in taking this angle, it really — it happened with Ahmaud Arbery. He was gunned down. Now I can say “murdered.” In the wake of that, Sterling K. Brown went live on Facebook during the COVID-19 outbreak and talk about how, as a black man, he constantly felt like he was wearing a mask in white spaces, and he was holding up his COVID mask. And you know, as is often the case, I think we can learn so much from the black experience. And while maybe with not-equal amounts of difficulty or empathy, we can relate to that. And as a pastor, I just saw that people from any ethnicity and any racial background felt that they had to wear a mask in the one place — and I don’t mean COVID mask, I mean metaphorically — in the one place that they should not wear a mask, which is church. Satan would love for the church to be a masquerade ball. Just come in here, play righteous, play Christian. And you know, you won’t actually be all that united. Like, if you can’t be honest and real at church, what good is it? It’s just fake at that point, it’s just phony. And Satan would love for the church to be a masquerade ball. Just come in here, play righteous, play Christian. And you know, you won’t actually be all that united. You won’t be that loving. The world will look over and see, “Yeah, that’s just the same racist church in Jackson, Mississippi that’s always been there.” And it’s really just a religious outpost of the political right or the political left, whatever it is. And so it appeared to me, man, that before we could talk about action, you know — and I talk about, you know, the question I always get, “what can I do?” And I think that’s a good question — but before we could talk about action, we [need to] be helped to talk at all and learn why we struggle to do even that. Because to put it — this is the last thing I’ll say on this — to put it in a different way, I’m all about pursuing justice, and my hope is that this actually helps people pursue justice more faithfully, and in a more longsuffering way, more relentlessly, and that they endure better. Because what I’m trying to highlight is, if you actually understand why this is so difficult to talk about, you’ll actually understand the challenges way better than you, young zealous person, who, you’re ready to do all this justice yet you can’t even have a constructive conversation with someone. And so, I think if you actually understand how long 26.2 miles is, you’ll last in a marathon, rather than just trying to sprint out the gate. And so I want to give serious thought to this question, why is it so hard to talk about race?
Phillip Holmes: Yeah, no, that’s good. I mean, even to that point, one of the things that you say, “While I pray my counsel challenges you, my main concern is not that you agree, but how you disagree.”
Isaac Adams: That’s right. Yeah. And right there, Phillip, all I’m trying to do is represent exactly what we do not see on Twitter, which is that someone can love Jesus, and disagree with me on some things. Both of those things have to be true, and it also means that’s true for me. I can love Jesus sincerely, deeply, I can be a very godly person and disagree with someone about certain things. And so this book, while — because I just don’t think in a fallen world, we’re going to have 100 percent unity, 100 percent alignment on every point. And so the question is then, well, how then shall we live? How then shall we work together? And I think a lot of people assume we can’t. We can’t live together, and we can’t work together, and that we shouldn’t. And I think Satan is pleased when we run to our separate silos and give up on each other.
Phillip Holmes: I mean, speaking of social media, you know, one of the things that you mention — it wasn’t directly related to social media, but I think that it has some application there — you say if we talk about race, we might feel OK doing so with family and friends who talk like us, or share our political sympathies. But that’s just it. We trust those people. And generally, the boundaries for who those people are in our circles fall along ethnic or color lines. Inside the lines, we are confident those people will be nice to us. Inside the lines, we are confident they’ll give our sincere questions and qualms a fair hearing. What does this say about our expectations for social media to be a platform where we can actually conduct these conversations in a healthy way? Because one of the things that you mentioned there is, trust is key. Trust these people. But on social media, especially on Twitter — because at least on Facebook, there may be some type of connection. I try not to add people as best as I can if I ain’t met them in person.
I think Satan is pleased when we run to our separate silos and give up on each other.Isaac Adams: I’m the same way, bro. If I’ve not met you, why are we — I frankly don’t care to see your life, and like, why are we —
Phillip Holmes: Yeah, that’s for [Facebook]. But on Twitter, even more so because you’re going to be talking to strangers, right? And anybody can follow you. So I think — talk about the implications of building trust before you have these conversations, or at the very least, having proper expectations for what you’re going to get when you start talking about these complex matters on a public platform.
Isaac Adams: Yeah, man. I appreciate that question because I think oftentimes, people see the carnage that happens on a Twitter, and they fault the conversation for that carnage rather than the context. And I think that’s a fundamental misstep. That’s like me saying, “I shouldn’t talk about these sensitive things with my wife because I try to bring them up in the middle of the shopping mall when we were buying clothes,” and she’s like, “No, we need to talk about this, just not right here. Not right now.” And so there’s a reason Ephesians 4 says giving grace, speaking gracious words as fits the occasion. There’s a reason in writing 3 John, you know, while Twitter didn’t exist in that day, obviously, John says, even with a letter — I mean, goodness, how much more heartfelt and thoughtful is a handwritten letter? But even with a letter, John’s like, “Yo, I got some things to say to you in 3 John, but I’d rather not say them with, you know, pen and paper. I’d rather talk to y’all face-to-face.” And so, I think oftentimes we go into this conversation with people we don’t know, and this is just — you know, you’re a communications guy, Phillip. So you think about this kind of stuff.
Phillip Holmes: And that’s why I’m loving your book, man.
Isaac Adams: Yeah, right, right, right. We’re both alike. I mean, so like, I studied journalism [in] undergrad. So this is like, you just have to understand how people actually work. There’s a whole lot of nonverbal communication going on. There’s a whole lot of tone going on. And when I don’t know — like, if I can’t read your tone or if I can read your tone, it doesn’t really matter on some level what you’re saying. Like, if I yell at my wife, “I love you.” Well, I’m fundamentally unsaying what I’m saying by how I’m saying it, you see? And so I think a lot of the times that’s why in the book, I’m encouraging like, “This is a beautiful conversation to have, but I’d encourage you not to have in the place where you’re limited to 280 characters,” and you have to be pretty thoughtful and actually a really good communicator to do that well. And the other person does, too. And so when you’re having these kind of public sparring — I mean, it’s just, this is why Proverbs exists. You’re just grabbing a dog by the ears. “Whoever corrects the scoffer gets himself abuse.” Like, goodness. I mean, how many scoffers are on Twitter? This is not wise. This is not fruitful. So when Paul is like, “Yo, avoid foolish controversy,” I think he’s talking about so much of that. But I don’t think — Paul didn’t say “Avoid controversy, period.” And he didn’t — he said “foolish controversy,” and he didn’t say “Avoid hard things.” In fact, he said, “Endure suffering. Share in suffering.” But we want to be wise about when and how. Ain’t nobody try to suffer for suffering sake.
Phillip Holmes: Yeah. I mean, I think when it comes to social media, you know, you want to avoid putting down hard, fast rules on what you should tweet about. I found personally, though, that I don’t mind putting out controversial statements that I thought deeply about.
Isaac Adams: Yes. And that second part is so crucial.
Phillip Holmes: I thought about this from all angles, right? I can field questions related to this. And I want — the other practice I avoid is responding with statements. Usually I try not to respond at all. Like, if I see somebody say something controversial, I’m just like, I’m just going to assume the best and keep scrolling. But if I really just want to engage, usually, if I feel like my question could come off the wrong way, I’m going to DM them privately and say, “Hey, I saw this. I’m curious, like, is this what you were trying to say? Or did you mean this? Because like, I could read it both ways.” Some type of question to let them know that I’m actually trying to understand, because one of my biggest fears is being misunderstood. I hate being misunderstood. I hate being misrepresented. And so I try to be very sensitive to listening to people and understanding where they’re coming from before I cast judgment. I find that on social media, our impulse and our inclination is to judge and to divide people based on, “These are the people I like, and these are the people I don’t like.”
There’s a reason Paul says “Assume the best,” because in the flesh, we don’t naturally do that. We have to be told.Isaac Adams: And I was going to say, that circles back to the thing your question started with, which is trust. When you don’t trust people, you know, Star Wars is on to something. The natural response is fear and skepticism and doubt and judgment. There’s a reason Paul says “Assume the best,” because in the flesh, we don’t naturally do that. We have to be told. Now, if I trust you, then I’m like, “Yo, we’re good.” But like, that’s exactly what you don’t have on social media, which is why you have to be even more thoughtful and careful in all the good ways you’re modeling and exhorting us to on social media, especially when you’re talking about something really difficult like this.
Phillip Holmes: And I want to go back to — because you talked about [how] communication is more than just, like, talking. It’s body language. Body language isn’t what you used, you said—
Isaac Adams: The nonverbal.
Phillip Holmes: Yeah, nonverbal, tone and all that stuff. And you know, I think that’s super important because there are eloquent orators who are bad communicators. Yeah, because communication, it is essential that you enter conversations sensitive to the words that you use, right? Even though talking to a different person, those words may not cause any type of emotional reaction, may trigger nothing. But talking to this particular person, these particular words may have a certain effect that could be detrimental to them hearing what it is that you have to say. So that’s why James says, “Be quick to listen, slow to speak,” because if you’re listening, you can gather that intel. You can say, “OK, I need to be careful about this.” You’re actually understanding who you’re talking to. You’re asking more questions before you start making judgments or statements about a particular thing. And I think sometimes we confuse eloquence — a person’s ability to write — with their ability to communicate. And I think that really good communicators consider their audience first.
Isaac Adams: Yeah, that’s right. That’s I mean, that’s exactly what Ephesians 4 says to do. And if we can’t do that, then we just will not make any kind of progress.
Phillip Holmes: Yeah. And I think you did a good job at that. By the way, I could see — the communications background doesn’t surprise me. I could see so much of how you handled this. You were very, very intentional about making sure that you considered your audience. And because — you know, when you’re talking about all the people that you’re trying to write to, I got heartburn just reading the foreword. Because I was, you know, I’m like, “How are you—?” because that’s a difficult thing to do. For people to be able to pick up a book and feel like, “Oh, this book was applicable to my experience,” right? “I can relate to the experiences that he’s portraying in this book.” We’re going back to social media again because I got some questions for you from social media.
Isaac Adams: Yes, I saw some of these coming in, man.
Phillip Holmes: Any ones you want to skip? Because there were some weird ones. I was like, “I don’t know if this has anything to do with the book.”
Isaac Adams: But that was the beauty of like, “I trust Philip. I trust his wisdom, so I will let him take from this colorful batch of questions.”
Phillip Holmes: So I’m going to start with Dever’s. That’s a safe one.
Isaac Adams: Yeah.
Phillip Holmes: Dever asks, “What are a couple of encouraging stories that you can share about talking about race in your own experience?”
Phillip Holmes: Yeah, I was shocked. I’ve never interacted with Mark Dever on Twitter. I was like, oh, OK,
Isaac Adams: Yeah, right? But Ima actually use Mark as an example, and he is obviously like, you know, we talked about it at the beginning — I’ve known him well — and I’ll try to do this without crying — known him for a long time. This story does not involve me, and I know Mark was not bringing this up. So he’s actually going to be loathe that I’m going to use them as an example. He’s like, “That’s not why I asked.” But it does come to mind, because so much of how I’ve learned to communicate has come from sitting under Mark. And I remember once there was a brother — a younger African-American brother pursuing a white sister for a dating relationship. And he was talking to Mark, and he was like, “Man, excited about this. But I’m a little fearful.” Mark was like, “Why are you afraid?” He’s like, “Well, what if her parents don’t approve of this? What if her parents are racist?” And Mark was like, “No, no, like, don’t worry about that. That’s not gonna happen.” Blah, blah, blah. Well, turns out, brother keeps going with this young lady and meets her parents, and in fact, they don’t approve of it. And so Mark used that as an example in a sermon to a thousand people to say, “I too quickly—” in teaching us about, I forget what the passage was— “I too quickly universalized my own experience.” And this is, I mean, this is Mark, you know, 60 years old, four advanced degrees, Cambridge educated, you know, regular communicator, not just eloquent, but a good communicator. But at the same time, a sinful man admitting, “I am a sinful man and I projected my experience onto this brother to his detriment. And he was right and I was wrong.” And that, to me, was deeply encouraging, man. So again, I know Mark would be loathe to be like — you know, there’s lots of other stories I can think of, but that one, I think, is just a useful one to highlight. Like, bro, you can be Mark Dever and get it wrong. And you can be a young, well-meaning brother just trying to make it in the world in 2022, and that racist beast is still raising its ugly head.
Phillip Holmes: One hundred percent.
Isaac Adams: So I hope that’s in the encouraging vein. I don’t tell that story in the book. But it’s one that encourages me.
Phillip Holmes: No, that’s a really good story. Here’s another one that I think is going to be helpful. How can reading this book benefit predominantly white churches located in the suburbs? Should those churches prioritize books like this over other books about spiritual disciples? Or maybe, maybe disciplines, doctrine, et cetera?
Isaac Adams: Yeah, I mean, as the author, I’m going to — it’s a little hard to say. Like, prioritize my book? But, you know, go ahead and read my book. But that being said, man, yes. I mean, I got an interesting question the other day from someone, and it was useful. Like, “Is this book going to be as useful for a predominantly black church as it is a predominately white church?” And I thought that was a straight and humbling question, but I definitely wrote it with — I mean, I say in the thing I wanted to help evangelicals generally, and white evangelicals specifically. So I represent, you know, lots of the conversation happening among black Christians, even intra black Christians. But yes, my goodness, I think that’s the exact kind of church this book will serve, is that suburban church.
Phillip Holmes: Yeah. I would agree with that, because a lot of the people that I see reflected in the book and that are having these conversations, are minorities and churches where they’re sub-dominant, the sub-dominant culture. Black churches, these — oftentimes these aren’t really the things that are at the top of mind. You kind of go to work, and you may work in a diverse setting, but then you go home and your community looks like you. You know, the people you go to church with look like you. But if you are operating in the evangelical world and you’re a minority, like you and I, we can relate to this book in a lot of ways. So I think evangelicals, white evangelicals, yeah, I think that this book will be extremely helpful.
Isaac Adams: I hope so.
Phillip Holmes: Yeah, I believe so. I’m going to highly recommend it just because I think that again, you did a good job representing the other side of the coin. Because everybody is well acquainted with their experience, but like, what is it like to experience you, right? And that’s what I’m constantly trying to understand, even just about myself in general. Like, what is it like to be on the other side of Phillip?
Isaac Adams: That’s right. That’s right, man. And that person is made in God’s image, and it’s easy to dismiss someone. Much harder to dialog with them.
Phillip Holmes: One hundred percent. Here’s another one. Why are some from the black community moving away from the goal of colorblindness to “If you don’t see my color, you don’t see me?” I’m asking this one because you directly address this in the book.
Isaac Adams: Yeah, that’s — man, we could have a whole podcast on it. To answer this brother or sister’s question as succinctly as I can, some are moving away because they feel that colorblindness, which let’s just — and I think another thing I try to do in the book, Phillip, is define my terms. So let’s just call it, “ostensibly ignoring race or ethnicity.” Now, I don’t think — I think many colorblind advocates would say, “Well, I recognize that. But what I mean is that it doesn’t matter. It doesn’t matter in the sense that I think of them any differently,” right? And honestly, I think a lot of colorblind advocates mean well. They don’t mean to deny someone’s existence, they mean to appreciate it and say, “You’re more than your skin color, you’re not just your skin color.” And it was actually a color-obsessed society that put, you know, “whites only” above a drinking fountain. So I don’t want to see that. I want to be the opposite of that. So that’s what I’m trying to do, is see the best in it as much as I can. That said, black brothers and sisters too often run into color-blind advocates who, rather than being more compassionate toward their experience, are more adversarial and more hostile. And so, I think a lot of black brothers and sisters are trying to say, “No, I don’t have the luxury of living colorblind or choosing to be colorblind. And actually, it is my skin color, which is a gift from God, and something I don’t seek to ignore, necessarily, or downplay. But it is my skin color, on some level, that brings about a unique kind of suffering, so let’s go back to that example with Mark. I think Mark, unwittingly — and that’s why it’s so, it’s almost scary. Like unwittingly, you can kind of have your colorblind — like, “No man. For me, it’s never been an issue what color you are, blah, blah, blah.” But for that brother he was talking to, it was. And so, I think black brothers and sisters, many have grown tired of trying to validate their experience in someone’s eyes. And so they’ve been like, “If you don’t even want to reckon with the fact that this means that, you know, the color of my skin might mean something different in God’s sovereign ordination of my life, then I just don’t really think we’re going to have any kind of fruitful conversation or relationship.”
Phillip Holmes: No, that’s good, man. Because you talk a lot about the importance of understanding that even though you can get away — and you know, we used to — multiple people have had conversations about this, but I think you do a good job of communicating in this book, is that, while our history is, in many ways, the history — so in other words, Jim Crow no longer exists. Slavery no longer exists, right? — but we have to recognize that those things have ripple effects.
Isaac Adams: That’s right. That’s right. And I’m not saying anyone is guilty of, you know, “You put that cross in someone’s yard,” or whatever. All I’m saying is I live in Birmingham, Alabama, and this thing is as segregated as the day is long. And I could buy a house with no ill will, no ill motive, not a racial thought in my day. And yet, I’m operating within, you know, I’m running in the grooves that have already been established that someone — and if you want to read about this, you can in a book like Some of My Best Friends are Black by Tanner Colby — someone who was very much racist was thinking about the way to set up these neighborhoods by design. And that’s why it gets so tricky, Phillip. In a fallen world, we can’t undo some of what’s been done. And that’s what makes this so hard to go about. So what do we do? Do we not move into these neighborhoods? Do we seek to integrate them further? It’s just a mess with a whole lot of Christian freedom, which is why we can’t wrongly bind people’s consciousness and shame them, and anyway, I could keep going. But, yes.
Phillip Holmes: No, no, yes, that’s good. I mean, because the reality is, is that that these things happen, and a bulk of the damage has been done, right? Because a precedence has been established, right? A standard has been established, right? And then you also have people who have been hurt by these things, right? We want to bear burdens, not make them heavier.And that trauma is passed down from generation to generation. And so, these things are going to be a fact. It’s not saying you can’t recover from them, it’s not to say that you’re guilty or responsible, but you do have to recognize that my experience in this world is not your experience, and that even though you might be repentant or you might be able to acknowledge what happened in the past was wrong, there’s countless other people who don’t feel the same way that you do that I have to interact with and that I have to experience on a regular basis. And if you don’t believe me — because you talked about that trust, like, somebody was asking me, I had a situation that came up and my counselor was asking me, like, “What do you want?” I just want them to believe me. And you pointed out in this book. So if I’m talking to you and you don’t believe me, then all of a sudden I’m in this situation where you think I’m crazy because I experienced something that you didn’t, because you assume that we’re operating in this world on equal footing.
Isaac Adams: Yeah, that’s right. And that lack of belief — I mean, think about how exhausting it is to not be believed. And this is why I like one brother in the book I quote. White brothers and sisters are like, “what can I do? What can I do? What can I do?” Here’s something so simple everyone can do. When a minority tells you about their experience, believe them. Now am I saying, you know, lose all critical thinking? Am I saying accept everything as gospel? No, but I am saying someone is innocent until they’re proven guilty. And not only are we often not believed, Phillip, or sometimes at least in my experience, not believed. It’s — you’re invalidated. It’s like there’s a moral judgment that’s, not only is what you’re saying, “I don’t believe you.” [It’s also] “I think you’re wrong for looking at it that way.” It’s like, I’m not looking at it any type of way. This is what happened to me.
Phillip Holmes: So now all of a sudden — no, that’s so good. What would you say about this, too, because this is oftentimes what I see now. All of a sudden, that minority who’s been encouraged not to judge becomes judged, right?
Isaac Adams: That’s right. Yeah, that’s right. There’s an actual — it’s a reversal of judgment, and it happens so swiftly that, when you’re a minority, you don’t even almost realize what’s happened. You go through this enough where you kind of believe it at the end of the — you’re like, maybe they’re right. Maybe that’s why you had so many people coming out of these experiences with such catharsis and such a kind of, you know, I think, like, kind of Stockholm Syndrome feel, almost, of like, defending it and being like, “Oh, that’s, yeah, that’s just not good. That’s not good in the body of Christ.” We want to bear burdens, not make them heavier. I mean, you know, let’s be straight, Phillip. Like, do minorities play the race card at the wrong time? Sure. But so do people in the majority, and often it feels like folks in the majority built the whole casino anyway. So it’s just like — Ah, that’s a whole ‘nother episode.
Phillip Holmes: No, man. Bro, there’s so much that we can dive into deeper.
Isaac Adams: I mean, like, I feel like this conversation is like, this episode is a long time coming, so I’m really thankful for it.
Phillip Holmes: Absolutely.
Isaac Adams: It’s you and me, like, you’re right, we’ve known each other for known of each other for a long time. Known each other for, you know, shorter than that. But I’m just glad to be chopping with you.
Phillip Holmes: Yeah, likewise, man. I mean, as I’m reading the book, I’m like, “This is the book that if I had like, this is the book that I wanted to write, and I’m really glad that I didn’t have to write, because somebody needed to write this book and it was on my long, long bucket list.” Oh, thank God, he wrote it. Because now I can just quote it.
Isaac Adams: Well, man, I was waiting for you to do it. And yeah, but you didn’t remember who it was. Maybe it was Toni Morrison, and she was like, You must write the book you want to—if the book you want to read doesn’t exist, you must write it or something like that. You know, it’s on that advice to writers account. Which that —
Phillip Holmes: Or you can just wait for Isaac to write it, in my case.
Isaac Adams: No, no, no, man. I’m retired by the end of July. I’m done. I’m done.
Phillip Holmes: I’m going to ask one more question, and then we’re going to wrap it up. Someone asked, “I’m interested to hear at what scale does he interpret the Ephesians 4 ‘bearing with one another in love for unity?’ Who is that one another? Interested especially with his strong congregational & Baptist background. How does this conclusion affect the scope of his book?” You may have to break that that last comment down for me, but how does this inclusion, how does this conclusion affect the scope of this book?
Isaac Adams: Interesting question for someone to fit into 280 characters.
Phillip Holmes: I squeezed it all in there, bro.
Isaac Adams: They got it in, man. OK, well, I would say it’s a good question. And like, I mean, that’s the thing, bro. If we’re not going to honor people’s questions and just assume poor ill will, then we’re not going to have a conversation. So I really think that’s a good question. I have to assume what they mean. I’m not sure what they mean by the “congregational” or “Baptist polity.”
Phillip Holmes: Yeah, that’s the part that got me.
Isaac Adams: Well, maybe they’re thinking, like, because we as best as we want, as Baptists for every member to be regenerate. And of course, the Presbyterian would say the same thing, but by definition, with unbelieving infants as a part of the covenant community. You know, and I’m not trying to get into all of this, but this person raised the question. So what I would say is, it applies to the whole church, right? And I’m confident of [unclear] on this. He would say the same thing, too. But it applies to the whole church. And so, what I think that person is getting at is, what I do, it is a perspective that I’m trying to bring to this book that I hope is biblical, and that this perspective, this book, isn’t only written to or for white people, or to or for black people, or to or for Asian people, or to or for people on the right, or to or for people on the left. It’s written for everyone. And typically, books, you know, things that are written to everyone, aren’t written to anyone. But as you said, like, that’s what I tried to pull off in the book, was, I’ve got a wide swath in terms of my audience. And so I think, you know, black brothers and sisters have a responsibility under God’s word to care, or to bear the burdens of their white brothers and sisters. And white brothers and sisters have a responsibility under God’s word to bear with their black brothers’ and sisters’ burdens. Now we can talk about — and I talk about in the book — the asymmetry that’s happened historically. And is that equal? You know, George Yancey, I like how George says this. I think he’s captured something really well here. George says we have mutual responsibility. That’s different from equal responsibility. But we do have mutual responsibility. And I think to tease that out is getting to something, probably, this person is asking, whose job is it? Well, in the church of God, we all have work to do in maintaining in unity and building up the body of love. We have different roles to play. We have different experiences, but we all have work to do. So we can’t just sit back and be like, “Well, it’s your grandparents’ fault,” so here I am. Because we’re all, even before we are ethnicities, we all are fundamentally image bearers, and we’re all sinful, and we’re all in need of the grace of Jesus Christ. I have no idea if I enter that person’s question, but that’s one attempt.
Phillip Holmes: No. Yeah, I think that’s good. I lied. This is the last question. What’s going on with the UNC men’s basketball team?
Isaac Adams: Man, I mean, my favorite thing — so this, I did see. My favorite — I’ll just be brief because I’m wearing, I mean, this is not a video interview I don’t think. I’ve got my hoodie on. We play Duke tonight, er, no, tomorrow night. I’m excited. Yes, I have a feeling Thabiti was involved in that question. And I don’t think Thabiti knew that UNC just wiped the floor with NC State like, the day before that post, which is where Thabiti went to undergrad. And you know, they want to be our rivals. But is it a rivalry when you always win? I don’t know.
Phillip Holmes: That’s funny. That was—
Isaac Adams: Make sure to tag Thabiti in this.
Phillip Holmes: And make sure he listens! At least, catch the tail end.
Isaac Adams: That’s right. But he is right. We are not as good as we should be this year. But man, March is a long month, so we’ll see what happens.
Phillip Holmes: Isaac, thank you so much man for joining us today, bro. This was a delightful conversation. I enjoyed it.
Isaac Adams: It was a lot of fun, man. Yeah, man, thank you for having me, bro. I appreciate your friendship and all your encouragement.
Phillip Holmes: Likewise, bro. And thank you for tuning in, and we hope you enjoyed this week’s episode featuring Isaac Adams. I would also like to thank the RTS family, church partners, students, alumni, and donors for the many ways you make the work of Reformed Theological Seminary possible. Mind + Heart is powered by Reformed Theological Seminary, where we desire to raise up pastors and other church leaders with a mind for truth and a heart for God.