Walter Strickland serves as assistant professor of systematic and contextual theology and associate vice president for diversity at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary. Along with itinerant preaching and speaking engagements, Walter contributes to Canon & Culture as an associate research fellow of the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission (ERLC), the Gospel Project and the Biblical Recorder. Walter’s work has also appeared in Christianity Today, Baptist Press and World Magazine. His first book, Every Waking Hour: An Introduction to Work and Vocation for Christians, was released in March of 2016. Walter is a featured speaker for the Baptist State Convention of North Carolina’s first-ever “Strengthen the Church Conference,” which is designed to equip and inspire church leaders to embrace and pursue multicultural ministry.
Revelation paints a picture of heaven with people from every tribe, tongue and nation. What obstacles do churches face today in trying to reflect this vision?
Many pastors cherish the biblical vision of “every tribe, tongue and nation” seen in Revelation 5 and 7, and desire to see racial reconciliation and God-honoring diversity in our churches. Despite a prayerful desire to actualize this kingdom vision, we often find ourselves helpless to move forward with any real success. I think that in our efforts to catalyze change, we’ve oversimplified the problem of racial bias, and we’ve sprinted toward solutions without comprehending its complexity and depth. As a result, we only look to remedy a small portion of the problem, which breeds frustration and a sense of defeat.
How can churches be strengthened through listening to voices different from the majority culture?
Human limitations generate blind spots that cannot be denied. As a result, the question should not be, “Do I have blind spots?” but rather, “What are my blind spots?” It is dangerous, and at times can result in sinfulness, when personal blind spots are denied. Because we “see in part,” we need brothers and sisters who see God’s Word and God’s world from different perspectives as we seek His truth and are on His mission. Proverbs 27:17 says that, “Iron sharpens iron,” and I am convinced that iron sharpens iron most effectively across the lines of difference and, as a result, we see better together than we can apart.
“God’s plan for a diverse people unified in Him is undeniable throughout the pages of Scripture.”
How has your experience being a church member shaped your perspective on embracing diversity/multiculturalism?
A body of believers that worships across racial lines and expresses the “one anothers” of the New Testament paints a wonderful picture of the gospel’s ability to tear down the walls. Moreover, it is a people who have heeded the call of the apostle Paul in Philippians 2:3, “Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves.” People in multi-ethnic churches have been able to put on Christ in a way that overcomes historical baggage, heals grudges and forces them to think on behalf of the other. This requires the forgiveness and patience that have been exemplified in Christ.
Many churches say that they want a diverse congregation, but in reality may not want to take the necessary steps to get there. Where do we look in the Scriptures for the power and wisdom to make these changes?
God’s plan for a diverse people unified in Him is undeniable throughout the pages of Scripture. As a result, it contributes to how Scripture ought to be read. A few specific passages that bespeak God’s desire for this kind of unity and diversity are Genesis 12, Ruth, Matthew 28 and Revelation 5 and 7. In addition, Scripture offers directives about how to pursue unity in Galatians 2, Ephesians 2, Philippians 2 and beyond. In the end, God’s people need strength to be obedient to God’s calling in His Word.
We’re looking forward to having you at the first Strengthen the Church Conference. What do you hope attendees may take away?
My prayer is that attendees will be able to understand that Christians pursue diversity because of fidelity to Scripture’s calling, and not because the church is playing catch-up to culture. In addition, I hope that attendees will be able to develop an eye for seeing how God describes His desire for unity in Him in Scripture, and grasp how that ought to influence their teaching and preaching on a weekly basis. Lastly, I pray that ministers (of all sorts) will gain specific insights about how to pursue diversity in their place of ministry.