I was more excited than I expected to be when I picked up United: Captured by God’s Design for Diversity by Trillia Newbell. Recent events in the news (specifically, the incidents in Ferguson, MO, and the case surrounding Eric Garner, among others as they come) have opened the door to curiosity regarding diversity and how we as believers ought to respond.
If you’re looking for a book offering instruction about what to think, what to do, and how to do it in regards to ethnic diversity, you would probably be better served by reading Bloodlines by John Piper or looking into Thabiti Anyabwile’s positions. (Newbell refers to both often throughout the book. I haven’t read Bloodlines, and I have only a cursory understanding of Anyabwile’s views.)
However, if you’re looking for a conversation with a friend about diversity and ethnicity, this is the book for you. Newbell is black, married to a white man, mother of two biracial kids, a believer in Christ, and maybe the only female voice I’ve come across in diversity talks. She writes of her experiences growing up in the South, about coming to know Christ, and of digging in at a church where she was close to the only black woman (if not the only one). She speaks passionately about her desire for her own church to grow in diversity, and how she worked to “be the change.” As I read it, it felt like I was getting to know my friend Trillia (whom I’ve never met) and her experiences, convictions, and encouragements for believers and the Church. All of this comes across as one who cares deeply and wants to help others care about this important issue, without blaming or preachiness.
Newbell clearly knows the answer to the question of “Why diversity?”, but refuses to answer with a theological treatise. Instead, she asks, “How can we fulfill the Great Commission to go and make disciples of all nations if we all seek only churches in which we are comfortable? Does God call me to be uncomfortable and fulfill all my needs?” (116). She subtly helps readers see that diversity is about missions. “The pursuit of diversity is important, yes, but not because it’s trendy, this generation’s ‘hip thing.’ It’s important because the nations fill God’s world” (127). Additionally, diversity is about loving other people made in the image of God. “Diversity is worth having because diversity is about people, and people are worth fighting for. If God is mindful of man, shouldn’t we be (Psalm 8:3-4)?” (135).
Newbell spends much of the book talking about her relationships with people who are of a different ethnicity. She discusses how she came to be discipled by a white girl alongside a Chinese girl, and how they experience the family of God together despite their differences. She encourages churches to foster diversity, and exhorts readers to pray, evangelize, show hospitality, go (and support churches building multiethnic congregations), and stay (“We can stay in situations that may be uncomfortable yet are good, because we believe the Lord has us there for the purpose of building His church, even if we are lonely snowflakes” .)
United is a helpful book for believers wondering how to have a conversation about ethnicity in a time where the issue is charged. Newbell encourages us to seek diversity in our lives and in our churches, to the glory of God.