Tell us a little bit about your new book God’s Very Good Idea. Why did you feel compelled to write it?
About a year or so ago, I led a children’s Sunday school class on the image of God and racial harmony. It was such a joy for me to watch the kids think through what it meant to be equally created by God to reflect his image, that God created people differently and we can enjoy those differences, that Jesus died for all those different people, and that we can be brothers and sisters in Christ. I remember a friend telling me later that afternoon about a conversation she had with her daughter, “Me and Sydney [my daughter] are made in the image of God. We aren’t just friends, we’re sisters!” At that point,I knew I wanted to attempt to write something that parents and teachers could use to share this wonderful message.
What is God’s very good idea? Why is this topic important for the church today?
One of the last pages of the book sums up the central message well. This is God’s very good idea: lots of different people enjoying loving him and loving each other. God made this very good idea. People ruined it. He rescued it. He will finish it.
What are the unique obstacles your book addresses?
God’s very good idea is to have lots of different people enjoying loving him and loving each other. This stunningly illustrated journey from the garden of Eden to God’s heavenly throne room shows how despite our sinfulness, everyone can be a part of God’s very good idea through the saving work of Christ. This book celebrates diversity and will help children see how people from all ethnic and social backgrounds are valuable to God and how Jesus came to rescue all kinds of people. It will also excite them about being part of church—God’s delightfully different family.
What do you hope children take away from the book? What do you hope parents take away from it?
So often this topic is framed around politics and history. I wanted to address it differently (although those other contexts are important) and give parents and children a foundation for why it’s important to God and how the gospel affects this discussion and our understanding of race and ethnicity. If we can build a foundation based on the truth, then I think it will be easier to tackle those other areas that touch the topic of race and ethnicity. Ultimately, this is about people made in the image of God. So, if we can gain understanding about how all of us were created equally by God and all of us need the same saving grace, then perhaps we can begin to work toward really loving one another. And I hope that as we love one another, we celebrate our differences.
My prayer is that the church would reflect what heaven will look like for eternity: every tribe, tongue, and nation together worshiping God. I wanted to close with a focus on the church because that’s where the world sees our love, which is a theme in the book. Jesus says that the world will know us Christians by our love for one another (John 13:35). If this is true, then we should learn to love those in the church.
Diversity is a big conversation on many fronts today. What would you say are some of the major obstacles facing the church regarding diversity? Where do you think the body of Christ is doing well? And what are the areas that need improvement?
I’m not sure if I agree that it’s a big conversation on many fronts today. I think it is a big conversation among a certain group of people, namely those who have cared about the topic for years and years.
Segregation within the church and within our lives will remain as long as we are content with the status quo—which we are. According to the findings of a study conducted by LifeWay Research, sixty-seven percent of American churchgoers believe that their church has done enough to become racially diverse.
That mentality would be acceptable if the church in America resembled the picture of the Last Days, where every tribe and tongue is gathered to praise in unity, but we’re far from this picture today. Sunday morning remains the most segregated hours in America. Where does such a disconnect come from? Could it be that those surveyed attend churches that are indeed already racially diverse? Or perhaps the view is that if a church is doing service projects they are achieving racial reconciliation.
I think there are many potential reasons for the statistic, but from my experience, the main one could very well be apathy. So, I’m not sure that the conversation is as important to everyone as it is to those of us who have been sharing or involved in the topic for many years.
How has your relationship with your own children influenced your views on diversity? What are the ways you seek to encourage them in a godly view of diversity as their parent?
My kids are biracial; my husband is white. It is such a joy to be able to wake up each morning and live out the hope I desire for our world. With that said, it makes it slightly easier for me to engage in these conversations with my kids because we really can’t help but have them. What I’ve sought to do is make sure my kids know about people and cultures beyond the black and white Americans. So, we have studied various cultures and people groups at the dinner table through reading, discussing, and even eating—I’ll cook recipes from other cultures and we will talk about the history and people.
If you could offer a word of encouragement to parents working to engage with their children on this topic, what would it be?
The key for me and for all of us is that we are intentional. We can’t hope for something and then do nothing—it takes effort. It is worth every effort. Many parents come to me fearful that they’ll say the wrong thing. We might make mistakes, but as we gain more knowledge, you and I will grow in how to speak about these things. It is so rewarding and encouraging to watch kids’ faces light up as something clicks. It’s such a joy to hear your kids come home and talk about their new friend from another country. Ultimately, you are teaching your children to love their neighbors as themselves, a lesson they’ll need to draw from for the rest of their lives. It’s worth it! Keep pressing on.
Cover image from Newbell’s book God’s Very Good Idea.