Review: Under Our Skin

The church, armed with the doctrine of the imago dei and the hope of the gospel, has been and can again be a beacon for and host of reconciliation to the world.

This may seem odd advice in a book review but listen. Listen not only what you agree with, but when you disagree, stop and really listen. Benjamin Watson has something to say in Under Our Skin that all of us need to hear.

If you’re white and don’t understand why blacks can’t just work harder and get ahead like “the rest of us” start with chapter 2, “Introspective”. If you’re black and can’t understand why whites still don’t get it, start with chapter 2 as well. Watson confesses that he sees things from a black perspective and yet tries to critique and affirm both side fairly. I think he succeeds.

There are no simple answers to the problem of racial tension in our nation and Watson offers none. Under Our Skin started as a Facebook post Watson wrote when a grand jury decided not to indict officer Darren Wilson for the 2014 shooting of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri and the ensuing riots. The post went viral and Watson expanded it into this book. His chapter titles reflect the complexity of this issue: Hopeless, Hopeful, Fearful and Confused, Encouraged, etc. The symptoms he identifies are likewise complex—hip hop, rebel flags, disproportionate policing, fear of and resistance to police, blacks using the N-word, and whites using the N-word. Watson leads us through these complicated issues telling gripping personal stories, asking tough questions, and providing biblical wisdom for healing our nation’s racial divide.

What Watson affirms to equip us for reconciliation is our common humanity and the forgiveness we find in the gospel. “The cure for the Michael Brown, Trayvon Martin, Tamir Rice, and Eric Garner tragedies is not education or exposure. It’s the gospel” (xvi).

Pastors and church leaders should read Under Our Skin and reflect on it. If your church is in an area that is largely racially homogeneous, Watson can help you see the problem. If your church is in a racially mixed area, you’re probably already aware of these tensions; he offers you some perspective and wisdom. Watson shows that we are all part of the problem and therefore we all need to be part of the solution so Under Our Skin can be easily recommended to anyone.

I found Watson’s strongest and most convicting points were that what unites us is our common humanity and what divides us are the “cultural lenses” by which we see the world. Watson does not call for the annihilation of those differences, rather, he says, “we should preserve and celebrate our cultural differences, embrace the uniqueness of our histories, and pursue the distinctiveness of our arts and enterprises. We are beautifully different. But we are commonly human” (63-64). If we’re all the problem, why should churches especially read this book? “The church, I believe, has the greatest opportunity to affect changes in our communities” (10). The church, armed with the doctrine of the imago dei and the hope of the gospel, has been and can again be a beacon for and host of reconciliation to the world.

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