In this post I want to enter into a discussion that is certainly sensitive in nature. I do so as a pastor, looking out over the church I’ve been called to serve and shepherd, and desiring to see Jesus and His word made clear. Over the last few months the conversation around race in America has amplified and there are many voices sharing competing ideas of what the problem is in our country, and how we can move forward. In a very real sense I am so grateful that the larger culture is beginning to meaningfully dialogue around some of these issues and honestly reflecting on our history as a country. That process can be painful at points, but honest reflection is always part of the process of moving forward.
If you’ve been listening carefully to the voices in culture one of the ideas that you may have heard discussed at some point is what’s Critical Theory, or as some refer to it as Cultural Marxism. The argument is that what lies underneath the Black Lives Matter Organization is the philosophical foundation of Critical Theory (CT). If you are completely new to the subject, CT is a fascinating field of study, one which I highly encourage every Christian to become well read on. I have provided at the bottom of this post two well composed resources for you to begin to understand what CT is and why it is important. For my part today my aim is actually not to dialogue too deep with the nuances of CT. I will say up front that it is true that much of the rhetoric and solutions currently being offered in our culture, particularly from the BLM organization, toward the problems that persist of racism in America find footing in Critical Theory. And that does concern me because I do believe that a fully formed CT worldview is at odds with the Biblical Worldview. I want to navigate that as a Pastor carefully and compassionately without ignoring the larger conversation.
But there is actually something else that concerns me. In most of the dialogue where I see discussion of CT and how it is interconnected with the larger Black Lives Matter organization and movement, I see a lot of critique with very little actual solutions being offered by Christians. Therefore, I thought it might be helpful rather than offering yet another critique, to provide a series of Biblical methods for how Christians can think and navigate and meaningfully engage this critical cultural conversation. In no way is this a full list, rather this is just a starting point, an effort to let the world see that the Biblical vision is never sit on the sidelines of injustice, but rather to engage with the power of the Holy Spirit. In this I hope to help Christians think Biblically on this issue. We must never be afraid to critique ideas of culture, but we must also never allow our critique of what is wrong to hinder us from stepping into broken places with the love of Jesus.
So, how might we navigate and engage our cultural conversation on race. Here are some starting points from a Biblical worldview.
We can and must receive the idea that systematic oppression can… has… and in some cases still does exist. When I speak on “systematic injustice” I am narrowing that conversation to actual laws and policies that discriminate based on race and provide unfair disadvantages to one ethnicity over the other. From a Biblical standpoint we are not be surprised by the horror of Systematic Oppression as it historically has been practiced both in the US and around the globe. Ephesians 6 is a key Biblical passage for our understanding of how this is possible. We read in that chapter that Christians: “wrestle against… rulers, authorities, powers, and dominions.” In other words there is a demonic intersection of human rule within Earthly systems which does give way to what we call “systemic injustice.” This is awful, but it is true.
We must reject the idea that Christians simply must evangelize and stay out of structural changes where structural changes are needed. This is a false narrative that historically has kept Christians out of important conversations on justice (slavery, abortion, etc.). In the 60’s during the Civil Rights movement, well meaning Christians trying to make sure their theology was in order stayed out of the important work that was being done to tear down racist systems because they disagreed with what they considered liberal theology. While Biblical Churches can and should critique false theology, we must also persist in leading with Agape love, with proactive love, with a love that steps into the broken places and into broken lives the way Jesus exemplified. Leading with love is largely the point of the Parable of the Good Samaritan in Luke 10:25-37.
Therefore if and when we discover actual laws and policies that are either racist or negligent in their impact upon vulnerable communities we should address them. In terms of actual laws, we have made tremendous progress as a country since the horrific Jim Crow era, but where there is more to do, Christians are able to confidently be at the front of those conversations. This is part of our cultural mandate as Christians. We need Christian business owners, Christian politicians, Christian teachers, and Christian leaders to bring the love of Christ forward. The Church cannot settle for worshipping on Sunday and not renewing the city with the work of our minds and hands throughout the rest of the week.
Christians, especially in a diverse city like Chicago, should intentionally build a diversity (race, age, socioeconomics, etc.) of friendships to help them understand the world in a more full way. I have found that the dinner table is the best place to learn another perspective (not youtube or social media). Hearing another person’s story and how they have been personally impacted by racism in our country will change and enlarge your own view, it will increase your compassion, and allow you to develop actual empathy towards the real issues that persist in culture around you. A great example of this is the diverse church in Acts 13 at Antioch with leadership literally coming from many different ethnicities.
We should ardently fight to end abortion, an abhorrent practice structured and legalized in our country with origins in the racist practice of Eugenics. Planned Parenthood was formed with the desire to directly harm the African American community, and today takes the life of 247 black children each day.
We should work to bring awareness to racism as it currently exists where it exists. We should not pretend that racism does not exist in our country, nor should we minimize the impact ongoing racism has on those in our community. When someone shares their story with you, do not dismiss it. Listen. Engage. Let their story become a part of your own. This does not mean that you must receive every idea or worldview you hear but it does mean we ought to strive to become better listeners. I’m thinking here of Job’s friends entering into his suffering and assuming too much while listening too little.
We also must not confuse racism with ignorance. Racism is a meaningful term, and it is wrong to apply it where it doesn’t belong. I see this very often right now, particularly in some of the most popular literature on the topic. But we must be particular with our terms. We should never look at a person and accuse them of being racist when they have committed no actual racist actions. A person living in rural Idaho may be very ignorant to African American culture and history. This is not racism. An unwillingness to learn and to see the world through another perspective, can be unbiblical, but we should be very slow in using the term “racism.” A fully developed CT worldview argues that everyone from the majority culture is inherently racist. This is not helpful and is a direct product of CT, rather than the Biblical worldview.
Where we see solutions being propagated that are clearly rooted in Critical Theory, we should not be afraid to think critically and run the ideas through the lens of scripture. If you’re a Christian, you can confidently stand upon the Word of God as the greatest hope for humanity in all situations. We are not dependent on other philosophies to add onto the Biblical worldview. God’s Word is more than enough. Psalm 19:7–8 reads, “The law of the LORD is perfect, reviving the soul; the testimony of the LORD is sure, making wise the simple; the precepts of the LORD are right, rejoicing the heart; the commandment of the LORD is pure, enlightening the eyes;” It is true. Let’s believe it!
We can and must preach on the importance and beauty of God’s multi-ethnic church and multi-ethnic Kingdom, and of the command to bring the Gospel to all nations. It is all over the pages of scripture, both and Old and New Testament. Revelation 7:9 reminds us, “After this I looked, and behold, a great multitude that no one could number, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed in white robes, with palm branches in their hands.“
We must encourage a diversity of relationships in order to study scripture and get to know the world through another person’s eyes. Much of the world is experiential, and there is color and beauty in another perspective and experience different than our own. It often takes a person from another ethnicity or culture to help expose amazing wonders from within the pages of scripture that we are often blind to because of our own bias. We should encourage reading a diversity of authors, from different cultures and countries than our own.
Churches should continue to create strong partnerships with other pastors and other churches that look differently than their own. Especially in a city like Chicago that is so historically segregated along literal street lines, it is the Church that has the greatest opportunity to showcase the love of Christ that binds believers from every ethnicity, who might have nothing else in common but Christ, by the power of the Holy Spirit. Now we’re talkin! Let’s go!
Learning produces growth. When we learn and when we discover failures in our own lives whether intentionally or through ignorance, it is Biblical to apologize as a way of practicing biblical confession and repentance of sin. When we learn, we should help others to learn with us, writing, speaking, and creating opportunities to engage and grow together as a Christ centered community. We are all works in progress. It is powerful to allow others to witness a personal sanctification journey. Proverbs 28:13 reads, “Whoever conceals his transgressions will not prosper, but he who confesses and forsakes them will obtain mercy.“
We should encourage learning on the deep and raw historical narrative of systemic racism within our country. There are many historical realities that are simply not taught in school that make up both the stains and the beauties of our country’s history. We should encourage a deep dive into the careful study of history. I’m reading a book right now that powerfully dissects the deep history of the American Church’s complicity with racism. I find myself regularly putting it down to lament and spend time with the Lord reflecting on some of the great scars of our country’s history.
We recognize that the law has no power to change the human heart. While we always fight for good law and policy change, the deeper work of transforming sinful hearts is a gospel issue, not a legal one. It is not the government’s job to be our savior, and to heal the deeper issues of the heart. We must believe as Christians that good government should be good to all who do good (Rom. 13), and at the same time that the human heart can only be changed by the power of Christ working in them. Government can end polices and laws that are wrong or ineffective. But government cannot change the heart of a racist individual.
In all things – we must shepherd our Church towards Jesus Christ. We must fight against a social gospel somehow distinct or separate from the blood of Jesus Christ which covers our sin. This does not mean the Gospel does not include the advancement of God’s Kingdom through systems of this Earth. It does mean however mean that our Gospel message must always include the blood of Christ for the forgiveness of sin always. In other words our orthopraxy must match our orthodoxy.
I pray this small post helps in some way. My aim is to demonstrate that it is possible to both be concerned about Critical Theory and pose honest better Biblical ways forward as Bible believing Christians. We must point everyone to the gospel over and over again, to Jesus’ death and resurrection and establishment of His Kingdom. Our love of others, especially the hurting and the marginalized must be bold and courageous and practical. We should lead the way in reform when and where reform is needed. We can and should criticize Critical Theory, but we should use even greater energy to demonstrate to the world the love of Christ and the power of the gospel to heal, to change, and to save.
Gospel Coalition Article: The Incompatibility of Critical Theory and Christianity
I personally did not find the Voddie Bauchum lecture very helpful. It, more or less, seems to me to dismiss Critical Theory altogether because of its Marxist roots (and many in the audience chuckle insensitively when marginalized group labels are said aloud–not his fault, but he doesn’t ask them to refrain either). He also get overtly political, which I think will distract some from really hearing what he is objecting to as far as CT goes.
From my readings in college and since, I think some of the tools of Critical Theory can be useful to identify, and talk meaningfully about, some forms of oppression, especially systemic and institutional forms; at the same time, I accept that CT and its tools have their limitations (as well as internal contradictions and a lack of ultimate foundation).
The Gospel Coalition article was informative. But it left me wanting more details not just about CT and its notion of justice, but about Biblical justice.
Some may find Tim Keller’s analysis of Critical Theory (and other theories of justice from the Western tradition) helpful and a fine complement to the Gospel Coalition article.
The Keller article, while quite long, is worth reading in full (he explains several theories of justice succinctly and elegantly and provides a superb summary of Biblical justice at the beginning also):
I think this article by Pastor Tim Keller would be a helpful complement to this post: