I’m writing this post as a Pastor who deeply cares about his flock. We are living in incredibly tumultuous and confusing times. The conversations of race in our country have hit a tipping point. As a result there are hundreds of competing voices offering opposing solutions to the problems we face. As a Pastor of a multiethnic Church in Chicago that has labored with diligence to show our city that it is the Church that holds the keys to reconciliation, this is a subject that I am not only passionate about, but that I also believe is deeply woven into the beauty of the Gospel. It is the gospel of Jesus Christ that first heals sinners of their inherited sin, then fills each of them with the power of the Holy Spirit, and then unites them in a new “bond of peace (Eph. 4:3).” That is the hope that Christians must cling to above all else as we consider the realities of racial division in our divided world.
As I survey the voices offering solutions to the racial problems we face today, I notice that some of the leading voices and authors that the Church is listening to and engaging with are fundamentally offering false gospel narratives detached from any recognition of sin, of salvation in Christ, and of the power of the Holy Spirit at work in His Church. Two books in particular White Fragility by Robin DeAngelo and How to Be Antiracist by Ibram Kendi are among the most popular. While there is plenty to learn from these books on the topic of race, and a critical Christian should be able to acknowledge all the good to take away from them, there is also much to be concerned about. I believe that an uncritical adoption of their ideas would lead a person away from the Bible’s teaching. We must learn to read every author (including myself!) through the perfect revealed Word of God. As Paul instructed Timothy in 2 Timothy 4:3-5
For the time is coming when people will not endure sound teaching, but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own passions, and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander off into myths. As for you, always be sober-minded, endure suffering, do the work of an evangelist, fulfill your ministry.2 Timothy 4:3-5 (ESV
White Fragility and How to Be Antiracist operate off of a version of Critical Race Theory (CRT). CRT is a worldview. A worldview is simply a lens through which we interpret the world, it’s a framework and set of presuppositions which we assume in order to navigate life and determine how and why we move forward. Like every worldview, Critical Race Theory attempts to diagnose the world’s problems and provide the right solutions. With this in mind, the Christian should be immediately ask themselves, “Are these authors rooting their argumentation in God’s revelation made clear through scripture?” As is the case with both of these books, the answer is no, the authors are not assuming or attempting to build up from the pages of scripture. Therefore, at best we can safely assume as Christians that their proposals are incomplete. A failure to engage meaningfully with God’s Word would leave an author woefully unprepared to provide a framework for the problems of our world and how to solve them. Without the light of the world, we cannot find our way through darkness (John 1:5)
Operating off of a CRT worldview, these teachers divide the world into two major categories of people, those who are oppressed and those who are oppressors. Fundamentally this is their beginning anthropology. It is their understanding of the nature of man. Applying this anthropology into America’s story it is easy to determine who is the oppressor and who is the oppressed. It is here where I can validate (and have often) that oppression is a real sin that has a real and lasting impact wherever it is found, particularly in our own country towards African Americans. My critique is not in any way that the category of oppressed/oppressors is fictional or somehow unbiblical. By no means! Pharaoh was a ruthless leader that assigned task-masters to “afflict [the Jews] with heavy burdens.” The Psalmists and the Prophets regularly spoke of the oppressed. Zephaniah 3:19 reads, “Behold, at that time I will deal with all your oppressors. And I will save the lame and gather the outcast, and I will change their shame into praise and renown in all the earth.” The problem is not that the idea of oppressed/oppressors is an unbiblical category, it is simply that the idea itself does not provide a full and accurate anthropology according to scripture. Therefore it is unable to form the basis of a meaningful worldview.
According to Scripture, the main problem with the world is sin, not oppression. Oppression is one type of sin among many. The clear framework for a Biblical anthropology is that of inherited sin. We read in Romans 5:12, “Therefore, just as sin came into the world through one man, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men because all sinned…” Biblical Christianity believes that Adam was our Federalist Head, representing us before God. Adam’s sin has been transferred to every human ever born since the expulsion from Eden. We are all more sinful than we could ever imagine. As Isaiah cried out in Isaiah 6:5, “Woe is me! For I am lost; for I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips…” Or as the Apostle Paul referred to himself in 1 Timothy 1:15, “The saying is trustworthy and deserving of full acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am the foremost.” The root of the problem is sin. Racism exists for the same reason murder exists, because every human heart is more sinful than we could ever imagine. Our sin is an affront to the glory of God and punishable by God through death (Rom. 3:23).
Anthropologically, any worldview that builds our understanding of the problems of this world up from the framework of oppressed/oppressors fundamentally misses the mark. Biblically, the anthropological issue that must be dealt with is sin in all of its variety. We can see how this fundamental difference works itself out in Robin DeAngelo’s writings. She says, “White people raised in Western society are conditioned into a white supremacist worldview because it is the bedrock of our society and its institutions. Regardless of whether a parent told you that everyone was equal, or the poster in the hall of your white suburban school proclaimed the value of diversity, or you have traveled abroad…” DeAngelo is trying to force every person into her framework of oppressed and oppressor (this is Critical Race Theory). She labels every Caucasian in America a “white supremacist.” This is problematic on many levels. One writer, John McHorter of the Atlantic, correctly summarizes and critiques one of the many problems with this. He says, “But if you are white, make no mistake: You will never succeed in the “work” she demands of you. It is lifelong, and you will die a racist just as you will die a sinner.” DeAngelo’s worldview is premised on an impossible works based righteousness completely devoid of any conversation of Christ and his work on the cross, of grace, forgiveness, the Church, or God’s multiethnic plan of salvation.
What is difficult is that I can affirm some of what DeAngelo is trying to say within her book. It is true that much of American culture as we know it today (not all, but much) has been built off of the values majority culture. Most Caucasians in America are blind to the cultural water they swim in. It is a good, and I would argue Biblical thing, for all cultures within a society (especially those of the majority who might hold more authority or power) to strive to be aware of cultural bias and how that can impact real lives in very negative ways. There is so much to learn on this, and in fact both DeAngelo and Kendi are at times very helpful on this topic. The main problem is that Biblically, her overarching claims are simply not true. The main problem that must be addressed if we are to truly see reconciliation between people groups is a complex array of sins beginning with a rebellion to God. To simply pick “oppression” and funnel all wrongdoing through that lens is missing the Biblical narrative.
Like a doctor misdiagnosing an illness and prescribing the wrong medicine, Critical Race Theory’s failure to properly diagnose the central problem with humanity goes further by prescribing the wrong solution. Kendi’s appeal to policy as an important piece of the conversation is helpful. Where he goes wrong is by saying that policy alone can fix the problem. He argues that uneven distribution of wealth and power is wrong and that it is simply a reflection of racist policy. Therefore, the correct method of achieving equality is activism which leads to policy changes. Once again, the Christian is very interested in just policy and Biblical equality. It is here where we can come alongside Ibram Kendi with our Bibles open to Romans 13:3-4 which reads, “For rulers are not a terror to good conduct, but to bad. Would you have no fear of the one who is in authority? Then do what is good, and you will receive his approval, for he is God’s servant for your good…” Where Christians see government using faulty scales and treating one “group” unjustly or unfairly, the Christian recognizes this as bad government and further recognizes policy change as the appropriate correction. Yes and Amen! Even further, we can and should recognize that just because unjust policies from the past have been corrected does not mean the wounds are fully healed. Where there are ongoing unjust or unfair policies that discriminate, Christians in America should be deeply concerned and should seek change appropriately. But there are many wounds in the tangled web of sinful human history that policy alone cannot heal.
Policy change is only part of the solution. These authors have made it the entire solution. As Adam in the garden demonstrates, it is possible to have perfect governance and still sin. Again, utilizing the Scriptures we see that the biblical worldview first deals with the real problem, that of sin. The only means possible of dealing with the problem of sin is Jesus Christ and his death and resurrection. Romans 8:1-2 reads, “There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. For the law of the Spirit of life has set you free in Christ Jesus from the law of sin and death.” Jesus blood spilt on the cross is the necessary divine payment for sinner’s rebellion to a holy God. Romans 10:9 says, “if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.” Upon confession of faith in Christ a person is effectively forgiven of sin and granted an entire new nature. Galatians 2:19–20 says, “For through the law I died to the law, so that I might live to God. I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.”
The problem of racism can only fully be dealt with by Jesus Christ transforming the human heart. Ephesians 2:14-15 speaks to the ethnic divide that once existed between Jews and Gentiles. This was a divide full of hostility and deep history of hatred towards one another. Paul looking at the newly formed church and considering the power of what Jesus had accomplished at the cross says, “For he himself (Jesus) is our peace, who has made us both one and has broken down in his flesh the dividing wall of hostility by abolishing the law of commandments expressed in ordinances, that he might create in himself one new man in place of the two, so making peace,” This is the power of Jesus Christ. This is why Paul could go so far as to say in Galatians 3:28, “There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.” It is not that those ethnic differences no longer existed, but rather that the human heart of those in the Church had been changed to such a degree that whatever hostility once existed between those groups has now been removed. This is not pie in the sky wishful thinking. For the Christian, this is our hope and reality. This gospel alone is the proper medication for the properly diagnosed problem of sin.
I want to close this article by ensuring my readers hear what I am saying. There are very real issues of race in our country. And as Christians filled by the Spirit, that should be important to us. Remember Christ taught us to pray, “Your kingdom come, your will be done on Earth as it is in heaven (Matt. 6:10).” Christians want to experience a shadow of heaven here on this Earth and we desire to be a part of building it through the Church. Revelation 7:9 describes a scene in heaven this way, “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.” Some of my favorite moments of Church have been standing among the gathered assembly with a multitude of races and countries represented, and crying out songs of worship to Jesus Christ together with one new heart. Nothin’ quite like it! In those moments I often pause and reflect on Revelation 7:9, and I consider what our Church is trying to build, rooted and grounded firmly in the gospel of Jesus Christ and I think, “The Church has the keys that everyone is looking for!” Imperfect as we are, we have the keys. We have repentance and grace and forgiveness and renewal. These are necessary and vital variables in the Biblical solution. I want to get after real gospel work that transforms lives and transforms systems! But I want to do it according to the Biblical worldview. As Colossians 1:29 says, “For this I toil, struggling with all his energy that he powerfully works within me.“
So Christian, be warned. Read every teacher with a critical eye. The Scriptures are your standard for interpreting every message. Examine them wisely and diligently in order to make sense of our times. And in all things lead with love like Christ!