I have been wrestling with the divergent views of social justice, critical theory and gospel justice for some time now. They all “compete” in the same arenas, have some overlapping commonality, but they diverge in some very fundamental ways. I am not going to get into those difference here, but I want to try to open a discussion about how we, as Christians, move in these areas and discuss them in ways that honor the desire of Jesus to leave the 99 and go after the lost sheep.
I am writing this after reading a well-written article by Natasha Crain, 5 Ways Christians are Getting Swept into a Secular Worldview in This Cultural Moment. I like that she starts out by acknowledging that George Floyd’s death, which prompted a massive public response, was unjust, and that racism is not only wrong; it is not biblical. She acknowledges that Christian can agree with the secular world on those points.
She goes on to describe five (5) ways in which Christians get swept along by secular currents that are not biblical in attempting to respond to injustice. Critical theory (and critical race theory), in particular, is antithetical to Christianity in some of its core tenets. Though she doesn’t really say it directly, critical race theorists and Christians can both agree that injustice exists and even on that much of what that injustice looks like. The real divergence is in the worldview that informs and under girds critical race theory and its proposed solutions.
I am not going to talk about the details of those differences either. (I did a little bit of that in Critical Race Theory from a Christian Perspective.) What I want to address, using Natasha Crain’s article as a backdrop, is the extent to which I believe the evangelical church failed to address justice issues as God would have us address them.
We are good at preaching the good news (the Gospel), and good at proclaiming truth (including articles like Natasha Crain’s article detailing what is wrong with the critical race theory and social justice efforts the truth and/or leave the Gospel out of the equation), but we are not so good at doing justice. (I have written about this recently here, here and here.)
I see many articles like Natasha Crain’s article, and I hear many voices warning about the evils of critical race theory and social justice initiatives that are divorced from the Gospel, but we need positive voices to speak into the area of justice from the position of the Gospel at the same time. Justice is at the very foundation of God’s throne. (Psalm 89:14) We can’t ignore it!
In that vein, I will add to the voice of Natasha Crain who addressed five (5) areas in which Christians are getting swept into a secular worldview at this time. I don’t disagree with her on her assessment, but I think we need some counterbalance in this discussion that emphasizes God’s heart for justice.
Social Bandwagons Hitched to Secularism
She starts by saying that Christians are “too quickly jumping on social bandwagons hitched to secularism”. Perhaps, this is because the evangelical church’s wagon has been sitting inoperative on the sidelines.
We can’t read the prophets or consider what Jesus said and did accurately without recognizing God’s heartbeat for justice. Deuteronomy 10, Isaiah 61, Zechariah 7, Micah 6, Luke 4, Matthew 25, James 2 and many other provisions of Scripture speak to this. Justice is the second greatest theme of Scripture judging by the raw number of times justice is addressed.
People reading their Bibles and understanding God’s heartbeat for justice want to respond, because the Holy Spirit is prompting a response. To the extent that the church leaves a void, others have rushed in to fill it. If the church is not leading in the area of justice, justice-minded people have to go elsewhere to be obedient to God’s instruction “to do justice, and to love kindness and to walk humbly with your God” (Micah 6:8) and to administer true justice; show mercy and compassion to one another” (Zechariah 7:9), which Zechariah says involves not oppressing the widow, the fatherless, the foreigner or the poor. (Zech. 7:10)
If the church is just talking about justice, but mostly just to distance itself from the views of others, where is a justice-minded Christian to go to get involved?
I am not picking on Natasha Crain. I only using her article as an example of the focus on what Christians should not do. Pointing out the problems with other worldviews on justice doesn’t even get us started doing justice if that is all we do.
Conflating Empathy with Agreement on Action
Crain warns also of conflating empathy with agreement on action. She acknowledges the need to listen to those people affected by injustice and the awareness sparked by the public outcry following the George Floyd killing, which is good, Christians needs people who focus positively on Godly justice.
She is right that critical race theory seeks to silence other voices, but that is all the more reason why other voices need to be heard. She is right that “compassion doesn’t equal agreement on action”, but saying that isn’t nearly enough. We need positive voices speaking into the silence directing believers on doing true justice.
We also need to recognize (as Crain implicitly does) that we shouldn’t deny the truth that is spoken by “secularists” just because it is coming from secularists. We all know injustice when we see it. Even young children know when something isn’t fair, even if they can’t fully articulate why.
I’m afraid that we call out the untruths sometimes to the point of ignoring the truths, especially when they are identified by “secularists”. In doing that, we miss opportunities for a connection. We miss Gospel opportunities that are based on a common concern for justice for fear that we might be seen as endorsing a worldview that is antithetical to the Gospel.
And they will! Jesus was opposed primarily by the religious leaders of his day.
Perhaps, we focus too much on ideas and too little on people. Jesus always engaged people on a personal, intimate and human level. I think we have to get beyond the ideas to focus on the hearts of people. (I say this to myself too!)
When Jesus talks about leaving the 99 to go after the one, lost sheep, he was talking about all the lost sheep – all the people who don’t know him, including justice-minded secularists. By focusing only on the points of difference, and focusing only at the level of ideas, we miss opportunities to make connections with fellow justice seekers whose hearts beat for justice. They need to know the love of God who became man to die for their sins as much as anyone.
Being Shamed into Accepting Secular Definitions of Love
The article speaks to the tactic employed popularly in current culture to shame Christians into accepting a definition of love that isn’t true to Scripture. We obviously shouldn’t allow ourselves to be shamed. There is no condemnation in Christ. If we feel any shame, we need to take it to the foot of the cross. We also shouldn’t be so easily manipulated.
But we shouldn’t focus so much on not allowing ourselves to be shamed that we deny the call from God to do justice and love our neighbors. We haven’t succeeded in working out our salvation as God works in us if we stop at resisting the shaming. Love is active and requires our commitment and our active involvement. As James says,
“What good is it, my brothers, if someone says he has faith but does not have works? Can that faith save him? If a brother or sister is poorly clothed and lacking in daily food, and one of you says to them, ‘Go in peace, be warmed and filled,’ without giving them the things needed for the body, what good is that? So also faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead.” (James 2:14-17)
The shame issue should be addressed in our relationship with God where we find forgiveness for our sins and peace with the Father. But we can’t just stay “there”. Faith that doesn’t move away from the cross and faith that doesn’t bear the fruit of the Holy Spirit is a dead faith.
We can’t be content with an intellectual ascent to the truth of the Gospel without living out the truth of God’s love in our hearts and actions. Faith without action is like a mind without a body.
Unknowingly Getting Caught Up in Critical Theory
Natasha Crain is right that many professing Christians are getting caught up in critical theory without realizing that it’s fundamental tenets are very contrary to the truth of the Gospel. As Jesus warned, we are like sheep sent out among wolves; therefore, we should be “shrewd as (wise) as snakes and innocent as doves”. (Matt 10:16)
We should not be unaware of the truth. We need to value truth. We should keep ourselves from the impurity of the world (innocent as doves), but note that Jesus says this in the context of his call to action:
“I am sending you out like sheep among wolves. Therefore be as shrewd as snakes and as innocent as doves.”
Jesus doesn’t call us to hunker down; he sends us out!
James (who focused on the fundamental importance of action in faith) also said that pure religion involves keeping ourselves unstained from the world, but we should do this as we “visit orphans and widows in their affliction”. (James 1:27)
We should not let ourselves get caught up in the ideas of critical theory, but that doesn’t mean that we should not get involved. Getting involved in issues of justice is going to bring us into contact and relationship with other people who are “out there” in the world addressing injustice, including people whose actions are informed by critical race theory. Jesus knows this, and he has told us to go anyway, but to be wise as we go.
Demonstrating How a Secular Worldview Fails
Finally, Natasha Crain ends with a call to demonstrate how a secular worldview fails. She, of course, does this in her article. Most of the voices I hear are doing this. The evangelical church is very good at showing how a secular worldview fails! I don’t think we fall short on that score.
Where I think we fall short is in getting “out there” in the world where Jesus wants us to go, taking the Gospel with us, preaching good news to the poor, proclaiming freedom for the prisoners, recovery of sight for the blind and setting the oppressed free. (Luke 4:18-19, quoting Isaiah 61:1).
We do a yeoman’s job of distinguishing ourselves from the world, but we are not doing well distinguishing ourselves to the world.
We are the only Jesus many people will ever see. Do they see Jesus in us? Jesus preached the good news and demonstrated God’s love by touching (and healing) lepers, the blind, the deaf, the oppressed, the sick and the poor. He took the good news to the streets and lived and walked among the downtrodden and oppressed of the world.
The authority and authenticity of the message of the good news that Jesus preached was in his actions and demonstration of love for the lost sheep and willingness to go find them where they were. God let go of his glory, “gave up his divine privileges” (NLT), by emptying Himself and becoming human (Phil. 2:6-7) to bring the Gospel to us in word and deed.
If we are going to follow him, we will go where He sends us as sheep among wolves. Yes, we are to remain innocent as doves and shrewd as snakes, but we must go. We can’t remain innocent as doves and not go. We can’t let the wolves keep us from going.
Maybe if more Christians would go as Jesus sends us, doing justice as God instructs us, other Christians would come along with us and not be tempted to fall for “other gospels”, like critical race theory. Maybe Christian wouldn’t get caught up in things like critical race theory or swept along by cultural bandwagons if the church would get its wagon in gear on the issue of justice.