Volume 27, Issue 4, April 2021
In formulating a response to CRT and the broader social justice philosophy, which has momentarily captured the imagination of Western culture and increasingly made inroads into evangelicalism, we must begin not with contemporary theories but with Scripture. I would like to propose, and briefly address from Scripture, three key questions:
What did we expect?
Many Christians seem dumbfounded when the fruit of godless worldviews and false, spiritually-bankrupt ideologies emerge. This trend is especially prominent in America where some have equated Christianity with the American way of life (often called Christian Nationalism). Because of material prosperity and a relative level of common morality, many evangelicals have been led to believe that they live in a truly Christian society in which God is honored and His Word obeyed, at least superficially. When the bubble pops, whether that be in the form of social unrest, senseless violence, moral unraveling, or political and corporate corruption, many seem surprised. They scramble, attempting to resolve these troubling concerns and return to normalcy. They too quickly assume their agenda (back to life as they knew it) is God’s agenda, forgetting that God has a far grander plan for His world than merely our comfort and convenience.
Strangely, and contrary to the clear teaching of Scripture (Matt 5:10-12; 2 Tim 3:12), Christians tend to believe that, if they are the Lord’s people and He loves them, then surely, He desires nothing less than their happiness. Any obstruction lying in the pathway of that goal should be identified and removed so that they can continue on their journey toward bliss. Yet God’s Word tells a very different story. Satan is the ruler of this world (John 12:31) and the god of this age (2 Cor 4:4). He commands all the spiritual forces of wickedness (Eph 6:11-12) and he loves to disrupt and destroy the inhabitants of this planet, including, and especially, God’s children (1 Peter 5:8). As a result, throughout His Word, the Lord consistently warns us of the schemes the devil devises to sidetrack, confuse, and harm believers (2 Cor 2:11). It might be of value to reference some of the New Testament statements that serve to bring our expectations in line with reality.
- Matthew 16:6 – Jesus warns His disciples to “beware of the leaven [teaching] of the Pharisees and Sadducees” (cf. v. 12).
- Acts 20:28-31 – Paul commands the elders of Ephesus to be on guard against savage wolves who will not spare the flock.
- 2 Corinthians 11:3-4, 13-15 – Satan’s most effective method is deceitfulness.
- Ephesians 4:14 – Believers should not allow false doctrines to manipulated them.
- Ephesians 6:11-12 – Believers must resist the schemes of the devil.
- Colossians 2:8 – We must not become captives of philosophy and empty deception.
- 1 Timothy 4:1 – Expect deceitful spirits and doctrines of demons.
- 2 Timothy 2:17-18 – False teaching can spread like gangrene.
- 2 Timothy 3:1, 7-8 – Expect difficult times.
- 2 Peter 2:1-3 – False teaching will infiltrate the church.
- Jude 4, 12 – False teachers will often creep in unnoticed and become part of the local assembly.
If we are following the biblical storyline, we should expect ungodly people and deceivers to seek to wreck the church of Christ and the people of God. We should assume that errant ideologies and worldviews will arise to challenge and attempt to destroy biblical truth.
What is our defense?
As we have seen throughout this series of articles, through Paul’s example, God instructs us to destroy “speculations and every lofty thing raised up against the knowledge of God [and take] every thought captive to the obedience of Christ” (2 Cor 10:4-5). But how do we do so? Paul clarifies that our weapons are not “according to the flesh, but divinely powerful.” What are these divinely powerful weapons? By revisiting some of the same texts above, we see that God offers a consistent strategy.
- Acts 20:32 – Paul commends the Ephesian elders to the Word, which is able to build up the believer.
- John 17:14-17 – Rather than take the disciples out of the world, they are to be sanctified in the truth, and God’s Word is truth.
- 1 Corinthians 1:18-23 – In the face of deceptive philosophy, we are to embrace the “foolishness” of the cross and the gospel, not secular wisdom and competing worldviews. This passage explains how the nations will receive our message when they truly comprehend it—with disdain.
- 2 Corinthians 11:3 – Paul points the deceived Corinthians back to the simplicity and purity of Christ.
- Ephesians 4:11-12, 15 – Rather than being tossed about by every wind of doctrine, gifted teachers are to equip and build up the saints, speaking the truth to them in love. It is only as such equipping takes place that saints mature.
- Ephesians 6:13 – To fend off wicked spiritual forces, the believer must put on the full of armor of God.
- 1 Timothy 4:6-7 – The remedy to “worldly fables” is nourishment in words of the faith, sound doctrine, and godly discipline.
- 2 Timothy 2:14-17 – Rather than getting entangled with worldly and empty chatter, we are to turn to the Word of truth and interpret it accurately.
- 2 Timothy 2:22-23 – We are to flee foolish and ignorant speculations, avoid them (v. 16), refuse them (v. 23), stay away from those who teach such things (3:5), and pursue righteousness, faith, and love with the faithful people of God. Christians have a different message, a different lifestyle, and fellowship with different people, than the unregenerate.
- 2 Timothy 2:24-26 – For those willing to listen, we are to correct them gently, for the Lord might grant them repentance leading to the knowledge of the truth.
- 2 Timothy 3:13-17 – Instead of being deceived by evil men and imposters, we should turn to the Scriptures, which lead us to salvation and equip us for every good work.
- 2 Peter 3:2 – In the wake of the long description of false teachers in this epistle’s second chapter, Peter turns to the remedy—the Old and New Testament Scriptures.
- Jude 3 – Just before Jude’s similar description of deceitful influencers, he earnestly appeals to his readers to turn to and defend “the faith which was once for all handed down to the saints.”
- Jude 17 – Jude ends his argument by drawing believers back to the teachings of the apostles.
The uniform instruction found in Scripture are that, in the face of deceitful teaching and teachers, believers are to resist entanglement with the ideologies of false worldviews. Such attempts will fail and often backfire, doing damage to God’s people. Rather, like Paul, we should not be ignorant of Satan’s schemes (2 Cor 2:11). Instead we need to be aware that Satan’s primary weapon is a proliferation of competing worldviews, used as tools to distract from and distort the Word of God. If Satan can shake the believer’s confidence in Scripture, he will put Christians in the position of reacting to trending and competing philosophical systems, which will keep them on the defensive. However, the strength of the believer’s message is not found in apologetics and “fruitless speculation,” but in handling accurately, or cutting straight, the Word of truth (2 Tim 2:15). The power of the majority of the “isms” that sidetrack Christians, is not in their philosophies, per se, but in their diluting the power and meaning of the Word and substituting human approaches to understanding truth and biblical living. The battle takes place over the sufficiency of the Bible. Victory is found in turning away from, avoiding, and refusing to be drawn into the trap of philosophical speculation and trusting in the Holy Spirit–inspired text once for all handed down to the saints (Jude 3).
What are our marching orders?
If we take the sufficiency of Scripture seriously, turning to it exclusively for our direction and guidance, what do we find? First, we are taught that we are living in the midst of a crooked and perverse generation (Acts 2:40; Phil 2:15). Next, our calling is not to “straighten out” our crooked culture; it is to be lights in a dark world (Phil 2:15b; Matt 5:14-16). This direction has profound implications and provides great clarity for both our mission and message. Let’s summarize this teaching by looking at the problem and the solution:
Amid intensified attention on social justice in culture and increasingly in the church, there is imminent danger that the theologically conservative church is losing both its unique message and its mission in the world (Eph 4:14-15). Discussions among evangelicals and fundamentalist Christians have become infused with social justice concerns such as Critical Race Theory, intersectionality, wokeness, and how the church can engage with and change the culture. These discussions have caused much confusion over the purpose of the church and even the gospel itself. Clarity concerning these issues is essential. The simplicity of the power of the gospel and Christ is in danger of being marginalized (1 Cor 1:18, 2:1-5).
The message that Christians are to proclaim is the biblical gospel of redemption and reconciliation with a holy God. Our message is centered on the self-revelation of the Triune God, most perfectly exegeted in Jesus Christ (John 1:14, 18), and expressed and explained throughout the entirety of the sacred Scriptures. The church of Christ is privileged to proclaim the exclusive message of good news: that Jesus Christ is the way, the truth, and the life and therefore the only bridge to God and eternal life (John 14:6). The biblical gospel is not about how the church can change the culture but is the proclamation of the cross-work of Christ, which is the only means of redemption (1 Cor 15:1-4). That the influence of redeemed Spirit-indwelt believers has on many occasions, by God’s grace, resulted in the betterment of society is a great blessing but is never promised in Scripture. However, the goal and essence of the gospel are not to change society but to call human beings out of a fallen world (Phil 2:15), and from spiritual darkness (Eph 2:1-3), through the deliverance available only by the grace of God (Eph 2:8-9). While evangelical social justice advocates expend much energy attempting to change the domain of darkness into something more acceptable, Colossians 1:13 reminds us that Christ came to deliver us from the domain of darkness and transfer us to His kingdom: “For He delivers us from the domain of darkness and transferred us to the kingdom of His beloved Son.”
However, our message is broader than the gospel, extending to the unfolding of the complete revelation of God as found exclusively in Scripture (2 Tim 4:1-4). We are called to speak the truth in love so that the people of God, the body of Christ, might be equipped for every good work and the building up of itself in love (Eph 2:10, 4:12-16), and we are to proclaim the excellencies of Christ who called us out of darkness into His marvelous light (1 Pet 2:9). The church is to be the pillar and support of the truth (1 Tim 3:15), therefore the church’s message must be laser-focused on truth, as found in the Word of God.
Our mission will flow from our message. If, in fact, the unique message given to the church is the proclamation of the gospel, the preaching of the Word, and showcasing the excellencies of Christ, then our mission and ministries should reflect this message. Church history documents the ease with which “mission creep” has slowly changed purpose of Christian organizations, denominations, seminaries, and the church at large. The Social Gospel emphasis, which infiltrated the Protestant church in the 18th, 19th, and early 20th centuries, ultimately eclipsed the message of the biblical gospel of redemption and led to theological liberalism. The social justice movement of the 21st century is following the same pattern. While not denying the biblical gospel, the movement is rapidly allowing the gospel to take a backseat to the social gospel of cultural reconciliation.
Without question, believers should desire peace throughout all societies whenever possible, strongly advocate for justice for all people, have intense concern for the poor, needy, and the helpless, and have and will seek to be involved in finding solutions for all of these issues. Yet, our primary mission, as given to us by our Lord, is much narrower. Believers are commissioned to make disciples of all nations, teaching them to observe the Lord’s commandments (Matt 20:19-20). Therefore, the church’s focus is to call people to salvation (Acts 2:40), equip the saints for the work of ministry (Eph 4:12), rightly divide the Word of Truth (2 Tim 2:15), and entrust biblical theology to faithful believers who in turn will pass it on to others (2 Tim 2:2). The church, as the church, is not called to change culture directly. The church, through its members, is rather to shine as a light in the midst of a crooked and twisted generation (Phil 2:15; Acts 2:40; 1 John 1:5-7; John 12:35-36; Matt 5:13-16). That light, manifested in the children of light, points the way to the Light of the World, Jesus Christ (John 1:5-9). When the church dilutes its mission by adding other agendas, no matter how worthy those agendas might seem to be, these alien agendas will ultimately alter our God-given mandate.