Over the past year, Critical Race Theory (CRT) has become a buzzword in America’s public discourse, as well as within the walls of our churches. Depending on who you ask, CRT is either the key to unlocking true justice in America for the first time in its history, or the single greatest threat to the Christian faith we have ever seen.
While there is a large swath of people who fall between those extremes, they don’t sell nearly as many books.
As many Christians (and indeed entire denominations) grapple with the complexities of an academic discipline with deeply spiritual implications, Christian thinkers have generated a considerable number of resources regarding systemic racism, CRT, intersectionality, and how Christians ought to respond.
Christianity and Wokeness
One recent entry to this conversation is Owen Strachan’s new book Christianity and Wokeness: How the Social Justice Movement Is Hijacking the Gospel – and the Way to Stop It. In it, he argues that wokeness is a worldview shaped by CRT, social justice, and an abiding victim mentality. In light of that, he argues that the solution to the sin of partiality is not found in, as he puts it, “godless sociology,” but in the gospel of Jesus Christ as revealed in scripture.
The thrust of Strachan’s argument rests on his explicit denial of the ongoing existence of systemic racism in America. To illustrate, Strachan recounts the experiences of his teen years in the 1990s. He recalls his love of Michael Jordan and the Fab Five, as well as his affinity for “urban culture.”
From Strachan’s perspective growing up in rural Maine, America had overcome racism to become a truly colorblind society (the 1992 Los Angeles riots notwithstanding). Little did he know that, at this precise moment in history, cultural Marxists were hard at work in academia, concocting a false narrative of ongoing oppression. It is only decades later that their dogma has infected seemingly every American institution––including the Church.
For Strachan, and many who agree with him, acknowledging the ongoing effects of systemic racism in America makes you woke (and that’s a bad thing). Even if you don’t claim to know anything about CRT, you are still its disciple. You are a Marxist. You have abandoned the gospel of Jesus Christ and surrendered to the gospel of wokeness, which is no gospel at all.
Tying Anti-Wokeness to Sola Scriptura
At the heart of the anti social justice stance is a deep-seated suspicion regarding empirical data that suggests disparities of wealth and success along racial lines. Nevertheless, strangely enough, that suspicion has less to do with the research itself and more to do with a very specifically defined belief in the sufficiency of scripture.
It goes without saying that the bible should be front-and-center in this conversation. After all, sola scriptura was and is one of the core tenets of the Protestant Reformation, and biblicism is one of the unifying values of the Evangelical movement. But for the anti-woke theologian, scripture alone is sufficient for “all things that pertain to life and godliness” (2 Peter 1:3), to the exclusion of the social sciences.
Nevertheless, adherence to the tradition of sola scriptura does not preclude us from discovering knowledge from other sources. In fact, the historic Protestant understanding is that we are able to glean truth from scientific research and the insights of non-Christian voices. Our ability to do this is part of the grace that God extends to all people, whether they are Christians or not.
Hardly anyone would argue that Christians should not trust the wisdom of structural engineers or medical doctors. Quite the opposite. We regularly entrust them with our bodily well being. We willingly submit to their recommendations, because their words carry authoritative weight in their respective spheres of knowledge.
However, when it comes to the expertise of legal experts, historians, and sociologists who can educate us about the ongoing effects of structural racism, many of us are much less likely to listen. Christians are often guilty of applying sola scriptura very selectively.
Understanding Sola Scriptura On Its Own Terms
Even more than applying sola scriptura selectively, we apply it in such a way that isn’t congruent with its original intent. Sola scriptura was never an argument for the total sufficiency of scripture with regard to every philosophical inquiry, but rather an affirmation of the supremacy and centrality of scripture as an interpretive tool in constructing a godly worldview.
The issue at hand for the Reformers was the idea that Papal authority could not unilaterally define how scripture should be interpreted. Instead, an interpretation of a scriptural passage should be measured against scripture itself. In this view, any believer who has a bible and the indwelling Holy Spirit can arrive at the truth. The underlying belief is that the bible is clear, and the Holy Spirit illuminates its meaning and applies it to our hearts.
This is much closer to what Peter means when he says that we have been granted all things pertaining to life and godliness. He goes on to say in the next verse that we have become “partakers of the divine nature” (1 Peter 1:4). This is a reference to the living Spirit of God among us, not merely his recorded words in the bible.
When it comes to racial disparity, the Holy Spirit within us should cause us to act with empathy and conviction. I say this confidently because of the testimony of scripture.
Throughout the bible, whenever God calls his people to account, it is rarely because they need to pray and read their bible more. It’s because they need to put his commands into action. Most often, those commands specifically deal with issues of justice. The bible speaks about this loudly and often, urging us to “learn to do good; seek justice, correct oppression; bring justice to the fatherless, plead the widow’s cause” (Isaiah 1:17).
We prioritize racial justice because of sola scriptura, not in spite of it.
The fact that the Church has often been slow to act on justice, and in fact has regularly worked to fight against its progress with regard to racial equity, stands as an open rebuke. It ought not be the case that those whom we count as godless have a greater sense of compassion for fellow image-bearers than those who follow Jesus.
There are many things that the bible doesn’t teach us how to do. It doesn’t teach us mathematics, physics, or engineering. It doesn’t teach us biology, chemistry, or medicine. It doesn’t even expressly teach us how to establish a fair and just government or nation. Nevertheless, wherever we have the power to make the world around us more fair and just, we are compelled to act.
By leaning into the teachings of scripture, the insights of experts, and the wisdom of the Holy Spirit, we can learn how.
MORE RESOURCES TO CHECK OUT
If you enjoyed this article, these books might be useful resources to you.
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- While I don’t endorse Owen Strachan’s Christianity and Wokeness: How the Social Justice Movement Is Hijacking the Gospel – and the Way to Stop It, you may want to give it a read to evaluate its arguments.
I do endorse these resources:
- Compassion (&) Conviction: The AND Campaign’s Guide to Faithful Civic Engagement by Justin Giboney, Michael Wear, and Chris Butler
- The Color of Compromise: The Truth About the American Church’s Complicity in Racism by Jemar Tisby