The Woke Hermeneutics of Modern Day Evangelicals

The Woke Hermeneutics of Modern Day Evangelicals

Every so often, during political debates, you will hear people talk about the importance of a proper reading of The Constitution of the United States. The argument is that if you allow people to revise the meaning of the original Framers of the Constitution through a modern revisionist approach, the nation will be led to embrace whatever the cultural winds of the day desires.

In seminary, I had faithful professors who taught me proper methods of hermeneutics—the science of biblical interpretation. It’s essential to read the Bible through a proper lens, otherwise you will end up twisting the meaning of the text outside of the proper meaning rooted in the original author who is addressing the original audience. In short, the text of Scripture has one single meaning that is extracted through a method known as the literal-historical-grammatical interpretation. Reading through an allegorical lens butchers the text and produces all sorts of meanings that are ultimately created by the reader rather than the author.

When reading the Bible we must go through a process of examination—discovering the author of the text, recipient(s) of the text, purpose of the text, and date (for contextual purposes). This method helps us extract the literal meaning as opposed to some spiritual meaning formulated through a reader’s own modern experience and circumstances. Remember the old interpretative method that asked each reader what the passage of Scripture means to them personally? We all know how dangerous this method of interpretation is—right?

Woke Interpretation

Curtis Woods, one of the leaders who brought Resolution 9 to the SBC and which was adopted by the Southern Baptist Convention at the 2019 meeting in Birmingham has written extensively on “Afrosensitive evangelical spirituality” as you can see in his dissertation, “Afrosensitive evangelical spirituality champions social justice without revising Scripture.” [1] Woods was educated at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary and is currently on staff at Southern as Assistant Professor of Applied Theology and Spirituality. In his dissertation, he is arguing for the use of a specific interpretive methodology that brings to the surface the African experience. In footnote 22, Woods explains his approach carefully:

Afrocentrists, therefore, believe African peoples are more qualified to study issues that face them on account of their presuppositional commitment to African agency. See Asante, The Afrocentric Idea; Lucius Outlaw, “Critical Prelude: The Africology Project and Normative Theory,” in African American Studies Reader, ed. Nathaniel Norman, Jr. (Durham, NC: Carolina Academic, 2001), 550. In dialogue with Asante, I offer afrosensitivity to communicate a slightly different nuance. Afrosensitive hermeneutics involves reading African diasporic literature in its own voice without submitting biblical theology to personal experience. Afrosensitivity, unlike Afrocentricity, shows respect to the African perspective without enslaving one’s hermeneutic to African agency. In so doing, Afrosensitivity avoids evaluating other worldviews on the basis of African agency but rather places all worldviews under Scripture. Wheatley unequivocally affirmed a distinctly Christian worldview even though she utilized non-Christian poetic sages and Africanisms in her writings. John C. Shields, arguably the foremost scholar on Wheatley, would disagree with my assertion. Shields believes many students of Wheatley coopted her narrative to advance an agenda. She became a pawn in some socio-anthropological argument aimed at constructing a defensive or offensive front for or against racism. For more information, see John C. Shields, Phillis Wheatley’s Poetics of Liberation: Backgrounds and Contexts (Knoxville: University of Tennessee, 2008), 1-42. [2]

The problem with this method is that it elevates a specific hurdle that a reader of the Bible must overcome in order to get to the actual meaning of the text. In essence, if anything, this method makes it more difficult for someone to get to the true meaning of the text. For example, in his dissertation, Woods makes the following point as he defends Wheatley from the critique of Julian Mason in 1966:

Mason poorly judged Wheatley’s poetry in comparison to her European poetical counterparts, and failed to evaluate how Wheatley’s environment or lived experience shaped her writings. Sociologists label this evaluative process an “ecological perspective.” We cannot disregard how one’s biography shapes one’s theology and social concerns. [3]

Our lived experience—or to use another term, standpoint epistemology, should not dictate the meaning of the biblical text regardless of what any sociologist says. Anytime we read the Bible, we don’t need to read through an African lens or a European lens—we need to read through the lens of the original author.

In his book, Woke Church, Eric Mason writes the following:

In his examination of the economic situation in African American communities, Du Bois concluded that any study of “economic cooperation among Negroes must begin with the Church group.” He was referring to the founding and establishment of black churches during the period of slavery and in the aftermath of the Civil War…You can’t talk about gospel-centered and Christ-centered ministry without talking about the black church. Circumstances forced the black church to look for answers in the Bible and develop a theology that became a robust, comprehensive view of the gospel. [4]

This statement is indicative of the many problems found in the entire book. Mason is committed to a specific hermeneutic lens that makes the mission of the church about defending the cause of the needy and oppressed. Is that really the legacy of God’s Church? Is that really the primary purpose of God’s Church? While I’m convinced that Christians who walk in obedience to Scripture will definitely care for the needy and will stand opposed to oppression—to make bold assertions that the primary mission of the church is to be an advocate for the needy and oppressed is to be guilty of mission drift. As Mason argues for a style of preaching called “prophetic preaching” that addresses social justice matters and reflects “God’s heart” can often miss the actual meaning of the text while trying to address real problems in our culture.

Once again, this way of reading the Bible through a specific lens has developed many different approaches to the Bible through the years—one such tradition is what is known as Black Liberation Theology. This method of reading the Bible focuses upon the needs of the Black community—specifically needs related to systemic racism, systemic oppression, poverty, and other related issues to the historical Civil Rights era.

Black Liberation Theology is a method of reading and interpreting the Bible that was developed by James Cone in the 1960s. In his book, Black Theology and Black Power, James Cone explains how his theological positions were formulated:

For me, the burning theological question was, how can I reconcile Christianity and Black Power, Martin Luther King, Jr.’s idea of nonviolence and Malcom X’s by any means necessary philosophy? The writing of Black Theology and Black Power was the beginning of my search for a resolution of that dilemma. [5]

Anytime we approach the Bible looking for a means to reconcile Christianity to political movements, it will inevitably result in a misreading and misinterpretation of the Scriptures. We must ultimately remember that the Bible is not about us. It’s about God and his redemptive plan to save sinners. We make application to us, and as always, on the bridge of application from the ancient text to the modern reader, we must not fall off the bridge and be swept down the stream of cultural interpretations through an improper hermeneutic.

Woke Commentary Selection

After a proper evaluation of the text of Scripture through a proper literal-historical-grammatical hermeneutic, it’s always wise to read commentaries to see how others have reached the goal of discovering the meaning of the text. This is a good practice because it enables us to make sure that we haven’t gone far off track in our approach.

So, how should we go about selecting commentaries to read and study the Bible? Should it have anything to do with their gifts, abilities, and specific educational background that enables them to be a clear voice that points to the meaning of the biblical text? Sure, but what about skin color and gender? Should a minority be able to speak to text in a better way than a white male? In other words, when studying the Bible, should we use a form of intersectionality in order to decide what commentaries to pull from the shelf to read? Well, that is precisely what Beth Moore is promoting. Notice what she stated on Twitter about her approach to reading and Bible study:

Much of these last 2 years I spent neck-deep in books on viticulture as I wrote on John 15. I learned so much. I love research. In my regular reading this year, to balance what I’d leaned toward for years, I concentrated on women authors and Black men and women authors both. [6]

In a Twitter exchange on January 4th 2020, Beth Moore explained why she doesn’t put out a yearly reading list. After someone requested to know what she’s reading, she explained her approach of reading black men and women authors. Are white males disqualified from providing clear exegesis? Not only is this a form of intersectionality, it’s likewise a means of virtue signaling to the watching world. It makes Beth Moore look good in the eyes of a culture raging on social justice. However, I wonder when she is boarding an airplane if she looks to see if the pilots are black men and women before she enters and takes her seat? Would she use this same approach in selecting a cardiologist or oncologist for treatment purposes?

The point is clear, we can’t afford to allow the social justice agenda to hijack our hermeneutics. How we read the Bible matters. An improper lens results in an improper interpretation—leading to an improper meaning. Do we really need a new social justice fueled hermeneutic? Must we read the Bible through what might be called, “The Intersectional Standpoint Epistemological Hermeneutic?”

It’s time that the evangelical church wake-up and consider the massive implications of the social justice agenda. When conservative evangelical denominations and leaders begin to use standpoint epistemological qualifications for interpreting the Bible and intersectionality as a means of commentary selection—it’s indicative of the massive cancer that’s within.

Beware of those who continue to cry, “Peacepeace,” when there is no peace. Within the SBC, we have become the laughing-stock of the evangelical world. For years people have continued to lament the fact that the SBC once won the war on the inerrancy of the Bible, but it’s currently losing the war on the sufficiency of the Bible. How long will it be until the watching evangelical world knows that the SBC not only believes in the full inerrancy of the Bible, but likewise stands unashamedly upon the sufficiency of the Bible? Stating that the Bible is sufficient in the annual SBC pastors’ conference and then adopting CRT/I as helpful analytical tools for gospel ministry is a massive inconsistency.

Such a commitment will take leadership that stands when others remain seated, speaks up when others remain silent, and advances forward when others hide in the shadows. J.C. Ryle once made the following statement that’s certainly very applicable to our current condition within evangelical circles:

Whenever a man takes upon him to make additions to the Scriptures, he is likely to end with valuing his own additions above Scripture itself.


  1. Curtis Woods, “THE LITERARY RECEPTION OF THE SPIRITUALITY OF PHILLIS WHEATLEY (1753-1784): AN AFROSENSITIVE READING” (Louisville, KY: The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, 2018), 6.
  2. Ibid., 6-7.
  3. Ibid., 11.
  4. Eric Mason, Woke Church: An Urgent Call for Christians in America to Confront Racism and Injustice, (Chicago: Moody, 2018), 126.
  5. James Cone, Black Theology and Black Power, (Maryknoll, New York: Orbis Books, 1997).
  6. Beth Moore on Twitter: https://twitter.com/BethMooreLPM/status/1213492988418113536 [accessed 2/10/20]
Why Asking Women to Preach Is Spiritual Abuse

Why Asking Women to Preach Is Spiritual Abuse

Today, we have seen numerous heartbreaking stories come to the surface regarding physical abuse within evangelical circles—and specifically the Southern Baptist Convention. Such stories make your heart ache as you read and hear the painful details of how church leaders have been responsible for inflicting harm upon people that they were given charge to protect.

These women bear deep wounds as a result of sexual assault, rape, and various other forms of sexual misconduct. Sadly, in some cases, the wounds are inflicted upon girls—who shouldn’t be forced to deal with the horror of such sin. If anyone should speak up and address these issues, it should be the Church of Jesus Christ. Before the liberal media and long before a broken sinful culture addresses it—the Church should address it.

However, we must remember that there’s another type of abuse that we must care about too, and it’s a form of spiritual abuse.

Defining Terms

In the recent documentary released by Founders Ministries titled, “By What Standard?” — I made a statement that has caused some critique. I said the following beginning at the 7:40 mark:

When we talk about the abuse of women, I would go on record as stating that if we ask a woman to do something spiritually that God did not intend for her to do—that’s abusive.”

I do not intend to apologize for the statement, but in order to explain what I mean, I think it would be helpful to define some terms. The terminology of spiritual abuse is not found specifically in Scripture. However, before we quickly pass it off as an extra-biblical addition or a modern construct, we must remember that sometimes theological terms are used to describe something that the Bible teaches without using that specific term itself.

We see spiritual abuse in the case with false teachers who entered the church as wolves to consume the people, as Paul warned the elders about in Acts 20. We see false teachers leading women astray, and Paul warned about this too in 2 Tim. 3:6-7. As I employ the language of spiritual abuse it is intended to point to the intentional violation of women by asking them to occupy an office or engage in the function of pastoral ministry—something she was never created to do from the very beginning.

We must distinguish spiritual abuse as a category that’s distinct from a difference of theological persuasion on non-essentials—such as matters of eschatology. I cannot charge a pastor with spiritual abuse because he preaches a different eschatological position to his church than I do. However, I can charge a pastor with spiritual abuse for asking a woman to stand in the pulpit and preach holy Scripture.

The Spiritual Abuse of the Woman Preacher

It is crystal clear that God has designed women and men to have distinct characteristics physically and specific roles and responsibilities relationally. God has put on display the clear headship requirement of men from the Genesis of all creation—Adam was to be the head of Eve as Christ would be the head of the Church (Genesis 1-3 and Ephesians 5). We can see this in numerous texts from Genesis to the New Testament epistles. For instance, in 1 Timothy 2, when writing to Timothy about the functionality of the church and the boundaries of women, Paul cites from the creation account when he says, “I do not permit a woman to teach or to exercise authority over a man; rather she is to remain quiet” (1 Tim. 2:12). To substantiate his theological position, he quotes from Genesis 1:27 and Genesis 2:8 immediately after drawing a distinct line in the sand regarding the pulpit.

This past week, we had all sorts of commercials during the Super Bowl that pressed specific cultural agendas. One such agenda is the empowerment of women. The NFL aired a commercial by Microsoft (featuring the Surface Pro 7) that pointed to the future of women being accepted into the arena of football. The commercial was one minute, and yet, it packed it big message as it featured Katie Sowers, the first female football coach to reach the Super Bowl (an assistant coach for the San Francisco 49ers. In the commercial she said:

People tell me that they are not ready to have a woman lead, but these guys have been learning from women their whole lives—moms, grandmas, teachers—we have all these assumptions about what women do in life and what men do. I’m not trying to be the best female coach, I’m trying to be the best coach. All it takes is one. All it takes is one and it opens the door for so many. [1]

This is calculated in our social justice fueled culture, and the watching world applauds the NFL for standing up for women. However, they turn right around and design an entire halftime show that is nothing short of pornographic material intended to use women as objects to be sold to consumers. So, it seems that the NFL is playing both ends against the middle, right?

Why is it today that leaders within evangelical circles publicly stand up against physical abuse of women while at the same time promoting an agenda that would allow women to engage in the function of a pastor so long as she’s not occupying the office of pastor? That is hypocritical at best and at worst-case scenario, it’s spiritually abusive to ask women to carry such a burden that God has not designed her to carry. It’s wrong and we should not continue to allow such agendas to permeate their way through denominations, associations, and eventually right into the life of local churches. Katie Sowers is right about one thing, all it takes is one and it opens the door for so many. We need to close the door and prevent this agenda from moving forward.

The modern rage today is fixed on redefining biblical complementarianism. In fact, many have suggested that complmentarianism is a catalyst of physical abuse. I would argue that the term complementarianism is a difficult term indeed and many people do not understand it. However, we can’t charge God’s truth (which is what the term complementarianism is seeking to explain) with being the root cause of sin. That’s simply not true. Complementarianism means  to “complement” and is defined as “a thing that completes or brings to perfection.” The other word, compliment although similar in spelling, refers to “a polite expression of praise or adoration.” Eve did not speak praises to Adam, but she did complete him as his helper and mate. Eve’s presence drove away Adam’s loneliness, as God said, “It is not good that the man should be alone” (Gen. 2:18).

Although Russell Moore, the leader of the ERLC of The Southern Baptist Convention has changed his position, it would be good to remember what he once said in an address given to the Evangelical Theological Society on November 17th 2005:

Ironically, a more patriarchal complementarianism will resonate among a generation seeking stability in a family-fractured Western culture in ways that soft-bellied big-tent complementarianism never can… And it will also address the needs of hurting women and children far better, because it is rooted in the primary biblical means for protecting women and children: calling men to responsibility. Patriarchy is good for women, good for children, and good for families.

Furthermore, preventing women from occupying the office or the functional roles of a pastor has nothing to do with the gifts or abilities of women. In many cases, women are quite capable teachers, good speakers, and can communicate the truths of Scripture well. And there is a place for that within the life of the church—specifically for the discipleship of women and children. William Varner, in his excellent book, To Preach or Not To Preach, writes:

The issue involved in 1 Timothy 2 is not an inherent inferiority of woman’s intellectual and spiritual capabilities, but her function in ministry. She is not subordinate in her capability, but she is to be subordinate in her role. Let it also be noted clearly that Paul does not ground his reasoning in the male-dominated culture of his day. He does not write: “Women should not teach because men will not accept them as teachers.” He grounds his teaching in the order of creation and fall. The mores of culture changes with time, while the order of creation is supra-cultural and is valid whatever the time and place. [2]

The Spiritual Abuse of Jesus’ Bride

Beyond the obvious fact that asking a woman to preach to the church is spiritually abusive, we must address another serious aspect in this discussion that is often overlooked. If the Church is called the bride of Christ and since Jesus laid down his life for his bride (Eph. 5:25), it should go without saying that he cares very much about how his bride is treated. Asking women to preach to local churches is to abuse the very bride of Christ. It’s a form of abusive leadership because it’s opposed to God’s design for the bride of Christ.

When Jesus returns for his bride, it will not go over very well with those who have been abusing his bride whether it be externally through persecution or internally as wolves who have entered with a perverse agenda to harm her. As we have conversations about whether or not women should pastor local churches or be welcomed to engage in the functionality of pastors through preaching—we must not forget that the care of Jesus’ bride is something that God takes seriously.

Abuse on any level should not be tolerate among God’s Church. The Church should pay close attention to the battle for the dictionary and the battle for the pulpit. In both areas, the culture seeks to abuse women, and the Church of Jesus Christ should remain focused as the ancient battle rages onward in this Vanity Fair age.

_________________________________________

  1. Microsoft Super Bowl 2020 Commercial: Be The One / Katie Sowers [accessed 2/4/2020. At the time of this article, the commercial had been watched 14,621,460 times].
  2. William Varner, To Preach or Not To Preach, (California: 2018), 50.
The Power of a Word for a Denomination

The Power of a Word for a Denomination

Never underestimate the power of a word. Words can usher in worlds of unspeakable joy or become the catalyst of immense pain. Whether we know it or not, our life depends on words in order to function. We review instructions for food preparation as we pre-heat the oven, examine a bottle of prescription medication for instructions, review road signs as we navigate the highway, and read a contract before we sign on the dotted line.

Words matter in the world of politics, in military conquest, and in all spheres of life. Perhaps nowhere do we see the importance of words on a higher level than we do in the world of religion. Rightly so, because he who controls the dictionary controls far more than you can imagine.

Words Matter Because Meaning Matters

In recent days, Merriam-Webster unveiled “they” as their 2019 word of the year. It wasn’t a completely random choice. It was based on data from their online searches which revealed something interesting and quite troubling about our world. According to Merriam-Webster:

“Our Word of the Year for 2019 is they. It reflects a surprising fact: even a basic term—a personal pronoun—can rise to the top of our data. Although our lookups are often driven by events in the news, the dictionary is also a primary resource for information about language itself, and the shifting use of they has been the subject of increasing study and commentary in recent years. Lookups for they increased by 313% in 2019 over the previous year.”

The pronoun controversy is indicative of a sick culture, but sadly, we are living in a day where a word can be officially changed in the dictionary in September and by December become the official word of the year. Why is this the case? Because of cultural pressure. People can demand that the actual real meaning of a word be changed to accommodate the desires of a culture. Notice what Merriam-Webster said in explaining their choice of the 2019 word of the year:

“…they has also been used to refer to one person whose gender identity is nonbinary, a sense that is increasingly common in published, edited text, as well as social media and in daily personal interactions between English speakers. There’s no doubt that its use is established in the English language, which is why it was added to the Merriam-Webster.com dictionary this past September.”

We are living in a world where real men are pretending to be real women. In some cases, real people (male and female) are choosing to not identify as either male or female. This transformation culture rejects absolutes and the postmodern framework of rejecting truth and exchanging it for imagination has precipitated a world where words are being changed in order to change the whole society. Just take marriage as an example. This is more than a squabble about words on paper. It literally affects the whole of civilization.

Deconstructing a Denomination

In Jacques Derrida Of Grammatology, the ideas of deconstruction and his method of analyzing human language has led to the deconstruction of the hierarchy of vocabulary. Once again, this is far more than arguing about words. If the meaning of words can be changed—it will lead to change in the world. Make no mistake about it, the liberals and enemies of the gospel are very much interested in changing denominations—and we see this through ongoing scandals and debate on social justice. At the heart of the social justice debate is the battle for the dictionary.

Pronouns and Ministry

Merriam-Webster has made it clear—pronouns matter. We face choices on how we will address people in our culture as well as within our churches. Will we call them by their preferred pronoun or will we address them according to their actual gender? In recent weeks, J.D. Greear who serves as the current president of the Southern Baptist Convention has made a distinction between what he calls, “generosity of spirit vs. telling truth.” Greear goes on to specify that he holds to a “generosity of spirit” position which he explains is much like what Preston Sprinkle refers to as “pronoun hospitality.”

While manners are important and we should demonstrate a love for all mankind based on the imago Dei—no matter how severe the image of God has been broken by sin, the role of the pastor in the local church is to tell the truth and to feed God’s sheep. If our ministries are designed upon a pragmatic foundation seeker sensitive approach, undoubtedly postmodernism will seep through the cracks and influence our methods of ministry. All confused sinners need to hear  God’s truth. This goes for the redneck who drank too much beer on Saturday night and decided to commit adultery on his wife and the man who desires to be referred to as “ze” in the church’s foyer after the service.

The gender debate and pronoun controversy is not one that John Knox was having to deal with in Edinburgh. We are living in confusing days, but at all times, we must remember that the Bible is sufficient. If we abandon the regulative principle of worship or turn our backs on the Scripture’s sufficiency in the midst of massive confusion it will only lead to more confusion. A ship on the sea at night in the midst of thick fog needs the radiant beam of the lighthouse to provide clear direction. How is it possible to demonstrate real hospitality and love for sinners without telling the truth? If we adjust our vocabulary in the foyer it will have an impact upon the vocabulary we use in the pulpit.

Complementarianism

In 2018 the controversy over the roles and responsibilities of men and women within the SBC erupted through social media leading into the annual SBC meeting in Dallas in June. Today, that controversy has continued to burn and the heat has greatly increased following the release of the Statement on Social Justice and the Gospel.

Bold attempts have been made to advance a firm egalitarian position into the ranks of the SBC, but those attempts have been smaller in nature. The popular trend has been to shift the meaning of complementarianism to embrace a narrow view that centers on the office of pastor alone which supports the function of women preaching in local church settings so long as she is not holding the office of pastor / elder. Other attempts have been made to discredit the term complementarianism altogether by attempting to connect the dots of the recent sexual abuse scandals to the position of complementarianism. Karen Swallow Prior who has recently been hired by Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary has gone on record as stating that she rejects both egalitarianism and complementarianism.  

The point is clear—there’s a fight over a word taking place in the SBC. Once again, this is not just a think tank discussion that will have no lasting impact. Make no mistake about it, the future of the SBC is largely hinged upon how this debate is settled. Churches are already leaving the denomination and others are posturing themselves for a departure in the upcoming days.

Moving forward, the words that leaders choose to employ should be evaluated and considered carefully. This is not the time for political posturing nor is it the time for leaders to sit back and pretend that nothing is wrong. There are real attempts being made to deconstruct our denomination and one of the great weapons of war that anyone can use happens to be the way in which we employ words.

Words serve as the building blocks of theology. All of our theology is derived from words, sentences, and paragraphs from holy Scripture. This complementarianism debate transcends far higher than whether or not Beth Moore could serve as the president of the SBC or whether or not Lottie Moon should have preached to the people in China. Unless we carefully guard the meaning of words, any thief or robber will be able to steal away words and drastically alter the direction or even the existence of our denomination.

Words matter.

 

“O Holy Night” Points to Greater Hope than Social Justice

“O Holy Night” Points to Greater Hope than Social Justice

During the advent season, when Christians are celebrating the birth of Jesus, there’s one song that is often sung by churches, choirs, and soloists—telling the story of the incarnation of Jesus with brilliant words and stunning musical arrangement that often stands out among the other carols and Christmas hymns. Originally known by its French name, “Cantique de Noël” (meaning “song of Christmas”), the song “O Holy Night” remains a favorite song of the Christmas season.

Perhaps you never knew the story of this well known carol that was penned by a nominal Catholic and the music arranged by a reluctant Jew—for a midnight mass on Christmas Eve. You might not have known of the controversy the song created in France when the author left the Catholic Church resulting in it being banned before it eventually made its way to the United States. You also might not have known that this song was the very first song to be played across the radio airwaves in world history on December 24th 1906. Even with all of this history, perhaps you have overlooked something else in the song, namely a message nestled within the third stanza that deserves our attention.  

Truly He taught us to love one another

His law is love and His gospel is peace

Chains shall He break for the slave is our brother

And in His name all oppression shall cease

Sweet hymns of joy in grateful chorus raise we,

Let all within us praise His holy name

It is no secret that today’s evangelical church, especially in America, is greatly divided over the social justice movement’s methods and message. Rather than promoting love and peace, the social justice movement breeds resentment, animosity, and division. Social justice by default flows out of a long history of postmodernism and with a functional goal of deconstruction—the movement itself demands reparations rather than forgiveness, penance rather than repentance, and social activism rather than unity in gospel transformation.

This beloved carol was introduced to America during a time of division over slavery. The third stanza spoke the truth with poetic power and moved the hearts of people. It was a needed message during a time of great division and darkness in our nation’s history. Indeed, in Jesus we learn what true love is—sovereign love, servant love, and saving love.

The devil is quite crafty and uses something as shallow as skin color to divide people from one another. This has been the case all throughout human history. Sadly, the world and the church are both tempted to find answers to brokenness through social justice rather than the gospel of Jesus. This leads to a hyper-focus on social activism, marches, tearing down statues of historic figures, burning historic flags, and demanding change that’s focused on the shallowness of skin color rather than the heart, the mind, and the actual abilities that people are gifted with.

Social justice, being a rather complex movement, is not only focused on ethnic division, but also on areas such as the roles and responsibilities of men and women in the home, the society, and the local church. Rather than celebrating the roles of both men and women as image bearers of God in this world and within the local church—social justice demands equality of roles and functions—something that God never intended. The social justice message creates bitterness rather than love, division rather than unity, and chaos rather than peace. Looking for freedom in a world of brokenness—advocates of social justice become slaves to ideas, methods, and ultimately doctrines that flow out of the pages of postmodernism rather than sacred Scripture. This is not the message of love nor will it lead people to peace.

Today, we are experiencing much chaos as the social justice train continues to roll through denominations, institutions, organizations, and local churches. We are witnessing a unique and trying time in our history where longtime friendships are being severed and denominations are being stressed to the point of implosion. It seems that there is no light at the end of this long tunnel.

As we consider our current place in human history and within the history of the church, we must keep our eyes fixed on Christ. The birth of Jesus was promised in the midst of chaos (Gen. 3:15). All throughout human history, God would often remind people of the coming of Christ in the midst of turmoil and chaos as was the case when the prophet Isaiah penned his promise of hope. When people needed hope—God pointed them to the birth of a King, but not just any king. The prophet writing 700 years before the birth of Jesus pointed the people to the one who would bring true justice and eternal peace.

Nestled in this famous carol is the promise of Isaiah 9:6. While we look back at the birth of Jesus, we must remember that as the prophet wrote Isaiah 9:6 long before Jesus’ birth, he didn’t stop in Bethlehem. He looked beyond, to a day in which Christ would usher in his visible Kingdom and upon his return would rule with perfect justice and ultimate peace. When Christ returns, all oppression shall cease. Every knee will bow and every tongue will confess that Jesus Christ is Lord upon his return, and all forms of sinful oppression will be no more. 

Only in Jesus will ethnic division among Jew and Gentile be settled. Only in Jesus will ethnic pride and divisive racism be swallowed up in victory. Our hope for a world without division, chaos, bitterness, pride, and confusion over our roles and responsibilities as men and women will only be realized fully when Christ returns and makes all things new. 

Until then, we look back to Jesus’ birth with joyful hearts and long for the day of hope when our King shall descend in radiant splendor. Come Lord Jesus!

 

 

Stop Using Michael Brown as a Social Justice Tool

Stop Using Michael Brown as a Social Justice Tool

On August 9, 2014 Michael Brown was shot and killed by officer Darren Wilson in Ferguson Missouri. Soon enough, the city erupted in rage against law enforcement and Twitter exploded with the hashtag #Ferguson. Today, the names Michael Brown and Ferguson are inseparably connected with the Black Lives Matter movement. Five years later, we are still divided and the social justice agenda continues to create an ever growing division throughout our nation and within religious circles. It’s time that we stop using Michael Brown as a tool for social justice.

False Narratives and Social Justice

Much of what we know about Michael Brown is a lie. Soon after the city was turned into a war zone, it was discovered that the narrative that fueled the rage was actually false. The stories that were popularized and published in newspapers and on television from the sidewalk of Ferguson stated that an unarmed black man was shot with his hands up by a white police officer. 

Dorian Johnson, a friend of Michael Brown, gave a story to police officers and the media that ignited the explosion of anger and frustration— eventually turning the city into a war zone. The DOJ report states on page 44 that Johnson “made multiple statements to the media immediately following the incident that spawned the popular narrative that Wilson shot Brown execution-style as he held up his hands in surrender.” That was actually a lie. It was a lie that forever changed Ferguson and created a massive divide among ethnicities throughout the United States. 

It would not take long before Michael Brown’s name would show up on t-shirts calling for justice while also being attached to the #BlackLivesMatter social media buzz that swept across our nation. Crowds marched through cities chanting “Hands up” — “Don’t shoot” in protest. It would strike a nerve in the hearts of people across our nation. Hands up poses were offered up by CNN news anchors on live television and by five professional athletes—players for the St. Louis Rams as they took the field for a game after the DOJ report cleared officer Wilson of wrongdoing in the death of Michael Brown.

The whole story of the “Hands Up Don’t Shoot” was a lie. It was fabricated by Dorian Johnson who became known as “Witness 101” to stir the hearts of Ferguson with anger and division. In short, Johnson weaponized Michael Brown as a tool of division against the police officers that he despised. 

According to page 8 of the DOJ report:

Although there are several individuals who have stated that Brown held his hands up in an unambiguous sign of surrender prior to Wilson shooting him dead, their accounts do not support a prosecution of Wilson. As detailed throughout this report, some of those accounts are inaccurate because they are inconsistent with the physical and forensic evidence; some of those accounts are materially inconsistent with that witness’s own prior statements with no explanation, credible [or] otherwise, as to why those accounts changed over time. Certain other witnesses who originally stated Brown had his hands up in surrender recanted their original accounts, admitting that they did not witness the shooting or parts of it, despite what they initially reported either to federal or local law enforcement or to the media. Prosecutors did not rely on those accounts when making a prosecutive decision.

While credible witnesses gave varying accounts of exactly what Brown was doing with his hands as he moved toward Wilson – i.e., balling them, holding them out, or pulling up his pants up – and varying accounts of how he was moving – i.e., “charging,” moving in “slow motion,” or “running” – they all establish that Brown was moving toward Wilson when Wilson shot him. Although some witnesses state that Brown held his hands up at shoulder level with his palms facing outward for a brief moment, these same witnesses describe Brown then dropping his hands and “charging” at Wilson.

Michael Brown as a Tool for Politicians 

As expected, Michael Brown was used by politicians to press a narrative and connect with voters who were very much impacted by the whole story of Michael Brown. Today, the same thing continues—even though it has been stated openly and publicly that Michael Brown was killed by a police officer while breaking the law and engaging in violence against an officer of the law. Elizabeth Warren tweeted out the following:

In short, politicians are continuing to use Michael Brown’s name for their own political agenda and as a result—they popularize the lie that he was innocent. This creates further division among ethnicities, fuels racism, and fuels disrespect for police officers throughout the nation. 

Michael Brown as a Tool for Evangelical Leaders

In April of 2018, several evangelical organizations including The Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention and The Gospel Coalition teamed up for a conference on the 50th anniversary of Martin Luther King Jr’s assassination. The MLK50 event was held in Memphis and was intended to serve as “an opportunity for Christians to reflect on the state of racial unity in the church and the culture. It created the occasion to reflect on where Christians have been and look ahead to where we must go as we pursue racial unity in the midst of tremendous tension.”

However, during the event, a spoken word poem was offered up on the main stage of the conference before all attendees and those watching via livestream. The poem was titled, “Dear Mike Brown.” The artist who performed the spoken word poem is Preston Perry. He tells a powerful story that follows a narrative of injustice. He begins with a personal account with police officers on a chilly January morning in Chicago before moving to the story of Michael Brown.

The first line about Brown states, “Dear Mike Brown. I don’t know you. I don’t know if your unarmed body rose from his bed that morning planning to stick his hands in a squad car.” Notice how Preston Perry uses the carefully chosen language of “unarmed body” to further the false narrative of police brutality. Like politicians, even after the release of the DOJ report, Perry uses Michael Brown to further divide ethnicities and plant doubt in the minds of evangelicals in the MLK50 conference. In his poem, Perry asks the following question:

Dear Mike Brown, your death got me thinking a lot, and I wonder if Fox News ever considers you human or if they purposefully paint you beast in the minds of their viewers. Convinced themselves that every bullet that dove head first in your organs carried justice, numbed America’s conscience concerning you.

While Preston Perry promoted the false narrative of injustice by officer Wilson, it had already been established in the justice system of the United States that Brown’s death was justified. Sadly, as horrible as the scene was, and as tragic as death is, Michael Brown did receive justice. Swift justice in the streets of Ferguson. 

The sad reality is that this is not merely a political event. It was a religious event for evangelicals and it promoted further doubt, division, and hatred for police officers in the name of justice. If anyone should understand what true justice looks like—it should be the evangelical community—those who call upon the Lord and have a proper biblical lens by which to look at the broken world that surrounds us. 

Why Does Michael Brown Matter?

We can learn some powerful lessons from Michael Brown. We learn that truth matters, justice matters, life is precious, and racism is evil. 

The Scriptures reveal to us the importance of telling the truth. When people lie—it not only distorts the facts—it can put people’s lives in danger. When Satan lied to Adam and Eve, it brought death into the world (Romans 5:12; Genesis 3). When Abraham lied to Abimelech king of Gerar about Sarah—it endangered her and Abimelech (Gen. 20:2). All through the Bible we find story after story that reveals the importance of the truth. Proverbs 12:19 says, “Truthful lips endure forever, but a lying tongue is but for a moment.” Ferguson learned this dreadful lesson in August of 2014. 

We are called to be people of justice. The very justice system of our nation is derived from the commands for God’s people to seek justice in the Scriptures (Micah 6:8). Although imperfect as a national system of justice, God’s justice is pure, righteous, and will one day be finally accomplished at the final judgment (Rev. 20:11-15). Until then, every Christian must labor in gospel ministry with peace, unity, and a commitment to biblical justice. 

Racism is an ugly monster that is alive in our nation (see Article 14 on racism in The Statement on Social Justice and the Gospel). We see it in specific pockets and while it moves in the shadows often—it rears it’s ugly head at times for the whole world to see. Racism is not a white thing. Racism is a sin that is rooted in the depravity of the human heart and is employed by all ethnic groups at times. When the world is stirred with confusion, we must labor to promote the imago Dei—all human beings are created in the image and likeness of God.  Michael Brown matters because he was created in the image of God. Black lives matter for the very same reason that police lives matter. Life is a precious gift from God, we must all recognize this truth. 

The social justice agenda is not a friendly movement of peace. It has ugly political motives that lie beneath the surface. If you have a hard time grasping that as a reality, ask yourself an honest question—why would politicians continue to use the false narrative of Michael Brown as a means of pursuing justice? Furthermore, within evangelical circles, why would Michael Brown be used in a spoken word poem on the 50th anniversary of MLK’s death to promote biblical justice? Was justice not served for Michael Brown? Was officer Wilson acting out of injustice against Michael Brown? It’s past time that we stop allowing people to use Michael Brown as a tool for social justice. 

What exactly is the social justice agenda seeking to accomplish? Five years after the tragic death of Michael Brown, it’s time to admit that Michael Brown has been abused. He was not abused by officer Wilson, but he continues to be abused by those who seek to use him as a tool of division in the agenda of social justice. 

 

Is a Particular Lived Experience Necessary?

Is a Particular Lived Experience Necessary?

The social justice train continues to roll through evangelicalism, and one of the core tenets of this ideology is an elevation of lived experience. Proponents of the social justice movement are pressing the idea that a particular lived experience is necessary in order to navigate the challenges of this messy world with devils filled. 

Let Me See Your Résumé

Have you sat through an interview for a job only to hear at the conclusion of the interview that according to your résumé, you don’t possess the experience necessary to perform the job that you’re interviewing for? The person conducting the interview is telling you that you need more experience and you need to build your resume in order to be given the opportunity to work and perform that specific job.

With the rise of the controversy surrounding the social justice movement, many people are demanding a particular lived experience résumé in order to grant certain people a voice into the issues and challenges facing us in our day. The idea is simple. If you haven’t lived and experienced what it means to be the subject of discrimination and injustice (on various levels, as a woman, a minority, a homosexual, and various other groups)—you can’t speak to the issues because you haven’t experienced it yourself. 

In short, some voices are suggesting that unless you’ve experienced it yourself, you need to stop talking and start listening because the lived experience résumé turns specific people into social experts and what they say must be accepted as truth—without question. 

How can this approach to justice be acceptable if justice is outside of us and if the Scriptures, which Martin Luther called the external word (which did not come from within us but originated with God) is our source of final authority? Should we ask for someone’s lived experience résumé or should we ask for what the Scriptures teach?

Put on These Glasses

I can remember walking into a movie that was 3D movie just a few minutes late with a group of friends. It took me a minute to get to my seat and get settled. When I looked up at the screen, everything looked blurry and certainly not high quality or high definition. However, when I got settled, put my drink in place, and slipped on my glasses, everything changed. Suddenly, the colors were vibrant, the imagery went from a flat screen to a realistic 3D image, and it was as if I was standing in the Hobbit’s hole—the book had come to life before my eyes.

In our social justice saturated culture, today people are suggesting that you you must be able to see and understand the lived experience of others in order to feel their pain, walk in their shoes, and to be awakened to the real life struggles of our neighbors. If you can’t see it—you can’t possibly understand how to fix the problem—which in most cases is yourself or as you will soon discover, you are at minimum a part of the problem. 

Writing in the Huffington Post, in an article titled, “My Lived Experience of Social Justice Work” Jonathan C. Lewis states the following:

Social entrepreneurs carry two different ‘résumés of reality’. First: you and I grow up within a particular community and tribe. Possibly (because of skin color, economic hardship, gender, religion or other comparable outsider status), you have known the isolation and sting of being the Other. Your history, naturally and invaluably, will inform your social justice work. Or, maybe your life experience has been easier and more protected. Either way, we each have an inherited résumé.

The other résumé is earned in apprenticeship. We volunteer, train, intern and work to soften the jagged edges of life on behalf of the discarded and the left out—whether at home, abroad, or both. Without sharing in the world’s suffering, without feeling the sharp jabs of injustice, without witnessing the torching rage caused by in­equality, without sensing the frustration of the impossible, our social entrepreneurship – like a fire waiting for a match – lacks the heat of conviction.

The common argument for those who are engaged in the grievance saturated social justice movement is that without a specific lens of experience, you can’t fully understand and you can’t possibly see the world the way it really exists. In short, you need a certain set of special glasses to see the world properly, and unless you have the right lenses to gaze through, you will remain blind to the injustices surrounding us on a daily basis. While Jonathan C. Lewis isn’t writing from a Christian perspective, that’s precisely the same language being used within evangelical circles today. 

Science of Biblical Reinterpretation

When we open the Bible and read it, there are specific rules that must be put into practice in order to understand it properly. These rules and methods are known as hermeneutics – the science of biblical interpretation. A shallow and haphazard reading of Scripture can make the text say anything. For instance, a misreading and cherry picking of a single verse of Exodus 13 can cause people to claim the Bible says to sacrifice your firstborn son to the LORD. That’s certainly not the case, and we need to know how to read the Bible through a specific lens. 

The meaning of the text is singular and it’s set by the intent of the human author. Therefore, the literal, grammatical, historical approach to the text is essential. It should frighten us that within today’s social justice quagmire, people are actually arguing for a reinterpretation of the Bible based on our modern historical context. This method will not only do violence to the biblical text, but it removes it from a fixed position with a fixed meaning and causes the text of Scripture to be fluid, movable, and adjustable as culture and history changes. 

Consider the tweet from Jemar Tisby:

A lot of Christians reading theology but we need some more folks reading U.S. history, too. To properly apply Scripture you can’t just learn the historical context of the Bible. You have to know your own historical context as well. #historymatters

It may be true that Jemar Tisby is simply trying to know how to best apply the ancient text to his modern context, but notice one of the replies to his tweet in the thread by Bradley Mason:

I can say that a careful, honest reading of history changed my mind entirely on colonialism, race, economics, politics, & even theology. I know including theology will frighten people, but it’s difficult to tell what ideas have been supplied by your context until you study others

One of the terms that has become a staple in our social justice debate over the last couple of years is the term woke. It’s really a word filled with great baggage. It originated out of the Black Nationalist movement as an urban colloquialism and is presently employed by people such as Eric Mason, author of Woke Church, as a description of people who can accurately see the injustices of our world and know today what they did not previously know in the past. They are awakened to the issues. 

In his book, Woke Church, Mason writes:

It is a struggle to emerge with a strong sense of self and dignity, while being fully aware of the perception of our people in the eyes of white America. Most African Americans have had at least two life-altering experiences that are burned into their memory—the moment they realized they were black and the moment they realized that was a problem. [1]

Mason goes on to suggest that this “double consciousness” is a reality for minorities in America. He argues that unless a person possesses a third consciousness which is a Christ Consciousness it will not be possible to be fully woke. Mason writes:

Our Christ Consciousness elevates our awareness to our responsibility to care for and love our brothers—even those who don’t look like us…Therefore, to be fully woke, one needs to have all three aspects of consciousness. [2]

We must be careful in reading the ancient text through the lens of our present context. The Bible is not about America. Doing so will lead to all sorts of confusion and errors. While the Bible was not written to America or to your neighborhood in America—it certainly does address it and must be rightly applied to it. Reading the Bible in the wrong direction and importing meaning from a modern context is a revisionist approach—which must be rejected completely. We don’t need a modified Bible—we need the Word that God breathed into existence and that accurately diagnoses the injustices, sinful practices, and points us to the solutions within the gospel of Jesus. In short, the Scriptures are sufficient and they transcend all cultures, all experiences, and serve as our final authority.

What About History?

When writing to Timothy who served as the pastor of the church in Ephesus, Paul didn’t talk about the need for Timothy to have a specific set of lived experiences in order to address the injustices of temple prostitution. While there were massive challenges for Timothy to face in how he addressed marriage, the covenant keeping responsibility of men, the picture of the gospel, the sacrificial love that men should have for their wives, among a multitude of other cultural issues such as idol worship and more—Paul pointed Timothy to the Scriptures (2 Tim. 4:1-5). 

When we send missionaries to plant churches and train leaders around the world, we should train them in language, culture, and various other factors that will aid them in proper communication and provide them the necessary insight to address specific challenges with the culture—but we don’t school them in sociology or place our confidence in worldly disciplines. We send them with one message that transcends all cultures on planet earth—the sufficient gospel of Jesus! 

That’s how John Paton impacted the New Hebrides. Once filled with savages who ate human flesh, and after Paton’s ministry through the gospel, the people were civilized and the islands were filled with churches who bowed to Jesus Christ. How did he accomplish it? It wasn’t through the tenets of social justice or the ideologies of the world. It was by the power of the gospel of Jesus. 

Paton had never eaten human flesh nor had he built a résumé of lived experience among savage people. His Scottish upbringing was nothing remotely close to the culture of the New Hebrides and he was even called a fool for wanting to go in the first place. Although he possessed no lived experience resume from the New Hebrides culture, what he did have was the pure unadulterated gospel of Jesus—a message that is capable of addressing all cultures—civilized and uncivilized. 

When will we as brothers and sisters put down our foolish sticks and return to the sword of the Spirit and address culture with confidence, love, and passion to see people bow to King Jesus?


  1. Eric Mason, Woke Church (Chicago: Moody, 2018), 26-27. 
  2. Ibid., 27.