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.
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.
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!
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.
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. 
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. 
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?
- Eric Mason, Woke Church (Chicago: Moody, 2018), 26-27.
- Ibid., 27.
Today a big announcement is being made by Founders Ministries regarding a very important documentary that chronicles the story of how we’ve arrived at the very juncture of the modern downgrade of the SBC. I want to explain why this is so important and how you can get involved.
Growing up in a Southern Baptist Church setting as a boy, I heard stories about how the liberals entered seminaries, rose to rank in the SBC, and turned the ship down a liberal path. The stories I heard were shocking.
After sensing a call to serve the Lord in pastoral ministry, I moved to Louisville, Kentucky with my wife and soon I would learn the name Molly Marshall, I would read the book A Hill on Which to Die by Paul Pressler, and I would watch the film “Battle for the Minds” in a summer elective course taught by Dr. Russell Moore. I would learn more stories regarding the horrible theological liberalism that nearly sank the largest Protestant denomination in America. The story of the conservative resurgence of the SBC is one unique chapter in church history, however, it seems as if we are at another crossroads where some within the ranks of the SBC are determined to take the SBC down another broken road of theological liberalism. The question remains, by what standard are they leading and making such decisions?
During the 2019 SBC meeting in Birmingham, we were told by the Resolutions Committee that Critical Race Theory is merely an analytical tool by which we can assess our culture. That is simply not true. The social justice train continues to steamroll through denominational structures, seminaries, and local churches. Methods such as intersectionality must not be embraced as a mere analytical tool. We’re being asked to replace theology with victimology, swap pastors for sociologists, and trade theologians for political activists. By what standard are such decisions being made?
Today, we have a movement that insists on normalizing soft complementarianism, soft intersectionality, and in the blink of an eye—the SBC will be too far gone to recover from the storm of social justice. Sadly, there are many people in the SBC who are caught up in the social justice movement out of emotion or sympathy for the perceived victims of our day. In reality, a small number of players understand the big picture agenda of deconstructionism and the power grab tactics that are being employed. Could it be that the SBC is being played for a larger political agenda in the cultural sphere? Why is there suddenly such a massive push toward a redefinition of complementarianism? By what standard is the systemic racism idea being pressed upon the SBC? Is the Bible sufficient or must we employ critical theory in order to address problems within the local church and the culture as a whole?
This question is central and I’m excited about a new documentary that is being produced by Founders Ministries where that very question is going to be answered.
By What Standard? God’s World, God’s Rules is a documentary that presses those questions by showing how godless ideologies are influencing evangelical thought and life.
Take a moment to view the trailer for the new film and consider offering your support financially as well. Help us spread the word about this important documentary. No longer are we simply hearing stories about the past—we’re living in the midst of a massive controversy and we have an opportunity to impact the outcome. How can you get involved?
- Watch the trailer
- Consider contributing financially to the project
- Share the link on social media
- Look for ways to engage in conferences and meetings
- Tell the truth to your friends and family
- Tell the truth to your local church
- Show up at the SBC and vote
Our world is divided, our nation is divided, and in many ways—the evangelical church is divided. We live in a broken world where both the soul of man and creation itself groans for the return of King Jesus who will make all things new. The new heavens and the new earth will be filled with unbroken relationships and a world without injustices. All systems will be pure and without the stain of imperfection. That’s why each Lord’s Day as we enjoy a little piece of heaven on earth with the gathered church—we join John the apostle in praying, “Come quickly, Lord Jesus” because even our foretaste of heaven is imperfect and stained with sin.
Unless you’ve been living under a rock, it’s quite apparent that all is not well in evangelicalism. We are more divided today than at any other time in recent history. We are fractured and we continue to fracture as lines are being drawn in the sand regarding social justice. With social media as a megaphone, many people are screaming at the world while claiming to be right as they throw one another under the bus with disdain and divisive rhetoric punctuated with emojis and hashtags to drive home the point. Does that sound familiar? Does that sound like biblical Christianity (Eph. 4:31-32)?
One of the most intense areas of division is based on ethnic lines. How do we engage without sinning against one another and against God in this tense season of church history?
Listen to One Another
In recent months and years, many people who embrace social justice ideas have been doing much of the talking, much of the speaking, and much of the preaching. With the release of The Statement on Social Justice and the Gospel in 2018, things changed. The Statement hasn’t caused division, but it has been successful in putting a spotlight upon the division that already existed.
The common technique today is to avoid dealing with real issues. Those with white skin who disagree on matters of social justice are often rejected without consideration and labeled racist. People who have more melanin count who disagree on matters of social justice are often titled an “oreo” or “coon” and completely dismissed from the conversation.
Since the release of The Statement on Social Justice and the Gospel, not one robust theological rebuttal has been released. With all of the men and women who passionately disagree with the Statement—surely someone could take time to demonstrate where the biblical errors are within the Statement. Could it be that most of those who passionately disagree with the document are refusing to listen and could it be that many have not read the Statement that they’re opposing?
Conferences are being held where black speakers are making radical statements suggesting that “whiteness is wicked. It is wicked. It’s rooted in violence, it’s rooted in theft, it’s rooted in plunder, it’s rooted in power, in privilege.” Such statements are publicly praised rather than confronted by other black leaders in evangelical circles. The moment a white person addresses it, he or she becomes a racist. Are white people not allowed to speak? Are white people being asked to sit down and listen while black people do all of the talking? The wise path forward would be to listen. Black people need to listen too (Prov. 15:32).
Recently the G3 Conference released a graphic with an invitation for a FREE panel discussion at the 2019 Southern Baptist Convention where a group of us will be discussing the issues of social justice and how these ideas have influenced many within evangelical circles. By the slanderous remarks and critique on social media you would have thought that we were dressed in KKK hoods announcing that we were coming to promote white supremacy. The reason for the pushback was that we didn’t have a black person on the panel. One such example of the heated rhetoric and slander was when Bishop Talbert Swan tweeted following:
While we did extend an invitation to a few different brothers who happen to be black, we didn’t invite them because they have black skin. We are not interested in meeting a quota. We stand unashamedly opposed to tokenism. We believe that idea to be sinful and patronizing of our black brothers and sisters in Christ. It’s about giftedness and who can communicate the truth on the issues—regardless of skin color.
In a Facebook post, Dwight Mckissic Sr. added to the divisiveness regarding the upcoming panel discussion by writing:
So let’s see if I have this correct. THIS is the panel first that wants to discuss social justice (of which they know nothing about) and then to define it as dangerous. This is a joke before it even gets started. I wonder if they will discuss police brutality? I wonder if they will discuss their misogynistic theology? I wonder if they will discuss the penal injustice system? This panel is like having atheists discuss the dangers of preaching on Christianity. Give me a break.
Still others, in another Facebook thread, bragged about registering for multiple seats at the event in order to occupy seats and prevent people from attending. Once again, these people claim to be our brothers and sisters in Christ, but refuse to listen to anything that challenges their own position. This divisive and defensive posture is following the same spirit that has now literally overtaken the university system in our country as liberals refuse to listen and even become violent in their protest of any speaker who would dare to challenge the validity of their own postmodern positions and philosophical ideas.
For black people to shout “white supremacy” charges at white people who have never owned a slave, never supported Jim Crow laws, and have no patterns of racism in their life or ministry practices is at best divisive and at worst racism. For white people to ignore real injustices and real racism is problematic as well. We are called to weep with those who weep and rejoice with those who rejoice (Rom. 12:15). Both sides of this conversation must learn to listen to one another and to pursue unity in the gospel. When those who embrace social justice ideas hear the opposing side articulate their positions—they will discover that we are not opposed to helping people nor are we rejecting the fact that real injustices exist in this world. The dividing line will be based on how we choose to engage the brokenness of this world. Simply put—social justice is not biblical justice. They are not the same thing.
However, as we listen to one another, when given an opportunity to respond—there may be a need to offer correction or point out the error of a specific position based on the authoritative Word of God. When we point to solutions, we need to center our positions on chapter and verse—with a biblical foundation.
Listen to God’s Word
When it comes to addressing evil and error, does truth have a specific color? Must the truth be spoken by a person with a specific melanin count in order to get the message across? Is it really true that lived experience is necessary in order to address issues in our culture? Is a heterosexual white male permitted to use the Bible to address the sin of homosexuality or does he need a resume that includes homosexual activity in order to point out error? Interestingly enough, that was not the approach of the apostle Paul as he addressed division among Jews and Gentiles. He was not a Gentile, but he understood the issues and he understood their complaints. Likewise, he pointed both Jew and Gentile to the gospel.
When Paul wrote the letter to a divided church in Ephesus, he didn’t talk to the Gentiles about “Jewish privilege” and seek to inform them on how they had systemically held back the Gentiles from the grace of God. Likewise, he didn’t speak to the Jews about “Roman privilege” and explain how they had been systemically oppressed and discriminated against for years based on their ethnicity. Instead, Paul refused to engage through political methods or social rhetoric. He pointed both groups to the sufficient gospel of Jesus and the work of Christ on the cross where true unity is found and where the “dividing wall of hostility” is broken down (Eph. 2:14).
Social justice is not about helping people. Many people who are swept up into the dust cloud of social justice cannot possibly understand how certain groups could stand opposed to helping people. Quite simply put, social justice is about gaining power and dethroning people from seats of power and authority. Take Ekemini Uwan’s statement for example at the Sparrow Conference where she said the following:
So then when we talk about white identity, then we have to talk about what whiteness is. Well, the reality is that whiteness is rooted in plunder, in theft, in slavery, in enslavement of Africans, genocide of Native Americans, we are sitting on stolen land, if you are in America, we are sitting on stolen land, everywhere in America, this is the reality of land that was stolen from Native Americans and we have to recognize and acknowledge that. It’s a power structure, that is what whiteness is, and so that the thing for white women to do is you have to divest from whiteness because what happened was that your ancestors actually made a deliberate choice to rid themselves of their ethnic identity and by doing so they actually stripped Africans in America of their ethnic identity.
Notice her focus on “whiteness” as a power structure that needs to be eliminated. Once again, social justice should not be confused with a movement that’s interested in helping hurting people—it’s more about deconstructing the hierarchies which is a move right out of Jacques Derrida in his postmodern work titled Of Grammatology. We must all work diligently to distinguish between social justice and biblical justice. We must all likewise work diligently to separate ourselves from those who cause division and offense to the gospel by promoting worldly ideologies and divisive methods of deconstructionism that mirrors worldly techniques rather than the commands given to the church of Jesus. In short—we must not only listen to one another, but we must listen to God’s sufficient Word. Those who oppose social justice are not denying that genuine injustices exist. They are very much in disagreement about how to engage such injustices in this broken world. The question of sola Scriptura and the sufficiency of Scripture must be addressed at this juncture.
The message of social justice is pregnant with political rhetoric, methods, and ideas that simply do not square with the gospel of Jesus. When we pause and consider the fact that Jesus did not come as a social justice warrior to free oppressed people from discrimination and systemic injustice, but instead, he came to die for guilty hell-deserving sinners who deserve the wrath of God on their very best day—things start to come into proper perspective.
Likewise, when we read through the Word of God, we don’t see the apostles encouraging the use of social methods, social justice, and other politically charged ideologies in order to pursue unity or to reach a community. It doesn’t matter if it’s slavery, the dignity of women, or the ethnic division between Jew and Gentile—the apostles are consistently pointing people to the cross of Jesus. We have a sufficient message, so why would we desire to trade in the Bible for social justice ideas?
The dividing line in all of the confusion of the social justice debate comes down to whether or not we will engage real sin, real injustices, and cultural complexities through the authoritative and sufficient Word or will we engage such issues through the broken methods of postmodernism and political strategies?