Just a few years ago, evangelicalism was enjoying a refreshing resurgence of reformed theology, expository preaching, and stalwart defense of the inerrancy and sufficiency of Scripture. Despite differences on secondary theological issues like the mode of baptism or individual positions on the continuation or cessation of sign gifts, there was a wonderful unity that was fostered across these lines among those who shared the convictions that define historic evangelicalism.
But seemingly overnight, all of that has been shattered.
Now those who once attended the same conferences and even shared the same pulpits at those events are taking sides along what Voddie Baucham calls the Fault Lines created by the Social Justice Movement in general, and Critical Race Theory (CRT) in particular. While most conservative evangelicals have not caved to the demands of egalitarianism and the LGBTQ+ movement, the issue of race has proved to be heartbreakingly divisive.
Social Justice to the Fore
The tragic death of Trayvon Martin in 2014 left a wave of social unrest in its wake, and a renewed call for social justice that sought to outdo the Civil Rights Movement of the 1960’s. While leaps and bounds of progress had been made on the issue of race in reality, the Social Justice Movement was convinced otherwise, but it didn’t have the traction it needed to position itself front and center until the death of George Floyd in 2020. A polarizing political situation, coupled with the fear and frustration of the COVID-19 pandemic, created the ideal opportunity for a perfect storm of civil unrest.
With the majority of media outlets at its disposal, the social justice movement pushed the ball as far down the court as possible. Only this time, its contentions went beyond the clear and inexcusable attitudes and behaviors of the actual racism that had once characterized many Americans to a belief that racism is an inherent, systemic problem for all white Americans. The charge is that white supremacy is so deeply ingrained in our society that anyone and everyone with white skin is inherently racist. Simply by being white, one is guilty of “white privilege.” Those who deny such a charge are only revealing their “white fragility.”
“Those who once attended the same conferences and even shared the same pulpits are taking sides along what Voddie Baucham calls the “Fault Lines” created by the Social Justice Movement in general, and Critical Race Theory in particular.
From Social Justice to Social Constructs
For lack of a better label, the idea of some sort of “social justice” is perfectly legitimate. The Civil Rights Movement had much legitimacy, and through the legislation that came as a result, much harm was abated and much good was done in our society as those who were indeed racists were no longer allowed to oppress and belittle people of color.
But what the social justice movement is calling for is something entirely different. The reason for this is that it is rooted not in reality, but in a blend of postmodern and Marxist ideology. The social justice movement believes categories such as race and gender to be social constructs of reality rather than actual characteristics assigned by the Creator. It then posits that these social constructs are used by other groups as a means of oppression, and therefore critical theory must be applied to them in order to identify and eradicate this oppression. Critical Race Theory is simply a particular application of Marxist critical theory.
The Evangelical Embrace of CRT
The big debate within conservative evangelicalism is whether or not to embrace the tenets of CRT. Some adamantly oppose it, but a large percentage of evangelicals have not only accepted it, but become its proponents as if it were an outworking of the gospel. This is not only the case among pastors, but has its roots in the propagation of these ideas in evangelical seminaries.
Of course, those who are promoting these ideas almost categorically deny that they are promoting Critical Race Theory. But call it what they may, they are teaching the same tenets as CRT in a gospel-lingo garb. Out of one side of their mouths they will deny that CRT is necessary for dealing with the issue of racism, and then out of the side they will define racism in the same ways as CRT. Not only this, they will seek to apply the tenets of CRT as if they are an outworking of the gospel.
“Out of one side of their mouths they will deny that CRT is necessary for dealing with the issue of racism, and then out of the other side they will define racism in the same ways as CRT. Not only this, they will seek to apply the tenets of CRT as if they are an outworking of the gospel.
The Real Problem of CRT for Evangelicalism
The question that is causing confusion for so many Christians with high regard for the various leaders who have lined up on either side of the fault lines caused by CRT is, “How can men who, just a few years ago had such camaraderie, be so divided over this issue?”
There are many ways to answer that question, but what is largely overlooked for the sake of all the practical issues involved is the very heart of the problem with CRT. The bottom line is that it really boils down to an attack on the sufficiency of Scripture. It is a failure to recognize that the old adage “all truth is God’s truth” must be qualified.
The late Jay Adams, father of the biblical counseling movement, warned of this failure years ago when confronting the notion that secular psychology can be successfully integrated with biblical counseling:
Of course all truth is God’s truth. But there is only one touchstone for determining whether a given statement claiming to be true is, indeed true: Does it square with God’s standard for truth–the Bible? And, when compromisers talk about all truth as God’s truth, they call it “common grace.” They abuse this concept too…[God’s] common grace is not responsible for false teachings by Freud (man is not responsible for his sin), Rogers (man is essentially good and needs no outside help), or even Skinner (man is only an animal, without value, without freedom, or dignity)…Systems designed to do (apart from the Scriptures) what the Scriptures themselves claim to do are not the product of common grace…Their views are not supplemental, but outright alternatives (Jay Adams, A Theology of Christian Counseling, Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1979, 8.)
Adam’s analysis of the integrationist movement in biblical counseling can be applied directly to the infiltration of CRT into the church. Using a tool like CRT that is rooted in an ideology that is a rival to the Scriptures not only betrays the underlying suspicion that the Scriptures are not sufficient to deal with the problems we face in the world, but it invites the teachings of demons into the church (1 Timothy 4:1).
How can this possibly happen? It happens the same way secular psychology infiltrated the church and usurped the ministry of biblical counseling. As Adams said, “Christians are duped into the acceptance of pagan thought and practice…when they do not think theologically” (Ibid., 9). Sadly, as the church has witnessed time and time again, even pastors and professors of theology can open the door to error because of a failure to approach issues theologically.
In other words, they fail to approach moral and philosophical issues through the lens of Scripture, and Scripture alone. They fail to believe what the Bible says about itself, that it is: “breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work” (2 Timothy 3:16–17).
“The bottom line is that it really boils down to an attack on the sufficiency of Scripture. It is a failure to recognize that the old adage “all truth is God’s truth” must be qualified.
Back to the Bible
Were we to simply allow the Bible to speak on the issue of race, it would be clear from the very first chapter that all men, regardless of race or ethnicity are made in the image of God and therefore equally valuable and worthy of the same dignity and respect. We could see God’s plan of redemption for all men and the unity found in Christ in Ephesians 2:11 and following. We could go to the New Testament and see this plainly affirmed in Acts 17:26. We could find this in many, many other passages.
For those who know the Scriptures, the issue of racism and how to deal with it is unambiguous. James 1:14 says that each of us are not only sinners, but that each one of us has our own particular bents toward sin. But nowhere does Scripture teach that all men are inherently racist. We could go on, but this is basic biblical theology, and this sort of biblical reasoning is what has characterized genuine evangelicalism since the Apostles. This and this alone is what the church needs. This and this alone is what the world needs.
Despite the sorrow of strained unity, we must speak clearly on this issue. While appreciating the good qualities and common beliefs of our brethren who disagree, we must not be passive or silent because there is more at stake here than meets the eye. As we address this issue when opportunity arises, we must not lose sight of the forest for the trees. The best defense against error is a good offense of following our Lord’s method of affirming the absolute authority and sufficiency of Scripture through faithfully hearing, discussing, and applying it in the context of a local church committed to expository preaching.