Wednesday, May 26, 2021

The Gospel

Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe stands condemned already because they have not believed in the name of God’s one and only Son” (John 3:18).

What is the gospel? Let's sum up what we've learned so far.

The God who spoke the universe into existence, who needs nothing at all, made human beings to know him and have a relationship with him. But when we sinned — and whenever we sin — we created a separation between us and him. We became something that cannot exist in his presence and someone whose company he cannot abide. We also joined in the treason of the fallen angels. The punishment for treason is death, but all the treasonous beings were designed to be immortal, so hell was created as a way to isolate the contagion and punish the guilty. When we joined their rebellion, we joined their fate.

But God, who is rich in mercy, chose to create a way for us to escape that fate. God became a man. As Jesus, he lived the perfect life we owe our creator. Then he was put to death on the cross, his sinless death being accepted as a payment for the debt we owe for our crimes.

Then he rose from the dead, not only proving that he was who he claimed to be, but also defeating death, showing what will happen to those who trust in him. Through him we can be reconciled to the God who made us to be with him.

To escape hell, all we have to do is live a perfectly sinless life from the moment of our conception to the moment of our death. Or we can place our hope in the death and resurrection of Jesus to pay the penalty for our sins.

When you trust in Jesus, you are united with Christ. Your sins are forgiven and forgotten. The Spirit of God transforms you into something new, making you someone that seeks God and can live with God. And you are adopted as a child and heir of that God.

One day every human being will stand before God’s judgement. Those who have not trusted in Christ will be held responsible for their own sins; they will be found guilty and “thrown into the outer darkness” where there will be “weeping and gnashing of teeth (Matt 8:12). Those who have placed their trust in Christ will be found not guilty, because Christ has taken their sin. They will see the results of their adoption in Christ, becoming heirs of God, reigning with him in his renewed kingdom forever.

Part of Christianity 101

Thursday, May 20, 2021

The Ground is Shifting Under Evangelicalism

Fault Lines
Sometimes it feels good to say "I told you so." Sometimes it breaks your heart. Voddie Baucham has been warning people that trouble was coming for more than ten years, and now that it's here, he doesn't seem at all pleased to be have been right. The social justice movement, Critical Race Theory, and "intersectionality" have come together into an awesome force, and Voddie Baucham wants us to understand that these things are toxic for the church.

In Fault Lines: The Social Justice Movement and Evangelicalism's Looming Catastrophe, Dr. Voddie Baucham, pastor, theologian, and currently dean of the School of Divinity at African Christian University in Lusaka, Zambia, tries to warn the church away from what he calls "Critical Race Theory/Intersectionality" (CRT/I). This isn't some old white guy afraid he's going to lose his power. This is a black man who currently doesn't even live in the US who's afraid that CRT/I will turn Evangelicalism into something antithetical to the gospel.

While there are people who are fully on board with CRT, his greatest concern is for those who are "sympathetic to it because of their desire to fight what they see as a problem of racial injustice." Part of the problem is that people confuse modern "social justice" with biblical justice. "There are plenty of sincere, though perhaps naïve Christians who, if they knew the ideology behind it, would run away from the term 'social justice' like rats from a burning ship." So he tries to educate us about what is really going on in this movement.

Critical Race Theorists propose the idea of antiracism as the cure for racism. There is no neutral position — you are antiracist, or you are racist.

Racism is now “a system of advantage based on race, involving cultural messages, misuse of power, and institutional bias, in addition to the racist beliefs and actions of individuals.” This means racism is part of institutions and structures rather than just human hearts. According to CRT proponents, racial inequality is the proof of racist policies, and since we higher percentage of poor blacks than poor whites, of blacks in prison than whites, ipso facto, America is guilty of systemic racism.

White supremacy has also been redefined. "This is not your grandfather’s version of white supremacy. It does not refer to the KKK or Neo-Nazis (except when it does). This version refers to the very air one breathes in a culture created by and for white people."

He says Critical Race Theory is not just an analytical tool for addressing race. It is a worldview. In fact, these ideas are the foundation of a new religion: 

"The antiracist movement has many of the hallmarks of a cult, including staying close enough to the Bible to avoid immediate detection and hiding the fact that it has a new theology and a new glossary of terms that diverge ever-so-slightly from Christian orthodoxy. ... This new cult has created a new lexicon that has served as scaffolding to support what has become an entire body of divinity. In the same manner, this new body of divinity comes complete with its own cosmology (CT/CRT/I); original sin (racism); law (antiracism); gospel (racial reconciliation); martyrs (Saints Trayvon, Mike, George, Breonna, etc.); priests (oppressed minorities); means of atonement (reparations); new birth (wokeness); liturgy (lament); canon (CSJ social science); theologians (DiAngelo, Kendi, Brown, Crenshaw, MacIntosh, etc.); and catechism (“say their names”). ... In case you’re wondering about its soteriology, there isn’t one. Antiracism offers no salvation—only perpetual penance."

As mentioned above, this new religion has its own priesthood: black (and other minorities, but especially black) voices are elevated above whites. Well, some black voices. Any black person that doesn't toe the line is dismissed as "broken" or having "internalized racism." Black voices are elevated because they have special knowledge (hence his name for this, "ethnic gnosticism") by virtue of their race or position in the oppressor/oppressed scheme.

The idea that really seems to chap him is that people, even otherwise conservative Evangelical pastors, seem to have accepted this as a superior canon for dealing with race, even being superior to the Bible. "In no area does God require me to walk in a level of righteousness for which the Scriptures do not equip me—including any and all aspects of justice." (I will say, however, that I feel like he may have been a little too harsh in some of his criticism of well-known Evangelical pastors, friends of his, over this issue. Some of what he said may be completely justified, but there were times when I think he took more offense than was warranted.)

So what's the big deal? Why all the noise about this? Voddie explores the immediate damage and potential dangers of this movement.

"One of the greatest tragedies of the Critical Social Justice movement is how it promotes devastation by encouraging people and communities of color to avoid 'adopting the dominant culture' by eschewing real data. As Thomas Sowell points out in Discrimination and Disparities, the CSJ crowd 'proclaim that statistical disparities show biased treatment—and that this conclusion must be believed without visible corroborating evidence… unless sheer insistent repetition is regarded as evidence.'"

Also, he thinks this movement is not only racist against white people, it's even racist against black people: "[I]t feeds into a victimology mindset that teaches disadvantaged people that their only hope is the benevolence, good will, and eventual revolutionary political action of well-meaning white saviors."

The potential dangers, however, explain the subtitle of the book, the "looming catastrophe." "One of the unintended consequences of the Critical Social Justice movement is that Christians who adopt its underlying ideologies will not be able to avoid the damage it creates." He and other CRT opponents say it is naïve to believe we can adopt CRT with respect to race and not be affected by it on gender identity, sexuality, and religion. He uses the example of veganism, which some CRT adherents see as a social justice movement connected to environmental justice, racial equality, immigration, worker's rights, and feminism (because meat production exploits female animals).

He then cites examples of Evangelical CRT proponents who hae moved from pro-life to, or at least toward, pro-choice (or pro-choice friendly) positions. Now, correlation does not equal causation; these things could have another source, but it's certainly alarming enough to want to put the brakes on this. It does seem CRT may be about getting people to move left on a host of issues out of guilt over racial injustices.

Voddie quotes several atheists on the anti-CRT side, so this isn't just a religious issue, but it is interesting and sad that they recognize the danger to the church more than many Christians. One formerly "angry" atheist says, "If I wanted to destroy the church, I'd make it woke." And in embracing this self-destructive philosophy, they're embracing an ideology that sees Christianity as part of the "oppressive hegemony." Jemar Tisby, author of The Color of Compromise, is quoted: “Religious freedom… is really code for white Christians being able to do what they want to do.”

Voddie says, "If white people need to 'check their privilege,' then Christians will soon be asked to do the same. Make no mistake about it—we are under attack."

So if CRT isn't the cure for racism, what is? The gospel! "As followers of Christ, we reject the idea that the sin of racism is entirely structural. We believe it is a problem of the human heart—and therefore, its only solution is the Gospel of Jesus Christ. There are most assuredly issues in the culture that are broken, and we should strive to repair them. However, the mission of the Church begins with and works through the hearts of men.

"In the end, it is forgiveness that will heal our wounds. ... I have heard a mantra lately that rings hollow in my ears: 'There can be no reconciliation without justice.” When I hear that, I want to scream, “YES! AND THE DEATH OF CHRIST IS THAT JUSTICE!' ... Who am I to tell a white brother that he cannot be reconciled to me until he has drudged up all of the racial sins of his and his ancestors’ past and made proper restitution? Christ has atoned for sin!"

Turning to a new religion, a new priesthood, and a new canon will not save us. Only the gospel of Jesus Christ as preached by the apostles and passed down in the New Testament can show us the way forward.

What to think of this book? If you couldn't guess from the subtitle, this book makes no pretense of being a calm, dispassionate analysis of the movement. Voddie comes out swinging. He thinks CRT is dangerous and wants you to as well.

This book was not written to address racism but CRT. It does not have much to offer about how to deal with racism other than forgiveness. It does not deny that there is work to do, but that is not the problem it was written to address. It was written to stop Evangelical Christians from believing that CRT is necessary for racial reconciliation or compatible with the gospel, and he makes a very compelling case.

Last time I mentioned Kevin DeYoung's categories of Christians who are speaking on this issue. Voddie is definitely in the "courageous" category, and it is aptly named, because he knows the flak he's going to get over this. In fact, he's had trouble getting this book into stores. But if half of what he says is true, we have cause for grave concern over the incorporation of CRT ideas in the church. I don't know that all Christians need to read this, but all pastors definitely do.

I'll leave you with a statement of Voddie's I think sums up this book:

This book is, among many things, a plea to the Church. I believe we are being duped by an ideology bent on our demise. This ideology has used our guilt and shame over America’s past, our love for the brethren, and our good and godly desire for reconciliation and justice as a means through which to introduce destructive heresies. We cannot embrace, modify, baptize, or Christianize these ideologies. We must identify, resist, and repudiate them. We cannot be held hostage through emotional blackmail and name-calling. Instead, we must “see to it that no one takes you captive by philosophy and empty deceit, according to human tradition, according to the elemental spirits of the world, and not according to Christ” (Colossians 2:8).

Wednesday, May 12, 2021

I Don't Want to Talk about CRT

I don't want to talk about Critical Race Theory. When it burst into the public view, I was quite content to ignore the controversy and just read my usual stuff, but it's inescapable. It's everywhere. Pastors you wouldn't expect are preaching these ideas from the pulpit. States are debating whether to require or forbid (those seem to be the only two options) teaching it in schools. It's become the basis for race-relations courses at many major corporations, something that usually signals it'll be everywhere soon. If something's rocking, not only society, but the church, we need to know about it.

But that's a good thing, right? Shouldn't we be talking about racism? Isn't it time we do something about it?

Absolutely. But not supporting CRT is NOT the same thing as not believing in racism or not addressing racism or any of the other things proponents will accuse you of if you don't support it. Part of the problem is that people have varying views of what CRT even is.

Some people will speak as if CRT is the cure for racism. Most advocates call it "an analytical tool for examining race." But it is indisputably a worldview. Critical theory would like to change how we view everything. Specifically, it says there is a racial element to everything.

That should be setting off alarm bells, but many surprising people are embracing it, so I decided to look into it. Is it as good as proponents say? Is it as toxic as some detractors say? Is it true?

I'm just beginning my journey on the topic, but I wanted to share some of the resources I've come across.

Kevin DeYoung has a very useful piece breaking down the four approaches to race and CRT we see in conservative churches. Some are contrite, broken-hearted over the church's past complicity in racial sins, and see CRT as a way for us to own up to our sins and make up for them. Some are compassionate, seeing the pain in the world and wanting to weep with those who weep and show the love of Christ to the hurting. Some are cautious, knowing that ours is an age that rushes to change and frequently over-corrects. And some are courageous, seeing this as another sign of the church's compromise with the spirit of the age. As he points out, most of the noise comes from the two extremes.

Applying these specifically to CRT, he says the contrite see CRT as "full of good insights," while the compassionate are content to "chew on the meat, spit out the bones." The careful see core concepts that are "deeply at odds with Christian conviction" but are disinclined to throw around lables. The courageous see it as "the church's path toward liberalism" (a danger that is not obvious until you hear someone like Voddie Baucham explain).

DeYoung applies these categories to several other issues of the day, and I recommend you read the whole article. The categories are useful, charitable ways to think about people who are supporting this movement. At this point in time, I would classify myself as careful, because some of the things I've learned deeply concern me, but I may go a step in either direction depending on what else I learn.

Below I will list some of the best introductory resources I've come across. For what I'm sure are obvious reasons, I prefer to stick to authors of a darker complexion than myself on this issue. If that is a concern of yours, then you can be at ease.

Here is a short video where Voddie Baucham explains what CRT is and what he sees as wrong with it. Voddie has been speaking on CRT for years, long before most of us heard of it. This is a great introduction.

Neil Shenvi has become a go-to resource on the topic for a lot of people. He has a page that collects a lot of resources, and his website has more on the topic.

Finally, Samuel Sey (whose whole site is good) has a section on Critical Race Theory that is well worth your time. It includes books reviews and recommendations for books from both camps. I particularly recommend his thoughts on why this is popping up in reformed churches.

Wednesday, May 5, 2021

The Objections

Jesus answered, 'I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me'” (John 14:6).

How can there only be one way to God? If God is love, shouldn’t he make it easy for people to find the way to heaven? And what about those who’ve never heard the gospel? Why is Christianity so exclusive?

The best answer to whether there could be more than one way for humans to be reconciled to God is to look at Jesus. God the Son became human, lived a hard, poor, oppressed life, died a horrible death, and experienced the wrath of God. If there were any other way, would he have done that? Of course not.

ice cream
The problem in our thinking is we’re prone to seeing religion as a matter of personal preference. If someone says Christianity is better than Hinduism, that’s like saying vanilla ice cream is better than chocolate. Why would you say someone else’s personal preference is wrong?

It’s really a matter of truth. What actually works? Medicine is a far better analogy. To say that penicillin is the proper treatment for a disease isn’t to say that I like penicillin better than saline; it means penicillin will actually cure the disease whereas saline will not. To say that Christianity can save and Hinduism can’t is to say that Christianity has the cure for sin (Jesus) and Hinduism doesn’t. Jesus and the apostles repeatedly taught that there is no hope for mankind apart from Jesus, and that’s why they risked their lives to take the gospel to the ends of the earth and told us to do the same. “Singular problems need singular solutions.”1 Sin is the most singular of problems, and trusting in the death of the God-man is the only solution. For people to get to heaven without trusting in Jesus requires salvation by works. But our works are pitifully inadequate.

“Why can’t God just be happy that they believe?” Some people want to think being a faithful Hindu or Muslim should be enough to please God. But that’s watering down “believe” into the worst of modern terms. It’s not enough to believe that God exists. “Even the demons believe that—and tremble” (James 2:19). Biblical faith requires depending on Christ alone for your righteousness, something that is anathema to every human religion.

“Do people go to hell just because they don’t believe in Jesus?” No. They go to hell because they have committed treason against their King. Not believing in Jesus is simply failing to take advantage of the offer of amnesty.

But what about those who’ve never heard of that offer of amnesty? That’s an issue that has caused a lot of ink to be spent. First, some hard truths: We’re all sinners who deserve the just punishment of God. No one is owed grace 
 by its very definition, grace is what we do not deserve. The people who’ve never heard the gospel still sin willingly.

Second, some comforting truths: God is God. The universe is not run by the temperamental Allah of Islam nor the petty gods of the pagan pantheons. The world will answer to the holy loving justice of the God who describes himself as “the compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger, abounding in love and faithfulness, maintaining love to thousands, and forgiving wickedness, rebellion and sin. Yet he does not leave the guilty unpunished ...” (Ex 34:6-7).

And this God is sovereign. He doesn’t just oversee the universe; he runs it. In Acts we read how Philip was sent to meet an Ethiopian official who was seeking after God. After that he was physically relocated to where God wanted him to preach next (8:26-40). We also have the story of Cornelius being told to seek out Peter (10:1-8). In the modern world, similar things happen. There are many stories today of people having dreams telling them where to go or who to seek out to find out about Jesus. God can get the gospel where it needs to go. But most people, whether in the jungles of Africa or the cities of the West, simply don’t want to bow their knee to the true God.

“Why can’t God just forgive everybody?” That would send the message that sin isn’t a big deal, and it is. It’s treason against the King. It also harms people. When we suggest that God should just forgive, we don’t really mean he should forgive everyone; we know some people are murderers or harm children. But everyone hurts other people with their sin. When we steal or lie or gossip, we’re hurting other people. We don’t want people who harm us to get away with it; we can’t be allowed to get away with it either. The crime must be paid for. Or it must be atoned for.

Those worried about the fate of people who’ve never heard the gospel should make it their mission to see that they hear the gospel of Jesus Christ. “Salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to mankind by which we must be saved” (Acts 4:12).

1 Greg Koukl, The Story of Reality

Photo via Pixabay

Part of Christianity 101