I have a decades long history of helping the Body of Christ navigate the particular concerns of minorities. Most of my ministry has been done through publishing, speaking, teaching, and one-on-one discipleship of young men.
Because I serve a minority population, much of my work has involved addressing the unique challenges that such communities face. One such example is defending the Christian faith against the accusation that “Christianity is a ‘tool of oppression.’”
This defense has involved engaging people who have looked for answers in counterfeit teachings, often disguised in theological language – teaching on the bankruptcy of these ideologies when compared to the biblical Gospel of Jesus Christ. The genuine Gospel that answers these ideologies is the robust and transformative message found in the Scripture along with all its implications, not the anemic or privatized version that emanates from some quarters of contemporary American Christianity. This was the basis for a book I wrote decades ago, Free at Last?.
In my ministry career, I have used non-traditional terminology to reach those unfamiliar with traditional theological and biblical terms. I have used these words according to their classic dictionary definitions. At other times, I strove to clearly define the words I used in biblical terms.
Unfortunately, language is fluid and co-optable. Some of these terms I once relied on have become associated with modern aberrant ‘theologies’ and secular ideologies.
Lest these linguistic shifts cause confusion about my worldview or my intended framework, let me state clearly and unequivocally where I stand on several contemporary issues.
Regarding my beliefs, I firmly stand with the Bible as the Word of God. I believe and teach that it is infallible and inerrant (in its original manuscripts).
Second, my worldview is solely derived from the Scriptures. I therefore reject Critical Theory, Critical Race Theory (CRT), today’s Intersectionality, Totalitarianism, Ethnocentrism, Secularism, as well as Marxism and all its applications, as antithetical to a biblical worldview and to the Gospel of Christ.
By common grace, these ideologies may give us slight insights on issues we face today, but the ultimate remedies they propose reflect a profound ignorance about sinful human nature at best. They focus on mere symptoms while ignoring the disease, prescribing a remedy that history proves is just as destructive as the disease itself.
Third, I believe that only the Word of God and the transformative Gospel of Jesus Christ gets to the root of the problem by addressing the disease itself – mankind’s core corruption.
Finally, I am unapologetically a follower of Christ. I am also, in God’s sovereignty, an African American man who has lived the majority of life in the 20th Century. I believe according to Acts 17:26 that this is the culture, time and place God has given me to do His Kingdom work, and thus I see it as a gift from Him imbued with purpose. That purpose has been to explore His work in the world from a particular non-dominant cultural point of view.
II. Social Religions
The ideologies I discuss in this post are historically known to bring destruction. We have seen their effects on societies during the 20th Century, and into the 21st.
Even today, we can see these “social religions” doing what they do historically – curve in on themselves with increasingly narrow performative ‘orthodoxies.’ They create ever smaller circles of those considered ‘authentic’ – adherents who represent the truest version of their secular piety. They belittle those who do not perform the corresponding rites properly, and damn those who reject the ideology altogether.
Since 2015, my wife and I have spoken against these dogmas when we see them manifest in our own circles. We have seen some wander down paths that, consciously or unconsciously, justified the use of ideologies like Critical Theory, or uncritically glorified and affirmed writers who did the same such as Gustavo Gutiérrez, James Cone and others.
As the impact of these ideologies on Christianity became deeper and wider ranging, we revamped our courses to speak out directly against them. As an academic, I do believe that these ideologies should be studied critically. But as a pastor in the seminary setting, I believe they should be studied against a proper biblical Christology and anthropology, with a full understanding of their deficiencies in producing anything close to a Kingdom agenda.
III. The Academy
Those who know our teaching well know of our disagreements with movements founded on CRT. Perhaps one of the clearest witnesses to the destructive potential of such ideologies is found in the "Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Movement.“ The adverse experiences over the last ten years of secular-progressive professors who did not affirm the movement’s social orthodoxies serve as cautionary tales not only for the academy, but for the larger society as well.
I’ve seen the lines blur increasingly between disciplines and ideologies. Therefore, I’ve refined and qualified much of my language from my younger days, and have developed lectures that explain the principles and deficiencies of Marxism, CRT and today’s Intersectionality, as well as their effects throughout history and in American society.
Some students come to graduate programs from secular institutions having already, either knowingly or unknowingly, internalized the so-called “Equity and Inclusion Movement,” CRT, or having accepted so-called “Liberation Theologies” based on Marxist principles.
Many are surprised to find how impotent they are when, over the course of a semester, the biblical Gospel is held up against these ideologies.
Because of this, I am hopeful. I also believe we are experiencing an interesting turn. A New York Times article discussed the "Quiet Exodus" of Black Christians from predominantly White Evangelical churches, in search of cultural affirmation in solid, Bible-believing African American churches. Many of these exiting saints have found cultural affirmation and solid teaching, but have also learned that even culturally affirming churches are still flawed in some way. Such is the nature of our ongoing sanctification.
However, I now see another ‘quiet exodus’ from the first one mentioned in the article. Some who fled Evangelicalism for the principles of CRT and Intersectionality found the waters bitter and self-contradicting. I’m now observing a handful of Christians from all ethnicities who have become disaffected with CRT and Intersectionality. While these saints still admit that there are social problems that only the Gospel can heal, they now realize the ‘solutions’ that Critical Theory propose are bankrupt; they cannot bring life. They want biblical approaches to local and global social ills that employ the Gospel, its affirmation of life, and the transformation that it alone can accomplish. I find this greatly encouraging.
IV. Our Fallen World
There must be a way to discuss mankind’s propensity to dominate their fellow humans, and to discuss repeating historical patterns. Marxism, Communism, Islamism, et al, themselves produce deleterious social effects as they dehumanize and destroy lives around the world to this day.
Mao Zedong, Joseph Stalin, Vladimir Lenin, Kim Il Sung, Fidel Castro, Idi Amin, Pol Pot, and many others all have left clear evidence that once a balanced understanding of human depravity is removed from a worldview, violence against body and soul cannot be far behind.
People are broken sinners. Broken people make broken families. Broken families make broken communities. Broken communities make broken societies. Broken societies make broken systems. And broken systems keep people in bondage – physical, social, and spiritual. This is the reality of our fallen world. Furthermore, this reality is exacerbated by malevolent spiritual forces that surreptitiously manipulate these social ills (Ephesians 6:12).
Yet the genuine people of God have had life-giving responses displaying God’s intent for humanity based on His principles in order to indict the surrounding culture. God leaves such a witness through His people so that those in the surrounding community might “taste and see that the Lord is good.”
The true church, often in small numbers, has historically had some sort of Biblical response to dehumanizing totalitarian regimes, and she continues to respond today. The answer to these ills is, and always has been, the local Body of Christ and her continual transformation into Christ’s likeness through the biblical Gospel, applying the marks of the true Church. Sometimes her effects have been small scale and the redemption of a single life; other times the impact has been great on societies, and other times the effects have contributed to the downfall of entire totalitarian regimes.
Each social ill opens an opportunity for a response from the Body of Christ. Each age gives us actors and thinkers, great and small, to help articulate those responses and put them into practice – Corrie Ten Boom, John Newton, Alonzo and Althea Edmiston, Granville Sharpe, Maggie Walker, Alexander Solzhenytsin, Francis J. Grimké, and many others in history.
And certainly, I am the least among these, a vapor in man’s record. Indeed, history will eventually forget 99% of us living, publishing, and commenting today. But I trust that my God will not.
V. Language Usage
All language is contextual. As I discuss how the Gospel speaks to social dynamics, the language sometimes crosses over with other ideologies. Despite the fluidity of language, God’s truths remain.
For example, mankind was given dominion over God’s creation but was never granted total domination over other humans. That it happens in societies on grand scales is clear and further evidence of the Fall. Biblical expressions capturing these realities like “oppression” and “justice” have been co-opted from God’s Word and redefined by Marx; Marx did not create these terms; he merely offered fruitless, man-centered machinations to address them. In reality, jockeying for power and position in order to subjugate others is condemned in the Bible, both in the spiritual and physical sense.
By way of another example, categories of dominance and sub-dominance are used by sociologists who are not Marxists. Language usage is not evidence of ideological affirmation.
But of course, sociology is not enough to change or analyze societies. Neither are public policy solutions enough, without changing the way cultures view and value life. Sociology and government policies cannot accomplish what the transformative Gospel can when it’s brought to bear on broken people and harmful societies. They cannot do what the Spirit can accomplish through the genuine local Body of Christ through Word, sacrament, discipline, discipleship, godly compassion, and redemptive suffering for the sake of Christ.
Indeed, sociology and policy alone are deeply insufficient; only Christ can change hearts.
What drove many of the abolitionists of old, and what drives the pro-life and anti-trafficking Christians today, if it is not hope in the transformative Gospel of Jesus Christ for both the victim and victimizer? What caused our spiritual ancestors to house orphans and create charitable hospitals? What caused several to seek a seat at the drafting table for our founding documents and public policies that support religious freedom and human flourishing, if it were not with hopes to limit social ills? What drove others to bring the transformative Gospel to bear on the inhumanity created by mankind’s inherent sin nature?
Certainly, it was the biblical understanding that mankind was designed to live in wholeness and flourishing, as defined by the God Who created us.
Each of the ideologies this personal statement disavows has severely impacted social circumstances and contributed to lives lost, wherever they were found; both for Christians and non-Christians alike. The honorable among us do what we can in the moment; strive for biblical fidelity, maintaining the unity of the Spirit and the bond of peace as we press forward.
VI. Differentiating Disciplines
It is increasingly common to pass off mere sociology, psychology, historical analysis, and other disciplines as theology proper. I believe this is errant and dangerous. I take the approach that “theology is the application of God’s Word by persons in every area of life” (Dr. John Frame). I still believe that theology is the ‘Queen of the Sciences.’
Yet many of our young people can’t tell the difference today between these disciplines.
The lines between theology, sociology, Critical Race Theory, Marxism, Intersectionality, etc., have been increasingly blurred in the last twenty years and become more common in Christian thinking than they were when I was a younger man writing in the 1970s, 80s and 90s.
The language of today’s intersectionality began to solidify with Kimberly Crenshaw’s work in the late 1980s, almost ten years after I wrote “Beyond Liberation” (the forerunner to “Free At Last?”), which outlines my thoughts regarding parasitical ideas that latched onto the Black Consciousness Movement.
Even back then, it was clear that many of these ideas were incompatible with the Gospel just as they are now. I have watched history repeat as young men and women once grounded in the Word of God are swept up into ideologies disguised in theological terminology. I know from the first time around that these ideologies will not deliver what they promise.
In hindsight, during the closing years of the 20th Century it was much safer than it is today to use theological-anthropological terms when writing about social issues. Due to the infiltration of CRT and today’s Intersectionality into the academy, the risk of my ideas being misappropriated and misapplied by both supporters and detractors is far greater today than it was back then.
VII. Looking Ahead
Today, I’m grateful to serve in an institution known for its biblical fidelity. With the years I have left, I hope to produce a handful of solid practical theologians who will carry the Kingdom ball forward to the next generation. I’m grateful at my institution to work alongside concerned faithful Bible teachers who wish to see the same.
Sometimes I am saddened at the state of much of the Church today. Rigid, pseudo-religious secular orthodoxies have given rise to sub-groups within the church who are now falling into "purity spirals" of their own. In our genuine concern for the church, we are often biting and devouring each other (Galatians 5:15).
At the same time however, I am encouraged by the young people I see awakening to the historic and consistent ways of living their Christianity. The genuine Church in America is in a much different day than fifty years ago. In this day, our God who transforms, calls us to prioritize our Union in Christ and abandon all other loyalties that demand preeminence, be they external commitments to political allegiances, particular ethnicities or tribes, to group loyalties based on distorted perceptions of gender or sexuality, or what have you.
What matters most at this point in my life is loyalty to Christ.
By God’s grace, I will continue to refine my own feeble efforts to discover and uncover ways to express the reality of destructive social systems and to present the remedy that’s found only in the Gospel of Jesus Christ.
Some will no doubt parse and critique the life out of this statement against all ideologies that set themselves up in opposition to the Gospel. So be it. That is the nature and cost of a public witness.
As for me, I want to see Christ’s Body strengthened. I want to see His wisdom and witness made manifest to the lost and dying.
I want to contribute positively to His genuine church expressed at home and around the world, as she applies the Word faithfully, rightly administers the sacraments, practices discipline, and carries out the discipleship mandate (Matthew 28:18-20).
I want to hasten the day when “the earth will be filled with the knowledge of the glory of the Lord as the waters cover the sea” (Habakkuk 2:14).
By God’s grace, may I finish my race well.
Our Perspective on Justice can be found here.