Responding to Government Tyranny

In the previous two posts (see here and here), we have established a framework from Scripture for how we should view the government. To recap quickly:

  • Human authority is not bad in and of itself
  • God has ultimate authority
  • He has delegated some authority to human governments
  • Human governments serve God and people by enforcing a righteous moral law
  • Christians should generally be submissive and obey human governments

The word “generally” in that last point is the kicker. Although Scripture calls on believers to submit to human government (Romans 13:1-7, 1 Peter 2:13-17), the very same Bible also lays out many cases where God’s people were disobedient to human government and commended by God for doing so. Are these principles in contradiction?

Certainly not. This is because human government carries limited authority. Their authority is not absolute. The only absolute authority in the universe belongs to God. The government is not God and is subject to him. Thus, when we see cases of civil disobedience in Scripture, what we find are instances where obedience to the government and obedience to God conflict. These are situations where obedience to God must take precedence.

To some extent, even secular people recognize that human laws are sometimes unjust. Simply because a law exists does not mean the law is morally right. Virtually all people recognize that there is a transcendent moral law that exists above and beyond earthly laws. We can look at a government edict and say “that’s wrong”, and when we do, we are appealing to some standard of right and wrong which is supreme over human opinion. Secular people have nothing in their worldview to support this action other than personal preferences. Those who believe in the existence of God ground their judgment in the transcendent nature of a supreme law-giver.

Because human government is comprised of sinful man, it is bound to get things wrong. If man were perfect, then the law would be perfect. If only it were so! But since moral perfection belongs to God alone, we must judge human government according to the standards of God. God’s standards are revealed in his law, expressed in the Bible. Jesus himself prays to the Father and says “your word is truth” (John 17:17). 2 Timothy 2:15 tells us the Bible is “the word of truth”. This is consistent with the Christian worldview and virtually all Christians would affirm this reality.

Since Romans 13:1-7 tells us that God has given the government authority on earth to “bring punishment on the wrongdoer”, the government must first assert what is considered morally right or wrong. Western nations were largely founded under the influence of Christianity, and thus their original law was loosely based on the ten commandments, as well as the general thrust of Scripture. Even though nations like Canada and the United States explicitly refer to some of these concepts in their founding documents, the government has strayed a long ways away from this moral foundation. The secularization of culture has led to a secularization of government (or maybe the other way around?). As such, laws of the land are increasingly based on personal preference, ideology, ungodly moralistic thinking, popular opinion, and human philosophy.

The result is that some government laws will end up reflecting ungodly morality. When this happens, the government betrays their God-given role of punishing wrongdoers and instead uses their sword to punish those who do right. Again, I speak here of right and wrong according to biblical morality. What should a Christian do when the government inevitably falls into this trap?

The prophet Isaiah spoke of such things. In Isaiah 5:20 he says “Woe to those who call evil good and good evil, who put darkness for light and light for darkness, who put bitter for sweet and sweet for bitter.” Likewise, in 10:1 he says “Woe to those who make unjust laws, to those who issue oppressive decrees”. There is nothing new under the sun. History is rife with governments gone awry through mixing up good and evil and overreaching on their authority. Therefore it should not surprise us that Scripture has quite a bit to say about this issue.

An Important Distinction

It is imperative that we do not call everything that the government does wrong “tyrannical” or “immoral”. Sometimes government errors do not constitute wickedness but rather ineptitude or inconvenience.

Consider the command of Jesus in the Sermon on the Mount, “If anyone forces you to go one mile, go with them two miles” (Matthew 5:41). Historians have noted that this verse refers to the practice of Roman soldiers forcing civilians to serve as a guide (helping them navigate an unfamiliar area) or a porter (carrying supplies on their behalf). Evidently, this law could be applied arbitrarily for a distance up to one Roman mile (something like 1,000 paces). We see a biblical instance of this law in action when Simon of Cyrene is forced to carry the cross of Christ to the place of crucifixion (Matthew 27:32).

An objective look at this law would raise some reasonable questions. Is it fair for Roman soldiers to interfere in civilian life in such a manner? Since this was not an act of punishment for lawbreakers, isn’t it a rather trivial law? Isn’t the application of this law far too discretionary? Is it right to inconvenience a law-abiding citizen who might have other worthy tasks to attend to?

Jesus, no doubt, would have been familiar with these complaints. And yet his command to his followers is not only to obey this law, but voluntarily go over and above. The modern phrase “go the extra mile” comes directly from Jesus’s admonition to serve a commanding solider for twice what is expected of you—literally to go the extra mile.

This tells us that Jesus does see a distinction between tyranny and triviality, between injustice and inconvenience. We should be very slow to resist a law simply because we don’t like it. Disagreeing with a government law is not the same as it being immoral or worthy of disobedience. Such distinctions must be made carefully. The general thrust of Scripture is that believers are to be obedient to the law and even be those who go above and beyond in order to serve others. This should be our overall demeanour even if some laws don’t align with our personal preferences.

Some laws, however, go beyond a difference of opinion to the point of being immoral or unjust. I have heard Christians describe our response to such instances this way: “We have a duty to disobey when commanded to do something God forbids or forbidden from doing something God commands.” The apostles of the New Testament put it this way: “We must obey God rather than men” (Acts 5:29). If obedience to the law causes us to sin against God, obedience to God’s law trumps obedience to human law. In those cases, civil disobedience is our moral duty.

Possible Responses to Government Tyranny

What might resistance to unjust laws look like? The Bible gives us many examples. Although there is no detailed procedure laid out in Scripture, I have listed these out in the order that makes the most sense to me.

Pray

Don’t skip reading this one. Our first and most important response is to call upon God for help. Sometimes Christians think “yeah yeah, I already know that one. Give me something practical to do!” Prayer is practical. Prayer is powerful. The Bible tells us specifically to pray for leaders and those in authority over us. 1 Timothy 2:1-2 tells us “I urge, then, first of all, that petitions, prayers, intercession and thanksgiving be made for all people— for kings and all those in authority, that we may live peaceful and quiet lives in all godliness and holiness.” Believers should be in prayer for their government leaders every day. It is God, after all, who can change the human heart. Proverbs 21:1 “The king’s heart is a stream of water in the hand of the Lord; he turns it wherever he will.” God changed the heart of other human authorities in the past (Daniel 4). He can certainly do it again!

Prayer also helps us to gain necessary wisdom and courage. We need wisdom to discern between our personal disdain for a law and it being unjust according to God’s standards of righteousness. We also need wisdom to know the proper way to respond to unjust laws. And lastly, we need courage to take a stand when the situation demands it.

Vote

Unjust rulers can be removed from power using the legal means of voting. Though the modern democratic form of voting is not known in Scriptural times, a somewhat similar procedure is used in Deuteronomy 1:9-15 where leaders are chosen from among the people to lead the people. Unjust laws can be reversed by changing those in power over the law-making process. Though the Bible does not command believers to vote (and thus abstaining is not a sin), it does seem generally like a wise thing to do. Christians should prayerfully consider which candidates would best uphold a righteous rule of law and then support them through voting.

Direct Appeal

Access to policy-makers is not always as direct as one would hope, but often there are means to communicate directly with those in authority. For instance, during the course of the COVID-19 pandemic, I wrote to the Ontario Premiers office through their official website, as well as to the regional health unit using the contact information on their website. Since these offices held direct influence over varying public health mandates, and there was a line of communication available to me, I wanted to share with them any concerns I had over their approach.

This type of action is modelled in Scripture by Moses who directly appeals to Pharaoh to release the enslaved people of God (Exodus 5:1). The persecution of the Israelites under Pharaoh’s rule was in contradiction to the will of God, and the first step to correcting this wrong was the commissioning of Moses to go directly to the man in charge. The rest of the story, we know, involves God’s personal intervention to free his people. But we should not overlook the human method used by Moses which involved a direct appeal to an unjust ruler to change their mind.

Appeal to Lesser Magistrates

Since human government has various levels of power, unjust or immoral laws can come from a variety of levels of authority. When such a law comes from a high level of power, lower levels of government (aka “lesser magistrates”) have the opportunity to resist it. They would take this action because, by enforcing an immoral law, they too would become complicit in immorality. It is the brave duty of lesser magistrates to stand up for the people under their care and resist unjust authority that comes from above them.

Again, examples of this could be seen during the COVID-19 pandemic. When Ontario officials gave the go ahead to police to stop vehicles at random and question civilians as to why they were not home, police forces across the country refused to enforce the edict. As a result, the edict was rescinded. Many examples of this kind of resistance from lesser magistrates could be given. It is perfectly acceptable for citizens to appeal to lesser magistrates regarding unjust laws in the hopes that they will stand in the gap for them.

A Scriptural example of this procedure can be found in Daniel 1. After the Babylonians conquered Israel, some of the finest young men were chosen to serve in king’s palace. They were to be given a portion of the royal food by decree of the king. Daniel “resolved not to defile himself with the royal food and wine, and he asked the chief official for permission not to defile himself this way” (1:8). The chief official initially hesitated to grant this request, but eventually made a compromise to do so. The lesser magistrate overrode the decree of the greater authority in order to protect the conscience of an individual. Similar actions can be taken in other scenarios as well.

Legal Appeal

Virtually all legal systems contain forms of checks and balances. One form of legal appeal is through the court of law. A law may be challenged in court through a filed suit, following the legal process outlined. For example, when Grace Community Church continued in-person services in contravention of California lowdown mandates, the case went to the courts. The church eventually won a lawsuit against the State of California and were awarded an $800,000 settlement to cover their legal fees. Such an appeal is an example of the kind of legal options that are available in the case of unjust laws.

The apostle Paul on at least one occasion used legal means to appeal unjust actions against him. In Acts 22:22-30, Paul appealed to his legal rights as a Roman citizen to escape being flogged and earn a hearing before the Sanhedrin. The series of events cover several chapters, where Paul’s case goes up the chain of command to Felix, then Festus, and eventually to king Agrippa (chapters 22-26). This entire process was following the legal procedures available to Paul under his rights of Roman citizenship.

Legal options are available to those who believe their rights are being trampled on by others, including by the government itself. Believers should not shy away of making use of these rights just as the apostle Paul didn’t shy away from using his. This does not make someone a contentious person or one who is not submitting to government. Rather, using the legal process available is a form of submission to the government even if it ends up challenging their own authority. It is a “legal appeal” after all. While Christians should not be challenging each other in court (1 Corinthians 6:1-8), they are free to challenge ungodly authority in court the way Paul modelled.

Prophetic Confrontation

By “prophetic confrontation” I have in mind a direct moral challenge to the actions of a tyrant. This is similar to the “direct appeal” method although I do see one distinction. The direct appeal intends to challenge a ruler over a specific law they oversee, whie the prophetic confrontation method challenges the personal actions of a ruler.

Consider a few Scriptural examples. In 2 Samuel 12, the prophet Nathan confronts king David for his actions of adultery and murder. It is not exactly a national decree that is being challenged; rather it is the ungodly conduct of the king himself. Because of that confrontation, David repented for his sin. In a similar fashion, John the baptist confronted king Herod for his adultery, as Herod was sleeping with his brother’s wife (Mark 6:18). The outcome in this instance is quite different. Though Herod believed John to be a holy man and therefore feared to hurt him, he was eventually tricked into having John beheaded.

I believe these examples permit God’s people to confront and challenge immoral conduct from governing authorities. In some instances, immoral conduct warrants action against a leader, through methods like impeachment or recall. At the very least, it certainly demonstrates that while those in authority are worthy of respect and honour, they are not above criticism. Both private and public criticism are valid means of challenging ungodly leadership when such criticism is warranted.

Defying Authority

When obedience to human authority leads one to disobey God, defying human authority is a moral duty. Our ultimate allegiance is to God and not the state. The above paragraphs reveal that dissenters have many options on the table when it comes to dealing with unjust rulers and laws. When all else fails, defying an unjust law is necessary.

We celebrate some modern-day heroes for this very reason. We champion the likes of Martin Luther King Junior, Rosa Parks, and Corrie Ten Boom for refusing to do what they were told. They understood that just because something is law does not make it moral. Right and wrong are determined by God.

Scripture has many examples of godly men and women defying ungodly human leadership. In Exodus 1:15-22, Pharaoh demands that the Hebrew midwives kill every baby born to the Israelites that is male. The midwives however “feared God and did not do what the king of Egypt had told them to do; they let the boys live.” They feared God enough to disobey an immoral command.

In Daniel 3, king Nebuchadnezzar builds a giant golden statue in his likeness and demands that everyone in the region bow down and worship it. Those who do not will be burned alive in a fiery furnace. Recognizing it as wicked idolatry, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego refuse. They say “If we are thrown into the blazing furnace, the God we serve is able to deliver us from it, and he will deliver us from Your Majesty’s hand. But even if he does not, we want you to know, Your Majesty, that we will not serve your gods or worship the image of gold you have set up” (v 17-18). They were right to disobey.

Later in Daniel chapter 6, Darius the king sends out an edict that all in his kingdom are to pray only to him. Again, realizing this as gross idolatry, Daniel refuses. He continues to pray to God as he had previously done. As punishment, Daniel is thrown into the lions den.

In Acts chapter 4, Peter and John are questioned by the Sanhedrin for their public preaching about Christ. When they are charged to stop doing this, they refuse. “Then they called them in again and commanded them not to speak or teach at all in the name of Jesus. But Peter and John replied, ‘Which is right in God’s eyes: to listen to you, or to him? You be the judges! As for us, we cannot help speaking about what we have seen and heard'” (v 18-20).

Just one chapter later, they are again arrested and questioned by the Sanhedrin with a very similar outcome. They are reminded that they had been charged to stop preaching in the name of Jesus. Once again the apostles refuse to comply, stating “We must obey God rather than men!” (Acts 5:29).

These biblical examples, among others, verify that there are times and places to defy governing authorities. Again, if following human law causes you to sin against God, we have no other choice but to engage in civil disobedience. Christian history is rich with examples of God’s people standing up to tyranny when the need arises, often at risk of great persecution or death. Even now, believers all over the world continue to study God’s word and sing his praises in defiance of governing laws. They are right to do so and should be commended by other believers for it. Indeed God does and will commend them.

Flee

One final option for the believer is to flee tyranny. Sometimes this is the best option. This was, after all, the way the life of young Jesus was spared from certain death. In Matthew 2:13-15, Herod became jealous that magi had come from the East to worship the Christ. In an effort to protect his throne, he decreed that all boys aged 2 and under be put to death in the region of Bethlehem. Having been warned by God of this plot in a dream, Joseph, Mary, and little Jesus secretly fled to Egypt.

Early in the life of the Church, persecution arose against believers. The religious leaders in Jerusalem had Stephen stoned to death in the public square. Acts 8:1 tells us “On that day a great persecution broke out against the church in Jerusalem, and all except the apostles were scattered throughout Judea and Samaria.” As you can see, most of God’s people fled for their lives.

Another example comes to mind. Acts 9:23-25 records the apostle Paul (formerly Saul) fleeing a plot on his life: “After many days had gone by, there was a conspiracy among the Jews to kill him, but Saul learned of their plan. Day and night they kept close watch on the city gates in order to kill him. But his followers took him by night and lowered him in a basket through an opening in the wall.”

Jesus also spoke of a time when Christians will need to flee intense persecution (Luke 21:21, Mark 13:14, Matthew 24:16). The book of James is written “to the twelve tribes scattered among the nations” (James 1:1). Likewise, the epistle of 1 Peter is written “to God’s elect, exiles scattered throughout the provinces” (1:1). Although we are not commanded to flee any and all persecution (indeed that would be both impossible and undesirable), it is a valid option on the table.

Historically, countries like the United States and Canada have been places of refuge for those fleeing government tyranny. Increasingly it seems that even those within the US and Canada are seeking refuge in specific states or provinces that maximize personal freedoms. There is nothing inherently wrong with relocation to a district that is governed more justly than another, so long as it is done prayerfully and in good conscience.

In Summary

The government’s role is to apply God’s standards of righteousness to the law of a given region. They are given the sword by God to punish wrongdoers. Sometimes the government will abuse its power and use the sword to punish those who do right and reward those who do wrong. When such a situation arises, the Bible reveals that Christians have a variety of tools at their disposal to respond to a corrupt government. These options must be weighed carefully and be driven by prayer, devotion to God, and love for neighbour. Ultimately we know that God is in control and his own purposes will prevail.

I would remind you of the verses from Isaiah quoted earlier in this article. Isaiah cries “woe” to those who mislabel good for evil and evil for good. He cries “woe” to the one who is “unjust” and issues “oppressive decrees”. It is a biblical way of warning “heads up!” to those who do such things. God is watching. If the biblical story shows us anything, it is that God judges nations that defy him. In God’s own ways and in God’s own time, he thwarts the plans of man and brings to nothing the nations that reject him. Nevertheless, there is hope for those who repent and call out to God for deliverance.

2 Chronicles 7:14 If my people, who are called by my name, will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, and I will forgive their sin and will heal their land.

On God’s Good Gift of Government

To those who know me, it is no secret that I have been very critical of the Canadian and Ontario government over the course of the COVID-19 pandemic. By and large, I stand behind those criticisms. But I was challenged recently by a conversation with other believers that left me feeling like I was unintentionally giving off the wrong impression. It seems that my criticisms were leading some to believe that is the only thing I think about the government. Even worse, some may have gotten the impression this is the sum total of the Christian view of government. Neither is true. There are many things about the government for which I am incredibly grateful, and for which Scripture validates that gratitude. In a desire to correct and better articulate a biblical vantage point, this article will be in celebration of God’s gift of government, as Scripture reveals we should do.

If you read my last post, you’ll already know that human authority exists because it has been given to us by God. Humans do not have any innate authority over one another. Instead, the source of human authority is God himself. This delegation of God’s authority to mankind is meant to help keep an ordered and just society. The Bible testifies to this fact again and again. As I had quoted, Jesus himself said to Pilate “You would have no power over me if it were not given to you from above” (John 19:11). Jesus acknowledged that, humanly speaking, Pilate did have power over him. This power was given to him by God in his role as governor of Judaea. Jesus here is affirming what other Scriptures teach, which is that human governments indeed do have authority because it is granted to them by God. This, of course, does not always mean they use their authority in a way that God would have them. More on that later.

Let’s look at one of the most central passages on this topic, that being Romans 13:1-7. I will quote it at length first.

1Let everyone be subject to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except that which God has established. The authorities that exist have been established by God. Consequently, whoever rebels against the authority is rebelling against what God has instituted, and those who do so will bring judgment on themselves. For rulers hold no terror for those who do right, but for those who do wrong. Do you want to be free from fear of the one in authority? Then do what is right and you will be commended. For the one in authority is God’s servant for your good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for rulers do not bear the sword for no reason. They are God’s servants, agents of wrath to bring punishment on the wrongdoer. Therefore, it is necessary to submit to the authorities, not only because of possible punishment but also as a matter of conscience. This is also why you pay taxes, for the authorities are God’s servants, who give their full time to governing. Give to everyone what you owe them: If you owe taxes, pay taxes; if revenue, then revenue; if respect, then respect; if honor, then honor.

I will try to walk through a few of the key principles this passages teaches us about human government. This is not meant to highlight every point, but the major ones for my purposes in this article.

Principle #1 – Human government is established by God. This point is actually mentioned three times in the first two verses. Human government is part of God’s plan for life on earth. This reality does not undermine the fact that God himself is Lord of the universe (Psalm 103:19). His rulership is ultimate. Human rulership is not. This, we will see later, does have some practical consequences. But the fact that God is King does not mean that human government has no business existing at all. That would be a false and unscriptural conclusion. Rather, human government functions (or at least is supposed to function) as an extension of God’s rule over the earth.

Principle #2 – Human government is meant to serve God. Three times the government is labeled as “God’s servant”. Again, this means their authority is not ultimate or innate. Rather it is limited and delegated to them. Human government may rule over people, but it is simultaneously ruled over by God. It is intended to serve God and his purposes for mankind. Anyone who is still awake at this point will recognize that this is often not the case. Governments often do not pursue God’s purposes. But again, the fact that human government is flawed does not mean it should cease to exist altogether. We should aim to bring it into conformity with God’s purposes instead of preferring to disband it altogether.

Principle #3 – Human government is for our good. The alternative to organized government is essentially anarchy, each person living as they wish. This may sound great, but only if one forgets what Scripture teaches about human nature. The Bible over and over again reminds us that people are evil. The evil that exists in our hearts causes us to sin, and sin hurts God, others, and ourselves. There are essentially two forces that resist sin and evil in the world (and in you and I as well). The first is spiritual. God has given us a conscience that helps us to resist sin, and he has given his Holy Spirit to convict and change us from the inside out. The second force is external pressure. Put differently, society has punishments for wrongdoers. Those who murder, rape, and steal will face the consequences of the law. Penal law is meant to deter the acts of evil in society. A person’s desire may be to commit sin, but they are more likely to hesitate or refrain altogether for fear of punishment. This fear of punishment makes society a better place to live because it restrains some of the evil that would otherwise run rampant. This is what the Bible means when it says the government is for our good.

Principle #4 – The government rules through force. Verse 4, “if you do wrong, be afraid, for rulers do not bear the sword for no reason. They are God’s servants, agents of wrath to bring punishment on the wrongdoer.” Why has God handed the government a sword? So that they can execute justice by force on wrongdoers. The sword forces compliance. In modern day, this is the reason why law enforcement officers carry weapons and firearms. This is the reason jail cells are locked. The law is not meant to be mere suggestions; they are commands. Those who are tempted to break the law are brought into conformity through the threat of force and those who do break the law are punished through acts of force. This is part of God’s plan for human government.

A Quick Interlude

Before I get to my fifth and final principle, I want to pause here and reflect on God’s good gift of government. Everything up to this point demonstrates in a very tangible way God’s love towards his creatures. God wants to see life on earth flourish. He wants to see the spread of evil slowed and justice executed for those who have been wronged. This is a wonderful and glorious thing.

In a thousand ways, I am incredibly grateful for the government. I am grateful for rights as a Canadian citizen. I am grateful for freedom. I am grateful for the rule of law. I am grateful for those who have risked their lives to defend our country. I am grateful for police officers who aim to serve and protect their communities even in the midst of personal danger. I am grateful for the ability to vote. I am grateful for the judicial system which aims to carry out the law of the land as best as they can. I’m grateful for these and many other things which make my life better, not worse. I’m grateful that, even though none of these duties are carried out perfectly, they are better as imperfect gifts than the alternative of a wholly chaotic and mob-ruled society. God’s gift of government, on the whole, is a good thing and we should thank him for it.

Principle #5 – The government’s purpose is to punish wrong and commend right. God’s purpose for government is inherently a moral one. The primary function (sole function perhaps?) of human government is the enforcement of a moral code of law in society. Those who do what is right are commended. Those who do wrong are punished. This seems simple enough.

But is it so simple? The thoughtful reader should have alarm bells going off in their heads at this point. If the government exists to punish the wrong and commend the right, the questions beg to be asked: who determines what is wrong or right? What is the source of the moral code which instructs civil laws? And what happens when a government gets this wrong? Is it still our duty to obey them?

These are extremely legitimate questions. I will be tackling them in future blog posts. But before we dive too deeply into them, I first want to challenge the reader not to see the legitimacy of these questions as reason to hate the government on principle. To do so would be to despise what God has given as a good gift. Living under a government that enforces a wrong moral code should be loathed, but not because the government exists per se, but rather because they have abdicated their responsibility as servants of God. The response should be to bring about reform, not do away with government altogether.

Remember that the author who penned Romans 13 is Paul the apostle, who wrote this letter to Christians living in Rome. Rome! Those who know their history will recognize that Roman rulership was not kind to Christians. Believers were often heavily persecuted by the Romans, who undeniably were an unjust, power-hungry, bloodthirsty, tyrannical government regime. It is to these believers Paul pens his letter, telling them to be submissive to the Romans and see them as servants of God.

It would be enough to make your head spin, if one weren’t careful. I say this because it is not fair to say that Paul desired believers to only see the Romans in this way. Rather, they are instructed to see human government this way in general. There are absolutely times and places where a different perspective is called for. But why can I say this, if this passage clearly calls us to honour and obey human government? Because it is equally true that Scripture also calls us to obey God, and that Scripture teaches that human authority is not absolute but rather delegated from God. This returns us to the questions raised earlier concerning what we are to do when human governments go awry. How should we respond to unjust human governments? I will seek to answer that question in the next post.

On Authority and Spheres of Governance

What does the Bible say about authority in general, and what does it say about government authority in particular? These are the questions this post aims to address. Scripture is not silent on these issues, and they are important ones we should grapple with so as to obey God’s Word in all areas of life.

The first thing that must be said is that God is not against authority. He himself has authority over the entire universe and exercises justly this authority. Psalm 103:19 says “The Lord has established his throne in the heavens, and his kingdom rules over all.” Jesus said in Matthew 28:18 “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me”. This should not be a controversial point for Christians. It is a fundamental tenet of Scripture that Jesus is Lord of all, and there is no inch of the universe over which he is not King. Thus, God endorses and enforces authority.

But what of earthly authority? It is one thing to say that the sinless, perfect God of the universe carries authority; it is quite another to say the same of sinful, imperfect men. Does God promote earthly authority, and if so, under what parameters?

It is human nature to resist authority. We firstly resist God’s authority over our lives. We want to determine what we will do apart from God’s will for us. But our resistance to authority doesn’t stop there. We also resist human authority. We don’t like anyone telling us what to do. We may justify this resistance by noting that human authority can be arbitrary, incompetent, and unjust. Human authority is often arbitrary in that the authority someone has or doesn’t have seems to be inconsistently applied. It can be incompetent in that many people with authority are not good at leading those under their supervision. And it can be unjust in that some abuse their authority to hurt others or advantage themselves. Aren’t these good reasons to reject human authority?

Again, Scripture must guide us. Just because human authority is not always carried out well does not mean the Christian worldview is against authority altogether. Quite the opposite. Scripture supports the role of human authorities and calls for them to be consistent, competent, and just. Failure to execute authority well does not negate the value of authority altogether; rather, it calls us to strive for better.

Human authority is ordained by God. It is part of God’s will and design for life on earth. Knowing that God is the King of all does not undermine this truth. This is because all earthly authority is delegated authority. In other words, the authority that men have on earth is not inherent to them. Rather, it is granted to them by God. Jesus himself said to Pilate “You would have no power over me if it were not given to you from above” (John 19:11). God delegates his authority to human authorities that carry it out on his behalf.

This is where the concept of sphere governance or sphere sovereignty comes in. God has ordained that society not be one large mish-mash of random individuals with no structure of authority, but rather an organized and interconnected web of different spheres of social dimensions of culture. Scripture, for instance, mentions at least four spheres of life and a delegated authority over each.

The first sphere is the individual. People are not merely part of collective wholes. They also exist as independent, autonomous individuals. God created human beings in his image not just generally or collectively, but also individually. Each person is given responsibility by God to live a godly life under his Lordship. The authority in the life of the individual is their conscience. God has given human beings an “inner compass” as it were, known as a conscience, that helps guide their decision making. Our conscience is a gift given to man by God to help us live as God would have us. When we are tempted, our conscience alerts us. When we sin, our conscience guilts us. When we do good, our conscience is clear. Though it is somewhat outside the scope of this article, Scripture speaks much about the role of our conscience. We can harden our conscience through ignoring it and persisting in sin (1 Timothy 4:2). Thus, it is not fair to say that our conscience is always right. We ought to bring our conscience under the Lordship of Christ and his Word. Sometimes we damage our conscience, ruining its proper function. But doing something against our conscience is considered a sin by Scripture (Romans 14:22-23).

This is why personal freedom is a high value in cultures that have been influenced by Christianity. In the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, the freedom of conscience is the first protected right under the law. Why is that? Because forcing people to do things against their conscience is both coercing someone into sin and aiming to override God’s chosen means of individual governance. God gave us consciences. We should be very slow to resist that. The founders of Canadian law (and even more explicitly, American law) understood the importance of individual conscience. This insight they gleaned from Scripture.

The personal conscience, however, must not be the only governing authority in society. Such a viewpoint is seen in Scripture during the time of the judges, where the Bible tells us that “in those days there was no king in Israel. Everyone did what was right in his own eyes” (Judges 21:25). Even a surface reading of the book of Judges reveals that chaos was the end result. This political philosophy, known in modern times as strict libertarianism, is unscriptural. This is because the Bible outlines other spheres of governance where authority from God is given.

The second sphere is the family. The family unit is not a Western social construct as many modern educators assert. Rather, it is a God-ordained means of organizing society. Right from the beginning of creation we see God bringing together a man and woman in marriage, with the design that they will bear children and become a family unit (Genesis 2:24, 1:28). Later, those children will age and splinter off to create new family units. This is the first and most fundamental communal grouping of human beings.

In the family unit, God’s authority is delegated to the parents. Exodus 20:12 tells children to “Honor your father and your mother”. Rebellious children become a grief to both fathers and mothers (Proverbs 10:1). Even beyond this, Scripture places a particular emphasis on the husband/father to be the primary leader in the home. Ephesians 5:23 makes it clear that “the husband is the head of the wife as Christ is the head of the church”. Furthermore, the consistent pattern of Scripture reveals the husband/father to be the representative of the family unit in both family and community affairs.

Once again, the fact that parents in general and fathers in particular do not always exercise their authority well does not mean God hasn’t still granted them that authority. Scripture never negates the authority of parents; rather, it calls on parents to exercise authority in godly ways (Proverbs 22:6, 29:15, Ephesians 6:4).

The third sphere is the church. The church of Christ does not exist as an individual person, nor does it exist as merely a family unit. Rather, it is a collective of individuals (that may or may not be part of the same family unit) that make up a unique and distinct entity, that being, the household of God. 1 Timothy 3:4-5 tells us that an overseer “must manage his own family well and see that his children obey him, and he must do so in a manner worthy of full respect, for if someone does not know how to manage his own household, how will he care for God’s church?” This verse clearly notes that a church family is larger than a single family unit. The two are not the same.

This same passage also notes that God’s delegated authority for the church are elders or overseers. Scripture uses the terms “elder”, “overseer”, “pastor”, and “shepherd” virtually synonymously. They all refer to the same office. These references are also always in the plural, meaning that local churches are not lead by one “pastor”, as is the model in many North American churches. Rather, they are local bodies led by a plurality of pastor/elders who function as a team. Hebrews 13:17 clearly states that God’s authority is delegated to these church leaders: “Have confidence in your leaders and submit to their authority, because they keep watch over you as those who must give an account. Do this so that their work will be a joy, not a burden, for that would be of no benefit to you.”

Note the phrase “submit to their authority”. Local churches have leaders with authority. However, this authority (like the other spheres) is not without qualification. These leaders should lead “as those who must give an account”. This implies that their leadership will be judged by God as a right use of authority or a wrong use of it. Some authority is godly, some is not. Again, there is a temptation among many Christians to see the abuse of authority within churches and presume that God must not want any leaders with authority in the church. This is a false conclusion. Scripture plainly states that the antidote to ungodly authority is not no authority at all, but rather the godly use of authority. The Bible makes many other references to the need for church leaders to be men of character who use their authority well (1 Peter 5:1-5, 1 Timothy 3:1-16).

The fourth sphere is the civil government. The government (ie. “the state”) is another area of society to which God has delegated his own authority. Romans 13:1-2 is strikingly clear on this point: “Let everyone be subject to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except that which God has established. The authorities that exist have been established by God. Consequently, whoever rebels against the authority is rebelling against what God has instituted, and those who do so will bring judgment on themselves.” Paul clearly understood that governing authorities are not a human cultural experiment. Rather, they are instituted by God himself. Government is God’s idea—even human government. Such authority is established by God.

The continuation of this passage (verses 3-7) reveals God’s purpose for human government. It exists to punish evil and promote good. Therefore, government authorities are called “God’s servant” on earth, those who carry out God’s punishment on evildoers. 1 Peter 2:13-14 elaborates even further: “Submit yourselves for the Lord’s sake to every human authority: whether to the emperor, as the supreme authority, or to governors, who are sent by him to punish those who do wrong and to commend those who do right.” This verse notes that human governments often have various levels to them, with some authority being “higher up” and others carrying out a “boots-on-the-ground” role. Today we would include presidents and prime ministers all the way down to local police and everything in between. All levels of authority are to be respected and obeyed. Again, government authority is put in place by God to serve his purposes of punishing the wrongdoer, and so it remains under his ultimate Lordship. There will be times and places when government authority should be resisted if Lordship to Christ is to be maintained. For more on the details of disobeying government authority, a future post is coming.

It is worth noting that our current model is significantly different than that of Old Testament Israel. In those days, Israel functioned as the people of God and a literal earthly state combined. This is known as a theocracy, somewhat similar to what we might call today a “state-sanctioned religion”. In such a scenario, the inhabitants of a state were under the rule of a state religion whether they wanted to or not. The laws of the land were directly connected to the state religion. With the coming of Christ, the Old Testament theocracy model was disbanded and the Church and state were separated. God no longer rules as King through only one nation on earth. Rather, his Kingdom is currently a heavenly one that rules in the hearts of his people who are scattered over every nation of the earth.

There may also be other spheres of authority. The primary one that comes to mind is that of the workplace. Scripture, for instance, calls on slaves to obey their masters (Ephesians 6:5-8, Colossians 3:22-25). It also calls on masters to treat their slaves with dignity (Ephesians 6:9, Colossians 4:1). While slavery is not an accepted modern-day institution, perhaps a comparable model would be that of the modern workplace. Workplaces have both employers and employees, and generally Christians have accepted that employers have delegated authority to tell their employees to do what they were hired to do. These passages on slaves and masters have often been used to speak to the relationship between employers and employees. It should be noted that some forms of ancient slavery closely resembled modern forms of employment, far more than the images of race-based chattel slavery such as would be commonly pictured in the United States. Again, another post for another time.

What is the purpose of outlining these spheres of authority? If we are to have a Scriptural worldview, then we must allow the Bible to guide our thinking. The Bible outlines various structures in society and different means God has put in place of governing those structures. He has ordained the conscience to govern the individual, fathers to govern families, elders to govern the church, and kings/magistrates along with appointed law enforcement to govern the civil realm. The reason many theologians have called these “spheres” of governance is that each appointed authority should largely remain inside its own sphere. Practically speaking, it is not the role of elders to govern a family unit. Neither is it their role to govern the affairs of another church body. It is not the role of the state to govern local churches. Neither is it the role of the state to govern the people of another jurisdiction. It is not the role of one person’s conscience to govern the conscience of another. And so on and so forth. These actions violate God’s order for society. Each God-appointed authority must remain in its God-appointed role governing its God-appointed sphere of life, ideally to its God-appointed outcome.

This does not mean that governing authorities will never overlap. Perhaps “overlap” is not even the right word to use since it implies that everything laid out in the above paragraphs is erasable under certain circumstances. Let me try to put it differently. Situations may arise where one governing authority will be forced to override another governing authority and would be right to do so. For instance, if a child is being harshly abused by his parents, the state should intervene in that situation. This would not fairly be described as operating outside of their God-given bounds, but actually operating within their God-given bounds, since they are called to punish the evildoer. This is not so much an “overlap” as it is the proper relationship between connected spheres.

Remember that for this to work best, we must begin with the foundational premise that all authority is God’s authority. Any human authority that exists is not inherent; it is delegated to them from God. Human authority does not get to determine their own goals and bounds. Rather, those goals and bounds are dictated by God. Without this starting point, all human authority eventually devolves into a war-zone between competing groups of power. This is precisely why human authority is often so disastrous. As the perspective of authority and society becomes more secular and disconnected from God, those in authority are more likely to pridefully govern by their own whims rather than in humble submission to God. Again, is the fact that authority is often so ungodly a good reason to discard it altogether? No. Rather, we must fight to bring all human authority under the authority of God as he intends.

One practical question might arise. How exactly should we “fight” for this viewpoint? How do we fight for a society that is governed in a way that God would desire, while we live among an increasingly secular culture? Should Christians try to force all of society to submit to God’s rule? Some Christians have indeed made this attempt in the past. However, nowhere in Scripture are believers called to advance God’s Kingdom through force. Efforts to do so either lead Christians to force their views onto the conscience of individuals (violating their free will) or erroneously merge the Church and state into one entity (a forced theocracy).

So, what can we do? Our first and primary order of business is always to share the gospel and allow the Spirit of God to turn people’s hearts toward Christ and his Word. A society where revival takes place will naturally develop a more biblical approach to culture and governance because enough of its own people voluntarily value it. If many people in a given region come to faith, it will have a major trickle-down effect on the beliefs, values, entertainment, education, and leadership of that region. It will become more in-tune with God’s Kingdom by default.

A second, and just as vital (if not more so) action is to pray. We should pray for revival. Psalm 85:6 says “Will you not revive us again, that your people may rejoice in you?” We should pray for strong families. Malachi 4:6 says “And he will turn the hearts of fathers to their children and the hearts of children to their fathers”. We should pray for our churches. Ephesians 6:18 says we should make “supplication for all the saints”. We should pray for God to turn the hearts of government leaders. Proverbs 21:1 says “The king’s heart is a stream of water in the hand of the Lord; he turns it wherever he will.” Lastly, we should obey Jesus in Matthew 6:10 by praying “your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.”

There certainly are other actions we can take. I will detail those in a future post. But I believe we should not lose focus on our first priority which is the power of the Word and prayer. Through the unleashing of these we can demonstrate to the world the wisdom and ways of God which will ultimately lead to human flourishing.

Dealing With the Fear of Death

If the era of COVID has taught us anything, it is that people are terrified of death. We already knew this, of course, but the pandemic thrust our mortality into the limelight in a way that we aren’t normally confronted with. Much of our culture has sanitized death to the point that we largely ignore it. Sure, we all know that we will die one day, but we don’t really like to think about it very much. When that reality becomes inescapable, we panic, because we are—pun intended—scared to death of death.

Why are we so afraid to die? I’m sure there are many layers of answers to this question. We are afraid to leave those we care about. We are afraid that we will be forgotten. Probably most of all we are afraid of the unknown. What is death like? Will it be painful? Will it be blissful? Is it the end of us? Is there something on “the other side”?

The fear of death is very natural. I would go as far as to say it is God-given. It is God-given in at least two senses. Firstly, we fear death because it contradicts the way humans were created. We were created by God to live, not to die. The creation account in Genesis describes a world where death does not exist—only life. I believe part of the reason we fear death (or at least resist it) is because it is a reflection of the human impulse to live forever, as God designed us to do.

There is, however, a second reason that fear of death is natural. Ecclesiastes 3:11 tells us that God has “set eternity in the human heart”. I take this to mean not only that we yearn for eternal life, but also that deep down we know it exists. In our heart of hearts we know that death is not the end, but rather the transition into the next life where we will meet God face to face. The reality of meeting God face to face is scary, and rightly so. Hebrews 10:31 tells us that “it is a dreadful thing to fall into the hands of the living God.”

We anticipate that meeting God is dreadful because we know that no pretence will save us then. God will be there whether we believed it or not. God will exist as he really does, not as we thought he exists. And God will judge us according to who and what we really are, not who or what we pretend to be. Hebrews 4:13, “Nothing in all creation is hidden from God’s sight. Everything is uncovered and laid bare before the eyes of him to whom we must give account.” Deep down we know this is the case, and it terrifies us.

It terrifies us because it should terrify us. We are afraid to die because we are afraid to face God. In life we use convenient phrases like “no one’s perfect” or “we’re all a work in progress” to deflect guilt from ourselves for our own failings. We appreciate that they are, for the most part, culturally-accepted reasons to live with our flaws. But will that attitude fly with God?

The answer is no. The message of Scripture is clear and straightforward: “Repent and believe in the gospel” (Mark 1:15). These words, spoken by Jesus himself, summarize God’s command to the world. We must repent for our sin and believe in the saving grace of Christ. The word “repent” means to “turn around”. It implies that humanity is going in the wrong direction at present. The way we are going is the path of self-autonomy. We want to reject God’s rulership in our lives and become our own gods. This is the fundamental sin of us all, the sin that is under every other sin. This prideful rebellion against the reign of God in our lives has put us at odds with our Creator. We have made ourselves his enemy. Therefore we must repent.

But if we are to turn away from sinful rebellion, what are we turning to? Jesus said it himself, “the gospel”. The gospel, which literally means “good news”, is that God forgives sinners like you and I. He offers this as a free gift of grace that we receive by faith. We don’t earn God’s forgiveness through good deeds. Rather it is free for the taking to all who trust in Christ as their only hope. You cannot put your hope in yourself because you are not righteous. Jesus Christ died for the sins of the world. 1 Peter 3:18 says “For Christ also suffered once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous, to bring you to God.”

Our relationship with God is restored through the gospel. No longer do we need to dread seeing God face to face. Rather, we can actually look forward to and long for that day, because we have been made right with God and have nothing to fear. All who have repented of their sin and trusted Christ as Saviour and Lord do not need to fear death. Philippians 1:22 tells us that “to die is gain” for the believer. Death is an upgrade for the Christian. It is to leave the suffering of this world for an eternal future of blessing with God. For those who are still in their sins, death is not gain. It is to fall under God’s righteous condemnation for eternity. That is what we fear about death. But it need not be that way.

I am going to die. You are going to die. We all will. The sooner we face that reality, the better. And the sooner we actually deal with it, the better. I have chosen to obey the call of Jesus to repent and believe the gospel. Because of that, the fear of death does not control me. But this world is crippled by fear of death. The world needs a hope beyond the human measures we can take to stave off the inevitable. You can prolong your life many ways, but you can never secure it forever—not through human means, at least. But God does offer eternal life for sinners who repent and believe in him. In that there is an unshakable hope that no trouble of this life can upset.

John 3:16-18 “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him. 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.”

Book Review: Fault Lines by Voddie Baucham

Christianity and Critical Social Justice: These two things cannot co-exist. 

This is the primary message of Voddie Baucham’s latest book Fault Lines: The Social Justice Movement and Evangelicalism’s Looming Catastrophe. Just as the San Andreas Fault creates a stark dividing line between two moving tectonic plates, so a dividing line is splitting down the middle of Christian Evangelicalism, creating a divide between those who embrace the modern ideas of social justice and those who don’t.

Baucham says “The Critical Social Justice Movement is vast. Its influence is broad and deep within evangelical circles. And as that influence grows, it is causing some among us to make alliances we never would have forged in the past. A lot of it has to do with the fact that we are afraid to be called racist or end up ‘on the wrong side of history’ on the race issue. Unfortunately, some have found themselves on the wrong side of the present.”

The book is divided into several sections, including Baucham’s personal story of living as a black Christian in America, a comparison of justice as defined by Scripture vs. the modern culture, numerous examples of Evangelicals embracing Critical Theory, and data-based analysis of systemic racism in America, among other things. Woven throughout the book is the same overall warning, that North American Christians need to reject the modern Critical Social Justice movement as antithetical to Scripture, or else it will have toxic and heretical results.

Importantly, Baucham goes to great lengths to differentiate between justice as outlined in the Bible and the social justice movement of our day that is founded upon the ideas of Critical Theory and Intersectionality. Baucham advocates for justice, to be sure, but only the kind that Scripture advocates for. He states “Beyond confronting falsehoods in general, our pursuit of justice must also be characterized by a pursuit of truth. Much has been said recently about seeking justice, and I could not agree more. However, we must be certain that we pursue justice on God’s terms.”

As outlined in the book, there are many serious problems with Critical Social Justice that make it incompatible with Christianity. For instance, Critical Social Justice:

  • Functions as a worldview that threatens to overtake one’s Christian worldview
  • Undermines Scripture as the source of truth, and instead sees the voice of marginalized people as sources of truth
  • Wrongly characterizes people by their group identity instead of their personal character
  • Undermines the power of the gospel as the means to transform lives

Each of these claims, among others, are fleshed out at length in the book. Baucham does a good job of citing primary source material to avoid making straw-man arguments and uses straightforward logic and biblical interpretation to make his points. As someone who is well-researched on these issues myself, I see very few flaws in his efforts.

It should be noted that Fault Lines is written specifically to the Church. Baucham is not interested in correcting the beliefs of unbelievers, but freeing believers from being tainted by worldly ideas. His challenge is specifically to Christians to reject the ideas of Critical Social Justice and instead remain steadfastly anchored to the truth of God’s Word. To demonstrate the importance of this, he cites numerous examples of evangelical Christians adopting a Critical Social Justice mindset and scrutinizes those ideas against the Bible. This analysis demonstrates that the ideas of CSJ are not able to co-exist with a Christian worldview. 

Perhaps this paragraph best summarizes the books material: “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).”

In Fault Lines, Baucham pulls no punches. He names names and specifically points out the errors that he sees taking over the Christian Church. On the whole, I wholeheartedly agree with him. I think his logic is sound, his biblical exegesis orthodox, and his cultural analysis astute. The book is sure to ruffle some feathers, but it seems a necessary thing to do as Christian evangelicalism is indeed headed for a major schism. I think he’s right about that. A break is coming in the not-too-distant future within the North American Church, and it will be over the issues related to social justice. These beliefs matter significantly, and so we need to understand them and weight them against the Word of God. If you’re interested in a book that will help you consider these things for yourself, Fault Lines is for you. 

Where Do You Draw the Line?

People think in terms of categories. We can’t help it; it’s part of human nature. Categories help us to organize the world in a way that makes sense and allows us to (hopefully) make useful decisions within that framework. Because our minds tend to work this way, we categorize not only things or events but also people. One of the primary ways we categorize people is morally, along some kind of good-bad spectrum.

Put simply, we tend to think that there are good people in the world and bad people in the world. Most people, I think, would likely place the majority of the human population into the “good” category and leave the “bad” label for individuals who seem particularly deserving: murderers, rapists, extortioners, racists, and the like. I think it is also true that the average person would tend to put themselves in the “good” person category. This good-bad spectrum probably places someone like Mother Theresa on one end and Adolph Hitler on the other. Everyone else falls somewhere in between. Yet even on this ranging spectrum, in our heads we still put a line somewhere that crosses over from the good side to the bad side. There might be a handful of people we’re not sure which side they belong on, but most everyone else we can deduce pretty quickly. The million dollar question is: where do you draw the line? How can you know if someone is a good person or a bad person, objectively?

It may not be exact, but this basic structure exists in the mind of every person because every person has a worldview. It doesn’t matter what your worldview is, you apply it to the people around you, knowingly or not. All of us have some sort of concept of what traits are ideal in human beings, and then we assess other people based on how they line up to those ideals. This is true for both secular people and religious people.

Try not to overthink it. If someone were to ask you, “Do you consider yourself a good person?” immediately your mind would develop some kind of idea of what a good person would be like (either something you’ve hashed out before or here on the spot) and then you’d evaluate to see if you meet those qualifications. What I am asking you to ponder is, how do you know where to place the line? What qualities would make someone good or bad? How you answer these questions changes a lot about how you interact with others and orient yourself in the world.

I raise this issue not only because it is fundamental to how we live our lives, but also because I think most of us think about this issue in completely the wrong way. Most of us place the line somewhere in the middle of humanity and either put most people on the bad side (if you’re more cynical about the human condition) or most people on the good side (if you’re the average person living in the 21st century). And unless you have some serious regrets about your past, you probably consider yourself to be a good person.

But what if you’re completely wrong? What if this whole way of thinking about morality is off-base? Here’s the thing—from a Christian perspective, this way of thinking is wrong by a country mile.

According to the Bible, the line between good people and bad people is placed directly in between morally perfect and morally imperfect. Jesus says in Matthew 5:48 “you are to be perfect, even as your Father in heaven is perfect”. The dividing line is perfection. This means that our assumption about where the line should be is likely wrong by a long shot. Almost no one considers literal moral perfection to be the definition of a good person. We all assume that people can still have flaws and be a good person. After all, we say, “no one’s perfect”. But this is not at all how God thinks about this issue.

To further illustrate, consider the assessment of humanity from Romans 3:23, “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God”. What this passage teaches us is that every person on the planet “falls short” of the standard God holds us to because of our sin. Thus, from God’s vantage point, the entire human race is on the “bad” side of the line. This would further be proven by the words of Jesus in Mark 10:18, “no one is good except God alone.” What this reveals is that the way God sees the world has every person on the “bad” side and God alone on the “good” side. Even though we may not see it this way, this is true assessment of how things really are.

The implications are significant. The Bible is challenging your own self-evaluation that you are a good person and saying, in fact, that you are not a good person. It says this not only of you but everyone else as well. If this is true, and God alone is good, it should greatly alter the way we see ourselves and others around us!

In fact, this is the foundation of the Christian worldview. The starting point of the Christian faith is the sinfulness of man and the holiness of God. We are bad, God is good. And because God is ultimately the One who will judge us in the end, he has given us indication ahead of time that we’re in a lot of trouble. He won’t declare us good, even if we think we are. He will declare us sinners who have fallen short of his standard for our lives and held accountable for our wrongdoing.

This is why Christians put such emphasis on sin. It reveals the perilous situation in which we find ourselves. It is also why Christians put such emphasis on Jesus as our Saviour, because it reveals our only hope for resolution. We can’t move from the bad side of the line to the good, because we’ve already sinned and can’t undo it. But what we can do is have our sins forgiven. In other words, we can’t become good people but we can become forgiven people. These are not the same thing but they are the difference between self-righteous religion and true Christianity.

Several things happen when we think this way, in accordance with the truth:

  1. We don’t think of ourselves as better than anyone else.
  2. We recognize that the forgiveness that God offers through Jesus is absolutely essential and our only hope.
  3. We will reject philosophies that encourage us to think in terms of a “us=good, them=bad” mentality.

As I see it, all three of these are current problems that need overcoming.

Firstly, human pride is rampant. This is not unique to anyone in particular, but all people tend to gravitate towards this viewpoint. We like to elevate ourselves at the expense of others. We tend to think if we were in charge, things would go better. We think the people around us are stupid, lazy, or not as capable as we are. This kind of thinking is poison to the soul and the Bible teaches that those who think this way will be condemned by God (Luke 18:9-14).

Second, forgiveness is our greatest human need, not self-improvement. All secular philosophies and non-Christian religions offer some variation of self-improvement designed to bring us into the “good” side and maybe even shoot us past other less-good people. This is a fools errand because, as Scripture noted earlier, we all “fall short” of who we are supposed to be. No amount of self-improvement will make a person acceptable in the eyes of God. Perfection is the only standard and is an unattainable one. Therefore, the person who realizes this truth will be quick to seek God’s forgiveness rather than pursue the futile path of self-improvement.

Thirdly, the typically-used good-bad spectrum wreaks havoc in our personal lives and in the world around us. A good-bad mentality is another variation of divide-and-conquer. It breaks the people of the world into unnecessary categories that create division, disharmony, and pride. It causes people to judge others based on their own arbitrary standards of goodness and pridefully wish others were more like them. “If only people were more like me, the world we be a better place!” we foolishly think. Nah. You’re a contributer to the misery in the world like everyone else.

Here’s the point: if we start off with a faulty foundation, we will build a tower destined to crumble. Trying to slice up the world into good and bad people is a mistaken endeavour that is rooted more in our own sinful pride than in reality. Instead, we should see the world and ourselves the way God does, with him alone as perfect and all others, including ourselves, on the side of failure and imperfection. Only when we do this can we orient ourselves to God and others rightly and begin to develop a coherent, biblical, and life-giving worldview.

Is Being Colourblind the Answer?

What is the path to healing in our racially divided world?

This is one of the most important questions our modern society needs to answer. The current solution that is being offered comes from a Critical Race Theory perspective. CRT, as I have written about before, is a philosophy that understands culture to be inherently racist from top to bottom. Popular proponents of CRT teach that racism is normative and so embedded into the customs of society that if someone simply lives an average life, they are actually perpetuating racism without even knowing it. Thus, CRT proposes that in order to fix the racism in society we must raise cultural awareness of racism and seek to actively undo it.

It is important to understand that Critical Race Theory fundamentally encourages people to both (a) see race and (b) value it greatly in decision-making. The following are some examples of significant cultural voices stating this in plain terms:

“Critical race theorists hold that color blindness will allow us to redress only extremely egregious racial harms… Only aggressive, color-conscious efforts to change the way things are will do much to ameliorate misery.” -Delgado and Stefancic, Critical Race Theory: An Introduction, p. 22.

The argument here is that a colourblind approach to race issues will only see obvious racism but fail to notice it in more subtle forms. Therefore, it is said, the real way to address racism is to be intentionally more conscious of people’s skin colour and the dynamics around it.

“The idea of a color blind society, while well intentioned, leaves people without the language to discuss race and examine their own bias…Color blindness relies on the concept that race-based differences don’t matter, and ignores the realities of systemic racism…[color blindness] helps to uphold racism instead of rendering it powerless” – Oprah Daily Magazine.

Again, the argument here is that being colourblind allows racism to flourish unchallenged, rather than reducing its power. Being colourblind is said to be counterproductive, actually upholding racism while claiming to diminish it.

“The only remedy to racist discrimination is antiracist discrimination. The only remedy to past discrimination is present discrimination. The only remedy to present discrimination is future discrimination.” – Ibram X Kendi, How to Be an Antiracist, p. 19.

Lastly, this line of thinking is similar in that Kendi argues that the colourblind approach (which is an attempt to stop discrimination) is not preferable. Instead, he contends that the way to combat racism to be intentionally discriminatory towards white people so that past discriminations against people of colour can be corrected. Again, you see that he is advocating for seeing people’s skin colour as significant and treating them differently on purpose because of it.

To summarize, the mainstream cultural narrative around racial issues promotes intentionally seeing a person’s skin colour as an essential component of their identity and treating them accordingly. If you are white, you should be discriminated against to reduce your white privilege. If you are a person of colour, you should be given special treatment to make up for past ills committed against your race by whites. This line of thinking explicitly rejects the approach of being colourblind and promotes the idea of being colour-conscious in its place.

Let’s define our terms here. Being “colour-conscious” simply means treating a person differently according to their race—specifically, granting them advantages if they are a minority and disadvantages if they are white. It means that you are aware (ie. conscious) of their race and what that means historically for the way society has treated them in the past.

On the other hand, “colourblindness” is often characterized simply as “not seeing race”, which gives off the false impression that people are claiming to literally not notice the skin colour of individuals. This is not true in practice or in principle. Obviously anyone with functioning eyes can see skin colour. Claiming to be colourblind isn’t saying otherwise; rather, it is claiming to not allow a person’s skin colour to influence how one thinks of or treats other people. Being colourblind is a “term used to describe personal, group, and institutional policies or practices that do not consider race or ethnicity as a determining factor. The term ‘colorblind’ de-emphasizes or ignores race and ethnicity as a large part of one’s identity” (source).

What we have here are two significantly different approaches to the same problem—polar opposites, in fact. If we want to rid society of racism (and what moderately moral person doesn’t?), then we must decide between a colourblind approach or one that rejects colourblindess in favour of colour-consciesness that (in Kendi’s words) is intentional “discrimination”.

My contention is that the “old” way of being colourblind is absolutely the right approach to take. I believe this for three reasons.

The first Scriptural. The common values that “it’s what’s on the inside that counts” and “don’t judge a book by its cover” are consistent with biblical teaching. Perhaps the most prominent example comes from 1 Samuel 16. In this passage, God is choosing who will be the king of Israel among the sons of Jesse. Samuel takes one look at Eliab and immediately assumes he will be the chosen one, but God rejects him. He explains why in verse 7, “Do not consider his appearance or his height, for I have rejected him. The LORD does not look at the things people look at. People look at the outward appearance, but the LORD looks at the heart.”

The dichotomy is clear. Putting value into the things we can physically see about people is a human way of thinking. God does not operate this way. God looks past the surface to see the inner person. Though not explicitly stated in this passage, it is implied here and elsewhere that this is a value we should adopt from God. If we are to grow in godliness (ie. becoming more like God and his character), then it follows logically that this would be one aspect of that growth.

Again, being colourblind does not mean that you literally don’t see physical features such as race. It means that they carry little to no value in how you treat others. It means that you care more about who they are as a person than what they look like. If this is how God himself operates, then so should we. Intentionally seeing race in order to intentionally discriminate is absolutely antithetical to a Christian worldview and should be rejected by believers.

This line of thinking would be supported by numerous other passages. The parable of the good Samaritan comes to mind. It is well-known that Jesus chose a Samaritan to be the one who helps the beaten Jew specifically because these two people groups hated one another. Jesus is demonstrating that we are to love our neighbour no matter how different we perceive them to be. Many other Scriptures would contend similarly, that the hostility between people groups is broken down by the love of God so that we no longer treat each other differently or as less-than but rather love one another. This is basic Christian doctrine.

The second reason for accepting colourblindess is historical. Perhaps the most famous line from Martin Luther King Jr.’s famous speech is “I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the colour of their skin, but by the content of their character.” There is a reason this sentence has had such an enduring impact on society. It resonates with godly values and common sense logic. It is the obvious antidote to discriminating against people because of their skin colour. It elevates our shared humanity and makes us all equals in the sight of God and others, as it should. Though modern so-called experts on racism would absolutely contest this, I see it as undoubtedly true MLK’s vision made huge strides for the advancement of Civil Rights and the erosion of racism in society. No better example exists than that of children, who don’t seem to care one bit what another child looks like so long as they enjoy each other’s company and treat each other well. The fact that this ideal is increasingly being seen as a weakness, and that we are now training children to see and care about the skin colour of others is completely backwards and appalling.

The Civil Rights movement was based on seeing all men as equal. This helped to end segregation and start to bring together the races. Though there is still much work to be done, it laid the foundation for that to happen. Racism still remains an issue, to be sure, but to deny that being judged by character rather than skin colour has made things better is a conclusion outside the bounds of reality. Society is better off when that kind of value is embraced and lived out.

I want the reader to understand that the current approach to race issues (informed by CRT) is absolutely not the continuation of the Civil Right’s movement. It is actually the undoing of it. It is taking the core value of MLK and turning it on its head. It is teaching people to judge by skin colour and not by content of character. It is, as Kendi explicitly stated, fighting past discrimination with present and future discrimination. For this reason it must be rejected.

The third reason, as I have alluded to already, is moral. It is morally backward to encourage people to see and judge others by skin colour. It is morally backward to teach people to fight discrimination with more discrimination. It is not killing racism to care a lot about people’s skin colour; rather it is fuelling it. Put simply, embracing the core tenets of Critical Race Theory as mainstream society has done is promoting immoral values that will ultimately be destructive, not constructive. It functions as a form of divide-and-conquer rather than fostering togetherness and unity.

Consider what Scripture has to say about the right response to evil in Romans 12:14-21:

[14] Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse them. [15] Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep. [16] Live in harmony with one another. Do not be haughty, but associate with the lowly. Never be wise in your own sight. [17] Repay no one evil for evil, but give thought to do what is honorable in the sight of all. [18] If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all. [19] Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave it to the wrath of God, for it is written, “Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.” [20] To the contrary, “if your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink; for by so doing you will heap burning coals on his head.” [21] Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.

Simply lay this passage of Scripture next to the quotes given above by those who advocate for fighting discrimination with more discrimination and you can see the moral dilemma. Attempting to overcome evil with more evil is wrong. The only way to overcome evil is with good. Being intentionally discriminatory in order to try and correct past wrongs is not blessing those who curse you or overcoming evil with good. It is trying to avenge yourself, and is in direct contrast to the Word of God.

For these reasons every Christian (and hopefully more of secular society) must reject the philosophies of Critical Race Theory. In place, we should embrace the Scriptural values of treating others the way we want to be treated, caring for them as individuals and common members of the human race, judging people based on their character and not their skin colour, and returning good for evil. This is the path forward. This is the path to healing. I pray more people realize this and resist the current sway of culture that is ultimately leading to death.

5 Simple Ways to Disciple Your Children

The highest calling for every Christian parent is to raise their children to love and serve the Lord. Yet many Christian parents struggle to know how to actually accomplish this task. Unfortunately, this has led some to essentially leave it in the hands of the church to do for them. We bring our kids to Sunday School, midweek ministries, youth group, and summer camp, and then hope that everything turns out in the end. There is absolutely nothing wrong with any of these things, and I would argue they are incredibly helpful assets in our task of discipleship. But Scripture calls parents to take a more active role in this process. Deuteronomy 6:6-9 states:

[6] And these words that I command you today shall be on your heart. [7] You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise. [8] You shall bind them as a sign on your hand, and they shall be as frontlets between your eyes. [9] You shall write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates. (ESV)

These verses lay out at least two important principles. First, it is the job of parents to raise their children in the faith. It cannot be something we merely export out for others to do. Second, this is an ongoing, natural process. In the passage, we see parents interacting with their children over the natural course of a day. We also see that it is not a one-time conversation. Discipleship happens in the context of the parent-child relationship.

With this in mind, I offer a few practical suggestions to help in this regard.

(1) Read the Bible with your kids daily

The foundation of our faith is God’s Word, and children should be exposed to it at home as well as in church. Reading the Bible at home shows children that our faith is not something sectioned-off for Sunday mornings but rather fills our entire lives. In our house, we have formed the habit of reading the Bible at dinner time, since everyone is gathered together already. There is no need for adding another meeting to the day. We simply read a section, ask a question or two, and leave it at that. Sometimes there is little engagement, and other times it goes really well. I don’t worry much about the results from day to day, since establishing the priority of Bible reading and reflection is itself a worthy goal.

(2) Pray with your kids

No surprise here. Most Christian parents already pray with their children regularly. But if this is not yet a habit you have formed, start today. Praying with your children is incredibly valuable. You can do this at bedtime with younger children every day. Once kids are a bit older and are no longer being tucked in at night, it may be harder to find opportunities, but don’t let that deter you from finding a way anyways.

One thing we forget about praying is that it is an opportunity to show kids what a relationship with God looks like. Children naturally pray for things they want, like a new toy or nice weather on the weekend. That’s perfectly fine, but we want their prayers to mature over time. We can do this by modelling what spiritually mature prayers can sound like. When you pray with your children, incorporate things like:

  • giving thanks for the day
  • asking for growth and wisdom
  • praying for the salvation of friends and family
  • asking to grow through a hardship, rather than simply taking it away
  • asking for opportunities to serve others
  • praying that we would be more obedient to God

You can actually teach a lot of sound theology just by modelling in prayer. This will help our children move from prayers that are centred on their own will to prayers that are centred on God’s will.

(3) Ask for forgiveness

Parents sin just like kids do. When we lose our temper or fail to fulfill a promise, we should ask our children to forgive us. Don’t simply say “I’m sorry”. Also say, “I was wrong, please forgive me”. You might even want to pray together and ask for God’s forgiveness as well. When we fail to show transparency in our own sins, but demand our children do so, we are inadvertently teaching them that faith is a thing kids need but not adults. Admitting our own failures and showing our own need for a Saviour is authentic parenting and authentic Christian living.

(4) Serve with your children

There are a hundred different ways to serve others that can be both inside and outside the church. Sometimes we can divide the act of serving up too rigidly, so adults serve over here and children serve over there. Try to find ways to bring service together, whether that is raking the yard for an elderly neighbour or serving food for an outreach event.

(5) Work to be more joyful

Joy does not always come easily for parents. We are balancing a hundred different stressors at any given time, often feeling overwhelmed in our responsibilities and struggles in life. As such, sometimes we can put off a general vibe that Christians are miserable people who like to complain and be grumpy all the time. How much better would it be for our children if the most joyful people they knew were followers of Jesus! Wouldn’t that send a powerful message of its own? It does, but joy is not as natural as we’d like it to be. There are many different ways to fight for joy in life, including nurturing our own health—spiritually, physically, relationally, and otherwise. Some simple ways to start would be to watch less TV, read less news, put down the phone, and enjoy each other’s company uninterrupted. Showing our children that they are a delight to us is a winsome way to demonstrate that our experience of God’s love spills out into love for others.

What do you think? What would you add to this list? Let me know in the comments below.

The Asian Problem

Let me explain the title of this post up front. The “Asian Problem” is a term I’m using NOT to describe any kind of issue I have with Asian people. Rather, it refers to the problem the Asian community in North America presents to the commonly accepted social justice narrative.

As I have explained many times before, the social justice narrative sees the world as people groups competing for social power. In North America, it is assumed, white people control the power. As a result, people of colour are to be considered oppressed minority groups who should be advocated for in order to achieve social justice. This is what the term “social justice” means in a nutshell.

However, there is a significant flaw that gets exposed in this over-simplified explanation of society: Asian success. Asians are technically a minority group and therefore should be considered as part of the oppressed group in society. Yet when various measurements are used to assess how people groups are doing in North America, Asians regularly rank at or near the top of the list. Examples like median household income and average SAT scores illustrate this point well.

As you can see, the claim that America is a white supremacist nation is undermined by the success of this non-white people group. It at least forces us to consider other possible explanations for this seeming anomaly, explanations which can deviate far enough from the social justice narrative that it might bring it into question altogether.

What is the response? Social justice and Critical Race Theory activists are now conveniently sliding Asians over from the oppressed column into the oppressor column. I have seen several instances where “white/Asian” is designated as the oppressor group rather than the traditional argument that simply accuses “whites” as being oppressors.

In other words, while the old model of social justice would pit white people verses people of colour, the new model pits white/Asian verses minority ethnic groups. It is almost certain that this new label of Asians being complicit in white supremacy, coupled with the origins of the Coronavirus, is what has created the hostility and violence we are witnessing against Asians in North America.

This is not particularly unique to Asians, as other successful (if you measure success in terms of things like wealth) minority groups have been accused of aiding the system of white supremacy. The technical term for this is “brown complicity”, the idea that non-white minorities actually strengthen the system of white supremacy they exist in by living according to its conditions. Put differently, instead of fighting to overturn the system, minorities can flourish inside the system of white supremacy if they play by its rules. Thus, people can still be technically a minority race while incurring the same hostility that white supremacy receives because they are considered to be a part of that system. This hostility can come in the forms of rogue street violence or in policies like the ones many colleges and universities have in place, which intentionally discriminate against Asians by docking their test scores while bumping up ones from other minorities in an effort to create more equitable admissions.

Why do I bring all of this up? Because it is yet another example of why the group identity mechanisms inside the social justice formula are inherently broken, hostile, and destructive. It does not represent a Christian way of thinking or even a rational, objective, secular way of thinking. The over-obsessive nature we have with racial and group identities in North America is tearing apart our nations and communities, and it is the responsibility of level-headed citizens (and followers of Jesus in particular) to refuse to play the game. We must offer a different approach moving forward, one that builds justice on individual guilt or innocence and shows care and concern for others, regardless of their group identity. This is the very reason Jesus selects a Jew and Samaritan in his parable known as “The Good Samaritan”. It is precisely because these people groups despised each other; yet Jesus called on his followers to show kindness to others who are unlike ourselves. Our world could sure use a healthy dose of that right now.

Math is Racist? Math is Too Objective? An Explanation

For people not familiar with Marxist Social Justice initiatives all across Western civilization, the idea that math is racist or too objective sounds incomprehensible. They may be tempted to dismiss it as some sort of joke gone wrong, or the musings of a lunatic that no one really listens to. Think again. The attack on math is real and growing. It is part of a larger phenomena taking place that is coming to a school district near you. Or, perhaps, it is already there and you just don’t know it.

The attack on math is one consequence of the application of Critical Race Theory. If this is a new term or idea to you, take a few minutes and read my analysis of it here. But without going over everything again, the fundamental premise of Critical Race Theory is that racism is the default position of society and can only be removed through active anti-racist efforts. It is important to know that racism, from a CRT perspective, is “systemic”. This means it is not primarily about an individual being racist, but rather the systems and structures of a society perpetuating racist ideals. One might think that systemic racism has been more-or-less dismantled when things like slavery, voting restrictions, segregation, and redlining were formally made illegal practices. This is a mistaken assumption. CRT advocates do not believe that system racism died when racist policies were undone; rather, they believe that systemic racism changed shape and continues on in more covert ways through our societal norms and values. A few quotes to illustrate:

“Racism, like other forms of oppression, is not only a personal ideology based on racial prejudice, but a system involving cultural messages and institutional policies and practices as well as the beliefs and actions of individuals” – Beverly Tatum, Why Are All the Black Kids…, (p. 7)

“One of the key contributions of critical theorists concerns the production of knowledge…. These scholars argue that a key element of social injustice involves the claim that particular knowledge is objective, neutral, and universal. An approach based on critical theory calls into question the idea that objectivity is desirable or even possible. The term used to describe this way of thinking about knowledge is that knowledge is socially constructed. When we refer to knowledge as socially constructed we mean that knowledge is reflective of the values and interests of those who produce it.” – Is Everyone Really Equal? (p. 29)

“The acceptance of an academic-achievement gap is just the latest method of reinforcing the oldest racist idea: Black intellectual inferiority. The idea of an achievement gap means there is a disparity in academic performance between groups of students; implicit in this idea is that academic achievement as measured by statistical instruments like test scores and dropout rates is the only form of academic ‘achievement’… Remember, to believe in a racial hierarchy is to believe in a racist idea. The idea of an achievement gap between the races – with Whites and Asians at the top and Blacks and Latinx at the bottom- creates a racial hierarchy, with its implication that the racial gap in test scores means something is wrong with the Black and Latinx test takers and not the tests. From the beginning, the tests not the people, have always been the racial problem.” How to Be An Anti-Racist (p. 101-102)

Here we see some of the root ideas of race and subjectivity in math coming to fruition. The logical flow might look something like this:

  1. The West has racist (ie. White Supremacist) values woven into every corner of society
  2. These values include high regard for objectivity, right/wrong solutions, and rigid academic scoring
  3. Math highly values these elements
  4. Therefore, math has systemic racism embedded into it

Another line of logic would include:

  1. Western Society values high marks, rewarding them with good scholarships and high-paying jobs
  2. White and Asian students, on average, score highest in mathematics
  3. As a result, black and other minority students miss out on these opportunity paths to success
  4. Therefore, the valuing of math/high marks as a society is racist

Again, lest you think that this is some fringe idea that is not taken seriously, consider that there are whole organizations dedicated to restructuring math to be less objective and more inclusive of other cultural norms. It was recently reported that the Bill Gates Foundation donated $1 million to support this cause.

Another illustration of how these ideas are gaining traction is an article written by Kareem Carr, a biostatistics Ph.D. student at Harvard University, which was published on the website Popular Mechanics, defending the premise that 2 + 2 can equal 5. I don’t want to get too far into the holes in his theory (most of which are simply category conflations), but the point is that these ideas are more mainstream than you think.

I would conclude that the issue here actually has nothing to do with math. The focus on math as racist or objective is a diversion from the real issue. The real issue is Critical Race Theory, which posits that every corner of society has racism embedded within it, and it is our job to dig deep enough to uncover it for all to see. The problem here is the flaw of CRT’s fundamental starting point. Simply put, not everything contains racism. That is a faulty premise and one that, if accepted, turns people into those on a witch hunt for hidden racism in every aspect of culture. Sometimes, to look for something is to see things that aren’t there. No one denies that racism is still an issue in our world. But to assume that is pervades society from top to bottom is an unprovable assumption that is flawed at best and damaging at worst.

I will go one step further. Critical Race Theory, because it does not deal with demonstrable acts of racism, can promote actual racism. Inherent in CRT is a set of assumptions about entire people groups that are tantamount to discrimination. Consider the amount of effort gone to defining aspects of white culture that are then applied wholesale to white people. Or conversely, not applied to people of colour.

Are we thus saying that people of colour don’t value being self-reliant? Polite? Rational? Hard workers? Planners for the future? Hey, you said it, not me! It is these kinds of overly-simplistic, broad-brushed, negative stereotypes that Critical Race Theory actually accepts, endorses, and promotes that make it an unworthy system of thought.

Math is objective. It is in the very nature of mathematics. And the next time you drive over a bridge or fly in an airplane, I’m willing to bet you’ll be hoping the engineer who designed it believed in objective math, whether they were black or white or anything in between.