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:
- We don’t think of ourselves as better than anyone else.
- We recognize that the forgiveness that God offers through Jesus is absolutely essential and our only hope.
- 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.
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:
 Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse them.  Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep.  Live in harmony with one another. Do not be haughty, but associate with the lowly. Never be wise in your own sight.  Repay no one evil for evil, but give thought to do what is honorable in the sight of all.  If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all.  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.”  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.”  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.
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:
 And these words that I command you today shall be on your heart.  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.  You shall bind them as a sign on your hand, and they shall be as frontlets between your eyes.  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.
We are living in strange times. With COVID-19, political unrest, racial tensions, big tech overreach, and mass globalization, there is always something in the news to garner our attention. Here I want to turn away from some of those things for a moment and focus on an issue that was at the forefront of our minds not that long ago: how we view gender as a society.
We know where the secular world stands on this issue. Gender, we are told, is a social construct. It is not an objective reality that we are born with, but rather an identity marker we choose for ourselves. The transgender phenomenon in particular has advanced this line of thinking into the mainstream of society, so much so that new president Joe Biden recently signed an executive order that would allow transgender athletes to participate in competitive sports with the gender of their choosing. He also lifted the ban on transgender people serving in the US military.
Perhaps even more strikingly, the New England Journal of Medicine, a highly respected medical publication, recently argued that it is time to stop assigning gender to newborn babies on birth certificates, stating that “Sex designations on birth certificates offer no clinical utility, and they can be harmful for intersex and transgender people.”
Functionally, we have the mainstream culture, politics, and medicine moving together in the direction of a genderless society, all of it flying under the banner of “equality” and stopping “discrimination” and “hate speech”.
How should Christian believers respond to all of this?
A comprehensive overview of biblical sexuality is outside of the scope of this post. Nevertheless, there are some important things we should be doing as those who follow Christ.
The first thing we should do is love other people, including those who promote or embrace views of gender that we don’t agree with. It is important that we remember to love our neighbour and show them dignity and respect as image-bearers of God. The world may still slap us with the label of “hate”, but at least we should force them to do so in error, rather than rightly applying that designation because we truly do harbour hate in our hearts.
Does this mean that we should embrace or endorse a lifestyle that goes contrary to Scripture? Certainly not. One of the fundamental errors our modern culture makes it to equate love with affirmation. However, these two are not the same. It is entirely possible to love someone while not affirming something that they believe in. In fact, we do this with every single person we are in relationship with. There are things about them we don’t agree with, but love them anyways. Real love is greater than affirmation. We need not reject this principle.
Another thing we can do is express the biblical alternative to genderless confusion. Scripture is not silent on the issue of God’s design for human beings in regard to their gender. Genesis 1:27 states plainly, “So God created mankind in his own image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them.” Our design includes distinction. Men are not women, women are not men, and gender is not on a spectrum. We know that there are chromosomal abnormalities and birth defects that cause a small number of people to have some confusion regarding their gender, but this is what they are: abnormalities and birth defects. Such individuals require extra love and grace for their difficult circumstances. But this is far different than the modern argument that gender is purely a social construct. Biblically, it is not a social construct. Gender is innate. It is not something we choose or discover. It is a reality we acknowledge.
One of the most powerful things we can do as followers of Jesus is live out our own gender reality to show the beauty of God’s good design. When God made man and woman, he did so because it was “not good that the man should be alone”. Thus, he created a complementary partner so that the two could enjoy unity in their diversity. The distinctions between men and women are not meant to drive each other apart, but rather to bring each other together in harmony. To be sure, this is not a simple task, given that we are sinners who naturally gravitate to conflict with others. Yet the wisdom of God is displayed in his gendered humanity and our relationships to one another. As Christians, the way we live out this reality may be the most winsome thing we can do.
I’m not convinced we will turn the culture around on this issue. I’m not sure we are even called to do so. But as we live as citizens of God’s kingdom on earth, we can show the world a better way forward. Let our men be men, our women be women, and let us express the joy of living an identity that is gifted us by God, rather than one of our own creation.
I believe that to some extent the Church has abdicated its responsibility in this regard. I’m not talking about progressive churches who embrace and affirm the LGBT lifestyle. I’m talking about generally faithful believers who have gone soft on gender distinctions. Over the last 40 years or so, the Christian church has tried to push back on biblical gender roles and the distinctions between men and women in order to embrace a more egalitarian view of gender. Most of these believers, as I can tell, have tried to remain faithful to Scripture on issues like gay marriage or gender reassignment surgery. Yet they unintentionally undermine their own argument by flattening the genders as much as possible in every other scenario. On the one hand, they argue that there are no gender distinctions in Christ, but on the other they wish to hold to gender distinctions in real-world circumstances. I do not think this position is either faithful to Scripture or sustainable in the long haul. Egalitarian believers must be willing to say that men and women are not interchangeable because God created them distinct and different. This, fundamentally, would force them out of a true egalitarian position. Let it be so.
The Church must offer a unique voice in these conversations. We may be rejected, and that is fine. But we must accept the risk that the world will wrongly label us as haters for simply affirming the truth. Affirming the truth, after all, is the greatest act of love. Jesus himself, the most loving person who ever lived, came to “bear witness to the truth” (John 18:37). He came “full of grace and truth” (John 1:14). These are not opposites. We are not graceful sometimes and truthful other times. We are show grace and truth simultaneously at all times. The only way we can do that is by being compassionate to people and committed to truth. And, just like Jesus, we will be rejected for it.
The culture is leaving less and less room for cowardly Christians. The hostility towards what we believe and whom we follow is increasing, which means we have only two options: either we remain faithful in spite of persecution, or we compromise and deny the Lord who bought us. It’s time to make a choice. We need not be those who shove our views in people’s faces, but we do need to be those who will not accept the lies our culture tells us and instead show them the love and wisdom of our Creator in action.
I don’t make a lot of book recommendations but I would like to recommend this one for your consideration. Confronting Injustice Without Compromising Truth: 12 Questions Christians Should Ask About Social Justice by Professor Thaddeus Williams is a sound critique of the popular social justice movements from a biblical perspective. He distinguished between what he calls Social Justice A, which is a view of justice founded on Scriptural principles, and Social Justice B, which is founded on secular philosophies. Social Justice B is not only a phenomenon of secular culture, but it is increasingly being adopted by professing believers.
In my estimation, Williams is right that our diagnosis of social problems and our ability to address them rests first on assessing what is true. If we make false assumptions about the nature of truth, justice, inequality, sin, human nature, and the role of the church, then what we call “justice” will inevitably lead to actual injustice. In short, our pursuit of justice (an important biblical mandate) needs to be informed, shaped, and guided by the truth of God’s Word. Otherwise, we go off-course. I thought this book took a well-balanced approach to discussing these distinctions.
One aspect that makes this work unique is the inclusion of personal stories from twelve other contributors. Each one shares their experience of having a warped view of social justice originally to embracing a healthy and healing version that is shaped by the gospel. These stories add a personal element to the work that helps drive home the point that issues of social justice aren’t theoretical. They affect real people in the real world in real ways, for better or worse.
Here are some teaser quotes from the book. Consider purchasing a copy and digging in for yourself.
The problem is not with the quest for social justice. The problem is what happens when that quest is undertaken from a framework that is not compatible with the Bible. Today many Christians accept conclusions that are generated from [worldviews] with very different presuppositions about reality than those we find in Scripture. We shirk God’s commands and hurt his image-bearers when we unwittingly allow unbiblical worldview assumptions to shape our approach to justice.
The doctrine of human depravity swings like a wrecking ball, leveling any ideology that says, “My gender group, my ethnic group, my economic group makes me good, and their group is evil.”
Paul told the truth that being “in Christ Jesus” is a new identity that transcends other group identities.
Here are some clues that we may have been taken in by an anti-Spirit ideology: Instead of being love-filled, we’re easily offended, ever suspicious, and preoccupied with our own feelings. Instead of being filled with joy, we’re filled with rage and resentment, unable to forgive. Instead of striving for peace, we’re quarrelsome—dividing people into oppressed or oppressor groups instead of appreciating the image-bearer before us. Instead of having patience, we’re quickly triggered and slow to honestly weigh our opponents’ perspectives. Instead of being kind, we’re quick to trash others, assuming the worst of their motives. Instead of showing gentleness, we use condemning rhetoric and redefined words to intimidate others into our perspective. Instead of showing self-control, we blame our issues exclusively on others and their systems, not warring daily against the evil in our own hearts.
When we automatically assume damning explanations for unequal outcomes, we not only lock ourselves in a prison of never-ending rage but also dull our senses to the point that we will be useless for the sacred task of recognizing and resisting the real racism, real sexism, and other real vicious isms around us.
…if we don’t bother to distinguish between inequalities that come from sin and those that don’t, then we are well on our way not to a fictional dystopia but to repeating the bloodiest mistakes of modern history.
How would Christians ever show the tribalized world what real unity looks like if they got swept up in such a never-ending game of grievances—treating one another as exemplars of their ethnic groups rather than their shared identity in Christ?
The Tribes mindset trashes not only any meaningful relationship with that person but also any hope of meaningfully thinking about that person’s perspective. In short, it makes us both closed-hearted and closed-minded.
If we care about ending actual sexism, then we should welcome the question of how much of the gender pay gap can be laid at the feet of actual sexism. Otherwise, we aren’t fighting the real problem, but shadowboxing our own ideological projections. The extent to which we shadowbox our ideological projections of the problem is the extent to which we trivialize the victims of real sexism and racism. By diverting our finite injustice-fighting energies in every direction all at once, Tribes thinking unintentionally marginalizes the already marginalized.
…caring about justice requires a commitment to truth. We can no more separate truth from justice than we can subtract one side from a triangle and still consider it a triangle. The extent to which Tribes thinking predetermines answers to hard questions is the extent to which it obscures truth and unintentionally leaves more people broken.
Given the political polarization of our day, seeing our side as caring about others and the other side as cruel is easy and self-serving. But it is not so black-and-white. Often the left and right simply have different “others.” If we are shaped by Scripture instead of the culture wars, then we will not become the priests and Levites galloping past bodies on the side of the road. Christians should be known less as culture warriors and more as Good Samaritans who stop for battered neighbors, whether they are black, white, brown, male, female, gay, straight, rich, poor, old, young, Muslim, Christian, Jewish, atheist, capitalist, socialist, Republican, Democrat, near, far, tall, short, or smaller than a peanut.
There is often a big difference between feelings and facts, between lived experience and objective reality. That difference matters, and we should take both seriously if we want our quest for justice to lead to real justice.
Do arguments magically become true or false by putting them in someone else’s mouth? No. Writing off someone’s viewpoint because of their melanin levels makes us actual racists. Dismissing someone’s argument because of their gender makes us actual sexists. Silencing someone’s ideas because of their sexuality, their economic status, or any other quality of their lives rather than the quality of their ideas does not make us a voice of justice for the marginalized; it makes us actual bigots.
By downplaying the depth of human corruption, socialism becomes a counterfeit gospel. It relies on corrupt human authorities with no room for God’s heart-regenerating grace. Socialism seeks Christ’s kingdom, minus the Christ, and becomes a destructive parody of God’s shalom. The harder it tries to create heaven on earth, the more hell it unleashes, particularly on the poor whom Scripture commands us to love.
Gender distinctions are a gift from God to be celebrated, not obliterated. Men can’t simply replace women, or women replace men, without something exceedingly beautiful being lost. When we get swept up in Social Justice B, our understanding of sexuality comes less and less from Scripture and more and more from the ideological architects and ancestors of the sexual revolution.
Notice that “the gospel” is “of first importance.” And what is that gospel? It is the good news of free salvation by trusting in the sin-atoning death and bodily resurrection of Jesus. It shouldn’t surprise us that Paul understands the gospel this way, since he received it directly from Jesus. Unlike toppling social and economic systems through social activism, this good news of salvation by grace through faith in Christ is what Jesus proclaims to poor in the red letters. It is what the earliest missionaries declare with astonishing saving results throughout the book of Acts. It is the same good news declared throughout the New Testament epistles.
It is no secret that social media platforms have taken serious steps in recent days to censor certain individuals. Then-president Donald Trump was the most obvious example, but since many others have complained of their accounts being deleted or warned by Facebook, Twitter, and others, for going against “community guidelines”. Of course, there is usually little or no explanation concerning what guidelines were broken specifically. In response, hundreds of thousands began to transition over to self-proclaimed free-speech app Parler, only to have both Google and Apple block it from their app stores, as well as Amazon remove it from their hosting servers, effectively scrubbing Parler from the internet.
Think long and hard about what this means. Many have claimed “these are private companies, so they can do whatever they want”. This is only partly true. Even private companies have some limitation for what they can choose to do under American law. But even if they are not breaking the law in these actions, it should be very concerning to people that a handful of companies effectively have the power to completely remove certain voices from the internet. Effectively, if Google, Apple, Amazon, and Twitter decide they want to shut down a particular viewpoint, they can do so in less than one day. That is a freakish amount of global power for only a few individuals to yield.
Again, many push back. “We’re talking about Trump here,” they proclaim, “and he tried to pull off a coup at the Capitol!” While this claim is debatable in and of itself, that is entirely to miss the point. Even if you feel social media should censor people for legitimate reasons…what happens when they begin to do so for illegitimate reasons? What is to stop them?
I myself have been temporarily banned from Facebook and Instagram for sharing blogs from the website you are currently reading. No reason was ever given as to why. I protested, asking for a reason, without ever getting a reply. Suddenly, and without explanation, I was reinstated a few weeks later. To this day I have no idea what I said that supposedly violated “community guidelines”, but I can assure you it had nothing to do with Qanon, election stealing, or any other currently acceptable reason.
I know many Christians who applauded the censoring of Trump and his followers. I can understand why, but I also would want to give them a grave warning: don’t cheer too loudly, because you will be next. Think about it. Satan, the god of this world, wants more than anything to silence the truth, censor the gospel, and control public conversation away from Scriptural ideals. The enemy is not social media giants themselves, but they can and will be used as tools for the enemy in spiritual warfare. This effort will not succeed in the long run, of course. We know God wins in the end. But it absolutely will be effective in the short-term, and make life more difficult for believers in the public square.
The Canadian government is currently doing its own social media crackdown. Trudeau has promised to clamp down on “offensive content and hate speech”, which includes “racist, anti-Semitic, Islamophobic, misogynist and homophobic views”. This may sound good—who would want those ideas promoted?—but keep in mind that the government does not understand Christian doctrine. Many biblical ideas can easily be construed to fit any one of those categories; indeed, the secular world claims that they do already. It is really not that hard to see that in the very near future churches will have their online services blocked, Christians removed from social media, and perhaps even Bible apps taken down under the guise of “hate speech”. None of this spells the end for the Church, but it will create a climate where following Jesus may go from being merely culturally odd to potentially inviting serious legal issues.
Free speech is an important value. It is not only important from a legal perspective, but also from a biblical one as well. Consider a few examples:
- Proverbs 18:17 “The one who states his case first seems right, until the other comes and examines him.” Part of discovering the truth comes from the free exchange of ideas. If we only hear one side of things and the other is censored, it is easier to be deceived.
- Proverbs 27:17 “Iron sharpens iron, and one man sharpens another.” Similarly, our understanding and growth becomes “sharpened” in part by being challenged by others. This includes their ideas.
- Matthew 7:12 “So whatever you wish that others would do to you, do also to them, for this is the Law and the Prophets.” The Christian Golden Rule also applies to speech. If you do not wish to be censored, then you should not be keen to censor others.
- Acts 17:16-34 In this passage, Paul had the freedom to proclaim the gospel in public because the culture of Athens welcomed the sharing of new ideas.
None of this is to argue that censorship is wrong in every circumstance. Things like explicit calls to violence or communication for illegal activity, such as human trafficking, are examples that come to mind where censorship is commended. But what we are seeing is more than that. We are seeing the squelching of ideas that don’t align with the status quo. As Christians, we ought to know that our ideas of truth fit that category. The Bible itself says that the gospel is offensive to the unbelieving world (Galatians 5:11). Christian doctrines like the existence of a Creator, moral standards for sexuality, distinction between men and women, damnation, and salvation through Christ alone are more than ancient relics of the past. They are unacceptable hinderances to an increasingly secular humanist future. Censorship is inevitable.
Our strategy for Christian ministry will need to adapt. In Ontario, where I live, lockdowns because of the coronavirus have forced churches to go online with their ministries. This works for the time being. But perhaps the online world will not be so welcoming for long. I seriously wonder if the typical North American style of church is a sustainable model for the future. My guess is that believers here will have to increasingly find other methods of effective Christian ministry. While Satan may mean this for evil, God means it for good. Perhaps this is the way our Lord is purging our churches of lukewarm faith, dulled desire for evangelism, and apathetic worship.
Jesus reminds us that anyone who desires to follow him must first count the cost. For many of us, that cost has been relatively minimal. Maybe that will change in the future. Only God knows for sure. Either way, it is a good reminder for us to get our hearts right before the Lord, re-establish ourselves as citizens of heaven free from the love of this world, and be prepared to meet any trials that may come with joy (James 1:2-4).