Dialog with Pastor Joseph

A Reply to Pastor Joseph

I’ve had a very interesting and fruitful exchange on Twitter with Pastor Joseph.

He has been kind enough to agree to move the conversation off of Twitter so that we can be a bit more detailed in our responses.

Twitter can be a good platform for concise conversations, but diving into anything in an in-depth fashion reveals the limitations of the Twitter platform.

I’d like to begin my reply to Pastor Joseph by appealing to some theological truths that both Pastor Joseph and myself have agreed upon.

First, we are both evangelical Christians, and we consider the Bible to be the ultimate authority on these matters.

Second, both Pastor Joseph and I have agreed that “race,” as our modern world understands it isn’t a biblical concept.  Rather the Bible speaks of “ethnicity” or εθνος as the way to biblically categorize people with respect to their various, God-given distinctions.

Third, the category of “race” is something that has been employed by the fallen human world, often with disastrous and heinously sinful consequences.

Starting from these shared precepts, I will develop my case for why biblical justice and “social justice” are not synonymous.  Rather, I would contend that they are, in some very stark ways, antonyms.

Permit me to start with an observation that Pastor Joseph makes.

2/ A) Sometimes, in discussions, I like to remove some of the loaded languages that causes us to miss the meat of the issue. 

3/ So for discussion sake, let me temporarily not use the term “racial justice” First, I posit that the world (and the church) is not doing a good job of treating all of God’s image-bearers justly. 

4/ @JemarTisby’s book Color of Compromise highlights how the church has been complicit in 400 years of slavery, Jim Crow, and other injustices towards black, brown, and indigenous people. 

Pastor Joseph

To Pastor Joseph’s point, the church as been complicit in exactly what Pastor Joseph claims.  The denomination that my church belongs to, the SBC, is a clear example.  The SBC argued for the rights of missionaries to own slaves.  Many SBC leaders and pastors perpetuated Jim Crow laws and argued for their legitimacy.  These are unfortunate truths that cannot be denied. 

However, it was also the church that has been instrumental in dismantling each of these institutions.  William Wilberforce argued vehemently for the abolition of the slave trade, and his convictions were very much informed by his faith.  Spurgeon was a very vocal opponent of slavery.  Men and women of faith participated in the underground railroad and were impassioned abolitionists. Pastors, based on their convictions, opposed Jim Crow laws and argued for an end to segregation. 

Pastor Joseph, appealing to Jemar Tisby’s work, argues that the church has been complicit in these sins.  What Pastor Joseph hasn’t yet considered is that the church was also instrumental in rectifying these historic wrongs.

The question that arises is this, “how do we know who stands in complicity with the historic wrongs of the church and who stands in fellowship with those who worked to make right those wrongs?”

The question is a question of imputation. 

As Christians, we are familiar with the idea that God imputes sin, and (as a Calvinist), I am even comfortable with the notion that God imputes guilt for the sin of Adam as our federal head. 

However, I will also argue that God is the only One wise enough to impute corporate sin justly.  Frankly, we shouldn’t try to do it. We will only end up condemning ourselves for our hypocrisy.

At whatever point I try to condemn my brother, Paul says I end up condemning myself.

“Therefore you have no excuse, O man, every one of you who judges. For in passing judgment on another you condemn yourself, because you, the judge, practice the very same things.”

(Romans 2:1 ESV)

This is the problem with the social justice movement.  While it is formulaic, it is, at its very heart, an illustration of Romans 2:1.

But let us first understand the formula.

To think in line with Critical Theory, one must observe four steps.

Step one is to divide people by some group identity based on humanly determined criteria.

For example, skin color.  CT divides people up into two groups. “White” people and “POC.” Never mind that the lines between who is and who is not “white” or a “POC” are nothing if not arbitrary, there has to be a binary for Critical Theory to work.  The binary is important because of step two.

Step two: assign one group as the oppressor group and the other group as the oppressed group.

For example, all ‘white’ people are the oppressors, and all POCs are innocent and oppressed.

Or, to apply the method to a non-racial issue, straight people are the oppressors, and gay people are the oppressed. Or, cisgender people are the oppressors, and transgender people are the oppressed.  Critical Theory needs these binaries and insists upon them being upheld as a matter of doctrine, and for reasons that lead to step three.

Step three: impute righteousness or condemnation based on group identity.

Evidence of this claim can be seen ubiquitously in social media contemporaneously.  Consider that the term “whiteness” is used almost exclusively to describe negativity, while “blackness” is a term used to describe an honorable, cultural heritage.

Step four, intentionally treat people differently, based on group identity.

Evidence of this is clear in the hot-button controversies of our day.  When government contractors call “White” managers out for a diversity training and instruct them to write letters of apology to POC for their “privilege,” they are being judged solely on the basis of their skin color.  As an aside, the “white” employee, having “confessed” the depravity which attaches to his skin color, is granted some temporary, cultural form of forgiveness, but they must continue on a salvation by works program for the rest of their lives for they are told by the priests and priestesses of this new worldview that they will never fully escape the noetic effects of “whiteness.” Whiteness is the blinding sin that will forever plague them; it is the sinful soup in which they swim.  While CRT imputes sin based on skin color, it never imputes righteousness to the ‘oppressor’ group.

Hopefully, everyone can begin to see how this ends up constructing an alternate worldview from the one given to us in scripture.

Biblically speaking, sin isn’t a function of skin color, and salvation isn’t by works.

But Critical Theory isn’t concerned with sound doctrine, rather than our identity being biblically defined, sin being universally imputed to all humanity through Adam, and righteousness imputed based on the finished work of Christ; Critical Theory defines us according to our intersectional group memberships and sets us about the work of earning our way toward redemption by “doing the work.”

In essence, what we see in Critical Theory is another gospel, which is no gospel at all (see Galatians 1:6-7).

In all fairness to Pastor Joseph, he has not undertaken to defend CT, but Tisby, whom he cites, has gone on record suggesting that terms and principles in CRT are “helpful” (See Neil Shenvi’s Review).

Herein lies the problem.  One cannot solve legitimate problems by invoking poorly conceived solutions that owe their foundational precepts to ideas that are corrosive to biblical Christianity, and there is no question that Critical Theory is unfriendly to a Christian worldview, just google Queer Theory.

So while I absolutely acknowledge Pastor Joseph’s claims about Jesus’ recognition of dividing lines like the one between Jews and Samaritans…

I don’t believe that Jesus ignored the realities of those dividing lines, but he sought to acknowledge their reality and minister through them (Jhn 4). 

Pastor Joseph

I also wish to point out that Jesus’ solution to the problem wasn’t a worldly solution.

Ultimately, our Lord focused on unity in Himself. 

Pastor Joseph’s words that follow have touched my heart.

8/ While I recognize the transformational nature of the gospel, I also recognize that it is manifested in fallen people of human nature, with years of history and unfortunate injustices towards one another. 

9/ C) I absolutely wish it were true that as a black Christian, I felt that I had more in common with my white brothers and sisters, but I can say with utter certainty that most black Christians feel isolated from those who are supposed to be our brothers and sisters in Christ. 

10/ I have literally wept for hours at that very revelation that those who are supposed to walk with us – have often been the ones to denigrate us and to look down upon our theology and worship expressions. 

Pastor Joseph

First, this truly should break our hearts to know that this current moment in history has divided what Christ died to unite.  I hope that those who have denigrated our brother and “looked down” upon him will be brought to repentance.

Certainly, there is a place for doctrinal discussion, and even disagreement, but to treat a brother with anything less than the respect due a brother is to profoundly misunderstand the implications of the gospel.

Pastor Joseph’s words also illustrate my point.  Those who mistreated Pastor Joseph did so because they were not looking at what unites us in Christ; they focused on what divides us in the world.

In short, Pastor Joseph is illustrating that some perpetuate divisions by focusing on what keeps us separate (skin color) rather than focusing on Who has united us.

An illustration may be helpful.  A very simple word of advice was given to me before I married.  A pastor drew a triangle on a piece of paper.  He then drew three circles at each point of the triangle.  In the bottom left circle, he wrote, “your wife.”  In the bottom right circle, he wrote, “you.”  In the top circle, he wrote, “Jesus.” Then he said, “there are times when the distance between you and your wife will be great, but the closer you both get to Jesus, the closer you will find yourselves to one another.”

In short, the only way toward unity is to keep moving toward Christ.

Maybe that isn’t only true for marriage.  Maybe it is also true of brothers and sisters in Christ who have been separated by centuries-long divisions.

Pastor Joseph’s final thoughts on the matter were as follows:

12/ To me, racial justice is just healing what more than 400 years of enslavement, subjugation, division, and othering has brought to our nation and especially black, brown, and indigenous individuals. It is like the Hebraic and Hellenistic widows who were divided in Acts 6. 

13/ The apostles dealt with the earthly division so that the work of ministry could go forward, and as a result, the gospel was able to reach more and more people. Whether culture or race, these divisions are real and are a hindrance to the gospel.

Pastor Joseph

It is true that there have been more than 400 years of subjugation, division, and othering.  Some “white” people in the church participated in creating and maintaining that subjugation while other “white” people in the church were instrumental in dismantling and correcting those abuses. 

My question for Pastor Joseph to consider, if he so chooses, is this, “Why do you think that Critical Race Theory always assigns the contemporary ‘white’ person a place among the complicit in the atrocities of the past rather than granting them solidarity with those who fought hard for true justice?”

 In other words, “why does CRT impute the guilt of the historical wrongs of some ‘white’ people while ignoring the historical courage in service to true justice of other ‘white’ people?”

The awful transgressions of America’s past were committed because deeply fallacious and egregious conclusions were made about people based on their skin color, claiming that black and brown skin was a sign of inferiority.  Both Pastor Joseph and I would agree that this is an egregious error with its foundation in worldly ideas rather than the scriptures.

However, my next question for Pastor Joseph, if he so chooses to answer, is this, “How does the modern assumption that ‘whiteness’ is tantamount to moral ugliness escape the same troubled appraisal?” Aren’t both approaches tantamount to casting judgment based solely on skin color?”

 “Aren’t both approaches un-scriptural?”

I look forward to reading Pastor Joseph’s response if, and when, he has time to do so.

Grace and Peace

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