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The Christian & Social Justice (Part 1): How Believers Are Being Swept Into Unbiblical Thinking

The Christian & Social Justice.

Some things are not what they appear to be. For any thoughtful Christian, the Social Justice movement in today's culture requires careful reflection. It appears to be consistent with a Biblical Worldview. But is it, really?

For my husband’s birthday present a couple of years ago, I took my family on a helicopter tour of the Grand Canyon. It’s a breathtakingly beautiful place caused by wind and water chipping away at the landscape ever so slowly while countless moments ticked off the clock. 

Normally, erosion doesn’t get such a good review. It is usually associated with bad outcomes -- like the erosion of a marriage relationship following years of neglect, or the erosion of a home’s foundation.

Or the even erosion of someone’s faith when exposed to false ideas.

Social Justice and the Church

Over the last year or so, I’ve become increasingly concerned about the term ‘social justice’ and the effect it’s having within the Christian community. I see an erosion of Christian thought and commitment anywhere Social Justice ideology is found.

I’m not alone in my concern:

Dr. Neil Shenvi, a theoretical-chemist-turned-apologist, began to witness a “theological drift” among evangelical friends & leaders who expressed an interest in social justice.[1] After struggling for some time to understand what he was observing, he says, “What I finally realized is that people are not adopting a few new beliefs about politics. They are adopting a new worldview which is gradually eroding their Christian Worldview.”[2]

Biola University professor Dr. Thaddeus Williams observed a similar phenomenon on campus: “The reason I got involved in social justice, in thinking deeply about that…was seeing alot of my students…get wrapped up into contemporary social justice movements that turned them from bright-eyed, gospel-proclaiming young men and women of God, into chronically triggered, suspicious, resent-fueled students.”[3]

Now, it seems to me that both of these academics are noticing that Christians who wander into the ideology of social justice -- presumably for the purpose of living out their faith -- are at much greater risk of eroding it altogether.

Why???

Social Justice doesn’t seem like the kind of thing that should cause faithful Bible Study Women to shoulder any grave concern for themselves, their friends and family, or the future, does it?

I mean, the Bible insists on justice, so what exactly is the problem? Isn’t Biblical Justice the same as Social Justice?

What Does the Bible Say About Social Justice?

Let’s take care not to miss something significant here, sweet sisters of Christ. In the first chapter of Genesis, God commands Adam and Eve to go out from the Garden, in order “to fill the earth and subdue it” (Gen.1:28).

This command essentially authorized Adam and Eve to make use of the earth’s resources for the betterment of themselves and the world around them. More precisely, this command calls all image-bearers to be culture-makers, who create and shape life on earth so that it resembles God’s character, fulfills his purposes, and glorifies Him as God.

If modern Social Justice can’t fill that requirement, then we shouldn’t be so quick to jump on it’s bandwagon. After all, God’s culture-making call dissolves the line between the secular and the sacred, turning our daily pursuits of bread-making, child-raising, business-building, and community-developing into a God-oriented experience.

If we botch this task, we’ve jeopardized a sizable chunk of what God has called us to do while we’re here. So then, the correct question becomes, “Do current ideas of Social Justice match the Biblical expectations and requirements of culture-making?”

Social Justice and Christianity

Now, how do we begin to size up this Social Justice thing? Perhaps we should take a look beyond the surface to the ideological concepts – the worldview concepts – underlying it.

I’ve heard ‘Worldview’ described as a map that we use to navigate the world around us, or a set of lenses with which we view the world. Both of those definitions are basically true, but each misses a crucial point that Dr. David Naugle captures in his description of what worldviews are and what they do:

“View[s] of the world, and the resulting way of life within them.” (emphasis mine)[4]

Therefore, we have to decide if the worldview underlying contemporary Social Justice thinking is consistent with our Christian Worldview.

If it isn’t, then it can’t deliver what it promises.

Spoiler Alert: Despite surface-level agreements about treating others correctly and compassionately, we’re going to find that the worldview underlying Social Justice is totally opposed to principles found in the Christian Worldview. As a result, it will be driven by a current which slowly, silently chips away at our ability to be faithful to Scripture in our culture-making responsibility.

Sisters, you and I need to take a look at something called Critical Theory.

What Is Critical Theory?

Social Justice today is absolutely saturated by a school of thought known as Critical Theory, which deserves a blog post all its own. But for now, I’ll just hit the highlights:

The Historical Roots of Critical Theory.  In short, Critical Theory is a derivative of Marxism. Essentially, Marx saw the history of the world and the struggle of mankind in primarily eco-political terms. He presumed that history was on a predetermined path which would see the rise and fall of various nations, ending with a utopian vision of community and brotherhood in which everyone lived and worked together for the common good. Although his philosophies did not immediately receive widespread enthusiasm, his ideas would eventually spawn entire Communist societies.

Principle Ideas Within Critical Theory. Critical Theory emerged from an organization in Germany known as the Frankfurt School.[5] These thinkers identified several principles from Marxist theory, lifted those ideas out of their economic/historical/political context, and then refashioned them to describe the relationships within society more broadly. Critical Theory embraces several significant tenets, most of which you will recognize in our current socio-political talking points: 

  • Individual Identity As a Product of Class Membership.

Marx identified two primary groups of people: the Proletariat (the working class) and the Bourgeoisie (the capitalist ruling class). Critical Theory takes the idea of class identification and expands it to include any number of different groups: men, women, poor, rich, privileged, disadvantaged, etc. 

  • Perpetual Struggle Between Class Assignments.

Marx believed that all class struggles throughout history resulted from competition between the bourgeoisie and proletariat for the possession of the limited resources available in any society. Critical Theory took this idea of class struggle & identified it as the primary (and perpetual) source of conflict between any and all people groups. 

  • Social Binaries.

Marx obviously saw society as bound up within two primary groups locked in a battle for dominance. According to Marx, the bourgeoisie were guilty of oppressing the proletariat through the social power and advantages acquired by their wealth. Critical Theory applies the idea of oppression to any group with a dominant social identity or influence. Groups lacking that kind of influence are deemed the oppressed. Within the working definition of Critical Theory, oppression does not require cruelty, abuse, or other harsh physical treatment. It only requires a perceived social disadvantage or power differential.  

  • Power As Society’s Primary Means of Organization.

Marx felt that the bourgeoise had managed to acquire and maintain personal wealth -- and its accompanying influence or power -- by intentional manipulations intended to keep both groups separate and distinct. Critical Theory presumes that power is always leveraged by dominant groups to the detriment of the subordinate groups in order to maintain control over societal advantages, and therefore, sees all aspects of society through the lens of power differentials.

  • Cultural Hegemony.

Marx believed that the accumulation and transfer of wealth through family was partially responsible for the dominance of the bourgeoisie. As a result, the accident of one’s birth – into either the privileged or disadvantaged class – wielded an unfair influence over one’s life experience. Critical Theory presumes that any dominant cultural norms or expectations produce a similar influence, which is inherently corrupt and equivalent to oppression.

Problems With Critical Theory & the Biblical Worldview.

Many of Critical Theory’s underlying assumptions are either inconsistent with, or in some cases hostile to, a Biblical Worldview.

  • Utopian Vision. Critical Theory embraces the idea that humans are essentially material creatures which have essentially material needs. Therefore, Critical Theory presumes that we can simply reorganize society around the equitable distribution of material resources, which will then produce a well-adjusted, optimized, and cooperative society working for the good of the whole. The Biblical Worldview holds a distinctly different – and opposite – view of the kind of thing we humans are. We have intellect, emotions, free will, morality and spirit. All of these are damaged by the fall into original sin, and will subsequently hamper the actualization of any society’s utopian ideals.

 

  • View of People, Power, & Conflict. Critical Theory insists that an individual’s primary identity is not as an individual, but as a member of group or class. This identity subsequently marks the person as ‘oppressor’ or ‘oppressed.’ Guilt or innocence is assigned as a function of the group identity, rather than individual culpability. This results in the need for constant overthrow of the oppressors. Any action taken to dismantle, disrupt, destroy, or overturn oppressors is seen as the ultimate act of virtue. The Biblical Worldview: Although the Bible does speak of people in terms of the groups to which they belong, it is abundantly clear throughout the Scriptures that each Image-bearer is an independent moral agent, and is accountable to God as such. It is equally clear that God expects justice to be handed out fairly so that the guilty and innocent are treated accordingly. Lastly, the Biblical idea of virtue extends beyond just the alleviation of oppression to include honesty, integrity, hard work, personal sacrifice, truth-telling, sexual purity and more. These things are grounded in God’s good character, and are not limited to social activism on behalf of the oppressed.

 

  • Hegemonic Power. This term refers to the unwritten but understood expectations that serve as cultural norms. Departure from these ideals typically come with some kind of perceived discomfort. Critical Theory identifies any pairing of expectation/discomfort as the primary means of societal oppression which should then be actively and urgently opposed. Biblical Worldview. God in His role as Creator of the universe has embedded our created world with certain non-negotiables. Critical Theory sees prevailing customs or traditions as tools of oppression, so God’s principles for life on earth will be increasingly viewed as the ultimate attempt to oppress other human beings, particularly in ways that maintain currently existing systems of oppression. In addition, God as the ultimate Person of Power and Authority, will not be viewed as Someone rightly deserving our worship, adoration, and obedience. Critical Theory will position God as the Ultimate Tyrant to be overthrown.

So…..What do you think, sisters?

  • Should we bear the Name of Jesus, but share the mindset or methods of Marx?
  • Should we follow the wisdom of the world, or the wisdom of the One who created it?

I’m afraid if we fall into the mainstream mindset of today’s Social Justice Movement, we’ll have no choice but to listen to the sound of the faint, grinding away of historic Christian Orthodoxy, little-by-little, bit-by-bit, until the erosion of God’s presence among us is completed.

Is there something else we can do?

True Christian Social Justice.

As followers of Jesus, let’s be sure that when we pursue Social Justice, we do it in a Genesis 1:28 kind of way that honors God and the parameters He has ordained for human existence:

“Where a biblical worldview built orphanages and hospitals to help the marginalized and broken, Marxism gave us the killing fields of the Khmer Rouge. Where the Gospel led to the abolishing of the human dumps of the Roman Empire and brought society’s unwanted into loving community, Marxism endorsed the systematic termination of society’s unwanted. Where biblical Christianity set slaves free, Marxism sent millions to the gulags. Where Christianity inspired the Oxfords and Cambridges into existence to pursue knowledge to the glory of God, Marxism inspired thought-policing. Where Jesus transformed deep racial tensions into a new, beautiful, reconciled community, Marxism helped spawn identity politics and all the divisiveness, suspicion, and racial stereotyping that go with it.” – Dr. Thaddeus Williams[6]

So to help you think about this really important subject, and to determine what you can do, here are four things for you to consider:

  • We need to reclaim Christianity as a source of knowledge and truth for everyone, rather than just as a personally chosen belief system for Christians. Churches, and the Christians within them, will be ineffective in challenging and reshaping culture until we have reacquired the conviction that Christianity is Truth – applicable to all people, at all times, and to all of life. If you have unanswered questions about your faith in Christ, take them to a trusted Christian friend or mentor to get some one-on-one discipleship. Or you can bring your questions to me through a comment, or email me at lori@thespoonfedsoul.com.
  • We need to reacquaint ourselves with The Cultural Mandate. Somehow, somewhere, we accepted what is known as the sacred/secular split. The Cultural Mandate found in Genesis 1:28 goes a very long way in reconciling those two spheres in what I would consider the true description of Christian Social Justice. According to the Cultural Mandate, we are to take the words and ways of God and use them to till the soil under whatever patch of grass is at our feet, so that we extend the boundaries of the Garden of Eden, and simultaneously, the glory of God all over the world. If you are less-than-familiar with this concept, I’ve created a playlist consisting of several super-short videos, and one longer one to help you get a quick grasp on this beautiful teaching. You can find the playlist at this link.
  • We need to educate ourselves on Social Justice and Critical Theory ASAP. Part 2 of this blog series will include a really long list of my favorite books, book chapters, videos, blogposts, ebooks, and other resources pertaining to Critical Theory and Social Justice, so that we can recognize the terminology when its being used, think through the theological discrepancies, and help our friends and family navigate these issues in ways that are faithful to Scripture. Part 2 of this blog series can be found here.
  • We need to pray for Awakening. Over and over God demonstrates His faithfulness to His people when they call on His name and seek His face. God’s Word heals lives, and if we will allow ourselves to feel the weight of this decisive cultural moment, I believe He will help us reframe our thinking according to His Word so that our nation may be healed.

I'm so glad you took the time to read this post, sisters. As we faithfully strive to live by Biblical Principles, we can become an instrument of hope and healing in the hands of the Divine Physician.

 

[1] Neil Shenvi, “Social Justice, Critical Theory, and Christianity: Are They Compatible? | Neil Shenvi | Cfc” (lecture, Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary Center For Faith and Culture, Wake Forest, NC, April 29, 2020), https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=E33aunwGQQ4&t=2s.

[2] Ibid.

[3] Thaddeus Williams, “Confronting Injustice Without Compromising Truth On All the Things Episode61,” YouTube, June 20, 2020, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gtLEs5_vVSY.

[4] David Naugle, “Worldview: Definitions, History, and Importance of a Concept” (PHD diss., Dallas Baptist University), https://www3.dbu.edu/naugle/pdf/Worldview_defhistconceptlect.pdf.

[5] Claudio Coridetti, “The Frankfurt School and Critical Theory,” The Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy, accessed August 14, 2020, https://iep.utm.edu/frankfur/.

[6] Sean McDowell, “Interview: How Should Christians Think About Social Justice?,” Josh McDowell Ministry, July 22, 2018, https://www.josh.org/christian-social-justice/.

Photo Credit: Skeeze at Pixabay

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