Against The Tide

4 August 2021
Against The Tide - Featured image

It’s time to challenge the movement of Critical Race Theory into American and Australian churches, writes IPA Research Fellow Kurt Wallace in this review of Pastor Voddie Baucham’s new book.

Fault Lines: The Social Justice Movement and Evangelicalism’s Looming Catastrophe by Voddie T. Baucham Jr.

Fault Lines: The Social Justice Movement and Evangelicalism’s Looming Catastrophe
Voddie T. Baucham Jr.
Salem Books, 2021,
pp270

O’Sullivan’s first law—that “all organisations that are not actually right-wing will become left-wing over time”—is more evident now than when British conservative political commentator John O’Sullivan published his theory in National Review in 1989. Its truth is reaffirmed daily as corporations, universities, and charities compete with one another to affirm the latest social cause on the left.

Observing major institutions in the West, one could argue that the leftward drift of previously politically neutral institutions has in one sense reached completion. The law could be restated: “All institutions are either self-consciously right-wing or have already embraced left-wing social norms”. The continuing war for Western institutions is now among those organisations still holding on to at least a semblance of political or religious conservatism.

A prominent example of conservative holdouts can be found in the broad sphere of evangelical Protestantism. A range of interconnected institutions that exert sizable influence on evangelicals around the world find themselves at the front line of the culture war. The left’s march through the institutions has come to the door of conservative churches, seminaries, publishers, and parachurch ministries.

The liberalising erosion of Christian institutions is not a recent phenomenon. Many of the West’s most prestigious liberal institutions were founded by Christians as explicitly religious organisations. At some point the foundational conservative beliefs of these institutions became assumed, then ignored, and finally rejected. There is an established pattern of drawn-out struggle between conservatives and liberals, liberals gaining control, and an exodus of conservatives to form new organisations that in time must be defended against the same liberalising forces.

In the early 20th century, the fundamentalist/modernist battle raged in the major institutions of the Protestant churches in the United States, resulting in liberalisation of mainline Protestantism in the US and the broader Anglosphere. In 1923, the reformed and Presbyterian scholar and professor at Princeton Theological Seminary, J. Gresham Machen, wrote his classic book, Christianity and Liberalism. Machen identified liberalism or modernism as a counterfeit religion to Christianity that sought to infiltrate the Church by inserting new meanings into familiar conservative language. Machen and his supporters were not successful in maintaining their institutions, with Princeton Seminary and the mainline Presbyterian denomination moving in a liberal direction in the 1930s; prompting Machen to found Westminster Theological Seminary in Philadelphia, and what is now the Orthodox Presbyterian Church.

Evangelicals are in the front line of the culture war.

In Australia, the same phenomenon has divided Protestant churches and their associated institutions, although the terminology used by the combatants may differ. Theological liberalism, not to be confused with the broader political usage of liberalism in Australia, is dominant in the Uniting Church, which formed as a union of Congregationalist, Methodist, and two thirds of the Presbyterian churches in the late 1970s. It has also taken root in many Baptist churches and institutions and in a significant part of the Anglican church, with notable exceptions, especially in Sydney where there is now a significant evangelical movement.

A clear illustration of the stark progressive/conservative divide among Australian Christians occurred in Melbourne in 2008 when St Michael’s, the Uniting Church on the corner of Collins Street and Russell Street, displayed a sign reading: “The Ten Commandments. One of the most negative documents ever written”.

On the opposite corner at Scots’ Church, the Presbyterians erected a poster with the headings: “The Ten Commandments. The most positive and influential document ever written.”

Scots' Church, Melbourne.

Scots’ Church, Melbourne.

THE FAULT LINE

Today, the evangelical and reformed world faces significant challenges with many parallels to the fundamentalist/modernist controversy a century ago. Pastor, author, and professor Voddie Baucham has warned of a coming split over issues related to Critical Race Theory (CRT) in his new book, Fault Lines: The Social Justice Movement and Evangelicalism’s Looming Catastrophe. Baucham believes the evangelical church will be subject to a substantial split on issues relating to social justice and critical theory:

The fault lines are so deeply entrenched, and the rules of engagement so perilously complex, that the question is not if but when the catastrophe will strike.

CRT is taking root in religiously conservative institutions such as the United States’ largest denomination, the Southern Baptist Convention and its seminaries, and the largest conservative reformed denomination, the Presbyterian Church in America. In addition, parachurch organisations being infiltrated include 9Marks, The Gospel Coalition, and Together for the Gospel—groups that rose to prominence with a resurgence of Calvinistic/reformed evangelicalism about 15 years ago. Although Fault Lines speaks broadly at times of critical theory and social justice, the main emphasis is specific to CRT. Another whole book along the same lines could perhaps be written about issues relating to sexual ethics and LGBT+ ideology.

What makes the debate within evangelical institutions somewhat unique in the broader culture war is it being between two groups both claiming to be Biblically conservative. Those enabling or even actively pushing CRT often do not openly identify with the CRT label. Baucham demonstrates with many examples that though many prominent evangelicals deny they are beholden to CRT, they regularly use its categories in defining racial justice.

A COUNTERFEIT RELIGION

Baucham describes the threat as coming from “the antiracism cult”; a cult because “they borrow from the familiar and accepted, then infuse it with new meaning” which allows them “to appeal to the faithful within the dominant, orthodox religions from which it draws its converts”. This tactic is the same employed in Machen’s day by the liberal preachers, who introduced liberal ideas by redefining the familiar terms that satisfied those in the pews and allowed those who were warning against the liberal intrusion to be dismissed as “uncharitable heresy-hunters”.

But the antiracism cult, in its most explicit form, dramatically alters the Christian message in what should be easily discernible ways. Original sin is replaced by their concept of communal and generational guilt based on ethnicity, law is replaced with their prescribed antiracism, the gospel with racial reconciliation, atonement with reparations, and new birth with ‘wokeness’. Perhaps the most serious defect of this counterfeit religion is not having any real counterpart to forgiveness and salvation that stands at the centre of the Christian faith. “Antiracism offers no salvation—only perpetual penance in an effort to battle an incurable disease,” Baucham writes.

Critical Race Theory is hostile to the Christian faith.

There is the religious system of authority and hierarchy, with martyrs (high-profile victims of alleged police brutality), theologians (best-selling popularisers of critical theory such as Robin DiAngelo, Kendi, etc), and a priesthood based on minority status. Baucham describes the philosophical system behind the new priesthood is as ‘ethnic gnosticism’: “the idea that people have special knowledge based solely on their ethnicity”. Central to this system is the belief that there is a black perspective shared by all black people that is a superior alternative to the dominant narrative. The only way white people can access the knowledge from this superior perspective is to elevate black voices.

Voddie T Baucham.

Voddie T Baucham.

The existence of people like Voddie Baucham presents a significant problem for this ideology. Baucham is black, and raised without a father in a poor neighbourhood surrounded by drugs, gangs, and violence. He has a lifetime of experience as a black man in very white conservative institutions related to the Southern Baptist Convention. According to ethnic gnosticism, by virtue of who he is and what he has experienced, Baucham should possess the special knowledge of the black perspective. But the fact Baucham opposes CRT and the favoured narratives of the left shows he is fundamentally broken, or worse, and should be discarded into the same bin as the inauthentically black voices of economists Thomas Sowell and the late Walter E. Williams.

Pointing out this fatal flaw in ethnic gnosticism is met with charges of engaging in tokenism, a charge Baucham has had to deal with when speaking on racial issues.

THE INTRUSION INTO THE CHURCH

CRT has intruded into the evangelical world through the influence of a number of prominent voices that influence a large web of organisations. These institutions are not linked in an official structure or hierarchy but significant influence is wielded by prominent churches and pastors, seminaries and professors, authors and publishers, theologians and parachurch ministries. Influence is gained through institutional appointments, speaking circuits, book deals, and endorsements that bestow credibility. Influence extends across those divided into different conservative churches, whether Baptist, Presbyterian, Anglican, or independent. Within this loose web are those actively pushing CRT, some suggesting CRT is compatible with Christianity, and others enabling CRT’s spread while stating opposition to it.

In Fault Lines Baucham exposits CRT from its leading secular exponents as well as those specifically aiming to promote the ideology within evangelical circles. Significant attention is given to how CRT has been allowed to spread by supposedly conservative figures and institutions, and the opposition faced by those seeking to challenge CRT. Baucham addresses two key events in this world, described by detractors as ‘Big Eva’, to illustrate the nature of the problem.

The first was a 2018 statement on ‘Social Justice and the Gospel’ put together by a range of evangelicals including Voddie Baucham and, most notably, the Californian pastor John MacArthur. A short standard statement of evangelical doctrine with a clear denunciation of the use of CRT received a radio silence response from major figures and institutions. The response signalled a divide between key personalities that were historically, and very prominently, ministry partners.

The second event was the passing of a resolution on CRT and Intersectionality at the Southern Baptist Convention in 2019. The resolution refers to CRT as “a set of analytical tools that explain how race has and continues to function in society, and intersectionality is the study of how different personal characteristics overlap and inform one’s experience”. While the resolution does not bind individual churches who partner with the SBC, it does give cover for those promoting CRT to use it as a legitimate “set of analytical tools”. The resolution goes on to assert that CRT and intersectionality “have been appropriated by individuals with worldviews that are contrary to the Christian faith”. Of course, the reality is that CRT was created by those hostile to the Christian faith, and is being appropriated by those inside the Church in a way that is incompatible with the Christian faith.

Churches are being split, but more will succumb.

A quote from Matthew Hall, the provost at Southern Seminary, the SBC’s flagship seminary, illustrates how an evangelical leader has chosen to use the ‘analytical tool’ of CRT:

Everything that you assumed or thought was normal in the world, or everything you thought was true about your tradition, your denomination, your own family, I’m going to pull the veil back, and what looked like this beautiful narrative of faithfulness and orthodoxy, and of truth and righteousness and justice, I’m gonna peel that back and I’m going to show you the rotting corpse of white supremacy that’s underneath the surface.

Hall shows the danger of applying CRT in this way to Christianity. It is not clear whether Christianity itself can be extricated from problematic traditions, denominations, and families, or for that matter from whiteness, heteronormativity, or its historic association with colonialism.

In the broader reformed and evangelical world, Timothy Keller, the former minister of Redeemer Presbyterian Church in New York City, is one of the most prominent authors and speakers. Keller is known for his approach to ministry of presenting the reformed faith in a way he believes will be attractive to Manhattan liberals. In a panel discussion in 2020 Keller stated

If you have white skin… you have to say “I didn’t deserve this”… “I’m the product of, I’m standing on the shoulders of other people who got [privilege] through injustice”… The Bible says that you are involved in injustice… even if you didn’t actually do it.

COUNTERING THE NARRATIVE

CRT has spread throughout the church by taking advantage of Christians in the pews acting in good faith. Baucham strongly condemns the insidious way in which CRT has taken hold in the church:

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.

Baucham challenges the underlying narrative of US racism by walking through the most prominent cases of alleged police brutality against African-Americans that have been exploited by radical leftists and promoted unchallenged in mainstream media. He presents empirical evidence that US police officers are not disproportionately targetting African-Amercians, and argues “America is one of the least racist countries in the world”.

Baucham demonstrates the anti-Christian philosophy of the BLM movement and declares “it is unacceptable for Christians to partner with, celebrate, identify with, or promote this organization”. These warnings are not just relevant to Americans, with their unique historical and political context.

Photo: Joe Brusky/Flickr

Photo: Joe Brusky/Flickr

Christians in Australia are increasingly faced with these same challenges as cultural and church influences are directly imported to Australia. The ability to maintain biblical teaching in the face of antithetical critical theory will be a significant test for conservative churches. Baucham is under no illusion his book can undo the encroachment of the destructive ideology of CRT and intersectionality in evangelical institutions. His view is best described as pessimistic in the short term, but optimistic in the long term. In the short term:

Churches are being split, but more will succumb. Ministries are beginning to drift, but they will drift further, and others will join them. Families are being torn apart, and it will get worse. Seminary faculties and denominational factions are being balkanized, and the divide will only get wider.

In the long term, Baucham believes the Church will be sustained. The first step is for Christians to recognise they are at war and the enemy is already within the gates.

This article from the Winter 2021 edition of the IPA Review is written by IPA Research Fellow, Kurt Wallace.

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