We’ve been working through various topics regarding social justice, BLM, and variegated race issues that are front and center in just about every area of life right now. These are issues that dominate the political discussion, but in many ways, have become a major focus of the church.
In fact, we are currently seeing a major divide take place in the church right now.
Deep lines have been drawn that seem to become deeper every week. People are leaving churches they have attended for decades. Long-standing friends are rapidly becoming enemies. Many churches are fractured, and have already split over these issues.
This is not something that is going away, or can be swept under the rug. We see this as a water-shed issue for the church. People are demanding their pastors take a position, and they should. Vague, generalized statements simply will no longer do-- and frankly, they shouldn’t.
While many desire unity (which is a good thing), only disunity seems to keep prevailing.
So, this is not a happy time for the church right now. Many see what is happening, and think it is bad, because disunity seems to be the definitive consequence of these discussions. Others see what is happening, and think it is good, because it is revealing of the true church.
Regardless of where you may land, the church is currently experiencing an increasingly tumultuous time right now.
In many ways, it is simply reflecting the division that is taking place in the broader culture of America. I think we can all agree that that is sad, and ought not be.
One of the contributing factors on this whole issue within the church, however, is the presence of what many have started calling a “new canon.”
Now, what does that mean?
Well, “the canon” is a theological term that simply means “rule,” “measure,” or “regulation.”
In other words, it is the standard, or determinative authority for what controls the church-- how we think, how we live, how we order our lives under God’s rule to His purposes.
In terms of evangelicalism, our canon is the Bible alone. It is our only standard of legitimate authority. It is that final arbiter of truth, and only principle to which we submit ourselves.
In light of the Social Justice movement, there seems to have arisen a new canon. That is, there are many books now outside of the bible, which are regarded as “must reads.”
People are quoting them, and referencing them almost authoritatively.
In fact, many people simply will not engage in conversation with you unless you have first read these books. They seem to have become far more than simply “must reads.”
Rather, you are essentially forbidden to speak on anything related to race (within the church) unless you have first read these. Simply, your voice has no place.
It does not matter if you have framed your statements out with Scripture, and have developed a true biblical theology of race and reconciliation. Unless you have read these books (and essentially, agree with these books), then you are not yet allowed to speak.
In other words, these books are being appealed to, as if they possess inherent authority.
And it has been interesting to watch people within the church, especially pastors, post on social media what they are reading.
The virtue signalling is transparently obvious, and all of it speaks to the rise of a new canon.
Now, of course, many are good evangelicals, and so they would never say these books are authoritative over the Bible.
But the consistent misquoting of Scripture, and the utter lack of faithful exposition of Scripture, and the constant appeal to analytical tools like CRT, intersectionality, and even experience, all bespeak of what is truly holding functional authority right now.
And all of this is being pushed forward in these books (i.e., this ‘new canon’).
Further, the fact that many are told to simply be quiet and start listening (and based upon your skin color), is also the evidence of a new canon.
In fact, when people make those kinds of statements, it proves that Scripture is functionally insufficient (in their minds) to address these issues.
Rather, you need to listen, or read certain things before you are allowed to speak.
And, if you walk away with a different conclusion, apparently, you have not yet listened.
In fact, if Scripture was truly sufficient, as the sole authority and canon, then experience has no place in determining truth.
All that matters is what the bible has definitively declared.
(And what’s sad is how many evangelicals will now squirm at that statement).
In many ways, the great division that we see within the church right now, is actually revealing the perspective that many professing Evangelicals truly have on the sole authority of Scripture as the only canon.
The sad reality is that the Bible has simply become functionally insufficient.
A new canon is beginning to hold sway.
Well, we have read many of these books with a critical eye, and pencil in hand.
And so, what we plan to do is to start giving a basic review of some of them.
We already did one on the Color of Compromise by Jemar Tisby-- we’re going to do one today-- and, then, we’ll see how many more we feel like doing.
Now, many in-depth, critical reviews have come out on all these books (from every possible perspective), and so, that is not our goal.
Rather, we simply want to give you our basic thoughts as two pastors, who have had some of our own people inquire, or express interest in reading some of these books.
Woke Church - Eric Mason
We would say that of all the books we read this is the least problematic.
It is a little book coming in at only around 160 pages. It is readable and clearly put together in a manageable way.
It is controlled by four “Be’s” making up four parts. Be aware, Be willing to acknowledge, Be accountable, and Be active.
It comes across like a four part sermon series that was the basis of the book. It is filled with stories, anecdotes and illustrations making the reading very easy and quick. However, this also makes it a bit dangerous in that it can get the reader lulled into a place of comfort and they become carried along with the actual argument without engaging it and comparing it with sound theology.
He wants us, according to page 24, to be more concerned with knowing Christ and one another than those things that make for distinction between people and organizations.
In other words, he wants to have us preserve the unity of the Spirit as stated in Ephesians 4.
His definition of “woke” is on page 25:
“Pan-Africanists and Black Nationalists use the term ‘woke’ to refer to no longer being naive nor in mental slavery. We have borrowed the term and redeemed it to be used in the context of being awakened from deadened, sinful thinking.”
He goes on in the next paragraph to enlarge on this saying, “Woke is a word commonly used by those in the black community as a term for being socially aware of issues that have systemic impact. . . . Being work has to do with seeing all of the issues and being able to connect cultural, socio-economic, philosophical, historical and ethical dots.”
It is interesting how in the first part he says it is being awakened to sinful thinking that you were unaware of. But, quickly this shifts to now it is being aware of so-called systemic impacts of various sociological factors. It is key to realize up front that the one does not equal the other.
Add to the confusion and concern is on page 26 he enlarges even more the idea of being “woke” by favorably quoting W. E. B. Du Bois. Remembering that Du Bois was an avowed agnostic or atheist and we are unsure we would call him a great man like Mason does. Especially since his work is rooted in some seriously problematic thinking.
In chapter 2 he deals with justice and the gospel.
He states on page 41 that Christians are called to pursue a ministry of reconciliation, referencing 2 Cor. 5:18.
The way he uses this passage is common, but it is also going beyond the text. The reconciliation that is in view is not person to person but sinner to God. But Mason, like many others, makes it a social reconciliation between people.
On page 53 he says that we cannot know God without understanding His heart for justice. We would agree with this if it were all he said, but it is just a few paragraphs later he then moves the reader to see that justice, specifically, social justice, is the character of the Church.
Unfortunately, he never spent any time expounding on the many texts he referenced in the OT about justice. He merely quoted them. But now, in a couple of paragraphs, he is now speaking about educational challenges, gentrification, redlining, limited access to healthy food and such (page 55).
That is quite the jump, and without him giving sound exposition to show what justice means in the OT passages, we are very reluctant to jump with him.
Chapter 3 is rather decent. It is about the fact that in Christ we are all true family members. He reminds us that we are to pray for one another and not give up on each other. He finds it remarkable that Paul prays for Philemon (Page 61) since he is a slave owner. It would have been good for him spend more time on the “why” for why Paul was not commanding him to put away slavery, but he didn’t. And it was a missed opportunity.
He does a decent job dealing with Onesimus showing how it was not a frontal attack on slavery, but an issue of usefulness for the ministry. Onesimus needed to resolve the fact he ran away. Paul needed him for ministry. So he was sent back but with the letter asking Philemon to free him. Again, so much could have been added to this section but he didn’t choose to enlarge on it.
If there is a quibble it is on pages 68ff.
There, he begins to talk about oppression in America, and he introduces privilege and systems designed to keep a person in a position of privilege.
He assumes that privilege and systems are interrelated and oppressive, but he never proves the point. He says that the brokenness today is at a “devastating” level (69) but is that true? If what we see today is devastating then what were the 60’s or the pre-civil war days? Surely blacks are in a much better position to improve their lives today than 50 years ago?
But he doesn’t prove it. He simply assumes it and then says that the people are waiting for the church to say something (69).
This assumes far more of people than the bible would say, and it also setting the stage for an argument that silence is somehow a sign of complicity.
Chapter 4 starts the second major part, Be Willing to Acknowledge.
He starts out with a moving story of police arresting his father when his father was about 11 for theft. He was beaten by the police but Mason’s grandmother called her white boss who intervened. Mason goes on to say that this event and others color his thinking about how to deal with whites and how he fears for his sons’ lives (pg 77).
The story is poignant, but it does not actually support his point of view on page 77.
His father was accused by a man without proof. He was mistreated by police. We won’t debate that, we accept it with sadness.
But he also had an excellent example of the opposite in the white boss of his grandmother’s. No praise for that man who also risked much to defend the oppressed. This is an altogether too common of an event.
The reality today is that the black man has more reason to fear another black man than a white man. This is well-documented, but ignored.
But he says on page 78, “We can no longer afford to remain asleep to what has happened and what continues to happen.”
I question how many whites, especially white Christians, are asleep to slavery and racism of the past. At the same time, we are likely going to go separate ways on the unsubstantiated implication that nothing has really changed either. The sort of racism he points backward to is something he cannot point forward to in the present day. But he assumes it is there.
On page 79 he says that the Quakers were “a bright light” as they would help runaway slaves. We are happy he points that out.
There is an irony present too because though he acknowledges them they are still guilty of racism by the simple fact they are white.
Like Tisby, Mason brings up the Nat Turner revolt (80ff).
He spread terror throughout the South and the result was new legislation in reaction to it that resulted in new oppression.
We wish he would enlarge on that to show how ungodly actions (Nat Turner) begets ungodly reactions (new laws).
As an aside we think that the new BLM rioting will result in new laws that won’t help anyone in the long run. But rioting cannot be allowed for the well-being of any society and laws and enforcement are the only tools the government has to apply against violence.
He gives us a broad history of the hard journey the black had from slavery to today. His treatment is overall fine and like Tisby it showed how Christians would fail to bring dignity to the blacks, seeing them in one way or another as inferior.
But, like Tisby he also makes some leaps that should not be done by anyone. An example of this is making KKK a group of Christians (page 84).
It certainly had professing Christians in it but it was not Christian nor could any who truly claimed it to be right and good be considered a Christian.
This is frustrating to read and deal with because there is a conflation of actual Christians with people and organizations who use the bible as a tool to leverage their view in the public eye. This is like Republicans and Democrats who quote scripture like it is theirs, while their whole life shows the opposite.
Chapter 5 is a chapter on lament.
Like many authors and speakers, he looks to Israel to see parallels between the Jew and the blacks. The way he treats the biblical idea of lament is shallow at best. He seems to miss the point that they, as a people, are still under the disciplining hand of God due to their rebellion. Their sin is not their past (like we would say slavery is in America), but their present.
To be sure, the black population has seen suffering in their history, but that is not to say that that suffering somehow transcends time, and the suffering of two generations ago is somehow their present suffering.
However, there was a moving statement on page 98 that the Black church had to be created, and it had to be created because black people in the church were not viewed as equal in every aspect.
That is sad, that is wrong, and there is no excuse.
It should not have been this way, but, not by way of excuse but simply as a fact, it was a problem from the very beginning. One only needs to read Acts and the epistles to see that.
The solution, though, is not to lament, but to repent. That is always the solution.
A second lament that was powerful was tokenism.
He relates a statement by Bryan Loritts on page 102, “I’m tired of recommending young minority leaders to serve on white church staffs, and watching them get used as tokens to show how ‘serious’ the church is about diversity, only to see it end badly.”
This must be frustrating, and we have no real answer for this. Behind and under it all is the greater problem of virtue signaling -- overly big churches, the desire to have a certain image and brand, rather than a sound ecclesiology that is focused on evangelism, church planting and equipping the saints. If this were to change, a person is hired not because of his color, but because of his gifting and faithfulness.
When he complains about how the church did not lead the BLM movement we begin to part ways. Like so many other authors and speakers he lists names of people supposedly killed in an unjust manner.
The problem is that the facts so often do not support the narrative that is pushed.
An example is Philando Castile.
He was shot by a police officer in Minnesota, but what is seldom said is that he fit the description of a robbery suspect. So there is a heightened awareness by the officer, who is hispanic.
Now, Castile did not comply with the officer’s commands, which only moves the level of fear and concern up for the officer. He was armed and the officer thought he was reaching for his gun.
So we are not saying that Mr. Castile had to die, or was guilty. But we are saying that the narrative pushed, rather than the actual truth, is designed to make it a racial crime, when in reality, nothing about it is racial.
On page 116 he makes a telling statement, “I found myself exegetically at home with my conservative family on the doctrines of grace, but ethically at home with my liberal family on issues of race and justice.”
This is a common issue we see. Somehow the bible and the proper study of the bible does not produce a lifestyle that works itself out in the public square.
We have no time to make a persuasive argument on this here. But we do believe that this is actually one of the root problems on race and justice today. We have competing streams of authority. When you see ethics outside of your exegesis, then either your ethics are wrong or your exegesis.
We see this as the bigger problem in the church in America. It is not racial reconciliation or systemic racism. It is the starving of the people of God by not faithfully and fully preaching and teaching the WOG to them. This is the great evil.
We see this played out by a comment he makes on page 118, “The preached message must address the reality of sin, on an individual level as well as on a systemic level.”
However, a system is not under the wrath of God, people are. Sin is not a system, it is in the hearts of those who erect systems. Destroy the power of sin through the gospel, true regeneration, and developing a biblical worldview and the system cannot stand. If you doubt us, ask Zacheus.
Another example is using MLK as an example of prophetic preaching. Why not an actual Christian pastor who actually preaches the Word? Give us the words preaching from Voddie Baucham, anyday, over MLK.
He quotes on page 140 Nelson Mandela, who was an incredibly wicked man who did great harm to many who were not part of his party ANC. Again, is there no godly man to quote?
In chapter 7 he begins to make the argument of change.
Again he is using illustrations that really do not support his claims. Meek Mills was arrested for popping a wheelie in NY, and the results that he received a 2-5 years sentence for this -- and, then, it is assumed to be racial.
The reality is much different, though, but by now the facts are so lost in the narrative pushed that no one cares. Except, those who love truth must care.
Change is not going to happen with lies. But Mason uses it as proof that there is a system of corruption that is designed to trap minorities (129). Proof, he needs no proof. Just stories.
It is interesting to see him use John the Baptist as an example of preaching for change. Yes, he did speak against Herod’s immorality and he suffered the consequences, accepted them, but what’s interesting is that Jesus did not rescue him. So.... again, we’re left wondering what the call of the Christian is, and what the church is actually supposed to be doing….
We did appreciate the idea of helping those in depressed communities to learn how to start businesses and gain personal independence, but many more details would be needed.
In chapter 8 he gives examples of other places that made change work on racial lines.
He references Rwanda, South Africa, and Germany. The problem is that they are all corrupt, and though lauded by many social engineers, they are not working true justice.
He needs to do more homework before he lectures America on what they should do.
The example he uses in South Africa having Truth and Reconciliation forums. What he leaves out is how the nation has been descending into anarchy and the death of blacks is incredibly high there. Atrocities occur every day. But they have forums….
On page 153 he rightly says that the family is foundational. We fully agree, but as we read the book we realize that the policies and politics he argues for actually work against the family. This puts us in a position of agreeing, but disagreeing.
One other point he makes is on page 159. He mentions that in his neighborhood the average household income is 15,000. We question that.
If that is the only source of income, then we are truly sorry, but the reality is subsidized housing, welfare, food stamps, energy assistance, subsidized bus passes, food pantries, clothes pantries and many other programs both from the government and the churches that extend that money greatly. There is also a huge underground economy that exists in any neighborhood that is built around an ethnicities that outsiders simply do not know about.
So we agree that better jobs are good, but we question the 15,000.
On page 89 he talks about how the black church is weary of the constant battle. We can agree, and it might surprise him to find that we, like many white Christians are weary as well.
However, until the battle focuses on actual sin by actual people it will matter little and nothing will change.
In addition, it is paramount that the discussion first come to some level of agreement to terms and their meaning. The goal posts keep moving and it makes things very difficult on those who see change but that there is essentially no acknowledgement of that change. An example of this is the consistent treatment of history in such a way that the black in America today are somehow still victims of racism that is as bad as their forebearers suffered. It simply is not true.
All of this is to say, the book is not evil, but it is not helpful once you get past the initial emotional impact it may have on the reader.
Get into the actual details and questions arise in which there are no answers.
For us, the biggest thing would be how he sees social change as something that is possible without true heart change. Social change without heart change merely flips things over and makes a new class the so-called oppressed.