Hello, dear friends. I read some important books in December and January that I wanted to share with you.
This post will be longer than usual because I would like to offer some back story as to why these two books impacted me so greatly. I think there may be some people out there who need them right now, just as I did.
There are two subjects that I have been trying to untangle for the past several years: progressive Christianity and critical race theory.
Interestingly, these two topics have really come to the forefront of Christian conversation in the last year, prompting many apologists and theologians to address them head-on.
Only recently have I discovered some Biblically-based materials that finally helped me to put all the disparate pieces together and see these issues clearly through the lens of the Bible and my Christian faith. Both of these books came to me via apologetics podcasts that I like to listen to. One difference between these books and other Christian books on these topics is that they do not seek to add Biblical truth to man-made theories; rather, they begin with the Biblical truths and allow those things to inform their theories and philosophies. This is something I have been unable to find until now! I hope you will be encouraged and filled with hope as you read what am about to share!
Several years ago I was given a book that put a pebble in my shoe, so to speak. It was by a famous critical theorist whose name many of you probably know, and the book was my foray into what I know today as critical race theory. I was perplexed by the ideas offered in the book and when I closed the last pages, found myself troubled by the author’s great despair and nihlistic conclusions about the world. I soon learned that the terms and ideas I had read in the book were known in the academic world as critical race theory. I did not fully understand its origin or purpose so I went in search of other sources that would explain it to me in clear terms.
Through this process, I read excerpts from the writings of critical theorists and scholars, and still could not put together exactly what it was or why it grieved me. I read more critical theory books, and even bought an academic book used in college courses and read that, looking for answers. Though I saw these ideas take off in mainstream culture, it still seemed nebulous. When I brought my concerns and questions to other people, I was told that it was not the author’s job to answer questions, but that the purpose of it all was to make me uncomfortable.
However, I felt like it was not simply discomfort I was experiencing, but an inability to understand the ultimate purpose of the theory. It seemed to be more than just the curious exploration of power balances, as many of the books and scholars had described. I continued to seek out understanding on these ideas. I went back and forth in my views on race, being “tossed about by every wind of doctrine.” Can anyone relate?
Well, 2020 has been the year that the Lord used to bring me many answers. In June of this year the national conversation around race on social media opened my eyes to a new world: Christians (especially leaders) discussing race using the same terminology I had been reading in my critical theory research and in secular conversations! Wow! I started to absorb this material. I thought I had found the answer: critical theory was a good, neutral academic theory that we could use to help Christians unite and love one another better. The Bible and the church could really use this, right!? In a very genuine sense, I wanted to be humble before people and mourn with my black brothers and sisters. But I also wanted very badly for people to like me and truly see how good, virtuous, and intellectual I was.
The problem here was not my desire to show compassion and understanding to others. The problem was the order I was placing things in! I didn’t realize it, but I was getting the first and second commandments out of order. A desire for approval in man’s eyes clouded over my desire for the most important thing: God’s approval, what He thinks of me, and what He says about doing justice to my brothers and sisters. Was I looking to Jesus for atonement, or man? This misplaced desire was obscuring my search for truth.
Unfortunately, it did not take me very long watching the fruit of critical theory play out (on social media and in personal relationships) to realize that something was wrong here. I saw Christians use calls for justice as a pass to “out” one another, spew self-righteousness, tear one another apart, and make sweeping, baseless character accusations. (Not to mention what I saw in the secular world!)
I happened to be reading my way through Galatians at that time and the Holy Spirit highlighted Galatians 5:16. (His Word brings light! Praise God!) Right away I realized that the fruit of what I was seeing was not the fruit of the Spirit, but the works of the flesh. At this moment, the freight train that was barreling down the tracks came to a screeching halt for me.
First, the Lord started to highlight my own sin and some things I needed to repent of. One of those things was the rude, self-righteous attitude that I had fallen into and was spreading around by my posts on social media. The second one was that I needed to repent of using political theories to inform my faith, rather than using my faith to inform my political opinions. (A very easy trap to fall into.) As I have found, this is the least fun position to take, as you will not get to have the approval of man from either side of the political spectrum. The praise of man is very gratifying and hard to give up, especially when it comes in the form of red hearts on a screen, as it does for a lot of us!
A few months after this train came to a stop, I finally started to get the answers I had begun seeking years earlier! Someone kindly sent me a podcast in which an academic teacher explained critical race theory point by point, while contrasting it to what the Bible had to say about justice. This is when the lights were turned on for me and I was able to finally understand precisely what it was about this theory that did not harmonize with things I had read in the Bible.
Since then, I have found some gifted theologians and apologists who have taught me about some essential differences between what the Bible and critical theory teach about justice. The sad news is, you cannot mix these things together because they are fundamentally opposed to one another.
To describe all of this would be a very lengthy post. This is where I am going to recommend a wonderful book for you called Confronting Injustice without Compromising Truth by Dr. Thaddeus J. Williams. He does a thorough, unbiased, and Biblical exploration of justice and how we are called to properly express it as Christians. (Lest you think it’s a politically biased book, no one gets a pass here; sin is sin!)
Critical race theorists have some very true things to say about the church’s role in racism and treating people justly. Some parts of it can sound Biblical, but at its core it is not. Lots of really authentic Christians get deceived into supplanting their faith with critical race theory for this reason. The fact, is some of the biggest lies contain the most truth! Yet however true those things may be, we must not look to a man-made philosophy to help us repent and live rightly.
Any other “way” will lead us to deception. We must look to the Bible only. Its message about justice is far simpler than we have made it. It uses the foolish things of the world to shame the wise, after all! I believe that by taking time to examine what the author has to say in this book, you will find as I have, that the simple Gospel of Jesus Christ stands up to anything our historic sin or current culture can throw at it.
This next book is equally as important to me, as it deals with another topic that I began to confront when we moved to California ten years ago, which is progressive Christianity. Like my experience with critical race theory, progressive Christianity was something I knew existed, but did not understand. I saw it happening around me at an alarming rate, yet was unable to place what exactly seemed wrong about it.
It’s a pretty broad term, but some examples of what progressive Christianity espouses is affirming LGBTQ as Biblical, or making claims that only the “red letter” words of Christ are applicable to the Christian faith. Other examples include claims regarding foundational doctrines, such as atonement. There are obviously more things, but this might give you an idea of what I mean by progressive Christianity! It is not a more enlightened gospel, but another one altogether.
In a nutshell, some teachers are taking New Age religion and presenting it as Christianity by cutting and pasting scripture into it. It is difficult for most Christians to parse due to our lack of knowledge about what the New Age is and exactly what it teaches.
Alisa tells her own story of near deconstruction and how false religion came in obscure truth. (It came through a pastor and a Bible study, sadly.) This process caused her to seek clear answers to her questions about Christianity and the Bible. She also deals with many of the accusations that have recently come against orthodox Christianity and why they do not stand when held to the light of Biblical truth.
I was greatly encouraged and enlightened when I read this book. Not only did it give me language for the questions and ideas that many progressive Christians have brought into the church, but it helped me understand Christianity and the Bible in a way that I never had before.
I hope one day I’ll get to meet Alisa! For now, her book has given me an on-ramp to finding some missing pieces in my faith where intellectual structure is concerned. Like critical theory, progressive Christianity and orthodox Christianity cannot be mixed, as they are diametrically opposed to one another.
If you fear that your faith cannot stand to the flying arrows of current culture, take heart! Historic Christianity is wonderfully intellectual and holds it’s own. There is a reason it has endured through the centuries! I would recommend that every Christian read this book, and would encourage you to listen to Alisa’s apologetics podcast where she so graciously examines various issues put forth by progressive Christianity with an orthodox understanding of scripture. (Spoiler alert…no more Enneagram for me!)
I pray you are blessed and encouraged by this post! If you find yourself wrestling with these issues, you are not alone. Yes, read these books. But more importantly, open your Bible and ask Jesus to shine light on any confusion or false ideas. Let His Word be your filter for all truth. It may take time, as it did for me, but He is faithful. His Word will be a lamp unto your feet and a light unto your path!