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Part 4: Words Matter

This article is part 4 of a series about the current events. See Part 1 & Part 2 & Part 3

The church is the pillar and buttress of the truth. Our happy and high calling, as an assembly of Christ’s redeemed, is to protect our precious gospel so that, if the Lord tarries, our great-great grandchildren will still be able to hear it preached from the Grace Rancho pulpit. It’s an amazing privilege to be enlisted in Christ’s army for this task, and I’m thankful for a church that takes this responsibility seriously. The Bible repeatedly calls us to be vigilant, sober-minded, and alert, like soldiers at the watch. In times like these, we need to be reminded of that.

R.L. Dabney in his book Evangelical Eloquence makes a brilliant observation about how doctrinally sound churches slide into apostasy. He describes three stages. First is the golden age, where “scriptural truth is faithfully presented in scriptural garb.” The second stage is what he calls the “transition stage”: where doctrines taught are still from the Scriptures, but “their relations are moulded into the conformity with the prevalent human dialectics” - that is, the church attempts to speak biblical truth using the language of the culture. This leads to the third stage, where the doctrines themselves morph, following the values of the world.

Words Matter

In our previous articles, we’ve been thinking about a prevailing ideology, often called critical theory, that has shaped the way many people are thinking today. Last week we observed that as secularization increases, self-expression becomes the highest virtue. Powers that suppress self-expression are viewed as participating in oppression. Life is viewed in terms of power and people are categorized into oppressed/oppressor groups. 

In this article, we need to see how this outlook has affected our language. The greatest attacks against the truth have always involved an assault on words. Satan is known for twisting and corrupting words so as to deceive and mislead.

In our day, nice sounding  words are being used as Trojan Horses to smuggle godless ideologies into the church. Words matter. They are carriers of ideas, and ideas shape minds, hearts, and destinies.

Shifting Definitions

This is why we need to perk up when familiar words begin to be used in new ways. Whenever this happens, it means a new definition has latched on to the old word, implanting ideas foriegn to its original meaning. If you pause and think about it, I’m sure you’d be able to identify several words that have morphed over the last decade: diversity, love, inclusion, and equality are some of the obvious ones. Today, words like oppression, racism, and justice are being redefined as well. Let’s consider these words.

The word “oppression” used to mean “prolonged cruel or unjust treatment.” Now, “oppression” includes being a part of a group that’s not the majority, a group that’s not in power. To be an oppressor now has nothing to do with actually treating someone cruelly or unjustly. Everyone in the majority culture has privilege and is guilty by virtue of their participation in it. 

The word “racism” used to refer to the belief, attitude, or action that implies people are inferior or superior because of their race. This is not the case anymore. According to this worldview, all majority culture participants are racist. Racism is the underlying explanation for any interracial conflict or disparity. 

The word “justice” has been hijacked as well. Justice used to refer to doing that which is good, right, and just. Today, however, justice is defined in an entirely new way. One proponent of the social justice movement says: “Working towards a celebration of diversity implies working for social justice - the elimination of all forms of social oppression…” (emphasis mine). Did you catch that? Social justice means working against “all forms of social oppression.” What counts as “social oppression”? The nuclear family, traditional gender roles, and even gender itself. Justice, in this sense, means working toward anything that hinders “equality” (another redefined word).

These new definitions implicitly redefine sin, guilt, and repentance, which, inevitably, redefines the gospel. This is why we Christians must not embrace uncritically the modern social justice movement.

A Redefined Gospel

Social justice, as defined by those promoting this godless ideology, is anti-Christ: It redefines sin, which redefines guilt, which redefines repentance, which redefines the gospel. This worldview is not compatible with Christianity. 

Dr. Neil Shenvi points this out in his booklet Engaging Critical Theory and the Social Justice Movement. He points out that not only are these ideas incompatible with biblical Christianity, but that this worldview is actually like a religion of its own:

Many people, including many atheists, have noted the similarities between critical theory and the doctrines of Christianity. Just as Christianity teaches that all human beings are stained by original sin, so contemporary critical theory teaches that all people (or at least almost all people) are stained by their membership in oppressor groups. Just as Christianity teaches that we must confess and repent of our sin, so contemporary critical theory teaches that we must confess and repent of our participation in structures of power and privilege. Just as Christianity teaches that sin must be atoned for, so contemporary critical theory teaches that our privilege must be atoned for. Just as Christianity looks forward to a kingdom of perfect justice and righteousness, contemporary critical theory looks forward to a utopian society of perfect justice and equity. But unlike Christianity, “salvation” in contemporary critical theory is achieved not by grace, but by works. 

As a church that cares deeply about the gospel, we rise up in protection when we feel it may be threatened. There are real instances of oppression, racism, and injustice today, and to be able to address them, we need to understand them biblically, not through the lens of critical theory. Critical theory, and the social justice movement that flows from it, is a threat to the church and must be recognized as such.

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Part 3: Ideas Have Consequences

This article is part 3 of a series about the current events. Find part 2 here.

Have you checked your heart lately? It’s a good thing to do. David pleaded with the Lord, saying “Search me, O God, and know my heart! Try me and know my thoughts!” (Ps. 139:24). We need the Lord to expose our sins so we can grow in Christlikeness. A couple weeks ago, I wrote an article asking you to start there.

Last week I wrote an article calling upon our church to prepare to think. The church is not endangered by obvious and blatant heresy, but rather subtle and insidious ideologies that lead to the undermining of the gospel itself. Remember, our enemy has “schemes” (Eph. 6:11). False teachers “secretly bring in destructive heresies” (2 Pet. 2:1). Satan “disguises himself as an angel of light” (2 Cor. 11:14). That is to say, disruptive ways of thinking don’t announce their arrival. The disease of false ideology is often asymptomatic as it spreads throughout the body. And if it’s not identified, it kills.

Ideas have consequences. There have been seismic shifts that have happened in our culture over the last decade, and if you’ve been unaware of them, the last couple months have made it clear. In this article I want to make you aware of some of the big ideological shifts that have taken place in people’s thinking and how the church is vulnerable to being swept up into an anti-Christian worldview, sometimes called “critical theory.” Here are some of the big ideological changes we’re seeing.

Secularization

The whole universe was created by God and for God. Paul summarizes the heart of the Christian life in Romans 11:36: “For from him and through him and to him are all things. To him be glory forever. Amen.” God is ultimate. He created all things for his own glory. That is why we exist. All our lives are to be toward this great end: to glorify God and enjoy him forever.

Our world, however, has adopted a secular worldview, which means that no longer does the reality of God weigh into the lives and decisions of those in our society. Since there’s no God to fear, people do what is right in their own eyes.

The church is not free from the influence of an increasingly secular society. Often, the church has tried to win the world by becoming like it, and has tried to avoid making God “too holy” or sin “too serious.” Many churches have adopted what David Wells described as a “Weightless God.”

But man, made in God’s image, designed for worship, cannot live with a void in the heart. If God is not the center, something else will be. If the grand story of redemption is not the interpretive and cohesive narrative, some other interpretive narrative will fill the void.

Self-Expression the New Virtue

A godless ideology inevitably leads to the elevation of man. Man begins to see itself not as God does, but as he wants to see himself. Rather than seeing himself as depraved, he just needs to be himself. Rather than seeing his carnal desires as needing to be denied, he is taught to pursue his desires no matter what. Rather than seeing his base desires as sinful, he sees them as righteous expressions of the way God made him. Man is no longer a sinner in need of a Savior, but men see themselves as little gods lusting for glory.

Jesus says: “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me” (Luke 9:23). The world says, “Deny your neighbor, take up your comfort, and follow your heart.” Self-expression is the exact opposite of Christ’s invitation to discipleship and the clarion call of a godless society.

What happens when humanity starts living that way? What happens when the   is overrun with false human gods who deem their highest good to be self-expression?

A New Oppression

The elevation of man in the place of God creates a new value system. Not only does self-expression become the highest good, but any hindrances to self-expression (restrictions, limits, authorities, or less obvious forces) become the greatest evil. Any systems or constructs that hinder a person’s ability to be “themselves” are a form of oppression.

Therefore, in this worldview, everybody is viewed as a member of a group that is either oppressed or oppressive. The majority group is always oppressive because it, whether intentionally or not, is imposing its norms on the minority group. Every people-category you can think of, then, has a corresponding oppression associated with it: wherever there is race, there is racism, wherever there is gender, there is sexism or homophobia; wherever there is masculinity and femininity, there is patriarchy. For every human category there are oppressors and oppressed.

This is where we need to think carefully. There certainly has been (and currently still is) true oppression in our world. Our nation in particular has committed grievous acts of oppression from chattel slavery up to Jim Crow. Today, there is no doubt that the same sins that created those systems exist in the hearts of men today. Racism, partiality, fear, and insensitivity are sins that must be dealt with in our day. It’s important to make that clear.

At the same time, embracing an ideology that denies God’s rightful authority, places self-fulfillment at the center of life, and views all obstacles as forms of oppression will most certainly wreak havoc. The church must be able to identify and refute it.

What We’re Seeing Today

It’s vitally important that we, as Christ’s church, stay humble and remain vigilant. Much of the uproar we’re seeing today could be linked to our society’s embrace of critical theory. In upcoming articles, we’re going to see how this ideology tampers with our language and, if we fail to uphold the truth, could end up redirecting the church’s mission and redefining the church’s message.

 

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Part 2: A Battle of Ideas

This article is part 2 of a series about the current events. Find part one here.

The Way We Talk

Neil Postman describes an event in the 1800s when Abraham Lincoln engaged in political debate with Stephen A. Douglas. After Douglas spoke for three hours, it was Lincoln’s turn. Lincoln, understanding how the audience might be hungry, proposed that they go home, have dinner, and return, since his rebuttal might take several more hours. The audience agreed, and after a meal, returned for several more hours of debate.

Postman asks: “What kind of audience was this? Who were these people who could so cheerfully accommodate themselves to seven hours of oratory?” 

The answer, at least in part, is that this audience is the product of a culture dominated by language, ideas, and print. The reason the above scenario is utterly impossible in our day is because we are a culture dominated by visuals, emotions, and screens.

This is why we are living in what could be called an “outrage culture.” When the mode of national discourse is primarily in bits, snippets, tweets, memes, soundbites, and shares, what we get are people in the midst of losing their ability to engage with ideas, understand nuance, engage in argumentation in a logical, rational, fashion.

A Battle of Ideas

I start with that because God has revealed himself in words, sentences, grammar, propositional statements, rational arguments, and truth claims. Sustained thought has always been the mark of Christians who desire to love God with all their mind. The Scriptures repeatedly call us to think, meditate, ponder, reflect, observe, notice, and remember. Jesus’ rebuke of the Pharisees was often “Have you not read?” which implies, of course, that anyone who wants to accurately know God and obey him should be willing to engage their minds in the rigorous task of reading, which includes following arguments and drawing logical conclusions. The Scriptures are the standard by which we evaluate every truth claim.

Moreover, Scripture is clear that the enemy is a liar, the father of lies, and that he is engaged in deceiving the whole world (Rev. 12:9). His assault is always and first against the Word of God, and wants to blind the minds of his victims (2 Cor. 4:4). He is crafty, subtle, and brilliantly strategic. This is why Christians are called to be “sober-minded” (1 Pet. 1:13).

Consider Paul’s warning in 2 Corinthians 10:4-5. “For the weapons of our warfare are not of the flesh, we are not waging war according to the flesh but have divine power to destroy strongholds. We destroy arguments and every lofty opinion raised against the knowledge of God, and take every thought captive to obey Christ.”

Do you see what Paul is saying? We’re in a war. But it’s not a war against flesh. It’s not a war against people. Rather - and this is important - it’s a war against “arguments” and “lofty opinions.” It’s against “thoughts” that rise up against the true knowledge of God. It’s a battle of ideas. As one author has loosely paraphrased: “For we wrestle not against flesh and blood, matters in motion, but against isms, against the powers that seek to name, and control, reality.” 

That’s where we are today. There are subtle isms in our society that are so pervasive they’re almost impossible to identify. They are like lenses through which we see the world, lenses we don’t know we’re wearing, and yet they’re coloring everything. These ideologies are an odorless gas, toxic and destructive, but largely ignored and unidentified.

So here’s where it gets challenging. There are real issues Christians need to think about - things we brought up in the previous article. Real sins - like racism, favoritism, fear, and insensitivity - that must be confessed and forsaken. But there are also subtle isms afoot. Worldviews. Ideologies that “rise up against the truth knowledge of God.” How do we disentangle the issues? How can we address the real issues without adopting the anti-Christian worldview that’s out there? And how can we protect the church from false ideologies while remaining humble, gentle, and sympathetic?

Think With Me

I want to ask you, church, to think with me. Over the coming weeks, I am going to putting out articles that help us process these issues biblically.  We are going to have to be more like those people in the 1800s who could listen well, think clearly, and wrestle with ideas. We need to adopt the kind of posture James 1:19 describes: “Let every person be quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger.” We will need to humble ourselves to learn while strengthening our conviction in the truth. 

The questions I want to ask are: what happens when God is diminished and man is elevated? What are the consequences of believing that self-expression is the highest virtue? Is it right to view the world through the lens of oppressed and oppressor? What should we think about “social justice”? How is the church vulnerable to current cultural trends?

My sense is that most of us know there are strange things going. Whether or not we know why, we know there have been seismic shifts in our culture over the last decade. We know they threaten not only our society but our church. In order to protect the gospel, we must engage the ideologies at play and prayerfully consider how we can respond in truth and love.

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