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4.4 | trojan horses
IV | JUSTICE
Now is a good time to point out that no matter how much we know or seem to understand, there are always holes in our logic. We all have false beliefs that must be confronted. It is vital that we change. It is equally vital that we consider the sources of our change. God wants us to change to be more in his image. Culture wants us to change to be more in its image. Because each of us has a worldview, we each have a definition of justice based on that worldview. We should consider what our conception of justice and our worldview are being shaped by.
We must consider what we allow to shape and change us. We will have a worldview, regardless of our intent: that worldview will be shaped either by default or by design. God wants to transform us into his image. The devil just might too.
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One of my best friends is named Steve Weatherford. I love him. Steve won a Super Bowl. Steve was twice named the fittest man in the NFL by Muscle and Fitness magazine. I don’t look like Steve. I wish I did. He could really help me look like him. To look like Steve, I need to think like he thinks and do what he does.
The problem is that I have this other friend named Donut.
I love Donut too. Most of the time, if I’m honest, I love Donut more than I love Steve. Donut accepts me as I am, whereas Steve tells me I can be better. When I see Donut, he says something like, “You can be like Steve, but you should also eat one of me too. Just one donut is not that far off from Steve. I’m sure he eats donuts. Besides, you don’t really need to be all the way like Steve. You warmed the bench at a 2A high school, and he was in the NFL. It’s not a possibility. And honestly, you know donuts are better than Steve anyway.”
This is an example of cognitive dissonance – attempting to hold two competing beliefs in our minds simultaneously while trying to justify holding both of those beliefs.
Let’s be honest here. We’re all trying to navigate living. It's not just social justice; it's everything. Life is hard. And life is filled with gray areas.
The world is not an easy place to live. The things that humans experience at each other’s hands is often beyond comprehension. The world cries out for justice. This has been true since the dawn of creation. We hear critical justice preached as social justice and it inspires hope. It is full of things we can get behind: more fairness, equality, and egalitarianism, less bigotry, discrimination, and disenfranchisement. Very few people today would say they don’t want justice. Our disagreements all stem from how to achieve justice and what justice looks like.
Critical justice has a specific meaning and purpose. The term “social justice” has been used to advocate aggressively for the installation and enforcement of the radical worldview of Critical Theory. Critical theorists – and proponents of critical justice – do not seek to achieve “social justice” in the same sense that many people assume. In culture, a person who does not embrace the worldview of Critical Theory and the doctrine of critical justice does not embrace justice and therefore sides with the oppressor. Culture tells us that for there to be justice, we must embrace Critical Theory and its definition of justice. Many Christians have attempted to embrace critical justice while still attempting to hold a Kingdom worldview. There are volumes of messages, blog posts and books written in the attempt to illustrate that critical justice is Kingdom justice. That they are one in the same. That God’s justice is the justice that Critical Theory has defined.
I have watched pastors weep after reading How to Be an Antiracist, So You Want to Talk About Race and White Fragility while expressing how revelational and biblical the ideas contained in those books are. All these books were written with a Critical Theory worldview, which begs the question, how can something be biblical if it is not based on the Bible itself?
What a lot of well-meaning and good-hearted people are trying to do is combine the Kingdom with Critical Theory. Many of them are doing this without knowing it. Remember the words of Paul? “Lies so clever they sound like the truth.” Do I believe that Christian authors and thinkers who espouse CT have an evil agenda? Absolutely not. They, along with many others, are making their best effort to bring solutions to problems that have existed for all of human history. All of us require mercy as we “work out our own salvation with fear and trembling” (Philippians 2:12).
Some people think they can take parts of Critical Theory, sprinkle them with some Bible references and change the world. The appeal of CT is strong, even among those with a Kingdom worldview. When I read books or watch talks by critical theorists, there’s such confidence in the solutions put forward. Once we overthrow the oppressor, everything will be so much better. If we follow these simple steps and get rid of white people, cisnormativity, religion and rich people, we fix the world. It's that simple. Eliminate the oppressive groups, oppression will cease, and God will be happy. We will have Heaven on earth.
This is like trying to mix oil and water. Like trying to be best friends with Steve and Donut at the same time. It is impossible to combine Critical Theory and the Kingdom. We can’t eat a dozen donuts every day and think working out hard is going to make us fit. Human solutions don’t solve spiritual problems. Overthrowing an “oppressor” will only replace them with another oppressor.
We all should want to live a life of conviction according to our beliefs. But we must also decide what those beliefs are. We can’t hold two competing worldviews for long. It's one or the other, not both.
Remember Joshua 24? He said, “But if you refuse to serve the LORD, then choose today whom you will serve.” Our worldview and our conception of justice show us what we act in service to. Will we serve God and his Kingdom? Or something else? We must choose who (and what) we are willing to serve, for we can’t have it both ways. Jesus himself in Matthew 6 said ““No one can serve two masters. For you will hate one and love the other; you will be devoted to one and despise the other…”
Let me go back to 2020. The cracks in our culture had turned into canyons. I was learning about how I can embrace positionality and understand my positionality. I was trying to learn how to contextualize my own life and experience during massive worldwide conflict. Many of us were.
I believed that the brand of social justice being broadcast around the world was something that we all should be a part of. I was reading, learning, and doing all kinds of self-evaluation. I was listening to my friends of color and asking them questions about my internalized dominance, microaggressions and general come across. I was reminded of my friend at the store in that Tulsa mall and how radically different my experiences are from so many other people’s. I was thinking of how I have treated people poorly. I was hearing that the fabric of society is broken and evil. It always has been, because of Christian, straight, white, cis men. These same men also are too fragile to recognize or rectify the system of society they have created to oppress everyone who is “not like them.” Because I am Christian, straight, white and cisgender, I am one of these men. I learned that I perpetuate oppression through my very existence. I was being told that I should lament and repent for my covert and overt sins against oppressed groups. At least, that’s the Critical Theory perspective.
I bought in all the way. As a pastor, one of my responsibilities is to help people shape their thinking. I wrote an email to our church with a Critical Theory reading list. My belief was that we could have honest conversations and effect positive and lasting change in our community. This email was filled with the language of Critical Theory and critical justice. It talked about systemic racism and recommended White Fragility, How to Be an Antiracist and So You Want to Talk About Race, as well as the 1619 Project.
I didn’t ask our church to pursue God’s definition of justice. I asked them to pursue culture’s definition of justice. I didn’t know what I was doing, because I hadn’t heeded the words of Paul in Ephesians 5. I didn’t seek to be wise. I acted thoughtlessly in response to cultural pressure.
There were things in that email that I thought from the Kingdom. I didn’t realize that Critical Theory had begun to shape my worldview more than the Kingdom. Critical Theory may be compelling, and there may be positive points within it, but it is not a Kingdom worldview.
Does that mean we shouldn’t read these or any other books on controversial subjects? Not at all. We should seek knowledge from all sources. But we must also be careful what we allow to shape our worldview – and therefore shape our life.
We should be reminded again of Proverbs 14:12: “there is a way that seems right to a man, but its end is the way to death.”
People, even pastors, will lead you astray in your pursuit of a Kingdom worldview. People are imperfect and flawed, and no matter how smart we think we are, we are often ruined by our hubris and ignorance. We need to go to the source. The Kingdom is not about being transformed by a book, a message, or a worship song. The Kingdom is about allowing ourselves to be transformed by God directly and humbling ourselves to that process. Kingdom justice requires humility, the opposite of pride. Letting go of our ways and building our way of life on Scripture. Sola scriptura.God’s word and only God’s word should be the source our worldview emanates from.
Dr. Neil Shenvi is a quantum physicist and Christian apologist. He said, "I worry that too many people are trying to hold on to both Christianity and critical theory. That's not going to work in the long run. We'll constantly be forced to choose between them in terms of values, priorities and ethics. As we absorb the assumptions of critical theory, we'll find that they inevitably erode core biblical truths."
Critical justice is the Trojan horse by which Critical Theory has entered the Church and the lives of Christ-followers. Christ-followers want to empathize with our fellow humans. We are trying to figure out how to bring about a more just world. Our desire to care for our world has allowed our worldview to be sabotaged without us realizing it. I’ve experienced it myself.
Christ-followers want justice. It’s easy to allow our pursuit of justice to take us away from God’s heart. Many of us have embraced a worldview that stands in opposition to the Kingdom we claim to be citizens of. That does not mean that we stop our pursuit of justice. The surface goal of Critical Theory is justice, but that will only take us further away from true justice. That does not mean that oppression doesn’t exist. That does not mean we stop practicing empathy and compassion towards those who are oppressed. It does not mean that we stop taking care of those less fortunate.
What it does mean is that on our journey towards justice, we must also “destroy arguments and every lofty opinion raised against the knowledge of God, and take every thought captive to obey Christ” (2 Corinthians 10:5 ESV). The only true justice is justice as defined by God. We cannot embrace a worldview that is opposed to the Kingdom merely because it has a surface goal of “justice.”
If we do not value critical justice, we will find ourselves at odds with culture. If we choose the path of Kingdom justice, we forsake the path of least resistance. We embrace a version of justice that does not align with what the world defines as justice. The world will tell us that if we don’t buy into critical justice, we perpetuate injustice. We perpetuate racism, homophobia and all manner of oppression.
However, the Kingdom is not homophobic, racist or oppressive. The Bible is filled with examples of active and open opposition towards oppression. Those with a Kingdom worldview must admit that problems exist. Oppression and all its forms exist, today and in the past. Oppression must be opposed. But our opposition is not of this world.
Critical justice wants overthrow, because oppressors are evil and can’t change, so they must be destroyed. Critical justice says that those who are oppressed are incapable of evil and the problem that confronts them is their oppressors.
Kingdom justice wants transformation, because the human heart is wicked, but God can change us into a new person with a new heart.
All humans are capable of extreme evil and wickedness. The color of our skin is not a predictor of the evil – or lack thereof – in our hearts. Neither is our socioeconomic status, gender or sexuality. Critical justice is anti-justice because it doesn’t address the source of injustice – our hearts.
We must choose a form of justice that is not anti-justice.We must choose a form of justice that gives us a new heart and makes us into a new person, a form of justice that astounds the world with its love and mercy, justice that changes the world for the better, forever. The justice of God. Kingdom justice.
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