A lot has changed since 2001. From 9/11 to the election of Barak Obama as the U.S. president, to the surprise election of Donald Trump as the U.S. president, with the riots in reaction to George Floyd’s death in Minneapolis and the legalization of same-sex marriage, a lot of changes, indeed, have happened.
What are we to make of these changes? What is the source of these changes in society? In Voddie Baucham’s book Fault Lines: The Social Justice Movement and Evangelicalism’s Looming Catastrophe, the account for these changes would be the Critical Social Justice Movement (hereafter referred to as CSJ Movement). Baucham frames the issue around turmoil among Evangelical denominations, seminaries, and churches, ultimately between two different groups: those in favor of the CSJ Movement and those against (p.6-7).
At the outset, there is a way not to frame this discussion. One should not prepare the debate around the CSJ Movement as those who are “concerned for justice” and those who aren’t. Since this book addresses Evangelical Christianity, all Evangelical Christians (Baptist, Presbyterian, etc.) should be concerned about justice. After all, the Bible teaches our Lord is the “stronghold for the oppressed” (Ps. 9:9) and that we are to “do good; seek justice, correct oppression; bring justice to the fatherless, plead the widow’s cause” (Is. 1:17). Every Christian should be concerned about correcting injustice when it comes to bear.
For myself, I do not believe my opinions are remarkably different now from when I first thought about social justice issues. I am for correcting injustice. Growing up in the Southern United States at a school where white students were in the minority, social issues that bothered my friends, black and white, were not unfamiliar to me. I, like everyone, should deplore racism and would be happy if it weren’t an issue.
Yet, for many racism and racial injustice is an issue. At the same time: being a critical observer of the current state of affairs in the social landscape, our country and churches should not leave themselves fighting one another over concern for injustice. All Christians should be against injustice. However, what we do not need are observes outside our churches telling us how we should deal with issues of injustice; the Bible is sufficient. One can argue that “All truth is God’s truth.” True enough. Yet, we have to ask ourselves the question: Does God erect competing systems of truth? Hardly. Yes, we live in God’s world, and even unbelievers can say and believe excellent and true things. Yet, from the heart of their motivations, which do not glorify God, it is challenging to coopt worldly theories and philosophies on many issues like sexuality, race, gender, etc.
Thus, the focus of this review will be to demonstrate why Evangelicals moving with the CSJ Movement is treacherous to keeping the Gospel pure. I am not arguing to put a line between Conservative and Liberal Christians. I am not arguing that those more inclined to the CSJ Movement are social gospel believers. I am saying that adopting the CSJ Movement and its underlying philosophy would be detrimental for a clear Gospel witness. There are two sides: to embrace the CSJ Movement or not (7). Hopefully, the reader will choose wisely. To unpack my thesis will involve interacting with Baucham’s book, Fault Lines. At the end of this review, I will offer a few of my takeaways from the book.
Review and Analysis
Chapters one to three of Baucham’s book recall his own experiences as a black man post-Civil Rights Movement America (9), as a black man who converts to Christ (21), and what it is to seek true justice (41). While interesting chapters in themselves, the heart of the matter comes as Baucham argues that those are pushing for justice without considering the full facts of a case, and he lists several where this happens (53-63). Baucham believes this is ignored because “the standard of justice upon which the pleas are built does not come from the God of the Scriptures” (45). The standard is, according to Baucham, agenda-driven to paint America as a racist country and has always been a racist country (62-63). Baucham argues that the aforementioned standard, or where the forthcoming ideas come from, is built on Marxism and Marxist Critical Theory, which inform the notions of structural racism, which must be torn down (xii-xiii). He demonstrates this as it relates to Critical Race Theory, which is itself an outcropping of these Marxist theories (xiv-xviii). The CSJ Movement is the popular level outcropping of these theories. Baucham also believes “Antiracism” is an outcropping of the CSJ Movement, which is behind many Evangelical discussions, going so far as to call it a “cult” (66).
Since Antiracism comes from the CSJ Movement, one must consider the nature of Antiracism. First, Baucham paints the “Antiracism” movement in stark religious terms, arguing it has a cosmology, original sin, law, gospel, priests, atonement, new birth, liturgy, canon, and theologians (67). Then, between chapters four and six, Baucham unpacks these ideas to demonstrate how, as he sees it, the “Antiracism” rhetoric paints the CSJ Movement as a new religion. To briefly unpack a few of these ideas related to “Anti-Racism”, we need to see how Baucham frames them:
- Cosmology — White people created systems for their domination and oppression of non-whites (70).
- Original sin — The original sin is racism, which Baucham defines as corporate, that creates a system of racial advantage for one group or another. Because white people make up the dominant culture, only white people can be racist (82). Racism can manifest itself in cultural messaging, power, actions, and beliefs that may be conscious or not, and there’s no escaping it (84).
- Law — The notion of “exposing, combatting, and reversing the ubiquitous influences of racism in the past, present, and future (87). One should do this in themselves and others (88).
- Gospel and Atonement — Well, there really isn’t any gospel or hope of atonement because white people can never be free of their system guilt (87).
- Priesthood — The priesthood is the oppressed because without the experiences they afford, oppressors cannot know how to stop being oppressors (102).
- Canon — Baucham lists several sources from Christianity Today, which include (114-115):
- a. The Color of Compromise by Jemar Tisby
- b. The Case for Reparations by Ta-Nehisi Coats
- c. The movies Just Mercy and 13th.
Baucham even lists several names in the Evangelical world who coopt such things in their writings and preaching, like prominent Evangelicals like John Onwuchekwa (117), David Platt (121), Mark Dever (123) and Eric Mason (126), along with organizations like The Gospel Coalition, 9Marks, and Together For The Gospel (123).
For Baucham, the problem with all these is that they directly attack the sufficiency of the Bible (124-125). In Baucham’s words, “White people are not called to look to God for forgiveness. They are not told that Christ’s blood is sufficient. No, they are told that they must do the unending work of Antiracism. And this work must be done regardless of their own actions since the issue at hand is a matter of communal, generational guilt based on ethnicty. This flies in the face of the clear teaching of Scripture. The Bible makes it clear that God forgives sin” (129). For Baucham, this serves as “a call to arms” (130). In short, Christians must reject the CSJ/Antiracism Movement.
From chapters one to six, Baucham connects Marxism and Marxist Critical Theory to the issues surrounding discussions and actions related to the CSJ Movement. As such, the CSJ Movement, while seeking to address injustice, finds itself linked to ungodly standards and philosophies. Whether or not the CSJ is a “religion” is another matter. I see Baucham’s point, but it is a bit of a stretch. Nevertheless, those in Evangelical circles, according to Bauchm, do adopt the tenents of the CSJ/Antiracism movement at some level or other. After all, for Baucham, why else would the leaders among 9Marks, TGC, the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission, T4G, the Southern Baptist Convention, or the Presbyterian Church in America avoid an attempt to address the CSJ/Antiracism Movement through the Dallas Statement on Social Justice and the Gospel (133-135)?
For Baucham, leaders in these groups “regularly use [CSJ] categories in defining racial justice/injustice…They continually speak of and refer to cases like George Floyd in terms of racial injustice” (136). The effect of all this is that the environment in Evangelicalism that would push against the CSJ Movement at all is met with hostility, and “godly, thoughtful, well-meaning, justice-loving brethren are being silenced (138). As a consequence, “Christians who adopt [CSJ]’s underlying ideologies will not be able to avoid the damage it creates” (178). “The Critical Social Justice Movement is vast. Its influence is broad and deep within evangelical circles. And as that influence grows, it is causing some among us to make alliances we never would have forged in the past. A lot of it has to do with the fact that we are afraid of being called racist or end up “on the wrong side of history” on the race issue” (198). Once sides are made and pit against one another, whatever brotherly/sisterly relations existed before will not exist after, if they exist at all.
For Baucham, Fault Lines is a plea to Evangelicalism, that Evangelicals are being “duped by an ideology bent on our demise” (204). For Baucham, “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 to introduce destructive heresies. We cannot embrace, modify, baptize, or Christianize these ideologies. We must identify, resist, and repudiate them” (204). Baucham uses war language to demonstrate that American Christians are at war with the CSJ Movement, and it must be dealt a swift blow (206-207). Baucham essentially ends the argument by recognizing racism’s realities, that injustice is real, and, implicitly, we should not turn a blind eye (222). Yet, Christians should not be ignorant that the CSJ Movement is not worth following because of its adverse effects on Christ’s Church (230).
Several thoughts came to mind from reading Baucham’s book, some positive and some negative. An aura of suspicion is in the Church, one that could severely damage a Gospel witness. Positively, I agree that embracing the CSJ Movement with its godless Marxist foundations would undercut a Gospel witness. It is wrong to believe synthesizing godless ideologies with the Gospel will win converts to Christ somehow. Denominations did this in the 1920s and 30s, and the result is apostasy. Anyone with a historical imagination can see this. Baucham defends more than adequately that we should not embrace the CSJ Movement. One sees that these ideologies are well connected to the CSJ Movement; they must be rejected and not synthesized with the Gospel.
However, it isn’t easy to quantify the CSJ Movement’s influence upon Evangelicalism. Baucham lists numerous names related to major Evangelical organizations (i.e., the SBC, PCA, TGC, T4G, ERLC, etc.) and prominent Evangelical figures (i.e., Thabiti Anyabwile, Tim Keller, Russell Moore, Mark Dever, David Platt, John Onwuchekwa, Jemar Tisby, etc.). Yet, while he does show some correlation between big names and big organizations, how influential these are on the Church is difficult to see how much influence there is given he provides little tangible evidence beyond a few prominent names and organizations (136). Associations of names and statements certainly warrant questions, but is it necessary to jump and say these are problems and reflect the wider Evangelical Church? I do not think so. If Baucham is correct that they are being met with hostility and lack of charity, could he not also do the same for some of the men he mentioned? Did he at all do so when he chose to list their names? One would hope so. Could it not be that these individuals and organizations genuinely care about injustice and so also want to encourage Evangelical Christians to think rightly, if not ideally, about issues of injustice? I believe so.
Another takeaway is the lack of Baucham’s and other’s care for justice. He mentions it in several places but does not develop it. I recognize the book has a narrow focus. It is the first word and not the last word, and the book’s scope cannot do everything. Yet, in presenting and outlining a problem, one needs to offer an alternative to some degree or other. For example, one could cite chapter 11, but he only sets forth forgiveness (229) and combat (230-233). Both are good and necessary when needed, but a word, even if brief, would be ideal for getting readers to think about how to pursue reconciliation and justice. If Baucham and his cohorts want to avoid the charge of not being concerned about justice (5), give a biblical alternative. The lack of practical benefit leaves the book somewhat disappointing in this regard.
Finally, this book presents another danger: seeing brothers and sisters on the other side of this issue as enemies rather than brothers and sisters. An aura of suspicion is now in the Church, one that could severely damage a Gospel witness. For the sake of argument, let’s say that, for example, Tim Keller is a rabid CSJ defender. Yet, he’s still a professing Christian and a minister in good standing in the Presbyterian Church in America (my denomination). If Baucham and others want to ultimately persuade readers, or Keller, of the dangers of the CSJ Movement, why present him in such a light as to cast doubt of his being a Bible-believing Christian or not? One could easily argue Baucham’s not doing that, yet words have an impact, and this would be such an impact. I was recently at a conference where a panelist said he did not have enemies in his Church. He has brothers who are opponents and people with whom he disagrees, but his brothers are not enemies. This book may have the unintended consequence of seeing our brothers and sisters as enemies rather than those with whom we disagree and wish to persuade. I hope that this belief will be wrong. But, the Lord ultimately knows.
Citations & References Voddie Baucham, Fault Lines: The Social Justice Movement and Evangelicalism’s Looming Catastrophe (Washington: Salem Books, 2021), 6.
M. Dale HagwoodSee More Essays
Dale is a religion and philosophy graduate of Appalachian State University, and presently pursues a Master’s of Divinity at Greenville Presbyterian Theological Seminary. He is a member of a congregation in the Presbyterian Church in America. For more blog posts, you can look at The Conservative Presbyterian on Facebook and Twitter.