An Author Interview from Books At a Glance
Greetings, I’m Fred Zaspel, and welcome to another Author Interview here at Books At a Glance.
Wokeness is all the rage today, and today Owen Strachan is with us to talk about his timely new book, Christianity and Wokeness: How the Social Justice Movement Is Hijacking the Gospel – and the Way to Stop It.
Owen, welcome back – great to have you with us again.
Thank you so much, Fred! Great to be here.
The term “woke” is relatively new, and there are still many who don’t really understand it. So let’s begin with definitions – what is “wokeness,” and what are its identifying marks that we see in contemporary culture?
If you are going for a dictionary definition it means basically, gaining awareness you did not formerly have of the nature of systemic racism and inequality in America or the West more broadly. Wokeness implies that prior to waking up you were effectively asleep to the true problem of systemic injustice in America. When you go woke and start reading Critical Race Theory in the academic form and when you read intersectionality gurus what happens is you no longer think that America is a fair public order. You come to realize that all of society is structured along the lines of power dynamics, oppressor and oppressed.
People of color are structurally and systemically oppressed by white people. This is not something that is attitudinal first and foremost, but structural. Somebody might hear this and think systemic racism sounds awful and want to reject it. The reality according to wokeness, which is the mood that collects wherever Critical Race Theory, intersectionality, and aggressive neo-Marxism are taught tells you that you cannot overcome it.
Racism is a fundamental, foundational element of the West and America. All you can really do is set your teeth at edge against systemic racism. You are never going to overcome it though. Whiteness by its very nature and its construct is not something that you can wave a wand at and make go away. Whiteness is the reality of this society. If we are going to advance justice and seize on social justice, we must work very hard against this power structure of whiteness in all its many manifestations. There is a lot to say about it but basically, that is what being woke means. Waking up to this systemic reality that whiteness is an oppressive force and is going to require the solution of social justice.
It seems to me that much of the current terminology is intentionally misleading. For example, every Christian wants a “just” society – but that’s not what “social justice” is all about, right?
No, social justice basically means leveling. Wherever you see disparities in society and differences in authority, power, or influence, you level those differences. A social justice vision says in racial terms, the way to make America just is to topple whiteness from its privileged position. A social justice vision says in order to make disabled people have a fair place at the table we need to unseat the able-bodied from their position of privilege in the American public order. If we are going to make things fair economically, we need to redistribute wealth so that those who are wealthy do not have power over those who are poor.
Social justice is a way to read justice along the lines of somebody having something that another group does not have. It says that it is not a just a disparity, but it is an inequity. That inequity is actually an injustice. This is a repristinated form of what Marx taught about 150 years ago in the communist manifesto. There has been updating of this concept and other voices from Europe in the mix in terms of modern 2021 social justice. If somebody has things you do not have this signals injustice. This is what Marx used wrongly and foolishly to foment rebellion and revolution. We are having the same issues play out today along economic lines.
Your concern is that wokeness is hijacking the gospel, and your goal in chapters 3 & 4 is to expose wokeness as “ungodly.” Explain how that is so.
There is a lot of places I go to in chapters 3 and 4 of my book. I offer a comprehensive takedown of wokeness. I argue that wokeness fundamentally, first, changes the nature of the Christian faith. It reworks our understanding of who is sinful. It makes sin more about our categories of belonging and less about individual actions desires and words. It makes white people especially guilty no matter what their behavior has been toward people of other races. You learn from Critical Race Theory advocates that just having white skin makes you a part of this oppressive racist order.
You find this in thinkers like Ibram X Kendi and Robin DeAngelo. DeAngelo wrote the famous book white fragility. It has been used over and over to take ordinary “white people” and train them that even though they may have sought to avoid racism all their lives, it is not enough. We learn in culture and school the example of Martin Luther King Jr. You may have thought you were broadly in line with King’s vision of a society where people are not judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character. In reality, your whiteness, despite your heart attitude, makes you a part of the power dynamic that oppresses the people of color.
I critique that idea because I believe that violates the biblical teaching that we are all equally guilty before the Lord at birth. There are not certain people with skin color, background, or heritage who are more fallen in Adam. We are all fallen. Wokeness targets some people and teaches that their skin color either makes them worse than others, white people, or effectively almost innocent, other skin colors. It gives people of color an inherently victimized status. In addition to those tenants, I show how this then means that white people effectively, in wokeness, are condemned. Which violates, if they are a Christian, the Romans 1 teaching of, “there is no condemnation in Christ.” I go on to talk about justice, economics, and the free market, and other problems that wokeness causes wherever it goes.
Two questions here: How did we get to this point in our culture? And how do you explain its growing acceptance even in Evangelical churches?
Great question. It strikes me that we have hit one of those little whirlpools in intellectual history and global culture where our post-modern era has left us as targets. I mean this in a civilizational sense not just speaking of reformational Christianity. In a societal sense, we do not really have a working standard of right and wrong, truth and falsehood. We are in a post-modern culture. We are in a society that has largely divested itself of Judeo-Christian influence.
What that means, for example, in the American academy, is that when you have a very strong ideology like wokeness that has a hard edge that it promotes, it teaches people something slashing and slicing with this supposed moral clarity. White people are a part of this evil white order. People of color are being oppressed by them, so America is shot through with racial oppression, and therefore our activist call is we need to tear this society up from the foundations and remake it according to the tenants of Marxists social justice. When you have a strong body of thought like that in a post-modern society what you have is basically a power vacuum and this mood called wokeness is filling that vacuum. There is not much that is even trying to respond to it in the American public square. That is in part in addition to talking about this perfect storm we are in because of our racial past. America has a checkered racial past when it comes to slavery, Jim Crowe, segregation, and other related real historical problems. That means there are a whole lot of people out there who fear nothing more than being called a racist.
So, to condense this, when you have a body of thought like wokeness or Critical Race Theory that teaches that racism is not just still around but is actually a worse form than it used to be. Now it is in this invisible systemic form where it used to be out in the open. Your ordinary flesh and blood American is probably a racist at least if they have white skin. What that means in a post-modern context is that people buy this and get very fearful of this ideology and so they bow down before it and submit to it. That is what is happening in mass in American culture everywhere.
Thinking on the American church, it is a good deal less doctrinally grounded, and a lot less biblically located than we might have hoped and thought. Not all but a portion of professing American evangelicals give a lot of attention to what the culture thinks of them and wanting to be a part of reasonable Christianity. It strikes me that a lot of Christians today want to be a reasonable Christian. What I mean is they do not want to be extreme or fundamentalist. They fear that. They think it is about the worst thing they could be called. As part of this, they fear being associated with anything you call white supremacy or thereabouts.
In many senses, they take their cues from culture, especially from elite leftism. If the elite left is against something there are several professing Christians today who give a lot of energy, attention, and time to try to prove to the elite left that they are not that kind of fundamentalist extremists. The apologetic, evangelistic play here is that if we can sand off the extremist edges of conservative American Christianity and show we are reasonable, thoughtful, kind, and gentle then we will win over those cultural elites and many who follow them to the Christian faith.
To put this in the best light I can, this is a part of an evangelistic strategy. This is a bankrupt approach to our culture and society. We fundamentally let them set the agenda. If they say traditional religions have fostered a culture of sexual abuse, what we do is respond against it. Of course, we are against sexual abuse, we must recognize if we have it in our churches we can fail at this. Fundamentally what we are doing is letting the left define the agenda. If America has been shot through with racism. What we do in response to them is to do everything we can to show we are not racist and to fight against systemic racism. The reflex is the same. We are not that kind of Christian. We are a better more advanced kind of Christian, and we are even willing to throw those extremist Christians under the bus, those who are unwoke and push against the spirit of the age.
In chapters 5 and 6 you expound on the biblical teaching of identity and ethnicity. Highlight that for us – how does the Bible correct our wokeness?
Basically, the Bible’s teaching is that we are all one human race made in the image of God. We have equal dignity, worth, and value before God by virtue of our divine making. We have all fallen in Adam and have all gone astray. Because of the real historical fall of a real historical Adam in Genesis 3. Then God separated the peoples following the fall at Babel because they were exalting themselves over against him. Now we live in a world where, yes, we are all image-bearers but, in many cases, divided by virtue of divine judgment in terms of a language barrier and so on.
What we need to recover is that we need to understand that we are one human race. There are not many races. “We are of one man, one blood,” as it says in Acts 17:26. We are not many races based on our skin color. We are many ethnicities in terms of belonging to a certain place and having certain customs in traditions, language, and food. The Bible does show us that there are ethnicities. The Bible does not teach us that it is a core marker of our identity to have certain skin color or pigmentation.
We have words of affirmation and critique to offer our culture on this count. We teach people from Scripture, not that there are many races but many ethnicities. Yet even as there are many ethnicities, they do not make us separate but can end up showing the good diversity of God in allowing us to have different cultures across the world. What we say ultimately through the Gospel is that in the blood of Jesus Christ there is one new man in Christ. That is actually where we find unity. We will not have unity through Black Lives Matter or Antifa on one of its city-destroying marches. We are not going to find it in a left or right political party. We will find it ultimately in Jesus Christ. It is realized in flesh and blood from in the local church. Those are the core markers of a Christian approach to human identity.
The end of your subtitle reads “… and how to stop it.” How do you suggest we stop the wokeness craze?
It is stoppable. Once you start responding to it people see quickly that this is an ideology that is not an analytical tool in any positive sense. It does not make a positive contribution to the life of the church or society. It is actually a Marxist tool of condemnation and hatred. There is anecdotal evidence in classrooms that when Critical Race Theory is introduced in a simplified form, it teaches students they are different based on skin color and have this fundamental relationship of hostility. It divides them and sets them at opposites from one another.
Some of what we do in opposing this ideology is simply to unmask it. It tells us wherever we see or hear about it that this movement is truly promoting equity, fairness, and justice. This is a repristinated form of Karl Marxs oppressor-oppressed dynamic. It encourages people to hate one another in structural terms and see one another as fundamental opponents rather than fallen people who need Jesus. We are fellow image-bearers, fellow sinners who can be reunited with God through the blood of Jesus.
First, we map this ideology, Satan always wants ideologies unmapped and unthought out. A huge part of what the apostles do in the New Testament era is they identify different threats to the Gospel. They do not always do this for 10 chapters long. Colossians 2:8 tells us they identify the ideologies that seek to take the people captive, they respond to those ideologies by taking every thought captive. In other words, by thinking according to Scripture in a comprehensive way. Those are the bare outlines of how we begin responding.
We have sampled the main ideas of your book, but before I let you go give us a quick overview of it, just in broad strokes, so our listeners can know what to expect.
The book has a strong forward from John MacArthur. I am thankful for this. I try to set the stage early on to show how wokeness is influencing society in chapter 1. In chapter 2 I show how wokeness is infiltrating the church. In chapters 3 and 4 I give wokeness the full thorough critique that it deserves intellectually. I am fair, I cite sources and quotes. I try to show that this is a bankrupt system that must not only be engaged but destroyed.
In chapters 5 and 6 I try to positively show how Scripture has the vision of human identity that wokeness is trying to give us wrongly. We have a Gospel identity and a union with Christ. We are not trying to undertake racial reconciliation hoping that it will happen in the church. We already have had theocentric reconciliation achieved. Now because of that, we have human reconciliation in the church achieved by the blood of Jesus as the ground for it. That means our local churches are reconciled bodies. They may not feel that way. People may come into our churches from different backgrounds and there may be different matters to sort out. The local church is the laboratory for reconciliation and unity. Reconciliation and unity are not only attempted but are found by the powerful work of God.
Chapter 7 addresses common questions about American history, how complicit was the church in slavery, or is there a black and white way to think in those kinds of matters. It’s 200 pages or so. It is not a long book but packs a fair amount of content but is readable and accessible. It is not written for scholars. It is made for Christians to get together and read it. I pray it 1) anesthetizes people against wokeness and 2) anchors people in the unshakeable confidence of the Gospel as their grounds of unity.
We are talking to Dr. Owen Strachan about his timely and very helpful new book, Christianity and Wokeness: How the Social Justice Movement Is Hijacking the Gospel – and the Way to Stop It. It’s a massively important topic entirely relevant to every church in our society today. I encourage you to get a copy to read carefully yourself … and several more to distribute among your friends.
Owen, thanks much for your good work and for talking to us again today.
I appreciate the interview and all your work. Thank you, brother.