A few years ago, I was asked to speak about the gospel’s justice imperative at a local Christian high school. Upon arrival, I was escorted through campus by a young administrator, who thanked me for coming to engage a topic the school’s elders had ignored for too long. With Dietrich Bonhoeffer–like resolve, he and another young teacher confided that they were subversively trying to change the culture at the school. I immediately, and perhaps hastily, commended their efforts.
The truth is, too many Christian institutions have been nonresponsive to the injustice in their midst. Some of these schools were established to maintain segregation and still refuse to reckon with their history and extinguish the mentalities responsible for it.
Many evangelicals will fight to exclude critical race theory but won’t even acknowledge racial disparities in education. We do not have to agree with everything every critical-race theorist says in order to recognize unjust disparities. The Black church has been addressing injustice in a theologically sound way for literally hundreds of years, well before CRT was a thing.
Without a doubt, the young educators’ concerns were legitimate. Deep, disruptive change was necessary, but the more we talked, the more I grew concerned that their approach was misguided. They were espousing a plainly secular progressive framework, unrefined by the truth and moral order of the gospel. They had an infatuation with trending secular theories, without guardrails to keep them from taking concepts like intersectionality and inclusion into unbiblical territory.
Those ideas can be helpful. But they should never be followed uncritically, because they can lead to identity idolatry, which would have us embrace broken aspects of ourselves. There’s a difference between celebrating parts of our identity and centering or exalting identity to the point where it naturally justifies some and condemns others. These brothers correctly identified an old problem, but their solutions were generically pop culture oriented and flat.
Their mistake isn’t unique. Because large parts of the church have failed to articulate and demonstrate a true model of compassion and justice, many Christians feel they have to leave biblical grounds to achieve loving and just objectives.
Anecdotally, this appears to be a growing problem among Christians in the professional class. It’s disturbing how many Christians uncritically accept the ideological assumptions prevalent in their profession. Assimilating into the secular progressive worldview is a certification of sorts among the highly educated.
This is particularly dangerous in K-12 education, where administrators rush to implement postmodern policies with little to no academic value. Higher education is severely left leaning, so it’s no wonder that wide-eyed Christians leave college sounding more like disciples of Jacques Derrida than Jesus Christ.
Postmodernism is so pervasive in academia that it starts to seem like the natural progression of a growing mind. Many Christians lack the biblical foundation and confidence to even question the opinions of their secular-minded instructors. We summarily accept their conclusions and insecurely imitate their sensibilities to prove we belong.
There’s also more than a hint of elitism mixed in with the good intentions and the indoctrination. Proving we can intellectually grasp the ideas that secular elites have branded as sacred knowledge elevates us above the people in the pews who raised us. They now represent the caricatures that embarrass us, and we’re eager to separate ourselves by flaunting our aptitude. Our presentism says new ideas are always better ideas. Accordingly, assuming the old saints are wrong is a mark of sophistication, as in, “Okay, boomer.”
While exiled in Babylonia, the prophet Daniel rejected this type of indoctrination and elitism because it conflicted with his moral framework. King Nebuchadnezzar changed Daniel’s name, taught him a new language, and tried to use his authority and resources to endear the young Hebrew (Daniel 1:3–14).
However, Daniel wasn’t as malleable as we tend to be when lured by professional opportunities, a new vocabulary, and elite identity. Sitting at the king’s table and accepting this new worldview would’ve ensured that Daniel could stand above his people with an air of superiority. But Daniel was unimpressed and uninterested. He didn’t value what the king valued. He only wished to please God, so he refused to defile himself by accepting the king’s indecent proposals.
Instead of reacting like Daniel, we often enter a new arena and, because of our insecurity, go silent on the Christian convictions society frowns upon. We wield influence in the church while seeking validation from the world. Are we ashamed of the gospel?
Believers can’t embrace elitism or anti-intellectualism. We should learn as much as we can from subject matter experts, but without a sense of awe and uncritical acceptance. Professional journals aren’t our Bible, and industry experts aren’t our priests.
There are many principles in our professional fields that we should embrace. For instance, doctors should obviously uphold the Hippocratic Oath to “do no harm.” However, we must distinguish between sound ethics and the seeds of indoctrination. If our education makes unborn life seem less sacred or causes us to pursue self-definition and self-indulgence, then we’ve been miseducated.
We need Christians who aren’t smitten with the culture or merely proficient at regurgitating its liturgy. We need believers who can wrestle with secular thought, affirming the merits and opposing the lies. Christians must be confident and distinctly Christian in our fields—boldly speaking up when the emperor is striding around with no clothes. When change is necessary, we must correct the mistakes of our elders by moving closer to the Bible, not further from it.
Justin E. Giboney is an attorney, political strategist, president of the AND Campaign, and coauthor of Compassion (&) Conviction: The AND Campaign’s Guide to Faithful Civic Engagement.
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