"Regardless of where we are at on the spectrum, everyone in Christ must heed His powerful words: “By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another." (John 13:35)."
I'm torn between two friends.
One friend is “anti-woke”. He throws around terms like "cultural Marxist" and social justice warrior (SJW) but doesn't define them in a way I can understand. He denies any sort of privilege in society and got upset when Albert Mohler released the "Report on Slavery and Racism in the History of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary". He told me that white people didn't need to apologize today for sins they didn’t commit in the past. That’s just “white guilt”—a social justice tactic. When white preachers used their platform to call their white church members to search themselves and their churches to eradicate racism, I was told that they were "virtue signaling" and simply appeasing SJWs.
When white Christians explained "white privilege" (another social justice term) and told their churches how to think through it, my friend told me that those preachers had gone off the deep end into liberalism and the social gospel. He kept arguing that I would eventually fall away from the gospel and into the same social gospel if I believed white people generally have it easier in society. Rather than acknowledge my fidelity to the gospel and desire for doctrinal precision, he just keeps saying that I’m going to start accepting homosexuality, transgenderism, and then deny the authority of scripture.
My other friend wears the “woke” badge proudly and gets up in arms anytime I talk about the Reformers and Puritans because they owned slaves. He says he doesn’t feel comfortable in "majority culture" (white) contexts and generally believes that white Christians don't want black leaders in their churches. When I wrote about my concerns with leaving evangelicalism and the dangers that might come with it, he said I devalued the black church. He thinks I shouldn't speak on behalf of black Christians because I'm not in a black context nor would I be able to survive in one.
To him, I'm too much like Carlton Banks and mainly serve as the "token" anywhere that I go. When Donald Trump was elected in 2016, he was mad at “white evangelicals”. To him, this was a major problem and when I attested that many of my white evangelical friends didn’t vote for Trump, he said I was blind to the facts. When "whiteness" was deemed as inherently evil and something that needed to be repented of, he made it clear that black people just need to give up trying to find a way in evangelicalism or bridge the racial divide that still exists. In his eyes, white Christians don't want to submit to black leadership, so why keep trying? Why keep writing books? Why keep attending conferences? Shouldn't black Christians just do their own thing?
You see what I mean? Both of my friends say some good stuff. They both proclaim the gospel and both desire God’s justice to be seen in the world. They both desire God’s glory in the local church and for it to spread abroad through global missions.
They both also say some things that I disagree with. They both accuse the other of losing the gospel. They both argue that their side is the biblically correct way and that the other way has always caused damage to the church. They both make exclusive claims that their method properly lives out the implications of the gospel.
Various Takes on Being “Woke”
According to the Merriam-Webster Dictionary, "woke" means "aware of and actively attentive to important facts and issues (especially issues of racial and social justice)". In street terms, it means seeing what’s really going on behind the facade presented by history books, news, and media sources. It’s often a term of endearment for those who are socially conscious.
In his book Woke Church, Eric Mason says of wokeness, that “if you have a level of understanding of the double consciousness of blacks and are regenerate, you are woke.” He adds to the dictionary definition the requirement of regeneration. In other words, to be truly woke in Mason’s eyes, means to be a believer who understands that black people are conscious of both being American and being black. For him, these consciousnesses are connected and yet often at odds with one another.
The anti-woke side is mostly white evangelicals (a term I sought to define here). To avoid over-generalizing, I see several black believers on this side as well. The other side is mostly black evangelicals. Again, to avoid generalization, this side has picked up many white proponents and several of the black people on this side have disassociated themselves with evangelicalism or the reformed movement. One side makes theological precision and biblical integrity their focus. This is very good! The other side seeks to apply the rich, gospel-centered theology they hold. This too is wonderful!
The anti-woke side guards against the use of secular sociological terms and theories such as social justice, intersectionality, or critical race theory when interpreting scripture. This caution is wise. The woke side seems to embrace (or at least not fear) these theories as they look at society and seek to live in light of the implications of the gospel. Their desire to apply the gospel in society is admirable.
As Trevin Wax recently stated, these two groups "would do well to articulate the real dangers of their own side (quietism and social apathy in some circles, and ideological compromise and theological liberalism in others)". As I think through these issues, I’m seeking to do the same. I see positive and negative on both sides, and I don’t find myself clearly landing totally on one side or the other in the discussion on race. I am, however, committed to the gospel and sound doctrine. I consider myself reformed and would likely fall within the definition of evangelical (when the term is used religiously and not politically).
Am I too woke because I see the effects of racism in the church? Am I in danger of falling into old liberalism and the social gospel because I see that (in general) my white Christian friends have privileges in society that I don't have? Am I just race-baiting because it seems that my race hinders ministry opportunities in rural Kentucky? Am I leaving my reformed theology and commitment to Scripture and sound doctrine behind because I acknowledge partiality on a large scale in our society?
I am searching myself to see if my observations are true. If I'm too woke to be biblical, I need to repent. I need to run back to the cross, and I need to set my eyes back on the Savior who transforms me into His image from "one degree of glory to another" (2 Cor. 3:18).
Not "woke" enough
Am I not woke enough because I love the white Christians that I do life with each week? Am I not woke enough because fighting perceived racism with isolation from white evangelicals doesn't seem to be the solution? Am I diminishing the value of Christians of color because I want to see more black Christians in churches like mine? Is my reformed theology and biblical commitment blinding me to the realities of racism and its effects on the church? Should I leave evangelicalism and reformed theology behind altogether?
Again, I am searching myself to see whether I am blind to sin that I need to see in my heart and the church I am a part of. If we are ignoring or coddling sin, we need to repent. Jesus is the only answer.
Awake in Christ
Being awake to the gospel and its implications is far greater than any secular term we could embrace or Christianize. Every Christian who has believed the gospel is heeding the call of Ephesians 5:14–21. When God called out “Awake, O sleeper, and arise from the dead, and Christ will shine on you”, the Spirit brought regeneration and woke up our dead souls. We were awakened in Christ and given spiritual senses. In Gospel Wakefulness, Jared Wilson describes this as “treasuring Christ more greatly and savoring his power more sweetly” than all else.
The implications are life-changing. We all must search ourselves for evidence of this Spirit-wrought change in our hearts. Those who are awake in Christ are called to:
Is There Room For Each Other?
Can I see and discuss issues of partiality without being a social justice warrior and yet not disparage reformed or evangelical Christianity without being considered a Sambo (a sellout)? I think so. Can there be "woke" Christians? Yes, if “wokeness” means striving to see the realities of injustice in society—especially if being actively aware of these issues helps us love our neighbors in all circumstances.
Should there be fears about the social justice movement in our culture? Definitely, since the movement is pushing for unbiblical ideals and theories regarding race, class, gender, or sexuality. If the world is entering the church, God’s undershepherds must guard the sheep against wolves. Is God able to keep us faithful to His unchanging Word while also helping us love our neighbors? He is able to do that and far more than we can even ask or think.
Having sound theology without loving one another makes us academic. Having love for one another without sound doctrine makes us activists. In Christ, believers were recreated for far more. We are God's workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works (Ephesians 2:10). We are created to glorify God and enjoy Him forever. We are called to be perfectly one with one another (John 17:23). We are called to be salt, light, cities on a hill, and a picture of Jesus for a dying world! Shame on us if our disunity causes God's name to be dishonored among the Gentiles.
This doesn't mean unity for unity's sake. It doesn't mean that we won't have disagreements. It means that we find unity in the Savior and the message God has spoken through Him. Though our applications and methods may differ—and could even be wrong—we can be united as we discuss justice and the gospel.
As I navigate these challenging waters, I remember that I have the mind of Christ. In Christ, I can:
1. Pursue unity of mind with other believers (Phil 2:1-2). I need to strive to be of the same mind with them, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind. This means not always commenting on a tweet I disagree with, not doubting others' salvation due to secondary differences, refusing to gossip about brothers and sisters with whom I disagree, and actively seeking to discuss and encourage them in the things that are essential to our faith in Christ.
2. Count others as more significant than myself (Phil 2:3). I need to refuse to belittle people in their disagreements with me. Even if I am right and they seem to be totally wrong, this will still allow me to value my brother and sister while humbly denying myself. This will lead to fewer arguments, disrespect, and anger in my own heart. This will also lead me to consider their arguments rather than writing them off and immediately coming with my own conclusions.
3. Look to the interests of others rather than myself (Phil. 2:4). Sometimes I’ll agree with someone my closest friends disagree with. It means that when a brother or sister shares their struggles, I can listen without being disinterested. Even if I disagree with their interpretation of the struggle or the terminology they use to describe it, I can listen lovingly and intently. Too often, I form and share an opinion in real-time rather than taking time to hear both sides or even care about the fact that someone is suffering. In a culture of microwave reactions, a godly response may be the crockpot method of patient and persistent prayer for clarity as I listen to those I disagree with.
I am not without hope in this situation. I pray that we would take more time to sit around a bonfire, sip some coffee, or shoot some hoops rather than argue online. As we’ve already seen, no blog post, 280-word tweet, Facebook status, or Youtube live video can do justice to this entire situation. These "friends" I spoke of do not represent specific individuals or every thought on the spectrum of this discussion. These observations are a culmination of conversations I have had with people, seen on social media, heard in sermons, or read in blog posts. I have friends all along the spectrum. I love those people, and I am truly praying for both clarity and unity in this situation.
Regardless of where we are at on the spectrum, everyone in Christ must heed His powerful words: “By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another." (John 13:35).
Are you displaying the love of Christ to the watching world?
"Algorithms don’t know the depths of our souls, but they keep us coming back. They keep placing content in front of us that draws out the sinful "old man" we are trying to put to death."
“What in the world is an algorithm?!” If that was your first thought, you’re not alone. More than some geeky tech lingo, algorithms are an important part of your day if you use the internet. In fact, algorithms run the show. That “breaking news!” didn’t come to your phone because it was the only breaking news on the planet. That tear-jerker you just watched wasn’t the most recent or relevant post you could’ve seen in that moment. The hostile comment battle you just won wasn't on the minds of 95% of your friends or the people you follow.
See what I mean? Algorithms don't take a day off.
Tim Challies suggested that it’s time to break free from the algorithm life. He reminds us that algorithms are “formulas carefully coded to spread some content and to suppress others”. In other words, with so much content out there, “algorithms pre-sort it for us”. Notice the word suppress. This can be beneficial if it suppresses content that would be harmful to us. It can also be destructive if certain content—at the discretion of artificial intelligence or the employees of social media companies—is purposely being suppressed to keep us in a habit loop of swiping or engrossed in that endless comment war that somehow keeps sucking us back in.
Lead Me Not Into Temptation
I’m no conspiracy theorist. I don’t think the final frontier was filmed in a Hollywood basement. I definitely don't think the earth is flat. However, I do believe algorithms can lead us into the very temptation we desire to be freed from. I started writing this post on Good Friday when the majority of my timeline was filled with people commemorating the crucifixion of Jesus. However, amid the hundreds of post referencing the death of Christ, the top post (and several others below it) were about "social justice warriors".
This seems insignificant, doesn’t it? But imagine if that happens every day for a month. I keep seeing tweets, retweets, and subtweets about a divisive issue until I feel obligated to choose a side. I eventually make up my mind and start to fight viciously against my "opponent". I start to develop such vitriol for those who share a different perspective that I get sick to my stomach when I think of them. Worse, since “those people” are in my church, I can’t imagine worshiping and fellowshipping with them. Do you see how this could spiral out of control quickly?
The cumulative effects of these 280-word statements are massive. Consider Colossians 3:8–9a:
“But now you must put them all away: anger, wrath, malice, slander, and obscene talk from your mouth. Do not lie to one another…”
Algorithms don’t know the depths of our souls, but they keep us coming back. They keep placing content in front of us that draws out the sinful "old man" we are trying to put to death. We know the anger that comes from a snide comment thrown subtly on social media. We’ve been caught up in malicious and slanderous speech only to find out that it was “fake news”, “alternate facts”, or misleading information. We’ve seen (and been a part of) obscene speech. We’ve told the lies. Deep down, we know there is so much more to life, but we can't help but keep clicking and swiping.
We Are Responsible
I imagine some people standing before God on judgment day, holding their smartphones, and proclaiming, “Algorithms made me do it!”. We don’t have this option. Every human being is responsible for their own sin, though there is great wrath coming to those who tempt others (Matthew 18:7). By grace, we can overcome temptation because God has given us His Word, His Spirit, and a way of escape every time.
This doesn’t exempt us from using wisdom to limit our exposure to temptations. Christians must strive to navigate this world of algorithms in a God-glorifying way. Here are at least three helpful ways:
1. Ditch digital media altogether. Some of us need to abandon social media forever. Yes, maybe you. Maybe me too. People have lived millennia without staring into backlit glass and arguing with human beings who seem more like avatars with real names attached to them. For thousands of years, people waited to hear the news from people they knew personally or through a well-edited and reviewed newspaper. We can all survive. Even if we don't choose to ditch digital media altogether, it would be wise to consider a digital fast for a month or two.
2. Choose curated digital media. Tim Challies recommends either curating our own digital media or finding trusted curators of our own. In fact, he’s one of my trusted curators with his daily a la carte posts. Even better, we have public access to the 200+ blogs he reads to curate it! The key to this choice is that we are in control of who and what we see when we interact with the digital world we live in. While this has issues of its own, it gives us more responsibility for what we see.
3. Keep your digital media as is, but with caution. Most of us will probably choose this option. I don’t blame you! I’m not ready to ditch digital media, and curating sounds like a lot of hard work! Even if you don’t choose to change anything about your digital media, you must be aware of the algorithms and their impacts on your life. We have real spiritual enemies and they will make use of everything available to devour us. We all have to strive to be more watchful as we navigate the complex world of digital media.
Almost Almost Amish
Andy Crouch, author of The Tech-Wise Family, is right when he says we probably have to become "closer to Amish" than we think. In other words, we don't have to outright reject technology or all that it offers us, but we do have to be much more intentional with how we use the world. We are in the world but not of it and we deal with the world as those who have no dealings with it because it is passing away.
How will you take control of your digital media?
"If you've placed your faith in Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of sins, the resurrecting God of the Bible dwells in you today."
No resurrection? No hope. No resurrection? No life. No resurrection? No power. No resurrection? No Savior.
As we stand in awe of the life of Jesus, it points us to His death and resurrection. When we hear “it is finished” (John 19:30), we know the resurrection is right around the corner. Each time we set our minds on Jesus, our spiritual eyes are fixed on the ascended and risen Savior.
No resurrection? No faith, no relationship with God, no evangelism, no fellowship, and no growth.
“But in fact Christ has been raised from the dead” (1 Cor. 15:20)! In this, we rejoice! The Father’s purpose wasn’t thwarted by death. The Son’s position wasn’t threatened at the cross. The Spirit’s power wasn’t throttled when Jesus died that cursed death on the cross. Jesus rose!
The Resurrection Today
What does the resurrection mean for believers today? It means that the Spirit who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in every soul who trusts in Him (1 Corinthians 15:20, Romans 8:11). It means that life is radically altered because Jesus is the Son of God who laid His life down so He could take it up again (John 10:18). He is the Son whose Father raised Him from the dead (Galatians 1:1). If you've placed your faith in Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of sins, the resurrecting God of the Bible dwells in you today.
Colossians 3 shows us five aspects of the resurrection that can empower our lives today:
1. We have been raised with Christ (3:1–4). This unites us to Him for eternity. We have assurance in the work that Christ has done. No longer must we run on the hamster wheel of self-reliance and self-righteousness. We can rest in Him.
2. We will be raised from the dead (3:4). We are hidden with Christ, and we have the promise that when He returns, we will appear with Him in glory. If we died with Christ, we will also rise with Him because death no longer has dominion over Him (Romans 6:8–9). We can hope in Him.
3. We can seek and savor the things of God (3:1–2). Apart from Christ, there are none who seek after God (Psalm 14). Without the Holy Spirit making us alive, we are not even able to see the kingdom of God (John 3:3). Since we’ve been raised with Christ, our spiritual eyes can see and our spiritual ears can hear. We can taste and see that the Lord is good. We can savor Him.
4. We can kill sin (3:5–11). Sin wrecks our lives. Just a sampling of what the Bible considers sin will make the holiest of us feel wretched: “you must put them all away: anger, wrath, malice, slander, and obscene talk from your mouth” (v. 8). Christ’s resurrection power in us helps us put sin to death. We can fight through Him.
5. We can put on godliness (3:12-14). Grace transforms us. In Christ, we can do the impossible. By the grace that came to us through the risen Christ, we can bear the fruit of the Spirit and put on godliness, especially “love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony” (v. 14). We will become like Him.
We need the message of the resurrection more than once a year. We need it in every moment. Live each day, hour, minute, and second by faith in the glorious risen Christ!
If you desire to learn more about joy, scripture, or Reformation history, you will be blessed and encouraged by this book. It values church history and keeps the historical context of the Reformation constantly in view. Most importantly, it's biblical and practical.
Disclaimer: I received a free copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review
Are you searching for joy? Do you desire to find true wisdom on finding it? Are you interested in Reformation History? Reforming Joy: A Conversation Between Paul, the Reformers, and the Church Today by Tim Chester is the best of three wonderful worlds.
If you struggle with joy, Reforming Joy will offer you the gospel (our source of joy) and application (how to cultivate joy in your life). Rooted in Galatians, Chester makes clear the aim of this book:
"The Galatians are returning to legalism and losing their joy. So this is an invitation to rediscover joy. If your life lacks joy, then this is for you. I don’t mean being happy all the time—sometimes life is painful. But even in those moments we will find comfort in God. If you can’t find that comfort or if you’ve lost your fizz, then listen up."
He shows readers that we lack joy when we try to impress others and when we try to fix sin through religious duties. The gospel frees us from being slaves to the opinions of others and religious duties. In typical Tim Chester fashion, each chapter has a section to reflect. He also has a getting personal section which probes our hearts to get to the bottom of our joylessness:
"Identify someone in your church who you struggle to get along with. Satan sees that person’s faults and makes those faults the focus of his attention. God sees that person’s faults and makes Christ the focus of his attention. What difference would it make if your focus were more like God’s than Satan’s?"
Tucked neatly within this book is an exposition of Galatians 1-5. Throughout the chapters, you will find biblical teaching and sound doctrine based on Paul's teaching to the church in Galatia. For example:
"In 4:3, Paul says that the Jews “were enslaved to the elementary principles of the world.” He uses the same word in 4:8 to describe how the Gentile converts used to be “enslaved to those that by nature are not gods.” In the case of the Jews, Satan took God’s good law and persuaded them to see it as a means of proud, God-defying self-righteousness."
He also cites notable Reformation leaders such as Martin Luther, William Tyndall, Ulrich Zwingli, and John Calvin as he frames up his teaching on the true gospel. If you want sound, solid biblical exposition, you'll find it here!
Tim Chester knows his church history. As the co-author of Why The Reformation Matters, he brings his expertise to Reforming Joy. He drops historical tidbits throughout the book to help readers see how God brought joy by reforming their views of the gospel to match Scripture’s:
"Luther’s second breakthrough moment was when he realized that God’s righteousness is not just a boost to help us become righteous. First and foremost, it’s the declaration that we are righteous."
Each chapter also has a "Voice of the Reformation" section which lays out important doctrines such as active and passive righteousness as defined during the Reformation.
If you desire to learn more about joy, scripture, or Reformation history, you will be blessed and encouraged by this book. It values church history and keeps the historical context of the Reformation constantly in view. Most importantly, it's biblical and practical. Reforming Joy is a great resource for personal study, small groups, or teaching through the book of Galatians.
"Kruger takes today’s sin seriously because she knows that a temptation to throw a tantrum today could give way to the temptations of 'materialism or sexual immorality' later."
Disclaimer: I received a free copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review
Do you pray for your children? If you don’t have any children of your own, do you pray for the children in your life? Do you end up saying the same old things every time: “Lord, please save their souls and help them live for your glory.”? If so, you’re not alone. As vast as the Bible is (and as sinful as all children are!), we should have no trouble with variety and earnestness in praying for our children. The reality, though, is that we do struggle. We need help.
In 5 Things To Pray For Your Kids: Prayers That Change Things for the Next Generation, Melissa Kruger models how to pray biblically-specific prayers for our children. I was pleasantly surprised to see that the book wasn’t 5 broad principles about praying for our children. That would’ve been great, but Kruger actually gives readers 5 specific prayers within 21 broader categories. For those who struggle with mental math like I do, that’s 105 specific prayers!
The book is formatted so that you can pray through each theme for 5 days a week, pray through all 5 prayers each day for three weeks, or pray topically as situations arise. There is even space to write in names of situations to pray for specifically. This is one of those books that’ll probably have plenty of writing in it!
Each topic is based on a specific scripture passage, such as Matthew 6:6-13. The first prayer in this section urges you to “pray that your child may have a secret prayer life that yields rich reward from God” (p. 44). On the fifth prayer in this section we are reminded that “when children are young, they may be tempted to snatch a toy from a friend or to throw a fit when they don’t get their way...pray today about the temptations they are facing” (p. 45). Kruger takes today’s sin seriously because she knows that a temptation to throw a tantrum today could give way to the temptations of “materialism or sexual immorality” later (p. 45).
If you love the children in your life, pray for them. Plead with God to save their souls and grant them repentance from sin. Along with preaching the gospel to them, prayer is the most important work of parenting you can do on their behalf. 5 Things to Pray for Your Kids is a book that will stay on my desk as a reminder and tool to pray for the souls of my children.
"Randall understands that we live in the real world, and brings seemingly ivory tower theology to the coffee shops and front porches of believers everywhere."
Disclaimer: I received a free copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review
Discipleship is a word that matters to every Christian. Jesus’ great commission is for us to go and make disciples of all nations (Matthew 28:19). But how? For two thousand years, Christians godly men and women have taken the time to teach and walk with other believers in their walk with God. Following Jesus: The Essentials of Christian Discipleship by Andrew Randall may be just the spark you’ve needed to light the fire of discipleship in your life and the life of your local church.
Randall wrote Following Jesus with these three convictions in mind:
What topics come to mind when you envision discipleship? Bible reading? Prayer? Parenting? Work? Following Jesus concisely discusses each of these areas—and many more—with those three convictions and practical application seen throughout. Randall understands that we live in the real world, and brings seemingly ivory tower theology to the coffee shops and front porches of believers everywhere.
In his chapter on following Jesus in our choices, for example, he takes the theology of the sufficiency of Scripture and brings down to ground level when he says, “...the specific commands of the Bible are a hugely important starting-point as we consider the guidance of God. God has guided us. If we ignore the guidance he has provided, it is not reasonable to guide us further” (p. 102). We don’t need to pray about whether we should cheat on our taxes or walk out on our families because God has already spoken about such matters. Even in the gray areas, we are free to make decisions based upon God’s revealed Word without seeking mystical signs or new revelation.
Whether it’s an intense season of suffering or a time to seek renewed vigor in prayer, Following Jesus has some quick-hitting advice for you and the people you’re discipling. If you’re a pastor, church leader, or just someone passionate about discipleship, Following Jesus will be a great book to get into the hands of the believers around you—especially those who haven’t seen much discipleship. If you’re a disciple-maker (aren’t we all?) in need of a good resource, consider this one!
Get your copy here!