"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?