"And we don't believe in the other 10."
Now, Moses had spent six days on the mountain before the presence of the Lord. The Israelites grew increasingly restless. They gathered around Aaron and said, ‘Come make us gods who will go before us.’ Thus did Aaron do, by taking all the gold of the people and forming a golden calf. The Lord said to Moses, ‘Go down, because your people, whom you brought out of Egypt, have become corrupt.’ Moses, coming down from the mountain, saw the corruption of the people. Having in mind the eleventh commandment – ‘Thou shalt be nice’ – he approached the people gently. ‘Come,’ he said, ‘you know you shouldn’t have graven images.’ The people replied, ‘but the Lord tarries! We want something that we can see and that will give us what we want!’ Moses, considering the words of the people, said, ‘surely the God of Israel has a heart, and will understand that this is not in defiance of His commands.’ And the anger of the Lord subsided, for Moses had been nice and considerate of the peoples’ feelings.
Exodus 32, revised.
The 11th Commandment
The 11th Commandment is the most important commandment of the 21st Century Westerner. This commandment is best described by a popular bumper sticker, “coexist,” which uses various symbols of the world religions to spell it out. While there is no question that Christians ultimately need to live tolerantly–they can’t call the police to have their Muslim neighbor arrested or draw the sword in the name of Christ–with those around them, they don’t have to agree with them.
For various reasons, people in the West conflate disagreement as intolerance (and its various synonyms: racism, white supremacy, sexism, homophobia, etc.) and, in some cases, hate. It’s also appearing more obvious that people’s identities gradually become a raison d’être. That is, their identity is their meaning in life. This may well be why people take these matters rather personally.
The West, over the course of half a century, has declined into a coma of political correctness and identity politics. An obvious example of this is race relations in America today.
One gets the impression that there is a “right” way to talk about race, and a “wrong” way, and that these ways are constructed in the ivory towers of higher education. Any honest questioning may land you in a virtual purgatory, the holding place of what the Blue Check Mark committee of cultural affairs has deemed offensive or inappropriate.
A Battle of Ideas
There are good ideas and bad ideas. There are good communicators of bad ideas and bad communicators of good ideas. Somewhere awkwardly in the middle are Christians. There are some who, feeling the depravity of their own white privilege, take to Facebook and Twitter to denounce the evils of systemic racism for the cause of Christ. There are others who, believing that conversations about race relations are tantamount to cultural Marxism, who also take to Twitter and Facebook to post their “I kneel for the cross and stand for the flag” posts, ensuring themselves and others that they are red-blooded patriots. And then, of course, there are many honest-to-goodness Christ-loving saints who just don’t know what to do. Are they just called to be nice?
Throughout his letters, Paul uses various metaphors to wrestling and hand-to-hand combat. In Ephesians 6:12 he says, “For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places.”
He says in 2 Corinthians 10:3-5, “for though we walk in the flesh, we are not waging war according to the flesh. For the weapons of our warfare are not of the flesh but have divine power to destroy strongholds. We destroy arguments and every lofty opinion raised against the knowledge of God, and take every thought captive to obey Christ.” Paul begins this section by saying, “I, Paul, myself entreat you, by the meekness and gentleness of Christ…”
Make no mistake: Christians come in the meekness and gentleness of Christ but come ready to defend their faith. Christians don’t fight people, they fight ideas. If a Christian disagrees with someone, they are disagreeing with an idea, not a person. In other words, Christians–any human being-–can disagree with an idea and still love (read “tolerate,” if you’d rather) a person.
This means, then, that any sober-minded Christian can hold several things in tension: love for people who don’t look like them, concern for justice and, coming from this, disagreements of their conclusions about reality. Christians aren’t fighting people; we are fighting against ideas that stand in opposition to the truth of the gospel.
The Church Can Fight Back in the Battle of Ideas
Two of the hot-button topics of the day are justice and race relations. To some extent, the evangelical church can’t be too surprised that competing theologies of race–critical race theory, intersectionality, etc. – have arisen because the evangelical church has been very quiet on these issues. Space does not allow a further analysis of this, but there are good lessons for the church to learn moving forward as it relates to racial equity.
There is no question that racism will always exist and injustice will always exist. However, there are biblical ways of addressing these issues and nonbiblical ways. As a White man, there is plenty I can learn from other cultures. My experience of America may well be different from a Black person’s experience of America. I can’t tell someone how to experience something. However, when we enter the realm of people’s ideas, whether based on experience or not, there is room for disagreement. The gray area in between ideas and experience is the place where most people reside, for they form and develop a worldview around their experiences and upbringing. Christians are to be lights in a gray world, where they champion Christian ideas, fight bad ideas, and put down their ideological swords when they sense someone else thinks differently than them. To say it another way: fight ideas as ideas, not the people who espouse them (while also being mindful of personal experience).
While there may be aspects of the arguments being made that are worth considering, I am not intellectually obligated to agree with all aspects. For example, some may suggest I read White Fragility or How to Be an Antiracist in the hopes that I’ll be enlightened. And while there may be a lot of things to be gleaned from them, I don’t have to agree with all aspects (to be clear, White Fragility is one of the worst books written on race and social justice; it offers no solutions to the problems it sees). At the end of the day, Christians only need the Word of God to understand and interact with the world. Since this is a battle of ideas, Christians need to be very mindful that they are using the entire Word of God, which means they are reading it for more than personal edification or theological discourse. When
the evangelical church closed in on itself, the culture developed competing theologies.
Remember, this is a battle of ideas. There are good ideas and there are bad ideas. I’m not a racist because I think that, either. As soon as we tie racial identity so closely with books and ideas that we can’t have an opinion outside of the prescribed parameters therein, we have a problem. This way of reasoning does not allow for free expression of thought or speech.
Follow the Ways of God
What it comes down to is this: the way of the world or the way of the Word of God. The way of the world will dictate for you what is right or wrong, racist or antiracist, etc., based on the ebb and flow of post-secular morality. It is highly constrictive. The Word of God, on the other hand, while also being exclusive in another sense, allows for room to hear various experiences and ideas without judgment. I believe Evangelicals should take up great concern with issues of justice and race relations because they’re being hijacked by secular academia. For whatever reason, the Evangelical church left the culture alone and allowed a competing theology of race to take the place of what a Christian theology of race and justice should be. We, as a church, should be humbled by this.
Where does this leave us? There are two things Christian can do. First, they are to destroy arguments raised against the knowledge of God. This means refuting arguments that are contrary to Scripture, no matter how well-meaning they are. Second, Christians are to take every thought captive for Christ. We are to be primarily concerned with building a Christian worldview. The Bible is sufficient for this; it is sufficient for understanding human nature and humanity’s longing for God.
Saints, take up the armor of God, think and reason through the lens of Scripture, and be aware of the schemes of Satan. Love your neighbor, speak the truth to them in love, and don’t be afraid to engage against their ideas. Ideas matter, and they can very deadly.
Steven Wierenga is currently a Th.M. student at Denver Theological Seminary. He also holds an M.A. in Biblical Studies from Moody Theological Seminary. Originally from Grand Rapids, Michigan, Steven now resides with his wife, Rachel, in Littleton, Colorado, where they take every opportunity we can to hike, climb, and enjoy the outdoors.