Many Christians say that Social Justice Warriors (SJWs) and cultural marxism pose the greatest ideological threat to the gospel in our day. They may be right. Others fear that the spread of these ideas will lead to full-blown socialism in our nation.
Another concern some Christians share is that these ideas have infiltrated the Church thus diluting or even destroying its ability to proclaim the truth of the gospel.
This raises some interesting questions:
- Are today’s false doctrines any more dangerous than those faced by previous generations?
- Has Satan come up with a new strategy or has he merely recycled old lies?
- Is our battle against flesh and blood (politicians, leftists and deceived church leaders) or is our battle “against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms?”
Those sounding the alarm correctly surmise that we are responsible to fight for truth and to proclaim a biblical gospel. But whom do we fight and how do we wage war?
Suppose the heretofore unthinkable happens and the United States slips into the evil of socialism/marxism. Is the Kingdom of God threatened by an economic system?
Let’s keep these questions in mind as we look at the threat posed by cultural Marxism.
Ideas such as social justice, identity politics, radical feminism, intersectionality, classism and white privilege fall under the umbrella of critical theory. Neil Shenvi (a Christian apologist) defines critical theory this way—“Critical theory is an ideology that divides the world into oppressed groups and their oppressors and aims to liberate the oppressed.”1
The oppressed groups are not confined to economic status as in traditional marxism or Liberation Theology. Women are also oppressed, as are people of color and members of the LGBTQ community. Lots of people are oppressed, and of course, the only people left to play the role of oppressor are white males, especially Christian white males.
So how is the gospel threatened? The most common response I have read is that social justice warriors confuse justice and mercy, two concepts that are very clear and very distinct in the Bible. Sinners deserve justice for their sin, but God in his mercy “gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.” SJWs affirm a different idea—that somehow the oppressed deserve mercy in the same way they deserve justice, that they are two sides of the same coin. If that be the case, then we deserve our salvation.
My first reaction to reading Shenvi’s definition of critical theory was to recall Jesus’ words in Luke 4:18–19:
The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to set the oppressed free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.
Indeed, this passage refers to both spiritual and literal freedom, poverty, blindness, and oppression. But critical theory ignores the spiritual component. Jesus sets us free from sin’s oppression and Satan. Critical theory doesn’t see sin as the problem or Christ as the solution because it focuses on real and imagined oppression by other people. They proclaim moral superiority over their oppressors and exhibit a hubris that excludes them from the moral requirements that the Bible applies equally to every human. It perpetuates Satan’s lie that someone else (perhaps even God) is withholding something from us.
Thus, critical theory doesn’t allow us to identify with Adam so that Christ, the second Adam can free us. Instead, we must belong to an oppressed group (or repent of our wrongs as a member of an oppressor group) and fight for liberation. The gospel is unnecessary as critical theorists virtue signal their way into hell. Tragic.
Critical theory ups the ante on post-modernism’s disdain for objective truth by claiming objective truth acts only as a cover for the evil perpetrated by oppressors. Subjective experiences trump objective facts.2 So, in critical theory, Satan’s lie —“has God said” takes on a form that refuses to consider any appeal to the Bible.
At Odds With the Gospel
We are either in Adam or in Christ. We are lost or we are found. We travel the road to destruction or we travel the road to eternal life. These are the only two identities that matter. Critical theory ignores the gospel and divides people into two groups—the oppressed and their oppressors. In the worldview of critical theory there is neither room for good in the oppressor group nor evil in the oppressed group. But our identity (and certainly our virtue) does not lie in our gender, skin color or oppressed status.
Christians are commanded “If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone” (Romans 12:18). Critical theory promotes strife and conflict between groups while denying that we are all born into the same sinking boat. It is contrary to Christianity because the Bible teaches we are all separated from God by our sin, and need a solution that can only be provided by God. They don’t need Jesus or his gospel because they have substituted oppression for sin as mankind’s biggest problem. And, they believe they can solve the problem themselves.
Critical theory is at odds with Christianity because it makes distinctions between people that the Bible doesn’t consider as important as the distinction between those in Adam and those in Christ:
So in Christ Jesus you are all children of God through faith, for all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. If you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham’s seed, and heirs according to the promise. Galatians 3:26-29
So those who are alarmed are correct – we have to preach the true gospel. To do so requires us to identify and reject any false gospel.
Will the Social Justice Movement Lead to Socialism?
The Social Justice Movement is currently a hot topic in the Church. You may have heard the phrase “Woke Church.” It refers to churches and their members who embrace the idea that racism and injustice are systemic in America. For some, righting this wrong becomes the main mission of the church instead of preaching the gospel.
For secular critical theorists and SJWs to reach their objectives, the existing power structures must be overturned. Thus, many people fear that this ideology will lead to socialism. The social justice movement is more likely to result in socialism than simple class warfare because so many more people can be incited to rise up against the status quo.
Marxism and socialism destroy individual freedom and private ownership of the means of production. Thus they undermine biblical principles of reaping what you sow and stewardship. Capitalism must have freedom and private ownership in order to operate so it preserves them.
Does Jesus’ Kingdom Depend On an Economic System?
But herein lies a trap. Instead of defending the gospel, some Christians are tempted to spend much of their time defending capitalism rather than simply fighting against biblical heresy and the horrors of socialism.
Most Christians would probably agree with the statement that capitalism is better than socialism because evil men can do the least harm under capitalism. But is it really capitalism that restrains evil or is it individual freedom, the rule of law and the preservation property rights that cause a society to flourish?3 The fact that it is hard for a rich man to enter the kingdom should alert us to the fact that capitalism’s prosperity may hinder the gospel as well. Capitalism may only encourage a weak faith. Jesus’ proclamation that the kingdom of heaven is more important to Christians than their material prosperity suggests that our priority must be to defend the gospel, not capitalism:
The kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field. When a man found it, he hid it again, and then in his joy went and sold all he had and bought that field. “Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant looking for fine pearls. When he found one of great value, he went away and sold everything he had and bought it. Matthew 13:44-46
Let’s not promote capitalism (a system that preserves market freedom yet easily diverts us from God’s purposes) over God’s economy in which Christians steward their resources to promote the kingdom of God. Let’s defend freedom, property rights and the rule of law, but let’s not promote a capitalism that encourages and depends on debt and covetousness to enslave its participants.
And, let’s not make the same mistake as the critical theorists. They are not the enemy we must ultimately overcome. “Our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms (Ephesians 6:12).
Let us remember this when the injurious treatment of others provokes us to revenge. Our natural disposition would lead us to direct all our exertions against the men themselves; but this foolish desire will be restrained by the consideration that the men who annoy us are nothing more than darts thrown by the hand of Satan. While we are employed in destroying those darts, we lay ourselves open to be wounded on all sides. To wrestle with flesh and blood will not only be useless, but highly pernicious. We must go straight to the enemy, who attacks and wounds us from his concealment, — who slays before he appears. (From Calvin’s commentary on Ephesians.)
This is a battle that we can’t win on our own. We must spend time praying before any encounter with the lies of Satan (including lies we believe unawares) and we must keep ourselves unstained by the world as we proclaim the truth. Christ will establish his church and his kingdom and the gates of hell will not prevail against it.
But Isn’t Oppression a Problem the Church Should Address?
Yes! The Bible condemns oppression whether it occurs in ancient Israel, in America’s slave trade, in South Africa’s apartheid or in today’s society. Christians must defend the rights of the weak and vulnerable. We must soberly examine our society against Scripture and root out any evil practices (and laws that abet them) without compromising the main point of the gospel—we are all born sinners in need of Jesus Christ.
(To learn more about economic oppression in our modern world and the ways in which capitalism and socialism compete against God’s economy for the hearts and souls of humanity, look for my book, The Narrow Road, available on Amazon later this month.)
- Neil Shenvi, “Critical Theory Quotes” https://shenviapologetics.com/critical-theory-quotes/
- Neil Shenvi, “Christianity and Critical Theory” https://shenviapologetics.com/critical-theory-and-christianity-part-1/
- These three principles distinguish capitalism from socialism, but they don’t sufficiently define capitalism. These principles can exist outside of capitalism.