Pastor Voddie Baucham’s Fault Lines is a trumpet blast that seeks to wake evangelicals up to the dangers of “wokeness.” A combination of personal narrative, cultural analysis, and theology, Baucham identifies the ways in which critical race theory, intersectionality, and critical social justice have been seeping into evangelicalism for years. His book has been widely read, attracting both praise and censure. In what follows, I’ll call attention to its strengths and weaknesses. Despite some legitimate criticisms, Baucham’s contribution is important and his voice is one that all evangelicals would do well to heed.
A Loving Polemic
Readers expecting to find an angry exposé on heretics within the church will likely be surprised by Baucham’s repeated, explicit calls to assume the best about fellow Christians:
“There are groups and ministries that have embraced CRT, and those are problematic. But there is a larger group that is sympathetic to it because of their desire to fight what they see as a problem of racial injustice. Most of the groups I will mention in this book fall into the latter category” (p. 2-3)
“There are plenty of sincere, though perhaps naive Christians who, if they knew the ideology behind it, would run away from the term ‘social justice'” (p. 6)
“I harbor no animosity against anyone named in these pages, and if you happen to agree with my perspective on these issues, I hope you don’t either.” (p. 230)
Baucham doesn’t hesitate to names names, but he makes it clear that unbiblical ideologies, not fellow Christians, are his enemy. For example, after chastising Pastor David Platt for preaching what Baucham considers to be an eisegetical sermon on Amos 5, he nonetheless insists “David Platt loves Jesus, loves people, and is passionate about reconciliation. I know this because I know and love David Platt” (p. 123). Baucham’s argument is that most of the prominent pastors he mentions are motivated not by a desire to undermine the gospel but rather by a desire for justice and racial unity. Unfortunately, this commendable pursuit has led them to embrace bad ideologies which will ultimately erode their theology.
A second attribute of Baucham’s book may also surprise skeptics: his willingness to engage with and to appreciate the work of authors on the other side of these issues. For example, of the 18 footnotes in the introduction of his book, 13 reference primary sources, including the writings of Crenshaw, McIntosh, Delgado, and Yosso, all major contributors to contemporary critical social theory. More importantly, he insists that Christians can and should read broadly:
“I do not share the sentiment of those who believe that reading beyond the Bible is unwarranted, unwise, unfruitful, or unfaithful” (p. 115) and “I reject a narrow approach to literature and culture and am in favor of reading broadly. Some of the resources that I have found helpful in bolstering my own understanding of issues come from writers with whom I disagree” (p. 124). Even books that he singles out for criticism, like Smith and Emerson’s Divided By Faith, are acknowledged to have merit (p. 123). As he points out, “No one, outside of a few extremist cults, has ever had a problem with the idea that books outside the Bible ‘help you understand the Bible'” (p. 118). In other words, he is absolutely not making the argument “we have nothing to learn from atheists. We have nothing to learn from liberals. We have nothing to learn from sociology.”
Rather, Baucham’s concern is that evangelicals are treating certain social science texts as necessary to understanding the Bible. On his view, this reliance on social science undermines the authority and sufficiency of Scripture: “In no area does God require me to walk in a level of righteousness for which the Scriptures do not equip me–including any and all aspects of justice” (p. 119). Granted, few if any of the individuals mentioned would deny either the authority or sufficiency of Scripture. But Baucham contends that the sufficiency of Scripture can be functionally ignored even where it is nominally embraced: “People are not coming right out and saying that the Bible is not enough. Instead, high-profile pastors get up and speak about the ways in which modern sociology texts have done for them what the revelation of Scripture has been unable to do” (p. 125).
The book’s autobiographical component was a third positive element. Voddie’s story growing up in Los Angeles as the son of a single mother was unknown to me and was quite moving, especially hearing him describe the sacrifices his mother made and her determination in the face of adversity. Also surprising was hearing Voddie describe his struggle as a young Christian to view his ethnicity through his Christian identity (he apparently had to be confronted by pastor Dwight McKissic for his “Afrocentric T-shirts”, p. 28). He talks frankly about his decision to join a majority-white church and his struggle to “strike a balance between working to promote unity and working to make it a non-issue.” He’s worth quoting at length here:
I didn’t want to be “the black guy” on staff. I just wanted to serve the body. I was constantly aware of this tension. But whether I liked it or not, I was the black guy on staff–usually, the first black guy ever to be on staff. I was also constantly aware of the fact that in many ways, I was a stranger in a strange land. These people had different worship styles, leadership styles, came from different backgrounds, watched different shows, and in many ways lived very different lives than other people I knew. On the other hand, I came to realize that, underneath all of that, they were the same as me. They battled the same demons, struggled with the same ups and downs, wanted the same things, and feared the same things I did. In the end, these were my brothers and sisters in Christ. So, regardless of the challenges and difficulties, I stayed the course. (p. 35)
Despite his background and his acknowledgement of the challenges of multi-ethnic ministry, Voddie offers an interpretation of race, racism, politics, and policing at odds with what we’re often told is the “black perspective.” Throughout the book, he shows how various data challenge progressive views on these subjects. For example, he points out that we should not assume all racial disparities are the result of “systemic racism.” Blacks are indeed 2.5x more likely to be killed by police than Whites, but men are 24x more likely to be killed by police than women (p. 50). Is this gender disparity evidence of systemic sexism? Is the fact that 18-44 year-olds are 6x more likely to be killed by police than people over the age of 44 evidence of age discrimination in policing? As many others have observed, disparities are not necessarily evidence of discrimination.
Similarly, he points out that high-profile cases of police violence involving Black Americans such as those of Tamir Rice, Philando Castille, Michael Brown, and Breonna Taylor are mirrored by cases involving White Americans like Tony Timpa, Dylan Noble, and Deven Guilford, whose names remain virtually unknown. Selective media attention therefore has the potential to significantly warp our perceptions about race and police violence. For instance, a recent survey showed that 54% of people who identify as “very liberal” believe that more than 1,000 unarmed Black men are killed by police each year. The actual number in 2019 was 27.
Whether or not we agree or disagree with Baucham, his perspective should force us to acknowledge that there is no monolithic “black voice” to which we must defer. Instead, when there is disagreement, we need to listen to both sides (Prov. 18:17) and evaluate claims on the basis of the available evidence, not on the basis of our preferred narrative or our lived experience.
Finally, Baucham rightly argues that the embrace of Critical Social Justice will have and is having a devastating effect on many evangelicals. This is a crucial warning, especially in the face of louder and louder insistences that CSJ is just a “fundamentalist bogeyman.”
In chapter 4, Baucham compares Critical Social Justice to a religion, with a different view of sin, a different view of law, a different priesthood, and a different canon than Christianity. Concepts like “”white privilege” (p. 72), “white complicity” (p. 76), “white equilibrium” (p. 77), and “white fragility” (p. 78) are, according to Baucham, rooted in a view of racism as the new “original sin” that stains all whites. The “‘work’ of antiracism” is the “new law” by which we can “fix the original sin of racism” (p. 89). Oppressed minorities, including people of color, women, LGBTQIA+ people, the disabled, and the poor form the “new priesthood in the cult of antiracism” (p. 91) because their oppressed status gives them special insight into social reality. Finally, the new canon of CSJ features books like Morrison’s Be The Bridge, Swanson’s Rediscipling the White Church, Brown’s I’m Still Here, Tisby’s Color of Compromise, and Hill’s White Awake which were all included in Christianity Today‘s article “The Antiracist Curriculum White Evangelicals Need.” Baucham emphasizes that he has no problem with people reading these books, but worries that they are taking precedence over Scripture in shaping evangelicals’ understanding of and response to racism.
I have reviewed all the books named here and share Baucham’s concerns. Moreover, I wholeheartedly agree that CSJ is a serious threat to evangelicalism and is, consciously or unconsciously, influencing evangelical leaders. However, I worry that the strength of his argument is undermined by several problems.
Imprecision in Language
Like many people and even some scholars, Voddie uses “critical theory,” “critical social justice,” “intersectionality,” “antiracism,” and “critical race theory” more or less interchangeably. It is undeniable that the worldview Baucham is describing using these terms does exist and is increasingly influential. In his book The Rise and Triumph of the Modern Self, church historian Carl Trueman summarizes precisely the worldview Baucham is targeting:
at the core of the various approaches of critical theorists lies a relatively simply set of convictions: the world is to be divided up between those who have power and those who do not; the dominant Western narrative of truth is really an ideological construct designed to preserve the power structure of the status quo; and the goal of critical theory is therefore to destabilize this power structure by destabilizing the dominant narratives that are used to justify –to ‘naturalize’– it” (p. 225-226)
Many other authors from a variety of political and religious backgrounds (e.g. Jonathan Haidt, Greg Lukianoff, Bradley Campell, Jason Manning, Noah Rothman, Douglas Murray, Helen Pluckrose, James Lindsay) have independently offered very similar characterizations.
Unfortunately, there is no consensus about what label ought to be used to describe this worldview. Skeptics could insist that “critical race theory” is actually “just a legal discipline” and that Robin DiAngelo (despite her self-identification!), Ibram X. Kendi, Tarra Yosso and others are not doing real critical race theory. Or they could argue that the term “critical theory” ought to be limited to the Frankfurt School. Or they could argue that not all “antiracists” embrace Kendi’s perspectives on race.
While I aim for precision, I’m also aware that these kinds of objections can amount to little more than a semantic shell game, where a pedantic insistence on using the “right” terminology is merely a strategy to avoid actually engaging with the erroneous ideas being criticized.
As an illustration, imagine that an evangelical pastor were concerned about the dangers of the “prosperity gospel” and wrote a book denouncing it, except that he used the phrases “prosperity gospel,” “the health-and-wealth gospel,” “name it-claim it theology,” and the “word of faith movement” interchangeably. Hopefully, few readers would think the book could be rebutted by the bare insistence that “WELL ACKCHYUALLY THESE PHENOMENA ARE DISTINCT.” Discerning the subtle differences between these various forms of false teaching doesn’t make them any less false.
That said, switching between terms makes it plausible for critics to argue that Baucham is mischaracterizing particular fields. Consistent use of a single term like “critical social justice” (which I have adopted in this review) is therefore preferable.
Scalpel vs. Bulldozer
A second problem is that the very metaphor of a fault line demands that we sort evangelicals into two groups: woke and anti-woke. This binary categorization obscures the fact that there is a broad spectrum on both sides of these issues. Consequently, many evangelicals will look at solidly conservative pastors like Mark Dever or David Platt and say “are you kidding? Are you really implying that these guys are part of some kind of Marxist movement to undermine the gospel? Give me a break.” At the same time, they’ll point to fringe figures like Pastor Greg Locke and add “…and this guy is on the ‘right side’ of the Fault Line just because he’s anti-woke? Pfft.” In other words, the strategy of emphasizing the breadth of his concerns could backfire, leading people to ignore Baucham’s warnings.
Rather than suggesting that some otherwise orthodox pastors have embraced elements of CSJ, a better strategy might be to show specific cases of these ideas producing serious heterodoxy. Note that I’m not at all suggesting that any pastor should be above criticism or that Baucham is wrong to raise the concerns he does. I’m only suggesting that an added emphasis on clear, open heterodoxy instead of subtle theological drift is likely to be more convincing.
A good example would be the theological evolution of Michelle Higgins, a former member of the PCA, who co-hosts the popular Truth’s Table podcast with Ekemini Uwan and Christina Edmonson. In 2015, she gave a controversial talk at Intervarsity’s Urbana missions conference in which she told attendees that “Black Lives Matter is a movement on mission in the truth of God.” At the time, many evangelicals defended her orthodoxy. Yet after several years of increasingly eyebrow-raising comments, Higgins became the senior pastor of St. John’s Community Church, a pro-choice and LGBTQ-affirming congregation in St. Louis.
Of course, it is possible (though not very plausible) to insist that Higgins’ promotion of Black Lives Matter, her condemnation of the “dominance and power of Eurocentrism,” and the activities of her organization Faith for Justice (which offers trainings based in “Black Womanism + Liberation Theology” and a “Black queer feminist political lens”) have nothing whatsoever to do with the influence of Critical Social Justice. But surely, we can warn evangelicals that anyone who embraces Critical Social Justice will be logically compelled to embrace these same beliefs.
Sufficiency or Incompatibility?
A third problem is the way that Baucham frames his argument against CSJ in terms of the sufficiency of Scripture. The difficulty here is two-fold. First, Baucham himself acknowledges that few if any of the leaders he mentions will deny the sufficiency of Scripture. But it’s always harder to demonstrate the functional erosion of a doctrine than to demonstrate that it is being explicitly rejected. Second, proponents of CSJ can always insist they are using CSJ as a tool for applying Scripture, rather than as a method for interpreting Scripture. They could argue, for example, that a scholar who studies medicine is in no way undermining the sufficiency of Scripture. Scripture tells us that we ought to care for the sick, but doesn’t tell us how to best diagnose sickness. In the same way, they could insist Scripture tells us that we ought to oppose us injustice, while Critical Social Justice merely sheds light on how to best diagnose injustice (I disagree with this argument, but it has a certain plausibility to it).
Therefore, I would suggest taking a different approach. Rather than arguing that CSJ conflicts with the sufficiency of Scripture, we should simply show that it conflicts with the content of Scripture. For instance, it doesn’t matter whether CSJ “helps us to oppose oppression” if it affirms that heteronormativity and cisgenderism are forms of oppression. It doesn’t matter if CSJ rightly thinks that white supremacy (traditionally defined) is a hegemonic discourse that needs to be deconstructed if it wrongly thinks that Christianity is a hegemonic discourse that needs to be deconstructed.
For the sake of space, I won’t delve into more minor concerns, such as my belief that Baucham is too quick to dismiss the way in which “whiteness” has been socially constructed throughout U.S. history, or the subtle distinction between critical race theorists’ skepticism towards objective knowledge and a skepticism towards objective truth, or his discussion of SBC Resolution 9, or the ways in which studies like Roland Fryer’s challenge both progressive claims about police violence and the claim that there is no racial bias in policing at all. I’ve also discussed accusations of fabrication and plagiarism elsewhere. So I’d like to close with a suggestion for moving this conversation forward.
The Need for Dialogue
Regardless of what you think about Fault Lines, Baucham is right to call attention to the serious danger posed by CSJ. No reasonable person should deny its tremendous influence on our culture right now or its incompatibility with Christian theology. Moreover, it’s reasonable to infer that many evangelical leaders have been influenced by CSJ given their public statements, their sermons, and their book recommendations. However, it’s also reasonable to believe that Baucham –like all of us– has a limited vantage point and may not be aware of all the relevant facts. For example, after strongly criticizing the passage of SBC Resolution 9, he states in a footnote that “As this book was on its way to press, the Council of Seminary Presidents of the Southern Baptist Convention released a statement that is nothing short of a complete repudiation of CRT as well as Resolution 9” (p. 149). This footnote is a perfect illustration of why the church desperately needs dialogue.
People, even people with the best of intentions, can lack important information or make incorrect assumptions or wrongly interpret statements. Putting them in dialogue with others therefore gives us a fuller picture of the situation. Dialogue may expose areas of real, deep disagreement. But it may also expose areas of real, deep agreement. Or it may expose simple misunderstandings. We’ll only know if we start putting Prov. 18:17 into practice and inviting both “sides” to the table. Unfortunately, too much dialogue today consists of a homogeneous panel of either five “woke” Christians or five “anti-woke” Christians. This is one of the many reasons that Baucham needs to be included in evangelical discussions of race especially if the participants take a more “progressive” perspective.
If we believe that fellow Christians are in serious error, then we should be eager to sit down with them publicly, list our concerns, and explain where we think they’ve gone wrong. We can no longer afford to sweep this issue under the rug and hope it goes away. Personally, I would love to see Carl Ellis Jr. moderate a discussion between Shai Linne and Voddie Baucham on race, justice, and the “woke” movement. These conversations need to happen in public, where loving, charitable dialogue can be modeled, where consensus can be sought, and where biblical arguments can be made.
Finally, if you’re an evangelical leader who feels he has been unfairly accused of embracing CSJ, my challenge to you is: take Fault Lines seriously. Don’t walk off in a huff. Don’t say “How dare you!” Listen. Don’t just make vague statements like “I reject critical social justice.” Instead, explain exactly what you reject. Read primary sources. Try to understand what’s at stake. If people have criticized certain statements you’ve made, clarify them. Answer their concerns. Better yet, invite them to have a public discussion. Don’t just insist that they’re being divisive and shut them out. Prov. 12:1 puts it bluntly: “Whoever loves discipline loves knowledge, but whoever hates correction is stupid.” Baucham’s book is offering correction. Critique it when appropriate. Disagree with it if necessary. But don’t despise it.
- Intro to Critical Theory
- What is Critical Race Theory?
- Villains, Victims, and Visionaries: Three Books for Understanding Our Culture
- Liquid Souls: A Brief Review of Trueman’s Rise and Triumph of the Modern Self
- A Short Review of Morrison’s Be The Bridge
- A Short Review of Swanson’s Rediscipling the White Church
- A Short Review of Brown’s I’m Still Here
- Compromised? A Long Review of Tisby’s Color of Compromise
- Blind But Now I See – A Review of Daniel Hill’s White Awake
- “Fabrication” and “Plagiarism” in Baucham’s Fault Lines