A Book Review of Fault Lines (Salem books, 2021)
On the much debated subject of racism, an evangelical/reformed black American theologian (who now lives in Africa) inspires confidence, since he sees “social justice” from many sides. He proposes a balanced view of a divisive issue in his recent book, Fault Lines: The Social Justice Movement and Evangelicalism’s Looming Catastrophe. The Church will do well to read this approachable and measured contribution to the contemporary debate on racism. Voddie Baucham was born in Los Angeles fifty-some years ago and was raised by a single, deeply dedicated, mother (14). He and his wife have nine children, seven of whom were adopted. He holds an Oxford Ph.D. and is currently the dean of the School of Divinity at African Christian University in Zambia.
Dr. Baucham writes with much wisdom to Western Christians, who are currently faced with the emotive issue of “Social Justice,” otherwise known as “Critical Race Theory” or “Critical Social Justice.” He is convinced that the real problem for the church is not serious ethnic tension (2) but a contemporary definition of social justice (via the hermeneutic of Critical Race Theory) that is “incompatible with biblical Christianity” (3). Christianity and CRT, he argues, represent “two competing worldviews” (6), two fundamentally different “cosmologies” (69). He describes antiracism as a “cult,” which, in its pure form, begins not with God creating human beings as equal in his image (which has no place at all in this system) but the invented myth of the “creation of whiteness” (70), which crept in at some point in human history. This whiteness “creation” is deeply immoral because it justifies enslaving blacks. As an example of this approach, Baucham uses the evangelical black Southern Baptist Professor, Jarvis Williams (71) (though, I may point out, the approach fails to account for the universal phenomenon of slavery in all inter-ethnic relations worldwide, independent of the variety of skin tones).
Baucham faces with honesty the ethnic and racist tensions in our culture, freely admitting that there are individual racists. However, he also counters the claims that “the police are two and a half times more likely to shoot and kill a black man than a white man” (47). This false narrative (47) is used to prove systemic racism (48) and even black genocide (as Black Lives Matter has stated). Superstar NBA player LeBron James claims that police officers are disproportionately patrolling Black communities without cause and hunting down innocent Black Americans. Like all of us, Baucham grapples with statistics, and states that “white people are shot at a disproportionate rate” (49), whereas only nine unarmed Black Americans were killed by cops in 2019, according to the Washington Post’s database in various justifiable situations. These statistics are difficult to interpret and seem to change regularly, since the Washington Post’s site now lists 12 unarmed blacks killed by police in 2019. But it is interesting that 81% of Black Americans desire the same or more police presence in their communities. In support of Baucham’s claim, according to Justice Department statistics, of the half a million violent interracial crimes involving blacks and whites in the course of a year, “90% of those crimes are committed by blacks against whites.” Genocide is hardly the right way to describe our problem.
Baucham courageously addresses the social issues that weaken the health of the black community; issues that politically correct CRT refuses to touch, such as absentee fathers (159), deliberate academic underachievement (161), out-of-control crime in black neighborhoods (163), thousands of aborted black babies (172–4), and the easy assumption of victimhood—all of which discourage finding solutions to social problems (165). Baucham, a black man raised in a depressed community sees these conditions as self-imposed problems and not the result of white racism.
In support of Baucham’s thinking, the example of black Nigerian Americans is significant. 61.4% of Nigerian Americans aged 25 years or older hold a bachelor’s degree or higher. Their crime is below the national average; only 4% live in single parent homes; and their median annual household income of $68,658 is higher than the US average of $61,937. In other words, as Baucham argues, color of skin doesn’t necessarily limit cultural success.
A New Religion
Thus Baucham believes that what is driving this racist ideology is not contemporary mistreatment of blacks but a false theology, what he calls “the cult of antiracism” (66). He believes we are in the presence of a new religion based purely on ideological Marxist fantasy—a religion now seeping into the church as a new form of legalism. When Jarvis Williams, Professor of New Testament at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, states: “…race and racial reconciliation are soteriological issues” (87), he is claiming that whites who fail to obey racist demands risk alienation from God.
Baucham calls the religious ideology of CRT “the work of a new form of priests” (89), holding omnipotent bureaucratic authority but in possession of totally subjective and finite data. He calls this “ethnic Gnosticism,” “special (“superior,” 94) knowledge” based on ethnicity” (92, 111). He gives examples of Gnostic racism from black peoples’ exaggerated accounts of offense or mistreatment at police stops that were later disavowed by police body cams (106–9). Blacks are often out of touch with reality, believing what they have been told, namely that a thousand blacks are killed by police every year, compared to between four and fourteen whites. The actual figures in 2019, as noted above, were nineteen whites and nine blacks (110). Baucham calls the false evidence a “red herring…simply not true” (127). He grants there are individual racists in the culture but rejects “systemic racism” since America “is one of the least racist countries in the world” (201).
Baucham calls for Christians to read widely on both sides of the issue. Nevertheless, he wisely warns of books that subvert the authority of Scripture by claiming that a genuine understanding of Scripture is entirely dependent on CRT analysis, this against Scripture’s claim to be sufficient and to contain “all things that pertain to life and godliness” (2 Peter 1:4). On pages 118–23 he offers a wealth of Scriptural texts providing the ultimate answer to racism. Because racism is an individual sin, it cannot be solved by endless self-searching or penance, but only by God’s forgiveness: “I am he that blots out your transgressions for my own sake, and I will not remember your sins” (Is 43:25) (130).
Baucham warns the church of a coming earthquake over the issue of “social justice” (132). He calls for “clarity and unity” (134) and the recovery of our ability to debate. He references the 2018 Statement on Social Justice and the Gospel (the Dallas Statement), an evangelical Christian statement of faith addressing the trend that some prominent evangelicals are following as they tend to mix the Christian gospel with the social gospel. He regrets that important figures like Albert Mohler, Mark Dever and Tim Keller, as well as many professors in the Southern Baptist Convention, refused to sign this statement. Mohler stated that he had “had no opportunity to offer any particular consultation or suggestion” to the document. In 2020, Mohler made a public statement denouncing CRT: “Critical Race Theory or Intersectionality is incompatible with the Baptist Faith & Message, and such advocacy has no rightful place within an SBC seminary.” Hopefully, some form of debate is still possible.
Baucham predicts “a disagreement between well-meaning brothers and sisters” (137) and sees the environment within evangelicalism as in some sense already “hostile,” as we approach “an unavoidable…catastrophe” (138). So deep are the fault lines, he believes, that “the question is not if but when the catastrophe strikes.” Relationships are being ruined and “denominations are in danger of being derailed,” as is happening in the Southern Baptist Convention (138–9). Though in some places division has been avoided or discussions are still taking place, in others, a rift has opened that is unlikely to be closed. Take Jamar Tisby, for example. Former professor at Reformed Theological Seminary in Orlando, Tisby took a strong pro-CRT position and recently left his post of Christian ministry to become Assistant Director of Narrative and Advocacy for Ibram X. Kendi, a leading secular antiracist spokesman.
Baucham is convinced that if worldview assumptions are adopted in churches that begin to use CRT as a tool, the result will have a deep and dangerous effect on evangelical theology. He sees the great danger of the CRT notion of intersectionality, in which homosexuals, transgender people, and followers of other religions (to name a few) will be seen along with blacks as “oppressed,” rather than seen as people struggling with immorality or theological heresy (178). For my own part, I have noticed that Pope Francis is using Synodality as a vehicle for changing the church. The Pope’s emphasis on mercy and his attentiveness to the voices of the oppressed (see the Synod on Latin American Spirituality) led him to receiving oppressed Latin American women in the Vatican gardens, where he worshiped the pagan goddess Pachamama with them. Baucham seeks to show this slippage in evangelicalism over the issue of abortion. He gives the examples of Jesse Jackson and Jim Wallace (though they are not evangelicals), who once opposed abortion but now, in the name of civil rights for black women, support it (183). Closer to home, he cites the Pro-Life Evangelicals for Biden, a group attempting to preserve the right of Christians to vote Democrat because of many Leftist political issues that are biblically defensible. The group was nevertheless obliged to endorse abortion as an element in the party platform. This lack of clarity over abortion, Baucham fears, stems in many cases from the adoption of CRT in other areas (181–2). He also notes among Black Christian pastors “a massive shift” (188) to the “pro-choice” option (189).
Baucham warns the church that “Neomarxist ideology poses a far greater threat to America than race relations” (195) and sees the Democrat Party as overtaken by radical Critical Theory especially expressed in LGBTQ+ ideology and politics (196–8). Beyond politics, the influence of the Critical Social Justice Movement in the church “is broad and deep within evangelical circles” (198).
Baucham sounds the warning. Through the spread of Critical Social/Race Theory “devastation is coming” (205). “…we are being duped by an ideology bent on our demise” (204), both as a church and as a Western culture, seeking to incite hatred among people, and specifically their children, based on unchangeable characteristics like skin color. With regard to the Church, Baucham pulls no punches. His call is urgent. These arguments and ideologies are not a Christian option by which we can do good in the world. They are an ideology that is splitting not only the culture but local churches, whole denominations, and seminary faculties (205). “We are at war” (206), a war begun by Critical Social Justice, accusing “white, male, heterosexual, cisgendered, able-bodied, native born Christians” as guilty of social injustice (207). The Christian faith is accused of being an evil hegemony, a major form of oppression of minority groups (209), and sooner or later orthodoxy will lose its place in Western society, as CRT and Neomarxism, not merely social or political theories, reveal themselves as “cosmic powers over this present darkness” (210) arrayed against the gospel (Ephesians 6:12), determined to stamp out the truth.
The answer to racism is not found in antiracism. Baucham analyzes BLM, which he sees as a Trojan horse (217), proposing racial peace, with vast sums of money, but based on a false witness and a false view of humanity (217–21). The false witness is the lie of police genocide of black men. The false view of humanity is BLM’s commitment to the normativity of homosexuality, its rejection of the nuclear family, its occult religious practice, and its attachment to Marxism as the ultimate goal for Western civilization. Ironically such a society has never and will never produce a just society because it does not know what justice is.
A Powerful Answer
Voddie Baucham brings a final, powerful answer to the problems we face (227–33). He posits that in spite of the vast sums of money and endless discourse intended to create a notion of racial guilt, antiracism is ultimately powerless against racism because it is an accusation that can never end. It is merely a grab for cultural power. Only Christ can bring the answer. It is “he who has made us both one and has broken down in his flesh the dividing wall of hostility” (Ephesians 2:14). Forgiveness is the only solution to racism. Only Christ’s forgiveness by his death on the cross can deal with our sins, including the sin of racism. This is what our culture must hear, a convincing presentation of the gospel and, in God’s time, a spiritual revival.
Though Baucham’s book does not analyze CRT in a systematic way and is thus not a complete answer to the problem, it nevertheless carries a crucial emphasis on God’s forgiveness as the ultimate answer. Baucham believes that Tim Keller and others who are seen by some as identified with Critical Social Justice (2) nevertheless share a desire for conversation among Christians. Keller observes that in the secular CRT approach there is a “lack of provision for mercy and forgiveness. When the moral norms are detached from faith in a just God, it detaches them also from faith in a merciful and forgiving God. In such a ‘secular religion,’ deviation from norms is simply unforgiveable.” This comment confirms what Baucham states throughout his excellent book, namely, that antiracism cannot solve racism. Only the gospel of Jesus Christ has the definitive answer. Hopefully, the Church can unite, as it has in the past, on this fundamental truth, while also speaking courageously against ideas that will tear the Church away from God’s revealed truth.