Fault Lines: The Social Justice Movement and Evangelicalism’s Looming Catastrophe, by Voddie T. Baucham, Jr. (Washington, D.C.: Salem, 2021). Pp. xviii + 251. $24.99 (hardcover). ISBN- 13: 9781684511808. [Reviewed by Matt Koerner]
If you have been paying attention to the news of late, you have likely seen stories about the debate over whether Critical Race Theory (CRT) ought to be taught in public schools. This debate is only a single facet of a much larger discussion in which the church and world have engaged in recent years over issues that fall under the broad term “social justice.” As we look back on the last couple of years, noting all that has happened and the rapid development in these discussions, particularly within the broader church world, we likely feel stunned—how could so much have changed in so little time?
Yet, as Voddie Baucham writes, these changes are not entirely new; the ground has been shifting along a fault line for a long time, and the shocking developments in the public discourse of recent months are only the outworking of this. In light of these changes, “the Church must be awake and aware of what [such change] means and where it comes from. Otherwise, we will fall victim to it—as many leading Christian voices already have” (2).
But what is this all about? In his introduction, Baucham gives some helpful insight into the subject at hand. He provides definitions and descriptions of such concepts as intersectionality and CRT. Surprisingly, ideas that I had assumed to be very fresh—probably developed within the last five years or so—Baucham shows to have originated at least as early as 1989 (xi). Indeed, then, the fault line has been forming for some time; most Christians simply did not realize it. And this is not all innocent sociology or mere semantics; the word “critical” in Critical Theory and CRT “implies revolution. It is not interested in reform. Hence, we do not ‘reform’ the police; we ‘defund’ the police or abolish them…. Critical Theory denies objective truth…it is a philosophy, a worldview” (xiii, xiv). Though the introduction is rather technical, it is important for understanding the broader point Baucham is making in his book.
That broader point is that social justice, CRT, intersectionality, and the like are extremely dangerous, and that the church should not adopt these terms or ideologies. This is a position that is exceedingly unpopular today. Baucham knows this and, for that reason, the writing of the book was difficult for him; he knew there would be pushback and hurt feelings. And yet, he says,
I wrote this book because I love God more than life, the truth more than others’ opinion of me, and the Bride of Christ more than my platform. My heart is broken as I watch movements and ideologies against which I have fought and warned for decades become entrenched at the highest and most respected levels of evangelicalism. I want this book to be a clarion call. I want to unmask the ideology of Critical Theory, Critical Race Theory, and Intersectionality in hopes that those who have imbibed it can have the blinders removed from their eyes, and those who have bowed in the face of it can stand up, take courage, and “contend for the faith that was once for all delivered to the saints” (Jude 3) .
This is an honorable goal, and one that underscores the dread seriousness of the topic of Baucham’s work.
That dread seriousness begins and ends with the very cross of Jesus Christ. Simply put, the social justice movement and its relatives (CRT, intersectionality, and more) deny the atoning work of Jesus in numerous, different ways. Many today advocate “antiracism,” which is supposed to be the answer to the widespread racism and oppression at work in America. Baucham joins others in identifying antiracism as a cult, one with its own “body of divinity,” noting the various ways this is so: a new original sin, which is racism; a new gospel, which is racial reconciliation; a new means of atonement, which is reparations; and more (66, 67). That idea of gospel works through in practice, too. The goal of the church, writes Ibram X. Kendi, one of the foremost voices in this area, ought not be to preach ‘savior theology,’ meaning salvation from personal sin, but liberation from oppressors (28). In addition, as Baucham shows in the pivotal and excellent Chapter 4, the term racism is given a new definition by those in the social justice movement. It is a definition that focuses less on a heart sin and instead on an allegedly oppressive societal structure, the typical term for this being ‘systemic racism.’ This system, it is alleged, is a uniquely American problem (82).
As Baucham notes, the outworking of this redefinition is that those who are said to be of oppressed people groups—all except white people—not only are not Americans, but they are incapable of the sin of racism (82). Racism, Baucham also shows, has become original sin in this framework, in addition to being the unpardonable sin (80). Earlier, after quoting one evangelical’s idea of white supremacy, Baucham writes this: “Notice how closely [it] mirrors the orthodox doctrine of total depravity. However…this depravity is not shared by all humanity by virtue of having descended from Adam (Rom. 5:12), but is limited to a certain spectrum of the melanin scale” (76). Again, after quoting Romans 3 on the sinfulness of humanity, Baucham writes, “This is not the state of white men; it is the state of all men” (111). Baucham is himself a black man, and as a Calvinistic theologian, he is appalled at the insinuation that he or anyone else is exempt from original sin. To say this is to deny the very need for the atoning death of Jesus Christ.
In addition to denying the black (or otherwise oppressed) person’s need for atonement, CRT and antiracism deny the efficacy of Christ’s work for the white person. Christ did not do enough; more must be done to have a guilt-free conscience. Antiracism is works-righteousness given a new veneer: white people are told they must constantly do more, give more, and feel sorry more for the injustices of the present, but also and especially those of the past (129). In fact, “Antiracism knows nothing of forgiveness because it knows nothing of the Gospel. Instead, antiracism offers endless penance, judgment, and fear. What an opportunity we have to shine the light of Christ in the midst of darkness!” (229). Indeed; let us do so!
Baucham is not above criticism; he advocates for cultural transformation, a common grace ideal (38); speaks of granting forgiveness to those who have never sought it from him (228); and, in my judgment, does not always qualify as he ought the statistics that he cites. All the same, through a mix of deeper analysis of news stories, prevailing narratives, and statistics; his own personal experiences; and especially solid theology and faithful examination of Scripture, Baucham has written a masterful book on this topic. It is fascinating, saddening, and eye-opening. I recommend it to all readers.
That said, I want to close by especially highlighting one age group: young adults. If you are or your child is a highschooler looking ahead to attending college in the near future or if you/they are already in college, this book is extremely important. The secular ideologies that Baucham addresses in this book proliferate in the college and university. It is the world of academia that teaches these concepts, and for many of us, we do not encounter that world until we step onto our college campus for the first time.
In particular, students at Christian colleges must be warned. I myself attended one such school from 2015- 2019. At that time, these ideas were not being taught fully, but they were present in seed form. I would be saddened but unsurprised if I were to learn that they are now openly taught there. College professors, chapel leaders, and others know how to tug at the heartstrings of well-meaning but ill-informed Christians such as I was. In his recommendation of Fault Lines, Josh Buice writes, “The difficulty with social justice is that it appears to be virtuous and it sounds ‘Christian’ when it’s being employed by Christian leaders. However, social justice is one of the most devious and destructive movements the Church has faced in the last hundred years” (i). We cannot afford to be ignorant on these matters in the social climate in which we are living. Parents, I urge you to make this book required reading for any of your children who attend college. The threat is real; let us be on guard.