Unless You have been Living Under a Rock
One would need to be shut-off from all information to not be aware of the current strife in the USA. This strife is present in every aspect of society and culture. Nowhere is exempt from this massive division, sadly not even the visible church. The place that should be experiencing the beautiful effects of unity brought about by the Gospel, is instead, polarized along sharply painted lines. A new form of Gnosticism has reared its ugly head and it seeks to do what no other heresy has ever been able to accomplish.
Furthermore, this Gnostic poison is bleeding into all areas of the church. It seems to be poised to drive a wedge even deeper into relationships that were once deeply knitted together by bonds of love and sound doctrine. Sadly, it seems to be setting the stage for compromise and abandonment of the Gospel and other core doctrinal matters.
What is Gnosticism?
I will not go into a deep explanation of Gnosticism here, but I will define it on the surface. Instead of attempting to sum up a very complex and detailed worldview I will point you to several resources. One is a short explanation from CARM. The other is a sermon from Phil Johnson. The last is the book Gnostic Trends, by my acquaintance Michael Philliber, a PCA pastor.
On the surface Gnosticism is about having special levels of knowledge. To “arrive” as a Gnostic, you must achieve this knowledge by studying under someone who has achieved it before you. This knowledge places you in a position of enlightenment that ultimately leads to salvation.
Gnosticism has reared its head in various ways throughout church history and done no small amount of damage. It is my opinion that the once vibrant Emergent Movement within “Christianity” was a form of modern Gnosticism. The Emergent Church having appeared to wither and die on the vine is now re-emerging in the Missional Movement. In many respects the New Apostolic Reformation (NAR) is dependent upon Gnostic thought and practices. All one need to do is watch men like Bill Johnson and Kris Vallotton and Todd White to see that they believe they have ascended.
Conversely, many have leveled the accusation of Gnosticism at Reformed Theology, especially at those who hold tightly to the 5 Points of Calvinism. Some of this comes from the fact that before his conversion, Augustine, the man who taught Luther from afar, was a Manichaean Gnostic. Furthermore, some have accused Augustine of intentionally poisoning the Church with Gnostic thought by teaching predestination and total depravity. Personal study will reveal the error of this view, but sadly many hate the theology of Calvinism so much they cannot be impartial.
Why Gnosticism and Ethnicity?
What is the link to ethnicity and Gnosticism?
If we watch trends in society, we see that those trends make their way into Western Christian Culture (WCC). What would have once been unheard of in the Church is now common. Consider the use of secular music for worship. I don’t mean modern contemporary worship songs, I mean using secular songs in the singing portion of worship.
Consider the current trend in culture where people no longer dress in a way that indicates a level of respect for others around them. Instead they go out dressed like slobs or little children in pajamas. I saw a grown man in footie pajamas in a store not that long ago. This same trend is starting to permeate WCC. Many congregations are battling against women wearing clothing that is better suited for the boudoir or the privacy of their home with their husband. There are even churches that advertise that they welcome people to come in as they are, even if it means in their pajamas.
Certainly, this could be the subject of a completely different article. However, I point it out to say that the current trend in society is toward “ethnic awareness”. Consequently, WCC is now being driven towards that same ethnic awareness that is being spotlighted in culture.
There was once a time when cultural reformers like MLK Jr. wanted people to be recognized for the content of the character and not for the color of their skin. The battle cry of the civil rights era was equality for all based on their humanity. They battled to have ethnic ancestry set-aside so that they could be equal members of society.
Moreover, you are considered to have “arrived” if you see ethnicity as part of the mission of the Church.
The Gnosticism of Woke Theology
In early 2018 the Ethics and Religious Liberty Council, a wing of the SBC, along with the Gospel Coalition, held the MLK50 conference. This conference was meant to celebrate the accomplishments of MLK and his civil rights work. Socially speaking, the man was a giant and he died the death of a martyr for the cause he had given his life to.
Doctrinally speaking, MLK was not Christian. MLK was the purveyor of many heresies that marked him outside of the camp of orthodoxy. However, his lack of orthodoxy does not diminish the work that he accomplished in advancing the rights of black men and women at a time when dogs were often treated better.
It is humbling to consider that the SBC would consider their role in the ethnic division that plagued the USA. Even into the 1970s there were SBC churches that did not allow black Christians to be members. The MLK50 conference was in many ways a mea culpa by the SBC, and rightly so.
However, that being said, a conference that was dedicated to remembering the life and work of a fierce warrior for ethnic equality and civil rights didn’t turn the way one would expect. It is my contention that they gist of the conference and the speakers would have been lost on MLK.
At one point, Matt Chandler, lauded and accoladed pastor of the Village Church, made a startling admission. He flatly stated that he would choose a less qualified black man for the role of elder over a more qualified white man. What exactly his reasoning would have been is unknown.
It simply boils down to modern Gnostic thought as it is exemplified in Woke Theology. To arrive today, white evangelicals in WCC, must “get woke” or they will remain closeted racists.
Gnosticism and Woke Politics in the Church
On March 11th Desiring God published an article about the Marvel movie Captain Marvel. This article drew the ire of many people from within the realm of social justice. Ironically, I shared the article because I felt it to be one of the best that has been produced by DG in years. While perusing the comments about the article on the DG FaceBook page I ran across a startling remark by Kyle Howard.
This remark labored to display just how much umbrage Howard took with one line of the article. In a vacuum this remark by Howard would probably have gone unnoticed by me. However, Howard doesn’t exist in a vacuum and neither do the rest of us.
Howard is the very definition of what it means to be a Woke social justice warrior in the context of the church. Everything that Howard writes and speaks about is about ethnicity or some other hot-button issue in the SJW playbook. There is a reason for this. Being Woke means you must be acutely aware of all the other oppressed peoples in the world. This state of awareness means you take up the banner for whichever “oppressed” class is under fire.
Consequently, you spend all your time being outraged at something. Sometimes being outraged at several somethings at once. I would urge you to peruse Howard blog articles and other items on his website. I hate to plant the idea, but I am certain you will see the outrage culture all over Howard website. That same outrage has bled out of Howard and others around him. Jemar Tisby infamously stated that after the 2016 election of Trump, he was afraid to worship with white Christians. Not to be outdone, Howard said he was afraid of Dr. James White. Say what?
When Will the Gnosticism of Woke Theology Embrace Sin?
Make no mistake, ethnicism is sin. Any person who looks down on another person based on their ethnicity needs repentance. Moreover, singling out an ethnicity for constant belittlement and badgering is part of ethnicism. That-being-said, it isn’t just white folks who are guilty of this sin. It is rampant in all ethnic groups. The Gospel should be brought to bear on this sinful behavior. In addition, the Gospel should also inform our affiliations far more than our ethnicity and our politics. I am not saying this as a privileged white man. However, I am saying it as a Christian who believes the Word when it says that there is no longer slave or free or Jew or Greek. I believe the Word when it says that we are all one in Christ and Christ is in all.
Perhaps the greatest danger of Gnosticism as it pertains to the topic of ethnic issues and Woke Theology is the emphasis on SJ as it forces SJW to link arms with aberrant behaviors to advance their agendas at the same time. Consequently, when Woke Theology adherents advance an agenda that pushes ethnicity to the forefront they must bring other “oppressed classes” with them. Woke Theology is utterly dependent on Intersectionality. Anyone utilizing Intersectionality to advance their cause by-must-needs is required to advance the agenda of the “other” or enter the realm of being an oppressor.
Therefore, Woke Theology adherents will, by necessity, eventually take up the cause of the LGBTQA+ Intersectional class. Imagine if you will a black, lesbian, transgender woman trying to fight for membership in a church and appealing to a black Christian male for support and subsequently being rejected. The worldview of Woke Theology and Intersectionality, insists black men go along or else.
How does Gnosticism Take Root in the Church Through Woke Theology?
For the most part, WCC understands ethnicism as evil. Yet, this isn’t enough for Woke Theology adherents. Recognizing the sin of ethnicism and bringing the Gospel to bear on it isn’t enough. In recent months and years there have been calls for “the Church” to embrace whites paying reparations to blacks. Furthermore, there are influential black voices stating white pastors need to give up the hope of pastoring multi-ethnic churches. (start at 26min mark).
There have been prominent white pastors who have stated that they thought they knew the Gospel, but now know they didn’t. What was lacking? The component of ethnicism. It isn’t enough in Woke Theology to merely bring the Gospel to bear on the sin of ethnicism. To properly preach the Gospel to white folks you must make sure that they understand the inherit sinfulness of being white. This is not an exaggeration.
Men like Jemar Tisby, Eric Mason, Kyle Howard, Thabiti Anyabwile and more hold sway over their Woke white brethren. Matt Chandler has preached extensively on white guilt and the inherit sin of white ethnicism. I have a dear friend that walked away from Village Church due to overt anti-white and anti-law enforcement opinions held by Chandler and others in the wake of Ferguson.
White students in seminaries are being told to refrain from commenting on ethnic issues for their own good. I cannot document the following. However, I have it on good authority that students and faculty at Southern Seminary in Louisville were forbidden to sign the Statement on Social Justice and the Gospel. I have also been given anecdotal accounts of white students at an OPC seminary being told that they are not allowed to speak during seminars about ethnicity.
This is how the secret knowledge of ethnic Gnosticism gains traction in WCC.
Why is this Happening?
The pendulum has swung. It always swings in any culture or society. It is unavoidable. Due to the nature of our hearts, even the hearts of believers, we will always have conflict. For centuries the Church has stood against heresy after heresy. When one was batted away another would rear its ugly head.
As Calvin said, “The human heart is an idol factory.” Nowhere is this more true than in our interpersonal relationships. No matter how much we strive to not look out for our own interests but the interests of others, we will constantly be looking to our own comfort. That is why Paul penned those words.
However, the sin of self-centeredness still lingers in our prideful hearts. This pride leads to all matter of sins. Some of us will demand special treatment and the nicer places to sit in violation of James 2. Still others will look through lenses of ethnicity as we consider the Gospel. Subsequent;y, imposing on it an agenda that the Bible never intends.
None of this is coincidental. The same heart that causes a white Christian to not care to inquire after his black brother is the same heart that makes a black Christian assume all white Christians are closeted “racists”. We then come along and impose some weird form of legalistic Gnosticism that insists that we are the only ones with the right knowledge to combat this problem.
The desire to make white evangelicals feel guilt for being inherently racists, comes from deep-seated bitterness. That sinfulness needs to be crucified daily. The same thing needs to be done with any white Christian clinging to inherit ethnicism on their own part. Consequently, the pendulum has swung toward Gnosticism and Woke theology. It is utterly un-Christian.
What Do We Do About This Ethnic Gnosticism?
The cliched answer to that question is to preach the Gospel. Furthermore, we need to be asking hard questions of anyone who shows even a hint of going down this road. Make no mistake, Woke Theology and the Gnosticism that has given rise to it adds to the Gospel. The only solution is the unadulterated Gospel delivered to us by Christ.
The same Gospel that saved me is the same Gospel that saved my brothers Rochadd, Keith and Rob. This Gospel did not come to us because of our ethnicity, it came because God sent it. It was intended to bring about a right relationship between us and Him. The Gospel causes me to say without doubt that when I look at my brothers I do not see minorities. I do not see black, brown, olive or red skin. I see a redeemed sinner who, like me, is fully reliant upon Jesus and Him alone for salvation.
The Gospel that saves people from every tribe and tongue isn’t interested in socio-political agendas. Or landing on the “right side” of trending social issues. The Gospel works to bring peoples together for the good of mankind in Christ-exalting unity and the glory of God.
Therefore, we must resist with Gospel-centered love, any movement toward Woke Theology and its inherit Gnostic roots. We cannot allow a worldview that divides the Church over things like ethnicity to take hold. Gnostic Woke Theology calls for sharp division between white and black Christians, we respond in ferocious love for God. With truth, and for unity. If we allow this current Gnostic trend to go unchecked, it will end very badly.
Soli Deo Gloria!