There’s a joke among Evangelical leaders about the 11th commandment: Thou Shalt Not Publicly Criticize Other Pastors or Theologians. Everyone knows it. Few break it.
Owen Strachan, provost and theology professor at Grace Bible Theological Seminary largely stuck to that rule as his academic star was on the rise.
He released numerous books with major Christian publishers like Lifeway and Moody. He authored articles for leading Protestant publications like The Gospel Coalition and Christianity Today, along with writing on religious topics for mainstream outlets like The Washington Post and The Atlantic. And he headed influential organizations like the Council for Biblical Manhood and Womanhood and the Center for Public Theology at Midwestern Seminary. He was well-respected in the highest Evangelical circles.
But then Strachan began to notice high-profile pastors and popular Bible teachers inserting terms like “implicit bias” and “white privilege” into their messages. Though his colleagues disavowed any adherence to Critical Race Theory, their language, which echoed CRT proponents like Ibram X. Kendi and Robin DiAngelo, alarmed him. What they were preaching, he believed, was a different gospel than the one Christ taught — a gospel of works-based righteousness, with racism as original sin.
Slowly, but surely, Strachan began to break the 11th Commandment.
“It is stunning to see Christianity Today publish such a generalized, uncharitable, woke attack,” he said in rebuke of the Billy Graham-founded magazine when it ran an essay that claimed, “White Christianity’s very design exists to maintain false piety and sear the consciences of white people against the oppression and exploitation of blacks.”
More recently, Strachan openly challenged a distinguished Southern Baptist professor for teaching that assigning white-authored texts to students results in “white supremacy” and “white colonization.”
“These ideas are deadly,” he answered. “Racializing truth means we’ll assess authors not by their fidelity to God’s Word, but by their skin color. That is an unbiblical approach. I pray God grants repentance here.”
Suddenly, Strachan found himself on the outs within the sphere of Evangelical influence and networking critics sometimes call “Big Eva.”
“The Worst Thing You Can Call Someone”
“I don’t mean wild folks way out on the left attacking [me],” Strachan tells me of former friends who began to give him the cold shoulder. “It was frankly, you know, people [I] trusted. That was the toughest part.”
“In our post truth culture,” he says, “the worst thing you call someone is an extremist. The term for that in professing Christian arenas is ‘fundamentalist.’ And that’s what I began to hear. Obviously, that’s not fun to have people say about you.”
The big publishers Strachan had worked with in the past wanted nothing to do with his proposal for a book that would explore why wokeness isn’t compatible with Biblical faith. Instead, he placed it with Salem, the smaller publisher that also released Baucham’s book. But then the respectable outlets for whom he had written so many articles had no interest in reviewing “Christianity and Wokeness,” or interviewing him.
Like Baucham, whose work has been similarly ignored by established Evangelical publications, Strachan faced a wall of silence. Worse, he faced a wall of scorn, best illustrated by the reaction he received when he accepted a new position at a smaller school that would allow him more freedom to speak on the social justice movement in the Church.
Strip Mall Seminary
To Strachan’s surprise, he found a new audience of lower-profile believers and a few famous mavericks like John MacArthur eager to support him. Followers on social media cheekily requested gear emblazoned with the strip mall insult. His new school quickly complied and soon posts showing off the “Strip Mall Seminary” logo began popping up all over Twitter.
Strachan says the personal and professional loss he’s experienced is nothing to the mandate he feels from such encouragement to preach against a godless ideology.
While he concedes any nation can embrace policies and laws that allow the sin of racism to fester, and the United States has historically been guilty of doing so, he rejects the idea that America today is systemically racist.
“Folks point to disparities and various categories between so called racial groups as clear and abundant evidence that discrimination exists at the public level,” he says, “But oftentimes, that’s a very fuzzy claim. When you’re looking at data that shows different household worth between different groups, you could be seeing evidence of discrimination driven by racism. But as Thomas Sowell makes very clear in his work on discrimination and disparities, it’s not at all an automatic conclusion that disparities can be reduced neatly to one cause. Culture matters. Religion matters. Traditions matter. Common grace matters.”
He highlights as example the fact that Asians have a higher income overall than either the black or white population, something white supremacy can’t explain. But Strachan is less interested in political arguments than theological ones, and less interested in what politicians are saying than pastors.
Lukewarm Lectures from Godless Sociology Texts
As MacArthur points out in the foreword to Strachan’s book, Evangelicals tend to arrive late to any social fad. So just as parents are confronting school boards to keep CRT out of curriculum, megachurch pastors have barely begun teaching it to their congregants.
As evidence, Strachan highlights David Platt, the celebrated D.C. minister whose church is currently going through upheaval due to his preaching about systemic racism. “We think to ourselves, ‘I don’t hold prejudices toward black or white people, so racism is not my problem,” the bestselling author taught in one sermon that left some of his members fuming. “But this is where we need to see that racialization is our problem. It’s all of our problem. We subtly, almost unknowingly, contribute to it.”
Strachan summarizes a number of sermons Platt has taught on the subject, saying, “By every indication he seems to believe that America is a racialized society, guilty of injustice. He believes [his church members] need to confess their inherent white supremacist tendencies and commit to the leftist program to make society right.”
But Strachan is quick to stress that Platt is far from alone among major preachers offering such lessons, and he doesn’t want to single him out as especially woke. “I don’t think everybody who is sounding woke tones today is all in. But I do think that there are leading Evangelicals who are bought in and who tragically are being taken captive by an ideology that has nothing to do with Scripture.”
Strachan says that while the message they are preaching is termed “anti-racist,” with its focus on generational guilt targeted at one group based on skin color, it should more properly be called “neo-racist.” “It effectively teaches that so-called white people are inferior and especially guilty of sin. It’s not anti-racism,” he says, “it’s new racism. And it’s increasing racism in this country.”
Instead of declaring the timeless revelation of God, Strachan believes pastors who have bent to wokeness are giving their congregations sociology lessons in an attempt to appear as if they have chosen neither Left nor Right, but middle.
“So where many churches and Christians reside is the mushy middle,” he says. “And along with that, many Christian leaders pat themselves on the back for not causing any waves, and not having anyone dislike them. They think that the ultimate medal they can win is to offend no one.” He hastens to add that believers shouldn’t seek to needlessly offend, but says Christian ministry should be characterized by “throwing down for the truth of Jesus Christ.” He specifically cites Galatians 5:10, a verse that warns against false teachers bringing unbiblical teaching into the church that casts the people into confusion.
“Pastors who formerly had a reputation for staunch reformed doctrine that defied the world and made many disciples now are giving lukewarm lectures based in godless sociology texts,” he argues. “It is an absolute abdication of Biblical conviction.”
What should pastors be preaching instead? “The uniting gospel of Jesus Christ that brings people together from every background, every skin color, every ethnicity, and proclaims that they are presently one family, by virtue of the death of Christ, and saving faith given us by God,” Strachan answers. “What we are now taught today,” he continues, “is that white people have more sin to confess than they thought they did. They may have thought they had become Christians, and are free now from condemnation. But instead, because of this newfound structural guilt, white people who have been Christians for years and have individually committed no sin of racism are still condemned. Not personally, but structurally. They are not free in Christ, as they once believed.”
No Quiet Lives
Strachan says this puts a burden on everyday Christians to admit guilt for acts they have never committed. In the new woke order, the stay-at-home mom trying to live a quiet life raising her children, as the Apostle Paul directs in 1 Thessalonians, has sinned by virtue of her refusal to take up the mantle of activist.
“That’s not because you, as a white mom have done anything racist or said anything racist. It is because of the structural power dynamics of this system. It implicates you whether you want to be implicated or not,” Strachan explains. “Wokeness pressures you to affirm that you are you are a participant in a systemically racist and unequal order. And once you will affirm that you are cued up as a soft target to embrace whatever specific prescription the speaker in question wants you to adopt.”
That prescription can mean monetary payments like reparations, but he says the end social justice warriors have in view is much bigger. “At that point,” he says, “you will embrace basically a big government perspective. You will then turn the keys over to the government and ask the government to cleanse our sins at a collective level.”
Strachan admits that most pastors don’t recognize the Marxist goals wokeness has in mind because it’s rarely articulated with any definition. But that, he believes, is what makes it so deadly to American Christianity as a whole.
“Marxism, which is what CRT is, is a religion built for revolution. It doesn’t stay in the classroom. We’ve seen this time and again in other nations at other times. Marxism hides the cards it is holding and waits to play them until the last possible minute. And there will be many people, many Christians, who will see too late that wokeness is going to land a royal flush on the table.”
Strachan says pastors, theologians, and Bible teachers face a stark choice, one that doesn’t allow them to take an easy middle way: We can try to pair the Gospel with the talking points of secular academics and corporate orientation session leaders, or we can preach Holy Scripture.”
He knows which side he is taking. “I’m not Christ. I’m just a little speck of dust. But I am going to do my part as best I can, by God’s grace, to answer this evil ideology.”
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