The importance of worldview
When Dorothy, the protagonist of Frank L Baum’s Wizard of Oz, arrived in the Emerald City she and each of her companions were given green glasses to “protect their eyes against the brilliance of the Emerald City”. And the City and everything and everybody in it was green.
Our worldview is like a pair of glasses we view ourselves and our world through: It shapes our perception of reality and defines our values. When you look at the world through green glasses the world is green. When you look at the world through Marxist glasses everybody is either an oppressor or oppressed.
Paul says in Romans 12 that we can have only one of two possible worldviews: A Biblical worldview or a worldly worldview.
Romans 12: 2 Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.
Do not be conformed but be transformed – by the renewal of your mind! When our minds are worldly, we will conform to the world. But when our minds are renewed by the Word and the Holy Spirit, we are transformed into the image of Christ.
Collossians 2:8 See to it that no one takes you captive by philosophy and empty deceit, according to human tradition, according to the elemental spirits of the world, and not according to Christ.
When Paul admonishes Timothy to cling to the faith, he says,
2 Timothy 3:14 But as for you, continue in what you have learned and have firmly believed, knowing from whom you learned it 15 and how from childhood you have been acquainted with the sacred writings, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus. 16 All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, 17that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work.
Scripture is theopneustos, the very words on paper are breathed by God, and it is therefore sufficient so that we may be complete and equipped for everything God demands of us. We do not need anything outside of Scripture, and any suggestion that we do is a direct attack on the doctrine of the sufficiency of Scripture.
Paul also contrasts the Biblical worldview and the worldly worldview in 1 Corintians:
1 Corinthians 1:20 Where is the one who is wise? Where is the scribe? Where is the debater of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world? 21 For since, in the wisdom of God, the world did not know God through wisdom, it pleased God through the folly of what we preach to save those who believe. 22 For Jews demand signs and Greeks seek wisdom, 23 but we preach Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and folly to Gentiles, 24 but to those who are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God.
God has made foolish the wisdom of the world: Worldly wisdom has no place in our worldview or theology on any level whatsoever. The Gospel is the true wisdom of God. It is not dependent on any philosophy that does not spring in its entirety from the Word of God.
Yet, there has been over the centuries many attempts to bring worldly wisdom into the church. The justification for this has always been some variation of the idea that since God has revealed himself in creation, all truth is God’s truth (Romans 1). What these people fail to mention is that the knowledge of God that can be obtained from his general revelation cannot save us but condemns us. The idea that “all truth is God’s truth” and that we may therefore import worldly worldviews into Christianity is therefore untenable.
Romans 1:18 For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who by their unrighteousness suppress the truth. 19 For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them. 20 For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made. So they are without excuse.
The earliest insurgent worldviews in Christianity were gnosticism, platonism and neoplatonism. In the 20th century Christianity was infiltrated with “Christian psychology”, New Age ideas (in the Word of Faith movement) and Marxist liberation theology.
Paul says on the subject:
Romans 2:22 You who abhor idols, do you rob temples?
Importing elements of pagan worldview, philosophy or worship into Christianity (“robbing temples”) is idolatry.
Marxism infiltrating Christianity
Marxism is according to Wikipedia:
Marxism is a method of socioeconomic analysis that views class relations and social conflict using a materialist interpretation of historical development and takes a dialectical view of social transformation. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Marxism
So Marxism is firstly a way of looking at the world, with its own method of analysis that sees history as a power struggle between classes. In classical Marxism the struggle is between those who own the means of production and the workers, who actually produce. In neomarxism the class struggle is between any dominant and subdominant class or culture. It may be white vs black, straight vs gay, cis vs trans, male vs female, or whatever oppressor and oppressed classes happen to be the flavour of the day.
The expressed goal of liberation theology is to use the analytical tools (worldview) of Marxism to re-analyze history and use the results to come to a radical new understanding of the gospel, and what it means to be “liberated”.
José Bonino, the father or Protestant liberation theology writes in his book Doing Theology in a Revolutionary Situation: (I highlighted a few important keywords)
The first “break” in the new Christian consciousness is the affirmation that we are moving beyond a colonial and a neocolonial Christianity, with all that this implies. Such an affirmation, nevertheless, already presumes a certain analysis of our history and present situation; an analysis, namely, in sociopolitical categories.
Even more, we are dealing with categories belonging to a sociological science indebted to Marxist analysis. This was explicitly affirmed at Santiago:
The construction of socialism cannot be achieved by means of vague denunciations or appeals to goodwill, but rather presupposes an analysis that will highlight the mechanisms that really drive society…. Political action calls for a scientific analysis of reality because there is a continuous interrelation between action and analysis ….
In the second chapter we attempt to develop the understanding of our situation by means of this analytical method because this diagnosis of reality underlies the concrete option in which faith and obedience are articulated.
We will follow this presentation with a discussion (third chapter) of the understanding of faith and obedience characterizing the new way. “This revolutionary commitment has made us discover the meaning of the liberating work of Christ,” says the document.’ This discovery has two sides. One is critical: it rereads the history of Christian piety, action, and thought through the means of analysis adopted in order to unmask and expose the ideological misuse of Christianity as a tool of oppression: “The alliance between Christianity and the dominant classes explains to a large extent the historical forms assumed by the Christian conscience.” We must follow this criticism as it moves relentlessly through several areas of our traditional Western Christianity. But this is not an end in itself. It is the shadow of a positive commitment:
Increasingly large numbers of Christians are now discovering the historical vigor of their faith as a result of their political action in the construction of socialism and the liberation of the continent’s oppressed pressed people. The Christian faith thus displays a new liberating and critical vitality.
But this is understood not merely at a detachable, secular level. Rather, this commitment is the matrix for a rediscovery of the true meaning of discipleship. The Christian committed to revolutionary practice discovers the liberating force of the love of God, of the death and resurrection of Christ.
Please note the following
- According to Bonino, we need to move past colonial (Roman Catholic) and neo-colonial (Prostestant) theology since this is a part of the problem. Historic Christianity in the West has always been the dominant class or culture imposing its worldview on the oppressed (or sub-dominant) classes.
- These sociopolitical categories are the product of Marxist analysis of history and indeed the Marxist worldview (“this diagnosis of reality”)
- We must use the results of this analysis to re-evaluate our faith and how we relate as Christians to the rest of the world. (“understanding of faith and obedience characterizing the new way”)
The problem with using the Marxist worldview, analytical tools and categories to analyze our world is that we will unfailingly come to Marxist conclusions – in exactly the same way that Dorothy concluded that the Emerald City was truly green. We should not be surprised then, that Liberation Theology develops a new soteriology where liberation in Christ does not mean freedom from the consequences and guilt of sin through the propitiatory death of Christ anymore, but the creation of a New Man through the dialectic of historical class struggle and the realization of utopia. Christ becomes the ultimate federal head of the oppressed, and therefore the first revolutionary to lead us to utopia.
Bonino and his Roman Catholic Hispanic peer Gutierrez had a profound influence on the African-American theologian James Cone, and in South Africa, Allan Boesak. His influence is also directly visible in article 4 of the Belhar confession of faith.
The Oxford English Dictionary defines social justice broadly as “justice at the level of a society or state as regards the possession of wealth, commodities, opportunities, and privileges” (Social justice, 2016).
A quick google search on the internet produces this definition (emphasis mine)
Social justice is a political and philosophical theory which asserts that there are dimensions to the concept of justice beyond those embodied in the principles of civil or criminal law, economic supply and demand, or traditional moral frameworks. Social justice tends to focus more on just relations between groups within society as opposed to the justice of individual conduct or justice for individuals.
The past few decades have seen a rise of neomarxism or cultural Marxism in the West, as the economic class struggle is replaced with the struggle between other oppressed groups (for instance the LGBTQ community and other minorities) and their oppressors. Social Justice in practice the idea that
- People are defined by their class or group identity, not their individual identities.
- There are dominant (oppressing) classes and groups and there are subdominant (oppressed) classes and groups.
- Inequality between groups are mainly the result of dominant groups oppressing subdominant groups, in the past or now.
- All individuals in an oppressing group carry at least some corporate guilt for oppressing the subdominant groups, unless they expressly deny it and work against it.
- Intersectionality is the idea that the more oppressed groups an individual belongs to the more oppressed they are and the more valuable their contribution to the dialogue should be.
- The goal of social justice is to end the oppression of oppressed groups in order to ensure equal outcomes for all groups.
The philosophy of social justice, which is just a rehash of the Marxist idea of class struggle, has been taken over by the church in the West, often without any criticism. This is astounding in light of the fact that the Liberal political movement from where it originates is not only materialistic but in many instances virulently anti-Christian.
This adoption of social justice ideas by the church has led to ”The Statement on Social Justice & the Gospel” drawn up by an evangelical group led by John McArthur and others, highlighting the schism over social justice in the American evangelical community.
The basic differences between Social Justice and Biblical justice
Biblical vs Marxist categories
Marxist categories: People are either oppressors or oppressed.
Biblical categories: People are either reprobate or redeemed.
Marxism and Neomarxism group people on the grounds of external or temporal chracteristics: Income, social class, race / skin colour, sex, gender, and sexuality. The purpose of identifying these groups is to categorize them as oppressors and oppressed.
While the Bible affirms these aspects of individual people (including being an oppressor or being oppressed), these are not Biblical categories.
The Bible knows only one category of people: Sinners
Romans 3:10 “None is righteous, no, not one; 11 no one understands; no one seeks for God.12 All have turned aside; together they have become worthless; no one does good, not even one.”
The Biblical definition of sin is ontological: It is not something you do, it is something you are. What you do is simply the result of what you are.
Ephesians 2:1 And you were dead in the trespasses and sins 2 in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience— 3 among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind.
God’s wrath manifests itself over our nature, not our deeds. Jesus confirms the ontological nature of sin: A thornbush does not produce grapes, because of its thornbush nature.
Matthew 7:16 Are grapes gathered from thornbushes, or figs from thistles? 17 So, every healthy tree bears good fruit, but the diseased tree bears bad fruit. 18A healthy tree cannot bear bad fruit, nor can a diseased tree bear good fruit. 19 Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire.
Because sins (like stealing a pen or committing genocide) are only the manifestation of the depraved nature, and it is the depraved nature that is the basis for our condemnation, the only category of sin is sin that leads to eternal condemnation
James 2:10 For whoever keeps the whole law but fails in one point has become guilty of all of it. 11 For he who said, “Do not commit adultery,” also said, “Do not murder.” If you do not commit adultery but do murder, you have become a transgressor of the law.
All sin is judged equally by God. All sin leads to death. Stealing a pen or committing genocide are both punishable by hell, even though the sins themselves are vastly different in nature and scope.
Matthew 5:21 “You have heard that it was said to those of old, ‘You shall not murder; and whoever murders will be liable to judgment.’ 22 But I say to you that everyone who is angry with his brother will be liable to judgment; whoever insults his brother will be liable to the council; and whoever says, ‘You fool!’ will be liable to the hell of fire.
The point is that both oppressors and their victims are equally guilty before God. God is not on the side of either the oppressors or the oppressed. He chastises both groups equally for their sin and commands both groups to repent. Both the oppressors and their victims will deservedly go to hell unless they repent and are saved.
Oppressors and the oppressed are not Biblical categories of sinners. The Bible knows only of two categories of sinners: The reprobate and the redeemed.
John 10:25 Jesus answered them, “I told you, and you do not believe. The works that I do in my Father’s name bear witness about me, 26 but you do not believe because you are not among my sheep. 27 My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me. 28 I give them eternal life, and they will never perish, and no one will snatch them out of my hand.
Matthew 25:31″When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, then he will sit on his glorious throne. 32Before him will be gathered all the nations, and he will separate people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. 33And he will place the sheep on his right, but the goats on the left.
In Galatians 3, Paul talks about people with different aspects belonging to the same category, the redeemed:
Galatians 3:26 for in Christ Jesus you are all sons of God, through faith. 27 For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ. 28 There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. 29 And if you are Christ’s, then you are Abraham’s offspring, heirs according to promise.
We know from a multitude of other texts in the Bible that Paul is not negating the differences between Jews and Gentiles or male and female. What he says is that these aspects do not define their category or group. God categorizes all these very different people as “the redeemed,” if they are in Christ.
Biblical vs Marxist identity
According to Marxism, a person’s identity is the sociopolitical group he belongs to.
A Christian’s identity is in Christ.
According to Wikipedia:
In academic usage, the term identity politics has been used to refer to a wide range of political activities and theoretical analysis rooted in experiences of injustice shared by different social groups. In this usage, identity politics typically aims to reclaim greater self-determination and political freedom for marginalized groups through understanding each interest group’s distinctive nature and challenging externally imposed characterizations, instead of organizing solely around belief systems or party affiliations.Identity is used “as a tool to frame political claims, promote political ideologies, or stimulate and orient social and political action, usually in a larger context of inequality or injustice and with the aim of asserting group distinctiveness and belonging and gaining power and recognition.”
In the Marxist worldview your identity is the group you belong to. Your individual aspects matter only because they mark you as member of a group.
In the Biblical worldview, you are either “in Christ” or not. As Christians our identity is Christ.
Biblical vs Marxist guilt
According to Marxism guilt is often corporate.
The Bible only knows of personal guilt.
In the Marxist worldview, people who belong to dominant classes share the corporate guilt of the class they belong to. I experienced it this morning. My forefathers colonized the Western Cape almost four centuries ago. Just this morning I read a tweet in which all white South Africans were called “settlers” and “colonizers.” I am guilty of being a “colonist” because my ancestor was one four hundred years ago. I had nothing to do with Apartheid, and voted against Apartheid the very first time I could vote, yet in the eyes of many I am still guilty of Apartheid.
Julius Malema, leader of the Economic Freedom Front (a communist populist party in South Africa) is known for his remarks against white people, labelling them as “settlers” and “colonists”. This is not seen by the Marxist left as racism, because according to the social justice worldview, the oppressed cannot be racist (or sexist, or commit any other oppressing sin).
So people are not only guilty because of the group they belong to, they are often also declared guilt free because of the group they belong to.
The Bible declares in complete opposition to this:
Ezekiel 18:1 The word of the Lord came to me: 2″What do you mean by repeating this proverb concerning the land of Israel, ‘The fathers have eaten sour grapes, and the children’s teeth are set on edge’? 3 As I live, declares the Lord God, this proverb shall no more be used by you in Israel. 4 Behold, all souls are mine; the soul of the father as well as the soul of the son is mine: the soul who sins shall die.
Ezekiel 18: 19 “Yet you say, ‘Why should not the son suffer for the iniquity of the father?’ When the son has done what is just and right, and has been careful to observe all my statutes, he shall surely live. 20 The soul who sins shall die. The son shall not suffer for the iniquity of the father, nor the father suffer for the iniquity of the son. The righteousness of the righteous shall be upon himself, and the wickedness of the wicked shall be upon himself.
The truth is that the concept of corporate guilt is not only unbiblical, it is also hugely bigoted. Assigning guilt to anybody purely on the grounds of his skin colour or any other temporal aspect is racist.
Biblical vs Marxist privilege
According to Marxism some groups are privileged because they oppress other groups.
The Bible says all privilege is from God. Individuals have individual responsibility to use their privilege to the glory of God.
In the Marxist worldview people who belong to the dominant classes have unearned privilege. We are often told that white people have unearned “White privilege.”
The Bible has a very specific view of privilege: All privilege is graciously given by God. And because all privilege is the result of grace, all privilege is “unearned”.
1 Corinthians 4:7 For who sees anything different in you? What do you have that you did not receive? If then you received it, why do you boast as if you did not receive it?
There are many privileges that a person may have: Being born to specific parents (especially being born into a covenantal family), being born in a first world country, living in a time of peace and prosperity, having a high IQ, being tall, being handsome or beautiful, or being healthy.
The Bible teaches that God is sovereign over history, indeed over every molecule in the universe’s movement.
Hebrews 1:3 He is the radiance of the glory of God and the exact imprint of his nature, and he upholds the universe by the word of his power.
2 Chronicles 20:5 And Jehoshaphat stood in the assembly of Judah and Jerusalem, in the house of the Lord, before the new court, 6 and said, “O Lord, God of our fathers, are you not God in heaven? You rule over all the kingdoms of the nations. In your hand are power and might, so that none is able to withstand you.
Ephesians 1:11 In him we have obtained an inheritance, having been predestined according to the purpose of him who works all things according to the counsel of his will
If this is true, then the privilege or lack of privilege a person is born into is in each an every single case the result of a sovereign decree of God. And this means that complaining about the lack of privilege we are born into is rebellion against God.
Romans 9:19 You will say to me then, “Why does he still find fault? For who can resist his will?” 20 But who are you, O man, to answer back to God? Will what is molded say to its molder, “Why have you made me like this?” 21Has the potter no right over the clay, to make out of the same lump one vessel for honorable use and another for dishonorable use?
While this verse in Romans 9 refers to God’s sovereign decree in election, it establishes the same principle over all sovereign decrees of God.
The idea that an individual may have certain privileges because of their birth family or community is absolutely true. But the idea that somebody is privileged simply because of his skin colour is false. The fact that some or even many people of a specific ethnicity are privileged does not mean that all are.
And all privilege is definitely not the result of oppression. Wealth is not a zero-sum game. Stealing from others or oppressing others are not the only ways of obtaining wealth.
The Bible teaches us to look at individuals and assess or judge them individually. Assuming that somebody is privileged just because of his skin colour, gender or sexual preference is bigoted. It is the very definition of bigotry. The glaring contradiction of woke culture and social justice is that they profess to fight bigotry, yet they are exactly what they say they fight.
The neo-Marxist narrative of “White Privilege” is nothing but racist bigotry. It has no place in the Church.
As Christians, we have to realize that nothing we have is ours. We are only stewards of that which belongs to God and that He has entrusted to us. In the parable of the talents (Matthew 25) Jesus makes it clear that God holds us accountable for what we do with what He has entrusted to us. If we do not use it to His glory, we will be severely judged, just like the servant who buried his talent.
James 1:27 Religion that is pure and undefiled before God the Father is this: to visit orphans and widows in their affliction, and to keep oneself unstained from the world.
God gave us stewardship of everything we have, every privilege, in order to use it to his glory. That means caring for the poor and the oppressed, the widows and the orphans.
But what if my privilege (even though God sovereignly allowed it) is from theft from, or oppression of others?
The answer is that all privilege has to be used to the glory of God. If it can be established that a privilege is due to specific acts of theft or oppression, then God demands that we rectify it so that He may be glorified.
Luke 19:8 And Zacchaeus stood and said to the Lord, “Behold, Lord, the half of my goods I give to the poor. And if I have defrauded anyone of anything, I restore it fourfold.” 9 And Jesus said to him, “Today salvation has come to this house, since he also is a son of Abraham. 10 For the Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost.”
Note that Zaccheus does not promise to pay the money he stole over to the state so that the state could redistribute it to the people he oppressed. He promises to repay specific people who were victims of specific instances of his fraud. And the rest of his wealth he will use to glorify God in providing for the poor.
And what if my privilege is from previous generations’ theft?
The problem with history is that it is messy.
History is never as clear cut as we want it to be or pretend it to be. Proving that a specific person’s privilege is the direct result of something that happened centuries before is almost always impossible. If my father stole money then I should pay that money back if I have it and the victim can be found. But if I bought a farm lawfully with my own lawfully earned money from somebody who bought it from somebody who bought it from somebody who may have stolen it from somebody else three centuries ago, I cannot be held accountable for the possible sins of another person three hundred years ago. This is well established in international law: If I knowingly buy stolen goods I am guilty of theft. If I unknowingly buy stolen goods I am not guilty.
And I am never guilty of my father’s sin.
Biblical vs Marxist justice
The basic difference between social justice and Biblical justice is that social justice demands justice for groups, while the Bible demands justice for individuals.
Social justice propagandists in the church often point to the many Biblical texts that demand justice for the oppressed, the poor, orphans and widows.
The mistake they make is that they read those texts through the red glasses of Marxism and conclude that the Bible means that justice has to be applied corporately to groups. Nothing can be more wrong. The Bible says that people are individually guilty. Therefore justice can only be applied to individuals.
But if you use Marxist hermeneutics you will come to Marxist conclusions.
Because of Apartheid, there were disproportionate numbers of white doctors compared to black doctors in South Africa. The ANC government has decided to address this problem by assigning racial quotas for medical students (emphasis is mine):
Places are reserved for students from Quintile 1, 2 and 3 schools (the “poorest” government schools), while the racial quotas for first-year MBChB students are:
Black African – 69%
Indian – 19%
Coloured – 9%
White – 2%
Other – 1%
The top-performing students who apply from each race group are admitted, which results in the entry-level marks for students of different races being skewed.
The Sunday Tribune reported that in 2015 and 2016, Indian students needed a matric average of 90.83% to get into the medical school.
If their marks were below this, they were not admitted.
This is despite students from other race groups having lower matric marks, as the Indian “quota” had been filled.
The minimum requirements set by the university for a MBChB is a matric average of 65%, with 60% in Maths, Physical Science, Life Sciences, and English.
This is social justice but it is definitely not Biblical justice. I spoke to a young White man a week or so ago who was denied access to medical school in spite of the fact that his marks were much higher than that of many successful Black applicants. He was born six years after the end of Apartheid. He had nothing to do with Apartheid and was not in any way privileged because of Apartheid.
South African Indians were not perpetrators of Apartheid (they were victims), neither were most White people who were born after 1977. (A majority of Whites over the age of 18 voted to end Apartheid in 1990) Yet today, 25 years after Apartheid, young Indian and White individuals have to work much harder in order to gain significantly higher marks than others to be admitted to medical school.
Whether it is quotas in sport or academia, or redistribution of wealth through taxation or land expropriation, social justice will always, inevitably, cause injustice to some individuals. Those fighting for social justice invariably become the oppressors of the innocent and powerless, in a system where all the power belongs to the state.
You cannot benefit one group based on their race without discriminating against individuals based on their race. In Biblical terms, social justice is injustice and oppression of the individual in favour of a wrongheaded notion of justice for the group.
Dr Carl Ellis
Dr Carl Ellis is a Reformed theologian from America. I had the privilege of attending a lecture by him at my church in Cape Town at the end of 2019. While I have no reason to doubt his orthodoxy as far as Reformed soteriology and theology, in general, are concerned, I was very concerned about his adoption and use of Marxist categories during his lecture. Since I do not have a recording or transcript of his lecture, I will refer to his chapter “The Sovereignty of God in Ethnic-Based Suffering” in the book “Suffering and the Sovereignty of God” edited by John Piper. Much of his lecture at our church corresponds to this chapter.
Please note that this is not a personal attack on Dr Ellis. Dr Ellis is as far as I know not a heretic. Also note that the points in the discussion above do not all apply to Dr Ellis. I merely wish to illustrate the point that Marxist hermeneutics have entered the church, and that it is dangerous.
Dr Ellis confirms his Marxist hermeneutics when he says:
Israel, the Old Testament church, was to be a community marked by righteousness, social justice, and compassion for the oppressed.
The word “justice” occurs many times in the Bible. The phrase “social justice”? Not once. Never. Nowhere. Assuming that justice in the Bible (which is always individual justice) is equivalent to social justice (which is always corporate justice for groups) is strong evidence of a Bible distorting worldview.
Dr Ellis redefines the fall and sin in Marxist terms.
Until salvation was fully applied we would still experience many of the effects of the fall. Among these effects would be human power differentials. These power differentials would lead to human power struggles. This is the basis of the ethnic-based strife and suffering.
Then there are the direct results of sin, which come in two categories—ungodliness and oppression. Ungodliness involves sinning and suffering one’s own consequences. (Examples are carelessness, laziness, recklessness, irresponsibility, and things like that.) Oppression involves sinning and forcing others to suffer the consequences, or imposing our sin on others. God says a lot about oppression in Scripture. Let us make some observations. Oppression is sin plus power. If you’ve ever been in a dominant position over people, and you sin against them, you have oppressed them.
Dr Ellis says that the fall led to “human power differentials”. This is indisputably true, but it is only one of a myriad of manifestations of the fall. It is not the defining aspect of the fall or, Biblically speaking, even one of the most important aspects of the fall.
That is, unless one applies Marxist hermeneutics to the fall.
There are many texts in the Bible that talk about the sin of oppression. Oppression is sin. That is not in dispute. What is in dispute is that power differentials and oppression are defining aspects of sin.
The short version of the law is the Decalogue. God wrote the Ten Commandments with His own finger on two stone tablets, so we are safe to conclude that He regards them as the most important kinds of sin.
When one examines the Decalogue to find the influence of the sins of oppression and power struggle it is hard to find any reference to it. The closest to it is a sub-clause of the Sabbath law: We are to allow our workers (those in subdominant positions to us) to rest on the Sabbath just as we do. We could also see the command to honour our parents in the light of power struggle, but that would be an extremely narrow application of the idea.
None of the other laws concerning murder, adultery, theft, or false witness has any direct relationship to power or oppression. An oppressed person is equally capable of murder, theft or lying as somebody in power. Adultery plus power would be rape, but in most cases, both participants are equally guilty. Of course, all of these sins could coincide with power and oppression, but none of these sins is defined by power or oppression.
Power and oppression do not need to be present for these sins to be a sin.
The last commandment, “you shall not covet” covers all the previous laws, but for those sinners that are so powerless, marginalised or disenfranchised that they are not even able to commit the act in real life. (It is also for those who think that they are good enough and free of sin.) The conclusion is clear: Even the weakest, most vulnerable or oppressed among us, those who are so powerless that they cannot even commit physical sins, are just as sinful and therefore just as guilty as those with power.
One would think that if power struggles and oppression were defining factors of the fall instead of just two of many manifestations of the fall, God would have put it in the Decalogue.
He did not.
In fact, He did quite the opposite and put coveting in the Ten Commandments to remind us that it is not only the powerful that sin but that everybody sins, even the weak and dispossessed.
Dr Ellis’ implication that power and oppression are important factors of the fall betrays a Marxist worldview, hermeneutic and conclusion.
Dr Ellis also creates two novel categories of sin: Sin that does not affect other people and sin that does affect other people. Oppression is sin plus power. Any sin that forces others to bear the consequence of that sin is oppression.
This distinction is simply false because the first category does not exist. Sin is defined by the consequences that it has (or may have when covetousness takes action) on other people. If it does not at least potentially affect other people it is not sin.
Romans 13:8 Owe no one anything, except to love each other, for the one who loves another has fulfilled the law. For the commandments, “You shall not commit adultery, You shall not murder, You shall not steal, You shall not covet,” and any other commandment, are summed up in this word: “You shall love your neighbour as yourself.” Love does no wrong to a neighbour; therefore love is the fulfilling of the law.
Loving, and therefore not wronging our neighbour is the fulfilment of the law. This means that our love for God is also expressed in our love for (and not wronging) our neighbour. Loving our neighbour is the temporal result of loving and honouring God, keeping his Name holy and avoiding idolatry.
Dr Ellis uses the Marxist categories of dominant and oppressed (subdominant) classes to explain “ethnic-based suffering” and marginalization.
Ethnic-based suffering comes out of these power struggles, out of dominant/sub-dominant dynamics. There is a lot of talk today about reconciliation. But, if we ignore the dominant/sub-dominant dynamics, we will never bridge the gap.
Every society has a dominant culture and at least one sub-dominant culture. Each of these has a corresponding cultural agenda and intra- cultural consciousness. Those in the dominant culture tend not to realize they have a culture, and those in the sub-dominant culture know very well that everybody has a culture. All in the sub-dominant culture are exposed to the dominant cultural agenda. But few in the dominant culture are even aware that there is a sub-dominant cultural agenda. Therefore, to those in the dominant culture, the concerns of the sub-dominant culture tend to be marginalized. We can define these dominant and sub-dominant cultures in terms of race, generation, gender, geography, language, etc.
I have already covered most of this in the introduction but would like to point out the following (again): These categories reduce people to their group-defined aspects. It assumes that individuals are privileged, guilty, oppressed or victims based solely on the groups they belong to. It does not bring us to the point where we assess each individual where they are now as image-bearers of God, with their own unique sin, pain, joy or suffering.
It prioritizes skin colour, sex, gender or sexual preference over the real-life person present. When we see people firstly as members of dominant or subdominant groups, we are disincentivized to deal with the flesh and blood person in front of us.
Suffering is, as Dr Ellis rightly points out somewhere else, the result of the fall in general and sometimes sins in particular. We need to love, protect and serve the marginalized and suffering, not because of the groups they belong to but because of each individual’s unique situation, in that situation.
Dr Ellis says that the oppressed sin because they are oppressed.
How does oppression affect individual victims? Based on my observations, it increases their proportion of bad choices and decreases their proportion of good choices. For example, let’s suppose each of us has ten choices to make in life. If we are not oppressed, we would expect eight of the ten choices to be good ones and two to be bad. However, oppression might cause eight choices to be bad and two to be good. Given the law of averages, how likely is one to make bad choices? It should not surprise us that oppressed people end up in prison in higher proportions.
A famous South African Christian cricket star was caught fixing matches. His response? “The devil made me do it.” Adam blamed Eve and Eve blamed the snake. And Dr Ellis shifts the responsibility for personal sin (“bad choices” do not land you in prison) from the sinner to the oppressor. His version of “the devil made me do it” seems to be “White folk made me do it”.
The Bible teaches that humans sin because of their depraved nature after the fall.
James 1:14 But each person is tempted when he is lured and enticed by his own desire. Then desire when it has conceived gives birth to sin, and sin when it is fully grown brings forth death.
We sin because of our own depraved desire, not because we are oppressed.
Marxism teaches that people are inherently good, but do bad things because they are oppressed. (Modern psychology teaches the same thing: Good people do bad things because bad things happen to them.) If we could only usher in the ideal sociopolitical system, human nature would change and there would be universal peace and harmony in utopia.
The implications of teaching people that they are victims and therefore not responsible for their actions are chilling. Apart from giving people a license to sin, it also deprives them of the incentive to better themselves. If I am a victim, am I not set up for failure anyway? Then why should I even try? This is the insidious bigotry of low expectations: If a person is from a subdominant culture, he cannot be expected to be better.
We condemn people to the ‘hood with our low expectations.
And the worst of it is that it potentially deprives people of salvation. We are only saved when we take responsibility for our sin and confess it.
1 John 1:8 If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. If we say we have not sinned, we make him a liar, and his word is not in us.
Dr Ellis’ solution for the problem of ethnic-based suffering
An aspect of restraining evil involves seeking to minimize the dominant/sub-dominant dynamics in human relationships in general and within the body of Christ in particular.
Being sensitive to the cultural, core concerns of sub-dominant people groups is an application of this passage. (Referring to James 2:1-4) By core concerns, I mean life-controlling and life-defining concerns. The core concerns of the dominant culture tend to revolve around preservation of the status quo, while the concerns of the sub-dominant culture revolve around changing the status quo.
Dr Ellis’ solution to the problem
- Be aware of the power differentials between groups the world in general and the church in particular.
- Minimize the dynamics of power struggle in the church.
- Be sensitive to the core concerns of the subdominant groups.
- And be ready to change the status quo.
- The rest of the chapter is about our sanctification and glorifying God in our care for the marginalized and oppressed, which we all agree with.
The problem with this solution is that the problem it is supposed to solve is formulated through a Marxist worldview. It is worth looking at how the Apostles responded to a struggle between “dominant and subdominant” groups in the Jerusalem church.
Acts 6:1 Now in these days when the disciples were increasing in number, a complaint by the Hellenists arose against the Hebrews because their widows were being neglected in the daily distribution. And the twelve summoned the full number of the disciples and said, “It is not right that we should give up preaching the word of God to serve tables. Therefore, brothers, pick out from among you seven men of good repute, full of the Spirit and of wisdom, whom we will appoint to this duty. But we will devote ourselves to prayer and to the ministry of the word.”
The Greeks said, “We are being discriminated against and marginalized”. Yet there is no indication in the text that the Apostles agreed with their diagnosis or that they saw the problem as a power struggle between a dominant and subdominant group.
They made a completely different diagnosis: “We need more workers.”
Their solution was not cultural sensitivity training but appointing deacons for the whole Church, both the Greeks and the Hebrews. If the Apostles wanted to make a point about racism, privilege and oppression, this would be the ideal opportunity to do it, but they did not. That in itself is making a point.
When we identify people by their race, gender, or sexuality groups in the church instead of their being “in Christ” we create division in the church. When we apply justice to groups instead of individuals in the church we will invariably be unjust to some individuals.
When we divide the body of Christ into dominant and subdominant groups in our church we only perpetuate the power struggle, even if we want to be “sensitive to the concerns of subdominant groups”. The two groups will still face each other from opposing sides of the dividing line while they should be (because they actually are) on the same side.
James was one of the leaders in Jerusalem when the Greeks accused the Jews of racism. He says:
James 2:9 My brothers, show no partiality as you hold the faith in our Lord Jesus Christ, the Lord of glory. For if a man wearing a gold ring and fine clothing comes into your assembly, and a poor man in shabby clothing also comes in, and if you pay attention to the one who wears the fine clothing and say, “You sit here in a good place,” while you say to the poor man, “You stand over there,” or, “Sit down at my feet,” have you not then made distinctions among yourselves and become judges with evil thoughts?
James’ solution is not to treat poor people better and rich people worse, or to be more “sensitive to the core concerns” of the subdominant poor. He does not tell us to be more culturally sensitive.
He tells us not to distinguish between people at all.
Making distinctions between people means we judge them and that is a sin. Fighting racism and bigotry while still making these distinctions cannot and will not work. You cannot fight racism (making distinctions) with social justice (which makes those exact same distinctions).
We are not called to minister to groups. We are called to love our neighbours individually. Yes, our neighbours do belong to groups, but remedies are to be applied to individuals, not groups. We must meet our neighbours there were they are, with their own particular sin, pain, suffering and joy, and administer to them.
We must teach our people to take responsible stewardship of the privilege God has given us in His mercy. We must use our privilege to glorify God.
We must teach our people to accept the lack of privilege that we are born with because that is God’s sovereign decree. But we must also teach our people to take responsibility for their own sin and lives. There is nothing so debilitating as a victim mentality, the accompanying belief that one cannot succeed, and the false belief that one is owed everything by society. People from the most wretched backgrounds often succeed once they take responsibility.
As far as our witness to the world is concerned:
We must never use atheist and pagan presuppositions to try and convince atheists and pagans. They will simply laugh at us. For this reason, it is important that we reject the social justice narrative in total and stand on the principle of Biblical justice for individuals.
We cannot say, “Ok, we are on board for social justice as far as racism is concerned, but we won’t do the LGBTQ thing.” (As Ligon Duncan said in a panel discussion on the subject on Youtube.) It simply does not work that way. Social justice is a poisoned river. You cannot take a sip from one bank, thinking that the poison only flows on the other side. And people are extremely sensitive to inconsistencies and contradictions. Accepting the social justice narrative as valid for racism but not for sexual sin is inconsistent and self-contradictory.
Of course, we must fight racism and other social evils. We must be the most vocal critics of institutionalized evil out there, but we must do it on the foundation a Christian, Biblical worldview and Biblical principles. The moment we accept the Marxist narrative we conform to the world and become salt without taste or a lamp under a bushel.
Lastly, we cannot change people by changing society and institutions. This is the big Marxist lie that underlies much of their activism.
Society and institutions change only when people change. And there is only one way to change people: the Gospel!
Romans 1:16 For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek. For in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith for faith, as it is written, “The righteous shall live by faith.”
Importing a Marxist worldview and hermeneutics into Christianity:
- Is a serious attack on the sufficiency of Scripture that cannot be left unchallenged.
- Is idolatry (robbing temples).
- Poses false problems: It is concerned with justice for groups instead of justice for individuals.
- The unintended consequences of applying its solutions to groups often mean gross injustice to individuals.
- Is divisive, not unifying, because it focuses on our differences and power differentials instead of our true identities in Christ.
- Will destroy our witness to the world, because we will look just like the world.
There can be no place for the Marxist worldview, categories or narratives in the Christian Church.
The only way to change the world is to change people. The only thing that can change people is the Gospel. We have the responsibility to bring real justice to the world by proclaiming the Gospel.
Wynand Louw, January 2020