Fault Lines: A Review
Fault Lines: The Social Justice Movement and Evangelicalism’s Looming Catastrophe
By Voddie T. Baucham, Jr.
Hardback 270 pages
(Salem Books, Washington, 2021)
by Charles A. Collins, Jr.
Many years ago my caseload for the hospice that I was then serving took me to Walterboro once a week (usually Tuesdays), and I would typically eat lunch in the same restaurant, as I liked their salad bar. As I had become somewhat of a regular, the waitresses had gotten to know me. One afternoon when business was slow, one of them sat down said that she had recently moved to the Lowcountry from California and was somewhat anxious about the prospect of a hurricane — although, she noted in passing, at least she didn’t have to worry about earthquakes. I had the unfortunate duty to inform her of the 1886 Charleston Earthquake and the fact that tremors are still felt in this area from time to time.
Although South Carolina’s earthquake potential is not as well publicized as California’s, we do have fault lines in the area, and the occasional tremors that we still experience serve as reminders of that. In his latest book, the Rev. Dr. Voddie T. Baucham, Jr., who has served as the dean of the School of Divinity at African Christian University in Lusaka, Zambia, since 2015, and spent his life and ministry in the United States prior to that, uses the metaphor of geologic fault lines to examine the effects the social justice movement, Critical Race Theory and intersectionality are having on the Church.
Dr. Baucham writes out of his own experience as a black man born in Los Angeles to a young couple whose brief marriage ended when his father abandoned his family to pursue a career in professional football. As a child he found himself bussed out of the inner city to attend an elementary school in Pacific Palisades as part of the court-ordered mandates of those times addressing segregation. He found himself in an environment where he at times experienced open hostility. Realizing that he faced a multitude of potential pitfalls in California, his mother took him to live with her Marine brother in Beaufort (misidentified in the book as “Beauford”), S.C. They stayed in Beaufort for only a year and a half, but the tough love his uncle was able to provide was a needed course correction before he relocated to his mother’s home state of Texas.
He then went on to play football at New Mexico State University, where he became a Christian. Baucham notes: “I am a Christian because the grace of God found me when I wasn’t even looking. I am a Christian because of God’s miraculous intervention in my life” (p. 23). From there he moved on to Houston Baptist University and Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, with a decidedly Afro-centric Christianity at the time. After involvement with Promise Keepers in the 1990s, Baucham began to adopt an increasingly conciliatory stance and found himself and his family serving a predominately white congregation before a trip to Zambia convinced him that was where he should serve.
After relocating to Zambia in 2015, he was tasked with teaching an introduction to sociology course, an experience that allowed him to reacquaint himself with the discipline he’d studied as an undergraduate. Doing so was “like diving into a pool of current affairs — only this pool was the fountainhead from which the ideas that drove current affairs sprang” (p. 39). Zambia has a history of police corruption, and many of Baucham’s students began asking him about the corrupt police in the United States based on the news coverage they had seen. His research and responses to their questions laid the groundwork for this book.
Baucham engages in a thorough review of Critical Theory, which has its origins in the Frankfurt School and focuses on identifying and challenging power structures that are seen as inherently oppressive, as well as its offshoot, Critical Race Theory, which holds that systemic racism is the main affliction of minority communities, as members of the hegemony — white, cis-gendered, heterosexual, able-bodied males — seek to oppress them to maintain their positions of power. It is a school of thought that is built on conflict, and calls for social justice are a key component of it.
Baucham notes, “God clearly condemns injustice. He is also clear in His condemnation of falsehood and lies” (p. 41). He explores several cases that have featured prominently in the news and with extensive citations demonstrates that the popular narrative often presents an inaccurate picture of what happened. He also discusses how the social justice gospel contrasts with the historic Christian gospel; Rod Martin, a friend of Baucham, has succinctly defined Critical Race Theory as the belief that “one group of people can never be forgiven of their sin and another group of people never needs to be,” which is antithetical to scripture on both counts — as well as how this thinking has influenced the evangelical church.
Baucham is a Baptist who pastored a church in the Southern Baptist Convention, but the social justice movement has also made inroads into other churches such as the Presbyterian Church in America and the Anglican Church in North America. He mentions specific cases and challenges them, but he also notes: “I am not at war with the men, women and ministries I have named in this book. I love them. Some of them are actually long-time personal friends. But I am at war with the ideology with which they have identified to one degree or another. I see Critical Race Theory, Intersectionality, Critical Social Justice and their antecedents — Marxism, Conflict Theory and Critical Theory — as ‘cosmic powers over this present darkness’ (p. 219).
He then proceeds to offer alternative solutions to this division that are based on grace, forgiveness and the unity that is found in Christ.
This is an important book that I hope receives a wide reading and a wide heeding in the Church.
The Reverend Charles A, Collins, Jr., has served as a chaplain for a hospice in the Charleston area and has recently been elected rector of St. Andrew’s Anglican Church in Savannah (saintandrewsanglican.net). He is a graduate of Erskine Theological Seminary, where he is currently a doctoral student. He may be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.