Lines drawn: a review of Christianity and Wokeness
by Charles A. Collins, Jr.
Owen Strachan, Christianity and Wokeness: How the Social Justice Movement is Hijacking the Gospel — and the Way to Stop It (Washington: Salem Books, 2021).
J. Gresham Machen was born in Baltimore at a time when that city was still a distinctly Southern city. He is the son of an Episcopalian lawyer father and a Presbyterian mother with deep Georgia roots. He was raised attending Baltimore’s Franklin Street Presbyterian Church and trained in the Westminster Shorter Catechism by his mother. Machen attended John’s Hopkins University where he graduated Phi Beta Kappa in classics, followed by a master of arts in philosophy at Princeton University while simultaneously attending Princeton Theological Seminary, including study in Germany under Wilhelm Herrmann, to whose modernist theology he was attracted for a time. He ultimately rejected it and firmly embraced historical reformed theology.
In 1906 Machen joined the Princeton seminary faculty and after some hesitation was ordained to the Presbyterian ministry in 1914, at which time he became assistant professor of New Testament. He served as a YMCA chaplain in World War I, where he witnessed first-hand the devastation caused by that conflict. Upon returning to Princeton he became increasingly concerned about the inroads he saw modernism making into the church, where key doctrines such as the person and work of Christ and his virgin birth, were considered to be up for debate. In 1923 he published his best-known work, Christianity and Liberalism, in which he noted that “In the sphere of religion, as in other spheres, the things about which men are agreed are apt to be the things that are least worth holding; the really important things are the things about which men will fight.”
He contended that at that time “the great redemptive religion which has always been known as Christianity is battling against a totally diverse type of religious belief, which is only the more destructive of the Christian faith because it makes use of traditional Christian terminology.” Although not finding either “modernism” or “liberalism” to be satisfactory names for this new religion, Machen reluctantly used the latter and deftly demonstrated that Christianity and liberalism are two different religions.
Almost 100 years later, Dr. Owen Strachan, provost and professor of theology at Grace Bible Theological Seminary, has obviously borrowed from both Machen’s title and his methodology in his new work Christianity and Wokeness: How the Social Justice Movement is Hijacking the Gospel — and the Way to Stop It. As Machen did with liberalism before him, he ultimately comes to the same conclusion that they constitute two distinct religions.
Strachan begins his work by discussing how wokeness has entered and is entering the culture at large and the church in particular, as it is often the need to be relevant that leads the church to adopt the tenets of the social justice movement. He then issues a 14-point critique — seven points of which are theological and seven of which are primarily cultural and social — of “wokeness,” as the social justice movement has become known. Among them are the way in which it distorts the doctrine of humanity and divides the church in ways that are unsound and at variance with Christian orthodoxy. Also noted are ways in which the mindset mitigates against historic Christian teaching on human sexuality.
The work then examines what Scripture teaches about identity and ethnicity in both the Old and New Testaments and then deals with hard questions on American history and other hot topics. Strachan does not shy away from confronting genuine cases of historical sin and injustice while not falling prey to the errors so prevalent in social justice teaching. The book concludes with a glossary of terms — helpful in dealing with a topic that often requires learning a whole new vocabulary — as well as a list of works for further reading.
Christianity and Wokeness is a readable and thorough introduction to the topic and amply supports the author’s thesis. Each chapter includes review questions and it would serve well for discussion groups concerning the subject. It is highly recommended.
The Reverend Charles A. Collins, Jr. is rector of St. Andrew’s Anglican Church in Savannah, Georgia (https://www.saintandrewsanglican.net), and is a graduate of Erskine Theological Seminary, where he is currently a doctoral student. He may be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.