A Discipleship-based Response to Critical Theory (AKA the Craziness Going on in the World Right Now)

Step back in time with me…
 
(Although since some of y’all are living in the past, it’s not that far of a trip.)
 
Do you remember when being a Christian was all about if you were getting into heaven or not when you die?
 
The general debate between believers and unbelievers was that unbelievers believed that they would be allowed into heaven because they were good people.
 
In response, Christians argued that no one is good enough to stand before a just and holy God and therefore, you had to trust in Jesus’ death on the cross to pay the price for your sins so that you would be allowed into heaven when you died.
 
The reason that this debate was so pervasive (at least in my culture and context), was because there was not a significant difference between the morality of unbelievers and that of believers. All of them were relatively moral people (or relatively immoral, depending on how you looked at it).
 
This led unbelievers to argue that their lives were no different than those of the believers. And therefore, if God was going to allow believers into heaven, He should allow moral unbelievers in as well.
 
In turn, believers responded that they were going to be allowed into heaven not because they were good people, but because they believed in Jesus for the forgiveness of their sins.
 
Looking back at this now, I can see why so many unbelievers rejected this system. They watched believers who were morally equivalent to themselves use Jesus’ death as a “Get Out of Hell Free” card. (Granted that there were unbelievers who were living straight-up sinful lives; but they generally weren’t concerned with what happened when they died.)
 
Interestingly, we are now seeing this particular standoff come to an end; …but not for the reasons that we might would have expected.
 
Previously, the standoff existed because unbelievers in America generally accepted the same standard of morality as believers; this is why they believed they should have equal access heaven. But now, unbelievers are accepting a completely different standard of morality; one that is completely foreign and incomprehensible to most believers.
 
Moreover, this new standard basically renders the argument of “We are moral people, but we don’t trust in our morality to get us into heaven, we’re trust in Jesus to get us into heaven” as nonsensical to unbelievers.
 
This new morality is best summed up by the modern version of critical theory. In short, critical theory does not use the Judaeo-Christian ethic as its basis for morality. Rather, critical theory uses the dynamic between hegemonic power and the oppression that it creates as its basis of morality.
 
At some point, as we discuss critical theory you are going to realize that the solutions that it offers are not logical and instead rely on logical fallacies to shore them up. But what you have to also realize is that the end goal of critical theory is not to be logical; its ultimate goal is to set people free from the oppression of Judaeo-Christian morality. Therefore, its adherents overlook its faults in logic in order to accomplish that goal.

 

So please don’t get sidetracked by the lack of logic; they no longer care about logic.

 

In short, critical theory argues that the ultimate sin is oppression. No matter what else you do, if you can in any way be held complicit in the oppression of someone else, you are immoral.
 
The only thing that you can do to be free from the guilt of your immorality is to hand your power over to the oppressed. You cannot even use your power to help the oppressed, because you are incapable of doing so without perpetuating oppression. Again, the only thing you can do morally right is to hand over any amount of control and power that you possess to the oppressed.
 
And of course, only the oppressed can define who is oppressed.

 

Therefore, even if you are a good moral person according to Judaeo-Christian morality, you are an immoral person if you do not hand over all forms of power and control to the oppressed.
 
And if you haven’t figured it out yet; even if the oppressed do not live according to Judaeo-Christian morality, they are still morally “good” simply because they are opposed.

 

No longer is it a standoff where believers and unbelievers agree that they are both relatively good moral people, but just disagree on the price of admission into heaven. Instead; unbelievers now believe that most believers are immoral people because Christianity has historically held power over the oppressed (one must forget any instance where the church helped the oppressed).
 
Believers are therefore immoral simply because they are Christians; unless of course they capitulate all power and control over to those that have been historically oppressed.
 
Critical theory is correct that oppression is a sin; Jesus and Scripture more than make that clear. Therefore, it is correct in identifying a problem. Moreover, it identifies a problem that far too many believers have overlooked or downplayed. What Critical Theory gets wrong is what the ultimate problem is, and the solution to that problem. But in the absence of believers offering a viable solution to the problem of oppression, unbelievers have seized upon that failure to completely stand the concept of morality on its head.
 
And in case you haven’t noticed, we believers were caught completely unprepared for this change in tactic. One reason for our unpreparedness is that we were engaging in the wrong argument with unbelievers all along.
 
The position that there is no difference between believers and unbelievers other than the fact that believers are forgiven of their sins because they trusted in Jesus is patently false.
 
Jesus did not die on the cross simply to buy our entrance into heaven when we die. Jesus died on the cross so that He might rescue and redeem the fallen image of God within us; so that we might render unto God the glory He is due through Him re-confirming us into the image of God/Jesus that we were originally created to be.[1]
 
And as we are conformed to the image of God/Jesus by imitating and obeying Him as His disciple (through the supernatural empowerment and enlightenment of the Holy Spirit) believers will also be conformed the supernatural morality of Jesus; which surpasses even Judaeo-Christian morality.[2]
 
In fact, the current state of affairs demonstrates that attempting to observe Judaeo-Christian morality outside of imitating and obeying Jesus as His disciple will ultimately fail. Without the supernatural empowerment and enlightenment of the Holy Spirit enabling men to imitate and obey Jesus as His disciple, they will ultimately abandon the unattainable goal of attempting to keep Judaeo-Christian morality.
 
Which is what is now occurring in American culture.
 
Critical theory is simply the construct which provides unbelievers with a sense of morality which in turn affords them the opportunity to abandon Judaeo-Christian morality while still considering themselves to be moral, or even morally superior.
 
So then, how should believers respond?
 
Primarily, we need to correct our focus.
 
Rather than focus on the flawed argument that Jesus came to give us a free trip to heaven if we will trust in His death on the cross; we need to focus on the correct argument that Jesus came to rescue and redeem the image of God within men so that they might render unto God the glory He is due; both now and in paradise.
 
Therefore, the difference between believers and unbelievers is not simply that believers have trusted in Jesus’ payment for their sins; but rather that believers have trusted in the entirety of the Gospel of Jesus; which includes Him having paid the price for man’s fallenness, but also includes that He provided the means by which men are re-conformed to the image of God that they were originally created to be: through discipleship, the relational environment of the church, and the supernatural empowerment and enlightenment of the Holy Spirit.
 
Believers are not just forgiven; they are to be actively engaged in the supernatural process of being conformed to the image of Jesus/God.
 
That is what differentiates a believer from and unbeliever.
 
The argument has been made that we should confront critical theory in terms of Creation, the Fall, Redemption, and Restoration.
 

Therefore, we should be clear in our arguments as to what exactly it was that was created, fell, and is in need of redemption and restoration:

 

  • CREATION: God created us for Himself in His image to magnify and reflect His glory for all eternity in a perfect paradise.

 

  • FALL: We were deceived by Satan and disobeyed God. In doing so, we lost our ability to perfectly fulfill our purpose as the image of God (see the correlations between Genesis 1:26-28 and 3:16-19). In the language of the book of Romans, “All have missed the mark (of being the perfect image of God we were created to be) and fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:10).

 

  • REDEMPTION: God sent Jesus into the world to establish His kingdom. On the cross, Jesus took upon Himself the penalty of mankind having missed the mark and falling short of the glory of God. He then rose from the dead, defeating and destroying the deception of Satan. He is the Way by which we are restored to our original purpose for which God created us, and by which we ultimately enter into His perfect kingdom. Jesus ascended to heaven, where He now reigns. He is the Savior, King of Kings and Lord of Lords.

 

  • RESTORATION: Jesus redeems those who turn (repent) and by faith, imitate and obey Him as His disciple. By imitating Jesus (who is the perfect image of God) His disciples are conformed to His image; and are thus also restored to the image of God that they were originally created to be; thereby rendering unto God the glory He is due. By doing so, they enter into His kingdom here and now. Ultimately, Jesus will come back to judge the living and the dead, and will take His obedient disciples who have been completely perfected into His image into a re-created perfect paradise, which is the eternal kingdom of God.[3]

 

So how does this confront critical theory?
 
By beginning with mankind’s original purpose as the image of God, it unites humanity rather than dividing them between the oppressors and the oppressed. All men are both equally created and equally fallen; and therefore equally in need of rescue, redemption, and restoration.
 
It identifies the real problem that exists behind oppression; that men are not functioning as the image of God that they were originally created to be. Oppression is not the ultimate sin that critical theory makes it out to be. Oppression is simply a result of mankind’s fallenness and failure to fulfill their original purpose as the image of God.
 
It identifies who the one true oppressor is: “Put on the full armor of God, so that you can take your stand against the Devil’s schemes. For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms” (Ephesians 6:11-12). Men are only oppressors because they choose to believe the deception of Satan over the truth of Jesus.
 
It reveals the only true solution to oppression. Yes, Christians should work to overcome oppression in this world. But critical theory does not offer a real solution to oppression; it will only continuously create new groups who are oppressed. Only through believers being conformed to the image of Jesus/God will they be able to overcome oppression (to the extend to which it can be overcome in this world). This will happen in several ways:
 
 
  1. Believers who were oppressors will repent as they are conformed to the image of God.

 

  1. These believers will then teach other oppressors to become disciples of Jesus who will likewise repent of the sin of oppression.

 

  1. Believers who were the oppressed will work to overcome oppression through practicing, preaching, and teaching the teachings and methods of Jesus toward their oppressors.

 

  1. Believers who were both oppressors and the oppressed will come together as the church to further overcome oppression both in their own midst, and to affect change in the culture around them. A prime example is how believers (including former slave owners, slave traders, and slaves) came together in the 19th century to overthrow slavery.

 

Finally, it gives us hope when we realize that oppression will not be completely overcome until Jesus returns and totally restores both us and the rest of creation.
 
In order to better present this argument, His Words His Ways Fellowship uses what we refer to as The Four Principles of Discipleship. These four principles are simply an outline used to organize and present these truths that are both taught explicitly in Scripture and have been taught faithfully by great men of God such as Ignatius, Justin Martyr, Irenaeus, Clement, Athanasius of Alexandria, Gregory of Nyssa, John Chrysostom, Augustine of Hippo, Basil of Caesarea, John Calvin, John Wesley, A.W. Tozer, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, and C.S. Lewis (among others) throughout the 2000-year history of the church.
 
These Principles are:

 

  1. The Image of God as the Basis of Discipleship. The ultimate goal of the Gospel is that men bring glory to God by being re-conformed to the image of God that they were originally created to be.[4]

 

  1. The Purpose of Imitating Jesus as His Disciple. The goal of men being re-conformed to the image of God is accomplished by men imitating Jesus (who is the perfect image of God) as His disciple; through the empowerment and enlightenment of the Holy Spirit.[5]

 

  1. The First Century, Biblical Understanding of Discipleship. Imitating Jesus as His disciple begins (but does not end) with specifically learning and then keeping the words, teachings, commands, and example that He gave during His earthly ministry. It is simply impossible to imitate someone without knowing what they said and did.[6]

 

  1. Biblical Discipleship in a Relational Environment (Relational Discipleship). Being conformed to the image of Jesus by imitating Him as His disciple is not a passive process, but an active/interactive process that occurs within a relational environment; which was established and demonstrated by Jesus during His earthly ministry.[7]

 

For more information on The Four Principles, begin here and click on the link at the end of each article to go to the next one…
 
 
 
 
 
[1] Genesis 1:27, 1 Corinthians 11:7, Matthew 5:48, 2 Corinthians 3:18, Ephesians 4:22-24, 5:1, Colossians 3:9-10, 2 Peter 1:4.
 
[2] Romans 8:29, 1 Corinthians 11:1, 15:49, 2 Corinthians 4:4, Galatians 2:20, Philippians 2:1-5, 3:7-11, Colossians 1:15, 1:28-29, 2:2-3, 2:9-10, 1 Thessalonians 1:6, 2 Timothy 3:12, Titus 3:4-6, Hebrews 1:3, 6:1, 12:1-3, James 1:2-4, 1 Peter 1:1-4, 2-21, 2 Peter 3:18, 1 John 2:6, 3:3, 4:17.
 
[3] Adapted from: Bill Hull and Bobby Harrington, Evangelism or Discipleship: Can They Effectively Work Together? (discipleship.org, 2014), p. 17, https://discipleship-org.s3.amazonaws.com/text/ebooks/evangelism-or-discipleship/Evangelism-Discipleship.pdf?ck_subscriber_id=250705360
 
[4] Genesis 1:27, 1 Corinthians 11:7, Matthew 5:48, 2 Corinthians 3:18, Ephesians 4:22-24, 5:1, Colossians 3:9-10, 2 Peter 1:4.
 
[5] Romans 8:29, 1 Corinthians 11:1, 15:49, 2 Corinthians 4:4, Galatians 2:20, Philippians 2:1-5, 3:7-11, Colossians 1:15, 1:28-29, 2:2-3, 2:9-10, 1 Thessalonians 1:6, 2 Timothy 3:12, Titus 3:4-6, Hebrews 1:3, 6:1, 12:1-3, James 1:2-4, 1 Peter 1:1-4, 2-21, 2 Peter 3:18, 1 John 2:6, 3:3, 4:17.
 
[6] Matthew 7:24-29, 10:24-25, 11:25-30, 12:41-42, 13:16-17, 13:34-35, 17:5, 24:35; Mark 4:24-25, 4:33-34, 6:34, 8:38, 9:7, 13:31; Luke 6:46-49, 9:35, 10:24, 10:38-42, 11:31-32, 17:10, 19:47-48,  John 3:31-36, 4:25-26, 4:40-42, 5:24, 5:38-39, 5:46-47, 6:28-29, 6:63, 6:66-69, 8:31-32, 8:51, 9:26, 10:27, 12:48, 13:34-35, 14:12, 14:15, 14:23-26, 15:7-17, 15:20-24, 16:6-8. 
 
[7] Acts 2:42-47, 1 Corinthians 14:40, 2 Timothy 2:2.