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(I’m not saying the “innocent idealists” are free from genuine sin, but that they are not fully apprised or aware of the historical origins and consequences of being woke.)
It’s theologically fair to say the first woke people were Adam and Eve. They were doing pretty well in the Garden of Eden before the walking, talking serpent opened their eyes to another way of thinking about God, life, each other, and social causes. In Genesis 3:6, Adam and Eve became woke.
The idea of “woke” has been around for several millennia and used in different ways. It appears the modern expression of woke entered into our common speak in 2008 through the black community. In today’s culture, wokeness has glommed onto itself a specific and intensified meaning.
You can be “woke” about many things, though most of the time, people connect their wokeness to the social justice movement. More on that later. To trace wokeness to its modern origins, you would go back to the Frankfurt School in the 1930s, where you’ll learn about Critical Theory (CT)—the roots of woke, and many other synonymous social ideas.
The Frankfurt School was a collection of smart misfits who did not adhere to capitalism or communism’s unbending frameworks. This group of intellectuals believed there was a better way to think about social advancement. They did this by tying themselves to Marxism, not so much with Karl Marx’s economic ideas but a Marxist sociological worldview.
To be “woke,” in today’s use of the word, means your presuppositional starting point begins in Marxist idealogy. Most woke people don’t know their woke history, which is one reason many Christians are jumping on the woke wagon. This truth is why it’s vital for woke’s gainsayers to understand that all woke people are not the same.
In the context of this piece, you have on one end of the woke spectrum, the innocent idealists. On the other end is the scold mob, whom I call the angry activists. If you asked the innocent idealist about the presuppositional roots of wokeness, they could not tell you. They have never heard of the Frankfurt School, where Critical Theory began.
What they need to know is that if you begin (presupposition) with a Marxist philosophy on social issues, your activism will be consistent with Karl Marx, and the result will be something different from the Bible’s endpoint. Most culturally woke people—I assume—do not understand how presuppositions determine activism and results.
Because of this lack of awareness, Christians need to respond with humility and intelligence to the innocently unaware. Imagine someone yelling at you about your ignorance before God “woke you up” to your lostness (Ephesians 2:1-5). Condemnation strategies may work for a few but not the entire unregenerate collective. Think about how you came to Christ.
You were born in Adam, totally depraved, a dirty, rotten sinner, with no hope of changing (John 3:7; Romans 3:10-12, 10:9, 13). From that presupposition, you grew up as an unregenerate child, acting out according to your Adamic nature. The results would have been hell (Revelation 20:15) if you did not become “woke in Christ.” If you want to give the socially confused another presupposition other than Karl Marx, ask Jesus Christ to provide you with the insight to do that.
The presuppositional root of the woke tree starts with Karl Marx, which gives us Critical Theory (CT) about social issues. From there, the CT tree grows into many branches. Some of these limbs intersect with each other, while others do not. To borrow another metaphor, think of Critical Theory like a bowl of soup, and inside the container are many social constructs. Here are a few.
There are many more Critical Theory constructs, but you get the idea. You will find more intelligent definitions for all of these concepts from those who have given more time to it, but I hope this provides you a basic idea.
The running theme through all of these constructs is two people groups—the oppressors and the oppressed. If you go back through the shortlist of Critical Theory constructs, you will see how these two antithetical groups are in conflict. For example, our current cultural crisis is racism. The whites are the hegemonic power (oppressors), and the blacks are the oppressed. Slavery is the proof in the pudding, according to those who beat the Critical Theory drum.
No rational person denies the atrocities of slavery, though that time in our dark history is not as black and white as some folks want to make it. There is complexity with slavery in America, but if your agenda is not as objective as it should be, you will not entertain those complexities.
The mind-boggling good news is that we abolished slavery and have been progressively removing those evil barriers that keep men and women from an equal shot at the American dream. Because our founding fathers believed in the teachings of Scripture, even though many of them were not Christians, they set up our country with the best possibilities for success. Anyone who takes an honest look at the 200-year trend of our country will see this ever-progressing miracle.
But we have flaws. If you put 300+ million sinners in a room, bad things will happen. Like the parent who won’t see a child’s positive progression, too many woke people highlight only the negative, even if it means tearing down the structures that provided the framework that gives them the freedom and platform to do it.
We see the disintegrating of the structures in every corner of our society, including the church. There are hordes of social justice warriors lashing out within our churches, seeking to bring correction (or tear down) the system. It is no accident that these justice seekers run contemporary with what is happening in the culture.
They are not wrong in the sense that we have problems in our house. Abuse is everywhere. I’m as attuned to abusive people, churches, and denominations as anyone. I have not turned a blind eye to these things, but it has never occurred to me to remake church and church structures.
The fingerprints of Satan are all over these “justice movements,” whether inside or outside the church. There is a reason the Bible talks about the devil as an angel of light (2 Corinthians 11:14). I am not saying that these innocent idealists are satanic or even unregenerate. What person has not been duped by the devil? The devil’s plan has not changed since he woke up Adam and Eve, and he will not leave us alone either. We all have our guilt, so no need to duck: I’m not tossing a stone at you.
Part of his “angel of light strategy” is in his sloganeering. There is always just enough embedded truth in the Critical Theory mantras to allure any of us. Who believes that black lives do not matter? No rational person. How clever to say, “Black Lives Matter,” but when you look under the hood, you see a Marxist group who explicitly states their hope to destroy the nuclear family.
Or, how can you argue against “social justice?” Shouldn’t all Christians strive to treat all people in all social constructs with justice? The problem is that these social justice warriors inside the church, whether innocent or not, are tearing down the historical church structure and installing a worldview that has its roots in Karl Marx, the Frankfurt School, and Critical Theory.
As you move across the spectrum of proponents of the Critical Theory, you will eventually run into the most hostile of these adherents. They are angry, vindictive, anti-God, and would feel no sympathy if a white person were to become a casualty of this culture war. I will not illustrate their hate speech here, but if you’re interested, you may jump on Twitter.
These are not “unaware Marxists” who want to destroy America and any other country that believes differently from them. They are the angry cancel culture on steroids. As the non-peaceful protests demonstrate, they are not hiding the ball. They want to destroy any person or group that can exert power over them, e.g., police, white people, men, etc. They won’t admit how it’s only a minority within all of these groups who are abusive.
For example, Robin DiAngelo teaches all white people are guilty of racism in her wildly popular book, White Fragility (a critique and this explicit commentary on the book and racism). According to her, if you admit you are a racist, you’re guilty—whether your admission was genuine or you caved to gaslighting. If you deny that you’re a racist, you prove your guilt by your denial. It’s a non-falsifiable circularity, along the lines of the Salem Witch Trials: throw a witch in a pond; if she drowns, she was not a witch; if she walks on water, she was a witch, so they burn her at the stake. Either way, she dies.
The innocent idealists will do similarly as the angry activist, though they will accomplish their goals with less vitriol. Those who adhere, ignorantly or not, to Critical Theory do so because they believe in their version of utopia. The word “utopia” means “no place.” It does not exist. It would be great if our marriages, churches, workplaces, and culture were better than what they are. The Bible narrative teaches a sinful world that Christ came to redeem. If you look at the lives of authentic Christians, you will see this progressive transformation. What you won’t see is perfection.
For us imperfect Christians who do believe and follow the Bible, we cannot deny that there is some truth in what the CT activists are trying to repair. What you don’t want to do is make their mistake of “all white people are racists” by clumping every social justice adherent into the same camp. It’s sophomoric to write, post, tweet, or talk like that.
Don’t stop influencing, but do it the right way. Ask the Lord to give you the courage to stand on your platform, no matter how big or small. Too many Christians are afraid to speak out; they want to be left alone, but you do not have that option. You have a light and some salt in your knapsack. Jesus appeals to you to use those redemptive tools.
Will you do four things in response to this article?
Rick launched the Life Over Coffee global training network in 2008 to bring hope and help for you and others by creating resources that spark conversations for transformation. His primary responsibilities are resource creation and leadership development, which he does through speaking, writing, podcasting, and educating.
In 1990 he earned a BA in Theology and, in 1991, a BS in Education. In 1993, he received his ordination into Christian ministry, and in 2000 he graduated with an MA in Counseling from The Master’s University. In 2006 he was recognized as a Fellow of the Association of Certified Biblical Counselors (ACBC).