Book Review: Fault Lines by Voddie Baucham

INTRODUCTION

Systemic racismcritical race theory (CRT)intersectionality (I). Few of us were familiar with these terms prior to 2019, but now they belong to our everyday vernacular. Although commonplace, there remains a lot of confusion regarding their definitions as these terms have been politicized and even weaponized in our day. For this reason, Voddie Baucham’s Fault Lines is a much-needed book. Baucham, who currently lives in Zambia, provides the American Church with a primer on the current social justice movement, which encompasses ideologies such as systemic racism, CRT, and intersectionality.

SYNOPSIS

Baucham begins his work by introducing the Critical Social Justice (CSJ) worldview along with a brief sketch of its origins. After tracing the “thought line,” Baucham presents the seriousness of the problem as he sees it. He does not see an issue with the pursuit of justice; however, he points out that “the current concept of social justice is incompatible with biblical Christianity” (5).

After the introduction, Baucham tells his story as a black man raised by a single black mother in South Central LA. He tells of his childhood to show not only his close proximity to the issue at hand, but also to show that he thrived in spite of growing up “poor, without a father and surrounded by drugs, gangs, violence, and disfunction in one of the toughest urban environments imaginable” (19). In addition to discussing his experiences growing up as a black man, he also speaks to being a black Christian. Baucham’s biography demonstrates his nearness to the current debate along with his motivation to speak to this issue. He states that he was initially reticent to write on the topic, but the Zambians’ reaction to police brutality served as the catalyst for his decision to write this book. 

For this reason, he transitions from biography to cultural engagement, which comprises the majority of his work. He engages recent police shootings, interacts with the antiracist movement (which is being championed by the likes of Ibram X. Kendi, Robin DiAngelo, and Latasha Morrison), and examines the infiltration of CRT/I into the church. He also references several high-profile pastors and church leaders as case studies to contend for the pervasiveness of this new worldview and its threat to the church. In addition to interacting with the influence of CRT/I upon the church, he engages the political divide in Washington D.C. to demonstrate how prevalent the CSJ worldview has become in our nation.

Baucham’s intention for these chapters is to demonstrate the incompatibility of the Critical Social Justice worldview with the biblical worldview. He does not deny racism or the disparities in prison sentences and education, but neither does he assert these struggles as merely the product of a racist system. Baucham highlights the peril which has been caused by the devaluation of the family and of life in general, demonstrating that CSJ is not only too narrow in its focus but that it is focused upon the wrong problem entirely.              

After spending seven chapters describing the current Social Justice Movement, Baucham prescribes a biblical solution to the problem at hand: Christ alone. Baucham writes: 

Ironically, antiracism is also powerless against racism. It is Christ, and Christ alone, ‘who made us both one and has broken down in his flesh the dividing wall of hostility (Eph 2:14).’ This doesn’t mean that black and white Christians won’t offend or sin against each other. It also doesn’t mean that the sin of racism will not raise its ugly head in a broader culture, or even in the Church. What it does mean is that we have an answer (225). 

Baucham does not approach this present cultural problem as one who does not have hope, but as one whose hope is solely in the Lord.

ASSESSMENT

In Fault Lines, Baucham clearly articulates the Critical Social Justice worldview and defines terms which are often used yet often misunderstood. Without being exhaustive, he explains the origin of Critical Race Theory and Intersectionality. It is apparent that he has read the primary sources rather than relying upon others who have read the primary sources. This is helpful because there is only so much time in the day to read, and while I would personally like to read White Fragility and How to Be an Antiracist, quite frankly I do not have the time. Therefore, I appreciate Baucham’s work and his articulation of the movement through its leading voices.

Baucham not only defines terms such as Critical Race Theory and Intersectionality, he also exposes the dangers such worldviews present. He compares the current moment to “people standing on either side of a major fault line just before it shifts. When the shift comes, the ground will open up, a divide that was once invisible will become visible, and the two will find themselves on opposite sides. This is what is happening in our day” (6). The fault line analogy explains the significance of the current cultural moment; therefore, Baucham confronts these burgeoning social justice ideologies head on and shows how they are incompatible with the biblical worldview.  

While Baucham’s book is informative and exposes the antibiblical worldview of the Critical Social Justice movement, his book is not above critique. Rather than pointing out multiple issues, I will focus on one pitfall of which Baucham and others (myself included) must beware. Although this book is full of thoughtful analysis, it contains unsubstantiated assumptions made about individuals and organizations. For instance, in reference to Resolution 9 (from the 2019 SBC annual meeting) he writes: “I want the reader to see that this was a deliberate act of duplicity” (141). Up front let me say that Baucham’s interaction with the resolution in its original and revised forms was extremely helpful. His interaction with the differences between the two documents was both instructive and insightful. That is why his assumption that this was a deliberate act of duplicity is troubling. Was this an act of duplicity? Maybe, maybe not; but the evidence provided proves the misleading nature of assumptions rather than actual fact. To substantiate this reworking of resolution 9 as a deliberate act of duplicity, Baucham cites Curtis Woods’ dissertation which references Ibram X. Kendi, an anti-racist activist.

Dr. Curtis Woods, the committee chairman who presented the revised resolution, wrote his dissertation on Phyllis Wheatley. Woods studied at SBTS under Drs. Shawn Wright and Michael Haykin. “The main purpose of [his] dissertation is to answer the question: what is the meaning of the afrosensitive evangelical spirituality,”[1] and in his dissertation he interacts with Ibram X. Kendi. Baucham states in his book that Woods’s dissertation “gives us several clues as to what he considers to be an appropriate use of CRT/I as analytical tools. Perhaps the most poignant is his glowing praise of Ibram X. Kendi: According to Woods, ‘Kendi’s work is phenomenal because he deftly incorporates critical race theory, theology, anthropology, sociology, and philosophy in narrating the history of racist ideas in America.’ In case you are unfamiliar with Kendi’s work, he is a seminal figure in the secular Critical Social Justice movement whose work is anything but biblical” (147-48). From a prima facie (first impression) reading of Woods, it sounds as though he completely embraces Kendi’s worldview. However, a more critical reading of Woods’ dissertation proves the contrary. 

In the section of Woods’ dissertation that Baucham quotes, Woods is actually criticizing Kendi. For example, he writes: “Kendi forsakes primary source analysis. He expends little energy critically analyzing Wheatly’s oeuvre…Kendi provides only prima facie interaction…[he] misaligns Wheatley’s story…Kendi jettisoned three of the fundamental principles of historiographical thinking.”[2] Woods is refuting Kendi’s research method and analysis of Phyliss Wheatley, and in the midst of his criticism of Kendi, Woods writes: “Kendi’s work is phenomenal because he deftly incorporates critical race theory, theology, anthropology, sociology, and philosophy in narrating the history of racist ideas in America.”[3] At first glance, Woods appears to commend Kendi’s work by using the term “phenomenal.” However, the use of “phenomenal” within the context of Woods’s refutation of Kendi’s work gives me pause. Could Woods be using “phenomenal” to describe Kendis’ work as a phenomenon rather than making a subjective judgment in favor of it? Remember, this is an academic dissertation, and academic works favor the objective not the subjective. Therefore, it is possible, and likely, that Woods is referring to Kendi’s work as extraordinary, similar to how one might refer to COVID-19. The pandemic was phenomenal, but that does not suggest that I like COVID-19 or that I am endorsing COVID-19. It is a statement of fact, and that is what Woods appears to be doing in his dissertation, rather than signing off wholesale on Kendi’s work. That said, instead of assuming that Woods offers glowing praise of Kendi’s work, it would be best to ask him for clarification, namely what he means by “phenomenal.” 

My chief concern is not so much the mishandling of Woods’ dissertation, but rather that we are quick to make assumptions and then lead others to believe our assumptions, especially if we have a voice that is heard by many. It is dangerous to assume that Woods and others are working subversively to overhaul the SBC to adopt an anti-racist, CRT/I platform, especially when resolution 9 rejects CRT/I as a worldview. Most of us reading Fault Lines have never met Curtis Woods.  All we know about him is what we have seen in one documentary. Personally, I do not know where Woods stands, but I think he deserves a hearing instead of instant condemnation. Rather than focusing upon isolated statements, let us examine the whole of Woods’s work, and we might draw different conclusions. What if Woods is actually working in the opposite direction? What if Woods is actually leaving these views behind and this is the progression of his thought? Maybe he once embraced CRT/I and now he is beginning to shed this way of thinking. We really don’t know unless we hear him out, but what we do know is resolution 9, in its original version, is vastly different than the revised version. Therefore, let us stick to the script and work with what we have instead of approaching others with skepticism. If we find out that we have been played then so be it; we can deal with that issue if it arises. But assumptions can be divisive, and assumptions create lines of separation that shouldn’t exist, especially among like-minded believers. 

My point here is not to argue Bacuham’s concern, because I agree with him regarding the seriousness and the dangers of embracing a worldview such as CRT/I. I am simply calling us all to be careful that we don’t make wrongful assumptions about motives. I hope to see a little more kindness in our polemics, especially toward our brothers and sisters in Christ. These are not neo-Marxist liberals; these are brothers and sisters in Christ Jesus our Lord and Savior. Therefore, my exhortation for all who embrace Baucham’s vehement rejection of CRT/I is: Be careful, we must do the hard intellectual work, stop making assumptions, focus on the facts, and be slow to cast judgment. If we aren’t careful, we will approach everyone with skepticism and look for buzz words and key phrases, assuming we have people pegged without ever engaging in honest dialogue. It is good to interact with ideas, but when we make assumptions related to motive we have the tendency to demonize true brothers and sisters in Christ. As Paul writes: “Do not regard him as an enemy, but warn him as a brother” (2 Thessalonians 3:15).

CONCLUSION

In conclusion, I am grateful for Fault Lines by Voddie Baucham. He has helped me understand the dangers of CRT/I and the current battle in which we find ourselves. For the Christian, we are at war, and we have been ever since the Garden in Genesis 3. Therefore, we ought to take up the weapons God has given us, but making assumptions about others is not one of those weapons. Although I am concerned about some of the assumption-making in this book, I stand with Baucham as he says: “We have an opportunity to say to a world seeking the false, inadequate, burdensome law of antiracism, ‘We have something better; something more’” (211). And that is Christ, who is the only answer to our greatest need. Our greatest need is not to be delivered from oppression; our greatest need is to be delivered from the wrath of God which abides against us. Thankfully, in Christ there is freedom and deliverance, because in Him we find a safe refuge for our souls. And no matter what may come our way, prosperity or oppression, we will have joy in Christ because this world is not our final resting place. We are only pilgrims on our journey home, and any sufferings we face in this life are only temporary if we are found in Christ.


[1] Curtis A. Woods. “The Literary Reception of the Spirituality of Phillis Wheatley (1753-1784): An Afrosensitive Reading” (PhD diss., SBTS, 2018), 8.

[2] Ibid., 82-83.

[3] Ibid., 83.

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