We decided to answer the claims of Russell Moore and the Woke crowd by turning back a century in time to another person who fought this very same battle with liberals in his day. J. Gresham Machen’s book Christianity and Liberalism came out one hundred years ago in 1923, and his response to the out-of-context use of the Sermon on the Mount is instructive. The Sermon on the Mount is not an ethical prescription but a description of a life we are not at all capable of fulfilling in our own strength without the Spirit of God within. It is a demonstration that the wall of separation between God and us is so high we cannot possibly scale it.
No True Christian … Part One examined what basis there is for an assertion that a true Christian would or would not do certain things or behave in certain ways. By way of reminder, those who do make such assertions commit the No True Scotsman Fallacy. Knowing right from wrong does not guarantee that one will make every decision with that view in the forefront. People are fallible, as we are all aware.
In our present time, the left side of the aisle that identifies as Christian contends that Jesus was a woke Socialist and that his followers must needs be woke socialists also. What do they offer to support their contention? Why, Scripture, of course. Both progressives and conservatives turn to the Word of God in support of their political and cultural positions, but the understanding and application of Scripture differ substantially for progressives and conservatives. For progressives, their social and political commitments sit on top of the Bible, and their preconceived “truths” inform their understanding of Scripture rather than allowing Scripture to inform their positions on a given issue to decide what is true and right.
On the other hand, the historical-grammatical context informs a Christian conservative’s understanding of Scripture. (Not all conservatives are Christians, of course, so they may very well base their choices on the way they were brought up, though those “passed down views” probably stem from “the Christian Era,” a time when society in general judged many issues of right and wrong through the lens of scripture.) As a result, conservative’s social and cultural views – and how they vote for any given position – are informed by their biblical understanding. As Dr. George Yancey, Professor of Sociology at Baylor University points out:
For progressive Christians, Jesus is primarily the model of inclusion and tolerance. For example, one progressive Christian drew a cartoon of Jesus saying, “The difference between me and you is you use Scripture to determine what love means and I use love to determine what Scripture means.” Progressive Christians focus on the actions and teachings of Jesus that reinforce their values of tolerance and inclusion, which they see as examples of love.1Who’s More Political: Progressive or Conservative Christians?, George Yancy, TGC. April 29, 2021
Progressive pastors may be dumbfounded when they quote from the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5) and find themselves accused of using liberal talking points. In “Jesus Was a Socialist”: Christianity in Crisis as Conservatives Finally Realize Jesus Was Woke, Russell Moore, one of the Woke, weighs in:
Moore said that some individuals are questioning the origins of these teachings and dismissing them as “liberal talking points.” Even when pastors assert that they are directly quoting Christ, their words are often met with skepticism. “When the teachings of Jesus himself are viewed as disruptive to us, we find ourselves in a state of crisis,” Moore said.
The essential key of interpretation, however, is often missing for progressive liberals – they do not take context into account. Simply because a passage is quoted doesn’t mean the application given it is true. False teachers, cultists, Eastern religions, and yes, progressive liberals and even conservatives can take Scripture out of context and give it a meaning that is not derived from the context.
For example, was Jesus identifying Peter as the literal Prince of Darkness when He rebuked Peter:
But he turned and said to Peter, “Get behind me, Satan! You are a hindrance to me. For you are not setting your mind on the things of God, but on the things of man. (Matthew 16:23)
No, not at all. Jesus was saying that Peter was “speaking as Satan would speak” when Peter tried to dissuade Jesus from going to the cross. Peter was acting as a stumbling block to Jesus since it was His divine purpose to suffer and die for mankind’s salvation.2 Thinking about it here, Peter was “doing unto others (Jesus) as he would want others to do for him” (according to the flesh) since Peter would not think it would be in his own best interest to die on the cross.