Lig Duncan, Woke Forewords, and the Dikai-Word Group


Let’s begin by juxtaposing a few things, shall we? I have been arguing of late that Christians who are in the process of folding (like that cheap card table bought at a yard sale) use the word woke as a good word, representing either a good thing, or a thing that Christians can retrieve and put to good use. Contrariwise, I have been urging us all to remember that being woke and being awakened are two very different things, as in, here and here. The second thing to note is that Eric Mason has recently released a book called Woke Church. And the final thing we should take a gander at is the fact that Ligon Duncan wrote an enthusiastic foreword to this book. And all God’s people said, “Huh.”

Two from a Likely Multitude:

There are any number of directions to go here, but I would like to select just two for the nonce, as we old-timey writers like to say. I may address some other things from Mason’s book as time goes by. That all depends upon whether I am sufficiently provoked.

Still Not Woke:

Duncan begins his foreword by confessing that left to his own devices he is the very least woke guy around, and goes on to explain how he wound up writing the foreword to a woke book. This was an unlikely event, but unfolded from an address that Eric Mason heard him give at a Together for the Gospel event last year. The address was entitled “The Whole in our Holiness,” and lamented how the conservative American Protestant tradition had mishandled the race issue over the course of generations—slavery, segregation, etc.

Duncan illustrated how blind he had been for so long by discussing what he had done as a new seminary professor in 1990, when he was asked to teach a course at RTS called “Pastoral and Social Ethics.” In that course, he covered abortion, homosexuality, marriage and divorce, medical ethics, death penalty, just war . . . but not racism.

“It did not even occur to me that this was a pastoral issue that I needed to prepare future ministers to address biblically in the church, much less in the communities where they would serve. How in the world could I have missed that?”

Now my point here is not to quarrel with Duncan’s lament over leaving out racism. I agree with him that he should have included it. Racial and ethnic issues are a screamer, both in the Scriptures and in our times. So when he confesses that particular blind spot, he is confessing something that a Bible teacher ought to be able to see and confess. I have no trouble with him coming to realize this. But I also suspect that a number of his new traveling companions are going to have a problem with it. If not now, shortly.

What he is still missing is the fact that had he included a segment on race relations in that course, he would have been guilty of an even more grievous sin, at least according to the scheduled stops that this woke train he has now climbed onto is going to be hitting. A twenty-nine-year-old credentialed white boy, from the South, teaching a course on race relations to a bunch of white students in a seminary in Jackson, Mississippi? Are you kidding me? That’s not woke. That just be one more round of whitesplaining.

However, the issue for faithful believers is what the Scriptures teach, not the color of the teacher. If he had included scriptural teaching on race in that course, and if we had been there and were able to see those black letter truths in complete harmony with the white paper, expounded as God intended, we should not care at all whether the truth was explained by a marginalized voice or not. But I can assure you that Lig Duncan is now standing in the midst of a cohort that cares very much indeed about such things.  

The Dikai-Word Group:

The term social justice is getting kicked around a lot in these discussions, along with phrases like identity politics, intersectionality, woke, and cultural Marxism.

But for our limited purposes here this morning, I would like to point out that if we were speaking the Greek of the New Testament, the word justice in social justice would be part of the dikai-word group. It would be related to the word for righteousness as well as the word for justification.

This does mean that racial justice is a gospel issue. That claim should be acknowledged. But it must also be acknowledged that to get racial justice issues wrong is to get the related gospel issues wrong. And what I see is people in the broad evangelical Reformedy crowd making a show of meticulous exegesis when it comes to gospel proper issues, and yet to accept wholesale from the world their governing assumptions on any issues like race and slavery. Let me throw just one example out there. Sometime I would like just one character from a Bunyan-like story, a Mr. Stalwart-for-Inerrancy, say, do something with such passages other than wave his exegetical hands over them in the vain hope that something might be made to disappear. So, all you inerrantists, did you know that the Ten Commandments were addressed to slave-holders? Two of the ten address them specifically—make sure your slaves get a Sabbath rest, and make sure you don’t covet your neighbor’s slaves.

Now I agree that something must be done with such passages, and that something should line up with the liberation for all men that the gospel brings. But whatever we do, it needs to be honest. Whatever we do, it needs to be something other than turning red when the name of John Albert Broadus comes up.

At the end of his foreword, Duncan says that Eric Mason is a transcendent voice, a voice that is above the fray of all our petty bickering. “Dr. Mason is such a voice. I look forward to sitting at his feet to listen and learn.”

And that, dear children, is how Ligon Duncan came to appreciate the New Perspective on Paul.

In the citation below, I would remind you that you can’t tell the players without a scorecard. In what follows you have Eric Mason, quoting Fleming Rutledge, who in turn quotes Ernst Käsemann. Eric Mason is the one at whose feet Ligon Duncan is now sitting. Fleming Rutledge was one of the first women ordained to the priesthood in the Episcopal Church back in the seventies, and Ernst Käsemann was one of Rudolph Bultmann’s most left-leaning protégés and disciples. What could go wrong here?

So here we go:

“In essence, we tend to have a one-dimensional understanding of justification. It is important to view the Romans 5–6 and the 2 Corinthians 5 sense of righteousness as both intrinsic and extrinsic. In other words, it is an attribute and an action. The following quote by Fleming Rutledge expands upon this idea:

‘When a reader of the Bible discovers that the verb translated “justify” and the nouns “justification,” “righteousness,” and “justice” are the same word, the effect on that reader’s understanding can be revolutionary. Ernst Käsemann opened up a new understanding of the term dikaiosis, traditionally translated “justification,” that continues to bear fruit into the twenty-first century. In his groundbreaking essay “The Righteousness of God in Paul,” he shows that God’s dikaiosyne is not an attribute but a power, namely, “a power that brings salvation to pass.” Thus, “righteousness” does not mean moral perfection. It is not a distant, forbidding characteristic of God that humans are supposed to try to emulate or imitate; there is no good news in that. Instead, the righteousness of God is God’s powerful activity of making right what is wrong in the world. When we read, in both Old and New Testaments, that God is righteous, we are to understand that God is at work in his creation doing right. He is overcoming evil, delivering the oppressed, raising the poor from the dust, vindicating the voiceless victims who have had no one to defend them’ (Eric Mason, Woke Church pp. 45-46).

I would suggest, in the plainest way I know how, that things have gone off the rails badly. Our locomotive is out in the middle of the meadow, and the cows are all staring at it.

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