Last week I attended the biannual — and final — Together for the Gospel (T4G) conference. Started by Mark Dever, Al Mohler, Ligon Duncan, and C.J. Mahaney in 2006, the goal of the conference over the last 16 years has been to gather pastors together for a time of encouragement through sermons, singing, and fellowship. The hope was that the conference could live up to its name, bringing Christians and pastors from around the world “together for the gospel” — that is, centered on a fellowship grounded in a shared understanding of the key doctrinal commitments of the true gospel found in the Scriptures, which (ideally and normally) would transcend denominational and ecclesiological differences.
Whether you sprinkle the babies or dunk the adults, T4G was meant to be a time where believers — primarily pastors — could come together around the centrality of the good news that Christ has come, Christ has died, Christ has risen, and Christ will come again. It was a conference meant to keep a keen focus on what Paul calls the message of “first importance,” found in 1 Corinthians 15:3-4, “that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures.”
I won’t go into great detail in this article, which will focus on just one event from the three full days of sermons and panels, but I have a great personal fondness for T4G in general. Despite doctrinal disagreement and opposition I have with some of the previous speakers, and even some of the messages and emphases that were shared this year, I have a personal friendship with the founder of the conference, Mark Dever, who is a man I love and respect. I don’t agree with Mark on everything, of course, and we may weigh the threats facing the American church differently, but Mark led me to the faith and has served as a spiritual father and mentor to me for the last decade.
But, as with all things in the American evangelical world of late, T4G has been rocked by the culture shifts — the “fault lines,” as Voddie Baucham calls them — confronting the church. These range from what to do with Critical Race Theory (CRT), how to understand the Black Lives Matter movement (BLM) and organization, how churches should talk about race, etc. While other parts of evangelicalism have also suffered conflict over compromise related to sexual ethics, the role of women in the church, and so on, I think it’s fair to say that the main issue that has disrupted T4G in a variety of ways since 2016 has been the issue of “race in America” and how pastors, Christians, and churches should respond in the wake of national events like the deaths of Michael Brown, George Floyd, and others. Perhaps most infamously, David Platt used his sermon in 2018 to chastise the room full of pastors about the demographic makeup of their churches, despite the fact that the vast majority of them probably serve in communities that are 90 percent white (if not higher).
With that as background (and trust me, I’m leaving quite a bit out as well), I want to share with you some of the highlights of what Kevin DeYoung, a Presbyterian Church in America (PCA) pastor of a church in North Carolina, had to say about how Christians should approach CRT on the (aptly named) panel entitled, “Why We Should Be Critical of CRT.” Then, I want to consider one particularly troubling anecdote he shared that we should all be aware of. Finally, I’m going to suggest to you what I think faithful Christians should do if they ever find themselves in the same sort of situation that DeYoung described. Three up, three down. Here we go.
Sitting on the “Why We Should Be Critical of CRT” panel were the aforementioned Kevin DeYoung, Mark Dever, and Bobby Scott, a black pastor from Inglewood, California.
The panel was pitched as a time to “raise issues of CRT that have been so hot” in the evangelical world and beyond. Dever asked DeYoung and Scott to address how pastors can keep the gospel central and engage with (i.e., how they should engage with) CRT.
But that’s not entirely what happened. The dynamic of the panel, and the conversation that ensued, broke down essentially like this: DeYoung directly addressed issues with CRT, while Scott shared his personal biography and familial history dealing with racism and the experience of being a minority in America.
At the outset of the panel, Scott rightly noted that pastors don’t need to be experts on every legal theory or ideology out there, but they do need to be “experts in the Bible.” I think he’s spot on there. He also rightly exhorted those present that “we have to filter everything through the Bible — whatever ideology, left or right, we have to filter through the Word of God.”
Amen. What Scott means by that in practice, I’m not entirely sure, because he didn’t tease it out. As a propositional statement, though, it’s solid.
Then Dever transitioned to DeYoung. Thankfully, DeYoung put on a clear display of courage, thoroughly denouncing CRT and the way that it has poisoned the well of conversations about race and discrimination in America.
DeYoung brought out three main issues throughout the entire panel (not necessarily sequentially) about how CRT 1) distorts American history; 2) provides a monocausal explanation of disparities in America; and 3) ultimately pushes Christians away from the gospel.
DeYoung argued that CRT, according to its own admission and definitions, presents a “revisionist view of American history” where white people have only ever supported efforts to reduce racism in this country when it serves “to work to their own benefits.” Of course, that’s not true, but that’s what CRT practitioners want us to think. DeYoung effectively summed it like this: As CRT-infected thinking has swept across our nation we have traded a “hagiography of American history” for a “hamartiography of American history.” In other words, instead of looking at our past and seeing it full of “saints” (that’s hagiography), it’s full of irredeemable sinners (that’s the hamartiography).
Next, he rightly noted that CRT presents the “presumption that disparities by definition are the result of racism.” This is a really important point of contention. Are all racial disparities the result of discrimination? Or are some racial disparities due to any number of different factors? The answer, of course, is the latter. And DeYoung rightly encouraged pastors there to reject CRT’s “monocausal explanations for racial disparities” in our nation, which are “bound to be incorrect.”
A third point DeYoung raised, “the most damaging of all,” is that CRT “pushes us in a direction that is not gospel…Rather than pushing us to see all the things that we most have in common with one another…CRT pushes an aggressive color-consciousness.”
DeYoung characterized this aggressive color-consciousness as antithetical to the emphasis gospel ministers should have. Instead, Christians should acknowledge that “we all have the same sinful nature from Adam” and the answer to sin, racism, partiality, what have you, is the same and singular message of Jesus Christ. That gospel hope, which is what brought even this conference together, is what we should focus on, because as Christians that is what we have most in common — and CRT purposely distracts us from that.
DeYoung continued by noting that, when the conversations about race in America or problems of race in the church occur, CRT often acts as a “detour” as people argue over whether something is “actually CRT” or not. Instead, DeYoung said, he is “more concerned with what are the things downstream” from CRT that are “divisive and unhelpful and theologically problematic.”
In light of all these gospel-distracting, gospel-detracting, and gospel-destroying issues, DeYoung rightly, clearly, and unapologetically concluded, “Yes, I think we ought to be critical of Critical Race Theory.”
As the conversation continued, DeYoung stated, “One of the difficulties for many people is that Christianity starts to feel impossible.” What he means by that is this: Many Christians, particularly white Christians, are asking themselves, “What are we presently — now, today — supposed to do about any real racism in our nation’s past or the lingering effects thereof?” Because the cold hard truth is that we can’t change the past. And the biblical truth is that no individual, white or otherwise, is responsible today for someone else’s sin committed yesterday. Yet, if you listen to the woke scolds, race hustlers, and the guilt manipulators, they would have us believe that every white person is exactly that — a bearer of perpetual guilt by the sake of birth.
Following on that, DeYoung exhorted us to acknowledge that things have gotten better concerning race in America. A lot better, in fact. He then also — rightly — pointed out that that’s not how the mainstream media presents it. Let’s pause for a moment and give credit to DeYoung for his awareness here. In these circles, it’s very rare to hear big-name pastors pointing out the obvious liberal bias of the media. Why? It’s not a very “winsome” thing to do. Thankfully, DeYoung doesn’t seem to care. Good for him — may his kind increase.
Reflecting further on the disconnect between the media presentation of race relations in America and the reality on the ground, DeYoung argued, “Objectively, at no time in American history has there been less racism…not no racism…but racism is so stigmatized.” Then he asked, “Why is it in a time when there is less institutional and personal racism than ever before…we see mainstream news outlets…talking about it more than ever before?” Good question, Kevin.
Finally, he brought up a deeply troubling anecdote. I have no doubt that it’s true, as I have heard of many others like it.
As DeYoung was interrogating this sense of “hopeless” that Christians are beginning to feel over what to do about the picture the media and CRT paint of race, he recounted how a white couple came to his church one recent Sunday, “and it’s just their own anecdote, maybe they are inaccurate, but they said, ‘Our church, a white pastor, has been telling us to repent of our whiteness.’”
This anecdote should not go unnoticed. It’s one of the more jaw-dropping revelations from T4G 2022. Christians, forgiven in Christ, are being told by their pastors in presumably orthodox evangelical churches to “repent of their whiteness.” Did you ever see the anti-drug campaign that said, “This is your brain on drugs”? Well, this is your Christianity on CRT. So don’t do CRT — not even once.
DeYoung went on to explain how this couple shared that they want to be faithful, to repent of any racism, of any partiality, but they are, in fact, white — and they have no idea how to “repent of their whiteness.” They had to presume that they are just “white supremacists now.”
Now, of course, these two are not white supremacists. Well, not according to the B-I-B-L-E, even if they are according to C-R-T.
DeYoung called it out for what it is. He said this sort of teaching, this way of viewing race — of being commanded to repent of “whiteness” — is “an impossible burden.”
Indeed, it is. He underscored that “good, ordinary, faithful people are feeling that.” To which I respond: Only if they are suffering under unbiblical leadership. Sadly, as CRT has infected many Christian churches, more and more “good, ordinary, faithful people” will be made to feel and bear this impossible burden and be asked to repent of the sin of simply being born white.
This leads me to my final point, and really my one-sentence summary of the entire panel: If a pastor ever tells you to repent of “your whiteness” — run. It’s time to find a new church.
I tweeted this out shortly after the panel, and the message resonated with many people. This tells me that these two Christians who found their way to DeYoung’s church aren’t the only ones out there being admonished with such awful exhortations.
Why do you need a new church if this is what you hear from a pastor? Because if any pastor is demanding that you repent of something that’s not a sin — being white — as if it is a sin then they clearly don’t understand the Bible, the gospel, or sin in the first place.
That tells me, and it should tell you too, that you need a new church because you aren’t at a true church.
Jesus said, “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls” (Matthew 11:28-29). The Chief Shepherd doesn’t tie up impossible burdens on the backs of His sheep, demanding that they repent of how they were born. No, He says to come to Him and find rest.
Want to know how to spot a fake pastor real fast? Hold their teaching up to this test: Do they point you to Jesus to find rest? Or do they point you to CRT to find condemnation? If the latter, it’s time to pick up your Bible, stand up from those pews, gather your family, and get out of there. Find a church that faithfully preaches the Gospel of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ and not the critical theories of our present-day false prophets.
DeYoung said Christians should be critical of CRT. I agree. I would take it one step further, however. Christians must reject CRT because it is fundamentally at odds with biblical Christianity. There may be room on your bookshelf for some CRT to be critically read as an intellectual exercise, but there shouldn’t be any room for CRT in the pulpit of gospel-preaching churches. God’s Word, and God’s Word alone, must rule within His church. God’s Word tells us to repent of sin — and only sin — and to find salvation in Christ, and Christ alone. That’s a message of hope that this burdened world desperately needs. Let’s all hope and pray that pastors, across the country, can be together in that until Christ comes back.
Follow William on Twitter! @William_E_Wolfe