Thought’s on Eric Mason’s Woke Church, part 1

*These are just a few initial thoughts taken from ch. 1

Mason, Eric. Woke Church: An Urgent Call for Christians in America to Confront Racism and Injustice. Chicago, IL: Moody, 2018.

The church is asleep when it comes to issues of race and injustice. Well, it certainly seems awake given all the rancor swirling around, but we clearly woke up on the wrong side of the bed. Eric Mason’s Woke Church: An Urgent Call for Christians in American to Confront Racism and Injustice is a call for the evangelical church to wake up (on the right side of the bed) to address these perennial issues facing today’s culture.

He argues that for the church to be woke it first must be aware of the issues of racism and injustice. Second, it must be willing to acknowledge the issues. Third, it must be accountable to address the issues. And lastly, the woke church must engage the issues of racism and injustice.

In his first chapter, he argues that the church should already be awake to the issues of racism and injustice.

He believes that the church should be at the forefront of addressing issues raised by our culture. He writes, “We [the church] should be the main communicator about challenges that happen in our country on race and justice. We should be the first place that people look for answers. We should be the ones presenting a clear viable model of the hope that lies within us” (17).

I couldn’t agree more. Now, many will most likely disagree with this. “The church’s mission is to just preach the Gospel. The mission of the church is to make disciples, nothing more nothing less.” But I’d argue that for the church to address issues of systemic and individual racism and to confront injustice is simply good apologetics.[1] Part (not all) of apologetics is addressing the questions and challenges of culture. Some of the biggest issues in culture today are the issue of racism and injustice. It is just faithful apologetics for the church to address these issues. Seeking to answer the challenge of racism and injustice is part of the discipleship process. It is helping show the power and beauty of the Gospel.

But what does it mean to be “woke”? Mason describes how the term woke is commonly used by those in the black community “as a term for being socially aware of issues that have systemic impact.” In other words, “Being woke has to do with seeing all of the issues and being able to connect cultural, socio-economic, philosophical, historical, and ethical dots” (17-18). Wokefulness is an awareness of cultural and social issues that have both individual and systemic impact.

Woke finds its beginning in the works of W. E. B. Dubois. In The Souls of Black Folks, he describes the double-consciousness, twoness of African Americans. Mason breaks it down: “It is a struggle to emerge with a strong sense of self and dignity while being fully aware of the perception of our people in the eyes of white America” (19).

Mason suggests adding a third level of consciousness: “Being truly woke is rooted in Christ consciousness” (19). Identity in Christ changes everything. It is an additional and essential lens whereby we must see ourselves and one another. It is being transformed, re-created by the Gospel.

Personally, I don’t love the “woke” terminology, but I get where it comes from and I also grasp the apologetic significance of it.[2] He’s simply “baptizing” a secular term, first used by African American intellectuals, and then applying it in the context of the church. We’ve done this before (i.e., Trinity, persons, etc.). I’d prefer using a bit more simplistic description of “faithfulness” to describe the church’s call to justice. This is who the church is supposed to be if she is to remain faithful, but I get what he’s doing.[3] Critics need to understand where the term comes from and not be so uptight about its usage being “baptized.”

I am thankful that this book is available. Christians are choosing sides, drawing lines in the sand, picking up the pitchforks (often not their Bibles), and going after one another on social media. Now that Woke Church is (soon) to be available we have a bit more meat to interact with.

Of course, countless people will continue to offer straw men arguments and go around waving their digital swords at windmills, but at least now there is a book to interact with. Now you can read, engage, think, criticize, encourage, etc. I (Deo Volente) plan on continuing to work through it. There’s much to agree with, some I disagree with, but overall it’s a helpful way to get us going.

I hope this book will move the discussion forward. It feels like the church is stuck in the mud. Spinning our wheels around and around going nowhere. It’s embarrassing and quite shameful. My prayer is that Mason’s Woke Church (and others like it) will help propel us forward to a deeper love of the Gospel and greater compassion toward one another.

____________________________________________________________

[1] And further, apologetics, rightly done, is a subset of discipleship. If you want, you can call it pre-evangelism or pre-discipleship, but it remains part of the discipleship process. It is simply applying God’s Word to unbelief (Frame, Ellis, Oliphint, etc.).

[2] I’d offer a word of encouragement for us to be careful in using it that we don’t allow a term to divide us. Describing one part of the church as “woke” and another as “asleep” while it may be true I don’t like how it creates an unintentional “us” vs. “them.” I don’t believe Mason intends this at all. But I do believe some critics will use this incorrectly to their advantage.

 [3] And I also get the “branding” aspect of the term.

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