Public Witness Post-Woke

Chase Davis

At this point in time, it’s hard to imagine a Christian leader intentionally forcing “wokeness” (as in “woke church”). However, it’s not for the reasons you think. Apparently, the word “woke” was a completely redeemable word as of 4 years ago. We could use it like Stretch Armstrong, pulling it this way and that. It fell within the boundaries of linguistic colonization (or should I say contextualization) to take the philosopher’s concepts and repurpose them within the church (like Paul on Mars Hill in Acts 17). We’re supposed to “plunder the Egyptians,” taking worldly concepts and submitting them to Christ. Why? Because it showed that we heard, cared, and wanted to answer the concerns of the world. We want to meet the needs of the world. Therefore, we were to wokify the church. This was very much in vogue in 2018.

“Woke” Hits its Expiration Date

But now, after all the hubbub about wokeness, the word is seemingly past its expiration date for evangelical thought leaders. Apparently, there is more to that word than meets the eye and it is no longer redeemable. What changed? Did those who coined “woke” hide their intentions? Not particularly. The etymology of “woke” was created and utilized by the same crowd that denounces the patriarchy, believes men and women are interchangeable, and believes capitalism is racist. So now that the word woke is alive like Frankenstein’s monster, there has been a retreat from its use. Not to mention, any critics of woke ideology are immediately written off as unserious thinkers who have been watching too much right-wing media. 

Four years ago, using woke was all the rage. Now, taking woke to task by naming and describing what woke means is uncouth because merely by using the word woke you show how unsophisticated you are. Are you beginning to see the game?

Take a worldly ideology, repackage it for the church, use it until it blows up, and then make fun of the simpletons (or just don’t listen to them) who criticize the word and ideology it represents.

No Longer a “Useful Analytical Tool”

The same is true for critical race theory. Only a few years ago you were permitted to listen and learn from CRT. It was a useful tool of analysis. It may not have the right solutions but it has a good diagnosis. Now, however, evangelical thought leaders won’t touch the CRT concept with a foot-and-a-half long, large print study Bible. Why? Because it is too hot – it’s under too much scrutiny in the public square. But what if it was always too hot? Yes, there are detractors who love to stir the pot and make discourse unbearable if not impossible. But if you believed it to be a solid tool of analysis then, has that fact now changed?

No, what has changed is that the wrong people started to smell the dead bodies hiding in the trunk of the neo-Marxist car and now because the wrong people are asking questions, we need to pretend like CRT was never promoted. Unless you’re a true believer, which is actually more respectable, no one in evangelicalism who wants to be taken seriously would utilize CRT and wokeness at this point (except to deny their association with them and ignore those concerned with the ideas behind them).

Captive to Worldly Ideology

What does this reveal about the state of many of our evangelical leaders? Well, it seems to reveal that when it comes to linguistic captivity, they are the ones beholden to the latest constructions. In seeking to take captive worldly ideologies, they themselves became the captive. It’s a bit like Stockholm Syndrome. And then, when you show this to them, they will gaslight you by showing you how it was your fault that the enemy did what it did. Wokeness wouldn’t be necessary if the church had been doing its job in the first place. Seeking to maintain relevance and a cutting edge, they constantly sniff the wind looking for what other ideas they can feed their flock with – when they’ve already been given enough food if they’ll just look at the Bible in their hands. It was all about being taken seriously and respected and for them that meant being relevant and sensitive to “seekers.”

A “Good Public Witness”

For the American pastor, respectability has long been tied to pragmatism. If you can get things done and draw a crowd, you will be respected. And in the absence of a healthy honor-shame society (which actually seems to be awakening from its dormancy), respectability is the next best thing. Addicts to public respect, they must make their home in the world so they can have a credible public witness. For the early church, a public witness would often mean your time on earth had come to an end. In Acts 1:8 Jesus tells his disciples they will be witnesses, which comes from the Greek word πνεύματος, meaning martyr. You were eaten by lions or hung from a cross. It was a very good witness to the public. Now “public witness” means using the right words when most favorable and discarding them when they become too unpopular (or talked about by the wrong people). Public witness is no longer about being martyred but being welcomed in the most prestigious institutions. Which, to be frank, is all well and good, though it’s been said that we aren’t supposed to want power and influence.

If you were among the self-described woke, then it’s fine if you’ve changed your mind, had a change of heart, or perhaps regret some endorsements you gave out during the woke era. In fact, that would be downright biblical – one could even call it repentance. But don’t crucify those who take the world’s ideologies at their word. On second thought, why not? It’d be a very good public witness.

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