Black Christian Voices, Black Voices, Books, Christian Classical Education, Christian thinking, Classical Education, Critical Race Theory, Cultural Marxism, Marxism, micro book reviews, Neomarxism, racism, Scholé Sisters, soft totalitarianism, totalitarianism
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This post wraps up the books I read in 2022. For my other micro book reviews from 2022, click here (homeschool reads) and here (theology and life management reads).
I’m spending a lot more words on this post than I usually do on my micro book reviews, but that’s because I think this subject matter deserves a lot of care. I don’t usually tout my credentials, but it may be useful for the reader to know that I have a degree in history. So handling it with care is not merely a platitude but a trained conviction.
Since 2020, American politics and public discussion has been a bit of a dumpster fire. I’ve paid attention where I could and ignored what I could for sanity’s sake. I’m not one to pick a fight on social media about these things, but these issues do matter. And so I did a bit of reading on two sides of a coin, you could say.
The Scholé Sisters hosted a seminar on Marxism last spring (accessible now through their Sophie Membership), with three books recommended for reading and careful consideration, which you will find listed first below. Concerns over Marxist-inspired ideology in our day are not unfounded. But they are not the only concerns that are valid.
As much as we need to be on our guard against such ideology, we also need to be aware of our own history–and the fact that some of that history has been ignored or kept from us. And so I also read books by black Christian authors on their experiences, history, and wrestlings with the current cultural climate. To focus on one side of this coin while ignoring the other is short-sighted at best and potentially damaging at worst–to our neighbors, to our nation, and to our witness for Christ in the world. See exhibit A below.
If you are an American Christian who leans politically left, you owe it to yourself and to your neighbor to read up on these concerns about the influence of Marxist ideology and the current disturbing progression toward what Rod Dreher (see below) calls soft totalitarianism. There’s history there you may be missing. Also, hear from the black voices listed below–they hardly get ANY air time in the mainstream media–and especially not on the left.
If you are an American Christian on the political right, you owe it to yourself and to your neighbor to understand the political labels you throw around (“Marxism” likely among them), and to especially do some homework to understand WHY things like Critical Race Theory have appealed to so many. If people get excited about a bad proposed solution (CRT), it may be because there is or has been a legitimate problem (America’s tainted past). Never mind if the current Theorists don’t pinpoint that problem correctly–we shouldn’t ignore it just because others misdiagnose it. The books I’ve read this past year, as well as some other resources I’ll link to at the end of this post should prove helpful to that end.
Let the love of the brethren continue, and may the Lord be glorified in His people even as we dig-in to understand some of the issues that are currently tearing our nation–and sometimes our churches–apart.
The first three books listed here are from Spring Training. The rest are books I chose to read to flesh out the topic a bit more, exploring the dangers of totalitarianism, whether Marxist or not.
The Communist Manifesto by Karl Marx and Friedrich Engles (I acknowledge both authors up front, but my review refers to Marx alone for simplicity’s sake.) I first read The Communist Manifesto during 2020—it seemed an appropriate time. It was good to listen and process it again. The Manifesto is divided into four parts.
Part One opens: “The history of all hitherto existing society is the history of class struggles.” Marx proceeds to explain this point with a narrative of history that has two key qualities. 1) It’s materialistic, and as such, it’s an incredibly narrow lens for interpretation. Material and economic factors are the only things that count. 2) It’s a new application of Hegelian Dialectic, which saw the clashing of ideas as what produces a new idea, moving collective human thought ever onward toward truth, led on by something Hegel called “Spirit.” This is the essential pattern of thought in all forms of progressivism. In Marx, the clashing of classes produces revolution and new social orders, moving ever forward toward the communist ideal, led on by “History.” What Marx demands to be done is, in his view, what will inevitably be.
In Parts Two and Three, respectively, Marx lays out the Communist battle plan in defiance of Bourgeois objections and then criticizes the socialist movements that are, in his view, not revolutionary enough to get things done.
In Part Four, there’s an inspiring call to action for Proletarians everywhere to join whatever political movement is likely to produce a revolution: “The Communists disdain to conceal their views and aims. They openly declare that their ends can be attained only by the forcible overthrow of all existing social conditions. … Working men of all countries, unite!”
I have to hand it to Marx, his prose is riveting. It’ll get you fired up in one way or another.
It’s important to understand that because of Marx’s historical materialism, immaterial things or concepts like God, love, freedom, family, religion, duty, and moral ideals of any kind are seen as mere instruments for oppression flowing from the current system of production.
No benefit of the doubt is given to people who believe in such principles–all is material, all is political, all is economic.
Inherent human sinfulness doesn’t factor into his equation. If God and moral ideals don’t exist, sin can’t either. The nature of human dignity as having been made in the image of God and the nature of human sinfulness due to the fall are both abolished. Marx refuses to see them, leaving a divine vacuum to be filled by the state (or the gospel-hope of a communist non-state) and a faulty, materialistic anthropology (view of man) to both explain and condition human behavior.
It is this anthropology that drives the desire to abolish private property and consolidate the means of production–because if you can control material outcomes and do away with class structures, everything will be great, right? Marx, seeing only what he allows himself to see, seems to think so.
I wish that reading The Communist Manifesto was only an academic exercise to marvel at the ideas held by a few crazy people sometime “back then”. But sadly, Marx’s ideas, in part if not in whole, are driving much insanity forward today. The narrow oppressor-oppressed lens of historical study is alive and well, and class warfare is being promoted in our day, make no mistake about it. The lines are simply drawn in different places.
That Hideous Strength: How the West was Lost by Melvin Tinker I thought this was a very helpful book for understanding the influence of ideas over the past 150 years, and especially how those ideas have crept into the church (Tinker was an Anglican minister). To assume that ideologies popped up in the 1970s or 2010s without any connection to past ideas is simply ignorant of the way the world works. There are connections and this book traces them.
Tinker does employ the term “cultural Marxism”, largely to define where those class warfare lines are drawn today, especially as they relate to the sexual revolution. I think it is important to understand that this term is used by opponents of Critical Theories and not by promoters of them. No one, to my knowledge, identifies as a “cultural Marxist.” And the origins of this term appear to be associated with anti-Semitism. Most people throwing the term around today, however, eagerly decry anti-Semitism. And the potential negative associations don’t make it an altogether bad descriptive term, because the words themselves highlight what part of Marxist theory has been brought forward: the cultural revolution part, and less so the emphasis on economic theory (though it may be waiting in the wings). All the same, I think it’s easy enough to use the word “Neo-Marxism” to describe the same phenomenon. So, rather than get in a huff over terminology (like our cancel culture loves to do), figure out if the concept being referred to is valid. And choose the term that you think is most appropriate to describe it.
One of the best contributions of Tinker’s book, aside from the fact that it is pretty well documented, is his discussion of “social imaginaries”–how the stories and images that we take in as a culture shape our understanding of the world. This is good food for thought and discussion around what kind of social imaginary we are cultivating in our homes with our children–a positive application that can be drawn from an otherwise exposé-focused book.
Agis and Cleomenes by Plutarch This was the last bit of assigned reading for the Scholé Sisters Spring Training, and it was an interesting dose of perspective. In this story from ancient Greece, it was the conservative movement that called for a repartitioning of the land and a move toward greater collectivism, hailing back to the good ol’ days of Lycurgus the lawgiver. I can’t say I understood or remember everything from this reading, though the discussion inside the Scholé Sistership was very helpful. The main takeaway is that it’s good to shake up our political boxes and assumptions–most political ideas have been around for along time, and they don’t always package themselves in the same way or have the same flavor over the centuries. Again, a good read for the sake of perspective.
Animal Farm by George Orwell I read Animal Farm in high school (or at least I think I did—I know I was supposed to). It was fun to read it this year alongside my oldest son. The animals throw off their oppressive farm master only to eventually find that some of their own animals are “more equal than others.” And the second oppression is just as bad—or arguably worse—than the first. It was interesting to me to find that George Orwell was a socialist. So while his book warns of the evils of communism and perhaps the ditch that socialism can fall into, it doesn’t mean he agrees with my free market, limited government principles. I marveled similarly when I read The Picture of Dorian Gray by Oscar Wilde. Though Wilde had a death-bed conversion to the Catholic faith, he was for most of his life a hedonist. Dorian Gray exposes the devilishness of that philosophy and the harsh conclusion that following it without restraint can bring.
Whether we’re talking about Orwell or Wilde, I think this is interesting and important to keep in mind: People don’t exist in only two ideological boxes—yours and the bad guy’s. The ideas that thoughtful individuals hold are usually more complex than that, and we do well to ask questions to understand before assuming. Unless, of course, someone is just screaming at you or throwing nothing but ad hominem arguments your way or threatening to cancel you–in that case, don’t waste your time. And don’t be that person, either.
That Hideous Strength by C. S. Lewis This is a sci-fi novel, but you can expect from Lewis that it communicates truth as much as his directly philosophical and apologetic works do. I’ve written briefly my reflections on this book before, so I’ll quote that here.
“…This third book of Lewis’ Space Trilogy confronts totalitarian scientism and many of the themes addressed in The Abolition of Man. … I’ve found it to be great food for thought. [On the subject of womanhood…] Elisabeth Elliot tells about being a woman. Lewis shows it. His character Jane wrestles through it, and Lewis, as the author, lets her be a woman. … I’m finding it quite instructive and freeing, as I tend to have some of the same modern-woman hang-ups as Jane.”
There are a lot more spiritual, ethical, and political themes to consider in this book beyond what it means to be a woman, but I have especially appreciated that personal application in my own life. As I said in the quote above, this book shows the dangers of totalitarian scientism more than Marxism, but both are quite relevant to thoughtful discussions on politics, ethics, and science today.
Live Not by Lies by Rod Dreher If you want the perspective of recent history and political development through a broadly Christian lens, this book is a fantastic read. It’s both informative and edifying. Rod Dreher is a Catholic journalist. Drawing from the stories of survivors who lived under Soviet control, as well as other sources, Dreher discusses the social trends that set the stage for totalitarianism and also the social pressures that help to tighten its grip over a people. While this book traces much sad history and disturbing developments in China and the west, it also contains amazing stories of courage and determination to “live not by lies”–even when faced with imprisonment and death for speaking truth. Dreher also gives encouragement to Christians to build strong families and Christian community as the church has been intended to do from the beginning. This book can feel bleak at times, but it is not without hope. This makes it my favorite read in this category–the book I’m most likely to pick up again soon.
Black Christian Perspective
Each of these books is by a Christian author whom I have followed for a very long time in one way or another. I’ve read articles by Jasmine Holmes since she was a teenager blogging under her maiden name Jasmine Baucham. I’ve listened to her daddy, Voddie, and have read his articles from time to time. I’ve enjoyed music by Shai Linne and Lecrae since my college days (I’m kind of stuck on their oldies). And I grew up hearing Tony Evans on the radio–my mom loves him. So this isn’t some list of black voices selected at random to meet some “white guilt”-driven quota. >insert uproarious laughter here< These are my brothers and sister in Christ who have encouraged me in my walk long before these issues made it hip to elevate black voices.
Unashamed by Lecrae Moore Technically I finished this book at the tail end of 2021, but I’m including it here because it goes well with this discussion. This is Lecrae’s autobiography. He doesn’t address any political issues directly, but his personal testimony demonstrates the hardship that some young black men face in America. There are drugs, women, abortion…it’s a rough ride. Lecrae is quite vulnerable in sharing his Christian testimony–not only his conversion story but also the challenging and often-failing road of sanctification as a young believer who grew up with zero positive male examples in his life. This book will challenge and expand your capacity for compassion. I especially enjoyed listening to the audiobook from Christian Audio, as Lecrae reads his book himself; and when there are quotes from his rap songs, they are included as clips from his songs rather than merely reading the lyrics off the page.
Carved in Ebony by Jasmine Holmes This was a unique book. Jasmine tells stories of black women from American history with both evenness and heartfelt personal reflection. I deeply appreciate Jasmine’s stated approach to American history: her goal is to glorify God in telling these stories, not to glorify America nor to throw disgrace upon her. She’s filling in some gaps both in our traditional American history framework and in American church history—some of these women reminded me of Christian missionary Amy Carmichael and Christian educational philosopher Charlotte Mason. This brought me to ask, why have I not heard these stories before? In all my reading on heroes of the faith, I’m not sure I’ve ever read the life of a black Christian woman. Well, now I have. And I’m blessed by it. I plan to have my boys read this book in high school.
The New Reformation by Shai Linne Christian pastor and hip-hop artist Shai Linne addresses the issues of “racism” (his preferred, biblically-aligned term: “ethnic sin“) in four parts. In part one he shares his own story, which is of particular interest if you’ve followed his music. In part two, he deals with some backstory, wrestling honestly (and graciously) with some of the skeletons-in-the-closet of Reformed heroes like Jonathan Edwards and Martin Luther. In part three, he digs into theology, especially justification by faith alone, and its implications for the church. Finally, in part four, he concludes with a discussion of biblical unity and practical ways that Christians can walk that out.
Linne’s main point seems to be that we are on the verge of another reformation–instead of simply reclaiming doctrinal purity, this reformation is about applying it more fully: the Christ-alone, faith-alone, grace-alone gospel is available to all people from every tribe, tongue, and nation. And our churches ought to seek to reflect that when possible through genuine unity in Christ across any and all ethnic divisions–not just black and white. I so appreciate Shai Linne’s vulnerability and faithfulness to sound doctrine–not merely in verbally ascribing to it but in calling us to live out its life-changing implications by the power of the Holy Spirit. Highly recommend. This is a very good read to have in conversation with the next two books, also written by pastors.
Oneness Embraced by Dr. Tony Evans (A new edition of this book came out last year. My review is of the previous edition.) I listened to this book via Christian Audio. I appreciated Dr. Evans’ tour of black American history—and especially the peek into its spirituality and church history. This, like Jasmine Homes’ book above, fills in some important gaps. I couldn’t verify all of his citations and over-arching claims as I listened, but I think the perspective is valuable and it would be worth searching out some day when I have more time (and a physical copy in hand). It’s important to note that Dr. Evans is probably writing to the broadest demographic of any author in this category (aside, perhaps, from Lecrae). He’s an evangelical pastor whose readership will be varied in race, political affiliation, and theological leanings (Dr. Evans is not in the Reformed camp that the rest of these authors are in). With this in mind, it makes a little more sense that at the start of the book, he says some things that help him relate to people across racial and political lines.
There are, therefore, things that will make both Republicans and Democrats uncomfortable. For example, he uses the term “social justice” for most of the book—likely accommodating the popular use of the term–before he states in the last few chapters that he prefers the term “biblical justice,” and then proceeds to suggest what that ought to look like. These creative efforts to do justice biblically are where this book really shines, in my opinion, though you can’t dispense with the background knowledge that he gives to build up to that point (especially his evaluation of liberation theology’s appeal and shortcomings). I would like to own this book in print, which is to say, I liked it and think it’s important enough to own. That’s a pretty high recommendation.
Faultlines by Voddie Baucham This was an excellent book. Probably the best in this category. Again, I listened to it rather than had it in front of me. Interestingly, the reader was the same for this book as for Oneness Embraced, and I enjoyed the feeling that these books were connected—coming at some of the same issues from the same side of the fence, but with different emphases and perspectives and solutions—different, but both seeking to faithfully apply the scriptures. Both were incredibly valuable. But Voddie Baucham hits the nail on the head as he discusses the problems with the modern social justice movement. Unlike the other books on this list, Voddie is able to address the problematic ideology of progressivism and woke social justice head-on, providing a much-needed evaluation of the claims made by the media and by some within the church today. He even calls Shai Linne out for a weak statement he made. Sometimes I felt Baucham was a bit harsh in his call-outs of faithful, godly pastors and leaders. But I think I understand these to be warnings that even the good guys can get caught up in this stuff and say things that may lead people to accept ideas that are wrong. The warning is warranted at least for consideration, even if at times it feels a bit nit-picky. I think it is given in the spirit of love for the brethren, including those whom he calls out.
While this book was excellent, I think it would be VERY SAD if this is the only book in this category that you pick up. He’s going to say things that will resonate with what most white conservatives already believe. Which is fine if the things he says are true (and I believe they are). What he doesn’t do is challenge the same group of people to expand their understanding and compassion toward other believers to the extent that some of the other authors on this list do. If you’ve got the time, read all five of these books–they’re each an important piece of the puzzle.
Other Recommended Resources
ONE: Are you a homeschooling mama who’s interested in exploring these issues further? Check out the Scholé Sisters Spring Training Seminar: Dead White Guys, Classical Education Meets Critical Theory. Is classical education inherently racist? Monique Duson and Krista Bontrager from the Center for Biblical Unity will address this question and more. I plan to tune in.
TWO: On a related and very practical note, here is a discussion of living books as Mirrors and Windows (in the context of a Charlotte Mason education, largely considered to be under the classical umbrella). The main point is that kids need to read quality books that both reflect their ethnicity (mirrors) and give them a peek into the experiences of others (windows).
THREE: Both Baucham’s and Tinker’s books above provide a critique of Critical Theories while tracing their development. You can find similar information in this series by James Lindsay (an agnostic liberal who exposes the flaws of progressivism and the woke left). Lindsay has not only done extensive research, but he reads at-length directly from Marxist and Critical Theorist sources so you can hear it from the proverbial horse’s mouth. Heads up, there may be some strong language in his talks.
For some current-events commentary from James Lindsay, check out these recent interviews with Relatable host and Christian, Allie Beth Stuckey: Why Bud Light… (giving background for the crazy corporate and UN decisions being made lately) and …Debate Christian Nationalism (which discusses some concerns with the CN movement–from a conservative Christian and agnostic liberal perspective). These various topics do in fact tie in with the issues discussed in this post.
FOUR: Lecrae is probably the most sympathetic person on this list to Critical Race Theory and the books published espousing concepts from it. He’s walking a bit of a tight rope. Even so, I appreciate hearing from him as a believer who seeks to remain faithful to Christ but who desperately wants his brothers and sisters to understand what he’s been through and what he sees. This TEDx Talk from 2016 is a challenging message to that end. You don’t have to agree with every little thing he says–and this talk doesn’t say everything there is to say, even from Lecrae’s own vantage point as a Christian–but it is valuable to at least hear and consider the story he tells and the points he’s trying to make when working through these issues.
There you have it. Have I offended everyone yet? I hope I’ve at least given quality food for thought and inspiration for prayer and faithfulness. Real conversation on these issues is important. If you’ve got a thoughtful question or comment to share, please drop it below.
Hello! Fellow Scholé Sister here! I appreciate these thoughtful reviews. I honestly had not thought of looking to black Christian authors for their perspective about the issues of our day. Thank you for giving me a place to start.