Editor’s note—part of what makes conversations about race so difficult is that we seem to talk past each other. This word study series explores ways important words are used and provides biblical categories for the ideas behind them. Our goal is not to police language but to provide greater clarity.
Whether reading critical theorists or otherwise engaging in discussions about race and racism, you are likely to frequently encounter the word power. This is not a word often used in the Christian circles in which I have travelled. What are we to make of the prevalence of this word and its corresponding ideas?
Critical race theorists are often accused of reducing all of human interaction into an exercise of power by the oppressor over the oppressed. That is an oversimplification. Some may commit this error, but the solutions proposed by critical race theorists suggest that there are ways humans can interact without oppression (1). Regardless of what others are saying or writing, there are a few important things for Christians to remember about power.
Authority is Good
Some will write of power rather than authority because they do not believe in the legitimacy of authority, human or otherwise. Christians need to remember that human authority is established by God (Romans 13:1). Authority, by its nature, reflects God (2). Ever since the Garden, God has been commissioning humans made in His image to govern His creation as His viceroys.
Christians must not go along with calls to eliminate human authority. Lawlessness is anti-Christian. The solution to the problems of society is not to burn society down to the ground. But what oppression?
Abuse of Authority is Wicked
If one human being strikes another, that is evil. If the aggressor is in a position of authority, the wickedness of the act is compounded. All authority comes from God and is meant to protect human flourishing. When authority is abused for selfish ends and abuses those under authority, it lies about the character of God.
This is what makes racism so evil. Ethnic partiality denies the image of God. When committed by someone in authority, or when institutionalized by law, both the image of God and the character of God are attacked.
Order and Accountability
Given these two truths about authority, how are Christians to think and act? The first is to acknowledge the goodness of authority. When we read diagnostics of social ills which solely blame power structures for abuse, we must reject those claims as failures to understand the human condition. Cain didn’t need an elaborate social structure to kill Abel (Genesis 4). The human heart is desperately wicked (Jeremiah 17:9). We will find infinite ways to abuse each other. Tear down one structure, and we will abuse each other with whatever comes next. There is no utopia until glory.
Christians also know that we serve a King whose kingdom is not of this world (John 18:36). Our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers of this darkness, against evil, spiritual forces in the heavens (Ephesians 6:12).
Does that mean we ignore injustice by those in power? God forbid! The Lord Jesus left his people in this world in an empowered (no pun intended) position. We are under the authority of government insofar as it does not conflict with the rule of the risen Christ. We can operate in this world as invested citizens, seeking the good of our city (Jeremiah 29:7). But our hope in government is not ultimate—we do not rely on kings to do what only God can do. In this sense, power is important but not ultimate.
We should evaluate governments according to the standards of God’s perfect Word. We do not have to pretend they are more righteous or just than they are as if we have some investment to protect. We should have the courage of John the Baptist, calling out wicked government no matter what it costs us (Mark 6:17-20).
Too often, Christians defend the actions of their preferred politicians without considering the standards of God’s word. We must not get that backwards. Just because authority is God’s good idea, it does not mean that every exercise of authority is good. Christians must be the most zealous guardians of justice, calling authority to account when it does not reflect God’s design.
When you encounter various claims about human power, remember where it comes from, and what God made it for. Remember your role as a citizen and remember God’s commands to consider the poor, downtrodden, and oppressed.
- (1) This is not a statement on the validity of such solutions. As I previously wrote, I am apprehensive about many solutions proposed by many critical race theorists. But we can disagree without misrepresenting.
- (2) This point comes from Mark Dever: https://www.capitolhillbaptist.org/sermon/jesus-paid-taxes
- Thank God for His perfect rule—that we do not have to rely on human governments for our salvation.
- Pray that Christians would be champions of justice in this evil age.
- Pray for God’s perfect justice to be enacted. Come, Lord Jesus!