Summary: A Church that is asleep to injustice and racism is blind to the heart of God.
Honestly, I do not understand the current movement today within the church that suggests that justice is peripheral and actually against the gospel. The Dallas Statement on Social Justice and the Gospel has united many against it, from Al Mohler to the more traditionally justice oriented progressive Evangelicals.
I did not need to be persuaded that seeking justice is an important of what it means to be the church. There is, certainly, differences in method and strategy. What types of justice that an individual or church seeks after will matter based on calling, geography, demographics, etc. And, of course, the church should not be partisan in its approach to justice (although it will likely be political).
Eric Mason did not need to convince me of the biblical calling toward justice, or of the history of the church being on the wrong side of justice. But I am still glad that I read Woke Church. Woke Church is organized around four themes, ‘Be Aware. Be Willing to Acknowledge. Be Accountable. Be Active.’
Mason walks through awareness and acknowledgement. Blind spots are real. If we are blind to both injustice and how it works, and has work historically, we cannot even start to right injustice. The early historical and biographical sections of the book were strong.
The strongest section of the book for me was the discussion of the prophetic. Mason charges the church with being properly prophetic. He walks through the Old Testament prophets, both how they called the people toward justice and how they were received. Prophetic does not mean unaccountable and it does not separate the concept of prophetic from the proclamation of the Lordship of Jesus Christ. Done rightly, we are proclaiming the gospel and Lordship of Jesus Christ as part of a prophetic call.
Woke Church ends with ‘Be Active’. This section is not prescriptive, but descriptive of how Mason leads his church to be active. Different contexts will be active in different ways. John Perkins wrote one of the two introductions to Woke Church and this final section has the finger prints of Perkin’s legacy all over it. In some ways, I am not sure there is really anything here that is particular to Woke Church. Good ministry to the community, a ministry that seeks justice, and the Shalom of the community, will naturally work on racial injustice as well as all other forms of injustice.
Mason highlights racial injustice because the Evangelical church as a whole has been largely silent ‘during virtually every major wave of injustice in America affecting blacks.’ And that call to racial justice is important. The second introduction to the book is Lingon Duncan. Duncan publicly repented from ‘racial blindness’ during the Together For the Gospel (T4G) conference earlier this year and has written about it in several places. During Duncan’s T4G talk, he says that in 1990 he first taught a course on Pastoral and Social Ethics in Jackson, Mississippi. He said it never occurred to him in the context of the class to discuss racism.
I go back and forth about the title. Woke is a controversial term. Jemar Tisby and Tyler Burns on their Pass the Mic podcast had a good discussion about the term in April 2017. Jemar was less interested in the term because it has the connotation of having arrived, and there never is a full completion to ‘wokeness’. Tyler was more supportive of the term because he thought it communicated an important idea that some people have ‘awoken’ from their slumber and realize that they have been asleep to issues of injustice, particularly racial injustice. The term started as ‘stay woke’ which I liked better because it had a connotation of continued action. But it has been shortened over time.
Somewhat like the term ‘social justice’ the concerns raised by the Dallas statement linked above are not really about justice (because the Dallas statement wants to pursue justice, but only in certain areas.) Woke has a particular negative connotation for many that need to be convinced of the basic concept. I am not sure there is any getting around the problem. Those that are turned off by the idea of racial justice being particularly important, are the ones that need to read the book and are the ones that are least likely to read it.
If you are skeptical, and you read kindle books, you should pick it up and give it a try, Woke Church is only $1.99 right now on Kindle. If you are interested in the passages I highlighted, you can read those on my goodreads page.