Is a Particular Lived Experience Necessary?

Josh Buice


The social justice train continues to roll through evangelicalism, and one of the core tenets of this ideology is an elevation of lived experience. Proponents of the social justice movement are pressing the idea that a particular lived experience is necessary in order to navigate the challenges of this messy world with devils filled. 

Let Me See Your Résumé

Have you sat through an interview for a job only to hear at the conclusion of the interview that according to your résumé, you don’t possess the experience necessary to perform the job that you’re interviewing for? The person conducting the interview is telling you that you need more experience and you need to build your resume in order to be given the opportunity to work and perform that specific job.

With the rise of the controversy surrounding the social justice movement, many people are demanding a particular lived experience résumé in order to grant certain people a voice into the issues and challenges facing us in our day. The idea is simple. If you haven’t lived and experienced what it means to be the subject of discrimination and injustice (on various levels, as a woman, a minority, a homosexual, and various other groups)—you can’t speak to the issues because you haven’t experienced it yourself. 

In short, some voices are suggesting that unless you’ve experienced it yourself, you need to stop talking and start listening because the lived experience résumé turns specific people into social experts and what they say must be accepted as truth—without question. 

How can this approach to justice be acceptable if justice is outside of us and if the Scriptures, which Martin Luther called the external word (which did not come from within us but originated with God) is our source of final authority? Should we ask for someone’s lived experience résumé or should we ask for what the Scriptures teach?

Put on These Glasses

I can remember walking into a movie that was 3D movie just a few minutes late with a group of friends. It took me a minute to get to my seat and get settled. When I looked up at the screen, everything looked blurry and certainly not high quality or high definition. However, when I got settled, put my drink in place, and slipped on my glasses, everything changed. Suddenly, the colors were vibrant, the imagery went from a flat screen to a realistic 3D image, and it was as if I was standing in the Hobbit’s hole—the book had come to life before my eyes.

In our social justice saturated culture, today people are suggesting that you you must be able to see and understand the lived experience of others in order to feel their pain, walk in their shoes, and to be awakened to the real life struggles of our neighbors. If you can’t see it—you can’t possibly understand how to fix the problem—which in most cases is yourself or as you will soon discover, you are at minimum a part of the problem. 

Writing in the Huffington Post, in an article titled, “My Lived Experience of Social Justice Work” Jonathan C. Lewis states the following:

Social entrepreneurs carry two different ‘résumés of reality’. First: you and I grow up within a particular community and tribe. Possibly (because of skin color, economic hardship, gender, religion or other comparable outsider status), you have known the isolation and sting of being the Other. Your history, naturally and invaluably, will inform your social justice work. Or, maybe your life experience has been easier and more protected. Either way, we each have an inherited résumé.

The other résumé is earned in apprenticeship. We volunteer, train, intern and work to soften the jagged edges of life on behalf of the discarded and the left out—whether at home, abroad, or both. Without sharing in the world’s suffering, without feeling the sharp jabs of injustice, without witnessing the torching rage caused by in­equality, without sensing the frustration of the impossible, our social entrepreneurship – like a fire waiting for a match – lacks the heat of conviction.

The common argument for those who are engaged in the grievance saturated social justice movement is that without a specific lens of experience, you can’t fully understand and you can’t possibly see the world the way it really exists. In short, you need a certain set of special glasses to see the world properly, and unless you have the right lenses to gaze through, you will remain blind to the injustices surrounding us on a daily basis. While Jonathan C. Lewis isn’t writing from a Christian perspective, that’s precisely the same language being used within evangelical circles today. 

Science of Biblical Reinterpretation

When we open the Bible and read it, there are specific rules that must be put into practice in order to understand it properly. These rules and methods are known as hermeneutics – the science of biblical interpretation. A shallow and haphazard reading of Scripture can make the text say anything. For instance, a misreading and cherry picking of a single verse of Exodus 13 can cause people to claim the Bible says to sacrifice your firstborn son to the LORD. That’s certainly not the case, and we need to know how to read the Bible through a specific lens. 

The meaning of the text is singular and it’s set by the intent of the human author. Therefore, the literal, grammatical, historical approach to the text is essential. It should frighten us that within today’s social justice quagmire, people are actually arguing for a reinterpretation of the Bible based on our modern historical context. This method will not only do violence to the biblical text, but it removes it from a fixed position with a fixed meaning and causes the text of Scripture to be fluid, movable, and adjustable as culture and history changes. 

Consider the tweet from Jemar Tisby:

A lot of Christians reading theology but we need some more folks reading U.S. history, too. To properly apply Scripture you can’t just learn the historical context of the Bible. You have to know your own historical context as well. #historymatters

It may be true that Jemar Tisby is simply trying to know how to best apply the ancient text to his modern context, but notice one of the replies to his tweet in the thread by Bradley Mason:

I can say that a careful, honest reading of history changed my mind entirely on colonialism, race, economics, politics, & even theology. I know including theology will frighten people, but it’s difficult to tell what ideas have been supplied by your context until you study others

One of the terms that has become a staple in our social justice debate over the last couple of years is the term woke. It’s really a word filled with great baggage. It originated out of the Black Nationalist movement as an urban colloquialism and is presently employed by people such as Eric Mason, author of Woke Church, as a description of people who can accurately see the injustices of our world and know today what they did not previously know in the past. They are awakened to the issues. 

In his book, Woke Church, Mason writes:

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. Most African Americans have had at least two life-altering experiences that are burned into their memory—the moment they realized they were black and the moment they realized that was a problem. [1]

Mason goes on to suggest that this “double consciousness” is a reality for minorities in America. He argues that unless a person possesses a third consciousness which is a Christ Consciousness it will not be possible to be fully woke. Mason writes:

Our Christ Consciousness elevates our awareness to our responsibility to care for and love our brothers—even those who don’t look like us…Therefore, to be fully woke, one needs to have all three aspects of consciousness. [2]

We must be careful in reading the ancient text through the lens of our present context. The Bible is not about America. Doing so will lead to all sorts of confusion and errors. While the Bible was not written to America or to your neighborhood in America—it certainly does address it and must be rightly applied to it. Reading the Bible in the wrong direction and importing meaning from a modern context is a revisionist approach—which must be rejected completely. We don’t need a modified Bible—we need the Word that God breathed into existence and that accurately diagnoses the injustices, sinful practices, and points us to the solutions within the gospel of Jesus. In short, the Scriptures are sufficient and they transcend all cultures, all experiences, and serve as our final authority.

What About History?

When writing to Timothy who served as the pastor of the church in Ephesus, Paul didn’t talk about the need for Timothy to have a specific set of lived experiences in order to address the injustices of temple prostitution. While there were massive challenges for Timothy to face in how he addressed marriage, the covenant keeping responsibility of men, the picture of the gospel, the sacrificial love that men should have for their wives, among a multitude of other cultural issues such as idol worship and more—Paul pointed Timothy to the Scriptures (2 Tim. 4:1-5). 

When we send missionaries to plant churches and train leaders around the world, we should train them in language, culture, and various other factors that will aid them in proper communication and provide them the necessary insight to address specific challenges with the culture—but we don’t school them in sociology or place our confidence in worldly disciplines. We send them with one message that transcends all cultures on planet earth—the sufficient gospel of Jesus! 

That’s how John Paton impacted the New Hebrides. Once filled with savages who ate human flesh, and after Paton’s ministry through the gospel, the people were civilized and the islands were filled with churches who bowed to Jesus Christ. How did he accomplish it? It wasn’t through the tenets of social justice or the ideologies of the world. It was by the power of the gospel of Jesus. 

Paton had never eaten human flesh nor had he built a résumé of lived experience among savage people. His Scottish upbringing was nothing remotely close to the culture of the New Hebrides and he was even called a fool for wanting to go in the first place. Although he possessed no lived experience resume from the New Hebrides culture, what he did have was the pure unadulterated gospel of Jesus—a message that is capable of addressing all cultures—civilized and uncivilized. 

When will we as brothers and sisters put down our foolish sticks and return to the sword of the Spirit and address culture with confidence, love, and passion to see people bow to King Jesus?

  1. Eric Mason, Woke Church (Chicago: Moody, 2018), 26-27. 
  2. Ibid., 27.
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Author Elder-Preaching

Josh Buice

Pastor Pray's Mill Baptist Church

Josh Buice is the founder and president of G3 Ministries and serves as the pastor of Pray's Mill Baptist Church on the westside of Atlanta. He is married to Kari and they have four children, Karis, John Mark, Kalli, and Judson. Additionally, he serves as Assistant Professor of Preaching at Grace Bible Theological Seminary. He enjoys theology, preaching, church history, and has a firm commitment to the local church. He also enjoys many sports and the outdoors, including long distance running and high country hunting. He has been writing on Delivered by Grace since he was in seminary and it has expanded with a large readership through the years.