The Woke Hermeneutics of Modern Day Evangelicals

Josh Buice


Every so often, during political debates, you will hear people talk about the importance of a proper reading of The Constitution of the United States. The argument is that if you allow people to revise the meaning of the original Framers of the Constitution through a modern revisionist approach, the nation will be led to embrace whatever the cultural winds of the day desires.

In seminary, I had faithful professors who taught me proper methods of hermeneutics—the science of biblical interpretation. It’s essential to read the Bible through a proper lens, otherwise you will end up twisting the meaning of the text outside of the proper meaning rooted in the original author who is addressing the original audience. In short, the text of Scripture has one single meaning that is extracted through a method known as the literal-historical-grammatical interpretation. Reading through an allegorical lens butchers the text and produces all sorts of meanings that are ultimately created by the reader rather than the author.

When reading the Bible we must go through a process of examination—discovering the author of the text, recipient(s) of the text, purpose of the text, and date (for contextual purposes). This method helps us extract the literal meaning as opposed to some spiritual meaning formulated through a reader’s own modern experience and circumstances. Remember the old interpretative method that asked each reader what the passage of Scripture means to them personally? We all know how dangerous this method of interpretation is—right?

Woke Interpretation

Curtis Woods, one of the leaders who brought Resolution 9 to the SBC and which was adopted by the Southern Baptist Convention at the 2019 meeting in Birmingham has written extensively on “Afrosensitive evangelical spirituality” as you can see in his dissertation, “Afrosensitive evangelical spirituality champions social justice without revising Scripture.” [1] Woods was educated at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary and is currently on staff at Southern as Assistant Professor of Applied Theology and Spirituality. In his dissertation, he is arguing for the use of a specific interpretive methodology that brings to the surface the African experience. In footnote 22, Woods explains his approach carefully:

Afrocentrists, therefore, believe African peoples are more qualified to study issues that face them on account of their presuppositional commitment to African agency. See Asante, The Afrocentric Idea; Lucius Outlaw, “Critical Prelude: The Africology Project and Normative Theory,” in African American Studies Reader, ed. Nathaniel Norman, Jr. (Durham, NC: Carolina Academic, 2001), 550. In dialogue with Asante, I offer afrosensitivity to communicate a slightly different nuance. Afrosensitive hermeneutics involves reading African diasporic literature in its own voice without submitting biblical theology to personal experience. Afrosensitivity, unlike Afrocentricity, shows respect to the African perspective without enslaving one’s hermeneutic to African agency. In so doing, Afrosensitivity avoids evaluating other worldviews on the basis of African agency but rather places all worldviews under Scripture. Wheatley unequivocally affirmed a distinctly Christian worldview even though she utilized non-Christian poetic sages and Africanisms in her writings. John C. Shields, arguably the foremost scholar on Wheatley, would disagree with my assertion. Shields believes many students of Wheatley coopted her narrative to advance an agenda. She became a pawn in some socio-anthropological argument aimed at constructing a defensive or offensive front for or against racism. For more information, see John C. Shields, Phillis Wheatley’s Poetics of Liberation: Backgrounds and Contexts (Knoxville: University of Tennessee, 2008), 1-42. [2]

The problem with this method is that it elevates a specific hurdle that a reader of the Bible must overcome in order to get to the actual meaning of the text. In essence, if anything, this method makes it more difficult for someone to get to the true meaning of the text. For example, in his dissertation, Woods makes the following point as he defends Wheatley from the critique of Julian Mason in 1966:

Mason poorly judged Wheatley’s poetry in comparison to her European poetical counterparts, and failed to evaluate how Wheatley’s environment or lived experience shaped her writings. Sociologists label this evaluative process an “ecological perspective.” We cannot disregard how one’s biography shapes one’s theology and social concerns. [3]

Our lived experience—or to use another term, standpoint epistemology, should not dictate the meaning of the biblical text regardless of what any sociologist says. Anytime we read the Bible, we don’t need to read through an African lens or a European lens—we need to read through the lens of the original author.

In his book, Woke Church, Eric Mason writes the following:

In his examination of the economic situation in African American communities, Du Bois concluded that any study of “economic cooperation among Negroes must begin with the Church group.” He was referring to the founding and establishment of black churches during the period of slavery and in the aftermath of the Civil War…You can’t talk about gospel-centered and Christ-centered ministry without talking about the black church. Circumstances forced the black church to look for answers in the Bible and develop a theology that became a robust, comprehensive view of the gospel. [4]

This statement is indicative of the many problems found in the entire book. Mason is committed to a specific hermeneutic lens that makes the mission of the church about defending the cause of the needy and oppressed. Is that really the legacy of God’s Church? Is that really the primary purpose of God’s Church? While I’m convinced that Christians who walk in obedience to Scripture will definitely care for the needy and will stand opposed to oppression—to make bold assertions that the primary mission of the church is to be an advocate for the needy and oppressed is to be guilty of mission drift. As Mason argues for a style of preaching called “prophetic preaching” that addresses social justice matters and reflects “God’s heart” can often miss the actual meaning of the text while trying to address real problems in our culture.

Once again, this way of reading the Bible through a specific lens has developed many different approaches to the Bible through the years—one such tradition is what is known as Black Liberation Theology. This method of reading the Bible focuses upon the needs of the Black community—specifically needs related to systemic racism, systemic oppression, poverty, and other related issues to the historical Civil Rights era.

Black Liberation Theology is a method of reading and interpreting the Bible that was developed by James Cone in the 1960s. In his book, Black Theology and Black Power, James Cone explains how his theological positions were formulated:

For me, the burning theological question was, how can I reconcile Christianity and Black Power, Martin Luther King, Jr.’s idea of nonviolence and Malcom X’s by any means necessary philosophy? The writing of Black Theology and Black Power was the beginning of my search for a resolution of that dilemma. [5]

Anytime we approach the Bible looking for a means to reconcile Christianity to political movements, it will inevitably result in a misreading and misinterpretation of the Scriptures. We must ultimately remember that the Bible is not about us. It’s about God and his redemptive plan to save sinners. We make application to us, and as always, on the bridge of application from the ancient text to the modern reader, we must not fall off the bridge and be swept down the stream of cultural interpretations through an improper hermeneutic.

Woke Commentary Selection

After a proper evaluation of the text of Scripture through a proper literal-historical-grammatical hermeneutic, it’s always wise to read commentaries to see how others have reached the goal of discovering the meaning of the text. This is a good practice because it enables us to make sure that we haven’t gone far off track in our approach.

So, how should we go about selecting commentaries to read and study the Bible? Should it have anything to do with their gifts, abilities, and specific educational background that enables them to be a clear voice that points to the meaning of the biblical text? Sure, but what about skin color and gender? Should a minority be able to speak to text in a better way than a white male? In other words, when studying the Bible, should we use a form of intersectionality in order to decide what commentaries to pull from the shelf to read? Well, that is precisely what Beth Moore is promoting. Notice what she stated on Twitter about her approach to reading and Bible study:

Much of these last 2 years I spent neck-deep in books on viticulture as I wrote on John 15. I learned so much. I love research. In my regular reading this year, to balance what I’d leaned toward for years, I concentrated on women authors and Black men and women authors both. [6]

In a Twitter exchange on January 4th 2020, Beth Moore explained why she doesn’t put out a yearly reading list. After someone requested to know what she’s reading, she explained her approach of reading black men and women authors. Are white males disqualified from providing clear exegesis? Not only is this a form of intersectionality, it’s likewise a means of virtue signaling to the watching world. It makes Beth Moore look good in the eyes of a culture raging on social justice. However, I wonder when she is boarding an airplane if she looks to see if the pilots are black men and women before she enters and takes her seat? Would she use this same approach in selecting a cardiologist or oncologist for treatment purposes?

The point is clear, we can’t afford to allow the social justice agenda to hijack our hermeneutics. How we read the Bible matters. An improper lens results in an improper interpretation—leading to an improper meaning. Do we really need a new social justice fueled hermeneutic? Must we read the Bible through what might be called, “The Intersectional Standpoint Epistemological Hermeneutic?”

It’s time that the evangelical church wake-up and consider the massive implications of the social justice agenda. When conservative evangelical denominations and leaders begin to use standpoint epistemological qualifications for interpreting the Bible and intersectionality as a means of commentary selection—it’s indicative of the massive cancer that’s within.

Beware of those who continue to cry, “Peacepeace,” when there is no peace. Within the SBC, we have become the laughing-stock of the evangelical world. For years people have continued to lament the fact that the SBC once won the war on the inerrancy of the Bible, but it’s currently losing the war on the sufficiency of the Bible. How long will it be until the watching evangelical world knows that the SBC not only believes in the full inerrancy of the Bible, but likewise stands unashamedly upon the sufficiency of the Bible? Stating that the Bible is sufficient in the annual SBC pastors’ conference and then adopting CRT/I as helpful analytical tools for gospel ministry is a massive inconsistency.

Such a commitment will take leadership that stands when others remain seated, speaks up when others remain silent, and advances forward when others hide in the shadows. J.C. Ryle once made the following statement that’s certainly very applicable to our current condition within evangelical circles:

Whenever a man takes upon him to make additions to the Scriptures, he is likely to end with valuing his own additions above Scripture itself.

  1. Curtis Woods, “THE LITERARY RECEPTION OF THE SPIRITUALITY OF PHILLIS WHEATLEY (1753-1784): AN AFROSENSITIVE READING” (Louisville, KY: The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, 2018), 6.
  2. Ibid., 6-7.
  3. Ibid., 11.
  4. Eric Mason, Woke Church: An Urgent Call for Christians in America to Confront Racism and Injustice, (Chicago: Moody, 2018), 126.
  5. James Cone, Black Theology and Black Power, (Maryknoll, New York: Orbis Books, 1997).
  6. Beth Moore on Twitter: [accessed 2/10/20]
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Author Woke-Hermeneutics

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.