In the age of social media, cancel culture has become a societal norm. For better or worse, the power to complain, speak directly to power, or question what’s happening behind the scenes is in the hands of everyone with a smartphone.
On one hand, social media has given a voice to those who once lacked it. On the other hand, our posts can blaze a never-ending warpath for those seeking vigilante justice. But what if a more deep-rooted, human need lies beneath the surface of cancel culture? What if cancel culture isn’t only a social issue but also a gospel opportunity?
When we hear about the latest person being canceled, we often either roll our eyes and move on or make a snap judgment and choose a side. Instead, here’s how we can think it through—and perhaps talk it through with others—in light of the gospel.
How Did We Get Here?
Many of us may wonder how cancel culture began. In short, this phenomenon is an undercurrent of the pluralist and postmodern waters we swim in every day. To explain, let’s wade into a little philosophy. But don’t worry; we won’t get too deep.
Paul Hiebert identifies two kinds of postmodern worldviews:
- Skeptical postmoderns reject moral, objective truth and lean toward nihilism—the belief that life is meaningless. And that belief breeds despair.
- Affirmative postmoderns are more idealistic. They believe humanity will improve through access to tools like science, education, and social justice.
Younger millennials and Gen Z lean toward affirmative postmodernism and care a great deal about justice. Without a moral authority, like Scripture, to guide them, they must construct and implement their own understanding of justice—which is incredibly difficult in our complex world. Cancel culture simplifies this process by making things black and white. Suddenly, one’s conscience or social circle serves as judge, jury, and executioner on moral matters.
Nothing New Under the Sun
Though the term “postmodernism” has only existed since the 1950s, post-truth logic is nothing new. The same conflict of justice and truth plagued Pontius Pilate in the Gospels.
In his role as judge, Pilate resisted the Jews who accused Jesus because he felt Jesus was innocent. Pilate later questioned Jesus himself, begging Jesus to give him a reason to release him. In the end, the conflicted Pilate bemoaned, “What is truth?” (John 18:38).
Pilate couldn’t find Jesus guilty, but he also didn’t have a solid foundation for truth—even though it was staring him in the face. Because of his difficult political position, Pilate washed his hands of responsibility and deferred to public opinion to crucify Jesus.
As people made in God’s image, culture warriors hunger and thirst for righteousness. But as broken people in a fallen world, they might not know how to find it. So they deal with the problem the only way they know how: by canceling what seems wrong in their own eyes.
As people made in God’s image, culture warriors hunger and thirst for righteousness. But as broken people in a fallen world, they might not know how to find it.
Instead of lashing out or flippantly dismissing cancel culture, we should meet accusations (from the right and the left) with compassion and unfailing gospel truth. If done well, these conversations display the beauty of the gospel—where justice and mercy meet.
What Cancel Culture Gets Right
Like most cultural elements, cancel culture does get some things right. Throughout Scripture, we’re reminded that injustice and evil should be uncovered and eliminated. Though we may not affirm its methods, cancel culture points to the truth of human depravity and the prevalence of injustice in our world.
Instead of immediately dismissing the accusations of cancel culture, Christians should listen carefully. Because our justification is secure in Christ, we can listen to accusations knowing we’re not condemned by our true Judge. If wrongs exist and need to be righted, we should want to know. Where sin exists in our lives or communities, we should mourn, confess, repent, and rebuke as necessary. Christians, of all people, should be well practiced in repentance. God doesn’t turn a blind eye to evil, nor should we.
What Cancel Culture Misses
But cancel culture also misses the mark, particularly by offering only bad news. As the margin of error gets smaller and smaller, even one poorly worded comment online can condemn the most righteous among us. Eventually, everyone who falls under the microscope of cancel culture fails.
Christians, of all people, should be well practiced in repentance.
Cancel culture offers condemnation with no hope for redemption. Like the law, it reveals our brokenness but offers no solution. We’re left to slowly cancel everyone in an effort to assert our own righteousness—to prove we’re just enough, conscientious enough, woke enough, or conservative enough to call out others. This raises the question, Is anyone worthy? And here in the confusion, the light of the gospel shines most brilliantly.
Justice and Mercy Meet in Christ
The only solution to the brokenness around us and in us is Christ. The cross is proof that God hasn’t given up on mankind—though he rightly could. At the cross, God’s righteous anger is satisfied. And his loving-kindness provides a way forward for the condemned.
God proves himself to be who he says he is—“merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness, keeping steadfast love for thousands, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin, but . . . by no means [clearing] the guilty” (Ex. 34:6–7).
In his kingdom, God is righting wrongs and making all things new. So we can be honest about the depth of our sin and proclaim with hope the depth of God’s grace.
Only these redemptive truths can satisfy people’s desire for justice, so let’s communicate them clearly. Instead of waving away the claims of cancel culture, let’s use it as an opportunity to share the gospel. Let’s point out how the desires behind cancel culture are only satisfied in Christ. There’s good news for cancel culture after all.