An Open Letter to InterVarsity

Katelynn Richardson
9 min readMar 5, 2021

Dear InterVarsity Leadership,

I recently attended the Surf and Turf region Mosaic Conference on Ethnicity and Race. I appreciate that InterVarsity is trying to tackle such difficult questions. These are especially relevant issues on campus. As Christians, we need to have the right answers. But we can’t get the right answers if we are asking the wrong questions. When it comes to ethnic tensions, the question is not “How can I become more ethnically aware?” but “How does the gospel unite us in Christ?” Unfortunately, the Mosaic conference addressed the first question, and in doing so drew more on worldly philosophy than scriptural truth.

Parts of the message were good. It’s true that we are fearfully and wonderfully made no matter our color. It’s true that each ethnic group has some good cultural traits and some bad. It’s also true that we can uncritically absorb our culture’s values and that learning about other cultures can be a great way to show them love. But learning about other ethnicities is not a solution for ethnic strife, and I have a problem when that man-made solution is elevated above the gospel-or worse, when the gospel is obscured.

The core teaching of this conference was that we need to become aware of our own ethnicity to reconcile with others across ethnic lines. This is not in the Bible. The real problem behind ethnic tensions, which was largely not discussed, is sin. We are all sinners. The way to reconcile is to look to Christ, “the founder and perfecter of our faith.”(1) He, in His word, has set out everything we need to live a godly and upright life in him. “All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work.(2) God’s word tells us how to cultivate the fruit of the spirit and how Christ’s finished work on the cross means we are reconciled to him and each other. In contrast, the message of becoming “ethically aware” says God’s grace is not sufficient for you to be reconciled to your brother. Instead, you must read these books, learn about your ethnicity, and follow these three steps to be united. People of other ethnicities know something you will never know, something God’s word can’t reveal, something only they can bestow on you. This kind of teaching pushes people to rely on their works, not the true gospel of grace.

To fit this false teaching, biblical terms were often redefined. The most abused term was “reconciled.” Reconciliation was defined as “an ongoing spiritual process involving forgiveness, repentance and justice that restores broken relationships and systems to reflect God’s original intention for all creation to flourish.” The issue with this definition, which comes from author Brenda Salter McNeil, is that it is in complete opposition to the Bible. Scripture says that “while we were enemies we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son.”(3) Our “ministry of reconciliation,” referenced in 2 Corinthians 5:18, is to preach this message. Clarity on terms like this matters. Confusion abounds when we stray from biblical definitions.

Redefining terms paves the way for bad theology and prevents many from seeing the error because it is still expressed in biblical language. The “new” definition of reconciliation justified a Friday night session where Asian-Americans, Latinos, African-Americans, Natives, and Whites separated to create spaces where students could feel comfortable discussing issues with others who looked like them. Far from promoting unity, I worry that this only reinforces the idea that there are certain things we cannot confide to one another across ethnic lines. Jesus Christ did not declare “It is finished!” on the cross for reconciliation to be a continual process undertaken by human hands and man-made rules. He did not “[break] down in his flesh the dividing wall of hostility” for us to raise it back up and divide into breakout groups by ethnicity, but to “create in himself one new man in place of the two, so making peace, and might reconcile us both to God in one body through the cross, thereby killing the hostility.”(4)

Yet, it will be claimed these ideas are Christian because they were backed by Scripture. This too is a problem. When Scripture was used at this conference, it was twisted to mean something foreign to the original context. The story of Saul’s conversion in Acts 9 is not a parallel for a white person recognizing their power and repenting. It’s not there to make a political point and say that “Saul put people in cages and separated families.” The story of Saul’s conversion is a testament to God’s sovereignty, mercy, and ability to completely transform an individual from a murderer bent on persecuting his church to its number one supporter. That is the life-changing, world-flipping, redeeming gospel we missed because this foreign analogy was imported into the text and the awe-inspiring grace of God was cheapened as a way to make a politically correct point.

Likewise, Revelation 7 was used to make the point that because heaven will be multi-ethnic, we should strive for that picture now. There is a problem with this perspective. First, it ignores why heaven is multi-ethnic. God is illustrating in this passage that he will not only save Israel but is going to save people of all nations. Jesus’ death on the cross made salvation possible for all people, even to those whom the law, prophets, and promises had not been given. Second, it assumes multi-ethnicity is a goal we should work towards. Having ethnic diversity is a wonderful thing, but it should not be a primary goal. The church should strive for truth, unity in the gospel, and sound teaching. If we are preaching the gospel, God will accomplish the rest. Putting ethnicity first inverts the order.

It seems to me this conference not only had a low view of the sufficiency of Scripture but also a low view of God. A major red flag went up for me when we started by honoring Native people, rather than their Creator, by praying for a commitment to decolonization and acknowledging that “…land is sacred, God reveals himself there. God dwelled with these people”-effectively paralleling the Native lands to Israel’s promised land and Native spirituality with Christianity. The prayer concluded with inviting the Holy Spirit into our historic pain, asking God to let us feel his emotions, and prompting students to type in the chat box if they felt God speaking.

I also am puzzled by how willing InterVarsity is to support organizations and teachers who contradict a Christian worldview. A prayer was taken from Black Liturgies, a self-proclaimed “woman of deep doubt and some faith.”(5) The book list students received after the conference included White Fragility, a book rooted in the anti-biblical worldview of critical theory.(6) Most troubling was the casual support of Black Lives Matter, an organization vehemently opposed to biblical values. They openly support dismantling the nuclear family, affirming LGBTQ+, abortion, Marxism, and participate in pagan spirituality.”(7) This is something young Christians should be warned about, not encouraged to tag along with.

My heart wants to believe the dangerous teaching of this conference was an isolated incident, but after more research, I don’t believe that is the case. A key goal listed on the InterVarsity website is “multiethnicity.” This has led InterVarsity to create separate spaces and clubs for Asian American, Black, Latino, and Native students.(8) While their Statement on Biblical Multiethnicity retains elements of truth, it infuses these truths with the language of critical theory by using phrases like “We are also prone, subtly and even unwittingly, to perpetuate racism and prejudice in the fabric of our society and its structures” and “Many Christians have been blinded to the ways in which homogeneous groups limit and distort our way of thinking, including our perception of Scriptural teaching about multiethnicity.”(9)(10) Again, the implication here is our biases are not cured by coming to Christ but by learning from other fallen humans.

The elevation of ethnicity over Christ is evident across many resources produced by InterVarsity. A cursory glance at the blog reveals this. A featured article titled “What I Wish I Knew As A Young Activist” sends mixed messages on the source of our justification and good works, “Let the voice of the One who called you become greater than the voices that tell you your mixed race disqualifies you. Remember you are Latina enough; you are Native enough; you are European enough…you are enough.”(11) Scripture is clear that we are not enough. Our good works are not our own, but those which “God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.” That same article also recommends students “Listen to the wisdom of Native theologians, discover the sacredness of the land, let your soul dance in freedom to the Spirit-filled corridos of hermanas, and lead out of your communion with the brown-skinned Jesus.”(12) Showing respect to all kinds of people is good. Mixing alternate conceptions of spirituality and Christianity is heretical. InterVarsity toes this line and sometimes crosses over.

Even the Bible study recommended to us, Ethnic Identity: Bringing Your Full Self To God, appears to actually train students to seek out places ethnic differences are involved in problems, asking questions like, “Take a look at a recent conflict you’ve experienced. What role did ethnicity play?”(13) It astounds me that this is intended to promote unity when it encourages constant suspicion around ethnic differences.

All of this breaks my heart. Our universities desperately need Christ. It’s hard enough for students to stay afloat when their faith seems under constant fire from professors, peers, and university culture at large. In the place where they feel able to let their guard down and expect to be fed the truth of God, students are slowly led to believe false teaching. Why even have a campus ministry if we are proclaiming a message closer to the university’s and than to Christ’s? The same ideas of becoming aware of power structures, learning to rid yourself of privilege, and working to dismantle systems have been celebrated in my English classes, where I read atheist authors like Max Horkheimer, Michel Foucault, and Karl Marx. The solutions and resources promoted at Mosaic are close to or the same as those championed by the university.(14)(15) What the university lacks is perspective on the real issue humanity faces-alienation from God due to sin. Sin does not cease to be the problem when ethnic strife occurs. InterVarsity has made this same mistake, presumably because it has absorbed aspects of secular worldviews.

God is sovereign. As zealous as one may be for a cause, humans do not need to add to his word or take matters into their own hands through worldly thinking. Instead, we are to set our minds “on things that are above, not on things that are on earth.”(16) InterVarsity’s drift away from biblical truth might not be intentional. It might have been a gradual slip, something like what C.S. Lewis calls in Screwtape Letters the temptation of “Christianity And.” He writes, through the voice of Screwtape, “make men treat Christianity as a means; preferably, of course, as a means to their own advancement, but, failing that, as a means to anything-even to social justice. The thing to do is to get a man at first to value social justice as a thing which the Enemy demands, and then work him on to the stage at which he values Christianity because it may produce social justice.”(17) I do not know anyone’s motivations. I can only assume they began with a true desire to honor God. But regardless of how it happened, things as they stand need to be straightened out.

I have loved my campus group and the fellowship I have found there. There are many sweet, wonderful, kind Christians who genuinely love Christ and want to help others. Unfortunately, I am going to leave the organization now that I am more aware of the theology InterVarsity promotes. I recognize that I am an 18-year old student with far less experience in ministry and life than many leaders in InterVarsity. If I am wrong, I pray God shows me correction. But my conscience is convicted on this matter, and Scripture seems to confirm it. With that in mind, I hope this letter will be taken in a spirit of grace, love, and genuine concern for InterVarsity’s commitment to the gospel.

Please consider reevaluating these teachings. Thousands of real students across the country are led astray by them. For any students who might also see this, I encourage you to search the Scriptures yourself before assuming everything promoted by InterVarsity is biblical. The Jews in Berea were commended for testing Paul’s words this way after hearing him preach, and you won’t go wrong with it either.(18)

Sincerely,

Katelynn Richardson

References:

  1. Hebrews 12:2
  2. 2 Timothy 3:16–17
  3. Romans 5:10
  4. Ephesians 2:14–16
  5. https://blackliturgist.com/
  6. For a good analysis of the worldview issues at play here, see Neil Shenvi’s review of the book.
  7. https://katelynnrichardson.medium.com/blm-is-ushering-in-a-new-religion-d059a8fc1ede
  8. http://mem.intervarsity.org/ministries
  9. http://mem.intervarsity.org/our-commitment-biblical-multiethnicity
  10. If you haven’t heard of critical theory, I recommend checking out this course by Neil Shenvi or this sermon by Voddie Baucham. Also see this list of resources I compiled on the subject.
  11. http://mem.intervarsity.org/blog/what-i-wish-i-knew-young-activist
  12. Ephesians 2:10
  13. Tamayo, Steve. Ethnic Identity: Bringing Your Full Self To God, pg 30. https://ivpress.com/Media/Default/Downloads/Excerpts-and-Samples/3155-excerpt.pdf
  14. https://guides.library.unlv.edu/c.php?g=1046032&p=7620625
  15. https://www.unlv.edu/diversity/hateuncycled
  16. Colossians 3:2
  17. Lewis, C.S. The Screwtape Letters, pg 126–127.
  18. Acts 17:11

Originally published at https://weekdaywalk.com on March 5, 2021.

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Katelynn Richardson

Writer, poet, bibliophile, & sticky note addict. Lending my pen to stories on Christian apologetics, philosophy, and culture. https://storiesandstarlight.com