The next time someone challenges your biblical convictions on law, morality, society, or salvation as repressive or troglodytic, consider three presuppositions that underlie the colloquialism “the right side of history”: Objective morality. If there is a “right” side of history, there is a wrong side as well. But who determines this standard? Who stands as a judge over history? Who defines what is good and evil?
The rate at which new language and orthodoxies are accepted into the public consciousness is dizzying. Our language has the power to redirect public discourse, channel new pathways of thought, and supply oxygen to movements otherwise unable to gain momentum. Just a few years ago, no one would have guessed our cultural lexicon would now include such terms as “social distancing” or “wokeness.”
But these are the obvious examples. A less noticeable turn of phrase becoming more common in public conversation concerns the need to be on “the right side of history.” Google Trends indeed appears to confirm a general uptick in the idiom’s prevalence over the last several years. Today, the expression “the right side of history,” innocuous enough on its face, belongs to a family of progressive talking points deployed in identity politicking. It is an a priori assertion of the moral uprightness of those causes alleged to help the oppressed.
Invoking the final analysis of history has the convenient effect of lumping together one’s opponent’s viewpoint in with a variety of heresies, literal and figurative, and taking the melodramatic moral high ground. To advocate against the sexual revolution, for instance, or to even be accused of racism in the face of manifest racial injustice all around us, is to join the ranks of Nazis and flat-earthers on the wrong side of history. By contrast, the one who falls on history’s good side can immediately enjoy being counted on the side of the angels.
If we were to conduct an autopsy on the so-called culture wars of the last several decades, it is clear that this tactic has much to do with why evangelicals lost on homosexual marriage and sexuality. The revolution could not have made its case without piggybacking on the moral capital of the civil rights movement originally pioneered by racial minorities suffering true marginalization. And by the time evangelicals realized they had been played, the proverbial horse had left the barn.
We must not be taken captive by philosophy and empty deceit (Colossians 2:8) and must instead take every argument captive to obey Christ (2 Corinthians 10:5). Rather than ignore the enemy’s stratagem, we ought to anticipate it, harness it, and redirect it—engaging in presuppositional jujitsu, if you will.