Theology of Politics | Critical Race Theory

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“Critical Race Theory, like Marxism, espouses utopian ideals but in practice has little room for actual redemption and reconciliation.”

–Dr. Sam Smith

Philosophy and Purpose

The term Critical Race Theory (CRT) is becoming ubiquitous in the American vocabulary. Still, some advance the pros and cons of CRT without adequately examining its historical and philosophical underpinnings. Others take a middling position warning of the extremes while advocating the more benign elements of CRT that few reasonable people would disagree with (i.e., injustice and racism exist in the world, Marx was not wrong about everything, etc.), almost as if these surface issues encompass all there is to know about CRT.

The purpose of this article is to go beneath the surface and see if there should be a real concern and to clarify from a biblical perspective what CRT actually is, where it came from, and how it manifests itself in modern culture and the Church.

Not all misinformation surrounding CRT is from ignorance. Advocates often know exactly what they are supporting without admitting it. Parents across the United States have been asking public school superintendents and school board members if their districts teach CRT, and regularly they hear a response in the negative. The typical answer has been something like this: “Well, you just don’t know what CRT actually is”; or “Of course we are not teaching CRT”; or “Don’t you know that CRT is an obscure legal theory that does not apply to elementary and secondary schools?”

All the while, more and more educational programs (such as the 1619 Project, the Abolitionist Teaching Network, or the plethora of diversity and anti-racist training materials, etc.) are finding their way into the classrooms directly from the CRT corpus. Columbia University professor John McWhorter notes that “CRT-infused” influencers are, in fact, on a quest “to turn American schools into academies of ‘antiracist’ indoctrination.”[1] The practical questions are obvious: Does this matter? Should we care? If so, what can be done? Most importantly for our purposes, how should Christians think about and react to CRT?


What is Critical Race Theory?

CRT is the application of Critical Theory (more on that below) to the issues of race (and more). It started as a movement by American legal scholars who sought to critique the failures they believed were inherent in the Civil Rights Movement. According to former Harvard professor and progressive activist Cornel West, these scholars sought to confront “the historical centrality and complicity of law in upholding white supremacy” along with areas of intersectionality such as “hierarchies of gender, class, and sexual orientation,” all issues left largely unaddressed by Martin Luther King, Jr., and the early Civil Rights leaders. West makes it clear also that CRT is not confined to academic legal theory. It is, he says, a “comprehensive movement in thought and life” with the goal to “reinterpret and remake the world.”[2]


CRT’s Philosophical FamilyTree

Immanuel Kant

CRT is a derivative of Critical Theory, an 18th-century philosophical movement that developed from German Idealism and, more specifically, from the writings of Immanuel Kant (1724-1804). In his work Critique of Pure Reason (1781), Kant turned epistemology (i.e., how we know) on its head by introducing critiques of reason itself. The term “critical” is a synonym of “critique” — not simply critical in the standard sense of being against something, but rather of examining, analyzing, and, if need be, confronting that something. Thus, it should not be inferred that Kant was opposed to reason. He is, in fact, considered the Enlightenment’s “High Priest” of reason. Yet, Kant’s critique (or criticism) of reason was a very unique approach whereby, as Gϋnter Zöller notes, reason became both “the object that is being criticized and the subject that is undertaking the critique.” It was, in essence, reason’s own “self-critique.”[3]

Kant wrote Critique of Pure Reason in part as a response to some of the British empiricists (mainly David Hume) who were employing sensory perception as a principal means to question the Christian faith. He believed philosophy could help save Christianity from the cold and atheistic strictures he saw in certain corners of British empiricism. Granted, Kant was not orthodox in his faith, but he was not willing to leave religion to the whims of empirical investigation.

As well-intentioned as he may have been, Kant’s solution was arguably worse than the problem. To Kant, Christianity could only be rescued by removing its realities (God and the soul) from the sphere of empirical knowledge altogether. He did not reject empirical sensations or the external world to which they testify, but he did reject the way empiricists determined reality from those sensory encounters. Whereas empiricists argued that the human mind conforms to and processes reality as it actually is, Kant argued the opposite — that reality (at least as we experience it) is made to conform to the mind’s own structures of knowing.[4] As Gordon Clark noted, Kant believed “that objects must conform to the conditions of cognition.”[5] This is Kant’s famous “Copernican Turn,” which one scholar described as “rational self-legislation.” [6] Reality is what your mind says that it must be. It is this removal of spiritual realities from the realm of sensory knowledge that Kant refers to when he says, “I have found it necessary to deny knowledge, in order to make room for faith.”[7]

Kant’s attempt to save Christianity would also change it. Faith would become for many a matter of self-determination. Friedrich Schleiermacher (1768-1834) is an early example of how Kant influenced Protestantism in this way. Widely considered the father of liberal Protestantism, Schleiermacher saw religion as the “feeling and intuition of the universe.”[8] Schleiermacher, like Kant, was also on a mission to save the Faith, and the way to do it was to reduce religion to individual intuitions and feelings. While other influences were at work, especially his German pietistic background, Schleiermacher’s reading of Kant was a philosophical gateway to his individualization of the Faith. For him, religion and ethics consisted, Robert Scharlemann has written, of “the intuition and action of the self in its individuality.”[9]

Kant’s unusually far-reaching influence did not stop with religion. Politics and state structure would radically change as well. If one adopts Ayn Rand’s principle that “politics is not the cause, but the last consequence of philosophical ideas,” Kant propelled a massive sea-change in the fundamental way Western societies would view individuals, communities, states, and countries.[10] Postmodernist philosophical vernaculars like “everyone has his own truth” or “truth is a social construct” or “what may be true for you is not true for me” can be traced back in some way to Immanuel Kant. Of course, Kant was not the first whose thinking led to moral relativism. The ancient Sophists had long proposed radical measures to that end. One might say that Kant, then, advanced a modern philosophical validation of their ideas. But he had help.

Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel

The most important re-interpretation and application of Kant’s ideas came through the writings of German philosopher Georg Wilhelm Fredrich Hegel (1770-1831). While Hegel operated from the basic principle that truth existed in the individual mind, he did not simply parrot Kant. After all, since Kant granted the individual self-sovereignty, Hegel took the liberty to create his own dramatic turn by individually critiquing the individual! In that critique, he subjugated the individual mind to the group mind. For Hegel, individuals had no meaningful reality apart from the group. History is an ongoing process of groupthink with the objective of change through the process of tension and struggle. Intentional or not, Hegel’s dialectic (thesis v. antithesis = synthesis; repeat, ad infinitum) was in essence an assault on established absolutes, with one possible exception — the absolute of change!

That all things change was central to Hegel’s critique. Contradiction was the centerpiece of his Critical Theory. As J. M. Fritzman notes, Hegel “argues that change occurs because things become contradictory with themselves and so must alter to overcome those contradictions.” The “process of overcoming contradictions,” Fritzman continues, “means that change is rational and progressive.”[11] Here we have the philosophical ideal of modern progressivism, the progress of necessary change.[12]

Similar to Kant, Hegel wanted to advance what he called the “justification of God in History.” But he blazed a different methodological trail than Kant. Whereas Kant focused on the more abstract concepts of reality, Hegel sought to ground ultimate reality in history itself. And if there is anything true about history, it is that it constantly changes. Hegel believed that change progressed over the span of history, toward and by the power of the divine, or what he called “Spirit.”

“[T]he History of the World,” wrote Hegel, “with all the changing scenes which its annals present, is the process of development and the realization of Spirit.”[13] Yet, Hegel’s Spirit was not the orthodox Christian God, but pantheism’s god. It was, in fact, centered in man — not man as individual but man as a collective — not a unified collective as such, but one made up of sub-divided groups constantly critiquing and contradicting each other. This is the process whereby “God” comes to know himself.

Hegel’s Spirit was itself contradictory, a changing absolute! Fritzman explains that to Hegel this “absolute is the collective result of the universe — principally, indeed, the result of human actions.”[14] This matrix of ongoing contradiction, postmodernist evangelical philosopher Carl Raschke notes, was “a progressive elevation of subjective consciousness” and the “self-unfolding of God or Spirit.” It was, in Hegel’s words, “in and for itself.” Lest there is any doubt on this point, Raschke confirms that Hegel’s “God has become incarnate in self-reflective humanity.”[15] It bears repeating here that at the core of Hegel’s Critical Theory is a well-thought-out religious purpose and outcome.

Whether Kant and Hegel understood the tragic fallout from an ever progressive deification of man is uncertain, but the fallout happened nonetheless, and it was exceedingly destructive. Raschke notes that Hegel’s philosophy had a “disquieting legacy” since it led to “the self-embodiment of divine thinking” in men. He then makes a point to make Hitler the prime example of Hegel’s philosophy. It is telling that the progressive Raschke did not also include Communist tyrants such as Lenin or Mao who were arguably as much or more Hegelian than Hitler.[16] Progressives are typically slow to admit that the tenets of Nazism and Communism come from the same philosophical well.

Karl Marx

Karl Marx (1818-1883), the most famous interpreter of Hegel, was all about change. “In the eyes of dialectical philosophy,” Marx said, “nothing is established for all times, nothing is absolute or sacred.” In other words, everything must and will change — everything! Marx and his intellectual partner, Friedrich Engels, would become the world’s most notorious examples of applied philosophy, and that philosophy would be a Kantian/Hegelian self-determining critique. Importantly, they were not simply interested in thought, but rather in on-the-ground action. Hence, Marx’s famous statement: “Philosophers have hitherto only interpreted the world in various ways; the point is to change it.”[17] And change it he did. Marx infused Hegelianism with his own twist of naturalism or materialism, or what Critical Theorist Erich Fromm called “matter in motion.” This was for Marx, Fromm wrote, “the fundamental constituent of the universe.”[18]

For Marx, Critical Theory most directly applied to an ongoing clash of tensions and struggles between the haves and have-nots, or more specifically, the oppressor and the oppressed. It is not surprising that Marx subtitled his work on capitalism as A Critique of Political Economy. Marx adopted Hegel’s dialectic as a tool to deconstruct society and, in the process, dismiss all notions of God and religion. If matter in motion is the “fundamental constituent of the universe,” then unlike with Kant and Hegel, religion did not need saving, it needed destroying. A philosophy that so elevates “change” as the primary engine of reality will inevitably conclude that settled religion cannot have a place in society. Vladimir Lenin would carry out Marx’s atheistic critique in the Bolshevik Revolution of 1917.

Antonio Gramsci

Antonio Gramsci (1891-1937), founding member of the Italian Communist Party, is credited with advancing Kantian and Hegelian philosophy into an even more defined Critical Theory construct. While a prisoner under fascist dictator Benito Mussolini from 1926 until his death in 1937, Gramsci wrote upwards of 3,000 pages, now published as Prison Notebooks. In these essays Gramsci critiques economics, materialism, history, etc.

He is most known for coining the term “hegemony,” now a common iteration in academic literature. Although the term had been used by Lenin and others, Gramsci directly employed it to critique capitalists who held authority over the working class. “Hegemony” is a favorite verbal tool for historians and social scientists to criticize groups who exercise authority — any kind of authority — over others.

When I was in graduate school in the 1990s, the term “hegemony” seemed to be one of the most repeated words in articles and books, especially in American history. The idea of hegemony is not necessarily wrong (I have used it), but the extent to which groups are overtly pitted against each other — more by assumption than hard evidence — has made it an overexposed concept in modern historical writing. When any theory of criticism dominates historical evaluation, something other than objective history is the result. Few have distracted historians from objective, evidentiary conclusions more than Gramsci.

Mao Zedong

Mao Zedong (1893-1976) implemented the largest and most destructive application of Critical Theory in world history. Between 70 and 80 million people perished as a result of Mao’s progressive fixation on revolutionary “change.” In his appropriately titled work On Contradiction (1937), Mao repackaged the Hegelian dialectic to a Chinese context, but the fundamental elements remained the same. Mao wrote that “changes in society are due chiefly to the development of the internal contradictions in society,” and “it is the development of these contradictions that pushes society forward and gives the impetus for the suppression of the old society by the new.” One clearly senses the radical revisionism Mao employed in making change or contradiction central to everything. He wrote that “there is nothing that does not contain contradiction; without contradiction nothing would exist…. Contradiction is universal and absolute, it is present in the process of development of all things and permeates every process from beginning to end.”[19] One could hardly construct a more radically destructive revolutionary dogma.

Mao’s use of Critical Theory is one of the most heartbreaking and tragic experiments in the annals of mankind. It was the inspiration for the infamous “struggle sessions” during the Cultural Revolution (1966-1976) between children and parents, students and teachers, and Red Guards and owners of property or any other person connected to tradition. These sessions were specifically referred to as “sessions of criticism and self-criticism.”[20] Eventually, under Mao’s direction, this ever-fluid dialectic pitted Red Guards against themselves and their own revolutionary leaders (except Mao, of course)! Mao himself ordered struggles against — and even executions of — some of his closest comrades. It was madness at the highest levels of the world’s most populous nation.

Today, Maoist-like “struggle sessions” are normative among progressives in the United States. Kindergarteners, university students, and evangelical parishioners regularly succumb to those in authority, cajoled into lamenting over their default-of-birth racism and white privilege. The government is all-in on this demeaning and cruel process as well. For example, the State Department is implementing “challenge activities” involving critical engagements in reference to minorities. These sessions are followed up with “emotional validation” exercises. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has implemented a program whereby employees are instructed in “allyship, antiracism, white fragility, microaggressions, white privilege, and systemic racism.”[21] These and other CRT code words, principles, and guidelines are permeating American society and, by design, establishing, just as in China, a passive population increasingly ripe for control.

For obvious reasons, Chinese Americans tend to be uniquely outspoken dissenters of CRT. Some who lived through Mao’s Cultural Revolution are beginning to speak up. One mother gained national attention when she recently addressed the Loudoun County School Board in Virginia. “I’ve been very alarmed by what’s going on in our schools,” Xi Van Fleet said. “You are now teaching, training our children to be social justice warriors and to loathe our country and our history.” She then compared Mao’s obsession with change with what she saw happening in America. “Everything that was considered ‘old,’ . . . everything was taken out and smashed.” She also confirmed that the “Communist regime used the same Critical Theory to divide people” and the “only difference is they used class instead of race.”[22]


Adding “Race” to Critical Theory

The principal difference between Marx and the more modern application of cultural Marxism is not in the underlying Hegelian struggle, but in the subjects of that struggle. For Marx, the oppressors were the owners of production and the oppressed were the common laborers. The “workers of the world” (proletariat) would clash with the capitalists (bourgeoisie), resulting in the deconstruction and rebuilding of society. But the economic context was much different in the United States. Given that American capitalism since the 1950s has produced the most prosperous middle class in world history, a revolution dependent on labor unrest would be a non-starter. Something else would need to be the catalyst for Marxist change — and that something would be race. Modern Critical Theorists see the oppressors as those with white privilege and the oppressed as racial minorities. In short, CRT replaced economic and class unrest with racial unrest — with attending downstream intersections such as gender, transgender, and sexual orientation.[23]

The Frankfurt School

The Institute for Social Research in Frankfurt, Germany (i.e., the Frankfurt School), formed in the 1920s as a group of social science scholars, centered on the advancement of Marxist ideas and policies through the application of Critical Theory. The hope early on was that Germany would see a Communist revolution like Russia experienced in 1917. That did not happen. During the Nazi uprising, some of the Frankfurt scholars fled to America and, being Marxists, set out to bring revolution there. They began to equate American consumer culture with oppressive capitalism and eventually realized that economic class struggle could be dove-tailed with racial tension. Frankfurt scholars have been effective in helping change the focus from class to race in America.

Since the 2016 election, they have experienced somewhat of a revival in influence due to the rise of Trump as a perceived racist leader. Some see the Frankfurt School as prophetic since it warned that a Trump-like figure would inevitably arise in an unchecked capitalist society.[24] In short, the Frankfurt School figured out how to attach racial tension to their antipathy for free-market capitalism.

Richard Delgado and Jean Stefancic

Legal scholar Richard Delgado was an early architect of CRT and remains one of its most influential voices today. Delgado and his wife, Jean Stefancic, authored the very popular Critical Race Theory: An Introduction (2017). The religious-like zeal Delgado and Stefancic exude is obvious. They hope for a day when CRT will be “commonplace, [a] part of the conventional wisdom.” They are optimistic, stating that “this may, in fact, be happening” now. Across the disciplines “scholars, teachers, and courses profess, almost incidentally, to embrace critical race theory.” And outside of the academy “many influential commentators, journalists, and books . . . develop critical themes while hardly mentioning their origins in critical thought.”[25]

Propaganda works best in the context of half-truths. Delgado’s and Stefancic’s joy over CRT’s undetected posture reminds one of the character of “Squealer” in George Orwell’s Animal Farm who was “a brilliant talker, and when he was arguing some difficult point he had a way of skipping from side to side and whisking his tail which was somehow very persuasive.” He could skillfully “turn black into white” in the minds of the more naïve animals on the farm.[26] Like Squealer, Delgado and Stefancic “turn black into white” by pushing for “race-conscious measures” instead of colorblind ones, all to advance a camouflaged re-making of the American mind. They exude an eerie mystic-like sentiment to that racist end: “Might critical race theory one day diffuse into the atmosphere, like air, so that we are hardly aware of it anymore?”[27]

The reader should not miss the deceptive Hegelian dialectic at play here. CRT advocates employ one kind of racism (thesis) to critique another kind of racism (antithesis), resulting in a more refined racist synthesis — hardly a viable way to address the problem of race or, for that matter, anything.


Is Critical Race Theory a Religion?

The presence of this type of absolute dogma, mystical abstraction, and cultic dedication leads one to ask a reasonable question. Is CRT a religion? Possibly a more useful question would be, is CRT part of a larger religious movement? Those who honestly examine the regimes of Lenin, Stalin, Mao, or most any other Communist dictator gain a distinct sense that they have been studying a secular religion or, for that matter, a cult. In all Communist regimes, leaders are idolized through larger-than-life-images in pictures, statues, parades, etc.

Political scientist Eric Voegelin has written that for Marx “the great turning point of history” would take place “when man draws his projection back into himself, when he becomes conscious that he himself is God.”[28] These religious trappings, at least in part, can be traced back to the philosophical underpinnings of German Idealism outlined above. We have already noted the religious purposes behind Kant and Hegel, purposes that affirmed the Enlightenment project that effectively made man the “measure of all things.” From its 18th-century origins to its current iteration in the United States, CRT, like Communism, has a religious posture that should not be missed.

Christian theologian Carl Trueman rightly asserts that “all-embracing and transformative views” like CRT “often have a religious quality.” He points out that CRT has the common characteristics found in religion. It is by definition axiomatic and “self-certifying” with “creedal language and liturgy” along with approved “orthodox words.” CRT has its own “prescribed actions” that cancel those who “deviate from the faith.”[29]

Atheist and self-described liberal Democrat John McWhorter agrees with Trueman. The title of his soon-to-be-published book could not be clearer: Woke Racism: How a New Religion Has Betrayed Black America. In blog previews of this work, McWhorter addresses the radical “anti-racist” movement, or what has been called “Third Wave Antiracism,” showing it to be decidedly religious, led by what he calls “the Elect.” McWhorter wants to be clear that he is not saying it is “‘like’ a religion.” No, he says, “it actually is a religion.”[30] CRT is “the cornerstone” of this faith. And what makes it a religion? It is “based on the idea that battling power differentials must be the focus of everything.”[31]

These religious impulses may go much further back than 18th-century German Idealism. CRT and woke progressivism in general have striking similarities to ancient Gnosticism. Eric Voegelin is noted for connecting principles of Gnosticism with Nazism, Communism, and later progressive movements. Gnosticism in all of its forms is a religious exercise in “the redivinization of society.”[32] Progressives have followed the Gnostic path with the goal to gain special knowledge (gnosis) so as to eventually, in Voegelin’s words, “immanentize the eschaton” — that is, hasten (even if by revolution) an earthly utopia.[33]

Tom Flanagan has applied Voegelin’s themes to today’s progressive movement in some very interesting ways. For example, he points out that identity politics “starts with the special knowledge that Progressives claim of their identity.” This awakening to who they really are “is the center of their thinking.” Moreover, claiming these identities makes them automatically “oppressed by an evil world” that does not share the same insight or gnosis. Like Gnostics of old, progressives are in opposition to the unseen, abstract, demon-like evils that permeate the world such as “systemic racism, White supremacy, White privilege, misogyny, homophobia,” etc. Flanagan notes that this complexity needs an organizing mythology “such as critical race theory” to make sense of it all.[34] In this context, one might think of CRT as a kind of systematic theology useful in carrying forward progressive ideals and agendas.

Ancient Gnostics pressed toward a freedom that could never be fully reached, believing that man’s good spirit was trapped in a systemically evil body. To the Gnostic, all matter was evil with no prospect for redemption apart from a special knowledge that might give some semblance of escape. Similarly, progressives tout hopeful change for the here and now, yet possess a similar fatalistic outlook. Both see self-identity as “an irreducible and immutable essence.”[35]

For example, if one has same-sex attraction it is not “sexual preference” but rather “sexual orientation.” If someone believes he or she is trapped in the wrong biological body, then the way out of that Gnostic conundrum is not to resist the notion but to fully identify with it. In somewhat of a Kantian fashion, the transgendered individual lets his mind or intuition determine who he is regardless of the physical reality.

CRT (like Marxism) espouses utopian ideals but in practice has little room for actual redemption and reconciliation. Progressive platitudes of compassion, tolerance, and inclusivity are empty shills since, by default, Critical Theory operates from a repetitive dialectic of destructive critique. As for the sin of racism, advocates of CRT are fond of saying that it is America’s original sin and is institutionally systemic, even part of the nation’s DNA. If racism is this deeply embedded into everything, what is CRT’s plan of salvation?

Unfortunately, the best it can do is put violators on a treadmill of lament, fear, and fruitless repentance. Critical Theory presents an out-of-reach, graceless, and perfectionist mirage. Once you think you may have attained some semblance of improvement, you become like the Greek mythological figure Sisyphus, condemned to never quite get the boulder to the top of the hill.

How is it, therefore, that evangelicals who are supposed to believe in joyful and free salvation (not perfection) could employ such an unbiblical, discouraging, and godless tactic? The answer is that they can’t because CRT is completely antithetical to Christian grace and cannot be an ally of Gospel advancement.


Analytical Tool in the Church?

An intense struggle is taking place in today’s evangelical church over CRT. In some circles, otherwise conservative seminary professors are teaching it as a useful mechanism toward racial reconciliation. Even more, some are including it as integral to the Gospel message itself. One of the most outspoken advocates of CRT as an analytical tool for the Gospel is Jarvis Williams, a New Testament professor at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. Although Williams sometimes downplays the role of CRT in his thinking, there is little doubt that it heavily informs his views on race and racial reconciliation.

In answering the question “Which book do you wish every evangelical Christian would read and why?” Williams listed three — all on the subject of racism and racial reconciliation. The very first one on his list was Critical Race Theory: An Introduction, by Richard Delgado and Jen Stefancic. It is, he stressed, “a necessary book because evangelicals still tend to be decades behind on critical race discussions.”[36]

Williams believes that racial reconciliation is a central Gospel tenet, seemingly as important as Christ’s penal substitution! Since modern racial reconciliation is to Williams a non-negotiable Gospel issue, he has counseled young seminarians to “be willing to die for it as though you would penal substitution.”[37] Granted, Williams is careful to say that the Gospel, not CRT, provides the ultimate answer to the problem of racism. Yet, he so conflates the two that it is hard to know exactly what he means.[38]

In his book One New Man (2010) and in numerous interviews, Williams juxtaposes the Jew/Gentile divide of Ephesians 2 (as well as other passages) with a modern black/white divide. The problem with this is that Paul does not focus on race or ethnic divisions as such. Those divisions are part of the broader context, but not at all Paul’s main point. Paul is referring rather to the religious (circumcised v. uncircumcised) and doctrinal (covenant v. strangers of the covenant) divides that go away as a result of the Gospel. Paul’s “one new man” is about the union in Christ that all experience at conversion. To be fair, Williams does an excellent job expounding Paul’s doctrine of Christian reconciliation, but in my view, he is less convincing in applying that doctrine to modern constructs of “racial reconciliation.”[39] In short, he is so intent on forcing modern race applications into Paul’s meaning that he skews an otherwise faithful treatment of the biblical text.

To say that something is a normal result of the Gospel is one thing. When a person becomes a Christian, racial animosity should end. That is a matter of ongoing sanctification. Sadly, such reconciliation may not find full realization this side of the grave, but one would hope that an encounter with Christ would begin an observable sanctification process resulting in love and true fellowship. But to cordon off racial reconciliation as a unique article central to the Gospel narrative is troublesome.

A central tenet in Williams’ quest to de-construct the Church so as to understand this new “gospel” is to convince believers that assertions of “colorblindness” are a sign of deep-seated racism (a common CRT distinctive).[40] It is not surprising to see someone so steeped in CRT literature as Williams to make such a statement, since, as noted, CRT started as a critique of the Civil Rights Movement. Of course, to agree with Williams is to say that Martin Luther King, Jr., was a racist since he argued eloquently for a colorblind society. King hoped that his “four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character.”

The Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) as a whole is trying to find its bearings on CRT. At the 2019 Annual Meeting of the SBC, delegates passed Resolution 9, “On Critical Race Theory and Intersectionality.” Key seminarians and pastors who had already been pushing CRT in the churches and schools were the force behind this resolution. The first “Resolved” in the document rejected “conduct, creeds, and religious opinions which contradict Scripture.” Note that any erroneous opinion, as long as it is not considered “religious,” does not technically apply here. The resolution goes on to affirm that CRT (along with Intersectionality) could be “employed as analytical tools” as long as they were “subordinate to Scripture,” but they should never be used “as transcendent ideological frameworks.” This is a problematic statement on its face since CRT is a “transcendent ideological” framework and is also very religious — not just a simple analytical tool.[41]

Another section of the document calls on SBC “churches and institutions” to “repudiate the misuse of insights gained from Critical Race Theory, Intersectionality, and any unbiblical ideologies that can emerge from their use when absolutized as a worldview.” How is it that one can utilize the actual ideas from CRT and then call the process a “misuse of insights gained?” The danger is in the use, not the misuse. The principal “insights” from CRT are already “unbiblical ideologies” and are not dangerous because they are mishandled. Misuse does not result in the emergence of an “absolutized…worldview” since CRT is through and through an absolutized worldview. Staying with the same tactic, the resolution denounces “the misuse of critical race theory” in kingdom work. Strangely — dare I say, contradictorily — Resolution 9 postulates CRT as an ally of the Gospel as long as it is employed in a way for which it was never intended.[42]

A year after Resolution 9 passed, the SBC seminary presidents gave CRT a second look and did not like what they saw. They signed their own statement stressing “that affirmation of Critical Race Theory, Intersectionality, and any version of Critical Theory is incompatible with the Baptist Faith & Message” and, in no uncertain terms, that “all professors must agree to teach in accordance with and not contrary to the Baptist Faith & Message.”[43] There is an obvious problem here. More than one of these seminaries have professors and administrators who are on record as outspoken advocates of CRT as an ally for Gospel advancement. The seminary presidents’ statement is excellent, but unless it actually lives up to what it says, it is not worth much. Moreover, the statement did not address the still standing Resolution 9 — which affirms the use of CRT. It is almost as if the SBC is caught up in its own Hegelian dialectic.


Critical Race Theory and Christian Theology

There are several basic theological reasons why we should reject CRT and its spin-off ideations.

Doctrine of God
CRT comes from a long line of anthropocentric philosophies that can hardly lead to anything other than man-worship, placing it in direct opposition to the Christian view of God. God alone is the originator and arbiter of ultimate truth and justice. He expects His people to follow biblical justice (“do unto others as you would have them do unto you”; show compassion to those in need, etc.). God’s very character of love and justice ensures negative consequences for those who treat people, any people, wrongly. Critical Theory, however, follows an array of clashes, ill-will, and ultimate destruction, all antithetical to actual justice by any definition of the term.

Doctrine of Creation
Man is a special creation of God, made in His image. A defining characteristic of God’s image is rationality and reason. The Westminster Confession (1647) stresses the significance of God creating man with a “reasonable and immortal soul” and the “law of God written” on his heart. The word “reasonable” assumes the idea of order and orderliness and, in this case, orderliness under God’s immutable law. The point here is that Critical Theory repudiates the notion that man is in an orderly and subordinate state under a sovereign God. That would, of course, make God a cosmic oppressor since He would hold absolute hegemony over man. Moreover, those who would worship such a God can hardly be considered by serious CRT advocates as anything other than participants in an oppressive worldview. Clearly, the biblical doctrine of an orderly, sovereign God stands in stark contrast to any version of Critical Theory.

Doctrine of Sin
Even more offensive to CRT advocates than what the Bible teaches about the creation of man is that man fell from his state of innocence. Man is a sinner and must give an account. The problem here is self-evident. The biblical doctrine of judgment and punishment violates every fiber of CRT’s delineation of justice. Like Hegel and Marx, CRT promotes a strange and unbiblical anthropology that presupposes the fundamental goodness of those who are oppressed as well as the fundamental and unredeemable evil of their oppressors. Social justice as developed by progressives can never fit in a biblical framework. What is that framework? That all men (regardless of race, gender, or oppressed status) are justly condemned before the perfect righteousness of God. The God of the Bible is not politically correct. Moreover, Scripture expressly prohibits the sinner from blaming God or anyone else for his individual state. All men are guilty before a holy God, as Paul stresses, “without excuse” (Romans 1:20). And the remedy for that individual sinfulness is individual salvation.

Doctrine of Salvation
The doctrine of sin has a direct bearing on one’s doctrine of salvation. The Bible presents salvation in the context of free grace alone (sola gratia) bestowed on every individual who trusts in Jesus Christ as savior. Christ paid the entire penalty for our sin. The blessing of salvation can only be experienced by faith alone (sola fide). CRT has no room for free grace by faith alone. Those who violate progressive orthodoxy must demonstrate endless penance and reform or else be utterly canceled. When one combines the man-centered, religious origins from Kant and Hegel, CRT emerges as a self-salvation enterprise from beginning to end. Moreover, those who are on the oppressed end of the spectrum will likely find little need in themselves for individual salvation. Excessive focus on victimization, when incorporated into the Gospel narrative, will play havoc on one’s understanding of his or her own guilt before God.[44]

What may seem to be Gospel compassion toward the oppressed actually hinders them from seeing their deepest spiritual need. Rare is the person who will flee to Christ while blaming others for his or her state in life. Thus, combining CRT with the Gospel is a damning proposition that should be resisted.


Conclusion

Today we are witnessing something similar to the Kantian and Hegelian quest to save Christianity (or at least its reputation) through the employment of so-called “social justice.” Hidden in this effort is something akin to what Marx intended, not the saving but the destroying of faith. Granted, progressive evangelicals do not mean to destroy, but their complicity with secular solutions like CRT is creating something antithetical to biblical faith. Suffice it to say that “the Faith once delivered to the saints” does not need saving. The Gospel needs to be boldly proclaimed, not reshaped by a social science theory that is by its own nature divisive and destructive of everything that is good. Adding to the unchangeable Gospel only dilutes and confuses it in the minds of hearers.

Anything, no matter how noble, added to the Gospel, makes it of “no effect” (Mark 7:13) or, as Paul said, “set(s) aside the grace of God” (Galatians 2:21).[45] Church history is littered with failed experiments (Social Gospel, Liberation Theology, etc.) meant to save or improve Christianity. Trying to shape the Faith into something it is not, under the pretense of philosophical or cultural relevance, always ends in disaster. Biblical justice, truth, and grace are too precious to be substituted by counterfeits.


Samuel C. Smith, Ph.D.

Dr. Smith received his Ph.D. in History at the University of South Carolina (1999). He is Chair and Graduate Program Director at Liberty University. Smith specializes in American and European religious and intellectual history. He has various publications including A Cautious Enthusiasm: Mystical Piety and Evangelicalism in Colonial South Carolina (Univ. of South Carolina Press, 2013), recognized as one of the first academic studies of the Great Awakening in the lower colonial South. As a result of this book, Smith was asked to write the chapter on “Southern Evangelicalism” in early America for a forthcoming book by Oxford University Press. Recently Smith published Among the Deplorables: Confessions of a Populist Evangelical (KDP, 2020) where he argues for a populist and conservative Christian approach to social and political action.


Citations

[1] John McWhorter, “You are not a Racist to Criticize Critical Race Theory,” It Bears Mentioning [blog], June 16, 2021, https://johnmcwhorter.substack.com/p/you-are-not-a-racist-to-criticize

[2] Cornel West, foreword to Critical Race Theory: The Key Writings that Formed the Movement, edited by Kimberlé Crenshaw, et al (New York: The New Press, 1995), xiv, xiii (quotations).

[3] Gϋnter Zöller, “Critique: Knowledge and Metaphysics,” in Immanuel Kant: Key Concepts, eds., Will Dudley and Kristina Engelhard (Durham, England: Acumen, 2011), 15 (emphasis mine).

[4] Immanuel Kant, Critique of Pure Reason, trans. Norman Kemp Smith (New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2007), 22.

[5] Gordon Clark, Thales to Dewey (Jefferson, Maryland: The Trinity Foundation, 1985), 396.

[6] Espen Hammer, ed., Introduction to German Idealism: Contemporary Perspectives (London, Routledge: 2007), 5.

[7] Kant, Critique of Pure Reason, 29.

[8] John Oman, Introduction to On Religion: Speeches to its Cultured Despisers, by Friedrich Schleiermacher (London: K. Paul, Trench, Trubner & Co., Ltd. ,1893), xxiii (emphasis mine).

[9] Friedrich Schleiermacher, sv, by Robert P. Scharlemann, in Encyclopedia Britannica, https://www.britannica.com/biography/Friedrich-Schleiermacher.

[10] Ayn Rand, Philosophy: Who Needs It (Indianapolis: Bobbs-Merrill, 1982), 11.

[11] J. M. Fritzman, Hegel (Cambridge, UK: Polity, 2014), 18.

[12] It is interesting that the first Obama campaign slogans were centered on one overarching theme: “Change.”

[13] Georg W. F. Hegel, The Philosophy of History (Buffalo: Prometheus Books, 1991), 457.

[14] Fritzman, Hegel, 21-22 (emphasis mine).

[15] Carl Raschke, The Next Reformation: Why Evangelicals Must Embrace Postmodernity (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2004), 41.

[16] Raschke, The Next Reformation, 41.

[17] Karl Marx, Theses on Feuerbach (1845), https://www.marxists.org/archive/marx/works/1845/theses/index.htm.

[18] Erich Fromm, “Marx’s Historical Materialism,” (1961), https://www.marxists.org/archive/fromm/works/1961/man/ch02.htm.

[19] Quoted from Kenneth Surin, “Mao’s On Contradiction, Mao-Hegel/Mao-Deleuze,” CLCWeb: Comparative Literature and Culture 20 (September, 2018), 2, https://docs.lib.purdue.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=3248&context=clcweb.

[20] Quoted in Stelia Morabito, “Forced Denunciations and ‘Sensitivity Training’ Mimic Communist Brainwashing Tactics,” The Federalist (October 2, 2020), https://thefederalist.com/2020/10/02/forced-denunciations-and-sensitivity-training-mimic-communist-brainwashing-tactics.

[21] Morabito, “Forced Denunciations and ‘Sensitivity Training’ Mimic Communist Brainwashing Tactics,” The Federalist (October 2, 2020).

[22] Quoted in Michael Ruiz, “Virginia Mom who Survived Maoist China Eviscerates School Board’s Critical Race Theory Push,” Fox News, June 10, 2021, https://www.fox5dc.com/news/virginia-mom-who-survived-maoist-china-eviscerates-school-boards-critical-race-theory-push.

[23] Christopher Rufo, “Critical Race Theory: What It Is and How to Fight It,” Imprimus 50, No. 3 (March 2021), https://imprimis.hillsdale.edu/critical-race-theory-fight.

[24] Sean Illing, “If You Want to Understand the Age of Trump, Read the Frankfurt School,” Vox (January 27, 2019), https://www.vox.com/conversations/2016/12/27/14038406/donald-trump-frankfurt-school-brexit-critical-theory.

[25] Richard Delgado and Jean Stefancic, Critical Race Theory: An Introduction (New York: NYU Press, 2017), 158 (emphasis mine).

[26] George Orwell, Animal Farm (South Australia, University of Adelaide, 1944), 13, https://www.openrightslibrary.com/animal-farm-ebook/.

[27] Delgado and Stefancic, Critical Race Theory, 158.

[28] Eric Voegelin, The New Science of Politics: An Introduction (1952; reis., Chicago: Chicago University Press, 1987), 125.

[29] Carl R. Trueman, “Evangelicals and Race Theory,” First Things (February 2021), https://www.firstthings.com/article/2021/02/evangelicals-and-race-theory?fbclid=IwAR2EYdQNc2b4tqduO6T1NFTb0EpCN7MOKfBs9hOTQzYRdHapnBsHXFKz5Ng.

[30] John McWhorter, “The Elect: The Threat to a Progressive America from Anti-Black Antiracists,” It Bears Mentioning [blog], January 27, 2021, https://johnmcwhorter.substack.com/p/the-elect-neoracists-posing-as-antiracists.

[31] “John McWhorter,” Firing Line with Margaret Hoover, PBS, July 16, 2021 (emphasis mine), https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=a2UORLoCAZI.

[32] Voegelin, The New Science of Politics, 124.

[33] Tom Flanagan, “Progressive Identity Politics: The New Gnosticism,” C2C Journal, July 9, 2021, https://c2cjournal.ca/2021/07/progressive-identity-politics-the-new-gnosticism/.

[34] Flanagan, “Progressive Identity Politics.”

[35] Flanagan, “Progressive Identity Politics.”

[36]Matt Smethurst, “On My Shelf: Life and Books with Jarvis Williams,” TGC (February 28, 2017), https://www.thegospelcoalition.org/article/on-my-shelf-life-and-books-with-jarvis-williams/.

[37] Trevor Loudon, “Critical Race Theory Promoted by Three Professors at Flagship Southern Baptist Seminary,” August 30, 2019, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=M–gMO64r6U.

[38] “An Interview with Dr. Jarvis Williams,” Southern Seminary, May 27, 2020, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8PLGpETG69w.

[39] For his treatment of Ephesians 2:11-27 and the modern application see Jarvis Williams, One New Man: The Cross and Racial Reconciliation in Pauline Theology (B&H Publishing Group, 2010), 107-119.

[40] Jarvis Williams, “The Idolatry of Race,” Canvas Conference, 2016, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-tbV6Jrgfqg.

[41] “On Critical Race Theory and Intersectionality,” SBC, June 1, 2019, https://www.sbc.net/resource-library/resolutions/on-critical-race-theory-and-intersectionality/

[42] “On Critical Race Theory and Intersectionality.”

[43] Quoted in George Schroeder, “Seminary Presidents Reaffirm BFM, Declare CRT Incompatible,” Baptist Press, November 30, 2020, https://www.baptistpress.com/resource-library/news/seminary-presidents-reaffirm-bfm-declare-crt-incompatible/.

[44] See my discussion on this problem in Among the Deplorables: Confessions of a Populist Evangelical (KDP, 2020), 89-91.

[45] Biblical references are from the New King James Version.