I don’t make a lot of book recommendations but I would like to recommend this one for your consideration. Confronting Injustice Without Compromising Truth: 12 Questions Christians Should Ask About Social Justice by Professor Thaddeus Williams is a sound critique of the popular social justice movements from a biblical perspective. He distinguished between what he calls Social Justice A, which is a view of justice founded on Scriptural principles, and Social Justice B, which is founded on secular philosophies. Social Justice B is not only a phenomenon of secular culture, but it is increasingly being adopted by professing believers.
In my estimation, Williams is right that our diagnosis of social problems and our ability to address them rests first on assessing what is true. If we make false assumptions about the nature of truth, justice, inequality, sin, human nature, and the role of the church, then what we call “justice” will inevitably lead to actual injustice. In short, our pursuit of justice (an important biblical mandate) needs to be informed, shaped, and guided by the truth of God’s Word. Otherwise, we go off-course. I thought this book took a well-balanced approach to discussing these distinctions.
One aspect that makes this work unique is the inclusion of personal stories from twelve other contributors. Each one shares their experience of having a warped view of social justice originally to embracing a healthy and healing version that is shaped by the gospel. These stories add a personal element to the work that helps drive home the point that issues of social justice aren’t theoretical. They affect real people in the real world in real ways, for better or worse.
Here are some teaser quotes from the book. Consider purchasing a copy and digging in for yourself.
The problem is not with the quest for social justice. The problem is what happens when that quest is undertaken from a framework that is not compatible with the Bible. Today many Christians accept conclusions that are generated from [worldviews] with very different presuppositions about reality than those we find in Scripture. We shirk God’s commands and hurt his image-bearers when we unwittingly allow unbiblical worldview assumptions to shape our approach to justice.
The doctrine of human depravity swings like a wrecking ball, leveling any ideology that says, “My gender group, my ethnic group, my economic group makes me good, and their group is evil.”
Paul told the truth that being “in Christ Jesus” is a new identity that transcends other group identities.
Here are some clues that we may have been taken in by an anti-Spirit ideology: Instead of being love-filled, we’re easily offended, ever suspicious, and preoccupied with our own feelings. Instead of being filled with joy, we’re filled with rage and resentment, unable to forgive. Instead of striving for peace, we’re quarrelsome—dividing people into oppressed or oppressor groups instead of appreciating the image-bearer before us. Instead of having patience, we’re quickly triggered and slow to honestly weigh our opponents’ perspectives. Instead of being kind, we’re quick to trash others, assuming the worst of their motives. Instead of showing gentleness, we use condemning rhetoric and redefined words to intimidate others into our perspective. Instead of showing self-control, we blame our issues exclusively on others and their systems, not warring daily against the evil in our own hearts.
When we automatically assume damning explanations for unequal outcomes, we not only lock ourselves in a prison of never-ending rage but also dull our senses to the point that we will be useless for the sacred task of recognizing and resisting the real racism, real sexism, and other real vicious isms around us.
…if we don’t bother to distinguish between inequalities that come from sin and those that don’t, then we are well on our way not to a fictional dystopia but to repeating the bloodiest mistakes of modern history.
How would Christians ever show the tribalized world what real unity looks like if they got swept up in such a never-ending game of grievances—treating one another as exemplars of their ethnic groups rather than their shared identity in Christ?
The Tribes mindset trashes not only any meaningful relationship with that person but also any hope of meaningfully thinking about that person’s perspective. In short, it makes us both closed-hearted and closed-minded.
If we care about ending actual sexism, then we should welcome the question of how much of the gender pay gap can be laid at the feet of actual sexism. Otherwise, we aren’t fighting the real problem, but shadowboxing our own ideological projections. The extent to which we shadowbox our ideological projections of the problem is the extent to which we trivialize the victims of real sexism and racism. By diverting our finite injustice-fighting energies in every direction all at once, Tribes thinking unintentionally marginalizes the already marginalized.
…caring about justice requires a commitment to truth. We can no more separate truth from justice than we can subtract one side from a triangle and still consider it a triangle. The extent to which Tribes thinking predetermines answers to hard questions is the extent to which it obscures truth and unintentionally leaves more people broken.
Given the political polarization of our day, seeing our side as caring about others and the other side as cruel is easy and self-serving. But it is not so black-and-white. Often the left and right simply have different “others.” If we are shaped by Scripture instead of the culture wars, then we will not become the priests and Levites galloping past bodies on the side of the road. Christians should be known less as culture warriors and more as Good Samaritans who stop for battered neighbors, whether they are black, white, brown, male, female, gay, straight, rich, poor, old, young, Muslim, Christian, Jewish, atheist, capitalist, socialist, Republican, Democrat, near, far, tall, short, or smaller than a peanut.
There is often a big difference between feelings and facts, between lived experience and objective reality. That difference matters, and we should take both seriously if we want our quest for justice to lead to real justice.
Do arguments magically become true or false by putting them in someone else’s mouth? No. Writing off someone’s viewpoint because of their melanin levels makes us actual racists. Dismissing someone’s argument because of their gender makes us actual sexists. Silencing someone’s ideas because of their sexuality, their economic status, or any other quality of their lives rather than the quality of their ideas does not make us a voice of justice for the marginalized; it makes us actual bigots.
By downplaying the depth of human corruption, socialism becomes a counterfeit gospel. It relies on corrupt human authorities with no room for God’s heart-regenerating grace. Socialism seeks Christ’s kingdom, minus the Christ, and becomes a destructive parody of God’s shalom. The harder it tries to create heaven on earth, the more hell it unleashes, particularly on the poor whom Scripture commands us to love.
Gender distinctions are a gift from God to be celebrated, not obliterated. Men can’t simply replace women, or women replace men, without something exceedingly beautiful being lost. When we get swept up in Social Justice B, our understanding of sexuality comes less and less from Scripture and more and more from the ideological architects and ancestors of the sexual revolution.
Notice that “the gospel” is “of first importance.” And what is that gospel? It is the good news of free salvation by trusting in the sin-atoning death and bodily resurrection of Jesus. It shouldn’t surprise us that Paul understands the gospel this way, since he received it directly from Jesus. Unlike toppling social and economic systems through social activism, this good news of salvation by grace through faith in Christ is what Jesus proclaims to poor in the red letters. It is what the earliest missionaries declare with astonishing saving results throughout the book of Acts. It is the same good news declared throughout the New Testament epistles.
It is no secret that social media platforms have taken serious steps in recent days to censor certain individuals. Then-president Donald Trump was the most obvious example, but since many others have complained of their accounts being deleted or warned by Facebook, Twitter, and others, for going against “community guidelines”. Of course, there is usually little or no explanation concerning what guidelines were broken specifically. In response, hundreds of thousands began to transition over to self-proclaimed free-speech app Parler, only to have both Google and Apple block it from their app stores, as well as Amazon remove it from their hosting servers, effectively scrubbing Parler from the internet.
Think long and hard about what this means. Many have claimed “these are private companies, so they can do whatever they want”. This is only partly true. Even private companies have some limitation for what they can choose to do under American law. But even if they are not breaking the law in these actions, it should be very concerning to people that a handful of companies effectively have the power to completely remove certain voices from the internet. Effectively, if Google, Apple, Amazon, and Twitter decide they want to shut down a particular viewpoint, they can do so in less than one day. That is a freakish amount of global power for only a few individuals to yield.
Again, many push back. “We’re talking about Trump here,” they proclaim, “and he tried to pull off a coup at the Capitol!” While this claim is debatable in and of itself, that is entirely to miss the point. Even if you feel social media should censor people for legitimate reasons…what happens when they begin to do so for illegitimate reasons? What is to stop them?
I myself have been temporarily banned from Facebook and Instagram for sharing blogs from the website you are currently reading. No reason was ever given as to why. I protested, asking for a reason, without ever getting a reply. Suddenly, and without explanation, I was reinstated a few weeks later. To this day I have no idea what I said that supposedly violated “community guidelines”, but I can assure you it had nothing to do with Qanon, election stealing, or any other currently acceptable reason.
I know many Christians who applauded the censoring of Trump and his followers. I can understand why, but I also would want to give them a grave warning: don’t cheer too loudly, because you will be next. Think about it. Satan, the god of this world, wants more than anything to silence the truth, censor the gospel, and control public conversation away from Scriptural ideals. The enemy is not social media giants themselves, but they can and will be used as tools for the enemy in spiritual warfare. This effort will not succeed in the long run, of course. We know God wins in the end. But it absolutely will be effective in the short-term, and make life more difficult for believers in the public square.
The Canadian government is currently doing its own social media crackdown. Trudeau has promised to clamp down on “offensive content and hate speech”, which includes “racist, anti-Semitic, Islamophobic, misogynist and homophobic views”. This may sound good—who would want those ideas promoted?—but keep in mind that the government does not understand Christian doctrine. Many biblical ideas can easily be construed to fit any one of those categories; indeed, the secular world claims that they do already. It is really not that hard to see that in the very near future churches will have their online services blocked, Christians removed from social media, and perhaps even Bible apps taken down under the guise of “hate speech”. None of this spells the end for the Church, but it will create a climate where following Jesus may go from being merely culturally odd to potentially inviting serious legal issues.
Free speech is an important value. It is not only important from a legal perspective, but also from a biblical one as well. Consider a few examples:
- Proverbs 18:17 “The one who states his case first seems right, until the other comes and examines him.” Part of discovering the truth comes from the free exchange of ideas. If we only hear one side of things and the other is censored, it is easier to be deceived.
- Proverbs 27:17 “Iron sharpens iron, and one man sharpens another.” Similarly, our understanding and growth becomes “sharpened” in part by being challenged by others. This includes their ideas.
- Matthew 7:12 “So whatever you wish that others would do to you, do also to them, for this is the Law and the Prophets.” The Christian Golden Rule also applies to speech. If you do not wish to be censored, then you should not be keen to censor others.
- Acts 17:16-34 In this passage, Paul had the freedom to proclaim the gospel in public because the culture of Athens welcomed the sharing of new ideas.
None of this is to argue that censorship is wrong in every circumstance. Things like explicit calls to violence or communication for illegal activity, such as human trafficking, are examples that come to mind where censorship is commended. But what we are seeing is more than that. We are seeing the squelching of ideas that don’t align with the status quo. As Christians, we ought to know that our ideas of truth fit that category. The Bible itself says that the gospel is offensive to the unbelieving world (Galatians 5:11). Christian doctrines like the existence of a Creator, moral standards for sexuality, distinction between men and women, damnation, and salvation through Christ alone are more than ancient relics of the past. They are unacceptable hinderances to an increasingly secular humanist future. Censorship is inevitable.
Our strategy for Christian ministry will need to adapt. In Ontario, where I live, lockdowns because of the coronavirus have forced churches to go online with their ministries. This works for the time being. But perhaps the online world will not be so welcoming for long. I seriously wonder if the typical North American style of church is a sustainable model for the future. My guess is that believers here will have to increasingly find other methods of effective Christian ministry. While Satan may mean this for evil, God means it for good. Perhaps this is the way our Lord is purging our churches of lukewarm faith, dulled desire for evangelism, and apathetic worship.
Jesus reminds us that anyone who desires to follow him must first count the cost. For many of us, that cost has been relatively minimal. Maybe that will change in the future. Only God knows for sure. Either way, it is a good reminder for us to get our hearts right before the Lord, re-establish ourselves as citizens of heaven free from the love of this world, and be prepared to meet any trials that may come with joy (James 1:2-4).
I recently watched an interesting debate between two pastors on the topic of homosexuality and how Christianity views it. I didn’t really want to comment much on it here; I’d encourage you to go watch the 2-part series for yourself if you’re interested. But there was one line in particular that really caught my attention that I’d like to discuss briefly.
The pastor who was arguing that homosexuality is compatible with Christianity and the Bible said, around the 20:35 minute mark of part 1, that “In some way I can totally sign off on God designing sexuality, if I’m allowed to have my ways of thinking about it.” This one sentence, to me, was the most important sentence of the entire debate. Allow me to explain.
Christians have historically made a big deal out of certain sins, homosexuality being one of them, seemingly to the exclusion of other sins. I think this is one of the ways believers have erred in their faith. The problem is not calling sin what it is, but elevating certain sins over others. In doing so, it makes it appear that some people are really sinners while others are just kinda sinners. Naturally, we tend to be those who label ourselves only kinda sinners…how convenient!
However, I don’t think Scripture affords us this option. God’s Word declares that “there is none righteous; no, not one” (Romans 3:10), and “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23). In this way, all people are in the same category: sinners who fall short of God’s moral standards for our lives. It is wrong to emphasize one person’s “falling short” over your own. We are all helpless sinners who need God’s forgiveness.
Moreover, Christians should seek that forgiveness with a sense of humility, not pride. Consider the parable Jesus tells in Luke 18:9-14, where one man boasts that he is better than others and yet is rejected by God, while another man throws himself at the feet of the Lord and humbly begs for mercy and receives it. It is a powerful reminder that our own sin has rendered us unacceptable in God’s sight and only his grace can change that fact. None of us are better than anyone else in the eyes of God.
It is a mistake, then, on the part of a believer to believe that *our* sin only separates us from God a little while *your* sin separates you from God a lot. The truth is that ALL sin separates us from God. This is because sin always has two layers. There is the expression of it, and there is the root of it. The expression of our sinfulness shows up in many ways, but the root of it is always the same: we want to be our own god.
When we sin, we are effectively saying to God, “I’m not going to live under your rule. I’m not going to let you call the shots. I’m going to do things my way, because I think my way is better than yours”. Back to the video debate, consider the subject of homosexuality. The issue isn’t really about homosexuality or any other sexual activity. The issue really is, “I want to define my own life, my own identity, and my own morality. I want to be my own god”. Or, to put it in the exact words one debater used, “I can totally sign off on God designing sexuality, if I’m allowed to have my ways of thinking about it.”
That last phrase is crucial. It is essentially declaring that we will submit to God so long as he agrees with us. God must affirm our way of thinking, and then we will follow him. Yet this is the polar opposite of how our relationship with God works. God is God; he calls the shots. He is the Creator, Designer, and Sustainer of life, and we fall into line with his way of ordering things, not the other way around. We are created in the image of God, but the root of sin is that we want to create a god in our own image.
Christianity does not really begin by discussing homosexuality or any other issue. It begins by knowing that we resist the rulership of God in our lives, and unless we are willing to submit to his authority, we are in sin. This resistance leads to two significant problems. The first is that it entrenches us in pride. We will forge our own way, determine our own life course, and operate according to our own personal ideals. The second problem is that it causes us to live outside of our created design. It would not be an issue for us to rebel against God if he were some tyrannical dictator who cared little about us. But it is an issue because he is a loving God and knows what is best for us. His designs are good and his ways are wise. Thus, to rebel against God and become our own god, we are alienating ourselves from the fullness of life that we were created to experience.
Don’t get too caught up in the details. The problem is always the same, and the solution is always the same. The problem is that we want to dethrone God and take his place. This is the essence of being a sinner. The solution is that we humbly seek his forgiveness, repent of our arrogant ways, and surrender our life to him. This is the essence of being redeemed. The gospel, the good news of Christianity, is that God never rejects anyone who comes to him in this way. His grace is a free gift to all who ask for it. Yet we must first be willing to lay aside our pride and give God his rightful place in our lives.
It does not matter what specific sins you commit personally. What matters is that underneath our sin is a hard heart that is resistant to God. That is our fundamental identity. But that reality can be changed by the grace of God, when we repent and believe in Jesus for salvation. Our sins are forgiven and our relationship to God is restored. We become a “new creation in Christ” and begin a new life with a new identity, no longer as sinners but as beloved children of God and members of his family. I pray that each person reading this would come to know that salvation.
It has been one crazy year.
Looking back, it’s hard to believe all that has taken place in just the last twelve months. We’ve had volatile elections, riots, murder hornets, celebrity scandals, big-tech censorship, and of course the Coronavirus pandemic and the subsequent challenges it has brought: lockdowns, mass distrust of media, government ineptitude, recession, and controversial vaccines.
One can’t help but wonder, what in the world is God doing?
In some ways, 2020 has been like every other year before it, only this time it was hooked up to a globe-sized bullhorn. The same dangers that mankind faced in 2020 were present in 2019 and the year before, and the year before, stretching back to the book of Genesis. As Scripture reminds us, there is nothing new under the sun. Humanity has always been stricken with illness, both of our body and our soul. We teeter on the fine line between life and death every moment of every day, long before COVID was even heard of. We are crushed under the weight of government corruption, burdened by racial unrest, and generally struggle to get along in a fallen world that is full of selfish sinners. In that sense, it is business as usual.
If I were to sum up what God has impressed upon me this year in one sentence, I would simply let Jesus speak for me:
“My kingdom is not of this world” – John 18:36
The challenges of this year have been a painful but helpful reminder that God’s kingdom is not yet arrived. Earth is not heaven, and never will be, until it’s triumphant King returns. Until then, we struggle on amidst worldly kingdoms with evil rulers, broken systems, and dreams that will never be realized on this side of eternity. Though I yearn for more, for a world at peace, well-organized, and united, it will never happen, because these yearnings find their origin in the kingdom of God. It is currently a heavenly reality, and a spiritual one, but not yet an earthly one. One day that will change.
Perhaps one of the great lessons we are to learn this year is the futility of placing our hope in the things of this world. We place our hope in rulers, in medicine, in policy, in money, in safety, in each other and in ourselves. None of these things can deliver on the expectations we place upon them. Yet we try nonetheless, only to be frustrated and angered when things don’t work out the way we demanded. Such is the reality of false hope: it is sure to disappoint.
As Christians, we know that our hope is in the Lord. But that does not mean we are immune to falling prey to worldly thinking. Often what we know to be true theologically is not realized in our own hearts. We know that God is our hope, but we like to keep a little spare bedroom in our hearts where other idols remain as invited guests. It is certain that one thing God is doing in 2020 is attempting to smash the idols we still cling to so that our hope lies fully in him. We would do well to stop resisting this important work of sanctification.
Fellow believers, we are not of this world. Our King is not of this world. Earth is not our home. We are strangers and aliens, exiles who are simply passing through. We live not for this life but for the life to come. Let the world crumble and fall as its foundation is being shaken. But may we, the Church, stand firm. We have nothing to lose, and everything to gain. God desires for that reality to take hold of you in a new way this year. Let it be so!
As we head into the new year, we know not how long our Lord will tarry. It seems apparent to me that human history is quickly marching towards the appointed end. Things will not remain as they are forever. The kingdoms of this world will be stripped away and the kingdom of heaven ushered in. If you find the circumstances of your life leading you to think “it shouldn’t be this way”, let that move you to saying with all your heart, “Come Lord Jesus!”
God cares about how we think. It is no mistake that we are created with cognitive faculties that allow us to learn, ponder, and assess things in ways that other creatures cannot. The Bible tells us to “love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and all your strength” (Mark 12:30). Along these lines, Christians often talk about “thinking biblically” about the issues of life and culture that we often face. What does this somewhat-ambiguous phrase really mean?
The first thing we need to understand is that everyone has a worldview. I define a worldview as “a system and beliefs and values that help us understand and interact with the world around us”. How we think about various issues is directly linked to our particular worldview. A robust worldview answers some of the most fundamental questions of life, such as:
- Identity: Who am I?
- Purpose: What am I here for?
- Community: How do I relate to others?
- Truth: What defines reality?
- Origin: Where do I come from?
- Destination: Where am I going?
- Morality: What is right and wrong?
- Transcendence: Am I a part of something bigger than me?
Christianity answers these questions in Scripture. The Bible is the place Christians look to shape our worldview. Thus, when we talk about “thinking Biblically” we are referring to a process of developing a worldview that is shaped by Scripture that then interprets the world around us. As I stated earlier, a worldview is a collection of “beliefs and values”. Since the world we live in offers us differing ideas of what beliefs and values we should hold, some of those are going to “pass the test” of aligning with what Scripture teaches while others do not.
This is what Romans 12:2 is getting at when it states “Do not be conformed to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect”. Consider of a few points from this passage. Notice first that this world has a “pattern”, aka a worldview. The “world” (referred to here as collective mankind without acknowledgment of God) has beliefs and values that it holds to because of our sinful nature as human beings. These are predictable “patterns” that are contrary to God. Next, notice that humans can be “conformed” to this pattern. This means that people’s beliefs and values are moldable. They can change via influence. They are not fixed realities in ourselves, but can be adapted. Third, notice that the way we change is linked to our “mind”. How we think is what shapes who we are. Fourth, our mind has a pre-determined condition that requires “renewing”. This implies that our default pattern is worldly and requires a “breaking-the-mold” approach to free ourselves from our sinful selves. Fifth, our mind renewal comes from intentional focus on the will of God. In this way, Scripture teaches us that God’s will contrasts with the patterns of this world. What God believes and values is different from what we believe and value. Sixth, God’s beliefs and values are called good, acceptable, and perfect. They are better and superior to our worldly ways of thinking. Seventh, in order for us to be renewed we must “discern” the difference between worldly thinking and Godly thinking. When people talking about “thinking Biblically”, this is exactly the process they have in mind.
Therefore, thinking biblically means identifying the beliefs and values that are being promoted by the world and assessing wether or not they conform to God’s will as revealed in the Bible. If they do, we accept them. If they don’t, we reject them. This is a crucial part of growing as a disciple of Christ and maturing as a Christian believer.
It pains me to say, but I often see many Christians failing to “think biblically” about issues in their lives or the world around us. It seems that many have a compartmentalized relationship with God, where they accept the need for God’s forgiveness but don’t allow for a full renewing of their mind to change their future thoughts and behaviour. Put differently, they accept salvation but not sanctification. They call themselves a Christian but don’t engage in the hard work of change to be conformed to the image of Christ. If you don’t believe me, scroll through social media. That is exactly the thing that prompted me to write this post. I regularly see believers of Jesus saying things and promoting things that are contrary to a Christian worldview without even realizing it. They, for one reason or another, are failing to “discern” God’s will and have become conformed to worldly patterns of thought.
This is why reading Scripture regularly is so important. God’s Word confronts us about the sinful patterns of thought in our lives and contrasts it to the way God thinks about things. As a result, when we read our Bibles we should regularly find ourselves in prayer repenting of our worldliness and asking God for help to change. When this fails to become a regular activity in our lives we can be sure that the process of renewal has waned and we are slowly being conformed to the patterns of this world.
Scripture must play a central role in our lives. If we are to follow Christ, it will mean a daily renewal and confrontation with ourselves that slowly kills what is earthly in us and allows the Spirit of God to more fully dwell in our hearts. I am pleading with any Christian who is reading this to not take this lightly. Being renewed is a lifelong process and one of the true marks of a believer. Those who fail to endure in this just might one day find that the God they once loved has become an irrelevant relic of their past and the patterns of the world have taken root in their lives. In such a case, a person is exposed for what they are—a Christian by label only, and apart from God’s grace.
Renewal is hard. Thinking biblically is hard. There are a hundred valid reasons for not wanting to do it. We may find Scripture boring or confusing. We may fall out of the habit of reading it. We may stop attending church for one reason or another. We may find a part of the Christian worldview offensive. We may surround ourselves with worldly thinking people. We may even fall in love with one of them. These can all be real challenges but we cannot allow them to become stumbling blocks in our lives. The moment we make peace with patterns of the world is the moment we begin conforming to them. It is like a stream that is flowing away from God and we must actively swim against the current or be swept away by it. Coasting is easy. Swimming is hard. It may seem silly but Dory was right about this one. Just keep swimming.
The short version of why Christians should reject Critical Theory (CT) is because the basic premises of CT are antithetical to a biblical worldview. I will defend this thesis while recognizing that an increasing number of Christians (and Christian leaders) are adopting CT as a helpful tool in social justice initiatives and living out their Christian faith in the culture at large. I see this as very concerning and damaging to the Body of Christ. As of yet, there is no universal rejection or acceptance of CT among the Church. It is still up for debate, and I hope to inject some helpful information and perspective into this conversation. For that reason, I will first throughly define CT using primary source literature before contrasting it with Scripture. My intent is to properly present the central ideas of CT before engaging with them so as to avoid being accused of straw-man arguments.
First, let’s define CT. Oxford languages defines Critical Theory as “a philosophical approach to culture, and especially to literature, that seeks to confront the social, historical, and ideological forces and structures that produce and constrain it. The term is applied particularly to the work of the Frankfurt School.” This is a good, although somewhat ambiguous, definition. Brittanica.com defines Critical theory as a “Marxist-inspired movement in social and political philosophy originally associated with the work of the Frankfurt School. Drawing particularly on the thought of Karl Marx and Sigmund Freud, critical theorists maintain that a primary goal of philosophy is to understand and to help overcome the social structures through which people are dominated and oppressed.”
Put together, these two definitions give us a starting point in understanding Critical Theory. Put into my own words, it is an approach to understanding and alleviating social ills using an adapted Marxist approach that sees the world as identity groups competing for power. I will not delve very deep into the Marxist roots of Critical Theory in this essay, although it is an incredibly important connection to make. If you wish to read up more on that, a very good and brief historical detailing can be found here. As this link shows, Critical Theory is birthed directly out of Marxism in the 1930’s and has adapted over the years to the current form it takes today. This is where our focus will lie.
To help flesh out the modern form of CT more fully, I will draw on the book Is Everyone Really Equal? An Introduction to Key Concepts in Social Justice Education by Robin DiAngelo and Ozlem Sensoy. Lest you think I am drawing on a fringe or outlier source, consider that Robin DiAngelo is possibly the most influential person in the world right now in terms of advancing Critical Theory ideas. Her book White Fragility is the go-to resource on racial issues, having only recently been bumped down to #2 on the New York Times Best Sellers list in the paperback non-fiction category. It has been on the Best Sellers list for 109 weeks in a row. White Fragility is explicitly a work crafted from Critical Theory, with a focus on racism. Her book Is Everyone Really Equal?, on the other hand, more explicitly explains CT as it may apply to any social problem, not just racism. Therefore, the more broad scope of this text will help us to understand the underlying ideas of Critical Theory.
At first glance, Critical Theory is a tough concept to wrap your head around. This is because it cannot properly be summed up in one sentence (hence the problem trying to define it). It is, rather, a collection of connected ideas that develop a particular view of the world. I will outline below five core tenets of CT which will help the reader to begin to see the picture of what CT is and how it operates as an ideology.
- Social Binaries
By “social binaries” I mean that people are categorized into opposing identity groups. To quote DiAngelo and Sensoy, “for every social group, there is an opposite group…the primary groups that we name here are: race, class, gender, sexuality, ability, religion, and nationality.” Elsewhere in the book they clarify, “although we are individuals, we are also—and perhaps fundamentally—members of social groups. These group memberships shape us as profoundly, if not more so, than any unique characteristic we may claim to possess.”
Thus, CT sees the identity of people not as primarily individuals, but as members of social groups. Your group membership is your fundamental identity. Based on this framework, my own fundamental identity is that I am a straight, white, Christian male. Very little else about me matters. Read the above quotes again. Notice that these social groupings create my identity more so than any unique characteristic I may possess.
This is incredibly important to understand. Coming from a CT framework, people are lumped into group membership and thus given the identity of those groups. That becomes who you are. Even though I may have my own unique experiences and opinions that greatly differ from other straight, white, Christian men, it matters very little. I am just like them because I am one of them.
2. Oppression Narrative
By “oppression narrative” I mean that one group identity asserts dominance over the other. According to CT, people are divided into opposing social groups, yet these groups are not on a level playing field. One group is dominant or oppressive, the other is subjugated or oppressed. Again, to quote DiAngelo and Sensoy, “Oppression involves institutional control, ideological domination, and the imposition of the dominant group’s culture on the minoritized group. No individual member of the dominant group has to do anything specific to oppress a member of the minoritized group.”
Not only does CT give you an identity based on social groupings, it also gives you moral qualities. What this means is that you are either an oppressor or an oppressed person depending on your own group identity. For example, if you are male, you are an oppressor. If you are a woman, you are oppressed. I can imagine some men raising their hand in objection and saying, “Wait a minute! I’m not oppressive towards women. I’ve never done or said anything to demean a woman in my life.” The canned response from a CT perspective would be “It doesn’t matter. You’re still an oppressor.” Once again, I encourage you to read the quote from the previous paragraph again. Note particularly the phrase “No individual member of the dominant group has to do anything specific to oppress a member of the minoritized group.” This means that, quite literally, you are given a moral label based not on anything you have ever personally done, but simply based on your group identity. In fact, in White Fragility, DiAngelo expands on this idea to argue that people who try to defend themselves from the accusation of being an oppressor based only on their group identity are actually demonstrating their oppression in real time. The only solution for an oppressor group member to escape their moral dilemma is to admit their own obvious or internalized oppressive ways and actively renounce them.
It is worth briefly noting here that CT is playing directly off of Marxism in these first two points. It was Marx, after all, who developed the theory that the world was broken because the rich oppressed the poor. This opressor-oppressed dichotomy has simply been expanded by Critical Theory to include other aspects of culture. Yet, the root theory remains the same. This ought to cause Christians at least some alarm considering the atheistic origins of Marxism and the horrific atrocities the ideology carried out in practice under Communism. Christianity has been enemy #1 for Communist regimes, yet its slightly prettier but just-as-evil step-sister Critical Theory is being embraced by the Church. Consider the origins and connections of CT and be warned.
Perhaps the most important thing you can learn from DiAngelo and Sensoy’s book can be seen in the following chart which succinctly and plainly summarizes Critical Theory in one image:
Recall that these same authors argue that no individual of a dominant group must actually do anything in order to still be considered guilty of oppression. If this chart neatly outlines who is the oppressors in society, I am perhaps one of the most oppressive people I know. Also note that to be a Christian is to be in a dominant group. Once again, I should hope this gives followers of Jesus a pause. Though Christ calls us the salt of the earth and light of the world, Critical Theory calls us oppressors. Which label of identity should we accept? How would accepting one over the other change your view of yourself and of others, and of your role in the world?
I observe that many Christians attempt to use CT as a tool to engage in social justice initiatives. Indeed, remember that the subtitle of DiAngelo and Sensoy’s book is “An Introduction to Key Concepts in Social Justice Education”. Many believers see the secular world rising up against racism and think to themselves, “I am against racism too. This is a shared value. We can work with the world to fight this together”. This perspective is naive and fails in two regards. The first is to recognize that Christians and Critical Theory have different definitions of racism. The Christian believes racism to be partiality or bigotry based on skin colour. In that sense, anyone can be racist. CT on the other hand would define racism as prejudice plus power. This means that only people in the power group (whites) can be racist, and it is impossible for a member of the minority group (people of colour) to be racist. Lest you think I am overstating my case, DiAngelo says in White Fragility that “A positive white identity is an impossible goal. White identity is inherently racist; white people do not exist outside the system of white supremacy.” I see no way a Bible-believing Christian can adopt this line of thinking in aiming to help bring peace to racial issues, as it blatantly runs against basic Christian doctrine.
The second error Christians make when trying to wed themselves to social justice movements is to fail to recognize that Critical Theory defines their very faith as oppressive. You may think you are on the same team fighting against racism or poverty, but it is only a matter of time before the activists turn on you. You, as a Christian, are a member of an oppressor group. To support CT as a Christian is to feed the monster who will later devour you. Sooner or later you will have to tackle that confrontation, and only two results will come. Either you will compromise your faith and bow to cultural pressure, or you will stand firm and be persecuted as a result. Scripture is not silent on which of these outcomes are expected of believers.
3. Lived Experience = Reality
By this I mean that truth is determined by people’s life experiences, especially the experience of the oppressed. This concept is born out of postmodernism which essentially rejects objective truth. According to CT, the experiences and perspectives of the marginalized define how things really are. DiAngelo and Sensoy explain, “Dominant groups have the most narrow or limited view of society because they do not have to understand the experiences of the minoritized group in order to survive… Minoritized groups often have the widest view of society, in that they must understand both their own and the dominant group’s perspective — develop a double-consciousness — to succeed.”
Put differently, people who are a part of oppressor groups are blind to their own privilege. They live in a society that is designed to benefit them, and thus they live in a protected bubble without even knowing it. People in oppressed groups, on the other hand, see life with a broader perspective since they can see both the protective bubble of the privileged and the harsh sufferings of the disadvantaged. Thus dual-perspective, according to CT, means their point of view is actually more authoritative.
This explains why the opinions of white, straight men are largely treated with contempt or dismissal. CT has taught society that this group of people have a comparatively limited perspective to that of, say, a black lesbian woman. As a result, CT tends to uplift the voice of marginalized groups to the exclusion of others. Reality is best defined by the experiences of the oppressed, and those people need their story heard.
In practice, however, CT doesn’t follow its own rules. Although marginalized peoples are to have their voices lifted up, that is really only true for people who speak in congruence with Critical Theory. For instance, women should be encouraged to speak out on women’s issues…unless that woman takes a more traditional view of gender roles, in which case they should not be paid attention. Likewise, black people are encouraged to speak up about the injustices they face…unless a black person rejects the idea that society is generally racist towards them, in which case we dismiss them and say they are a traitor to their own people. This kind of thing happens all the time. CT presents itself as promoting diversity while in reality it rejects true diversity—diversity of thought.
4. Intersectional Identity
By saying that people are fundamentally members of identity groups, CT creates a problem for itself: someone can be a member of an oppressed group and an oppressor group at the same time. Take a black man for example. According to CT, this person would be an oppressor as a male, but oppressed as a person of colour. What then?
Intersectionality attempts to sort through this dilemma. Returning to our text, DiAngelo and Sensoy state, “Intersectionality is the idea that identity cannot be fully understood via a single lens such as gender, race, or class alone — what legal scholar Kimberlé Crenshaw (1989) called a ‘single axis framework’ (p. 139).” The following image (from a different source) illustrates well how intersectionality works in practice.
The thick, purple line across the middle represents oppression or domination. All of the group identities above the line are considered dominant, while those under the line are considered oppressed or marginalized. You can then trace the “spokes” of the wheel from one end to the other to see which group identities are considered paired together. Pin-pointing your own group identities on the diagram is meant to help an individual find their place in society. For most people, they will be advantaged in some areas of life and disadvantaged in others. Intersectionality is meant to help you find those advantages and disadvantages so that you can orient yourself properly in society. In areas where you are an oppressor, you should “check your privilege”. In areas where you are an oppressed person, you should speak up and seek greater equality. This brings us to our final point.
5. Transformative Action
By transformative action I simply mean “social justice”. The first four points of CT have laid out a comprehensive view of the world; the final objective is to do something about it. The list of possible social justice initiatives and tactics are virtually endless. They include both large-scale initiatives like mass education programs and corporate diversity training to more grassroots things like local protests and social media campaigns. The actual means are generally less important than the goal: the absence of social disparities. Again, recall what CT has taught us. In a nutshell, it says that society is composed of advantaged and disadvantaged groups. Individuals of those groups are no exception to the rule. This oppressor-oppressed dichotomy is verified by the lived experience of marginalized groups. These resulting disparities among groups are considered problematic and therefore social action needs to take place for corrective measures. The ultimate goal is perfect equity among all people groups where no one is advantaged over anyone else. It is worth noting that this outcome seems strangely similar to the definition of Communism.
A Worldview Issue
The careful reader should note that Critical Theory functions, as I stated at the beginning, as a worldview. Though some call it merely a “tool” to help us analyze culture, it is actually far more than that. The five points of CT tell us who we are (oppressors or oppressed), what community of people we belong to (our group identity), where ultimate truth comes from (the experience of the oppressed), what fundamental ills have befallen the world (social advantages for some but not for others), and a worthy life purpose to pursue (the alleviation of oppression). Make no mistake about it: these are the components of a comprehensive worldview.
The Southern Baptist Convention, which is the world’s largest Evangelical denomination, is a prime exampling of trying to merge Christianity with Critical Theory. In what has become known as Resolution 9, the SBC moved to adopt CT as a useful tool to address social ills. Their resolution states, in part, that “critical race theory and intersectionality should only be employed as analytical tools subordinate to Scripture—not as transcendent ideological frameworks.” The problem with this statement is that it is fundamentally impossible. Critical Theory is a transcendent ideological framework. I believe I have demonstrably shown that to be the case in this essay. Thus, the entire theory would come under the authority of Scripture and be rendered virtually useless, since it fails to pass the test on almost every point it contends to make. Allow me to summarize briefly.
Critical Theory is wrong about group identity superseding individual identity. To define someone by their group identity at the expense of their individuality is, by definition, prejudicial. On the Last Day, does Scripture declare that God will judge you based on what your group identity has done? Or does it declare that God will hold you accountable for your own thoughts, actions, words, and motives? So you can see that God judges us as individuals. Similarly, does not Abraham plead with God to spare the innocent in Sodom and Gomorrah? Does he not do so on the basis of God’s prefect justice, that it would be unrighteous of God to judge the innocent for the deeds of the wicked? So you can see from Scripture that God does not treat people fundamentally as members of social groups, but rather as individuals made in his image.
Critical Theory is wrong to characterize all members of oppressor groups with moral guilt. To say that all men, whites, straights, and the like, are oppressive without exception even in the absence of actual evidence is breaking the ninth commandment. It is bearing false witness against your neighbour. It is slandering them and accusing them of sin without justification. Certainly no Christian should accept or participate in a system of thinking that causes us to break God’s law and malign other people.
Likewise, Critical Theory is wrong to characterize all members of oppressed groups as victims. Surely people are actually taken advantage of by others in this world. No one denies this. But to say that all disparities are due to people being taken advantage of is flat-out wrong. Some people are disadvantaged in life for faults of their own. Scripturally, this can be attributed to God’s principle of sowing and reaping. God has built into creation mechanisms and consequences for actions that generally reward godliness and punish ungodliness. These should not be viewed as problematic but rather as part of God’s wisdom in action.
Critical Theory is wrong to ascribe asymmetrical ethics. By this I mean that those who are considered oppressors are governed by a different moral code than those who are considered oppressed. Oppressors, for example, are generally told to be quiet, check their privilege, and are much quicker to be castigated for stepping out of line with socially unacceptable behaviour. The oppressed, on the other hand, are told to speak up, assert themselves, and largely are given a pass for committing what would otherwise be considered socially unacceptable behaviour. Consider, as an illustration, when a black NBA player was seen during a game calling another caucasian player a “b**** a** white boy”. A few people in the media called him out for it, but the act was barely considered newsworthy. Now consider if the roles were reversed, and the white player had demeaned the black one with a similar racial epithet. Public outcry would have made headlines everywhere, and surely the consequences would have been severe. From a Critical Theory perspective, this moral asymmetry is perfectly just, since the white player is considered to have a social advantage over the black one. No one can fault the downtrodden for bending the rules against those who have the power. Yet Scripture does not support this. God’s law is applicable to all people equally, without partiality. Leviticus 19:15 states “‘Do not pervert justice; do not show partiality to the poor or favouritism to the great, but judge your neighbour fairly.” This ethic is consistent in Scripture. God’s commands go “both ways”. Thus, the moral asymmetry of CT is exposed for what it really is: a double-standard that perverts true justice.
Critical Theory is wrong about the nature of truth. CT posits that truth is not objective, but rather subjective. It also asserts that truth is largely shaped by the experiences and opinions of the oppressed. Yet this is not true, at least not exhaustively. It is just as possible for a “person of power” to see the truth as it is for a marginalized person. Neither has a monopoly on truth. Certainly, they each can have their own perspective. Additionally, Christian values would rightly state that a person’s life experience and perspective should be respected. But that is not the same as saying it is necessarily true. There is a difference (at least sometimes) between how we perceive things to be and how things really are. The Bible’s message is that truth is a fixed standard to which we can align ourselves or deceive ourselves, but it does not change even if it doesn’t jive with our personal experiences. We don’t determine truth. We humbly discover it. The obvious implication is that sometimes—and this is true for everyone—we are flat out wrong. Scripture gives us no indication that only powerful people have bias while marginalized people see reality. Both the advantaged and the disadvantaged are equally able to access or deny truth because both are self-centred sinners by default. Our sinful nature is the great equalizer that gives no one the “upper hand” when it comes to access to the truth.
Critical Theory is wrong about our intersectional identity. There are multiple issues here. One is that the categories are wrong. While CT emphasizes our gender, race, and sexual orientation as primary identity markers, Scripture uses different categories. I would contend that Scripture uses three foundational identity markers before getting to the ones that CT emphasizes. Our first identity is that we are human beings made in the image of our Creator. This is our first and fundamental identity. The second is that we are sinners. This is the next-most important identity marker with which God sees us. The third is as the redeemed or the unredeemed. Unlike the first two categories, which are universally applicable to all people, this third category brings distinction. God sees the redeemed differently than he sees the unredeemed. I would argue without hesitation that these three layers of identity (image bearers of God, fallen sinners, redeemed/unredeemed) are the most foundational markers of our personal identities. Only after these categories should we add our more unique characteristics like gender, nationality, and so forth. Doing this fundamentally changes the way we understand ourselves and each other and orients us towards a biblical approach to human relationships.
A second problem with intersectional identity is one of application. Who is to say which identity markers are important and which are not? Why should we not add other categories to the list? Right handed or left handed? Curly or straight hair? Freckles or not? Athletic or musical? High or low IQ? Raised by single parent or both? First born or youngest in the family? Sexually abused or never taken advantage of? Raised in the city or countryside? The point here is that there are an infinite number of ways to categorize people, and an infinite number of potentially life-altering circumstances that people face. Therefore, if we aim to take intersectionality to its logical conclusion, what eventually happens are enough categories of distinction can be applied so that everyone is reduced to being a unique individual. No other person on the planet lands in the exact same categories as you. Thus, intersectionality renders itself useless because we are left with the very thing intersectionality intends to destroy: the uniqueness of every person. Rather than treating me the way you assume a straight, white man should be treated, you should see me as a unique individual who has a completely non-replicated life experience. No one sees, feels, thinks, and experiences things exactly as I do. The same goes for you. This concept means that every person on the planet is a fascinating individual who reflects the creative diversity of God and should be interacted with as such. CT, on the other hand, develops canned responses to certain people groups that rob individual people of their uniqueness and overlooks the beauty of God’s design in humanity.
Critical Theory is wrong about social justice. Or, put more accurately, it develops a faulty foundation for social justice. There is no question that God calls on believers to express their faith in concrete ways. We are to love our neighbour through good deeds. Most Christians conflate this call with secular social justice; yet I think this is a mistake. The secular call to social justice is to alleviate oppression as defined by Critical Theory. Therein lies the problem. As I have shown, CT does not reliably define justice and actually perverts true justice in many instances. My belief is that Christians engage with social justice because of (1) common language and (2) a misunderstanding of definitions. Social justice uses some biblical language, calling people to care for the helpless, aid the marginalized, alleviate the oppressed, speak up for the voiceless, and help the downtrodden. This sounds a lot like what we read in our Bibles. Yet the devil is in the details. By understanding how CT defines these terms, we can see that social justice operates by principles that are contrary to God’s Word.
Critical Theory is wrong about gratitude. More pointedly, CT actually lacks gratitude at all. The CT perspective is that the advantaged should feel bad about their privilege and the marginalized should be angry about their disadvantage. There is no category of gratitude for either group. Yet we know that Scripture calls people to “give thanks in all circumstances, for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus” (1 Thessalonians 5:18). Biblically, both those that CT defines as oppressors and oppressed are to give thanks to God. Yet this runs completely contrary to all that CT outlines. Perhaps this alone ought to show us that CT need be rejected as useful in the life of a believer.
Critical Theory is wrong about God. Technically, CT completely ignores God altogether. It should then not surprise us that most of the conclusions CT draws are fundamentally wrong. Proverbs 9:10 tells us that “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom”. Since CT does not incorporate God at all, it does not begin with a foundation of wisdom. Perhaps the most significant problem with Critical Theory is that it runs contrary to the sovereignty of God. The Bible teaches that God is in control of all things, that he appoints people their lot in life, and does so for his own good designs and purposes. CT comes along and essentially accuses God of making mistakes that need correction. CT attempts to straighten out God’s sovereign plans and direct them towards different aims. Is it not God’s design to sometimes bring people down low? To strip away their wealth? To take away their health? To make them unseemly in the eyes of the world yet precious is his sight? To raise up kings and take them down? None of God’s sovereign plan omits the Christian call to alleviate suffering in this world. We are to bear one another’s burdens. Yet even in the midst of it, God is at work in ways we cannot understand. He is orienting the circumstances of life in order to bring about his sovereign plan. This core Christian value makes the premises on which CT stands virtually untenable.
What then are we to make of all this? Colossians 2:8 tells us: “See to it that no one takes you captive through hollow and deceptive philosophy, which depends on human tradition and the elemental spiritual forces of this world rather than on Christ.” Put simply, we are to reject the philosophies of this world and stand firm on the truth of God’s Word. Critical Theory makes truth claims that are contrary to Scripture. As I have shown, these truth claims are not “fringe” points in CT, but the very fundamentals of it. Instead of relying on CT to instruct us in good works, we must follow the source which God has provided. 2 Timothy 3:16-17 states “All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the servant of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work.” In theological terms, this verse speaks to the sufficiency of Scripture. The Bible is sufficient to “equip us for every good work”. It alone can provide us with the framework we need to do God’s will and fulfill the command to love our neighbour. This means that CT is a dispensable tool. Not only does it fail to be grounded in Scriptural principles, but it cannot prepare us for Christian service the way God’s Word can. If you wish to be a faithful believer in the world shining the light of Christ, do not bother yourself with Critical Theory. Instead, rely on God’s Word to guide you and the Spirit to empower you as go about showering the world with the love of God it so desperately needs.
*Special thanks to Neil Shenvi for his research on this subject. See his website at shenviapologetics.com