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
We are living in tense times. The rate at which our culture is polarizing and the extremes at which they are ending up is concerning. Quickly vanishing are middle-ground approaches, meaningful dialogue, and a genuine desire to understand someone else’s point of view. Civility is being replaced by anarchy and the volatility of seemingly every single public event just keeps amping up the rage. It breaks my heart to see these things unfold, and I really only have one thing to say.
If you are a believer in Jesus, resist the urge to burn down. Instead, do the hard work of building up. About the only thing we can all agree on is that things are not right the way they are. Our world needs change, hope, and a plan for the future. No one denies this. Yet what are we to do with this problem? There are really only two approaches: burning or building.
It seems that more and more people are taking the easy route of burning down. I mean this both literally and metaphorically. One can burn down a building, a neighbourhood, or a cop car with some gasoline and fire. Others can burn down ideas, friendships, families, morals, or public figures through metaphysical means of burning. Censorship, intimidation, public smearing, unforgiveness, and the like are all tools of those who seek to destroy. But let’s be honest for a moment. How hard is it to burn something down? A toddler can do it by accident. A strike of the match is all you need and the rest takes care of itself. There’s nothing impressive about that. Even Jesus said that Satan came to “seek, kill, and destroy“.
But believers are not to partake in this way. We are supposed to be different. The Bible calls us not to be those who burn down but those who build up. Scripture reminds us that “love builds up” (1 Corinthians 8:1). Unlike burning, which takes very little effort, building is a demanding enterprise. To build a nation, a city, a neighbourhood, a business, a family, or a church takes hard work. It takes commitment. It is a slow and painful process that many are afraid to bother with. Yet I contend that God does not give his followers an option in this regard. We are called to be builders. Christ called us to engage in the lives of others around us and love them without restraint. He calls us to be those who lift others up and not tear them down.
My only goal in this short essay it to remind my fellow Christians to focus on building, not burning. Do not allow your frustration to lead you to partner with Satan in his work of destruction. Rather, partner with God in his work of restoration. Yes, it will be much more difficult. Yes, it will be slow to yield results. But if we truly are going to love God and this world he has entrusted to us, there simply is no other way forward.
The #blacklivesmatter movement might be the single largest social justice movement in the world today. This is certainly true in the United States, but increasingly so elsewhere as well. As such, Christians need to know about it, and know it well.
I am attempting to summarize the movement as succinctly as possible. I think it is helpful to break it down into three parts, as shown in this Venn diagram:
Let’s look at each of these categories, beginning with the two extremes.
Black Lives Matter as a Statement
The first way Black Lives Matter exists is merely as a statement of truth. As a standalone claim, “black lives matter” is undoubtedly true. In fact, you could even say that the statement is too weak from a biblical perspective. Black lives more than matter—they are sacred. All humans are made in the image of God and “matter”. Human lives are worthy of dignity and respect as image-bearers of God. This of course includes black people.
For some, the statement “black lives matter” essentially means “Racism is bad. I’m not for racism and I think black people should be treated with respect”. It amounts to a general statement against racism.
Black Lives Matter as an Organization
Some people are not aware of this, but there is a legal, non-profit organization named blacklivesmatter. It was founded in 2013 and has chapters in various parts of the world, including here in Canada. You can read for yourself their statements of belief, some of which sound great and others of which are quite alarming. In particular, their unabashed support for LGBTQ lifestyles and their anti-male dogma. Notice as well the following:
“We disrupt the Western-prescribed nuclear family structure requirement by supporting each other as extended families and “villages” that collectively care for one another, especially our children, to the degree that mothers, parents, and children are comfortable.”
Any Bible-believing Christian ought to have concerns over this agenda. Not only is it historically inaccurate to say nuclear families are an invention of the West (it pre-dates Western societies), but Scripture contends that the nuclear family is God’s idea. Genesis 1 and 2 reveals that God created man and woman to be together in marriage, and within this context to procreate the fill the earth. Any Christian should pause before supporting an organization that explicitly is on the attack against God’s good design. Former NFL player Marcellus Wiley pointed out some of the flaws in this thinking in a great video you should take time to watch.
Blacklivesmatter the organization is also admittedly Marxist. As I have written about before, Marxism is a godless worldview that has no founding in Scripture, is based on greed and contempt for others, and led to the murder of about 100 million people during the 20th Century.
In short, the organization blacklivesmatter is an extreme leftist, Marxist, anti-Christian creation that believers should have no part in supporting.
Black Lives Matter as a Movement
Somewhere in the middle, these two categories collide to form what can be described as the blacklivesmatter movement. The diagram shows overlapping circles because the movement is made up both of well-meaning but somewhat naive people who want to show support against racism and those who fully understand the ideological worldview of the organization and are driving towards those goals. Thus, when you see #blacklivesmatter on your social media, it could be a person saying “racism is bad” or it could be a person saying “I’m here to impose white guilt, destroy family structures, affirm LGBTQ lifestyles, and will oppose anyone who gets in my way”. There is also, of course, some spectrum in between these two groups, but nevertheless the point stands.
I write this article because I want people to know what they are getting themselves into by saying “black lives matter”. The statement is true and docile. The ideology is vicious and anti-Christian. Personally, even though I vehemently reject racism, I refuse to use the phrase “black lives matter” as a show of support because of the baggage that statement comes with. I want to distance myself from the organization and the belief structure behind it.
Those of you who are believers should consider how you want to approach this issue, but I think it’s important to make informed decisions. Don’t assume you know what someone means by the phrase “black lives matter”, and recognize that some people use it innocently while for others it represents a definite agenda. This is going to be more important as time goes on because the #blacklivesmatter movement isn’t going away anytime soon.
In order to assess the secular movements against racism, we must first understand the foundations of them. I finished my last post stating that the secular battle against racism springs from a desire for equity among people groups. Here I explain what that means.
The term “equity” as it pertains to social conditions is essentially equivalent to the phrase “equality of outcome”. This would be in contrast to the concept of “equality of opportunity”, a different approach to addressing social ills.
Equity, or equality of outcome, seeks to even out the life experience of people groups. For instance, it would be against a capitalist economy where the super-successful are a tiny percentage who control the vast majority of wealth. In search of equity (a more equal distribution of wealth), you would need to put structures in place that prevent the rich from getting richer and the poor from getting poorer, such as higher tax penalties for rich people. Conversely, equality of opportunity aims to make a successful life at least theoretically possible for anyone who is willing to work for it, not giving any advantages or disadvantages to anyone. This image illustrates the idea well:
In a world of “equality of opportunity”, the ideal is that everyone has the same starting place and must go from there. In a world of “equity” or “equality of outcome”, people are given more or less depending upon their perceived ability to reach success.
Understanding this concept is fundamental to critiquing our current battle against racism. This is because one line of thinking would essentially say “the American dream is available to anyone who wants to go out and chase it”, while the other would say “certain people need extra help, while some need extra hinderances, in order to maintain equality among people’s quality of life”.
Even though this blog post is about racism, I begin with economics because one needs to know Karl Marx before they understand Critical Theory and how it is currently playing out in the world. Marx was an economist whose ideas were fundamental to the birth of Communism. Marx essentially looked at the disparity between the rich and the poor and argued that the cause of it was oppression. He posited that the rich got rich by trampling on the poor and making sure they are kept down. He therefore proposed an economic structure that took power away from the rich and gave it to the poor, hoping to achieve greater balance. Essentially, he sought economic equity (equality of outcome).
It is fair to say that history has proven his theory to be a colossal bust. Everywhere that Communism has taken hold, crushing poverty and government tyranny has resulted. This is one of the major things we can learn from the last 150 years of human history.
Instead of dismissing his ideas, many sociologists doubled down on them and actually expanded them. This gave birth to what we now know as Critical Theory, sometimes called Cultural Marxism (some would disagree, but I see both terms as almost synonymous). Critical Theory takes the idea from Marxism that disparity among people is due primarily to oppression. They expand this, however, beyond the realm of economics and into other categorizations of life. For example, not only do the rich oppress the poor, but whites oppress blacks, men oppress women, police oppress citizens, skinny people oppress fat people, and so on.
This is the lens through which Critical Theory sees the world. It identifies a place where there is a difference of outcome, automatically assumes it is a result of oppression, and then seeks to attack the oppressors while empowering the oppressed. If you are someone who pays attention to the news at all, this ought to be something you can see clearly being played out before our very eyes.
This is why, for instance, ideas like high taxation for the rich, white privilege, feminism, and defunding the police are all so popular. These are attempts by the proponents of Critical Theory to level the playing field. It springs from the notion that oppressors need to be attacked and the oppressed need to be empowered.
This is the dominant approach of culture towards the issue of racism. It is cultural Marxism playing out in the real world. Those who adopt this view (aka Woke), believe that white people are fundamentally part of the oppressive system that keeps minorities down, especially blacks. Thus, the whole system needs to be toppled since it is built on a foundation of white supremacy. This is where the concept of systemic racism is born. Racism is built right into the structures of society so that, even if a white person doesn’t think themselves to be racist, they can’t help but be. They partake of a system that lifts them up and keeps others down.
Once again, I think there is strong reason to push back on this line of thinking. The first is that it is built on a foundation of massive, unprovable assumptions. Critical Theory demands the belief that the best way to see the world is through the lens of oppression. Yet I believe there is strong reason to question this. The Communist experiment proved that this concept was flawed as it pertained to economics. Why should we assume it is more accurate in other spheres of life? It also clearly does not take into account the major factor of personal responsibility. Critical Theory assumes that all people want to work hard and make the most of their opportunities. Yet even a cursory glance at life around us proves this assumption false. Some people are able to achieve much with very little, while others with much squander it away. The fact that this reality is completely absent from Critical Theory makes the starting point inherently flawed.
Critical Theory also operates from a point of envy. Though it sounds nice on the surface (“I just want everyone to be equal”), the motives can be much more nefarious (“They have what I don’t, and I want it”). It can be a very convenient way to hide behind covetousness. I would again point to the results of Communism as proof. Communism arguably killed 100 million people in the 20th century. Scripture explains why. James 4:2 says “You desire and do not have, so you murder. You covet and cannot obtain, so you fight and quarrel.” Hostility and murder spring from a coveting heart. Though I would not charge all who adhere to Critical Theory as examples of this, many certainly are. If we know anything about human nature, it is that we are far more evil than we dare believe, and that our own intentions can be incredibly deceitful.
If you want more recent examples, see the looting of stores (including killings) and creation of autonomous zones as examples of peoples thirst for material possessions and power that comes under the guise of fighting against oppression.
Critical Theory also implies that successful people are automatically oppressors. Obviously, we know that many rich people are oppressive and can get away with doing so because of their financial resources. The same book of the Bible I quoted above speaks of rich people oppressing the poor (James 2:6). But this is still a wrong assumption to make, since other rich people are benevolent with their money. I would argue that the Bible presents roughly four categories of people in this regard:
- Godly rich
- Ungodly rich
- Godly poor
- Ungodly poor
However, this model doesn’t fit into the framework of Critical Theory. In fact, I would challenge anyone to prove from Scripture that Critical Theory is a way of thinking that springs from the Bible. Unfortunately, Christians who adopt this view are simply flinging around the term “justice” to defend their views. I would argue that to defend Critical Theory under the guise of biblical “justice” is an abuse of Scripture and nothing more than slapping biblical language on top of completely secular thinking.
The Bible nowhere argues for equity, or equality of outcome. Was it not God who richly blessed Abraham? Was it not God who chose Israel to be his people? The Biblical picture is that our life circumstances are made up of a combination of God’s providence, the choices of others around us, and our own choices as well. God determines when and where we are born (Acts 17:26). Our parents and our communities make choices that affect our lives. And lastly, we make our own decisions in life which operate on the principle of reaping what we sow. The Bible doesn’t outline how God’s people are to be revolutionaries against the system, but what it does do is teach us how to live out a Kingdom ethic in the midst of a corrupt and broken world. These are not the same thing.
We need to know these things because seeking godly solutions requires properly defining the problems. The foundation of Critical Theory is flawed and unscriptural; therefore we ought to reject its solutions. Racial tensions are not properly and fully explained by stating that white people oppress black people and thus the answer is to reverse the paradigm of power. Rather, racial tensions spring from sin in the human heart that requires the healing balm of God’s love. It completely baffles me that believers are attempting to fight the battle against racism while leaving the most potent weapon at home: the gospel. Do we not know that only Christ can change the human heart? That only Christ can unite people? If we feel that we can fight the battle against racism without consulting Scripture, without recognizing the need for concepts like sin, forgiveness, sanctification, and the imago Dei, then we are fooling ourselves.
The Church needs to recognize that we have a unique voice in this discussion. We operate from a worldview founded on Scripture, not on Marx. I fear that we are knowingly, and unknowingly, adopting worldly patterns of thought. Until that changes, we fail to be the light that this world so desperately needs.
“White privilege is an absence of the consequences of racism. An absence of structural discrimination, an absence of your race being viewed as a problem first and foremost.” – Reni Eddo-Lodge
Let’s talk about white privilege. White privilege is, much like systemic racism, a bit of a nebulous term and one that is thrown about quite a bit these days. The basic idea is that being born a white person in Western society immediately grants you certain privileges just by virtue of being white. Put another way, your life at least isn’t made any harder because of your skin colour.
Like other things I have said about racism, the idea of white privilege is nuanced. I reject the oversimplification of white privilege but recognize that it still exists as a reality. Let me explain.
White privilege is undoubtedly real to a certain degree. For instance, the city I live in is predominantly white. To my recollection, I’ve never had a racist act committed against me in my life. This, however, is not true for some of my friends who are black or asian. Thus, I think it is fair to say that my skin colour affords me some degree of privilege. Of this I readily acknowledge.
However, that’s about all I’m willing to concede about white privilege. Much of the additional baggage that comes with the term I reject, and on good moral and logical grounds I might add.
I reject the idea that I should apologize for being white. The trend of white people bowing down before blacks and making atonement for the sins of their ancestors is insanity. Not that being humble and willing to admit our faults is anything bad—in fact, it is necessary in a Christian worldview. The problem however is that there is no need to repent for the sins of others. It is fundamental to a Christian worldview that people are accountable for themselves, and that God will judge each person according to their works. I honestly don’t know if anyone in my own family lineage has a link to slavery. Well, actually, I’m willing to bet that if we go back far enough, all of us have a heritage connected with slavery and other horrible atrocities that we want nothing to do with.
It seems like white privilege is the new “original sin” in this secular religion of wokeness. From a Christian point of view, you are born with an inherent guilt (sin) that you need cleansing from through faith in Christ. In the secular view, you are born with inherent guilt (whiteness) for which you need to be cleansed through wokeness. This is a false gospel and antithetical to the Christian worldview.
I would add one more thing here. If a person feels uncomfortable with the actions that someone else has committed, the biblical response is not to confess guilt yourself, but rather to pray for them. We call this intercessory prayer. An example of this in Scripture is Job, who prayed for his children and offered sacrifices to God on their behalf for their partying lifestyle (Job 1). It’s not that Job felt responsible, but he pleaded with God on their behalf out of love.
I reject the idea that white privilege (or lack thereof) is the best way to understand people’s situations. Like I mentioned already, white privilege is real. Yet it is only one component to the complexity that makes up a person’s life circumstances. Many, many, many other factors will lend a person towards privilege or not, such as:
- Country of birth
- Family wealth
- Educational opportunities
- Character of their parents
- Personal connections
- What they were exposed to as a child
The list goes on. All of these factor into the equation of a person’s access to privilege. I would argue that perhaps some of these factors are actually far more important to the outcome of life for an individual than the colour of their skin.
In other words, white privilege is real, but it is not nearly sufficient to explain the world around us.
Who has more privilege? Me, as a white man? Or Tiger Woods? LeBron James? Barack Obama? Oprah Winfrey? They have access to resources that far outweigh anything I might be able to accrue because of my whiteness. And you know what? Good for them! That’s fine with me, because I’m not a victim. I’ve been dealt the hand God gave me, and I will not covet the one he gave someone else. Every person has a unique set of circumstances they are born into, some of which are advantageous, and others disadvantageous. It has always been, in my mind, a healthy perspective for someone to not allow themselves to be controlled by their circumstances, but resolve to work with what they have to live a worthy life for God and others.
Lastly, I reject the idea that my privilege, whatever level it may be, is inherently bad. Terms matter, and what the world calls privilege the Bible calls blessings. This absolutely, positively, does not mean that being white is a blessing. That’s a disgusting way to think. But what it means is that in whatever way God has granted me a smooth path in life, for it I am grateful.
I can for certain say that by far the most meaningful way God has blessed me is with incredible, hard working parents who taught me about God. This is a privilege that not all others have had, and I wish it were different. Yet I will give thanks for the blessings God has given me, and the challenges, while aiming to use the resources God has given me to make something of my life. This is what privilege is all about. If you have something to be thankful for, give thanks. If you have plentiful resources, give back. If you have challenges to overcome, persevere. But using white privilege as the dominant way to understand the world is a line of thinking that is based on coveting, ingratitude, and just plain ignorance of the facts. Reality is always much more complex than any broad-brush can cover.
Let me circle back to the quote at the beginning. It said “White privilege is an absence of the consequences of racism. An absence of structural discrimination, an absence of your race being viewed as a problem first and foremost.” It appears we are just turning the tables around. White people are now structurally discriminated against, because we are seen as inherently racist whether we recognize it or not. On top of that, our whiteness is seen as a problem first and foremost. There is a term for it when people are categorized wholesale simply because of their skin colour: it’s called racism. The inevitable outcome of the white privilege narrative is just racism in a new form. We are simply replacing one racist ideology with another.
I propose that we submit ourselves to Scripture. God’s Word cuts through all the clutter and makes things clear. We are to do unto others as we would want them to do to us. It’s really that simple. We get into problems when we start to create new categories and put people into boxes. All of this springs from the concept of equity, the idea that all people deserve equal outcomes, a line of thinking born in Marxism and adopted by popular thought. That will be the topic of my next post.
I will reiterate once again, right off the bat, that I am a pastor and not a politician. Some might assume that because I am speaking on political issues, I am wrongly diving into the world of politics when I should be staying in my lane of Christian ministry. I would counter back that what is often labelled a political issue is one that is actually a moral, spiritual, or worldview issue. Such is the case here.
It is increasingly being espoused that white people need to shut up and listen to people of colour when it comes to the issue of systemic racism. Lest you think I am being too poignant in criticism, consider exhibit A:
The line of thinking here is that since white people are the beneficiaries of privilege in our Western system, they don’t get to have a voice at the table. They built the table and own it, after all. If white people want to truly understand how the system is biased in their favour, they’ll need to listen to the stories of people of colour who are on the losing end of the stick.
On paper, this theory sounds good. We should listen. Scripture tells us to be good listeners. We are often far too quick to share our own thoughts without taking the time to hear where other people are coming from. This is a principle I can get behind.
- My dear brothers and sisters, take note of this: Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry (James 1:19)
- If one gives an answer before he hears, it is his folly and shame. (Proverbs 18:13)
- A fool takes no pleasure in understanding, but only in expressing his opinion. (Proverbs 18:2)
However, there are two major problems with the line of thinking that white people are morally responsible to shut up and listen.
The first is that it fails to take into account that truth is truth no matter who is espousing it. Ideas stand or fall on their own merit. Truth is not determined based on who is making a specific truth claim. Something is true or not even if it is shared by someone who may be generally untrustworthy. As they say, even a broken clock is right twice a day.
On these grounds, white people do have a voice to contribute. Frankly, we all do. And our voices matter not because of the colour of our skin but because our ideas deserve to be presented for scrutiny by others. This is true for everyone. No particular person or people group are uniquely owners of the truth or above criticism. I would therefore conclude that to tell white people to shut up and listen wrongly assumes that only people of colour correctly understand reality and that only white people are skewed by personal bias.
I would say that better advice than “white people need to shut up and listen” would be that “wise people will listen to other people who have different opinions and experiences than they do”. This is true for all people, regardless of race. We should be those who care about the truth, not identity politics.
A second flaw in this thinking is that it assumes that all black people speak with one voice. This is demonstrably not true. One would think from watching the news or scrolling through social media that all people of colour think exactly the same and have the same story to tell. There is a word for it when people make wholesale assumptions about someone based only on the colour of their skin—it’s called racism. Thus, I would dare say that those who promote the specific silencing of white people are perpetrating the very racism they claim to denounce.
When someone says we should listen to people of colour, I want to come back with, “which ones?”
How about Larry Elder?
Or Voddie Baucham?
Or Samuel Sey?
Or Thomas Sowell?
Or Monique Duson?
Or David Webb?
Or Darrell Harrison and Virgil Walker?
Or Lil Wayne?
All of these people, and countless others, have a differing perspective than the mainstream media does on issues related to race. One would suspect that this would be perfectly fine, since people are entitled to their opinions. One would also suspect that this would be completely expected, since not everyone thinks alike. Yet it is still surprising to many, and abhorrent to some, that not all people of colour are on the same page.
If you haven’t watched any of the videos I’ve posted, take 30 seconds to watch this one:
What this clip demonstrates is that discrimination exists not only across races, but across ideologies. Ayanna Pressley, the speaker in this video, is categorically excluding people because they do not see things as she does. Or, more accurately, they do not see things as she demands they do. Her premise is essentially that marginalized people groups should all think and desire the same things. This is insulting and prejudicial to those who disagree with her line of thinking.
Why is it that when someone challenges the mainstream narrative, they are rebuked? If you are white (as I am), you must be racist. If you are a person of colour, you are a betrayer to your own people. (There are other words used but I won’t repeat them here.) Or, maybe, you are just an independent thinking person and not a pre-programmed robot based on your particular convergence of race, gender, sexuality, and the like.
Let me circle back to the beginning. What does all of this have to do with Christianity? I would argue three things.
First, we are people who care about the truth. From a biblical perspective, truth matters. More poignantly, the truth will set you free. We should not adopt a cultural worldview based on lies and half-truths that are twisted to fit a particular agenda. It is the devil himself who uses deceit to manipulate people and bring destruction. We desire for people to live godly, fulfilling lives. In order to do that, truth must prevail.
Second, we should love people. When you call someone insulting names because they do not see things as you do, you slander them. Slander is also a tactic of the devil. When the poisonous tongues of some lash others into silence or obedience to the cultural demands of the day, they are living out a demonic strategy rather than one from God. If we are to love people properly, it means treating them with dignity and respect. It means we should listen to them an engage them as an individual made in God’s image who has unique experiences and perspectives.
Third, we should not endorse an anti-Christian agenda. I shall likely write on this more in the future, but the current cultural conversation around race issues is laced with Marxist ideas that pit people groups against one another and foster division, hatred, and violence. As Christians, we should not look to the world to understand racial reconciliation. We have the Word of God. The Bible ought to instruct our thinking about these issues more than anything else, yet the world rejects God’s wisdom. Why should we turn to the world for answers to problems of sin? That’s insanity. We must cling to the worldview laid out in Scripture and believe in the power of the gospel to bring peace to our world one soul at a time.
I am trying to walk out the principle of James 1:19, which says “My dear brothers and sisters, take note of this: Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak, and slow to become angry.” After much reflection, listening, and prayer, I feel it is time to speak.
Let’s begin with the obvious. Racism is a damnable sin, as I have written about before. I hope and trust this statement is no surprise to you. As a follower of Christ, racism falls into the category of hate for others and partiality, both sins in Scripture. We are called by God to love others, even those unlike us. On this point, I hope all Christians can happily agree.
However, this is not the end of the story. We are living in times when the basic definition of racism is being changed. Racism is no longer simply treating others as less-than because of the colour of their skin, it has morphed into something much more complex than that.
Enter the idea of “systemic racism”. Systemic racism differs from “basic racism” in a few important ways. (I use the term “basic racism” to mean the traditional or simple definition outlined above.) A few key differences:
- Basic racism is largely individual; systemic racism is collective or social
- Basic racism is easily identified; systemic racism is more difficult to define
- Basic racism flows from any race to another; systemic racism only flows one-way
Let’s take a minute to examine these concepts individually.
Individual vs. Social
Basic racism occurs when someone is treated less-than because of the colour of their skin. For example, Lexico.com defines racism as “prejudice, discrimination, or antagonism directed against a person or people on the basis of their membership of a particular racial or ethnic group, typically one that is a minority or marginalized.” From a Biblical perspective, racism is a form of prejudice or favouritism. James 2:1-12 strictly forbids favouritism, classifies it as a “sin” that springs from “evil thoughts”, and demonstrates that it is breaking God’s law to “love your neighbour as yourself”. Granted, that passage uses a rich/poor example rather than race, but the principle applies the same.
Systemic racism, on the other hand, is more nebulous. Systemic racism focuses on societal structures that are based upon, and reinforce, racist ideals. It does not necessarily require the presence of a specific racist, specific victim, or specific act. It can exist apart from these things because it is built into the system and structure of society, so much so that we hardly even realize its presence.
Easy vs. Hard to Identify
For the reasons above, basic racism tends to be easily identifiable, while systemic racism is less definable. For example, if a white man calls a black man the N-word, it’s not hard to point at that and say “that’s racist”. On the other hand, systemic racism is hard to identify because it can exist without any specific qualities of racism being present. For example, a black man can be struggling to make ends meet, and one can simply point to “systemic racism” as the cause, even apart from any identifiable racist person or act.
All Can Be Racist vs. Only Some Can Be Racist
A final distinction is that anyone can be racist in the “basic” sense of the word. A white person can be racist towards a black person, and vice versa. In fact, a person of any race can be racist towards a person of any other race, in any number of combinations of races that exist on planet earth. This is because racism is simply treating someone else poorly because of their skin colour; thus, racism is an equal opportunity sin.
But not so with systemic racism. In systemic racism, only those who are considered to be the beneficiaries of the system can be racist, because racism implies the use of power over others. Thus, for simplicity sake, in Western culture only white people can be racist, while other minority groups can’t be, because they are the ones on the losing end of the system.
Systemic Racism and Critical Theory
This is the current thought-structure being forwarded by the culture. The question is, should a believer in Christ adopt it? Many would criticize me for even attempting to answer the question, since I am a “white man of privilege in North America”. Who am I to judge the system I benefit from, they might argue. Yet this is precisely the problem with this line of thinking. Allow me to explain.
The concept I am attempting to outline here is known as Critical Theory. Critical Theory is a form of Marxist thought that can be described as a worldview. It essentially works like this…
Step 1: Single out a sphere of life.
Step 2: Identify differences of outcome in that area.
Step 3: Divide those who are doing well from those who are not into separate groups.
Step 4: Assume that those who are doing well are oppressors and those who are not are oppressed.
Step 5: Attack the oppressors and empower the oppressed, thus toppling the system.
In terms of racism, the idea is basically that white people are the oppressors and black people are the oppressed. This is the one-size-fits-all explanation that details why black people are killed by police, stuck in poverty, and treated as outsiders, while white people benefit from their white privilege and knowingly or unknowingly support a system that keeps them on top.
Does this line of thinking correspond to reality? Is it biblical? I believe the answer is nuanced.
On one hand, there is at least some merit to the concept of systemic racism. It is without a doubt that the country in which I live (Canada), as well as the United States, has a history of white people trampling on other people groups through use of force. At least some of these injustices have had attempts to be addressed (such as land treaties, emancipation, etc.), and it is up for debate how successful these efforts have been on the whole.
On the other hand, Critical Theory paints with such a broad brush that it fails to take into account many other important factors, such as generational gaps, group subculture, integrity, and work ethic. As a simplified illustration, even in a society where there exists a perfectly equal playing field in terms of opportunity, there will always be a difference in terms of actual outcome. The success of a person might be far more tied to their character and the fact that they bust their butt in school or at work than it is to the system they exist in. It is possible for those who are handed an easy path in life to ruin it by poor decisions, while another person is born into hardship and fights their way out of it.
The point is that Critical Theory is only, at best, an oversimplified partial explanation. It is, at worst, a disgusting and hateful ideology that is centred more on lies, victimhood, and revenge than on truth and justice. I believe I can see both at play in the culture at large.
My main point is this: life is complex. Circumstances are unique. People are individuals. It is just as wrong to use a generic outline such as Critical Theory to explain the world around us as it is to function as a literal racist on basic terms. Critical Theory, taken to its most extreme, says to all white people “you are guilty and complicit whether you realize it or not” and to all black people “you are oppressed and a victim whether you realize it or not”. These are not true, at least in any universal sense. To accuse all white people as being “part of the problem” may very well be tantamount to breaking the ninth commandment, “you shall not bear false witness against your neighbour” (Exodus 20:16). It also strips the perceived victim of any personal responsibility.
We are guilty of sin when we make assumptions of others in these matters. The very justice we are seeking itself can become a gross injustice when we divide people into groups and ascribe to them wholesale moral qualities. Naturally, any believer in Jesus should want to see justice in this world. When a case of injustice arises, we should seek to rectify it. But what we cannot do is ascribe to people groups generic accusations that fail to take into account the details. This is not judging with right judgment.
If we are going to move towards racial reconciliation in any meaningful way, then we must care about the truth. Sometimes the truth does not fit our own agenda or worldview. Sometimes the truth is nuanced. Sometimes only God knows the truth. But we cannot live by half-truths and trample over those who desire a more accurate perspective. This goes for all people on “both sides of the issue”.
I would like to close with this. Again, I am writing primarily to believers. Do you believe 2 Timothy 3:16-17? That passage says:
“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.”
What I mean is, do we believe that Scripture has the answers? Is it sufficient to equip us for good works in this world? I believe that it is. If you are found confused by these issues and the worldviews presented, bring it back to the basics. Cherish the gospel. Know that Christ changes hearts. Love people. Show grace. Treat all fairly. Forgive. Be quick to listen and slow to speak. If you allow God’s Word and the Holy Spirit to guide you, you have all you need to live a life honouring to God.
Now that things are opening up on the downswing of COVID-19, my schedule is starting to quickly fill up. All of the appointments that were skipped or canceled because of the pandemic are now being re-booked and each day is getting busier and busier. Doctor, dentist, haircut, bank, school —you name it—appointments are back and all of our calendars reflect it.
Yet there is one appointment that was never cancelled to begin with and won’t show up on our calendars: our appointment with death.
We don’t like to talk about death. It’s a subject that makes us too uncomfortable. This is understandable emotionally but irrational logically. Each one of us is going to die. That is an absolute certainty. So why do we avoid thinking about it? Why do we secretly pretend like it isn’t going to happen and keep our mind occupied with other things?
I wonder if our theology of death is weak. You don’t have to be a Christian to know that death is coming for you, but you do have to be a Christian to know that death is an appointment on our calendar. By “appointment” I mean it is a fixed day and time that somewhere in the future our path will cross with, and then we will die. Until then, however, death is no threat.
Consider it from the vantage point of Scripture. Reflecting on the unborn baby within the womb, the Psalmist also sees in the creation of life God’s destiny for each person.
Your eyes saw my unformed substance;
in your book were written, every one of them,
the days that were formed for me,
when as yet there was none of them.
I don’t know if God has a literal book (ie. calendar) that he writes the number of our days in. I do, however, believe that God has literally predestined us to live a certain number of days on earth. Once that number is full, we die. Such a truth makes death no less predictable from our earthly vantage point, but makes death completely predictable from a heavenly one. Before we are even born, God set our appointment with death and nothing we do can change it.
Understanding that God is in control of our destiny ought to bring us great comfort. It means that the responsibility to prolong our lives is not ultimately in our hands. It means that before we reach our appointment with death, we are untouchable. We will die when God chooses for us to die and not one day sooner. It should allow us to live our lives responsibly and without paranoia. When we get in our car, we should put on a seatbelt. But if we die in a car crash, that is in God’s hands. We should wash our hands and limit exposure to germs, but if we catch COVID-19 and die from it, that is in God’s hands.
Until you reach your appointment with death, you can’t die. The sustainer of life will ensure it. Nevertheless, it is wise to be ready for that day to come. It could be today, or it could be decades from now. Either way, put your faith in the one who can save your soul and rest in the fact that your destiny is in his hands.
Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ and you will be saved.