Shall the Critical Race Theorists Win?
Written by Rhett Burns on November 3, 2017
Racial reconciliation is all the rage these days, and rightly so. It is hard to deny the animosity and division that plague our nation and that race-based attitudes are often involved of such hostilities. Further, Galatians 3:28 and Colossians 3:11 are still in our Bibles, and believers are called to unity with their brothers and sisters in Christ of every color. The Gospel transcends all ethnicities and cultures, and the Kingdom of God includes all peoples. The neighbor love that Jesus commanded us to show must be extended to all types of neighbors and, in humility, we should labor toward unity. But how we work toward that unity and how we talk about racial reconciliation matters. Unfortunately, the popular and accepted way of talking about race is worldly and divisive.
I refer to the invasion of Critical Race Theory (CRT) into the Church. In short, CRT is a way of analyzing the world looking through race-colored glasses, focusing on the intersection of race and power. It “recognizes that racism is engrained in the fabric and system of the American society,” and that “power structures are based on white privilege and white supremacy, which perpetuates the marginalization of people of color.” Philosophically, CRT is downstream from the neo-Marxist Frankfurt school while, politically, it is the foundation for race-based identity politics. CRT assumptions and language have become ubiquitous to the point that even mathematics is labeled as “white privilege.” Sadly, they have also seeped into the popular evangelical race conversation.
Consider the responses after Lecrae announced he was leaving “white evangelicalism” on an episode of the Truth’s Table podcast. John Piper responded with a measured and hopeful essay emphasizing his gratitude for Lecrae. In that essay, Piper noted that he did not know what Lecrae’s exit means for multiethnic relations. Enter Ray Chang, who published an open letter to Piper on Ed Stetzer’s Christianity Today blog, in which he attempted to educate Piper about all the pitfalls of whiteness in the Church. Bryan Loritts followed up with a guest post of his own at Stetzer’s blog expressing his weariness with white evangelicalism and calling for Jesus-loving minorities to establish their own conferences, organizations, and networks. Moving past the comedy of posting this call on white man Ed Stetzer’s blog, here is a spate of quotes from the two articles illustrating the infiltration on CRT jargon, attitudes, and assumptions into mainstream evangelicalism:
“White Evangelicalism: a segment of modern evangelicalism that is led and shaped by a cultural agenda defined by whiteness.” (Chang)
“For all of evangelicalism’s existence, a disproportionate burden has been placed on communities of color to adapt, adjust, assimilate, and acquiesce to the white expressions of Christianity.” (Chang)
“Evangelicals of color are tired, worn down, and burnt out from merely existing within the white evangelical space.” (Chang)
“We need to be aware of how we bring unconscious biases to our own litmus tests of whether people of color are theologically correct enough based on their emphasis on justice issues.” (Chang)
“It is a wake up call for white evangelicals to decide whether it will be willing to change dramatically enough, and quickly enough, in order to prevent Lecrae’s decision from becoming a memorial for the great neglect white evangelicals have committed against their brothers and sisters in Christ.” (Chang)
“Because the power structures of evangelicalism continue to be white.” (Loritts)
“Most whites are unaware of the ethnic theological accent they carry.” (Loritts)
This type of language, borrowed from CRT, has become standard fare in evangelical circles for at least the last two years, employed by other respected theologians such as Thabiti Anyabwile, Jamar Tisby, and Jarvis Williams.
The concern with the use of critical theory is the unity of the Church. It is true that race-based sins divide the church, and we must deal with those. But CRT also divides. The fruit of decades of critical theory philosophy and the identitarian politics of guilt and pity was on full display in Charlottesville. If we do not abandon the worldly and toxic approach of CRT, I fear the Church is headed for a similar escalation of racial division and animosity, such that goes beyond speaking gigs and book deals.
This does not mean that we do not need to deal with the very real race-based sins that are in our churches—we must. Rather, the Christian faith already contains the resources sufficient to overcome and defeat racial sins, namely the blood of Jesus. Our Lord died to create in Himself one new man in place of the two (Eph. 2:15). The blood of Jesus does what conferences, publishing deals, seminary appointments, and The Gospel Coalition never can: it covers and atones for real sin. Further, as one group of Reformed ministers noted, the Christian doctrines of God’s image, the Fall, the Incarnation, and the Church offer a better way to pursue true reconciliation than do the secular categories offered by critical theory.
Moving outward to the world, I do not deny the existence of racial and systemic injustice. Planned Parenthood has received government subsidies and openly targets black babies. Police brutality and the militarization of law enforcement are real dangers. As I’ve written in this space before, we disproportionately imprison minorities for drug offenses. So I agree with the general diagnosis of the problem. My objection is turning to the cultural Marxists for our solution and language. We already have a standard for pursuing social justice: the law and Word of God. Let’s appeal to that for justice rather than the vague, undefined, and ever-shifting notions of diversity and equality. Let’s preach the blood of Christ and the other doctrines mentioned above to the minds and souls of men, while advocating for the application of God’s Word to our civil code. Let’s be done with all skin-color-based divisions, including those perpetuated by the popular voices for racial reconciliation.
Lastly, we must beware of the sidelong glances which distract us. For example, much noise has been made about wanting minority voices on conference stages, getting book contracts, and occupying other positions of authority in evangelical leadership. But we must remember that the best and most influential racial reconciliation work is done locally with our actual and immediate neighbors. And this does not require an invitation from the gatekeepers of Corporate Evangelicalism.