By Jason Hunter
Colossians 2:8 – “Don’t let anyone capture you with empty philosophies and high-sounding nonsense that come from human thinking and from the spiritual powers of this world, rather than from Christ.” (NLT)
A raging storm is brewing and is coming in disguised as a healing breeze. Critical Theory (CT), an offshoot called Critical Race Theory (CRT), and an analytical tool called Intersectionality (I) are making it into the mainstream culture. On the surface they can sound quite nice. They are framed as methods of understanding and dismantling oppression. They are a means to pursuing social justice. They stand up against and want to overthrow institutional or systemic racism. These all seem biblically sound on the surface; however, the words being used are changing definitions and diverging ever so slightly from Christian orthodoxy. This divergence allows new meaning to be placed into words, and at the end of it you get assumptions and conclusions that are antithetical to the gospel. The goal of this article is to provide some clarity on what CT is, compare and contrast it to biblical truth, and show why we should care that this ideology and worldview are becoming more prominent in our culture.
Critical Theory is one way our culture attempts to explain and confront power structures. There are essentially two high-level claims:
- Everyone can be divided into 2 groups, those who have power and those who don’t.
- Those who have power always oppress those who don’t.
Karl Marx (author of The Communist Manifesto) also had this view. In Marxist theory, the two groups were the bourgeoisie (the capitalists who owned the means of production) and the proletariat (the much larger working class). These classes were determined by the persons’ placement in the production process – so this view was largely based in economics. The elite class would always exploit the working class without exception. And the only time the elite class would help out the working class was if there was some benefit to the elite class. CT is taking this idea but applying it to all aspects of culture. The 2 classes in CT are the oppressors and the oppressed, but how do you know which class you fall into? Put simply – it’s who has the power. Hegemony refers to dominance of one people or a social group over others. The people in power get to control the norms, the morals, and the way of life. And the rules they set up benefit them and help them keep power – at least that’s the idea.
In the United States this ‘hegemonic power’ would be including all, but not limited to the following: white, male, heterosexual, cisgender (where your gender identity corresponds with your birth sex), able-bodied, native-born, Christians. This would define the ‘oppressing’ class. In order to represent the ‘oppressed’ class, take each trait and change it to a minority status – e.g. a black, female, lesbian, transgender, disabled, immigrant, atheist. This is where the term intersectionality comes in. Intersectionality can be defined as the multiple layers of oppression minorities suffer. The more oppressed/minority boxes you check in these categories, the more oppressed you are based on your identity (and not necessarily based on experiences.) The more oppressor/power boxes you check, the more privilege you have based on your identity (again, not necessarily based on experiences).
Everything gets warped by this ideology, but let’s hit on a couple key topics – truth, identity, and justice.
The very definition of truth is affected by CT. Objective truth is something that is true for all, whether someone agrees with it or not. It is unchanged by bias or feelings. Two plus two will equal four, and water will be wet no matter if I’m black or white. Subjective truth changes based on a person’s perspective, feelings, or opinions. I love superhero movies – particularly the Marvel ones. My favorite Avenger is Iron Man. I have a couple of buddies who favor Captain America (and I still can’t see why). Which Avenger we believe is “best” is entirely subjective. There is a place for objectivity and a place for subjectivity; however, when subjective opinions overrule objective facts, it becomes an issue. Standpoint epistemology says that knowledge is gained or known from someone’s standpoint. This theory would mean knowledge or ‘fact’ could change based on your social standing or aforementioned traits. Once again stemming from Marx, there was a belief that people in the oppressed class had access to ‘special knowledge’ that was not available for the privileged class. The higher the oppression, the higher the special knowledge. As Christians, we know that truth comes from God and can be found in the Bible. Biblical truth does not change on a whim and does not depend on how a person feels. Christianity and the truth within correspond to reality. It is the lens through which we see the world.
“I believe in Christianity as I believe the Sun has risen; not only because I see it, but because by it I see everything else.” – C.S. Lewis
Identity within CT is solely based on the previously mentioned oppressor/oppressed traits. Each attribute would add to the very definition of who they are as an individual. God made everyone different, and we can rejoice in the beauty of creation and the diversity of peoples. However, when that becomes your primary focus of what your identity is, it gives people misguided meaning and purpose. As Christians, our identity is in Christ. Genesis 1:27 (“So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them.”) gives us extremely important clarity – we are image-bearers of God. In CT, I’m a straight, white, male oppressor. In Christ, I’m a new creation. I’m loved, blessed, gifted, afflicted but cared for. I’m reconciled, forgiven, and saved by the grace of God.
Justice also takes on a different meaning within CT. ‘Social justice’ amplifies the narrative that in order for there to be true justice specific outcomes of groups of people must be similar or equal. The culture now believes disparate outcomes are indicative of oppression or inequality. There is truth in the idea of oppression affecting outcomes, but it is not the sole, universal cause. Outcomes also depend on individual effort, which is why we fight for equal opportunity and not the equality of outcomes. The goal of CT is no longer to have everyone have the same opportunity (equality). The goal of CT is now for everyone to have the same outcome (equity). Forcing equitable outcomes is unbiblical, unreasonable, and unachievable. While it may sound appealing, this utopia where everything is equal does not exist. Some people are blessed with higher intellectual abilities than others, and receive “A” grades and college acceptance letters. Some people have outstanding athletic abilities that God did not give to others, but we don’t give scholarships and sponsorships to all who participate. God did not make this world equal. It sounds harsh, but it’s true. In Mathew 25, Jesus teaches a parable of three servants. To one servant he gives five bags of silver, another servant – two, and the last servant – one. The first two servants put their money to good use and doubled their portion to give back to the master. The last one buries their one bag of silver in fear and gives back the single bag. Upon return, the master is displeased with the 3rdservant, throws the ‘useless’ servant out into the darkness, and gives his only bag to the servant that had ten. God gives people different abilities and talents. The goal is to use those to glorify Him, and not spend time coveting the servant that had 10 bags. Justice is not about equal outcomes for all. Justice is making sure everyone is treated equally under the law and that no partiality is given.
Proverbs 28:5 – “Evil people don’t understand justice, but those who follow the Lord understand completely.
Let’s briefly take a look at critical race theory (CRT). Take everything we know about CT, but now apply race to everything. It is viewing every situation, interaction, institution, and every outcome through the lens of race. If there are disparate outcomes amongst races – it is deemed racism based on single-variant analysis (ignoring any other potential causes). No longer can one simply be “not a racist,” but the CRT movement wants to force everyone to become an “antiracist.” Again, this may sound compassionate, but what this really means is to subscribe to what the culture is deeming as racist and work to overcome/overthrow it through activism. Just how far does it stretch? Voddie Baucham in his new book Faultlines, said the following about “antiracism”:
“This new cult has created a new lexicon that has served as scaffolding to support what has become an entire body of divinity. In the same manner, this new body of divinity comes complete with its own cosmology (CT/CRT/I); original sin (racism); law (antiracism); gospel (racial reconciliation); martyrs (Saints Trayvon, Mike, George, Breonna, etc.); priests (oppressed minorities); means of atonement (reparations); new birth (wokeness); liturgy (lament); canon (CSJ social science); theologians (DiAngelo, Kendi, Brown, Crenshaw, MacIntosh, etc.); and catechism (“say their names”).
The critical theory worldview has all the points of a new religion. It’s powerful because it sounds compassionate, but don’t forget the ugly foundations and how it plays out in society. Whiteness is bad. Heteronormativity is bad. Male and female distinctions are bad. Family is bad. Christianity is bad. These are oppressor groups… at least that’s what these advocates of CT are trying to teach the kids.
Let me be clear, there are horrific tragedies of the past that should be taught so they are not repeated. Kids should learn about true oppression and how to fight against it. But dividing kids into oppressor/oppressed classes and telling people they have inherent sin because of the color of their skin is an absolute step in the wrong direction. In short, CT offers a different view of humanity, sin, and salvation than does Christianity.
Let’s remember a couple of verses as we strive for unity:
For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God [Romans 3:23].
There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus [Galatians 3:28].
Born under Adam, we are unified in our fallenness. Our nature leads us to orient, measure and divide ourselves based on gender, race, means and other differences. But, hierarchies on those terms are simply imagined righteousness pointing to the reality of our degrees of brokenness. In Christ we are truly one, and it is only through His righteousness that we can find equality and equity of eternal significance. Remember this as the world seeks to divide.