A Blurry Lens

Critical Theory is a blurry lens from which to view the world. It is not simply a matter of being imperfect or misguided. It is a fundamentally and irretrievably flawed worldview that permeates many tangential theories. Theories such as Critical Gender Theory, Critical Legal Theory, Critical Economic Theory, and Critical Race Theory. They are defective in their attempts to understand the world or offer any real hope. They are, as their name suggests, critical.

Given the increasing adoption of Critical Theory in the larger culture, Christian’s must ask these questions:

  • What is Critical Theory?
  • How am I to understand it from a Biblical Worldview?
  • Are there any aspects of it that can be helpful?
  • What should I be cautious of ?
  • How should I move forward in light of it?

In an effort to better understand Critical Theory, it may be helpful to analyze one of its tangential theories: Critical Race Theory (CRT). In his recent article published for the Southern Baptist Journal of Theology, Dr. Adam Day conducted a “Biblical Analysis of Critical Race Theory.” He interacts with Jemar Tisby’s bestselling book The Color of Compromise while seeking to define and biblically critique CRT. In the interest of making this accessible and applicational, let me offer some of his observations below:

Cautions for the Church

  • Beware of the Redefinition of Racism: CRT has come to redefine racism as “prejudice plus power” instead of “prejudice based on skin color.”
  • Beware of the Power Dynamic: A tenet of Postmodernism and CRT holds that “all relationships are about power.” Instead of power being one of many dynamics that can bring about differences and disparity, it is seen as the only explanation for those differences.
  • Beware of the Guilt Trip: There is an “assumed guilt on the part of all white American Christians.” In this view, the modern presence of racism is connected with seventeen century racism irrespective of the different ways they are manifested. There is no acknowledgement that “racisim may have diminshed over time” or have been “ameliorated” in any way. Further, there is an assumption of “Christian complicity” by saying that “Nowadays, all the American church needs to do in terms of compromise is cooperate with already established and racially unequal social systems.”
  • Beware of the Lens: Day writes, “The particular danger of Tisby’s claims is that everything is viewed through the lens of race. Race does not account for every inequality nor is it the explanation for every difference–gender, socio-economic status, religion, and many other features combine to explain the many complexities of historical and social dynamics.”

Moving Forward

In the concluding portions of his article subtitled “How Then Shall We Live?”, Day offers several principles for moving forward in a world that has embraced CRT. He suggests:

  • Believe True Narratives: We are called to be a people characterized by truth. A people who speak the truth in love and refrain from bearing false witness. According to Day, one practical implication of this is “Christians must wait to respond to events in our world until we know what the facts are.” Too often, we are prone to arriving at a conclusion and offering a subsequent opinion with little known about the facts.
  • Seek True Explanations: Not every inequality is the function of racism or a power dynamic. CRT advocates the notion that inequality of outcome is the evidence of systemic injustice. But as Thaddeus Williams notes, “different people with different priorities making different choices will experience different outcomes.” Day goes on to say, “When we repeat an incorrect narrative or argue every unequal outcome is systemic injustice, it actually undermines our efforts at true justice.”
  • Avoid Broad Statements: One of the greatest arguments against racism is the imago dei. When we see people as made in the image of God, we appreciate their uniqueness, dignity, and value. Broad statements often undermine that uniqueness. To say that “all white people are guilty of racism is actually racist because it indicts people solely on the basis of their skin color.”
  • Admit When We Are Wrong: Our current culture tends toward outrage as we often only interact with those who carry our positions. We assume the worst, operate in the extremes, and live in a “perpetual echo chamber.” As Christians, we should be willing to hear the petitions of our neighbors and consider them fairly. We should be willing to admit when we have been wrong and move forward seeking to do justice, love mercy, and walk humbly. But above all, we should be people who pursue the truth. Because as Williams notes, “truth is the decisive factor between doing justice and thinking we are.”

Day concludes by noting that CRT has pointed to some “under-evaluated aspects of race.” He admits that CRT “highlights the fact that institutions and systems can promote racism and racial inequalities” and that it can serve as a “useful, though limited, analytical tool.” But he asks the question that is most prescient for the Christian: “Does utilizing this tool add anything that we not already obtain from a Christian Worldview?”

In his view, and in my own, “the answer seems to be no.”

*Photo by Josh Calabrese