Who’s Afraid of CRT?

It appears we have a pretty intense food fight developing over Critical Race Theory (CRT). Lots of accusations are being thrown about. But that seems to be nearly unavoidable when disagreement arises over such an emotionally charged issue as race and how best to address the tensions that exist between us.

It is my belief that CRT is not only heightening these tensions, but guiding us away from the gospel and its radical solution to sin, justice, and reconciliation. You may disagree with me about that, but to simply dismiss such concerns with the pejorative “anti-intellectual fundamentalist,” seems rather anti-intellectual and fundamentalist.

I confess that I do wonder where all of these calls to “eat the meat and spit out the bones” were during the debate over the Nashville Statement two years ago at the PCA General Assembly. This is especially poignant given that the Nashville Statement was criticized primarily not for what it states, but for what it does not state. In other words, it was being opposed not on the basis that it advances error, but because it lacked proper nuance on certain matters. Why then would we want to now commend Critical Race Theory, a system deeply influenced by presuppositions that are antithetical to the Scriptures?

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As I mentioned in my previous post, scholars are obliged to dig through the “bones” of ideas, theories, and worldviews. And, as I stated previously, whether we are aware of it fully or not, we discard the bones of various ideas quite regularly. We do it every time we change the channel during the halftime show of the Super Bowl or read C.S. Lewis or listen to NPR. It takes no unique insight to understand that much of life is lived by distinguishing between what is valuable and what is harmful. Indeed, most of the Christians I know navigate their way around bones quite well.

The question that concerns me most in the debate over CRT is the role of the pastor in the lives of God’s people. Certainly pastors are not to shelter the flock to the degree that they are never exposed to ideas which contradict the truth and wisdom of Scripture. After all, what pastor never uses error to help illuminate the truth? Quoting from Nietzsche, Freud, or Dawkins can help God’s people find their way through those ideas which, though embraced in the world, are opposed to God. But this is, of course, a long way from commending those thoughts and thinkers as faithful guides to help strengthen our understanding of God, the Scriptures, the gospel, the world, and human identity.

Critical Race Theory, like its parent Critical Theory, is a worldview. It portrays the world through the lens of race. And through that lens it seeks to establish a narrative for understanding the world, culture, race, human identity, and justice. That is no small ambition. But this was the project of the architects of Critical Theory. For them, Marxism was too modest in its proposals. It needed to frame all of society from the economic to the familial to the psychological to the sexual. It’s offspring Critical Race Theory seeks to do the same thing. Certainly Angela Davis, a scholar and devotee of Critical Theory, understands that CRT is a system of thought shaping one’s view of all of life.

I affirm that the unbelieving do routinely know and speak what is true. The unbeliever is an image-bearer of God with access to God's book of nature written across creation. That is why your main concern about a surgeon should not whether he is a Christian but whether he is competent. Now, when we get into the realm of ideas it gets a bit trickier, because those issues delve into matters of transcendence and ultimate truth. We can still gain keen insights from ancients like Homer and Plato, or from Roman Catholics like Anselm and Aquinas (with whom we Protestants have sharp disagreements on important matters). The question is, at what point does a system of thought stand so contrary to the Scriptures, and/or cause so much division between people, that it needs to be refuted rather than revised?

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I have been called to put up or shut up. “No one is promoting CRT in the PCA!” Admittedly, I was rather confused by this objection. Weren’t we just told that Presbyterians don’t have anything to fear from the promotion of CRT? I was also accused of slander for suggesting that the genie of Liberation Theology was already out of the bottle in the PCA. That one confused me as well. Am I the only one who checks in on Twitter or pays attention to what goes on around the PCA?

Imagine it this way. Suppose a PCA pastor were to routinely post on social media pleas for people to read the major proponents of Kinism and other white supremacist interpretations of Scripture. Wouldn’t it be safe to assume that he was promoting Kinism and white supremacy? Might we not also assume then that someone routinely promoting the leading voice of Black Liberation Theology and urging people to read his works may in fact be promoting Black Liberation Theology? Given that I am apparently an “anti-intellectual and fundamentalist,” I may need someone not as anti-intellectual as me to explain this.

It seems to me that those promoting an eat the meat, spit out the bones approach to CRT have not thought deeply about the difference between the academy and the church or the responsibilities of teachers versus that of pastors. Pastors are to guard God’s beloved flock from error. That seems quite clear in Scripture. If you wish to dispute that, then I fear the chasm between us is too great for a meaningful discussion. That said, guarding God’s flock from error is not the same as keeping them in the dark or seeking to deprive them of helpful knowledge.

Let’s tease this out a bit further by using Kinism as an example. I have been preaching through Genesis for a while. When we reached chapter 10 with its record of the table of nations following the flood I made a point to identify how white supremacists have used that passage to promote their brand of Christianized racism. For many of our folks this was brand new. They simply had never heard the text used that way. That was encouraging. But I armed them with an apologetic against that error should they encounter it. It never occurred to me to tell them that Kinists, because they are image-bearers of God, have some truth from which we may glean. That is because their system strays too far from the gospel and sows division. Kinism needs to be refuted, not gleaned from. Indeed, I expose the church I serve routinely to ideas that are incompatible with Christianity. But I attempt to do so in a way that gives them the requisite knowledge to refute the errors.

It was written recently that Presbyterians do not need to be afraid of Critical Race Theory. That was a rather strange way to frame the argument. I am not afraid of CRT, any more than I am afraid of Buddhism, Racism, Atheism or any other system of thought that sets itself up against God. But that presupposition gave the author opportunity to state that the PCA is being attacked by a fundamentalist horde of former Southern Baptists turned not-truly-Reformed Presbyterians. It is unfortunate that anyone would encourage the PCA to tolerate CRT while at the same time stoke fears against brothers in Christ in the PCA who don’t share a favorable opinion of CRT. It seems that goodness and truth can be gleaned from CRT, but not from brothers in Christ who refute it.

Whether we are dealing with Plato, Aquinas, Luther, Newman, Lewis, or even Hitchens, I say, “eat the meat and spit out the bones.” But to praise CRT as though it has genuine intellectual merit and is helpful for directing Christians is ill informed at best. I can understand why someone with little or no history of pastoral ministry would dispense such advice. But for a pastor to serve water from a poison well and throw it off with a simple, “watch out for anything that may harm you,” would be cruel. 

Related Links

Podcast: "CRT on CRT"

"Notes from the Revolution" by Brad Green

"Sobriety and the Gospel" by Gabriel Williams

Pastors in the Classics: Timeless Lessons on Life and Ministry from World Literature by Leeland Ryken, Philip Ryken, and Todd Wilson

That Hideous Strength: How the West Was Lost by Melvin Tinker