The problem with CT is that it is anti-biblical. It promotes interpreting the realities of life through categories and lenses that are contrary to what the Bible teaches and that actually fuel division rather than encourage harmony.
The issue of Critical Theory (CT) has become the hot-button issue for evangelicals over the past couple of years, as evidenced by SBC debates over the now infamous Resolution 9, controversy over the death of George Floyd, BLM riots over the summer and fall, and recently climaxing with evangelical opinions about the 2020 election and tensions over the SBC Seminary president’s statement condemning CT.
Others have helpfully addressed the problems with CT at length, especially the Dallas Statement on Statement on Social Justice and the Gospel; however, a number of people have asked me for a simple explanation of the issue, so I would like to provide a succinct description and biblical evaluation of CT by addressing four questions:
- May Christians use systems of thought that do not come from Scripture?
- What is CT?
- Is CT compatible with Scripture?
- Does CT help resolve racism?
Using Extra-Biblical Ideas as Tools
A core question in this debate is whether Christians may use systems of thought, theories, or ideas that do not come from Scripture as “analytical tools,” to quote Resolution 9. In my opinion, some critics of CT have been incorrect to claim that Christians may never use any ideas that come from outside Scripture. This is simply not true. Christians have always been willing to use ideas outside of Scripture as long as those ideas are consistent with biblical truth.
So the question is not whether CT comes from Scripture; it certainly does not, but neither does calculus, free market economics, or microbiology. The more critical question is whether CT is consistent with biblical truth.
Defining Critical Theory
A central issue causing confusion and misrepresentation is lack of clarity in defining terms, so let me provide a simple definition of CT:
Critical Theory analyzes all aspects of society through the lenses of structures such as race, class, and power, divides groups into categories of oppressors or oppressed, and proposes methods for pulling down oppressors and liberating oppressed.
CT assumes that everything that happens in society, including successes and failures, results from oppression between groups divided by race, class, and power. By definition, according to CT, whiteness, wealth, and power inherently oppress non-white, poor, and weak; therefore, in order to resolve injustice, poor weak non-whites must be elevated, while rich powerful whites must be pulled down.
These assumptions lead, then, to certain conclusions like,
- Only white people can be racist.
- Racism does not necessarily involve individual action; it can exist in systems.
- Someone can be racist without intending it.
- Failures by non-white, poor, or weak are always a result of oppression.
- It is wrong to be “color-blind.” We must actively elevate non-white and demote whites.
- Non-white, poor, and weak people cannot succeed when white, wealthy, or powerful are in control.
Is Critical Theory Consistent with Biblical Truth?
Christian advocates of CT argue that it is a helpful “analytical tool” because since racism is inherently unbiblical (and it is!), CT can help us uncover systemic racism that is buried deep within societal structures and otherwise difficult to recognize, eliminate racism by elevating the oppressed and putting down the oppressors, and thereby enable the oppressed to flourish.
But here is the problem with this line of defense: it is circular reasoning—it already assumes the conclusions of the theory in defending it. In other words, this defense of CT is based on the assumption that whiteness, wealth, and power are inherently oppressive, and poverty and weakness, especially for non-whites, is by definition the result of racism buried deep within society. The very perceived problems advocates of CT are trying to address are already the result of applying the theory, and thus this cannot be a defense.
This is why we must step back and evaluate the underlying assumptions of CT compared with Scripture. Let’s assess these assumptions based on a few core biblical truths: