As followers of Christ, you might have been wondering what to make of “Critical Race Theory”—a term you might have been hearing with increasing frequency. Interestingly, even the definition of what “critical race theory” is varies widely on which sources you consult. As a result, we selected two articles written by Christians so that you can see how they interact with the concept. We also asked the same two covenant partners to offer their thoughts on both articles, so that you could also learn from the diversity of their perspectives as well.
Timothy Keller also offers “A Biblical Critique of Secular Justice and Critical Theory” as part of his four-part series on justice and race, which is reviewed under the Biblical Justice section of our resources page.
On the Use and Abuse of Critical Race Theory in American Christianity, David French
Guiding Thoughts from an FPC Covenant partner:
This article is David French's attempt to articulate a Christian approach to critical race theory (CRT). On one hand, French demonstrates that CRT can be used to gain insight into the dynamics of persistent racial disparities, build empathy, and motivate action. On the other hand, he recognizes that without a Christian understanding of humanity, CRT’s authoritarian tendencies can create strained interpretations of existing power structures and historical/cultural phenomena. French offers a reasonable—albeit far from comprehensive—critique of CRT from a practical Christian perspective.
Who would benefit from reading this article? What key questions does it seek to address? This article may benefit those who doubt that CRT can be used as a tool to inform a Christian perspective on persistent racial disparities, those who doubt that a Christian perspective can or should offer any corrective to CRT, or those in need of a reasoned attempt to navigate the competing claims of Christianity and CRT.
Keep in Mind: While the article may provoke discomfort or disagreement by its attempt to chart a middle path through CRT, the author makes a reasonable effort to set aside constricting philosophical or ideological lenses and view CRT from a Christian perspective that is free to acknowledge CRT's uses without being bound to the full scope of its assertions or implications.
Expect to Learn: This article provides a brief introduction to CRT, and explores its uses and limits from a Christian perspective. French demonstrates the application of CRT to a particular scenario seemingly distant from matters of race, and the insight into persistent racial disparities and empathy it can produce. The author also explains some of the ways CRT can validate subjective authoritarianism and claim the mantle of a totalizing ideology, contrary to core Scriptural truths.
additional Thoughts from an FPC elder: This article is more informative on CRT than the “Social Justice, Critical Race Theory, Marxism, and Biblical Ethics: Looking at Marxism and Critical Race Theory in light of the problem of racism in America” article by Kelly Hamren that follows. It is also more informative on the lens in which those that subscribe to that theory analyze the world. Everything is viewed through the lens of race. It offers criticism of CRT but does not go far enough to illuminate some core beliefs of those that subscribe to the theory.
For example, some of CRT’s more troubling beliefs include:
1. There is no such thing as objective truth.
2. Everything is viewed through the lens of race (and/or gender and/or sexuality—depending on the topic at hand). For example, the story about the private school rejecting the police presence could also be explained by exploring income inequality (wealth vs. poverty) as opposed to white vs. people of color. However, most of the time, CRT chooses to assume that it’s a race issue rather than an income issue. This is a worldview issue.
3. CRT is a political movement that seeks power and attempts to classify all people as an oppressor or oppressed.
4. Seeks equality of outcome over equality of opportunity.
5. Individuals are not entitled to their own experience, rather they must adopt the narrative of the collective.
Social Justice, Critical Race Theory, Marxism, and Biblical Ethics: Looking at Marxism and Critical Race Theory in light of the problem of racism in America, Kelly Hamren
Guiding Thoughts from an FPC Covenant partner:
The article is written by a Christian professor who, because of her doctoral dissertation in twentieth-century Russian poetry, is well-versed in Marxist-Leninist ideology but deeply opposed to it as a framework. Through the lens of biblical ethics, she addresses how Christians might evaluate aspects of "systemic injustice," "critical race theory," and "Black Lives Matter"—rather than dismissing them entirely. She also addresses the topic of "white privilege," but from her personal perspective. This article is a reasonable attempt to extend Christian grace to flawed ideas in an effort to engage and show love to others.
Who would benefit from reading this article?
This article will challenge those who are inclined to avoid wrestling with the ideas of "systemic injustice," "critical race theory," and "Black Lives Matter" on the grounds that such terms have Marxist underpinnings. Those who would reject these concepts wholesale as incompatible with Christianity—without seeking a grain of truth with which to engage—would benefit from seeing the author’s biblical engagement with these ideas, while also avoiding affirming the Marxist underpinnings.
words of caution: This article addresses the concepts of "systemic racism" and "critical race theory" without defining either term. At times, this can make Hamren's analysis of the concepts difficult to discern. The article’s main contribution comes from the author’s ability to simultaneously inspect the Marxist underpinnings of an idea while also considering it through the lens of biblical ethics.
While Hamren addresses the argument that "Critical Race Theory is a Marxist framework," her response analyzes ways in which Marx's concerns regarding power and oppression can be redeemed by a Christian approach—a worthy endeavor, to be sure, but one that fails to deliver analysis specific Critical Race Theory. Furthermore, by focusing on the Marxist underpinnings of those concepts, the author tends to raise points that are true and helpful as far as they go in parsing Marxism for aspects a Christian can utilize; however, these points do not rigorously engage the specific concepts themselves. For example, the author attempts to redeem Marx's concern with the effects of systems on individuals by affirming that Christians should seek to change unjust systems, but she does not apply that premise to "the history of racism in the United States." (She notes only that it "has left us with problems that need to be addressed ... at the structural level.")
keep in mind: This article is not primarily an attempt to defend the concepts it discusses (with the possible exception of "white privilege," since she closes with a personal story). Rather, it provides an invitation to approach the concepts with Christian grace in an attempt to locate a point of agreement. The author demonstrates how to find a shared area of concern from which to engage in a meaningful, respectful dialogue with another person. Lastly, her self-identified experience with white privilege is disclosed at the end; think of it more as an epilogue or personal postscript than a continuation of the earlier, more scholarly analysis. This concluding treatment of white privilege, which doesn't benefit from the author's expertise in Marxism, contains some debatable assertions and jumps in logic.
additional Thoughts from an FPC elder: This article was under-informative for those coming in without a strong understanding of CRT and its core beliefs already, since this article discusses "systemic racism" and "critical race theory" without defining either term—which is critical, because how the terms are defined frames the discussion.
Many people who are sympathetic to the arguments of CRT are well-meaning people who are exposing their humanity. Those same people don’t seem to understand that CRT believes that our systems, institutions and humanity are unredeemable and must be torn down and rebuilt in their image of justice. CRT also focuses on equality of outcome versus equality of opportunity. These nuanced differences in CRT and the Gospel are opposed to one another, but this article does not address those points. It could be dangerous to adopt branches of the CRT tree that seem to make sense through a biblical lens because that might allow for additional, inadvertent adoption of other branches of the CRT tree.
Said another way, this article is confusing for the under-informed. This article advocates for taking elements of a Marxist framework without any caution for what else the reader might be adopting along the way. The biggest takeaway is that a Christian should approach those who espouse the views of CRT with grace because most people are well-meaning and are leading with their heart on issues that seem to make sense.
The CRT tree should be rejected as a whole and the argument should be reframed through a Gospel lens. Social Justice, equality of opportunity, racial reconciliation are all worthy conversations in the proper framework.