We all know the importance of distinguishing the meat from bones, whether it’s when we read books, watch movies, listen to sermons, or receive advice from friends. When it comes to Critical Race Theory, the question is whether we’re dealing with a bony piece of fish, or water from a poison well.
If you care to read the architects of Critical Theory—Benjamin, Horkheimer, Fromm, Adorno, Marcuse, etc.— you will find that their project was animated in large part by a desire to undermine Christianity and its moral and philosophical norms. They believed these norms inhibited the sexual and intellectual evolution of mankind. You will also find that many of these scholars coming out of the 1930s Frankfurt School considered Satan an important symbol of mankind’s empowerment and independence.
How strange, then, that some in the PCA are urging us to employ Critical Race Theory (a species of Critical Theory) as an important lens through which we can better understand God, the Gospel, and humanity. They do so under the banner of common grace, which may be one of the most overused yet misunderstood doctrines in our theological toolbox.
As John McWhorter, Carl Trueman, and others have noted, Critical Race Theory has all the marks of a religious system. Indeed, it depends upon certain categories which are unmistakably Christian. There is original sin (whiteness). There are sinners (white heterosexual males). There are saints (everyone who claims oppression from white heterosexual males). There are heretics (those who deny or question CRT). There is penance (admitting guilt, offering reparations, virtue signaling, etc). Curiously absent are any true senses of atonement or redemption. Therefore, the sinner is left in a perpetual state of penance before the saint. This is not only not an application of the Gospel; it is the undoing of the gospel.
In his book American Awakening, the Georgetown University political philosopher Joshua Mitchell makes this very argument, that identity politics (the political application of Critical Theory) trades on Christian concepts, but does so in a way that distorts them:
Like the stain of original sin that marks Adam and all his progeny, the transgressor is permanently marked. He himself may have done nothing to contribute to transgressions that predated him by decades or even centuries. Little matter. He stands for the sum of the transgressions linked to his identity. Pressing Christian imagery further, though distorting it immensely, like Christ, the transgressor stands in as a scapegoat for those who purport themselves to be innocent, but who know in their hearts that they are not wholly so. The transgressor thereby covers over their stains, so that no judgment against them may be rendered (pg. 8, author’s emphasis).
Recently I’ve seen the appropriation of Critical Race Theory in the PCA justified on the basis of the “eat the meat, spit out the bones,” theory. There are good reasons for rejecting this line of reasoning.
1. Few (if any) would say that there are no true statements or insights to be found within Critical Theory or its offshoots. The question is whether Critical Race Theory offers unique and helpful insights without being laden with the profound errors of Critical Theory. I say no. Consider the prosperity gospel. Kenneth Copeland says “Jesus is Lord.” Certainly, that is true. But his problems and those found throughout prosperity teaching are so grave that seeking to pick out the meat would be a hopeless exercise. Or what of Kinism?* I would never tell anyone to pick out the meat and spit out bones of Kinism. As a pastor I would tell the average congregant to avoid such errant teachings altogether lest the enemy use those errors to lead them astray. This ought to be wisdom basic to all pastors.