© 2020 by Krista Bontrager

Crash Course on Critical Race Theory

There is a growing trend in conservative churches, seminaries and ministries to advocate for things like "justice" and "racial reconciliation.” In fact, I recently visited a fairly prominent church in my area that offers classes to encourage its members to engage in the "hard work" of racial reconciliation. But what does that really mean, exactly?

Well, it's complicated.

The secular construct of Critical Race Theory (CRT) is an extremely complex framework that is being adopted by a growing number of pastors and Christian leaders. Seminaries that have been historically conservative –– and still are conservative on paper –– now have faculty advocating concepts derived from Critical Race Theory as the basis for conversations about racial reconciliation and justice. CRT oriented speakers are regularly platformed in historically conservative spaces, including MOPS and The Gospel Coalition web site.

Even if you haven't actually heard the term Critical Race Theory, you have encountered its concepts simply by watching the news or browsing social media. This is the dominant worldview of many in our culture and it is heavily shaping how the emerging generation thinks.

Advocates of CRT do raise some legitimate concerns about race conversations. However, there are also significant points of departure between CRT and the historic Christian worldview. Neil Shenvi and Pat Sawyer have ably documented some of these issues, so I won't repeat them here.

Remember when I said that CRT is an "extremely complex" framework? That's the real. I have two seminary degrees, and have been studying it for almost a year and I'm still struggling to understand several key aspects of it. The purpose of this post is to provide some basic orientation for lay people to begin to understand and recognize the CRT framework. I want to help those who are new to the conversation have some direction to investigate these issues for themselves. The purpose of this is not to explain in detail what CRT is or to defend (or vilify) it. I am simply trying to provide some resources so people can begin to understand what CRT is and how it is shaping public conversations in culture and in the church.

"What'd You Say?"

Here are some common phrases and situations you might encounter that could possibly be signs that your church, university, seminary or favorite ministry is drifting into the CRT framework.

  • Your pastor says that repentance from racism is part of the Gospel and is a necessary foundation in order to be reconciled to God.

  • You see a news article on social media using the term “woke.”

  • A pastor describes “white spaces” as being “violent.”

  • A white pastor, who seems like a generally nice and generous person, calls himself a "racist" from the pulpit.

  • A conference speaker leads the congregation through corporate repentance for “whiteness.”

  • The pastor describes the Bible as being written from the perspective of the marginalized.

Again, your pastor or professor may or may not know that he/she have been influenced by CRT. They may just be repeating what they've heard others say. But if you start noticing phrases like these from your pulpit or being published on your church’s web site, then it’s very possible that the leadership team (whether intentionally or unintentionally) is taking your church down a path of CRT.

"Who Said That?"

Here is another potential red flag. If you notice that your pastor starts quoting or retweeting posts from the following people or resources, he or she might be adopting these belief systems, as well.

  • Leaders: Lisa Sharon Harper, Eric Mason, Jemar Tisby, Ekemini Uwan

  • Publications and Podcasts: Truth’s Table podcast, Pass the Mic podcast, The Witness Podcast Network, Faithfully magazine, Sojourners magazine, (Facebook groups) “Be The Bridge” and “The Witness”

To be clear, it should not be assumed that EVERY idea these people/organizations teach is unbiblical. But it does take deep theological discernment, as well as a fairly sophisticated knowledge of the CRT framework, to detect where these ideas filter in.

"What's This Mean?"

Before diving into Critical Race Theory, you're going to need to know some basics about its "parent framework," Critical Theory (CT), sometimes called Intersectionality. Here are some resources to help you get started in understanding CT better.

1. Listen to this podcast with Alisa Childers and Neil Shenvi

2. Then, read this article by Dr. Neil Shenvi and Dr. Pat Sawyer

Note: There are MANY articles on the Gospel Coalition web site that promote ideas based on critical theory and critical race theory. So be aware of that. I am only linking to this particular article because it’s written by Neil Shenvi and Pat Sawyer. It is a balanced presentation of the issue.

3. Watch this video by Dr. Neil Shenvi

A Deeper Dive

With this information in hand, now you can begin to explore some of the basics of Critical Race Theory itself. Here are some foundational discussions along these lines that I've generated in partnership with my friend, Monique (co-host, All The Things).

Links to the rest of the series are located here: Should Christians Denounce “Whiteness”? Krista Bontrager and Monique Duson

Now what?

Here are some practical ways to keep yourself informed.

If you are in a position of leadership in a church (e.g., elder, lead pastor, youth pastor) or ministry (e.g., board member, director), you will need to make the time to explore Critical Race Theory more deeply.

When it comes to issues related to Critical Race Theory, many Christians are woefully ill-equipped to accurately represent or critique these ideas because they rely too heavily on secondary sources. So, if you are concerned about your church’s drift into this framework, and want to speak to leadership about it, you will need to interact with the primary sources so you will be able to address concerns and make nuanced distinctions. Like I stated previously, Critical Race Theory is a very complex network of ideas. Only by thoughtfully engaging in resources from its leaders can you begin to understand the scope and complexity of the arguments that CRT advocates are making.

Here are some resources to get you started in this endeavor: