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?"

There are a number of fairly prominent voices within Christian evangelicalism who assert and/or been influenced by various aspects of Critical Race Theory. For them, they do not see it as conflicting with the Christian faith. Rather, they often see Critical Theory has a helpful analytical framework that is part of God's general revelation.

Here are some prominent examples.

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

  • 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”

If you notice that your pastor starts quoting or retweeting posts from the following people or resources, he or she might be adopting, or at least be sympathetic to, some aspects of Critical Theory, as well.

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, to varying degrees. So just be aware of that. I am linking to this particular article because it’s written by Neil Shenvi and Pat Sawyer and provides a balanced presentation of the issue.

3. Watch this video by Dr. Neil Shenvi

With this information in hand, now you can begin to explore some of the basics of Critical Race Theory itself. My podcast (All The Things) partner, Monique Duson (founder, Center for Biblical Unity), is a former CRT advocate who has now come out of that framework. In this teaching series, we give a crash course on the similarities and differences between historic Christianity and Critical Theory.

Please visit the Center for Biblical Unity YouTube channel for more discussions about race and Critical Race Theory.

Now what?

If you are a pastor or lay-person, here are some practical ways to help yourself become more acquainted of how to interact with CRT from a historic Christian perspective.

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), I strongly suggest that you make the time to explore Critical Race Theory more deeply so that you can help your people not get swept away by false doctrine.

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.

Here are a few selections from leading advocates of those positions that will help you gain familiarity with the Critical Theory/Critical Race Theory side of things. (These are PRO-CT/CRT resources to help you become conversant in that framework.)

  • Book: White Fragility or How to Be an Antiracist (secular perspective)

  • Book: The Color of Compromise or Rediscipling the White Church (Christian perspective)

  • Be sure to check out Neil Shenvi’s web site for more reviews of key books related to Critical Theory and Critical Race Theory. They offer a useful way to process what you're reading.

  • Podcasts: Pass the Mic or Truth’s Table

  • What happens when you challenge the claims of critical theory on a college campus? Something like this.

For a historic Christian response to Critical Theory/Critical Race Theory, see these resources:

Like I stated previously, Critical Race Theory is a very complex network of ideas. So, if you disagree with your church’s drift into these frameworks, you will need to take some time to read the primary sources so you will be able to address concerns and make nuanced distinctions. 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.

NOTE: The purpose of this resource is simply to provide those who are new to the conversation with some direction to investigate these issues for themselves. It is NOT to put forth a defense of any particular position. Those conversations are happening elsewhere.