Social Justice, Critical Theory, and Christianity: Are They Compatible? – Part 4

IV. Logical Implications

In the next section, I’d like to provide some examples of ideas that are rooted in critical theory, but have achieved the status of ‘common sense’ for large segments of our culture and even for some Christians. I’ll trace the logical implications of these ideas and show how they end up severely undermining basic biblical doctrines.


First, consider the claim: “We should never challenge ‘lived experience.’” This claim sounds reasonable. Certainly, we should be open to the possibility that our experiences may be limited by our privilege and not representative of reality. Perhaps we’re hesitant to contradict the deeply held beliefs of marginalized groups. I understand that hesitation.

But look at the following claims: “As a woman, I know that our society is deeply sexist.” “As a black man, I know that our society is deeply racist.” “As a lesbian, I know that sexual orientation is fixed from birth.” “As a Sufi Muslim, I know that Islam is true.” “As a polyamorous man, I know that sex outside of marriage is okay.” “As a Hindu, I know that all religions are paths to the divine.”

You might be inclined to agree with some of these claims and disagree with others. But if you accept the premise that the ‘lived experience’ of subordinate groups should never be challenged, which of these claims do you have to accept? All of them. If you’re going to be consistent, you have to accept all of them.

Second, I’ve heard many Christians correctly observe that modern evangelical authors are overwhelmingly white men. They argue that writers and theologians from cultures other than ours will have a unique perspective from which we can greatly benefit. This limited claim is reasonable. Our culture does have blindspots and these blindspots will affect our interpretation of the Bible.  Consequently, it is useful to read authors from outside our culture and outside our time period who can give us alternate perspectives.

On the other hand, Christians should be wary of the sweeping (and vague) claim that we should “liberate our theology from privileged groups.”

What does that mean? Where do we draw the line? Should we jettison ‘white theology’ for ‘black theology’? Which ‘white theology’ and which ‘black theology’? Should we jettison the white theology of John Piper or Joel Osteen? Should we embrace the black theology of Voddie Bauckam or Creflo Dollar? Should we jettison ‘Western theology’? Should we jettison the ‘Eurocentric’ creeds of the Reformation and embrace liberation theology? Should we supplement the Bible with other spiritual books written by female authors, since the biblical writers were all men? If we’re hesitant to embrace these ideas, then we should question the very premise on which this enterprise rests. Rather than trying to find theological beliefs that aren’t tainted by privilege, we should be committed to determining which theological beliefs are objectively true because they are taught by Scripture, regardless of their origin.

Third, critical theory assumes that power imbalances are inherently bad and that they should be dismantled. We’ve already seen that, fundamentally, this claim is incorrect because God’s infinite power is not only unassailable but unequivocally good. Yet many Christians still assume that human power imbalances are inherently bad.

But if we accept this idea, what is our response to the following claims? Should we reject capitalism because it perpetuates economic privilege? Should we reject male eldership because it perpetuates male privilege? Should we reject traditional marriage because it perpetuates heteronormativity? Should we reject the connection between sex and gender because it perpetuates cisgender privilege? Should we stop preaching the about biblical morality or about the exclusivity of Christ, so that non-Christians aren’t marginalized?  Insisting that all power imbalances are bad will have serious repercussions for our theology.

Finally, reflect on the slogan “we should promote diversity within the church”? Is that true? It depends entirely on the kind of diversity we’re talking about. Ethnic diversity? Cultural diversity? Moral diversity? Theological diversity? While Christians can and should celebrate the diversity that God has created with respect to non-moral issues, like ethnicity, food, music, and styles of dress, we can’t celebrate a diversity of views with respect to the deity of Christ or the sanctity of human life. In other words, we cannot promote diversity for diversity’s sake.

Each of these ideas contain an element of truth but leads to serious problems when taken to its logical conclusion.  If we’re speaking to a Christian who has accepted these ideas, we should gently press them on the logical implications of their beliefs. This exercise is not purely hypothetical. Many formerly conservative evangelicals have followed exactly the trajectory I’m describing. We should warn people where these beliefs will take them, if followed consistently.

Previous: Part III – Conflict Between Critical Theory and Christianity

Next: Part V – Critical Theory in the Church

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