© 2020 Robert Osburn
My Freshman year (1969-70) in Ann Arbor was a daily trial. Lost in homesickness, I was paired with a roommate who might as well have come from the far side of the universe. I, a farm boy of bookish predilections, had precious little in common with the boarding school progeny of a Detroit-area auto executive.
But, the real trials that first year at the University of Michigan were the quotidian demands for revolutionary action by campus radicals: bombings, riots, strikes, and picketing. One day, for example, a group of radicals tried to take over our introductory chemistry class. The professor, no wilting violet, chased them off. In the middle of a final exam one evening, we were forced to abandon our building because of a bomb threat.
In the midst of the daily chaos, God mercifully drew me to Himself. He was my solace in the chaos, but I could never have imagined that God would later make me champion a Christian vision for the renewal of nations while making Jesus known among international students. That vision has compelled me to search the Scriptures with the question, “What does it mean to truly pursue justice?”
I’m far from the only evangelical exploring that question in the 21st century. The problem is that many are looking for answers in the poisoned waters of postmodernism. The bubbling heart of 21st century postmodernism is Critical Race Theory (CRT), an alien worldview slithering into many of our evangelical churches with the aid of those earnest to find solutions to longstanding injustices. CRT claims to offer a set of tools against racism and other injustices, but actually promotes the unjust, pernicious racialization of American life.
Scott Allen’s just-published Why Social Justice Is Not Biblical Justice: An Urgent Appeal to Fellow Christians in a Time of Social Crisis (2020) is as crucial, earnest, and timely a response to this dangerous development as the book given me on a cold January evening shortly after my conversion a half century ago. Francis Schaeffer’s Escape from Reason (1967) made sense of the chaos and irrationality of campus radicalism as he explicated the dangers of the existential worldview (and the just-emerging postmodern worldview).
With charity and grace that gets justice just right while not diminishing past and present incidents of racism and injustice in American life, Allen’s new book contrasts biblical justice with its explosive CRT counterfeit labeled “ideological social justice.” Allen’s second chapter lays the plumb line, asking, “What is justice, understood biblically?” It is, he says, living according to God’s commands, living in right relationships with one another and God, and securing proper recompense when humans break God’s law. The biblical standard of justice is universal, fair, and impartial.
By contrast, CRT, or ideological social justice, divides the world between the powerful and the powerless. Whites are inherently, irredeemably racists defined by an invisible system of white supremacy and privilege. Disparities, whether of family wealth, educational achievement, or imprisonment, are inkblot proof of White racism’s malevolence. In Allen’s words:
Ideological social justice is dangerous because it is false. It is building a culture of hatred, division, a false sense of moral superiority, and a false understanding of justice. A culture where truth is replaced by power, and gratitude by ingratitude. A culture where everyone seeks out opportunities to be aggrieved and put on the mantle of the victim. A culture where people don’t take responsibility for their lives, but instead blame all their problems on others. A culture of sexual libertinism and personal autonomy, where ‘sexual desire is the center of human identity and dignity.’ A culture where your identity is wholly defined by your tribe, and where your tribe is always in conflict with other tribes in a zero-sum competition for power (p. 195).
If you want a full graduate-level critique of CRT, pick up James Lindsay and Helen Pluckrose’s Cynical Theories: How Activist Scholarship Made Everything about Race, Gender, and Identity—And Why This Harms Everybody (2020). But, for everyone else, you must read Allen’s book because he explains why CRT, or ideological social justice, is so dangerous, especially for evangelical churches.
One reason it is dangerous is because it is a full-orbed worldview that is, for all practical purposes, a religion. Lindsay and Pluckrose agree with Allen, as does Hezekiah Kantor, author of Trojan Horse Religion.
The fact that it offers a full story about reality, complete with scoundrels (powerful, especially white, men) and saints (the powerless, whether Blacks or LBGTQ or women) is one reason it is a religion. Another is that it commands great allegiance. Witness the massive protests, the cancel culture that fires, assaults, and demonizes those who refuse to submit to its dogmas. In place of Christian conversion, this new religion promises “wokeness,” so that we now have woke evangelical churches, corporations, academics, and politicians, all enrolled to overthrow America’s founding ideals. Black Lives Matter and the New York Times1619 Project are two of the best-known institutions of this new religion.
Lest we evangelicals recognize that this new religion is penetrating our well-meaning churches and schools, we will find our Christian faith floating down the river to sawmills that will make us the lumber used to build the revolutionary society. Translated: If we don’t take Allen seriously, someday our churches will become either kindling for the revolution or sanctuaries for false teaching.
Interesting. I like to run my racial observations through a "test drive" of some black friends that I am fortunate to have. A little like if I had "well formed" ideas about the experience of the Fulani people of Cameroon (where we head to in a few weeks), I would want to break bread with them and discuss to broaden out my understanding.
Our lives as privileged who have a different social contract in this society is exemplified by an old Christian friend who recently stated that…." George Floyd was no angel" which is not the issue during his commentary on recent events. He and I have a common black acquaintance who he would never make such a statement in front of if the three of us were together. This white friend of mine needs to have respectful dialog as Christians with those who live in a USA with different rules applied to them.
Bob, you and I are friends and I appreciate the thoughts that you share even if we don’t agree on all.
With appreciation, Ron Johannsen
On a side note to your review, Lindsay and Pluckrose aren’t credible scholars when it comes to CRT. Among classical liberal philosophers, they aren’t taken seriously. Here is a fellow atheist of Lindsay who happens to be a philosophy prof (working on his Ph.D.) in NY. And this review https://www.liberalcurrents.com/the-cynical-theorists-behind-cynical-the…(link is external) is a brutal takedown of Cynical Theories if it holds to be true. I don’t know if it is because I have neither read the book nor the vast majority of authors that Cynical Theories critiques. But the reviewer/analytical philosopher specifically points out how Lindsay and Pluckrose misrepresent a number of CT Scholars, including Dotson, Fricker, Code, Wolf, Medina, Mills, and Bailey to support their arguments. He also criticizes the lack of citations or poor footnoting to back up their many claims. That is very concerning if proved to be true. I then examined any of the twitter discourse between Lindsay/Pluckrose and the reviewer (Sam Hoadley-Bill) after the review came out. Lindsay attempted to use the fallacy of “guilt by association,” which is odd especially since their worldviews are similar. When that didn’t work, Lindsay resorted to fart remarks as Sam Hoadley-Bill attempted to get Lindsay to respond to his different points, and then Lindsay eventually blocked him. Pluckrose was more charitable at the beginning, but again wouldn’t answer the points that the reviewer made, and eventually she blocked him as well. Now Sam Hoadley-Bill is not innocent by any stretch of the imagination. He admitted trying to bait Lindsay into the guilt-by-association fallacy with his author description from liberal currents (he described himself with“his recent indoctrination into the woke cult of academia, he has begun to develop interests in feminist epistemology and critical philosophy of race” which is quite contrary to what he believes). So you have some entrapment going on. By the way, Hoadley-Bill agrees with Lindsay/Pluckrose’s assessment of Robin DiAngelo and I even heard a podcast of him where he also goes after the Anti-Racist Scholar Ibram X Kendi as well.
All this is to say, I’d be extra careful and actually critically read the primary sources that Cynical Theories is interacting with. Making sure that Lindsay is getting them right, especially since Lindsay isn’t a scholar in the areas of philosophy, history, social sciences, cultural studies but rather as math scholar and more self-studied in the area that he is critiquing. Also, I am not saying that these the Critical Theory scholars are right. In fact, I’d argue that they are mostly still wrong. But if Christians are going to enter the public square and debate secular sociological ideologies, they need to be much more careful in their analysis for the sake of truth and not blindly accept Lidsay’s and Pluckrose’s analysis.
When Lindsay and Pluckrose write a book and the reviewer points out that it does not even come close to rising to the scholarly standard of classical liberalism because they misrepresent the views of the CT/CRT scholars they are critiquing, creating one giant strawman to take down, I’m going to research it for myself rather than rely on a couple of atheists authors who are financially profiting off of conservative Christians that are so desperate for that magic bullet to take down CT/CRT once and for all.