A Model Conversation: Jonathan Leeman’s Rebuttal

A Model Conversation: Jonathan Leeman’s Rebuttal October 9, 2020


The aim of argument is differing in order to agree; the failure of argument is when you agree to differ.

-G.K. Chesterton, “Shaw on Marriage,” April 1, 1911, Collected Works, vol. 29, p. 62.


On Wednesday, here at TCC, I analyzed a recent Defend and Confirm podcast interview with Jonathan Leeman. Therein, I criticized some aspects of Leeman’s approach to the use of critical race theory (CRT) and intersectionality by Christians, specifically his suggestion (which he maintains) that, to some extent, intersectionality is an “unexpected ally” (the phrase used in his T4G speech) for Christians. More specifically, he argues that intersectionality is a candidate for co-belligerence in fighting “oppression.”

This morning, Neil Shenvi tweeted out the post which launched an exchange between Leeman, myself, Neil, and others:

Leeman offered as full and considered a response as is possible on Twitter (and I hope he writes more on the subject soon). Per usual, his engagement was thoughtful and winsome. Given all the interaction with Neil’s original tweet, I lost track of Leeman’s thread at one point (and I’m sure others did too). Even though Leeman and I are not in full agreement on the point at issue, what he says is important and I want others to be able to consider it fully. Below are the tweets in order (as best as I can tell) followed by my response thread and a few comments from Neil as well (I am reproducing the conversation here in the interest of clarity and demonstrating that a healthy exchange on the topic is possible. Hopefully it will encourage others to similarly discuss the issue.) (n.b. all the tweets are public.)

It must be said that the agreeable tenor and direction of this exchange is owed totally to Leeman, his receptive and measured response to my initial criticism. He didn’t have to do that but he chose to anyway. It was so enjoyable that I can’t wait to criticize him again soon! I was as cantankerous as I could be but I fear I have not justified the namesake of this column. I vow to do better in the future.

Neil (then Leeman):

Again, I still disagree (maybe not formally, but materially) with Leeman on this. My comments are below. But it is a model of charitable exchange and the most pleasant back and forth (when a disagreement is in play) I’ve had all year on the context-less hellscape that is Twitter. I fully concur with this comment from Greg Kite (with whom I am not acquainted):

Quite right.

Although I am increasingly concerned by a certain cadre of bloviating bullies that seem to delight in being extreme for its own sake, more distressing to me over the past year or so has been the absence of people like Leeman, viz., those who are, perhaps, more sympathetic to one pole of the discussion than myself– though it is not clear that this is absolutely the case; I think Leeman and I agree on this bit more than was immediately apparent– but are nevertheless willing to attempt good faith engagement with the, shall we say, more concerned party. Leeman’s position/focus is the pastoral/local church element in all of this. That is admirable and appropriate. I think he is right that (as he said in the Defend and Confirm podcast interview) that local church solutions (as in most things) are indispensable to, and preferable for, the church’s walking through present struggles.

Leeman’s focus, it seems to me, dictates his disposition towards the topic at hand and is responsible for some of our disagreement. Leeman is a pastor, I am not. He has greater if different factors to consider than I do. That being said, my main contention throughout my initial critique and in the thread below is that 1) “oppression” is an insufficient cause to rally around. This is owed to its rather vague content at the outset, but more specifically, the niche definition given to it by critical race theorists. 2) At the end of the day, we (Christians) do not agree with CRT’ers on what “oppression” means. Even if we get specific and identify, say, racism as the oppression in focus, “racism” too has been redefined, thereby perpetuating our inability to employ it as a cause for co-belligerence.

All of this does not mean that I am unaware of or unsympathetic to the occasion that has given rise to some Christians latching on to CRT. As I note in the thread below, understanding the reasons that ideologies gain popular purchase is necessary to understanding the ideology itself. My only argument (to put it simplistically) is that CRT is just a really bad idea that will ultiamtely hamper, not further, Christian grappling with the very real issue in view (e.g. the history of racism in America, present racial tensions, and even race-related injustice).

My response:

At this point I lost track of the second half of Leeman’s response, but tried to pick it back up later on here:


Leeman then replied with a final thread:

All I will say at this point (so as to not open up the whole debate again) is that, upon further reflection, I think the analogies used throughout the conversation have minimal utility. This is mainly owed to the nature of the ideology (CRT) being discussed. A concrete policy issue like abortion, which has clear parameters, is quite different. In general, both parties to the debate know what they are all talking about. Likewise, the Soviet-U.S. alliance against the Nazi’s represents an extreme case of geopolitical security, but also a concrete goal and enemy. When it comes, CRT, as I noted in the original post, the problem is that the enemy and goal(s) are ill-defined, obscure. In the case of CRT, oppression is defined to coincide with particular political goals, etc. to which any would be Christian co-belligerent would not necessarily realize they were signing on to at the outset. Further, within the CRT paradigm, Christians themselves would be implicated in oppression. To me, this make the analogies above unhelpful, but I digress.

Neil added many helpful comments throughout the conversation, this short thread below in particular:

I totally agree with all of this, obviously. Its my exact contention throughout. (And if you want to know more about CRT, etc., the titles just listed by Neil will get you there. I’m sure he’s reviewed them on his site as well.) This is also a good time to remind everyone that Neil was writing about the dangers of critical social theories in evangelicalism long before anyone else cared. That doesn’t mean he is the last word on this, but it does mean that he is first word of sorts.

Others (e.g. Josh Daws and Jeff Wright) chimed in (and made some good points) throughout and after Leeman had exited, but, eventually, we all moved on with our lives. At the very least, after this brief Twitter correspondence, I think we all understand one another a little better. #Progress




Image credit: @freestocks/Unsplash



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