Critical Race Theory: Four Problems with CRT (Part 3)

Critical Race Theory: Four Problems with CRT (Part 3) January 28, 2020

In part one we reviewed “first principles” from a Christian vision of ethnicity; in part two we took a look at CRT. A question remains: is CRT a system that Christians should embrace? CRT advocates, after all, see real failings in American society and culture. Is the system of thought and activism they have generated the biblical answer to sin of various kinds? In what follows, we see that CRT is not Christian, and should not be embraced by Christians. I will give seven reasons for this conclusion, four of which are found in this post, three of which are in this series’s final post.

First, CRT tweaks the doctrine of humanity, losing sight of the imago dei as our constituent identity. The image of God is the ground of our positive anthropological unity as a human race. As I argue extensively in Reenchanting Humanity, God made the man in his image and made the woman from the man’s rib (Genesis 1 & 2). As a result, both the man and the woman and all their offspring bear the image of God. Every person is thus fully human per the image. It is true that image-bearers oppress one another, but Christianity does not begin with a system of power as that which orders our conception of humanity. Rather, we begin with unity, unity grounded in who God made us to be, and who we are even in our post-fall world.

We are not fundamentally disunited, then, but united by our common theistic formation. Sin scrambles this unity, yes, but it endures nonetheless. Humanity is not fundamentally different, but fundamentally alike. CRT leaves little room for this commitment, and for meaningful promotion of it across people groups, backgrounds, and experiences. The formative note in CRT is not of fundamental anthropological unity, but fundamental anthropological difference. For this reason, unity is very hard to achieve, even when in practical terms many people live together in relative unity and peace.

Second, CRT edits federal headship, making our constitutive identity our skin color as part of a larger group. The Scripture sees humanity in Adam. He is the first image-bearer, and we are all part of the race of which he is the first person. He is the head of the human race, in other words. He is not an isolated being, merely the first human, but is rather our representative in Eden. We all fall in him; we are not victims of his fall, therefore, but are fellow criminals with him. His fall is our fall.

This means that our primary natural identity is in Adam. Christ does not come to solve the various problems of various socioethnic groups, as if his atonement applies uniquely to a Swiss person in a way it does not to a Japanese person. Our fundamental degenerative unity is in Adam as sinners, and our fundamental regenerative identity is in Christ as redeemed. These are the two core groups of the human race. Are we in Adam, and thus lost and damned forever, or are we in Christ, and thus saved and bound for the New Jerusalem? God has made us diverse people in terms of ethnicity; this is not a negative reality, but is to his glory. Our Trinitarian God, living unity in living diversity, fills the earth with diverse peoples. Our diversity becomes a wall in Babylon, this is true, but nonetheless the peoples of earth retain their identity in Adam, and may find true and truly supernatural identity in Christ.

Neither Adamic nor Christic headship obviates or obliterates ethnic distinctiveness. God loves the diversity of his creation. Nonetheless the Scriptures does not present us with many federal heads, but with two. We are either in Adam or in Christ. Coming to faith in Christ in no way entails erasing our background or ethnicity, but it does entail seeing our purpose and meaning and self-conception as found in Christ and Christ alone.

Third, CRT promotes a new system of associational unrighteousness and performative righteousness. CRT does not present us with the biblical problem faced by humanity: our sin, which occasions God’s just justice. CRT gives us a new major problem: unfairly distributed power based on societally-founded inequities. Therefore, instead of proclaiming the cross of Christ as the means of our uplift, CRT offers the solution of power rebalancing. This occurs when “privileged” people “check” their unfair advantages bestowed upon them by a fundamentally inequitable body politic.

They must also be silent; as Henry Louis Gates, Jr. said some years back, “speech codes kill critique.” Free speech is therefore chilled and then lost in different settings as those without privilege step forward, thus righting the major wrong outlined above. (Much free speech today is called “hate speech,” for which in a CRT framework there is little defense, for truth is narrativized and traditional legal documents like the Constitution and Bill of Rights are outmoded, having been formed in unjust eras of history.)

We should observe at this point that we are in dangerous territory. To recast our major problem is to also lose sight of our one biblical solution. We are not unrighteous in Adam per CRT; we are unrighteous, effectively, if we are part of a privileged group, a status we carry by virtue of our background and skin color. We may become righteous not through justifying faith grounded in the person and work of Christ, but through performing acts of cultural repentance, by “checking our privilege.” This is a works-based system. It presents humanity with a different problem than that laid out in Scripture, and it summons humanity to a different system of righteousness than that declared in Scripture.

It is of course true that racists and ethnocentrists must repent of such sin, and reject it completely. But this commitment, the outworking of the gospel in a sinner’s life, is different than CRT. CRT does not suggest that racism and ethnocentrism are elements of sinfulness; CRT identifies such failings as our essential problem. This is a cultural hamartiology (doctrine of sin) with a cultural and political soteriology (doctrine of salvation). It thus creates real division in the body of Christ, effectively pulling people apart who have been made one new man by the blood of Jesus (Eph. 2:11-22). Instead of seeing ourselves as united to one another in Christ, we see ourselves as alienated. We thus bear antipathy to one another, and to fellow human beings, simply because of their skin color or ethnicity or background.

Fourth, CRT posits cultural change as our telos, not the salvation of sinners through Christ. As we can see, CRT does not make any positive case for the faith once for all delivered to the saints. CRT is about cultural and political change. It accomplishes its ends through changing minds, but also through changing laws.

The law, and basic institutional structures throughout society, needs to be re-envisioned according to CRT. The law has heretofore supported inequity. The law (and hiring practices and admissions practices and other such sorting elements) needs reformulating such that it is not a tool of retributive justice—rendering to each what they deserve—but a tool of distributive justice, reapportioning privilege to those without it. Said differently, the fundamental concern of the law is not to apply justice proportionate to human actions, but to enact justice based on cultural considerations. This is a thoroughgoing revision of the law.

We can quickly note that minority groups have been discriminated against in many cases in history, in some cases in terrible numbers. Further, law enforcement must be held accountable, and police officers who err should be disciplined like any other person. Nonetheless, if we relinquish the law and demonize law enforcement, we descend into anarchy. We create an unstable society. We wrong many who will now live without justice, and who will be preyed upon by the weak.

But it is not enough according to CRT to redo the law. We must also call for the awareness of collective guilt, and collective repentance. “White” people, as noted above, are collectively guilty for the wrongs of other “white” people. In response, they should apologize, confess the wrongs of their forebears, and perform private and public works of repentance. We note on this point that the New Testament in no way assigns such responsibilities to any person; we are not called to repent for what our grandfather or grandmother did, but for what we have done. In the early church, Jew and Gentile were not to hold one another responsible for the past wrongs of their descendants; they were called to embrace the power of the gospel, and become a family by the blood of Christ, a family whose bond and allegiance trumps any earthly association, however deep, however historic.


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