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Biblical Critical Theory: How the Bible's Unfolding Story Makes Sense of Modern Life and Culture

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In 1 Corinthians 1, how does Paul deal with two of the dominant cultural values of his day, namely that ‘Jews demand signs and Greeks look for wisdom’ (1:22)? He does not simply affirm wisdom as the Greeks understand it, nor signs as the Jews think of them, but neither does he completely reject these values either. Let us examine the example of wisdom. The points of tension are numerous. Invariably, we will be forced to choose between critical theory and Christianity in terms of our values, ethics, and priorities.

Another significant influence on critical theory was, and is, Marxism. “Critical Theory was conceived and birthed within the intellectual crucible of Marxism.” 7 But critical theory should not be equated with Marxism or reduced to it. It would perhaps be more accurate to say that early architects of critical theory had something of a love-hate relationship with Marxism, sometimes drawing from Marxist ideology and sometimes forcefully rejecting it. Marxism is well known for its portrayal of the tensions that exist between various economic classes that are collapsed into the categories of “oppressors” and the “oppressed,” with capitalism being one of the main causes of oppression. At the same time, critical theorists saw in Marxism yet another system of thought that proved unsuccessful in its attempt to bring equity to the world. One of the closest examples in the Scriptures to the situations in which Christians find themselves today is that of Daniel and his friends Hananiah, Mishael and Azariah at the Babylonian court of King Nebuchadnezzar. The friends are quite happy, as students at the University of Central Babylon, to learn ‘the language and literature of the Babylonians’ (Daniel 1:4). Indeed, they excel in their end-of-year exams (Daniel 1:19–20), which would have almost certainly included religious instruction inimical to the Hebrew Bible. And yet, it appears that they did not confuse or seek to conflate this Babylonian wisdom with their own knowledge of Yahweh (e.g. Daniel 9), and if pushed on an issue central to their commitment to the Lord they would rather risk dismissal and even death than cease to worship God (Daniel 3; 6). In addition to the concept of race, critical theory also finds the concepts of gender and sex to be modern inventions, as has been noted previously. 16 Christian definitions of gender and sexuality are perceived as manmade social constructions intended to repress human freedom. 17 “Queer Theory presumes that oppression follows from categorization, which arises every time language constructs a sense of what is ‘normal’ by producing and maintaining rigid categories of sex (male and female), gender (masculine and feminine), and sexuality (straight, gay, lesbian, bisexual and so on) and ‘scripting’ people into them.” 18 The contrast between the teachings of queer theory and the Bible on gender and what it means to be made male and female in the image of God is stark. Critical Theory and the FamilyAt the same time, some critics of critical theory are able to agree with some of its tenants. This isn’t surprising, since “all truth is God’s truth.” Neil Shenvi, an evangelical critic of the movement, is one who finds some truth in critical theory. For example, he notes, “Critical race theorists affirm that race—as it has been defined historically and legally—is a social construct and not a concept legitimately rooted in human nature or human biology.” 11 The Bible recognizes only one race—the human race. While we might distinguish between ethnicities, it is a misnomer to distinguish between races. 12 If critical theory’s view of humanity stopped there, it would be easier to find more with which we could agree. Wed to postmodernism, however, it takes on additional meanings: “One of the most important characteristics of postmodern thought has been its emphasis on the contingent, indeterminate, and socially constructed nature of the categories with which we perceive and converse about the world.” 13 Deconstructing and reconstructing these categories becomes a chief end for critical race theory in its struggle against racism. 14 This has birthed new terms such as “whiteness,” “white privilege,” and “white fragility” and has ultimately led to an entirely secular reconstruction of the way in which conversations about racism are now being framed. 15 What does it mean to ‘understand’ a philosopher? As a beleaguered PhD student finding my way in the forest of modern and contemporary French thought I remember what it felt like finally to come to terms with a particular thinker. This sensation almost invariably came at the moment when I began to discern the characteristic ‘moves’ of the philosopher in question, to see the ways in which, time and again, they approached disparate subjects in distinct and recognisable ways, such that I came to be able to predict in a general sense the likely contours of their response to any given question. Not that they became predictable, not that they ceased to surprise me, but nevertheless I was able to fit what I was reading into an emerging understanding of the pattern of their thought. Once I began to understand how a philosopher thought in general, it became easier to understand what he or she thought about any theme in particular. [13]

Biblical Critical Theory exposes and evaluates the often-hidden assumptions and concepts that shape late-modern society, examining them through the lens of the biblical story running from Genesis to Revelation, and asking urgent questions like:Matt Chandler and Adam Griffin cover these questions and more in Family Discipleship: Leading Your Home through Time, Moments, and Milestones. And we’re excited to offer this book to you for FREE as an eBook today. These respective metanarratives will vie for dominance in all areas of life. Consider, for example, the question of identity: Is our identity primarily defined in terms of our vertical relationship to God? Or primarily in terms of horizontal power dynamics between groups of people? This is truly the book I have long wanted to read, and I believe it deserves to become a standard text for all Christian leaders, teachers, evangelists, and any serious-minded believer.”

Critical race theory also matters for Christians in particular because, as part of a broader constellation of critical theories encompassing identity issues such as gender and sexuality, in recent years it has exposed fault lines in evangelical and Reformed communities on both sides of the Atlantic. [2] The division usually runs between those who principally seek to repudiate CRT as an existential threat to the church, and those who principally seek to learn from it. [3] In the Church of England, the epicentre of the debate has been around the question of systematic racism within the church, with the publication in April 2021 of From Lament to Action, the report of the Archbishop of Canterbury’s Anti-Racism Taskforce. [4] Divisions around the question of systemic racism are considerable and growing, and over time its potential to cause major and damaging splits in local congregations and within denominations only increases. there is a subtlety to the biblical account of justice that is flattened and over-simplified by both CRT and liberalismSee, for example, Robin DiAngelo, White Fragility: Why it’s So Hard for White People to Talk About Racism (Harmondsworth: Penguin, 2019). This issue came to a head in 2022 with the temporary suspension of Whoopi Goldberg from her position on NBC’s daytime show The View, after she insisted that the holocaust ‘isn’t about race’ but rather a question of ‘man’s inhumanity to man’, describing it as a conflict between ‘two white groups of people’. [14] In the wake of Goldberg’s suspension, the ADL adopted a new ‘interim definition’ that did not imply only white people could be racist: ‘Racism occurs when individuals or institutions show more favorable evaluation or treatment of an individual or group based on race or ethnicity.’ [15] 6. Change must be revolutionary, not incremental

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