Critical Response to “The Incompatibility of Critical Theory and Christianity”

Posted on May 29, 2019. Filed under: Anti Oppressive Ed, Christian, Masters, personal, Privilege, Race |

A friend sent me this article on The Incompatibility of Critical Theory and Christianity. We both are believers in Jesus, both go to the same Acts 29 church, and both have studied critical theory through our Masters programs. By the time I had read the article and typed up my response, I figured I had enough information to do a blog post rather than just a text reply to her.

Please read the article first as I am only responding to what it says. If you would like to check out some of my other thoughts on anti-oppressive education, decolonization etc., please find the category links to the right. >

Things I liked/agreed with in the article

  1. I agree with the authors that critical theory can function as a worldview. I would say that I have seen some of my professors live, think, and act through this lens entirely. I also agree that without the gospel, this worldview falls short, as liberation from oppression will only truly come when Jesus comes back and we are made perfect in Him and through Him.
  2. I am so thankful that Shenvi and Sawyer chose to write out the metanarrative of Christianity. It is the gospel summed up in four statements when they say, “We are creatures made in God’s image, who have sinned against him, who need to be rescued through the atoning work of Jesus, and who are called to love both God and neighbor.” They seem to have a clear understanding of the gospel, and it shows when they speak about our identity as humans and our depravity as humans.
  3. I am happy that the authors asked their readers to be careful with language, and to do more research/reading before using the language… and sort of pretending they know what they are talking about. I did my Masters of Education with a focus on Anti-oppressive education, and I am still learning the language. These authors are far more educated than I am, so I definitely can’t say that the following disagreements come from a place of greater knowledge. In fact, my next statements come from a place of trying to be a critical thinker, and my own experience with how God used critical theory to change my life.

Things I disagreed/disliked in the article

  1. “In contrast, critical theory is associated with a metanarrative that runs from oppression to liberation: We are members either of a dominant group or of a marginalized group with respect to a given identity marker. As such, we either need to divest ourselves of power and seek to liberate others, or we need to acquire power and liberate ourselves by dismantling all structures and institutions that subjugate and oppress.” I agree that critical theory’s metanarrative is to move from oppression to liberation, but I don’t see how the first part is in contrast to Christianity; “to divest ourselves of power and seek to liberate others” is what I believe the Bible is calling us to do. In Philippians 2, we are called to imitate Christ by emptying ourself, humbling ourself, and to look to the interest of others. In Luke 4:16-19, Jesus quotes Isaiah- “He has sent me to proclaim liberty to the captives… to set at liberty those who are oppressed.” Verse 21 says, “Today this Scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.” What did Jesus mean by that? He obviously didn’t mean that all oppression stopped in that moment. But I believe he did mean that THROUGH JESUS, that is what can happen. By looking at Jesus’s life, I do believe that freeing people from physical, spiritual, and societal oppression was part of his ministry, and as such, I believe that aspect of critical theory is not in contrast to Jesus’s call for us.
  2. “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.”  I disagree, and this statement sort of rubs me the wrong way! When my eyes were opened to the oppression in this world, and my own White Settler privilege, I was not thrown into an anti-Christian worldview and mindset. In fact, I believe God was using my classes to teach me about his heart. He opened my eyes to my own privilege, and it caused me to run to Him, knowing how deeply I need Him and how broken we are. We need a Rescuer. There was definitely an acknowledgment that without activism we remain in a privileged position; I could undoubtedly show up at school and just learn about my privilege without doing anything about it. But as a believer, I knew that the Holy Spirit was the one that would work through me and produce fruit when fighting oppression. I wasn’t forced to choose between critical theory and Christianity, my priorities were being refocused through the work of the Spirit in my life.
  3. “Christians who embrace the paradigm of critical theory as a solution to racism or sexism often question a biblical understanding of gender roles, gender identity, sexual orientation, marriage, parental authority, and even the uniqueness of the Christian faith.” I feel like this statement should be referenced or backed up with research from a primary source.  I feel like I could just as easily say “Christians who take communion every Sunday often question a biblical understanding of gender roles, gender identity, sexual orientation and so on.” Is questioning these things even wrong? I am sure I questioned all of these things before I had ever taken a Masters class or learned what critical theory is. The Bible is our standard, period. That is where we go to find our identity, answer the hard questions, and we are under the authority of Scripture. But questioning some very real examples of what is going on in our world at the moment isn’t just for those embracing critical theory.
  4. “Critical theory claims that members of oppressed groups have special access to truth because of their “lived experience” of oppression. Such insight is unavailable to members of oppressor groups, who are blinded by their privilege.” The authors disagree that members of oppressed groups have special access to truth just because they are oppressed. My question would be- don’t they have special access to “their truth??” Haven’t they experienced systemic oppression and a suffering that myself as privileged White Settler has never and will never experience? Isn’t this why Peggy McIntosh’s Unpacking the Invisible Knapsack hits home with so many White Settlers because it opens our eyes to our innate privileges? Now, I might get eaten alive for inferring that truth is relative and that each person can have their own truth. In this circumstance I am not talking about the truth of the word of God, or that Jesus says he is the way the truth and the life. I believe these things!  But what I’m saying is that members of oppressed groups do live their own experience, and we do need to listen to and hear about the suffering they might experience. It is their truth, and because the systems in our society greatly benefit certain groups of people- male/White/straight/Settlers for the most part, members of privileged groups don’t share the same lived experience. I know for myself, I WAS blinded by my privilege; not to the gospel of Jesus Christ, but to the oppressed member’s truth and lived experience… Absolutely.

Agree? Disagree? Feel free to comment with your thoughts below.

 

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