In this podcast episode, the hosts focus on, “Ideas like: intersectionality, whiteness, and privilege, among others. All of these ideas have their roots in something called Critical Theory. Today, we talk with Neil Shenvi and Matt Warner, who discuss whether Critical Theory is a threat or is something that can be edifying for Christians to employ.”
The Conservative Resurgence (CR) of the Southern Baptist Convention, an organized movement among grassroots churches to reclaim their institutions from a liberal drift, left us with a convention that is conservative in theology. The revisions to The Baptist Faith and Message from 1998 and 2000 testify to that reality.
But conservatism is about more than theology. It is also about a mindset, or even a “spirit,” that guides our perception of the world. As a teacher, I make a distinction between the ability to memorize information and the ability to synthesize that same information and apply it to new, unforeseen questions. Most students can memorize a list of facts from a study guide and repeat them on a test, but those who truly learn what they have studied can also apply their knowledge to questions that weren’t on the study guide.
Did the CR leave us with a conservative denomination only in the sense that we know how to check all the right theological boxes? Or did it leave us with a denomination that knows how to address new challenges from a posture of conservatism, i.e., in a manner consistent with a deep understanding of our theological confession? The former would be a hollow shell of a short-lived denominational reformation, but the latter would leave us with lasting generations of faithfulness. Which one we will ultimately become remains to be seen.
Critical theory locates the sin of oppression in systems rather than in individual acts. Consequently, it argues that guilt accrues to all who belong to an oppressive class, regardless of their personal intentions or actions, due to the benefits they receive from the oppression of minorities. To take a prominent example, white men in America are to be regarded as stained from birth with the sins of racism and misogyny by virtue of their (involuntary) participation in the two privileged categories of “white” and “men.” In order to be imputed with the guilt of these two sins, a white male need not actually perform any racist or misogynistic actions. All he must do is exist in a society that grants him privileges for his ethnicity and gender. Therefore, he relates to members of other groups (minorities and women) with a vacuum of moral authority that requires him to humble himself, repent, and seek atonement and absolution from them. This is the basic framework by which sin, guilt, and justification are understood through the lens of critical theory.