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Thinking critically about critical theories

TRENDING | Three new books by Christian authors aim to undo the harm of critical race theory

Illustration by Brian Hubble

Thinking critically about critical theories
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Critical Race Theory (CRT) is a political lightning rod, especially when it comes to public schools. Republican governors such as Sarah Huckabee Sanders of Arkansas and Ron DeSantis of Florida are working to expunge it from state classrooms. Some on the left recognize the problem, while other Democrats call such action unmerited and “dangerous.”

Christians need wisdom when it comes to CRT these days, and three new books seek to apply clear-eyed Biblical truth to the issue. Each one has different strengths and weaknesses, and they challenge and equip godly readers in different ways.

First, Leonydus Johnson’s Raising Victims: The Pernicious Rise of Critical Race Theory (Salem Books 2023). A Christian podcaster and speech therapist, Johnson begins by pointing readers to this definition by CRT founder Richard Delgado: “The critical race theory (CRT) movement is a collection of activists and scholars engaged in studying and transforming the relationship among race, racism, and power. … Unlike traditional civil rights discourse, which stresses incrementalism and step-by-step progress, critical theory questions the very foundations of liberal order.”

Johnson responds, “It should be clear how insidious such an ideology can be. It completely removes the agency of the ­individual and claims that outcomes are wholly dependent on invisible systems.”

Johnson speaks in a down-to-earth way, drawing lessons from Shrek, Harry Potter, and LeBron James. He writes as a dad, and at his best, invokes Thomas Sowell, quoting inconvenient facts and bringing readers into his own racial journey. In Chapter 2, he reveals colorblindness isn’t just his political philosophy—it’s how he seeks to raise his own kids, despite constant pressure.

At his worst, though, and too often, Johnson sets aside his facts, launching tirades against unspecified groups of “they” and “them.” Johnson devotes several chapters to CRT advocates’ psychological manipulation, portraying them as a unified group of ­“bullies.” He then calls on readers to “punch them in the mouth, figuratively of course.”

A second book avoids such oversimpli­fication. French professor Christopher Watkin’s Biblical Critical Theory (Zondervan Academic 2022) criticizes critical theories (including CRT), all while seeking to build a positive “Christian cultural theory.” Using a structure inspired by Augustine’s City of God, Watkin wants readers to see all of human society through the Biblical lens. It’s a laudable goal, and he often does it well—quoting seminal Christian thinkers such as Francis Schaeffer and Cornelius Van Til. His retrieval of Saint Augustine’s use of “love as a tool for analyzing ­societies” will be particularly helpful for humanities students.

But at 648 pages, it’s a lot to take in. And Watkin often seems far removed from the real world. For instance, in Chapter 13, he identifies the “self-critical” aspect of writers like Marx, Freud, and Nietzsche and describes their critique of modern secular idols as “following faithfully in the footsteps of Isaiah and his fellow Biblical prophets.” He eventually goes deeper, but such analogies can obscure fundamental differences.

Watkin also at times relies on ­stereotypes without offering evidence that they are accurate. On the topic of criminal justice, for instance, he ­simply claims, “The political right … focuses on justice” while “the left is usually framed as favoring compassion.”

In contrast, Darwin Comes to Africa (Discovery Institute Press 2023) by Nigerian author Olufemi Oluniyi provides plenty of evidence for his claims and undercuts one of the roots of CRT—that is, Darwinian evolution.

Critical theories often see Christianity as a primary source of racial strife. Oluniyi, however, provides an important counter-illustration. He shows that in the 19th century, Charles Darwin’s ideas like survival of the fittest “were rapidly assimilated in the social and political realm and used to justify various might makes right doctrines.” He then reveals social Darwinism’s role in the racial discrimination of colonial Nigeria.

Oluniyi makes his case with extensive quotes from British leaders exposing their dependence on social Darwinian views. In several chapters, he explores the writing of Frederick Lugard, who served in several capacities, including as High Commissioner in Nigeria from 1900 to 1906. Lugard’s Darwinian belief that light-skinned Africans were “evolutionarily superior” led him to privilege them—and their religion of Islam—over darker Africans, some of whom were Christian. He also restricted Christian missionaries and native African Christians in the region.

It should be clear how insidious such an ideology can be.

Darwin Comes to Africa’s second half feels less polished. Oluniyi briefly critiques the science of Darwinian ­evolution, and he lists African achievements to prove Africa was never a “Dark Continent.” But the fact-based approach of his early chapters along with his accessible writing style make the book worth savoring.

As Christian readers seek wisdom on the topic of CRT, all of these authors serve the Church best when they engage opponents fairly, with God’s Word in mind and strong facts at the ready.

Emily Whitten

Emily is a book critic and writer for WORLD. She is a World Journalism Institute and University of Mississippi graduate, previously worked at Peachtree Publishers, and developed a mother’s heart for good stories over a decade of homeschooling. Emily resides with her family in Nashville, Tenn.



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