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Critical Race Theory doesn’t go far enough

Kevin DeYoung | Real power doesn’t always follow intersectional theories

Protesters march in Salt Lake City, Utah Associated Press/Photo by Rick Bowmer (file)

Critical Race Theory doesn’t go far enough
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As Americans continue to debate Critical Race Theory (CRT) and its place in our schools and our national self-understanding, the discussion in some Christian circles has turned to questions about possible similarities between a Reformed doctrine of sin and CRT’s emphasis on the pervasiveness of oppressive systems and structures.

For example, in a new book, Reformed Public Theology, one contributor argues that “Reformed theologians describe the pervasive effects of sin while using comprehensive terms strikingly similar to CRT.” The author then quotes from the famous Dutch statesman and theologian Abraham Kuyper:

“The stronger, almost without exception, have always known how to bend every custom and magisterial ordinance so that the profit is theirs and the loss belongs to the weaker. Men did not literally eat each other like cannibals, but the more powerful exploited the weaker by means of a weapon which there was no defense.”

I have already seen these lines cited many times on social media, to the effect that, like CRT, a Reformed doctrine of sin leads us to believe in the near inevitability of systemic injustice. What should we make of this argument?

An initial response is to admit that powerful people often do bend customs and ordinances to favor their interests. The weak often are mistreated by those who have the connections and influence to get away with it. In American history, this has meant that whites too often protected their power by mistreating those who were not white. Even in a country deeply influenced by Christianity, oppression is more common than we would like to think.

So far, so Reformed.

But there are problems with connecting the ideology of CRT with the doctrine of the Reformed tradition.

For starters, it’s strange that Kuyperians—who talk so much about redeeming culture, transforming the city, and renewing the arts—can sound so defeatist when talking about the systems and customs of Europeans and their descendants. If the leading proponents of CRT are to be believed, centuries of profound Christian influence in the West have produced little more than a stream of atrocities and injustices. So much for Christ the transformer of culture.

But there is a larger concern: the anthropology of CRT doesn’t go nearly far enough. If Reformed theology reminds us that the powerful often oppress the weak, it also reminds us that all of us “have a natural tendency to hate God and [our] neighbor[s]” (Heidelberg Catechism Q/A 5). What CRT locates in certain races, sexes, classes, and sexual orientations, the Reformed tradition locates in every human heart.

Recall the quotation above. Here’s what Kuyper goes on to say in the very same paragraph:

“This [oppression of the weak] was not because the stronger class was more evil at heart than the weaker, for no sooner did a man from the lower class rise to the top than he in his turn took part just as harshly—yes, even more harshly—in the wicked oppression of those who were members of his own former class. No, the cause of evil lay in this: that men regarded humanity as cut off from its eternal destiny, did not honor it as created in the image of God, and did not reckon with the majesty of the Lord, who alone by his grace is able to hold in check a human race mired in sin.”

In other words, the story of oppression cannot be told with reference to one race, one sex, one class, one nation, or one civilization. The problem of injustice goes deeper, past the identity obsessions of our age, all the way to our identity as fallen human beings.

Imperfections aside, the American experiment is built upon a more accurate understanding of human nature. James Madison understood that we do not have angels to govern us, and therefore ambition must be made to counteract ambition (Federalist 51). The Founding Fathers would have readily agreed with the notion that people in authority tend to abuse their power. But they would have insisted that popular passions can also be dangerous, which is why they constructed a system dependent upon checks and balances, the rule of law, and the recognition of natural rights outside the reach of majority opinion. 

The fundamental problem with CRT is not its assumption that worldly systems often favor the powerful. The fundamental problem is limiting “power” to the one axis of race, class, and sex, when power does not always work according to an intersectional spreadsheet. Power can be conferred by education, by money, by skin color, by victim status, by intellect, by beauty, by fame, by having the right opinions, by signaling the right virtue, and by a thousand other things. Sometimes people use their power for good; often, they do not.

Reformed theology tells us to be on the lookout for the sinful use of power, and it tells us to find it—even as we look for redemption—far as the curse is found.

Kevin DeYoung

Kevin DeYoung is the senior pastor at Christ Covenant Church (PCA) in Matthews, N.C., and associate professor of systematic theology at Reformed Theological Seminary (Charlotte). Prior to the summer of 2017, he pastored at University Reformed Church in East Lansing, Mich. Kevin holds a Master of Divinity from Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary and received his Ph.D. in early modern history at the University of Leicester. He is the author of several books, including The Biggest Story, The Hole in Our Holiness, Crazy Busy, and Just Do Something. Kevin and his wife, Trisha, have nine children.


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Such a bummer to see Mr. DeYoung continue to be a voice for white supremacy. And for him to continue to not acknowledge systemic racism and oppression of Black lives (POC). But use a blanket approach that we are all sinners. We know that already.

His opinions have been refuted from the Black community.

Meg I

Even before reading this great op-ed piece by Kevin DeYoung, I thought to myself, “After reading so much on this issue, BY CHRISTIANS, over the past year, the issue is really a faulty view of personal sin (there really isn’t any other type of sin before a Holy God). As I have studied how different churches begin down the road of liberalism, it often begins with a “new view” of what sin really is. Again, wonderful editorial.


Well said! Look around and look inside. The propensity toward selfishness and the oppression of others is never far away, never too deep beneath the surface.


EveryBLM dot org

Big Jim

Yep, close your eyes and point your finger in any direction. They (we) are all guilty.


Loved it. I take CRT to a form of Cultural Marxism-and refer to Voddie Baucham's book for a serious discussion as well. Thank you Dr. DeYoung for shedding light in a darkening world.


I really appreciate Baucham, but I do worry that he is needlessly critical of certain Christian leaders who, like DeYoung here, acknowledge that CRT gets something right: power corrupts and self-perpetuates. Not only that, but power also tends to blind those that have it to its corrupting effects. For that reason we would do well to heed the problems that CRT advocates raise, but because CRT lacks a wholistic view of the human condition, we ought to also be leery of its solutions.


If you carefully read Bauchum’s book or listen to him speak, he is not needlessly critical of certain Christian leaders, but pointing out the times (usually a knee jerk response to events of 2019 - great example Platt’s messages and book recommendations) . One of the major points of his mentions, with all respect to the pastors, is that we have to be careful to not make idols of men. I had my eyes opened up, in a good way, about David Platt.


Of the opinion pieces published thus far, this one ranks as the best. Thank you, Rev. DeYoung, for the concise, careful application of sound theology to a thorny issue. Ultimately, however, and I'm certain Rev. DeYoung would concur, it's not what Reformed theology says, but what the Bible says. Reformed theology comes up here, I trust, only because it has been misleadingly charged with aligning with a particular line of modern thought. So far as that is concerned, the Bible has been similarly charged.

Tom HanrahanAlanE

Amen. It is a Biblical view, not simply a "reformed" view, that all of us are tainted by sin. No slice of Christianity particularly owns this issue; all believers do.

Meg ITom Hanrahan

Amen. You are so right on as Dr. DeYoung has become the only “go to pastor/scholar/theologian “ for me of the entire Big Eva/Evangelical elites . He has shown himself faithful - not to the TGC, T4G or even the PCA, but to God and His Word. Many in the above mentioned groups or the PCA denomination, have begun to head down a “sketchy” road.


I really appreciated KDY's article earlier this year showing how in times of crisis our instincts can lead us to emphasize different responses to issues, all while staying within the same biblical roots and theological traditions. My hope is that as we wade into these debates we will remember that we are all of one body and that these instincts are present by God's design. They are a feature, not a flaw, something we should treasure "as good stewards of God's varied grace" even as we "contend for the faith".



Read that when it came earlier this year on the TGC. Others attempted the same thing but DeYoung’s was the most clear and Biblical. Another great article that Challies put up on his Ala Carte on Feb. 2, is asking the question “Unity at All Costs?” The answer is “no.” It too is a great read. Timely for 2021 as the SBC Convention 21 and the PCA General Assembly 21 were, well let’s say to be kind, “interesting.” 2022 will prove to be more so and the answer lies in John 1:14. Sometimes that does not look like “unity.”