Where Are Critical Theory and the Social Justice Movement Taking Us? Sean shares a bonus episode on critical theory where its expression in fields such as critical race theory, critical pedagogy, and queer theory are having a profound impact on our culture. Contemporary critical theory’s ideas about race, class, gender, identity, and justice have dramatically shaped how people think, act, and view one another—in Christian and secular spheres alike. Authors Neil Shenvi and Pat Sawyer illuminate the origins and influences of contemporary critical theory, considering it in the light of clear reason and biblical orthodoxy.

You can also watch this episode on Sean's YouTube channel.

Episode Transcript

Sean: Welcome to the podcast Think Biblically. I'm your host, Sean McDowell, and today we have for you a bonus episode. Now, this is a podcast I recorded on my YouTube channel, but it is right in line with what you are used to hearing on the Think Biblically podcast. But, because it's on YouTube, we actually have time to go into some more depth. So, here's a bonus episode for you today. Enjoy.

[Music in the background]

Critical theory. What is it, and how concerned should the church and wider society be about this rising influential ideology? Our guests today, Dr. Neil Shenvey and Dr. Pat Sawyer, have written a timely and brilliant book I highly recommend called “Critical Dilemma.” You're given a heightened authority to tell people about reality.

[Sound bites]: We want to think of critical theory in several different ways. That's how I got involved. Okay, that's a great question.

Sean: What do we mean by critical theory? Fellows, I would put this on my highest level of book I would recommend for the kind of book that it is, and I've been looking forward to this conversation for a long time. Let's jump in by hearing your story of what motivated you as scholars in somewhat different fields to step into this and ultimately write the book. Neil, why don't you go first?

Neil: Sure. Thanks, Sean. Thanks for having us on. I have a background in science. I have a PhD in theoretical chemistry from UC Berkeley. Right away, as a young Christian, I got involved in apologetics, trying to explain the gospel to my co-workers, to my colleagues, intellectuals, skeptics, academics, agnostics. Actually, you endorsed my first book, “Why I Believe, a Reason to Approach to Christianity.” It was all about explaining basic Christian doctrine and the truth of Christianity to skeptics. That's where I was for 10, maybe 15 years of my Christian life. Then around 2016, 2015, providentially I befriended Pat over our interest in apologetics. He was doing this weird humanities stuff. I didn't really know about that. At the time, he was getting his PhD in education and cultural studies. He'll tell you about that himself. I realized that the trends I was seeing in culture and even in the church to some extent were mirroring the work that he was doing in the academy for his dissertation. He began kind of guiding my reading and trying to understand these themes in our culture and in theology even. That's how I got involved in this discussion. It was right around the time when Black Lives Matter really took off and critical theory and discourses surrounding social justice really became mainstream in our culture and in the church.

Sean: Just to give some folks some context, your first book that you wrote that—I had a chance to endorse—really deals with timeless issues: did Jesus rise from the grave? Does God exist? Critical theory is a more timely issue that you're now weighing into trying to help the church respond appropriately. I love that you're doing both. Pat, tell us your story and how you got into caring about and writing a book on critical theory.

Pat: Okay. Well, I did not grow up in a Christian home, per se, we went to church a little bit, but it was a dead Methodist church that did not have a lot happening there in terms of the gospel. Turns out though that I got saved at age 19 just as I was going to UNC Chapel Hill. From that point, I began to be interested in apologetics pretty quickly. I started to do some lay apologetics work and I've been doing that for most of my adult life. Along the way, Sean, I felt God pressing me to get more and more involved with ideas. I had been a banker for close to 20 years, was a senior vice president, regional director in the banking and financial sectors. Along the way though, God was pressing me to maybe up my involvement with working with ideas. I considered becoming a pastor, so I thought about that, prayed about that. Then I ended up coming to the conclusion that God was pushing me to go get a master's and a PhD in a secular institution and then begin to deal head on with certain ideas coming from those institutions. I had had an interest in issues around race and racism and social justice on some level from a biblical standpoint. Then I also knew that those perspectives, context in a secular environment, were significantly different than what those things would look like biblically. I also saw that part of the academy as a direct affront to biblical thinking in certain ways. I thought that I should go get that kind of degree, I should go try to get an understanding of critical social theory and the way I went about that, I have a master's in communication studies. I thought that that would give me some type of practical consideration of media that was important to me, movies, music, how those cultural artifacts are played out in society and how to think about those things relative to culture and then also biblically. Then my PhD is in education and cultural studies. My dissertation is around social justice and higher education in the context and in the age of neoliberalism, the press of money on everything that we're about. In fact, my dissertation, the conceptual framework, the foundation is critical theory, it builds to critical pedagogy and then cultural foundations. I wanted to pick an area that was of interest to me, but then was also a challenge to biblical thinking, believing that God would protect my mind, help me to understand and then see ways that I could be salt and light in the context of that knowledge area. Then that led to me teaching in a secular university and a secular institution with a love for students and a concern to try to be a mentor and add value to their lives. Then I also wanted to be salt and light to my colleagues, which are wonderful. It's been a great connection in the academy for me, but just to be a friend from the standpoint of a Christian love for my colleagues and students.

Sean: Well both bring such unique backgrounds to this kind of a dynamic duo here. We're going to jump in, there's a lot I want to cover in this time to really equip and really hopefully encourage folks today. But let me ask you this: there's a lot of issues that concern us as Christians, either in society or in the church. What level would you put in terms of potential threats to the church would you place the issue of critical theory? Go ahead, Neil.

Neil: I would put it at a very high level with one big caveat. Threat levels are contextual. Not every church, not every person has the same level of threat. C.S. Lewis talked about this. He talked about how every age faces different threats. One age is lukewarm and worldly and one age is unbalanced and revolutionary. They have different threats. In the same way, different churches, different communities face a different level of threat from say critical theory versus say traditional racism or greed or lust or who knows what. It's dangerous to say, well, this is the number one threat for all Christians no matter where they live, no matter how old they are. My warning is that, well, I do think it's such a huge cultural issue. As we'll see, critical theory is suffusing every area of our national discourse and even internationally. We get requests from the UK, from India, from Japan, all over the world saying, how do we deal with this, say queer theory or critical race theory that is being infused into our national discourse? It really is everywhere, which is why it's so important to address it. At the same time, I don't want to say that, well, every single church or individual is equally at risk from these ideas.

Sean: That's really helpful. Sometimes as evangelicals, we can be alarmist, but there's also a time to say there is a serious threat and concern here and we need to wake up to it. You guys find a good balance in your book doing this. Pat, let me just shift to definitions. Some people at this stage might be thinking, okay, what exactly are we talking about here? We're going to come back to some particulars of this, but maybe just simply a definition. What do we mean by critical theory? What are we talking about?

Pat: Okay, that's a great question. We want to think of critical theory in several different ways. Let's first think about critical theory as a term that originated in the 1920s and 30s with the Frankfurt School, a school of social research and institute in Frankfurt, Germany. The critical theory, historic critical theory, capital C, capital T, as it is typically designated in the scholarship, is both an extension and an amendment to Marxism. We want to think of historic critical theory as an amendment and an extension to Marxism. Marxism is analyzing class relative to social power. That's one of the main things that it's doing. Today, when we think of critical theory, we're mainly thinking about critical social theory. And critical social theory has several critical social theories within it. Critical race theory, critical pedagogy, post-colonialism, queer theory, feminist theory. What we see today in the academy is critical social theory manifested in these different theories and these different knowledge areas. Now, critical theory from historic critical theory to critical social theory now, is a method or an approach to social analysis that prioritizes power. It is interested in who has power, who doesn't, and why. We also want to keep in mind that critical social theory has its own commitments, its own internal commitments, its own presuppositions, its own values, its own ideas and interests and beliefs. When critical theory is analyzing society by prioritizing power, it is interested in those who are outside of power relative to the knowledge areas, internal beliefs and perspectives. Those who are outside power, critical theory, and again, according to their beliefs and that ideology, wants to emancipate those who don't have power, wants to empower, give freedom, give agency to those who have been disenfranchised and marginalized. Another thing that we want to keep in mind is that traditional theory and critical theory is a pushback against traditional theory. This is partly what the Frankfurt School was all about. Traditional theory tends to describe society as it is. Well, critical theory wants to go a step further. It wants to describe society as it is, but it also wants to prescribe something for society. It wants to offer a better pathway in its view for society. That is part of its campaign for those who are disenfranchised and marginalized according to how it understands society. Critical theory and critical social theories want to emancipate, want to give agency, want to, in a sense, push back against hegemonic dominant power that is rooted to the status quo. Critical theory wants to challenge that, and it does that through all these different knowledge areas that I just mentioned. For instance, queer theory is concerned about sexuality and gender. Critical race theory is concerned about race. It is pushing back on culture relative to these vectors with an attempt to then make sure that those who have been marginalized and disenfranchised now are brought into power and empowered and then become part of the decision-making status quo in society.

Sean: Okay. If you're listening to this and you're thinking, he just dropped a word like hegemonic power, I don't know what that means, hang on. We will get there. Don't worry. But kind of a quick follow-up question for you, Pat. Is it fair to say that wokeness is the same thing as critical theory, or should we keep those distinct?

Pat: Okay. We should keep them distinct. Neil and I make the point that ideological perspectives connected to wokeness and woke perspective in our culture are in fact downstream from critical social theory and critical theory. But those ideas are not essentially—you wouldn't say that there's a one-to-one conflation between any woke perspective that's in culture today on the ground and critical social theory. There's not a one-to-one conflation necessarily. There might be, but not necessarily. In fact, there's certain things that would be identified as ‘woke perspective’ that in fact are not rooted in critical social theory. There have been voices in our culture that try to collapse all these ideas into kind of a single label, and we discourage that. We think that we need to differentiate what, say, historic critical theory teaches from critical race theory, which may be something different than what is happening in terms of woke ideology in our culture. Now, with that said, there's some people that want to really lean into that perspective and say, no, no, no, they're not the same at all, and you can't critique critical social theory and expect that you've done anything to deal with woke ideology or vice versa. Well, that's not true either. That's a weaponized perspective. So it's somewhere in the middle is the best way to think about it, if that's helpful.

Sean: Yeah, that is. So wokeness has been influenced by critical theory. It overlaps, but has some distinctiveness as well. Maybe before we get into some of the particulars, Neil, can you give us some examples, maybe practical examples, just somehow in culture, maybe even in the church, of where we see critical theory manifested to help our viewers who may be thinking, this sounds really abstract and academic show us where some of these ideas are taking root in the world we live in today.

Neil: Yeah, I'm going to just give you two that I think will be pretty clear. So one from the secular culture, one from the church. The first is that a few years ago, the television show Blues Clues, which is geared toward toddlers, like three to five, it's like a cartoon dog. But two years ago, during pride month in June, they had a video featuring a drag queen, Nina West, singing a tune, the ants go marching, but the lyrics were placed by things that were all about gender and sexuality. This is a cartoon geared toward three to five year old kids. And the lyrics and things like, you know, these babas are non-binary, they love each other so proudly, ace, bi, and pan grownups. You see love each other so proudly and they all go marching in the big pride parade. And you're listening and you're like ace, bi, and pan grownups. What are those? And it actually refers to asexual, bisexual, pansexual grownups. These are the lyrics in a kid's cartoon. And actually one of the cartoon characters in the pride parade video was a beaver with double mastectomy scars. In other words, it was a biological female beaver that had had her breasts removed. It was very intentional. They showed that to preschoolers. And it's got like millions of views on YouTube. And that was never taken down. And so you're like, well that's clearly something going on in our culture. And now does that mean that they're, you know, the Blues Clues are reading queer theorists and reading Judith Butler and just—no, they're not doing that. They're just picking up on this vibe in our culture in this second sexual revolution and it's spilling out of the programming they produce. That's just one example.

Another example from within the church, a woman named Dr. Christina Cleveland was a very popular speaker about 10 years ago. She wrote a book called, I forget what the name of it was. It was about racial reconciliation. And she was speaking at CREW. She was speaking at InterVarsity. She was writing for Christianity Today magazine. She had a column in 2016. So, she was a very prominent evangelical commentator on racial issues. But in 2022, she published a book called “God is a Black Woman.” And in that book, she just admits that she has now completely abandoned Christianity. She talks about “whitemaleGod,” all one word, how she's rejected basically the God of the Bible as a patriarchal domineering tyrant oppressor. And in one of her talks she gave a few years ago, she talks about how these perspectives that she's come in, that she's embraced now came from in her own words, critical race theory. She describes critical race theory as showing you the hierarchy of value with straight, white, rich, educated men on the very top and then black trans women at the very bottom of our society. So she herself says that I'm getting these ideas, I thought let her now to reject Christianity completely. She's getting those from critical race theory in her own estimation. So, in our book, we list dozens of examples, both from pop culture, from books, and these aren't just minors, these aren't tweets. These are published books with major Christian publishers that are clearly regurgitating the ideas of critical race theory, queer theory, critical pedagogy, but they're taking it and making it accessible to everyday lay Christians. So that's why we're addressing these ideas.

Sean: Early in the book, you started giving example after example, and I thought, man, why so many examples? And I thought, oh, they're making sure we don't miss it. And then at the end of that section, both of you said, once you see this, you can't unsee it. And you're right, it's like taking blinders off in a second and recognizing it. Now, you helped me, Neil, with my next book. I have a section on critical race theory, and I said, engage it: number one, clarity, number two, charitably, and then number three, critically. Let's understand it first. Well, I noticed in your book, part one is understanding, part two is critiquing, and then part three, engaging. And you guys do that well, you explain things really charitably, which I help. So we're going to get to some of these definitions, but we're not going to offer critique yet until we've defined them first. So if you're watching, hang on, it's first important that we have clarity and understanding, then give a Christian perspective. Pat, you made a distinction earlier. You kind of mentioned some ideas of Marxism. Now, sometimes critical theory is just referred to as cultural Marxism, which can be ironically kind of a power play to science to stop discussions about this and disparage a certain movement. So maybe if I could ask you a two-part question, flush out what is the connection with Karl Marx and Marxism to critical theory? How does it differ? And is it fair to call it cultural Marxism?

Pat: Well, like I mentioned earlier, historic critical theory is both an extension and an amendment to Marxism. So that means it does incorporate some of the perspective of Marx in terms of his critique of culture and his critique of society and critical theory embraces aspects of that. But then a lot of the scholars that were associated with the Frankfurt School thought that Marx had failed in certain ways. And so they have amended his project to incorporate things, not just class, but also race, gender, also norms, traditions, and customs that might be embedded in society that carry a certain kind of cultural capital and social power. And that those who disagree with, or their background is not necessarily germane to those norms and customs and traditions are somehow left out of power. And so critical theory is interested in challenging and unpacking those norms and traditions that are off as well. When it comes to the critical social theories that I just mentioned earlier in terms of say critical race theory, critical pedagogy, queer theory. We can think of those knowledge areas as both an extension and an amendment to historic critical theory, but there's now an expansion of how power is being analyzed in society. So when we use the term cultural Marxism as kind of a catch all, that's really behind. That is not really the best term to use. It's also been co-opted by certain kind of white nationalists and white power groups and have taken that term and run with it in certain ways and really pounded the drum about it and then front loaded many things to that term that really weren't part of what Marx was really about. And so I would say that that term is fraught with some difficulty. It is true that in the scholarship at times you will see that term. So its use is not entirely unacceptable or absurd, but given the fact that words are on the move, you know, any linguist will tell you that words change over time, their meanings shift, and we need to be cognizant of how that is happening. And so I would say that cultural Marxism is not a term that we should deploy very regularly. We ought to just get down to what the ideas are about and speak to those ideas. And as we spoke about earlier, not be too caught up in the labels.

Sean: I love that. That's helpful. Now tell me if this is a fair summary and then we'll jump into some of the ideas. So Marx obviously saw certain power dynamics between the workers, the proletariat, and the bourgeoisie, those who own the means of production. Critical theory comes along and divides the world up into the haves and the have nots or the powerful and the oppressed, but moves it to the issue of race, moves it to the issue of sexuality. So it's kind of this framework from Marx, but expands it into other areas. Is that a fair summary?

Neil: It's a rough summary. There are other differences. Right.

Pat: It's a little truncated, but that's fine. That's good. No worries.

Sean: That was the goal. Fair enough. You guys nuance it in the book. I appreciate that. Now you've got a great historical section. We talked about Foucault, Butler, Crenshaw, each of their contributions to this discussion, which is super important, but let's jump into each of the components of critical theory and break it down. You say there's four, so maybe I'll just go back and forth, at this point, just explain what this component is, and then we'll come back. We're at the understanding phase of the book. I'll start with you, Neil. What is the social binary?

Neil: The social binary is the idea that we can divide society along lines of race, class, gender, sexuality, physical ability, religion, and a host of other identity markers into an oppressor group and an oppressed group. You'll find tables. We have one in our book, but you can find actual tables written by Robin DiAngelo, written by other feminists that just list what's the oppressor group. It's whites oppressing people of color. It's men oppressing women. It's heterosexuals oppressing LGBTQ people. It's Christians oppressing non-Christians. They go through a whole dozen different identity markers. In every case, you can divide society into oppressors and the oppressed. We call it the social binary. Of course, it's complicated because you can be both an oppressor and an oppressed person at the same time. A white woman would be oppressed with respect to her gender because she's a woman, but she'd be an oppressor because she's white. That will get into the idea of intersectionality at some point too. That plays into how we understand the social binary.

Sean: When I teach this to my students in class, I have a bio. I created a huge table, kind of like the one that you have in the book, and added a few to it. I tell my students, I say, according to this metric, I am literally the face of oppression. I cross every T and I dot every I. I'm able-bodied, I'm middle-aged, I'm Christian, heterosexual, cisgender, on and on, every single one. If that strikes you as odd, maybe something's wrong with the system itself, but we'll get back to critique. Nonetheless, social binary is kind of a grid that's mapped onto culture, you said, and divides society and people up into the oppressed and the oppressors according to different characteristics. That's helpful. Now, earlier, Pat, you dropped the bomb with this word hegemonic power. At this stage, just explain what's meant by that and why that's a key component of critical theory.

Pat: Sure. When I mentioned that I said hegemonic dominant, I followed that by the word dominant. We think of hegemonic power as dominance in society that's held by various groups, various stakeholders, various constituencies in society. Hegemonic means dominant. For instance, the entertainment industry is a dominant hegemonic stakeholder in society. It drives a lot of what's happening in culture and society. The entertainment industry dictates a lot of our schedule in terms of what we're centering our lives around the entertainment that we're imbibing. Then when we imbibe that entertainment, we're imbibing certain kinds of themes, perspectives, ideals, morals. Those things are having an impact on us. We think of hegemony, hegemonic, as sites of dominance in a culture. That can be from a critical social theory standpoint in the context of our culture, as you've already just referenced some of this. Sean, whites, for instance, would be holding dominant hegemonic power. We can think of the education system. The education system is big in our society. It's a strong, very pervasive social system. It is carrying power with it. In fact, most people think that they need to go through a K through 12 education, and when they get out, they go to college. Well, why have they embraced that? Why have they embraced that notion as something that their life needs to do and make happen? Well, that's because of the power in the educational system to influence behavior and dictate terms and how we think about and organize society. Another word for dominant or hegemonic is status quo. What is the status quo doing? For instance, Christmas is a federal holiday in the United States, so Christmas is a custom that would fall into hegemonic power, hegemonic dominance. Now, the reality is that Christmas is not manifested like evangelical Christians would prefer in terms of its pervasive application in society. It's often just reduced to shopping on Black Friday. Nevertheless, though, that holiday has power, so it would be part of the hegemonic holidays in our culture in a way that Kwanzaa, for instance, would not carry that kind of hegemonic power. I tell my students, think of hegemony and hegemonic as dominance, and also think about it in terms of various stakeholders and social systems in society that are dictating terms in terms of how society is organized and comported.

Sean: Okay, so that's helpful. Maybe make this distinction for folks, because critical theorists so often talk about oppressed and oppressor. Most of us are going to think about somebody like physically being dominated, physically being oppressed. But when you talk about hegemonic dominance, these are customs and ideas and assumptions, aren't they?

Pat: That's right. Go ahead, Neil.

Neil: I was going to say, Robin DiAngelo defines hegemony as the ability of one group to impose their values and norms and customs and practice on the entire culture. So whites are oppressors, not because every white person is physically abusing every person of color. Men are not oppressors because they're physically abusing or treating cruelly every woman. Because in the view of critical theorists, whites have the power to impose white values on culture in a way that's taken for granted. We take our values, we think are just neutral, objective, natural values, but they're actually white values. We think our values are all just neutral, objective values, but they're actually male values. So whatever groups, an oppressor group is the one that has the power to impose their view of reality on the entire culture in a way that seems natural and objective and commonsensical.

Sean: Okay, so to use your example on Christmas, Pat, then if you're just a Christian, even if you're nice, even if you fight for the religious liberty of Muslims and Jews and others and not just Christians, you are experiencing a kind of privilege because of those holidays and assumptions are built into the culture. Is that fair?

Pat: That's correct. I would mention one thing. It isn't always the case that the hegemonic norm carries some kind of power to it that has strongly marginalized and disenfranchised a certain group. It doesn't always have to be that pronounced. For instance, a hegemonic dynamic in our society is that when you're in public, you wear clothes. That's a hegemonic reality. That's not the reality of every culture across time in all situations, but that is a hegemonic dynamic in our society. And the vast majority of people don't have a problem with that. And so we want to keep in mind that hegemonic power can carry the force of significant disenfranchisement of certain groups, but it doesn't always do that. And part of the problem with the scholarship at times is not giving clarity to that reality.

Sean: That's where these questions get really interesting. Are all of these assumptions completely arbitrary or is wearing clothes an intrinsic good that should be transcultural, but we won't go there right now. We're talking about different components of critical theory. One was the social binary that sees the world through oppressed and oppressor. Second is hegemonic power that Pat just explained. Neil, what about lived experience? What's that?

Neil: Right. So it's a really important concept in critical social theory. The idea that if all of us, according to critical theorists, are immersed in the society, which normalizes oppression, which normalizes whiteness, normalizes the patriarchy, normalizes heterosexuality. And so we're all immersed in that. Even marginalized people, even people of color, even women, we absorb these ideas that are oppressive as common sense. The question is, how do you break out of that? The answer is this third point by your lived experience as a minoritized person. The idea is that if you are from what they call a subaltern group, a marginalized group, if you're a woman or a person of color, or you're an LGBTQ person, or you're physically disabled, because of that, your lived experience will give you insight into actual reality, that the people who have privilege, they're blind to it. So, for example, a person of color can say, I'm told that we're all equal. I'm told that we're in a colorblind society, but my lived experience shows me that's a lie. And actually I didn't know it before. Now I can wake up, I can get woke in a sense and realize I'm actually being oppressed every day by these systems and structures. So your lived experience gives you insight into injustice and into oppression that people from privileged groups are blind to. That's the importance of lived experience in your epistemology, how you know the truth.

Sean: It's really a kind of authority, right? The more intersections you have, so to speak, the greater authority you have to speak on that topic.

Neil: That's exactly right. So a black woman would have a greater authority to speak on, say, both our racial and gender oppression than just a white woman, because a white woman's only singly oppressed, whereas a black woman is doubly oppressed, and a queer black woman would be triply oppressed. And yeah, so you're given a heightened authority to speak and to tell people about reality, given how marginalized you are.

Sean: So if it's a queer black woman in a wheelchair who's old and poor, you start adding up these different levels and greater degrees of oppression according to critical theory.

Neil: And conversely, if you're you, if you’re Sean McDowell and you're a straight white, middle-aged Christian male, well, you're blinded to reality. So you need to be aware of your privilege and need to maybe divest yourself from power and just be quiet and listen to other people's experiences.

Seam=n: That's the key, arguably be silent and not speak—go ahead, Pat.

Pat: I would also mention that it's interesting because intersectionality is trying to understand...

Sean: Oh, I think maybe Pat froze there for a second. We might get him back. Pat, you're just... Oh, you're back. You're describing intersectionality.

Pat: And so intersectionality is interested in understanding, or at least its claim is to understanding how cultural capital and social power is manifested in society—

Sean: You know what? He's frozen again. I might have to have him connect back and join us. Neil, let's move...

Pat: Power…

Sean: Oh, we keep... We're losing you for a second here. I'm going to move to number four here and have Neil jump in here on social justice. What's that component of critical theory?

Neil: So social justice as defined by critical theorists refers to the abolition or the dismantling of that social binary. So the state of social justice refers to a state in which all of these groups share powers that none of them has this hegemonic power they use to oppress others. So they would want to overturn this hierarchy that says, say, white values are better than black values, that male values are better than female values. They want to have a non-oppressive society in which all groups again come together and there's no one group that benefits at the expense of some other group. That's their end goal. They're seeking to achieve social justice via dismantling these systems and structures which perpetuate the social binary.

Sean: That's awesome. Okay. So we have these four terms. Maybe it'd be helpful. Go ahead with intersectionality what you were going to say, Pat. I think this is such a key term that kind of ties these different ideas together. What do we need to understand about intersectionality?

Pat: Well, what I was mentioning is that intersectionality is taking various demographic markers, somebody's identity, and then trying to understand those identities relative to social power and cultural capital. Intersectionality makes the claim that if you are part of some marginalized group, therefore you have a lack of social and cultural capital. For instance, if you are differently abled and you are a black lesbian woman. But as Neil was saying earlier, the tables have turned on some level. Now, if you actually have a good cross section of these supposed extensible intersectional identity markers that are without social power, that now gives you social power. It gives you, now, cultural capital. It gives you the frame of reference when people see you that you now can speak into issues of social analysis in a very enlightened way. That sleight of hand by intersectionality is rarely brought out in the scholarship, but Neil and I do bring it out and discuss that dynamic, that cultural capital. It's a good thing to think about. A Bourdieuian, Pierre Boudieu, sociologist that said a lot about cultural capital has some very good insights. We use them in our book. But cultural capital is something that's on the move. It's not stagnant. You can't think of an intersectional framework in 1970 like you would think about it today in 2023, because the tables shift in terms of how power is manifested in society. If you're an older white male in the secular humanities, then you do not have a lot of localized hegemonic power in that context. You are an outlier in certain ways. I'll just give an anecdote. For me, in my PhD program, in my cohort, 60 to 70% of the people that were there identified at some part of the queer and homosexual spectrum. That is a pronounced percentage compared to typical society. Me, in that context, I was not empowered in that way. In fact, it was in the other direction.

Sean: That's really interesting and really helpful. Now, let's talk a little bit about critical theory. Kimberle Crenshaw, of course, coined the term intersectionality, and I believe maybe critical race theory as well. We could go into queer theory. We could go into all these other ones. Let's just talk about some of the components here, maybe summarize it, and then we'll get to some reactions and ways Christians should think about critical theory and critical race theory. Let's go to these four components here. Maybe I'll start with you, Neal. You actually list like 15, the two of you do, 15 components. We won't do all those. They're going to have to read the book and get that, but really four central ideas of critical race theory. One is that racism is endemic, normal, permanent, and pervasive.

Neil: Yeah. Their idea is that we tend to think, and actually the civil rights movement itself tended to think of racism as these discrete acts of racial prejudice. It's obvious. You can see them. There are official policies dictating racial discrimination, but critical race theorists said, no, actually racism is far more subtle and insidious. It's actually built and it's baked into systems and structures that pervade society. You can't see it in these discrete acts. Rather, you can see it only by its effects in some sense. You can see it produces disparities. The reason that disparities exist is because there's this underlying racism built into our society. Yeah, racism is normal, permanent, and pervasive.

Sean: Okay, good. That's helpful. The second one that you put, and Pat, I'll have you weigh in on this one, is that racism is concealed beneath ideas like colorblindness, meritocracy, individualism, neutrality, and objectivity.

Pat: Yeah. Critical race theory makes the claim that those perspectives that you just named provide cover for racism. For instance, color blindness. If we take colorblind ideology, the idea that I don't see color. Well, if someone takes that perspective, I don't see color, and you are a person of color, that may signal to you that, wait a minute, you don't see me. You don't see my distinctness relative to my culture, and therefore you're erasing me. Now, your treatment of me is actually racist by not seeing color. If you take issues around egalitarianism or meritocracy, competition, critical race theory would then begin to argue, well, does everybody start from the same place? Is the playing field really level? Is it really truly a competitive field where everybody has equal opportunity to compete? Because if that's not the case, then pressing the discourse of meritocracy now just runs cover for racist issues that have not been dealt with. This is part and parcel to the scholarship of critical race theory.

Sean: That's helpful. Okay, so the third component of critical theory is lived experience. This is also the third component of what you list as critical race theory. I'm trying to help folks see that there's overlap. You have this umbrella term critical theory. Critical race theory falls underneath that. This is where you say lived experience in this case is critical to understanding racism. Explain.

Neil: That's right, because again, if you are a person of color, then you're assumed to have special insight into the racial oppression that you experience daily. Whereas a white person who's part of the majority group, sort of the oppressor group, is blinded to the way in which society actually functions. A white person thinks, oh, we're all equal now. We have the Civil Rights Acts. Now we had a black president. It's all in the past apart from a few bad apples. That's an expression of whiteness. They are blinded to their privilege and they need a person of color to illuminate the reality of the persistence and pervasiveness of racism.

Sean: Okay, that's helpful. Last one in critical race theory. Then I've got one more question and we're going to get into some of your critique. This is number four on critical race theory, Pat. It says, racism is one of many interlocking systems of oppression, including sexism, classism, and heterosexism.

Pat: Yeah, so critical race theory is not just about race, it turns out. If you read the scholarship of critical race theory, obviously race is a primary concern, but the scholarship states and dictates that there is an interlocking systems of oppression that is not just siloed or tethered to race. It also is connected to sexuality. It's connected to gender. It's connected to ableism. It's connected to a range of other oppressions and these oppressions interlock. They're connected and they can't be bifurcated. The scholarship disallows this idea that I'm just going to be about racism and racial concern, but I think that how homophobia is manifested in society has got issues with it that it's clear cut in terms of what is being labeled as homophobia, if that's really an oppression or not. Some people might say, well, I'm just going to adopt a part of critical race theory that's dealing with issues around racism because that's accessible to me. That's something that I can easily understand. While it is true on an individual level that someone could actually try to parse it out, in doing so, they are not being true to the scholarship. Then, even people that don't directly identify as a critical race theorist, but say that they are inspired by critical racism and use critical race theory in their work, somebody like Ibram Kendi, he will speak in his books about that, look, if you are not authentically for the rights and privileges and the agenda of the gay community, then you are not truly anti-racist and you are not truly pushing back against racism. Part of the reason why Neil and I, and you've already alluded to this, Sean, I believe, is that we recognize that this is a worldview lens, these knowledge areas, not because they have to be, but they do push for that. Here's an example of how they push for that, how this ideology pushes for that. You can't just adopt an aspect of critical race theory around race and say you're truly doing critical race theory. No, it's a broader lens. You have now gotten to incorporate these other perspectives relative to oppression and adopt those. Then, you have to do that based on the rules of engagement of the knowledge area itself. Then, now you're in a world of hurt when it comes to a Christian trying to embrace this perspective.

Neil: I just wanted to interject too that all the things we're saying right now, a lot of the things we've said there are word for word quotes. There are verbatim quotes from the literature. In our book, it's suffused very intentionally with footnotes and long block quotes from the theorists themselves. We're not asking you to take our word for it. We're asking you to read the verbatim quotes from people like Kimberle Crenshaw, Derrick Bell, Judith Butler. I think there's 770 plus footnotes in our book. It's accessible. It's written for a layperson. My 14-year-old sons read parts of it, but it also is very well documented. We're not just spouting off about our personal opinions. We're saying this is what they say themselves. You can agree with it or disagree with it. We want to respect what they've actually said about their own subject matter.

Pat: Let me also mention, Sean, in connection with this that we have basically five chapters where we're unpacking and critiquing critical social theory. The book is about a lot of different things, but in critical social theory alone, we engage over 200 primary sources that are academic scholarship, either academic books and compendiums or peer reviewed journal articles. We engage over 200 primary sources and then hundreds more scholars that are connected to those sources. We're not building a straw man here in any regard. We couldn't write a 2,000 page book. We're not just referencing things. We're actually engaging those sources.

Sean: No, you're not. I was showing folks the size of this book, 500 pages. You've done your homework and I think you've written it very charitably. Now, let me hit on this real quick again before we get to critique. I think what you said a minute ago, Pat, was important. Is critical theory a kind of religious movement? I view it as a worldview that identifies what's wrong with the world. In a sense, there's this class or power dynamic oppression that's taking place, whether it's race or sexuality. Of course, the solution is through revolt to overturn these kinds of systems to result in equity. It's a kind of worldview, but also seems like a religious movement. In one sense, you could say you have your prophets, people like Kendi and maybe D'Angelo. You go into the book making the case that they don't necessarily describe themselves as critical race theorists, but are teaching very much the same thing. You document very carefully that that's a fair term to use. There's the equivalent of sin that's in the world. There's religious texts that have authority. There's ways you purge yourself of your sin. This is kind of a religious movement, isn't it, Pat?

Pat: Yes, definitely. Particularly when you think about it from a broad religious term, thinking of religion broadly speaking, yes. It's just all those things that you just said. This will bring this into focus. In my master's thesis, I had Christianity and the Christian faith as part of it. I had the apostle Paul as someone that I quoted as part of my master's thesis. I had a professor say to me, you really shouldn't quote the apostle Paul because that's just his opinion. I said, well, Karl Marx, that's just his opinion. Emmanuel Levinas, that's just his opinion. Kimberly Crenshaw, that's just her opinion. At least Paul is making an internal claim to something supernatural. These other people don't even begin to do that. We have to recognize that to embrace critical social theory full throttle, now you are getting into a kind of religious perspective and a very strong ideological perspective that will have its own prophets and teachers, its own texts that it looks to, its own emotive engagement. We're in tears doing social justice work. Our emotions now are invested into this project of social justice. Now, we are about biblical justice and some of these things do overlap, but without question, this is a movement that has religious features and characteristics to it without question. That is not an overstatement. There are secular atheists analyzing this view that make the same claims. It's not just us as religious people, Neil and I, borrowing from our own tradition to make this assessment. No, it is clearly the case.

Sean: Well, that's one of my favorite parts of the book because when I teach that in undergrad class that I teach on ethical issues, we spent a whole day on critical theory and I go out of the way to talk about it. It's a worldview; it's a religious movement and seeing it through that lens is helpful. Now I'm going to ask you guys, we're going to critique hegemony, lived experience, all this stuff in a minute, but I want you to each just give one positive from either critical theory or critical race theory that you think Christians can and should take away from this. I'll start with you, Neil. Just give us one positive from this.

Neil: A very simple one I think is just the idea that racism can be hard to see, right? Even sometimes unconscious. It's sort of an odd thing, unconscious racism. We wouldn't go that way, but there can be systems that unconsciously, unintentionally even harm people of color. We give you lots of data in our book based on experiments. I'm a scientist, so I'm not relying on just speculation. There are experiments you can do to show, for example, that black applicants to jobs are turned down at a higher rate than white applicants. Even when you take into account, it's a randomized trial. You have identical resumes, identical heights, identical attractiveness. Everything about the applicants is the same, but black applicants receive fewer callbacks than white applicants. I don't think people are intentionally saying, I don't want a black guy working for me, but they have their own biases. They're unconscious of them. Now, people might say, well, that's not intentionally, they're not overtly discriminating against blacks. I probably agree, but if you're the person who got discriminated against because you're black, it still harms you. The point here is to say we're not putting a blame and saying, oh, there's awful hiring managers, the awful HR people. No, we're just saying if you're looking at it from the perspective of the applicant, they are being harmed by an unfair treatment. Again, we go through the data in our book, but it's one thing that critical race theorists point out is that, hey, we have still ways to go in terms of making a truly fair and just society. That's a fair statement that Christians can embrace while totally rejecting all the baggage of critical race theory.

Sean: That's a great balance. I appreciate that. Pat, give us one positive from critical theory.

Pat: One positive from say critical race theory is a reminder of our racialized history. Critical race theory is concerned about making sure that we understand the implications of slavery—250 years of slavery, really 350 if you go back to when the first slaves were brought to this part of the world in the 1520s. And then we have 100 years of black codes and Jim Crow laws. The reality of that racialized history in the US should really stop and make us think about the implications of what that means in terms of agency, of upward mobility, of resources for people of color today. That touches on an issue of cultural power and social power, which I've already referenced. Critical social theory will force you to think about how power is allocated in society. While some of that campaign by critical social theory is flawed and incorrect and even fraudulent at points, at other points it's very perceptive. It's right on target. We need to, as human beings in our society, see how cultural power has been manifested along the lines of race, along the lines of gender at points where women have been disenfranchised sinfully so in certain kinds of capacities in our culture and society, for instance. We need to think about those things as conscientious Christians and redress and remedy them where we can and where it is needed. Critical social theory will alert us to some of that thinking.

Sean: I think that is genuinely helpful. I do have one more question. I apologize, but I have to ask this. When I see things like critical race theory in the church, outside of the church, so many people adopting it—sometimes Christians lead with criticism, but I want to ask the question, why are so many people buying into this? Clearly it's scratching on some level where people are itching. What do you think if we just look at critical race theory and see so many people, or critical theory, so many people accepting this, what might this tell us about where people are at that at least it's scratching that itch, so to speak, in a positive way? Does that make sense, Neil?

Neil: In our book, I think chapter 13, we go through five different reasons that critical theory is attractive to so many people. I'll just leave this one. The big one, I think for me, is it's a spiritual component. All of us as human beings, the Bible says, feel a need to be righteous. Why? Because of the fall, because Adam and Eve sinned against God. They knew immediately that they were naked and they covered themselves with fig leaves because they wanted to hide their nakedness. Well, in a similar way, all of us know deep down inside that we are not right with God. We're sinners. We want to hide that from God and from ourselves. So what do we do? We seek fig leaves. We try to cover our nakedness. And critical theory provides one very easy way to do that. So we can, we tweet the right tweets. We like the right posts. We go to the right rallies. We put the right stickers on our bumper. We can, they're all fig leaves. They're all ways for us to say, I'm on the right side of history. Thank you, God. I'm not like the sinners, the bigots, the homophobes, the transphobes, the racists. I'm not like them. I'm different. Well, all of that is a way for us to justify ourselves, to meet this deeply human need to feel like we're good and righteous. What Christianity does not do is doesn't scoff at that and say, oh, no, no, no, no, no, no, God, don't worry about it. Get over yourself. It says, you're right. You are naked. You have a right to be ashamed and terrified of God's justice. But the way to cleanse yourself is not to cleanse yourself, but to let God cleanse you, to appeal to his mercy in Christ, to cover over your shame, to clothe you with Christ's righteousness. So again, we're not saying, oh, we're despising people who feel that need. No, that's great. It’s good you feel that need, but we're just pointing you, pointing you to the actual source of your healing, your forgiveness and the mercy that God shows us in Christ.

Sean: That's great. I love that. Now I promise I won't ask any more questions, so let's move to the critique. And since you're the one who explained hegemony earlier, Pat, how should a Christian think about this idea of hegemony and kind of dominant, so to speak, in culture through ideas and customs?

Pat: The scholarship and the knowledge area of critical social theory would almost say that if something is hegemonic, then it needs to be changed. That's a little bit of an overstatement, but there's a push to just change hegemonic dynamics, dominant dynamics because they're hegemonic and because they are, somebody has been left out of this power rooted in the status quo. We would say that we want to remind people that certain hegemonic dynamics are good and right. So the way to assess hegemony is to ask what is underneath the hegemonic norm or custom or tradition? What is underneath this dominant stakeholder in society that is exerting its power? What is the epistemological and philosophical foundation, the moral foundation that has that hegemonic custom or tradition rising from it? And, so, in order to know whether this hegemonic concern in society is good or bad, we've got to get underneath it and ask, well, what is organically driving this custom being in place? For instance, marriage between one man and one woman is a hegemonic dynamic in our society. And queer theory wants to push back against that and say no to that and offer same sex marriage as a legitimate, valuable, righteous option in terms of marriage. Well, Christians would need to get in and everybody needs to get underneath. Well, why is the hegemonic dynamic of marriage between one man and one woman, why is it in place in society in the first place? And is the foundation of that belief and that ideal, is it righteous or is it unrighteous? And we would make the case that, well, in fact, it is biblically righteous. And we would say that the moral framework that is contextualized marriage between one man and one woman manifested in our society is a righteous one at its core and at its foundation. And, so, Christians need to critique hegemony by asking, well, what is this hegemonic perspective tethered to in terms of its moral component? And then make the judgment of whether this hegemonic dynamic is good and right. The second thing I would say is that hegemony is often attached to majority, majoritarian culture. And so there are certain things that are majoritarian culturally connected to whites, but some of those same things are connected to non-whites as well. And so. sometimes the scholarship in the Smithsonian actually dealt with this on some level, where you're ascribing certain hegemonic dynamics to whiteness as if it's exclusive to whiteness and then problematizing it, when the reality is we should just embrace what that hegemonic dynamic is and it should be manifested. And it is, in fact, accessible to people of color and non-whites as well. It's not truly just exclusively something of whites. It's exclusive to all people. It's actually connected to all people. And so we don't need to now problematize and somehow challenge this hegemonic norm when the reality is a norm that is accessible and appreciated by all people.

Sean: That's great. In some ways, at the root of what's wrong with the world, according to critical theory, is just this power imbalance, oppressor and oppressed. So if we can make all things equal, which is kind of certain Marxist roots, although that was in economics, then we'll have a utopian state. The Christian response is it's not getting rid of power, it's the right use of power. Parents, pastors, government, Romans 13. So, it's a very different approach to what power should be in place. So, not to get rid of any power dynamics, but to use it and wield it wisely and biblically. Neil, another one of the key pieces of critical theory that we saw also in critical race theory, and you see coming up in queer theory, is the idea of lived experience. How should a Christian think about this in your mind?

Neil: Sure. We can acknowledge that your lived experience can give you unique insight into reality. For example, my lived experience is: I live in North Carolina. So I will have knowledge about the local restaurants and movie theaters and sports teams that some foreign person from Idaho or from France doesn't have. So yeah, of course, then if someone comes to town and says, what's a good place to get barbecue? Yeah, I have some insight into that because of my lived experience as a Durham resident. But that said, it doesn't give me a blanket, unchallengeable authority to make pronouncements about, say, just because I live in North Carolina does not mean I'm necessarily an expert on Durham cuisine. Maybe I eat mac and cheese every night. I don't know. In the same way, we can't. So can we go to, say, a person of color or a woman and say, hey, what's your perspective on this social issue? And then open up our ears and listen and say, hey, I'm just curious. What do you think about me? Hear your perspective. But in the end, then I'll give my perspective. But then at the end of the day, both of us have to submit our perspectives to scripture and to objective evidence. None of us can have this unchallengeable authority to say no, because of who I am, because of my social location, you can't even question my pronouncements. Well, that's just wrong biblically. The biblical Bible says, you know, it is the ultimate standard and reality is the ultimate standard by which we're to judge everyone's claims, whether they're white or black or Asian or male or female or purple or orange or whatever. It doesn't matter. We're all submitting to God's reality revealed in scripture and in nature.

Sean: Neil, my first book that I wrote, I think it was 2006, it's out of print now. It was ethics, E-T-H-I-X. And I was talking about big ethical issues of the day. And then I updated it recently and I looked back and I was like, wow, I didn't even have a chapter on race. Now, part of that is probably because I'm white and I don't see the world through the lens of race. I don't have to navigate certain things like my minority friends maybe do. So, sometimes I look at: is that a kind of privilege? Is that a kind of advantage? How would you respond to that kind of insight or that point?

Neil: For example, this is where, you know, live experience can go hand in hand with objective evidence. So, for example, you look at hate crime data. I think a black person is something like 13 times more likely to experience a hate crime than a white person. The rates are there. You can look at the FBI. So, the point is, if you ask an average white person, do hate crimes happen? Either they're going to be like, never happened to me, whereas a black person is much more likely based on the data to say, oh yeah, it happened to me. So, that can give all of us, whether you're white or black, insight into things that were just not part of my world. Totally fine. Now, the problem becomes, though, when a person, any person says, because it happened to me, I can extrapolate to make a general statement about reality. So, for example, if someone says, well, I was once subjected to a racial slur, therefore they happen all the time everywhere and you can't convince me otherwise. Well, you're going way beyond what your own experience is. And an example in the book that we give is ironically, that same appeal to lived experience is employed by white power groups to recruit new members. They'll ask young white men, have you ever been demeaned because you're a white male and people sneer at you and look down on you and they'll say, well, yeah, it's happened to me. They'll say, let me explain to you this whole ideology of white power that explains your lived experience. And that they buy into that because they have gone way beyond their own personal valid, true lived experiences and bought into a whole wicked ideology that doesn't follow at all from their experiences. So, this is true of everybody: we all have to submit our own personal lived experiences to reality and ask, well, was it actually objectively true? And that often goes way beyond what we personally had experienced.

Pat: Can I follow up here?

Sean: Yeah, please go ahead.

Pat: I was just going to say something in keeping with what Neil just said. At times I go to community episodes where protest is happening and there are times that I go lend my voice in protest when there's been a racist situation. There was a time when a soft white power group was holding a rally in a town near me. So, I went to go peacefully challenge the discourse and the perspective of that soft white power group. And I got into a conversation with one of the leaders of that group and I was trying to challenge him politely, but, definitively, tried to dislodge him of his perspective. So I asked him the question, Sean, why is it that you've come to believe that black people are inferior to white people? And I said, I believe that that is completely radically incorrect, but how have you gotten to that place? The person took the next 15 minutes to tell me about their personal experience. They told me about how their relative was shafted out of a job and it was given to an unqualified black person. They talked about being in a situation where a spouse or a friend of a spouse was confronted by some black people on the street that made them feel uncomfortable. Another thing was mentioned about poverty and this living off welfare and that they knew a black person who had really jacked the system in their favor. And I basically said to that person, look, you've talked for 15 or 20 minutes and you've given me four examples as to why you think black people, all black people, are inferior to everyone else and all white people. Don't you see that your limited sample set of four to five items is not sufficient for you to extrapolate a truth that is universal? And so, as Neil said, that happened on the ground, in that moment. Now I'm talking to a person, Sean, that has given his life to this viewpoint. His worldview is white supremacy. And in 20 minutes, the only thing he could tell me were four or five anecdotal situations about his lived experience. And so this happens on the other side of the aisle too. And we've got to disabuse ourselves of that perspective. Yes, our lived experience can tell us certain things, but we have gotten to get outside of our lived experience to have a universal understanding of reality and social dynamics.

Sean: That's great. That's really helpful. Let's shift to maybe a Christian approach to identity and or intersectionality because within critical theory, kind of my identity are these different intersections that I cross off. How should a Christian think about this, Neil? Give us a Christian reflection or a critique of intersectionality as you see it.

Neil: So intersectionality would do several things at once. One is to classify people according to their demographic group, race, gender, class, sexuality, just put them in these buckets. And we don't actually say that all of those identities are just completely wrong. It's okay to have an ethnic identity. And you see it in the Bible. Paul talks about how he's a Jewish ethnic background and he exalts in that. So, it's not wrong to have a Jewish ethnic identity. What's wrong is to exalt that ethnic identity above your Christian identity. So, the great text for this is Galatians 3 where Paul talks about how in Christ there's neither Jew nor Greek, male nor female, slave nor free, because that means they go away. We're no longer male or female. No, you're still male or female, obviously. But that gender identity is so radically demoted in importance relative to your Christian identity that it's almost irrelevant. Actually, Paul, in Philippians 2, talks about how he was a Hebrew of Hebrews and of the tribe of Benjids, all these things, these accolades, because all of those identities rubbish compared to the surpassing worth of knowing Jesus. So again, it's not that we stop being male, we stop being female, we stop being white or black or half Indian. We don't stop those things. But we have to understand that our identity has to primarily be that we're brothers and sisters in Christ, we're God's children. That's number one. And then number two, of course, intersectionality makes your social location a source of authority. So because I am a male half Indian, I have unique insight into these things. And you can't question that. And we would just say no, like we just said, all personal experiences, all lived experiences have to be submitted in the end to the authority of Scripture and to just reality and say, well, what does the data say? What does the evidence say? We can't just say, no, I know it's true, because I have this identity and therefore you can't challenge me. We have to, so basically identity comes first in Christ, and then we can't tether our knowledge or the truth of our claims can't be tethered exclusively to our social location.

Sean: Pat, you're not in there. Anything that you want to add on in terms of intersectionality and identity of how Christians should think about this? I'll just echo a little bit and maybe say something in addition or to reinforce. Yes, Revelation 5, 9, Revelation 7, 9, our ethnic identity are going to be in heaven. Every race, tribe, we're all coming together, nation language, we're coming together around the throne of God. But all those identities are subsumed and they're subordinated to, it is no longer I who live, it is Christ in me who lives. My identity is in Christ and it is that identity for the church that transcends our gender differences, our racial differences, our class differences, our subcultural differences. They are real and they ought to be celebrated at the places where they're righteous and good. Yet, we must keep in mind that our primary identity that overrides everything is our identity in Jesus. And that's what compels us to love across these other subordinated differences, these other sub differences that are minor compared to the power of our identity in Jesus. And it's that identity in Christ that fuels our love, our other centeredness, our care, our commitment to one another. And when we elevate, you had asked earlier how what we thought was a concern, how level of a concern, how high of a concern is critical social theory. Well, one of the things that drove my concern about it is that I was seeing people of color in the church and that to some extent people on the far, far right using their and living their life out of their ethnic identity more than their identity in Christ, even though they were naming Christ, that the ethnic identity now is at a place of rivaling their identity in Christ. And they were more comfortable connecting with their ethnic identity and people in it. Then people of a different ethnic identity that were part of the church and in Jesus and that is death to the unity of the church. And that's why we've seen such a fracture. And that's what partly motivated me to get into this conversation. Sean is to press the button that no, it is our identity in Christ. It means everything and it drives our unity and our love and our concern for each other. And that's one of the points that we emphasize in the book.

Sean: I love that you do emphasize that in the book. Neil question for you, can somebody say: I am a Christian and I embrace critical race theory. I'm a Christian and I embrace critical theory, or do you think these are two opposing systems that diagnose the world differently that might overlap in some areas but that are mutually exclusive.

Neil: So when someone said I'm a Christian but I embrace critical race theory, the first question I asked is, well, what do you mean by critical race theory? What do you think it is? Because I have heard Christians, very sincere Christians who genuinely think that critical race theory just means studying the history of race in the US. So all that it is. So if that's all they think it is, then you can embrace the study of race in the US and be a Christian, obviously. But that's not critical race theory. So I begin by asking them, what do you mean by that? Then I walk through what critical race theorists themselves say are the quote unquote defining elements of critical race theory. And I'll show them quotes from theorists saying you must believe this, you must do that if you are going to truly embrace critical race theory and ask them, well, do you believe that? And if they say, well, no, I reject that part of critical race theory, I'll say, well, that's a defining element. So if you reject that, it's like someone saying, well, I am a Christian, but I just reject a few parts of Christianity. Well, like which ones? Well, the defining elements like Jesus being the son of God and rising from the dead. You can call yourself a Christian and reject Jesus being the son of God and rising from the dead, but you're not a Christian. In the same way, if you reject the defining elements of critical race theory as described by the founders of critical race theory, well, you're rejecting critical race theory. So I think that's what it comes down to is oftentimes Christians, for some reason, they have this insistence often because they haven't read the primary sources that critical race theory is not as bad as you might make it out to be. When I'm saying, well, that's if you read the sources themselves, they will tell you straight out that you cannot—for example, they will say you cannot embrace homophobia, which they would interpret as saying that heterosexuality is God's design for human beings and anything else is sin. They would say you can't embrace that and embrace critical race theory hands down. They will just flatly say that. And we have sources in our book. So I would just point out that Christians who should say no, actually God's design for sexuality is correct and true. It's not just whiteness. They themselves are outside of the bounds of what critical race theory would consider acceptable.

Sean: That's really helpful. And you lay out here that when some people say, well, critical race theory is, it's just in academia and it's not being taught in different ways in schools and in the church. You guys take issue with that and lay it out. But folks are gonna have to get the book to read that. Final question. This is it. And you're gonna have to give me somewhat of a quick answer: where do we go from here? The whole third of your book is about engaging. What should we do moving forward? Now, of course, I've said this. I think your book is fantastic. Critical dilemma. Even if, at the end of the day, folks end up seeing it differently, it's fair, it's researched, it's academic, but it's understandable. For the kind of book that it is, I could not recommend a book more highly than I do critical dilemma. And I hope it sells a ton of books and people think about it and engage it. But give us just some final thoughts on where we go from here. Pat.

Pat: There could be a lot to say here, but to be concise dialogue, we are strong promoters of dialogue. People that are different than you connect with them, have coffee, discuss these ideas, lay them out on the table, discuss the things that are rooted and connected to critical race theory and larger social issues come together because what will happen is we'll be able to hash out our differences and then we'll be prompted to think and learn and grow and we'll be able to recommend things for each of us to read. But then we'll also see our similarities, our connections, and particularly for Christians, we will reify our love for each other in Christ. And so that dialogue, that open dialogue will go a long way. And there is scholarship and critical social theory that discourages dialogue. And we bring that out. We quote primary sources that in fact discourage cross-racial dialogue. But we say no to that. And that's a signal that it's flawed. Okay. Because we need to be about wide and expansive to dialogue with one another.

Sean: I love that. That's great. One of the things you have in your book in the section on intersectionality is that these things are dividing us up, but if there's something greater than any of these that ties us together, it kind of threatens the whole model. And I think that's our shared humanity, you don't have to be a Christian to recognize that. Final words, Neil.

Neil: I had said exactly what you said, Sean, is that for the church, what we should do is just reaffirm our commitment to the gospel. And what all these critical theories are trying to do is solve the problem of humanity, solve power problems, solve racism, sexism, create a society that's functional and loving and bring peace and justice. But as Christians, we know that all purely human efforts to do any of those things are doomed to failure because we are corrupt. We can't rescue ourselves. And Christians should say, hey, we have something greater that creates the unity and the love and the justice that you're looking for. It's not found in you. It's not found in activism. It's found in what Jesus did for us and redeeming a people for himself. And so that will create, organically, the unity and love that you're seeking in these critical theories. That's what I would say.

Sean: Amen. I knew you could give us a mic drop moment to end on. Good stuff. Folks, pick up “Critical Dilemma.” It really is excellent. Highest endorsement I can give to it. Don't forget to hit subscribe here. We've got some other shows coming up on a range of issues like this: apologetics, Worldview, Culture, some fascinating stories coming up, including a colleague of mine at Biola, a former Buddhist who came to Christ. Really interesting story. If you thought about studying apologetics, we actually have a full weekend course on Critical Theory, taught by one of my colleagues, Scott Smith. It's just excellent. There's information below. We have the top rated distance program in apologetics, and this is one of the issues we're discussing more and more. If you're, like, I'm not ready for a master's, but you just want to learn apologetics, we have a certificate program and there's also a significant discount below. Fellows, really appreciate your voice, your research. Thanks for coming on. This has been great.

Neil: Thanks, Scott.

Pat: Thank you.