Two books that have been recently published that are helpful in understanding the transition our culture has been experiencing regarding Social Justice, the overthrow of traditional sex and gender norms, critical race theory, and the like are:

Cynical Theories: How Activist Scholarship Made Everything about Race, Gender, and Identity—and Why This Harms Everybody by Helen Pluckrose and James Lindsay

Live Not by Lies: A Manual for Christian Dissidents by Rod Dreher

Having written fairly extensively about the danger of Critical Race Theory for the church in my post “”Woke’ or ‘Broke’ Theology,” and its popular expression in Social Justice, these two books have recently been published concerning these issues as well. One is more theoretical and academic and addresses the implications for a classically liberal democracy. The other is practical and historically rich with details provided for Christians in how to dissent against the impending soft totalitarianism that is forthcoming.

They are unlikely bedfellows to say the least. James Lindsay is an atheist having written multiple books on the non-existence of God, while Rod Dreher, a senior editor and blogger at The American Conservative, is an Orthodox Christian.

Nevertheless, as the old adage goes: the enemy of my enemy is my friend. This is becoming more the case as Critical Theory is gaining influence in popular culture and politics. For example, the militant atheist Peter Boghossian was interviewed (along with Lindsay) by Michael O’Fallon exposing the dangers of Critical Race Theory and Social Justice not only for the church but for society at large. Lindsay is also a keynote speaker for the conference The Great Awokening: Halting the Infusion of Critical Theories, Postmodernism, and Progressive Politics in the Christian Church alongside pastors and ministers.

A Critical Analysis of Critical Theory by the Grievance Studies Scholars

Cynical Theories looks at the development of postmodern thought and the effects of critical theory in scholarship and activism by Helen Pluckrose and James Lindsay. Pluckrose is a self-described “exile from the humanities with research interests in late medieval/early modern religious writing by and about women.  She is editor-in-chief of Areo.” Lindsay, authoring multiple books about atheism and the non-existence of God, has a doctorate in math and background in physics. His essays have appeared in TIME, Scientific American, and The Philosophers’ Magazine.

Live Discussion: Cynical Theories Book Launch

Helen Pluckrose and James Lindsay gained wide attention with the ‘grievance studies‘ affair along with Peter Boghossian. They highlighted the pseudo-scholarship in several academic fields by submitting bogus academic papers to academic journals in cultural, queer, race, gender, fat, and sexuality studies that where published regardless of being passed by the peer review process of those journals.

In there book Pluckrose and Lindsay provide a guide in understanding the rise of Critical Theory from the postmodern turn of the 1960s to the present. Theory (with a capital T) refers to the social philosophy that stems from postmodernism. While many believed postmodernism died, they assert that it has “mutated into a handful of Theories – postcolonial, queer, and critical race” which aims to “reconstruct society in the image of an ideology which came to refer to itself as ‘Social Justice.'”

A chapter is dedicated to each mutation of postmodern theory: postcolonial theory, queer theory, critical race theory and intersectionality, feminism and gender studies, and disability and fat studies. They round out the book with a look at how these studies and theories have been applied in a Social Justice context and propose a better way forward with liberalism without identity politics. They define liberalism as a political democracy, limitations on the powers of government, universal human rights, legal equality for all citizens, freedom of expression , and value for viewpoint diversity and debate, respect of evidence and reason, separation of church and state, and freedom of religion.

Learning From the Past to Fight the Future

Rod Dreher’s Live Not by Lies was inspired by individuals who suffered under the totalitarian communist governments during the Cold War. For several years Dreher began to talk to men and women who had once lived under communism and began to see a pattern emerge. Similarities between what happened to those individuals under the Soviet bloc of communism is beginning to happen in America. Namely, “Elites and elite institutions are abandoning old-fashioned liberalism [see Pluckrose and Lindsay’s definition of liberalism above], based in defending the rights of the individual, and replacing it with a progressive creed that regards justice in terms of groups. It encourages people to identify with groups – ethnic, sexual, and otherwise – and to think of Good and Evil as a matter of power dynamics among the groups. A utopian vision drives these progressives, one that compels them to seek to rewrite history [such as the 1619 Project] and reinvent language to reflect their ideals of social justice.”

Live Not by Lies: A Manual for Christian Dissidents - The Thinking  Conservative

Dreher warns that this is difficult to realize because we live in America, “the land of liberty, individual rights, and one nation under God.” While what is occuring in the America is not identical to the Society Bloc countries, the threat to liberty is in the attitude of liberating victims from oppression.

Dreher differentiates what is happening here to the old Soviet Bloc with the expression: “soft totalitarianism.”

Hard vs Soft Totalitarianism:

Dreher explains the difference between the two in this interview:

Hard Totalitarianism is when an authoritarian government expands its claim to power to cover every aspect of life – including the inner life of its citizens. Stalinism (a common expression of hard totalitarianism) achieved that through terror and pain. This kind of system is what every American high school student read about in Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four. I wouldn’t say it could never come here, but I don’t really think it will.

Instead, we are building a kinder, gentler version. What awakened the Soviet-bloc emigres is the way political correctness has jumped over the walls of the universities and is both intensifying and spreading through society’s institutions. The forms it takes, the language that it uses to justify itself, and the way that it tolerates absolutely no dissent – all of this is truly totalitarian.

What makes it soft? A couple of things. First, it is emerging within a democratic system, within the institutions of liberal democracy, without a state monopoly on power. Second, and more importantly, the emerging totalitarian system will not coerce compliance through pain and terror, but more from manipulating our comforts, including status. It will be more like the dystopia in Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World. That’s more pleasant to live through than Nineteen Eighty-Four, but it’s still totalitarian, and it will still have major long-term effects.

Dreher explains the advance of this soft totalitarianism in identity politics, woke capitalism, the surveillance technology of big tech, cancel culture, critical theory, and social justice.

The latter half of the book is Dreher’s suggestion in surviving a culture in which we live not by lies. Drawing off of the experience and stories of the Christians who survived the hard totalitarianism of the communist countries, he finds avenues in living in the truth in order to survive the soft totalitarianism he sees coming: value nothing but the truth, remembering the past, strength found in the family and religion, and learning to suffer well.

These avenues will be difficult to cultivate in a post-Christian America, but it is what sustained the faithful under the hard totalitarianism of communism. May we understand the times and be faithful under the impending soft totalitarianism that is coming.

Other Resources for Understanding Our Cultural Shift

Confronting Injustice without Compromising Truth by Thaddeus Williams

The Rise and Triumph of the Modern Self by Carl Trueman

Why Social Justice Is Not Biblical Justice: An Urgent Appeal to Fellow Christians in a Time of Social Crisis by Scott Allen

Post-Christian: A Guide to Contemporary Thought and Culture by Gene Edward Veith Jr

campus

Being, I suppose, a professional student and spending over fourteen years in undergraduate and graduate education and another seven years as a professor at the collegiate level, it is disappointing the anti-Christian bias that is found on the college campus today.  Instances have ranged from prohibiting Christian clubs from require its leaders (not members), its leaders to be Christian, to being shouted down in class for endorsing Christian views. The rise of anti-Christian bias on campus is evident.  Granted, many of the instances listed here are in no way comparable to what Christians are facing around the world, but an indicator of the rise of this attitude was found in a 2007 study by the Institute for Jewish and Community Research concerning anti-semitism on campus. Rather than finding anti-Semitism, the Institute discovered that 53% of college professors admitted to “unfavorable” feelings about evangelical Christians.  No other religious group (including Muslims) was even close to this number.

Below are some instances of these “unfavorable” feelings about Christians on college and university campuses today:

61)

Missed this one a couple of years back:

Georgia Gwinnett College prohibits free speech of Christian student restricted how he can communicate with passers-by on the public campus,. They even stopped him from sharing the gospel in a designated free speech zone.

Student sues Georgia Gwinnett College for censoring speech | News |  gwinnettdailypost.com

This incident is now being challenged by the student in court and is heading to SCOTUS. College Fix updates on this case saying “When Georgia Gwinnett College threatened a student with “disorderly conduct” for sharing his Christian beliefs on campus, Chike Uzuegbunam sued it for violating his First Amendment rights. The taxpayer-funded institution revised its free speech policy after being sued, leading the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals to deem the dispute moot earlier this year. Now that the Supreme Court has agreed to hear the case.” Hopefully they will rule in his favor so this discrimination and persecution of Christians on campus will stop.

60)

Christianity reaffirms white supremacy and upholds racist systems of power according to professor of psychology and sociology at California State University, Fullerton.

CSUF to halt in-person classes due to coronavirus fears, as 2 students are  in self-isolation off campus – Orange County Register

Justin Huft will be presenting a lecture entitled Religiosity and Critical Whiteness: How Christianity Serves White Supremacy to inform his audienc how Christianity reaffirms white supremacy views; including how a “color-blind” approach maintains the optics of being “non-racist,” while upholding racist systems of power. Rod Dreher reports:

we have here a professor at a California state university giving a lecture on how Christianity “contributes” to what the contemporary American left has identified as the greatest social evil of our time. Note that even if Christianity teaches people not to judge others by the color of their skin, it is still white supremacist. How far do you think a Cal State professor would get giving a lecture on how Judaism fosters social evil, or Islam? You know the answer: because anti-Christian bigotry is a sign of enlightenment among these elites.

This is part and parcel of Critical Race Theory which I have written about extensively. Make no mistake Critical Race Theory is no friend to Christianity.

59)

White Christian Privilege responsible for slavery, genocide, and colonialism.

Rutgers University (@RutgersU) | Twitter

Rutgers University hosted Professor Khyati Joshi of Fairleigh Dickinson University to explained how “white Christian privilege” is responsible for slavery, genocide and colonialism on September 9, 2020. Joshi, author of White Christian Privilege: The Illusion of Religious Equality in America, is a professor of education who also co-authored and contributed to Teaching for Diversity and Social Justice.

The College Fix reports that:

Joshi’s presentation discussed how whiteness and Christianity are responsible for “genocide,” “slavery” and “colonialism.” She said she wants people to understand “the role Christianity has had in the construction of whiteness.”She said that concepts like manifest destiny, the idea that colonizers were led by God to take over land, prove her points about white supremacy and Christianity.“We have to also take into account the Biblical justification for slavery,” Joshi added.During the hour-long presentation, Joshi explained what white Christian privilege is and the way it manifests itself in society. She said Christian privilege is “built into the edifice” of American jurisprudence. She also talked about how even non-white Christians enjoy some privileges.

58)

Desire to assassinate Jesus tweeted by UCSB Teaching Assistant:

Tim Snediker, a teaching assistant and doctoral student at in the department of religious studies at University of California at Santa Barbara, was asked what he would do if he was sent back in time 2000 year ago. He has deleted the tweet after much critical response. Maybe he was making a joke, but I don’t think it would have been so readily accepted by the university if he mentioned MLK, Muhammad, or Siddartha Gautama. Ironically, the department faculty page in which he is employed and is receiving an education affirms that: “human life is holy because God is holy.” He must have missed that part.

57)

If it’s not bad enough Christians face forms of persecution ON campus, at Harvard law professor wants to reach not only into the homes of Christians (but that seems to be the major motivation) but into the homes of all parents who want to homeschool their children. Bartholet, the director of the Law School’s Child Advocacy Program, wants to authoritatively stop parents “essentially authoritarian control over their children” believing that homeschooling is a violation of the children’s rights. Homeschooled children, according to Bartholet, can suffer from their parents “extreme religious ideologues” and that the absence of mandated public education results in a threat to U. S. democracy and cannot “contributing positively to a democratic society”. Nevermind that democracy is when the people exercise authority.

Harvard Magazine ran an article about the professor’s position titled “The Risks of Homeschooling.” The truly ironic nature of this Harvard professor’s claim reported in a Harvard magazine, is that so many famous Harvard graduates were homeschooled such as Theodore Roosevelt, who graduated Phi Beta Kappa. Scores of other Harvard (and all the elite colleges in the United States) graduates where homeschooled, including a host of founding fathers who produced the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution.

Another irony, the law professor writes against homeschooling, as parents are forced by the government to homeschool during the Covid-19 incident. The real authoritarian play would be telling parents how to educate their children. There is nothing “democratic” about that.

56)

LGBTQ activists demand restrictions on Harvard Law’s new religious freedom clinic

Image result for harvard law school

“Activists are demanding restrictions on the new legal clinic, including restraints on which clients and subject matter it can take, while enjoying more flexibility for their own preferred clinics, such as the new LGBTQ+ Advocacy Clinic.”

More can be read at The College Fix and Campus Reform.

55)

No, Really? Scientists Find Anti-Christian Prejudice in the Science World

In the journal PLOS ONE, four academics from Arizona State University ask, “Are scientists biased against Christians?” In reporting on three different studies, the scientific academic community has a particular bias against evangelicals. Some the findings included the following:

  • biology professors did rate a Christian student who went on a mission trip with Campus Crusade for Christ as less hireable, less competent, and less likeable than a student who did not reveal a Christian identity.
  • while most scholars of religion would consider “fundamentalism” and “evangelicalism” distinct groupsscientists themselves tend to use these terms interchangeably

The abstract for the article reveals that “Christians are one of the most underrepresented groups in science, and one potential explanation is that scientists have a bias against Christian students, which could discourage and actively prevent Christian students from becoming scientists.” So much for scientific objectivity.

54)

Students Say The Bible Is More Dangerous Than The Communist Manifesto at George Washington University:

Even though it has been shown that religion is good for you, Christianity has supported the well-being than any other movement on the planet, and that Christianity has contributed to morality, freedom, democracy, science, and that the West actually owes its values of equality and human dignity to the religion.

The examples above are the latest in the list. Below is the start of the list, but I didn’t want to reformat because of the time it would take. From this point forward, new examples will be listed above.

1)

“Stomp On Jesus Assignment at FAU” at Townhall – Assignments, not just diatribes by the professor, are part of the “unfavorable” attitudes against Christians.  If it was the name Muhammad, I believe there would have been a very different outcome.

Read the rest of this entry »

religious_pluralism-692131Several years back my eldest son who was in fifth grade at the time was brushing his teeth and getting ready for bed.  He stepped into the hall and yanked the toothbrush out of his mouth, slinging toothpaste against the wall, and asked, “Dad, dad! What about those people who have never heard about Jesus?  Do they go to hell?”

First, what fifth grader thinks about such things when they are brushing there teeth (apparently mine).  Second, this has been one of the formidable issues that I believe any reflective Christian can contemplate.

The issue  at hand is that it seem unfair to us for God to not provide salvation to someone just because they did not get a chance (because of historical or geographical reasons) to hear the gospel when surely some of them would have accepted it if they had heard it.

In helping reflect on this issue properly consider the graph below.  The challenge is “it is unjust (i.e. – unfair) for God to condemn those who never had an opportunity to hear the Gospel.”  According to the graph there are four Screen Shot 2015-05-29 at 8.36.23 AMtypes of people in relation the the gospel being heard or not heard crossed with people freely accepting or rejecting the gospel.

The top left quadrant are people who hear the gospel and freely accept it, the bottom left is people who hear the gospel and freely reject it, and the bottom right are people who don’t hear the gospel but if they did they would freely reject it.  I contend that these three categories of people are created.  When I say created I don’t mean they are made to accept or reject, I mean they are brought into existence with free will and it is their own free choice in accepting and rejecting the gospel.

The bottom right category deserves come explanation.  These people, who don’t hear the gospel, would have freely rejected the gospel but will never hear it.  God is under no obligation to get the gospel to these people because they, under their own free will, would reject the gospel.  Besides that, the charge of injustice is about the fourth category, the top right.

The top right category of people is where the issue resides.  These people never hear the gospel, because of either historical or geographical accident.  For example, the 2nd century inhabitants of North America had no opportunity to hear the gospel because of their location and time of existence.  There is no way the gospel could have been delivered to them by evangelists or missionaries coming down from the disciples.  These people seem to get a raw deal.

But possibly, given Gods infinite wisdom, knowledge, and power he doesn’t allow such people to be created.  Now, if that is the case, which it surely seems possible (that is, there is no logical reason to think it is impossible), then there are no people who would have freely accepted the gospel, but never had a chance to hear it.  This would ensure that anyone who would freely accept the gospel, God, being all-knowing and all-powerful, creates them in the time and place to ensure that they hear the gospel and freely accept it.  This absolves God of any wrong because there are no people who would have freely accepted the gospel but did not get a chance to hear it.

It is just a model, it might be the way reality works it might not, but the point is, if a working model can be developed to absolve God then God, in his infinite wisdom and knowledge and power, should be capable of taking care of reality.  And there seems to be some scriptural support for this model in Act 17:24-27, “The God who made the world and everything in it, being Lord of heaven and earth, does not live in temples made by man, nor is he served by human hands, as though he needed anything, since he himself gives to all mankind life and breath and everything.   And he made from one man every nation of mankind to Screen Shot 2015-05-29 at 8.38.22 AMlive on all the face of the earth, having determined allotted periods and the boundaries of their dwelling place, that they should seek God, and perhaps feel their way toward him and find him. Yet he is actually not far from each one of us.”

So, when my son ased several year ago “What about those people who have never heard about Jesus?  Do they go to hell?” I was able to honestly and confidentially answer, “Son, if they would freely accept the gospel, God knows that and he ensures that the gospel is delivered to them.”  He was satisfied with that answer and went to bed.  Hopefully, you find this answer satisfying as well.

Resources:

Books/Articles/Videos/Podcasts/Etc:

“What About Those Who Have Never Heard?” podcast by William Lane Craig at Reasonablefaith.org

“How Can Christ Be the Only Way to God?” article by William Lane Craig at Reasonablefaith.org

“If Jesus is the Only Way to God, What About Those Who Have Never Heard of Him?” Chapter 33 by Paul Copan in True For You But Not For Me

“Is Jesus the Only Way to God?” Chapter 10 by William Lane Craig in On Guard

Timothy and Lydia McGrew have undoubtedly championed the apologetic of “undesigned coincidences.” An undesigned coincidence is “a notable connection between two or more accounts or texts that don’t seem to have been planned by the person or people giving the accounts. Despite their apparent independence, the items fit together like pieces of a puzzle.” The result of finding these coincidences is discovering that the texts in questions (the Gospels, Acts, and letters of the New Testament in this case) are historically reliable and trustworthy. Here is a short video description of undesigned coincidences by Timothy McGrew:

Timothy McGrew, who is a professor of philosophy and chair of the department of philosophy at Western Michigan University, has spoken extensively on undesigned coincidences, but his wife, Lydia McGrew, has written most recently about undesigned coincidences. Lydia is a widely published analytic philosopher, specializing in formal and classical theory of knowledge, testimony, and philosophy of religion. She received a PhD in English from Vanderbilt University. She wrote Hidden in Plain View: Undesigned Coincidences in the Gospels and Acts, the most current book on the topic. The phrase “undesigned coincidences” was coined by William Paley and was further developed and elaborated by John James Blunt.

Lydia McGrew: Confidence in the Gospels (With Infographic) | The Stream

Recently, on Lydia McGrew’s youtube page, she and her husband have been posting some excellent short videos of Timothy McGrew elaborating on these coincidences. The youtube page also contains her responses to Mike Licona’s video critiques of her other book The Mirror or the Mask (which you can catch up on that debate here). Here are just some of the dozen they have posted (all of which are under 2 minutes):

Definitely check out this excellent apologetic resource.

Zondervan Academic has just released their new book on apologetics: The History of Apologetics: A Biographical and Methodological Introduction edited by Benjamin Forrest, Joshua Chatraw, and Alister McGrath.

TL;TR – 44 biographical sketches of Christian apologists from the early church to the present organized around a structure that is biographical and methodological.

The Good News and the Bad News.

The Bad:

The History of Apologetics: A Biographical and Methodological ...

First the bad news. A better title would have been The History of Apologists. It technically is not a history of apologetics, but a compendium of collected articles on various apologists who have contributed to the field of defending the faith. It is a series of mini-biographies (44 in total) of Christians apologists. A history of apologetics would be a narrative history of an idea or what historians call an intellectual history. As such, a true history of apologetics would be a historical narrative around a major idea (in this case, apologetics) and would follow the development of that idea as it manifests itself in different contexts and times. While this book follows the development of apologetics as expressed by various Christian defenders, it is not a narrative telling of the idea of apologetics. As far as I know, there is only one true book written on the history of apologetics, which ironically has a similar title: A History of Apologetics by Avery Cardinal Dulles from a distinctively Catholic perspective.

The Good:

Now, after clarifying what the book really is (a collection of mini-biographies of apologists who have contributed to apologetics) and what it is not (a narrative history of apologetics), let me say that this is a fantastic book. The danger of any collected work is the strength of some contributors and the weakness of others. Here the editors have made an astute decision to organize the book in such a way that “while allowing for authorial voice” will provide a loose “structure through the book so that the readers can seamlessly move from one chapter to the next without a jarring reorientation in style” (24). They hoped that this would make the book more readable, and it does. Here is the “loose” structure for each chapter: 1. historical background, 2. theological context, 3. apologetic response, 4. apologetic methodology, 5. contributions to the field of apologetics. It is loose because the contributors at times combined sections as they felt the need.

For example, on the chapter on Tertullian, we start with a brief “Historical Background” on his life as a brilliant, fiery African who spent his life in the Roman outpost of Carthage. This is followed by the “Theological Context” of the specific conditions Tertullian faced apologetically, namely, his main opponents of the Greco-Roman pagans, the heretical Gnostics, and the Jews. The “Apologetic Response” is provided to the challenges against Christianity with brief surveys of several of his works such as his Apology, Prescription against Heretics, and Against the Jews. How the defender developed the process of doing apologetics philosophically, theologically, biblically, and practically is examined in a section titled “Apologetical Methodology.” And finally, each chapter concludes with a reflection on the apologetical contributions made by the individual to the field at large.

Obvious apologists in the book included Augustine, Aquinas, C. S. Lewis, and William Lane Craig, but lesser known or little discussed individuals included Timothy I of Baghdad, Gregory Palamas, A. E. Taylor, and, surprisingly, Charles Taylor.

This is a great compendium to the field of apologetics. Readable summaries of the apologists in church history that remind us of the contributes they made along with introducing us to some lesser known defenders of the faith.

While not a true narrative history of apologetics, it is an excellent resource. What it brings to light is the need of a true narrative history of apologetics from a Protestant perspective that is sorely lacking in the literature today.

[UPDATE: July 5, 2020]

Huge Oversight:

Any book with this size and scope will inevitably have to make choices on who to put in and who to leave out. That is understandable, but it seems they have one gross oversight in this book: Norman Geisler. How does this book leave out one of the seminal figures of apologetics in last half of the 20th century and early 21st century. Here is my short biographical sketch of this apologist who should have been included in this work.

Norman Geisler (1932-2019)

A quick bio of Geisler from http://normangeisler.com/about/: Norm authored or co-authored over 100 books and hundreds of articles. He taught theology, philosophy, and classical Christian apologetics on the undergraduate and graduate level for over 50 years and served as a professor at some of the finest seminaries in the United States, including Trinity Evangelical Seminary, Dallas Theological Seminary, Veritas International University, and Southern Evangelical Seminary.

Education: BA, Wheaton College: MA, Wheaton Graduate School, ThB, William Tyndale College, PhD, Loyola University.

Educational Experience: Taught at the following institutions – Wheaton, Detroit Bible College, Trinity College, Trinity Evangelical Divinity School (chairman of philosophy department), Dallas Theological Seminary, Liberty University (dean), Southern Evangelical Seminary (co-founded, dean, president), and Veritas International University (co-founder, chancellor).

Professional Contribution: First president of the Evangelical Philosophical Society, General Editor and Director of Publications for the International Council on Biblical Inerrancy (ICBI), member of the Drafting Committee for the International Council on Biblical Inerrancy (ICBI), President of the Evangelical Theological Society (1998), Co-founder (2006) and President (2006-2008) of the International Society of Christian Apologetics, Pastor and co-Pastor of numerous churches in Michigan, Illinois, Texas, and North Carolina.

Books: Authored, Co-Authored, and/or Edited 129 books notably: A General Introduction to the Bible  (1968), Philosophy of Religion (1974, revised and republished 1988 and 2021), Christian Apologetics (1976), Biblical Errancy: Its Philosophical Roots (1981, republished 2013), The Battle for the Resurrection (1989), Come Let Us Reason: An Introduction to Logical Thinking (1990), Thomas Aquinas: An Evangelical Appraisal (1991), Answering Islam (1993), Baker’s Encyclopedia of Christian Apologetics (1999), Why I Am a Christian: Leading Thinkers Explain Why they Believe (2001), I Don’t Have Enough Faith to Be an Atheist (2004), Systematic Theology, Vol. 1 (2002-2005), Reasons for Faith: Making a Case for the Christian Faith (2007), and Defending Inerrancy: Affirming the Accuracy of Scriptures for a New Generation (2012).

Debated: Dr. Michael Scriven, Dr. Joseph E. Barnhart, Dr. Jonathan Saville, Dr. William Wisdom, Dr. K. Kolenda, Dr. Norman Beck, Dr. William De Vries, Dr. Thor Hall, Dr. Claud Rupert, Dr. Paul Edwards, Rabbi Harold Kushner, Dr. Paul Kurtz, and Dr. John Cobb (along with others).

Here is a 13 minute interview of Geisler:

Lydia’s Counterpunch:

Lydia McGrew answers blow for blow in her response series. Here is the first video response in the series:

Looks like the bout is going to the next round June 1 with Licona’s video release announcing a new series titled “Lydia McGrew Answered!”:

You can read this article to catch up with the showdown.

“LET’S GET READY TO RUMBLE!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!”

A controversy has been brewing over the past several years over interpreting the Gospels and how to defend their basic historic reliability. This match of the century is sure to interest those concerned with biblical accuracy, scriptural interpretation, and New Testament studies.

In this corner is:

And in this corner is:

  • Lydia McGrew
  • Ph.D. in English Literature at Vanderbilt University
  • Published analytic philosopher
  • Weighing in with “undesigned coincidences” and “harmonization”
  • Author of The Mirror and the Mask (DeWard, 2019)

Background of Match:

Michael R. Licona, after publishing his voluminous dissertation on the topic of the resurrection with The Resurrection of Jesus: A New Historiographical Approach, began to explore the possibility of explaining differences in the Gospel accounts by turning to Plutarch, the first century Greek historian who wrote on the lives of Greek and Roman individuals. The issue here concerns how the Gospels report on the same events in different ways.

There is no doubt that the reporting of the same event between two Gospels are different. For example, it is well known that the narrative of the empty tomb of Jesus being discovered by the women have divergent accounts. In Matthew 28:5-7 the narrative mentions only one angel at the empty tomb, while the same narrative event in John 20:10-13 mentions two angels being at the empty tomb. Another example is the servant of the Roman centurion that Jesus healed in Capernaum (which is recorded in both Matthew 8:5-13 and Luke 7:1-10). Matthew makes it seem that the centurion met Jesus face to face, while Luke explains that the centurion used the Jewish elders to speak to Jesus as emissaries. Traditionally, biblical scholars have attempted different harmonizations between the accounts.

Round One: Compositional Devices

Image result for michael licona

Entering the arena is Licona with his Why Are There Differences in the Gospels?: What We Can Learn from Ancient Biography (2017) in which he presents compositional devices (or literary devices) as commonly employed by ancient authors (such as Plutarch). This powerhouse of a punch was published by Oxford University Press, no less (hey, I haven’t published with OUP, but I have published with wordpress.com, yeah, that’s right, you envious). With endorsements from J. I. Packer, Scot McKnight, and Michael Kochenash, it looked like Licona was going to win the match with no one showing up to challenge him (except for Bart Ehrman, who is always good for a sparring match).

Licona applies this approach to various narratives that are in two or more of the Gospels, arguing that the major differences found there are likely a result from the same compositional devices employed by Plutarch. His aim is to “investigate compositional devices that are often inferred by classical scholars in order to see if the existence of these devices may be more firmly established and provide insights into many of the differences in the Gospels.” (3)

Image result for plutarch's lives

The compositional devices apparently found by Licona in the works of Plutarch include: Transferal, Displacement, Conflation, Compression, Spotlighting, Simplification, Expansion of Narrative Details, and Paraphrasing.

Some of these devices are defined by Liconas –Compression: When an author knowingly portrays events over a shorter period of time than they had actually occurred. Transferral: When an author knowingly attributes words or actions to a person that he knew belonged to another. Displacement: When an author knowingly removes an event from its original context and places it in another.

So, returning to the example of the centurion in the narrative of Matthew and Luke, instead of harmonizing the accounts, Licona employs the compositional device called transference in which “Matthew simplified the story by transferring what one character said to the lips of another.”

In short, Licona says that some of the differences in the gospels (such as the baptism of Jesus by John the baptist, the man with the withered hand, the two blind men, the resurrection accounts, etc.) are explained by these literary devices.

Licona concludes that certain apparent points of difference in the gospels reflect common first-century narrative devices by which some events, sayings, and so on may be reported differently at different times for different purposes. Because these were common devices, Licona suggests that first century readers would not see that the gospels as needing reconciling, because ancient biographies employed this standard practice of compositional devices.

This approach to the Gospels “will require a paradigm shift,” according to Licona. “Especially for those outside academia who may tend to read the Gospels anachronistically as though ancient biographers and historians wrote with the same objectives and conventions as their modern cousins.” Traditional, straightforward readings of the text will have to be replaced with this new approach. “Fortunately, historical nearsightedness can be corrected with the proper glasses. We craft the proper lenses by reading a significant amount of literature from the period, which improves our understanding of the genre to which the Gospels belong. Like anyone who begins to wear glasses, some initial discomfort and adjusting will occur.” (201)

Round Two: The Challenger

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But, a challenger has arisen. Entering into the arena is Lydia McGrew. McGrew, the wife of esteemed husband Timothy McGrew, has turned her attention to the usage of compositional or literary devices by Licona, after publishing Hidden in Plain View: Undesigned Coincidences in the Gospels and Acts (an aside: interestingly, the titles of Lydia’s books sound more like a British mystery novels than rigorous analysis of New Testament texts) which is a revival of an argument for the historical reliability of the New Testament that has been largely neglected for more than a hundred years. Undesigned coincidences are casual, yet puzzle-like “fits” between two or more texts, which the best explanation is that the authors knew the truth about the events they describe.

After writing her highly praised book on undesigned coincidences, she has donned the gloves once again and is challenging the current champion of literary devices. Lydia claims that Licona has has failed “to establish the existence and acceptance, even in non-biblical literature [i.e., Plutarch], of the fictionalizing devices he defines, and he fails a fortiori to establish that the authors of the Gospels ever employed such devices.” The term fictionalizing devices is McGrew’s term not Liconas. But that is McGrew’s point. She is pointing out that most of these compositional devices Licona is utilizing deliberately alters the facts, which Licona readily admits. For example, Licona states in a online published debate with Bart Ehrman over the reliability of the New Testament that “if Plutarch can alter the year in which Caesar wept in order to emphasize Caesar’s ambitious character, John could alter the day and time of Jesus’s crucifixion to symbolize the sacrificial quality of Jesus’s death and be well within the bounds of the literary conventions under which both operated.”

She began by jabbing at Licona’s thesis on her blog with numerous and extensive critiques. Her first blow was “A Gospel Fictionalization Theory Is No Help to the Gospel” landed just before the release of Licona’s Why Are There Differences in the Gospels?

It was shortly there after that Lydia began a volley of punches, one after the other, seeming to stun Licona with no response. From the beginning of 2017 to the end 2018, Lydia published 34 posts on the issue of literary devices (the total number of posts now exceeds 45). Some of the issues she wrote included:

Some of the issues of concern brought up in her posts include:

  • Did Jesus actually say, “I thirst,” or was that made up by John?
  • Did Jesus actually say, “It is finished,” or was that made up by John as a “redaction of the tradition”?
  • Did Jesus breathe on his disciples and say, “Receive the Holy Ghost,” or was that incident invented by John?
  • Did Mark deliberately suppress the conversion of the thief on the cross in order to make Jesus appear to have been rejected by all?
  • Did John deliberately change the day of the crucifixion to make a theological point?
  • Does Luke “put” all of the events of Jesus’ resurrection on Easter Sunday when he knew that all didn’t occur on that single day?

Tom Gilson, editor at The Stream (mentioned below for more detail), who is a personal friend of Licona, asks, “Where the text says Jesus says, ‘It is finished,’ can we we be confident he actually said that? Lydia’s position is to say yes; Mike’s position takes that as a possibly a redaction or summary of some other saying, for example ‘Father, into thy hands I commit my spirit.’ ” Gilson goes on to point out, “I’ve heard plenty of sermons on ‘It is finished.’ If Jesus didn’t actually say that, then a whole lot of conservative pastors and churches need to know that their sermons on this — in which they confidently claim Jesus spoke these very words — are  uninformed, incorrect, and misleading. They are wrong, that is, to the extent that they attribute those very words to Jesus. But this is really quite important, isn’t it? It’s too important to pass by.”

Some of the concerns caused by Licona’s literary devices deal with the historical accuracy of the Gospels. For example, Licona (as well as Craig Evans) doubts that Jesus uttered the “I am” statements in the Gospel of John; Luke “compressed” the location of Jesus appearance to Jerusalem when he knew they were in Galilee; and other alterations of the facts.

Licona believes this was the norm for ancient biography and that “it would be plausible that we would see the same amount of flexibility in the Gospels as we observe in other ancient biographies. So, I wanted to learn what those flexibilities were. By carefully reading ancient biographies written around the same time as the Gospels and comparing how they tell the same stories differently, I began to recognize that some of the differences resulted from compositional devices. Then when I went to the Gospels, I could see that the authors were probably employing the same compositional devices as other ancient biographers; specifically Plutarch. I began to realize that the differences across the Gospels are not so much contradictions but the result of compositional devices that were the standard practice in historical writing of that day.”

Nevertheless, Lydia has raised some major concerns with this approach to the Gospels. And the concerns are not just from conservatives or evangelicals, but also from skeptics such as Bart Ehrman. In a written exchange on the reliability of the New Testament, Ehrman notes that if literary devices are used in the Gospels to change details, that doesn’t lend itself to confidence in the historical accuracy of the accounts, it actually leds one to lose confidence in the accounts:

So, does Matthew accurately describe what actually happened in Jesus’s life? Mike [Licona] has already told us that he thinks in some cases the answer is no. Matthew has employed literary license in order to change details in his accounts so they didn’t happen as he described, and he tells some stories that are “non-historical” — that is, they didn’t happen at all. But Mike then wants to say that Matthew is, despite all that, historically reliable. I don’t think most people would think that this is what we today mean by “historically reliable.” And I think a lot of people — including many people reading this back and forth — would very much like to know how often Mike thinks this sort of thing happens in Matthew. Does Matthew frequently change his stories and make up other ones that he doesn’t think happened? How would we know? If an author is willing to change the details of one story, why not other stories? Why not lots of stories? Why not most of his stories? And how would we know? Moreover, if he is willing to make up a story and present it as something that happened when he knew full well that it didn’t happen (as Mike concedes Matthew did), then how often did he do that? A few other times? Lots of other times? If he did it lots, how is he accurate?

Returning the match between Lydia and Licona, we find Licona dancing around the ring as Lydia takes swing after swing after swing in her blog posts. Licona finally answers with a uppercut on his website Risen Jesus: “Are We Reading An Adapted Form of Jesus’ Teachings in John’s Gospel?” Blocking the barrage of punches from Lydia, Licona responds by stating:

One of my recent online critics, Lydia McGrew (Ph.D. in English Literature, Vanderbilt University), asserted that Professor Evans’s view of the “I am” statements in John is dangerous and that, in my explanation of why most scholars have arrived at a similar conclusion, I had thrown “all of the ‘I am’ statements under the bus.” For by saying John was paraphrasing Jesus with the “I am” statements, it was just another phrase for “making stuff up.” She then adds, “Licona is expressly arguing that Jesus would not and hence did not publicly, clearly, and overtly claim to be God in the real world. But in John he does do so. No use of the term ‘paraphrase’ nor the phrase ‘ipsissima vox’ (which I believe Evans originated) can get around this.” The error with Lydia’s statement is that I did not say this. Here is what I wrote: “Those are just some of the reasons why scholars see John adapting Jesus’ teachings.”

He goes on to counter punch by replying:

Throughout the book [Why Are There Differences in the Gospels?], I provide various options of what I think could be going on that resulted in one Gospel reporting an event differently than another. On most occasions, I state which option I think best explains the difference and why, while on others I reserve making a choice and merely note the difference. Lydia then writes, “Saddened as I am by what Dr. Licona is apparently endorsing, I’m afraid that I think this is a crucial enough matter that it needs to be known. Jesus’ claims to deity are, to put it mildly, important, and so people should know when scholars think he didn’t make them. I pray that the Lord will use any such publicizing and/or criticisms that come as a result to motivate Dr. Licona to reconsider.” To this concern I want to be clear: I have not denied that Jesus made claims of deity. I have argued in public debate that he did (http://bit.ly/2ydv1dA). And last week I submitted a chapter arguing the same in even more depth to be included in a book published by T&T Clark. So, it is not a matter of whether Evans, I, or another scholar think Jesus made claims of deity. I think that He did. It’s a matter of whether Jesus made those claims implicitly and John recast them in an explicit manner. In John, are we reading Jesus’ words or the message behind them? That’s the question. Asserting that I or Evans or another are denying that Jesus made claims of deity is simplifying the matter to a point that it borders on deceit.

After throwing this punch, and McGrew responding with a quick jab, Licona returned to his corner of the ring and something surprising occured (or should I say something didn’t occur):

-Licona never returned to the match.-

Image result for empty boxing ring

The Match That Never Took Place

Here is where it gets interesting (if you haven’t found compositional devices, harmonization, and the reliability of the Gospels interesting enough). As the match was getting ready to enter the third round, Licona refused to continue.

Lydia posted about this on her website “Licona Declines Exchange in Philosophia Christi.” I will let her words fill in the details:

About a month ago, after J.P. Moreland had endorsed my work concerning alleged literary devices in the gospels, I made the suggestion to several people that Mike Licona and I might have a scholarly exchange in the pages of Philosophia Christi about his work. Phil. Christi is an excellent journal and has hosted symposia of this kind before. Over a decade ago, Tim McGrew and I had an exchange on the historical argument for the resurrection with Alvin Plantinga in the pages of Philosophia Christi. Phil. Christi was open to the idea. If Dr. Licona had been agreeable, the discussion would have come to pass. A third party made contact with him to suggest it. I have just recently been told that he has declined, without citing a reason.

At this point of the match, a referee enters the ring to officiate between Licona and Lydia. Enter: Tom Gilson.

Tom Gilson (mentioned above), is an author and speaker and senior editor and ministry coordinator at The Stream. He blogs at Thinking Christian. Gilson begins to narrate the issue between Licona and Lydia on his blog site with a series of posts about the disagreement. He begins with “On the Disagreement Between Lydia McGrew and Michael Licona Regarding Differences in the Gospels.” His candor and openness is evident in the first lines of his blog:

Image result for tom gilson

Two friends of mine are in deep disagreement. Because it involves friends, it’s become one of the more painful things I’ve ever had to watch unfold. I’ve spoken at length with both of them about it. I’m in no position to judge their disagreement on the merits of their positions, and I won’t begin to try to comment on that part of it here. But I’ve been named publicly on Facebook as having been involved behind the scenes, so I think I need to say something more about it in public.

Gilson explains the situation by stating that Lydia is claiming that Licona is misreading Plutarch, and he is inaccurate in drawing the conclusions he’s drawn from Plutarch; and that differences in the gospels can easily explained through harmonization. “In essence he’s [Licona] using wrong means to solve problems that don’t need solving.”

Gilson explains that both Licona and Lydia had read earlier drafts of his post, except for the closing three points. The three points are a call by Gilson for Licona to respond to Lydia’s critiques: “I’m convinced it would behoove him to respond to Lydia’s critique, in the right public venue, for three reasons.”

The three points Gilson concludes with are:

  • Lydia’s position is much closer than Liconas to the traditional and natural reading of Scripture.
  • If Licona’s position is right, he has a duty to explain it in such a way that the rest of conservative Christianity can get on board with it, and begin teaching the Bible correctly.
  • The usual way hermeneutical disagreements work their way toward agreement — agreement the Church can own as its own — is through vigorous debate; and not just debate carried on between individuals but across a broader community of scholars. That debate doesn’t seem likely to happen unless Licona takes the next step.

Eight days after this post by Gilson, Licona returns to the ring with a response on Gilson’s blog page. His response was that he would not respond: “Allow me to explain why I have declined to engage her. My schedule is filled to the brim.” He goes on to explain:

Engaging with Lydia would require a significant amount of time. . . . I’d probably be looking at a solid week of work. Then, if Lydia’s past actions are indicative of what would happen next, she would write very long replies to my responses. And those now desiring me to reply would also want for me to reply to her reply. To do that would require another week’s work. . . . I’m virtually certain things would not end there, since Lydia would feel compelled to reply to my second reply. And the process goes on, requiring even more hours. (Even a back and forth for Philosophia Christi would require a chunk of time.)

Interestingly, Licona offers a pinch hitter (sorry for mixing my metaphors, but there wasn’t as good a term from boxing):

Therefore, I will leave to others the task of engaging with her. And there is one who is both qualified and willing to do just that. My friend Kurt Jaros has already engaged with Lydia in the CAA Facebook group.

As if on a tag team for wrestling, Licona taps in Kurt Jaros to enter the ring. Jaros runs a website and podcast called Veracity Hill and has gone on to host Licona’s podcast for Risen Jesus. (the entry music for this blog is the best entry music of any blog I have ever heard). Over at Veracity Hill Jaros begins to respond to some of Lydia’s critiques.

Lydia’s response to Licona is linked in Gilson’s post of April 21. She makes three points: 1) Dr. Licona appears to have not even read her critique of his work, 2) Dr. Licona’s repeated references to “what would happen”–to endless debates and so forth–are not addressed to the exchange in Phil. Christi, which would be limited in scope, and 3) “The reference to Mike’s personal friend Kurt Jaros as offering to debate me, and my alleged decline of that suggestion, is quite pointless.”

On of the more awkward issues to arise in this match was mentioned by Licona in his response to Lydia in Gilson’s post: Lydia’s tone. Licona says, “I do not feel a necessity to spend the sort of time and emotional capital required to engage Lydia, especially when her critiques are seasoned with a tone that I consider less than charitable, to put it mildly.” (emphasis added) Gilson comments that “I’m aware there are differences of opinion on whether Lydia’s approach, venue, and tone have been appropriately scholarly.” Jaros, who Licona tapped in (again mixing sport metaphors), began to blog on Lydia’s “tone.”

It seemed that the match was over before it even began. But, Lydia was not out for the count yet. Lydia went on to publish in Themelios, an International Journal for Students of Theological and Religious Studies a critique titled “Finessing Independent Attestation: A Study in Interdisciplinary Biblical Criticism” which she argues that “multiple attestation is crucial in biblical studies, particularly in historical Jesus studies. While doubts are often conceded about the historicity of a singly-attested incident, when there is reason to believe that an event has been attested in multiple independent sources it is often accepted despite a hesitation to affirm the strong historical reliability of the individual documents.” In this critique she interacted extensively with Licona’s work as well as other New Testament evangelical scholars like Craig Keener, Daniel Wallace, and William Lane Craig.

But that article was just a wind up for her real power punch:

Lydia’s Power Punch:

At the end of 2019, Lydia published The Mirror and the Mask: Liberating the Gospels from Literary Devices. Weighing in at 560 pages the book description states:

In recent years a number of evangelical scholars have claimed that the Gospel authors felt free to present events in one way even though they knew that the reality was different. Analytic philosopher Lydia McGrew brings her training in the evaluation of evidence to bear, investigates these theories about the evangelists’ literary standards in detail, and finds them wanting. At the same time she provides a nuanced, positive view of the Gospels that she dubs the reportage model. Clearing away misconceptions of this model, McGrew amasses objective evidence that the evangelists are honest, careful reporters who tell it like it is. Meticulous, well-informed, and accessible, The Mirror or the Mask is an important addition to the libraries of laymen, pastors, apologists, and scholars who want to know whether the Gospels are reliable.

With endorsements from scholars such as Peter J. Williams, J. P. Moreland, Craig L. Blomberg, and John Warwick Montgomery, The Mirror and the Mask is Lydia’s detailed and officially published critique of Licona’s literary devices. Tom Gilson posted the article: From Friend to Friend: My View on Lydia McGrew’s The Mirror or the Mask, and Why Mike Licona Won’t Want to Ignore It saying “Mike and his colleagues need to engage with Lydia in this. He’s put a set of questions on the table. Lydia has answered, and persuasively. Who’s right? The Church needs them to work toward an answer, one that all conservative, believing Christians can be confident of. It’s crucial to everything we know, or think we know, about the Gospels.”

In a follow up post Gilson asks a serious question: Does Mike Licona’s position require plutarch as the key to the gospels? He expands on the point of his question:

Mike’s position seems to require Christians to know and understand classical Greek and Roman models of authorship. It is the key to understanding the Gospels. Without that knowledge, we are absolutely certain to misunderstand what the Gospels are saying. Mike holds as firmly as ever to the essential facts of Jesus’ life and teaching, but he stands there by running the Gospel content through a Plutarchian lens. Certain facts in the Gospels are not what they seem to be. Jesus never said, “I thirst,” and we know he didn’t because we’ve studied the account with this classical literature filter in place.

But it isn’t just passages like “I thirst” that have this filter placed over them. It’s the entirety of the Gospels, all four of them. The filter has especially powerful effects on how we interpret John, where changes were made in the reportage to emphasize Jesus’ deity. But the reason we know the filter is more prominent there, and has less of an effect in the Synoptics, is because we understand the filter. It isn’t just because John differs in significant ways from the Synoptics; those differences could be explained in other ways. (That’s the subject of Lydia’s next book.)

And if you read the quote above carefully, you heard Gilson correctly, Lydia is coming out of the corner with a one-two combo. She is already writing a second book on the historical reliability of John’s gospel, tentatively titled: The Eye of the Beholder.

While my post is not an exhaustive blow by blow of this match (lots have been mentioned about Lydia’s tone, Licona’s refusal to swing back, and a swing and miss about Lydia’s credentials (here, here, here, and here). These punches aside, what really needs to be examined is the case that Licona and Lydia give for and against literary devices in the New Testament, and the consequences of historical reliability for the Gospels in particular and the New Testament in general. As Gilson ended one of his posts about this match, I also find that this is “an urgent question. I’d be interested to hear what Mike would say in response” [emphasis in original].

Round Three: Lydia McGrew Answered! [UPDATE: May 26]

And the wait is over. The heavyweight (i.e., Licona) has decided to respond. Releasing the following video:

With the flair of Mohammad Ali, Licona states that “those are bold claims, but does she support them succesfully? Join me [June 1, 2020] as I discuss Lydia McGrew’s book The Mirror or the Mask. Oh, bring your umbrella, because it will be raining cold hard facts.”

This blow is followed by the following quote from the legendary heavy weight apologist William Lane Craig:

Michael Licona’s groundbreaking work on compositional devices employed in Plutarch’s Lives and in the New Testament Gospels has been vigorously challenged by Lydia McGrew’s iconoclastic critique. In this engaging series Licona effectively rebuts these criticisms, showing that such compositional devices were not only taught to ancient historical writers and employed by ancient biographers like Plutarch but were also virtually undeniably employed by the evangelists in their accounts of the life of Jesus. Licona’s irenic and careful sifting of the criticisms serves to illumine the sort of freedom enjoyed by the Gospel writers and has important theological lessons to teach us about the nature of scriptural inspiration and authority.

In explaining why he is now responding Licona states: “Because Mike usually has no interest in “in-house theological debates,” he has refused to respond for the past few years. However, the division this in-house debate is causing in the Body of Christ and the many continuous requests he has received to reply to McGrew has led to his decision to offer this response.”

Tune in June 1, 2020 on Licona’s youtube page to see the bout continue to the next round. Given the stakes and past indications, this match is sure to go a full twelve rounds before it is all said and done.

Blow by Blow (Resources):

Left Hook (Books):

By Licona:

By McGrew:

Right Hook (Articles):

Uppercut (Videos):

  • “Six Bad Habits of New Testament Scholars (and how to avoid them): Dr. Lydia McGrew” at Apologetics Academy. – McGrew talks about six bad habits frequently committed by New Testament scholars, and gives advice on how to avoid them on Jonathan McLatchie’s Apologetics Academy webinar.
  • “Undesigned Coincidences – Dr. Lydia McGrew” – McGrew presents on undesigned coincidences to the student group called Ratio Christi on Western Michigan University.
  • “Are there Contradictions in the Gospels?” – Dr. Licona presents on the differences in the Gospels at Kennesaw State University on October 11, 2017 for Ratio Christi.
  • “Is the Bible Inerrant?” – Dr. Michael Licona debates Dr. Richard Howe on inerrancy in which many of the issues concerning compositional devices arise in the debate and discussion.
  • “Gospel Differences & Compositional Textbooks” – Licona claims that training in rhetoric was part of the educational process for aspiring authors in antiquity. That process included work using compositional textbooks, also referred to as rhetorical handbooks. Exercises in these trained the student to alter texts in the interest of paraphrasing. Not surprisingly, when reading ancient texts, including the Gospels, we observe their authors altering their source texts as trained. This practice resulted in differences in the way a story was reported. The differences are minor but of interest.

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Much discussion about the Crusades has floated around the media after Obama’s mentioning of it in a prayer breakfast speech.  This wasn’t the first time a president has mentioned the crusades.  At Georgetown University in 2001, Bill Clinton gave a speech blaming the current increase of Islamic terrorist activity, such as 9/11, as fallout from the Crusades.  I wrote a short article for the Apologetics Study Bible for Students over this topic.  Here is a small snippet from that piece.  Following that is a list of resources that are from historical experts on the Crusades that expose many of the myths surrounding the event.

“Ask any individual about the Crusades and you will probably get an answer like, ‘They were wars of unprovoked aggression by Christians against a peaceful Muslim world which were imperialist conquests interested in gaining riches and land.’ At worst, many object to the truth of Christianity based on the horrid acts of Christian Crusaders who murdered for profit and gain. That Christianity, in essence, is a violent religion.

. . . .

One must consider historical context in understanding the intent and purpose of the Crusaders. The Crusades were not acts of unprovoked aggression by Christians against the Islamic world, but were a delayed response to centuries of [Islamic] aggression, which grew fiercer than ever in the eleventh century. From Islam’s very beginning Muslims had sought to conquer the Christian world. In fact, the first three hundred years of Islam can be described as a period of military conquest. Muslim armies forcefully conquered all of North Africa, the Middle East, Asia Minor (modern Turkey), and most of Spain. As for unprovoked aggression, it was all on the [Islamic] side. Christian Europe had to defend itself or be overcome by Islamic invasion. As Muslim forces pressed into Europe, Pope Urban II in 1095 called for the First Crusade in response to pleas of help from the Byzantine emperor in Constantinople (now called Istanbul).

In other words, the Crusades were a defensive war, not an aggressive grab for land and loot. In fact, Crusading was an expensive and costly endeavor. After the success of the First Crusade nearly all the Crusaders went home. Virtually none of them recovered the cost of Crusading. If one wanted to get rich, Crusading was definitely not the best route to riches.

. . . .

In summary, the Crusades were not about wars of unprovoked Christian aggression against a peaceful [Islamic] world or imperialist conquests lead by the Church interested in gaining riches and land. The Crusades were defensive wars, to stop [Islamic] military advancement. Christianity was able to survive this invasion and give us the world we have today in the west. A world in which we enjoy democracy and civil rights.”

Resources on the Crusades:

Scholars on the Crusades:

Thomas F. Madden – Thomas F. Madden is associate professor and chair of the Department of History at Saint Louis University. He is the author of numerous works, including The New Concise History of the Crusades, and The Fourth Crusade: The Conquest of Constantinople.

Jonathan Riley-Smith – Riley-Smith is one of the foremost crusading scholars and author of several works on the Crusades, is Dixie Professor of Ecclesiastical History at the University of Cambridge and a Fellow of Emmanuel College, Cambridge, and author of The Crusades: A History.

Rodney Stark – Distinguished professor of the social sciences and co-director Institute for Studies of Religion at Baylor University.

Paul F. Crawford – Professor of Medieval History at California University of Pennsylvania.

Andrew Holt – Professor of history at Florida State College

Quick Quotes from the Experts:

“The Crusades to the East were in every way defensive wars. They were a direct response to Muslim aggression—an attempt to turn back or defend against Muslim conquests of Christian lands.” – Thomas F. Madden (source)

The Crusades were not unprovoked.  They were not the first round of European colonialism.  They were not conducted for land, loot, or coverts.  The crusaders were not barbarians who victimized the cultivated Muslims.  They sincerely believed that they served in God’s battalions.” – Rodney Stark (source)

“All the Crusades met the criteria of just wars. They came about in reaction attacks against Christians or their Church.  The First Crusade was called in 1095 in response to the recent Turkish conquest of Christian Asia Minor, as well as the much earlier Arab conquest of the Christian-held Holy Land.  The second was called in response to the Muslim conquest of Edessa in 1144. THe third was called in response to the Muslim conquests of Jerusalem and most other Christian lands in the Levant in 1187.” – Thomas F. Madden (source)

Articles on the Crusades:

“The Real History of the Crusades” by Thomas F. Madden, Christianity Today, May 2005

“Four Myths about the Crusades” by Paul F. Crawford, Intercollegiate Review, 2011

“Crusade Myths” by Thomas F. Madden

Books on the Crusades:

The Concise History of the Crusades by Thomas F. Madden

Seven Myths of the Crusades ed. by Alfred J. Andrea and Andrew Holt [NEW BOOK]

The Crusades: A History by John Riley-Smith

God’s Battalions: The Case for the Crusades by Rodney Stark

The Crusades, Christianity, and Islam by John Riley-Smith

Infographic on the Crusades:

via www.intercollegiatereview.com/index.php/2014/11/25/infographic-crusades

(source)

This video by Dr. Bill Warner compares Islamic Jihads vs. Christian Crusades:

Introduction

I was introduced to Critical Theory in a graduate class on Literary Criticism through the writing of Antonio Gramsci, an Italian Marxist intellectual whose main legacy was his departure from orthodox Marxism.

Traditional or Orthodox Marxism divides society into two economic groups: the bourgeoisie (the capitalist class who own most of society’s wealth and means of production) and the proletariat (workers or working-class people). This division is essentially between the haves and the have-nots. Antonio Gramsci (1891-1937) deviated from orthodox Marxism by stating that the haves and have-nots are to be understood more broadly as the oppressors and the oppressed. The oppressors are privileged by institutional dominance and the oppressed are marginalized by this dominating structure.

Gramsci has became one of the major figures of Western Marxism which proposed that economic interests are not the whole story. According to Gramsci the dominance of one group is through hegemony (which means “dominance”) – that is, the ideological supremacy of values of the privileged which is established though institutions such as schools, churches, media, government, businesses, voluntary associations – and in cultural forms such as philosophy, art, literature, religious ceremony, and civic behavior. Cultural factors involving these elements are necessary to understanding dominance, oppression, and power. Thus, hegemony, in Gramsci’s account of it, is the exercise of power by one class or group over another as expressed through culture norms and societal practice. It is through this that the privileged (i.e., the oppressor) dominates (i.e., hegemony) the marginalized (i.e., the oppressed).

In short, Gramsci changes the oppression from an economic understanding to a cultural one.

This movement; beginning with Gramsci, was further developed by the Frankfurt School. The Frankfurt School begins in 1930 in Germany, when Max Horkheimer took over and recruited other Marxist inspired scholars such as Erich Fromm, Theodor Adorno, Walter Benjamin, Wilhelm Reich, and Herbert Marcuse. With the rise of Nazism, the school moved to New York in 1933 and joined Columbia University. It was there that Marxist Critical Theory gained acceptance in the academic community. The Frankfurt School intellectually developed Critical Theory, and is, at times, referred to as Cultural Marxism because oppressors and oppressed groups develop along cultural or social lines of race, class, gender, sexuality, and a host of other factors. Today, there are entire academic departments at universities dedicated to Critical Theory. The term Critical Theory is the academic term for this movement and in this essay interchangeable with Cultural Marxism. In short, Critical Theory wants to dismantle and destroy traditional culture that they find oppressive, while traditional theory wanted to understand culture and improve it.

Paul Kengor, political science professor at Grove City College, explains that “orthodox Marxism was too limiting,” restrictive, and narrow. The Frankfurt School did not see their version of Marxism as replacing orthodox Marxism, but it was the needed accelerator that traditional Marxism was missing. Cultural Marxists assert that communists will not get there by economics alone, but through a revolution in the culture.

What is Critical Theory?

Critical Theory views reality through the lens of power and oppression, dividing people into oppressed groups and oppressor groups along the lines of race, class, sex, gender, gender identity, sexuality orientation, physical ability, weight, age and other identity markers. “A ‘critical’ theory may be distinguished from a ‘traditional’ theory according to a specific practical purpose: a theory is critical to the extent that it seeks human ’emancipation from slavery,’ acts as a ‘liberating…influence’ … (Horkheimer 1972, 246).” (Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy)

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Introducing Critical Theory (p. 24-25)

Expanding and evolving dramatically, Critical Theory has resulted in an entire academic disciplines such as Critical Race Theory, Critical Pedagogy, Queer Theory, Cultural Studies, Women’s Studies, Gender Studies, etc. and is influential within the social justice movement, which can be visualized with this graphic:

CTPyramid

Critical Theory is the foundation for all these different studies and expressions of the movement. Contemporary critical theory views reality through the lens of power, dividing people into oppressed groups and oppressor groups, whether it be race, class, gender, sexuality orientation, physical ability, or age (harkening back to Gramsci and the Frankfurt School).

Critical Theory is often associated with the more common or popular terms such as . . .

– social justice

– woke

– identity politics

– privilege

– diversity

– equity

– gender identity

– intersectionality

– microaggressions

– triggered

Critical theory has other various sub-disciplines such as Critical Legal Theory, Intersectionality, Post-Colonial Theory, and Critical Race Theory and a host of other offshots.

Critical Race Theory (CRT) is a specific implementation of Gramsci’s ideas, the Frankfurt School, and Critical Theory. And it just might be the biggest challenge Christianity has had to face since Naturalism and Relativism.

What is Critical Race Theory?

Critical Race Theory: An Introduction: Richard Delgado, Jean ...

Critical Race Theory is described by Richard Delgado in his text Critical Race Theory:

“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. The movement considers many of the same issues that conventional civil rights and ethnic studies discourses take up but places them in a broader perspective that includes economics, history, setting, group and self-interest, and emotions and the unconscious. Unlike traditional civil rights discourse, which stresses incrementalism and step-by-step progress, critical race theory questions the very foundations of the liberal order, including equality theory, legal reasoning, Enlightenment rationalism, and neutral principles of constitutional law.”

CRT, in associating with the civil rights movement in the 1960s, has laudable goals such as the ending of racism, but as Delgado and others explain, differs with the civil rights movement dramatically. Several of the differences include:

1. Whites are inherently racist

According to CRT, whites are inherently racists. No white individual is innocent. If you are white, you are a racist by default. Critical Race theorists affirm this attitude of original white racist guilt: “many critical race theorists and social scientists hold that racism is pervasive, systemic, and deeply ingrained. If we take this perspective, then no white member of society seems quite so innocent.” in Critical Race Theory by Richard Delgado and Jean Stefancic (p. 91, emphasis added).

The attitude of being white means to be racist is prevalent in CRT. College students and even high school students are being taught that to be white is be an inherently racist. A college director claimed that “Every white person in this country is racist.” The relevant part is in the first minute:

Also it is declared here:

A term invented by CRT is whiteness. Whiteness is a set of normative privileges granted to white-skinned individuals and groups which is “invisible” to those privileged by it. If that is the case, this leads to the inevitable position that all white-skinned individuals are inherently racist. So everyone should view white people as inherently racist. And if all white people are inherently racist, then one should always distrust white people. Critical Race Theory, like Critical Theory, divides people into the oppressors and the oppressed, but the oppressors are whites and the oppressed are people of color.

2. White privilege is a hidden racism that is unconsciously practiced

Peggy McIntosh, who coined the phrase “white privilege,” states that “my schooling gave me no training in seeing myself as an oppressor, as an unfairly advantaged person, or as a participant in a damaged culture. I was taught to see myself as an individual whose moral state depended on her individual moral will.” CRT denies that you can understand your identity apart from your dominant group. This is a fundamental change in how we see ourselves. One is not to be judged by their personal actions, but by their identity with a particular group. If you are apart of an oppressive group, then you are an oppressor, regardless of your personal actions. The world is divided between oppressor and oppressed. What makes you part of one group or the other is not what you have done in your life, but the color of your skin (what group you are in), no matter if you are doing oppressive actions or being personally oppressed. Christians should be concerned about oppression, no doubt, but CRT has a different view of oppression that has nothing to do with one’s actions.

3. Lived experience is the overwhelmingly primary way in which knowledge can be obtained.

For Critical Race Theory (along with Intersectionality and a host of other subdivision of Critical Theory) “lived experience” is superior to objective truth. This is not first hand experience, but one’s life experience that only the ones who have been oppressed understand and that the oppressors do not have access to. Academically deemed “standpoint epistemology,” lived experience trumps reason and logic. By belonging to some identity group (such as being black, a woman, or gay, etc.) this gives special insight or knowledge unavailable to those outside the group and those outside the group cannot and should not critique, empathize, or question. The theme of division again is manifest with “lived experience.” Dr. Neil Shenvi and Dr. Pat Sawyer explain:

“Critical theory claims that members of oppressed groups have special access to truth because of their “lived experience” of oppression. Such insight is unavailable to members of oppressor groups, who are blinded by their privilege. Consequently, any appeals to “objective evidence” or “reason” made by dominant groups are actually surreptitious bids for continued institutional power. This view is rooted in standpoint theory (organic to Marxism and repurposed by feminist theory), which argues that knowledge is conditioned and determined by social location.”

and

“This stance is particularly dangerous because it undermines the function of Scripture as the final arbiter of truth, accessible to all people regardless of their demographics (Ps. 119:130, 1602 Tim. 3:16–171 Cor. 2:12–14Heb. 8:10–12). If a person from an oppressor group appeals to Scripture, his concerns can be dismissed as a veiled attempt to protect his privilege.”

For an example of CRT being practiced consider a 2018 Twitter exchange between the singer Cher and entertainer Rosie O’Donnell concerning the possibility of a Biden-Beto presidential ticket in 2020. Cher posted a potential Biden-Beto ticket in which O’Donnell responded: “No more old white men.” Why does O’Donnell reject Joe Biden and Beto as candidates? It’s not because O’Donnell disagreed with any policies or positions of Biden, but because she disagrees with his identity group: white and male. There is no concern for what Biden did, but what group you can divide him into. Biden as an individual doesn’t matters and his actions don’t matter. It’s the identity group to which he belongs that matters.

Racism has nothing to do with an individual’s actions, according to CRT, but what group you are divided into. If you are white, you are automatically disqualified.

Critical Race Theory in Culture

Critical Race Theory has inspired various other sub-fields, such as LatCrit, AsianCrit, queer crit, Women’s Studies, Gender Studies, and Critical Whiteness Studies. It is behind much of what we see in culture today. From the Stanford protests in 1987 with the students shouting: “Hey, hey, ho, ho, Western Civ has got to go” to multiculturalism to the culture wars in general, Critical Theory, Cultural Marxism, and the Frankfurt School is behind much of the issues today.

CRT and Evergreen State University

An example of the the disruptive and potentially destructive nature of Critical Race Theory can be found at Evergreen State University. Student protests, which are becoming prolific on college campuses today, can be seen at Evergreen here:

The college equity counsel at Evergreen, which is a very liberally oriented school, practiced what was called a Day of Absence, in which whites and people of color meet separately for a day. In 2017, the Day of Absence was to be practiced differently: people of color where to stay on campus and white students, faculty, and staff where to remain off campus. They encouraged white people to leave. Professor Bret Weinstein questioned this practice and this sparked the above protests, sit-ins, and disruptions. The complete story at Evergreen State University can be seen with this documentary series.

Notice that the equity was driving a wedge between the races. It was not encouraging solidarity or unity, but division. And this is the crux of Critical Theory generally and of Critical Race Theory specifically: DIVISION. This is a theme that arises again and again with Critical Race Theory, Intersectionality, and Social Justice. Just like Gramsci and the Frankfurt School divided people, Critical Race Theory divides people.

Critical Race Theory does not promote unity or understanding, but division and animosity between races, in particular the whites against all other people of color.

CRT and the 1619 Project

Another examples of Critical Race Theory in culture is the recent The New York Times “1619 Project.” This project asks “us to consider that America’s real founding was not in 1776 but in 1619, when the first Africans were brought to these shores. Nikole Hannah-Jones teaches that the Revolutionary War was fought mainly not to escape British tyranny, but out of fear that British tyranny was about to threaten the institution of slavery.” Notice the theme again: 1619 is about division.

Rod Dreher, in explaining the purpose of the “1619 Project,” states that this is clearly a totalitarian threat to change the way people think:

The New York Times, the world’s most influential newspaper, launched “The 1619 Project,” a massive attempt to “reframe” (the Times’s word) American history by displacing the 1776 Declaration of Independence as the traditional founding of the United States, replacing it with the year the first African slaves arrived in North America. Let’s be crystal-clear here: The most powerful media source in the world decided that Americans should stop believing that the Declaration of Independence represents the nation’s founding, and instead accept that the real birth of American happened in 1619, when the first African slave arrived in North America.”

“No serious person denies the importance of slavery in US history. But that’s not the point of The 1619 Project. Its goal – through newspaper stories and essays, and an elaborate educational project involving schools — is to clear away the foundations of America’s national identity by rewriting its history to emphasize the experiences of the African-American minority.”

James McPherson, Princeton historian and Pulitzer Prize winner, demolished the claims of the “1619 Project,” ironically enough, on a socialist website interview. Brown University historian and Pulitzer Prize-winning historian of the American Revolution Gordon Wood said that:

“I read the first essay by Nikole Hannah-Jones, which alleges that the Revolution occurred primarily because of the Americans’ desire to save their slaves. She claims the British were on the warpath against the slave trade and slavery and that rebellion was the only hope for American slavery. This made the American Revolution out to be like the Civil War, where the South seceded to save and protect slavery, and that the Americans 70 years earlier revolted to protect their institution of slavery. I just couldn’t believe this.”

and:

“I was surprised, as many other people were, by the scope of this thing, especially since it’s going to become the basis for high school education and has the authority of the New York Times behind it, and yet it is so wrong in so many ways.”

The reaction to McPherson and Brown’s criticism of the project was revealing of the CRT behind the it. Nikole Hannah-Jones, the manager of the “1619 Project” dismissed them with a tweet. Instead of engaging with the content of their critique, she attacked them because they were white:

Interestingly, the 1619 Project is being challenged by 1776 United which is “an assembly of independent voices who uphold our country’s authentic founding virtues and values and challenge those who assert America is forever defined by its past failures, such as slavery. We seek to offer alternative perspectives that celebrate the progress America has made on delivering its promise of equality and opportunity, and highlight the resilience of its people. Our focus is on solving problems. We do this in the spirit of 1776, the date of America’s true founding.”

CRT and the Racism of Mathematics

Critical Race Theory is deeming mathematics as racist and oppressive. In Seattle the public schools are proposing that mathematics (or in particular “Western Math”) is oppressive and divisive:

” ‘Western Math’ is used as a tool of power and oppression, and that it disenfranchises people and communities of color. They [students] will be taught that ‘Western Math’ limits economic opportunities for people of color. They will be taught that mathematics knowledge has been withheld from people of color.”

The language of division with “disenfranchise” is seen behind this movement. Seattle wants to introduce a new “Math Ethnic Studies” component to the curriculum.One could say they are moving from “new math” to “woke math.”

While CRT is overwhelmingly present in American culture, it is also making significant inroads in Evangelical Christianity and its associated institutions.

CRT’s Inroads in Christianity

Critical Race Theory has entered Evangelical Christian churches, institutions, and ministries like a wolf clothed in sheep skin, unbeknownst to its ministers, much less its parishioners. Usually guised with the well meaning intent of racial reconciliation, which most, if not all, evangelical Christians desire, Critical Race Theory is dividing church members just as CRT practitioners describe. There are several examples of this infiltration.

“CRT and The SBC”

At the 2019 Southern Baptist Convention in Birmingham, the SBC (probably ignorantly and unknowingly) passed Resolution 9 which affirmed Critical Race Theory and Intersectionality as useful “analytical tools.”

“The Southern Baptist Convention and CRT: Resolution 9”

Matthew Garnett in a piece for The Federalist titled “In Last-Minute Move, Southern Baptist Convention Supports Anti-Christian Racial Identity Politics” explains how the SBC messengers were tricked in adopting CRT:

“The convention adopted ;Resolution Nine—On Critical Race Theory and Intersectionality’ during its annual meeting [in the summer of 2019]. The resolution instructs Southern Baptists that while these ‘tools of analysis’ can be employed, it must be done in subordination to the Bible. . . . The committee spent the first 45 minutes on resolutions one through eight. Then the meeting’s chair and SBC president, Pastor J.D. Greear, called for a motion to pass resolutions nine through 13 as a package. . . . Only resolutions 11 and 13 were left as a package; Nine was the first to be ferreted out for debate as a stand-alone resolution. By the time this was done, the time allotted for the Committee on Resolutions had expired. Greear then extended the debate time. . . . During debate, Pastor Tom Ascol offered a friendly amendment that stated that critical race theory and intersectionality are incompatible and indeed antithetical to Christianity. The amendment was rejected as ‘unfriendly’ by [Curtis] Woods [chaired of the Resolutions Committee and was a professor at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, he is known the associate executive director for the Kentucky Baptist Convention] and defeated soundly when put to a vote on the floor.”

“CRT and Seminaries”

Southern Baptist Theological Seminary

Al Mohler, the president of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, the flagship school of theology training for the Southern Baptist Convention, has disavowed the teaching of Critical Race Theory at his seminary:

“No one is going to be teaching at Southern Seminary from ‘the other side,’ of post-modern, critical theory.”

Oddly, he employs professors who not only promotes Critical Race Theory but has granted doctoral degrees for a dissertation that “employ principles of critical race theory to guide the conversation” that the faculty of SBTS approved and passed. His seminary not only allows professors to teach critical theory, but the doctoral program actively affirmed Critical Race Theory.

Mohler’s provost, professor of practical theology, and New Testament professor at SBTS all endorse CRT:

Oddly, Al Mohler, the president of SBTS, declared CRT and Intersectionality (both of which were affirmed by the above professors at SBTS) as antithetical to the the gospel:

“The main consequence of critical race theory and intersectionality is identity politics, and identity politics can only rightly be described, as antithetical to the gospel of Jesus Christ. We have to see identity politics as disastrous for the culture and nothing less than devastating for the church of the Lord Jesus Christ.”

Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary

Critical Race Theory is not just manifesting itself at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary but is dominating Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary.

In Wake Forest, Southeastern Seminary is known as the “woke” seminary of the SBC. The director of their diversity program utilized CRT in his dissertation along with intersectionality along with endorsing James Cone, the father of Black Liberation Theology which has its roots in Marxism.

The Kingdom Diversity online journal, titled Kingdom Diversity at Southeastern, published a series of articles authored by English Matthew Mullins concluding “that the core beliefs of CRT can help Christians.” SEBTS also held read-ins for Malcolm-X, promotes black theology (i.e., James Cone and J. Deontis Roberts), and offers a degree in “Social and Justice Ethics.”

Black Liberation Theology, having its roots in Marxism, is another expression of the Cultural Marxism endorsed and advanced by Gramsci and the Frankfurt School.

Other Seminary’s and Critical Theory

Union Theological Seminary

Union Theological Seminary, a non-denominational seminary associated with Columbia University in New York, declares that social justice is the gospel. In July of 2019 the seminaries official Twitter account tweeted:

Union Theological Seminary had previously tweeted in 2018 that Critical Theory helps discern what messages are God’s:

UnionTweet

Union employs a professor of Critical Theory who is the founding member of the Berlin “Institute for Critical Theory” and has taught classes such as “Marxism, Critical Theories, Postmodernism.” Union also employed James Cone, the father of black liberation theology which has its roots in Marxist ideology.

Phillips Theological Seminary

PTS offers a master degree in Social Justice in which the programs goals for the degree include:

– Attend to the continuing importance of events, texts and practices of church history and contemporary cross culture studies through the lenses of oppression, liberation, and reconciliation.

– Articulate perspectives on issues and topics in the area of public theology and ethics, informed by methods such as feminist/womanist, liberationist, process, and post-colonial models attentive to the theme of justice.

Trinity Evangelical Theological School

Iljin Cho, a divinity student at TEDS, shares about his experience at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School and how it has shifted towards social justice, wokeness, and Critical Race Theory.

Ministries and Churches

As CRT is filtering through the seminaries, it is manifesting itself in the local church and ministries throughout America and abroad.

For example, in 2019 at the Sparrow Women’s Conference in Dallas, the audience was informed that “whiteness is wicked.” This caused some controversy. Ekemini Uwan, who is self-described as a public theologian and received her MDiv at Westminster Theological Seminary, declared that whiteness is rooted in violence, theft, plunder, and privilege. (Starting at minute 17:27):

CRT is not a movement only in secular culture, but is found within the walls of the church, the halls of theological institutions, and practices of ministers and theologians alike in Christianity.

Because of CRTs loose association with the civil rights movement of the 1960s, many people blindly accept it because they do not want to seem bias or racist if they reject it. CRT and civil rights are distinct and separate movements with dramatically different goals. Many who practice CRT and employ the tools of this worldview, do not intend to divide people, but hope to bring reconciliation. The problem is that good intentions does not justify the use of CRT. There are severe problems with CRT specifically and Critical Theory in general, which we turn to now.

Critique of CRT

There have been several criticisms concerning Critical Race Theory and Intersectionality which are provided below.

1. Colson Center What Would You Say? – “Is Critical Theory Biblical?”

The Colson Center produced a video asking the question, “Is Critical Theory Biblical?” The introduce the clip: “Is Critical Theory Biblical? You’re in a conversation and someone says, “Since God cares about the oppressed, Christians should embrace critical theory, because its trying to eliminate oppression too.” What would you say? Critical theory is one way our culture attempts to explain and confront power structures. Some Christians have embraced it as well. But what is it?”

The Colson Center Podcast Breakpoint hosted by John Stonestreet also interviewed Neil Shenvi on “What is Critical Theory, and What’s Behind It?

John Stonestreet, president of the Colson Center for Christian Worldview, released a Breakpoint feature on CT on April 30, 2020 titled “Is Critical Theory Compatible with Christianity?

In their “What Would You Say?” series that produced the above video followed up with another video titled “Is Critical Theory Practical?”:

2. Tom J. Nettles on Resolution 9 of the SBC: CRT/I

Tom Nettles was a professor of historical theology and church history for over three decades at three different SBC seminaries and Trinity Evangelical Theological Seminary. He does a careful line-by-line analysis of the SBC 2019 Resolution #9 on Critical Race Theory/Intersectionality.

An Anti-Racist Intention | A Critical Analysis of Resolution 9 – Part 1

An Analogy to Critical Theory | A Critical Analysis of Resolution 9 – Part 2

The Leaven of CRT and Intersectionality | A Critical Analysis of Resolution 9 – Part 3

Nettles concludes this careful analysis by stating:

“CRT, in fact, exacerbates division, for the theory depends on absolutizing divisive categories; one is a dominant [and therefore oppressive] tribe; others are minority [and therefore oppressed] tribes. The differences are nurtured so as to bring shame (not a sense of fellowship and unity) to the dominant tribe and virtually endless observations of disadvantage for the minority tribe (absent from positions of power and prestige, oppressed by ‘whiteness,’ post traumatic slavery syndrome, micro-aggressions). If we really are to focus on ‘unity in Christ’ in the present, then the purveyors of CRT as a useful critical tool must do some serious re-evaluation.”

3. Ratio Christi on Critical Theory

Probably the most extensive criticism of CRT has been from Dr. Neil Shenvi who has written copiously about it on his website. Dr. Shenvi and Dr. Sawyer wrote a free downloadable short booklet (31 pages) for Ratio Christi about Critical Theory and the Social Justice Movement.

Engaging Critical Theory and the Social Justice Movement by Neil Shenvi and Pat Sawyer

The conclude the booklet by stating, “Contemporary critical theory is highly influential on college campuses and among progressives, and is also moving into the church. Identifying unbiblical ideologies like contemporary critical theory helps us not only to evangelize non-Christians, but to equip Christians to recognize and repudiate false ideas, so that we can remain rooted and grounded in Scripture.”

4. Michael O’Fallon, Dr. Boghossian, and Dr. Lindsay on CRT

Here is a video discussion by Michael O’Fallon interviewing Dr. Peter Boghossian and Dr. James Lindsay.  Both Boghossian and Lindsay are atheists (O’Fallon is Southern Baptist) and where part of the Grievance Studies Affair which is essentially the Sokal Affair part two. Their actions in the Grievance Studies Affair highlighted the poor scholarship in several academic fields by submitting bogus academic papers to academic journals steeped in CT such as cultural, queer, race, gender, fat, and sexuality studies.

In this video they deem CRT as a Trojan horse. It is a long video (77 min) but worth the watch:

The most insightful comment came at around 1:08. Boghossian and Lindsay, both atheists, said if they were to design a plan to end Christianity and bring all of Christendom down: make it “woke” and the church would eat itself from the inside out. Then Boghossian, who is no friend to Christianity, states emphatically “I am telling you right now, we are giving you the trajectory of your own demise. This is what is going to happen.” Sobering words indeed.

5. Neil Shenvi on CRT

Here is an article by Neil Shenvi (PhD from UC-Berkeley in theoretical chemistry) and Pat Sawyer (PhD in education and cultural studies from UNC-Greensboro, an MA in communication studies from UNC-Greensboro, and a BA in psychology from UNC-Chapel Hill. He currently teaches at UNC-Greensboro) on “Critical Theory” at The Gospel Coalition titled “The Incompatibility of Critical Theory and Christianity.” 
Some interesting quotes and summary from the article:
Summary of Article

1. Not everything that critical theory affirms is false.

2. The notion of hegemonic power is also legitimate.

3. Critical theory functions as a worldview.

4. Because critical theory understands all relationships in terms of power dynamics, it can’t be confined to a single issue such as class, or race, or gender. 

5. Critical theory claims that members of oppressed groups have special access to truth because of their “lived experience” of oppression.

Quotes:
[Opening Paragraph of article]: “Over the last few years, new terms like ‘cisgender,’ ‘ intersectionality,’ ‘ heteronormativity,’ ‘centering,” and ‘white fragility’ have suddenly entered our cultural lexicon—seemingly out of nowhere. In reality, these words and concepts have been working their way through academia for decades, perpetuated by disciplines such as Post-Colonial Studies, Queer Theory, Critical Pedagogy, Whiteness Studies, and Critical Race Theory, among others. These fields can be placed within the larger discipline of ‘critical theory,’ an ideology more popularly known as ‘cultural Marxism.’”

“The points of tension are numerous. Invariably, we will be forced to choose between critical theory and Christianity in terms of our values, ethics, and priorities.” [emphasis added]

“This stance [point 5 above] is particularly dangerous because it undermines the function of Scripture as the final arbiter of truth, accessible to all people regardless of their demographics (Ps. 119:130, 160; 2 Tim. 3:16–17; 1 Cor. 2:12–14; Heb. 8:10–12). If a person from an oppressor group appeals to Scripture, his concerns can be dismissed as a veiled attempt to protect his privilege.”

“Christians should be hesitant to throw around words like “intersectionality” or “white privilege” without taking the time to understand the ideology in which these concepts are embedded. On the other hand, the bare fact that someone talks about “oppression” or “social justice” isn’t remotely sufficient to conclude that they’ve embraced critical theory.”

For an extensive online article by Neil Shenvi here is a four part article on Christianity and Critical Theory showing both the strengths and weaknesses of Critical Theory

Video by Neil Shenvi – “Critical Theory, Social Justice, and Christianity: Are They Compatible?” at Defend Conference 2019 at New Orleans Baptist Theological Conference:

6. Voddie Baucham on CRT

Video of Voddie Baucham on Social Justice. Dr. Baucham serves as Dean of Theology at African Christian University in Lusaka, Zambia.

7. “By What Standard?” on CRT

A must watch documentary is “By What Standard? God’s World . . . God’s Rules” by Founders Ministries. Here is the link to the Vimeo documentary. Below is the trailer:

The first thirty minutes are not related to CRT but on the complementarian issue. The relevant minutes start at 31:41.

8. Owen Strachan on CRT

Owen Strachan, an associate Professor of Christian Theology at Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, has written a series of articles at Patheos asking the question: should Christians embrace critical race theory (CRT)? Here is a screenshot of his facebook post about his blog. Notice in answering the question, Should Christians embrace critical race theory? he answers: No.

He concludes by stating that “It is not a system that we can or should marry to biblical Christianity. We should instead reject it and pray for those who have fallen captive to it in some form.” Here are the blog posts: Part 1 (first principles), Part 2 (overview), Part 3 (critique), Part 4 (critique).

He has done a series of sermons on “Christianity and Wokeness.” The first:

9. William Lane Craig on CT

The Dangers of Critical Theory” by William Lane Craig Reasonable Faith Podcast

A taste of what Dr. Craig says about Critical Theory:

“Sometimes Critical Theory is called neo-Marxist because of this, but it would not be classical Marxism because it’s not an economic division between the bourgeoisie and the proletariat, but rather it will be between, say, heterosexuals and homosexuals, or males and females, or white persons and non-white persons. But the relationships are viewed in terms of these power dynamics of oppressors and the oppressed.”

and

“You see a difference with Critical Theory which assigns unequal value in dignity to people based on their class, whereas the Christian view is that all persons are equal in value and dignity in virtual of being in the image of God.”

10. Gerald McDermott on CRT

Gerald McDermott holds the Anglican Chair of Divinity at Beeson Divinity School, and is Distinguished Senior Fellow, Baylor Institute for Studies of Religion; and Fellow, Institute for Theological Inquiry, Jerusalem, Israel. An Anglican priest, he has written, co-authored, or edited nineteen books. Dr. McDermott has recently posted at Patheos at the “Northampton Seminar” on Critical Race Theory:

Critical Race Theory I: What Is It?

Critical Race Theory II: Is It Coherent?

Critical Race Theory III: Is It Compatible with the Christian Faith

McDermott concludes by stating:

“It [CRT] is a violation of Jesus’ Golden Rule, ‘Whatever you wish that others would do to you, do also to them, for this is the Law and the Prophets’ (Matt 7.12).  No one wants to be judged by the color of their skin. Jesus forbids us to do that to others. Because CRT teaches a new racism in the name of a fight against racism, it instructs its devotees to do what the New Testament condemns—’do[ing] evil that good may come’ (Rom 2.8).  In effect, CRT endorses the principle that the end justifies the means. Let me be clear.  Slavery and Jim Crow were evil and systemic.  Racism is sin.  But Christians must not allow their hatred for the sin of racism to so cloud their vision that they put their faith in a philosophy that has become a new religion for its devotees—a religion that in significant ways conflicts with historic Christian faith. The danger is the same that has tempted Jews and Christians for millennia–idolatry that seduces men and women away from the living God.”

11. Carol M. Swain on Critical Race Theory and Its Impact on America

Dr. Swain is a former professor of political science and law at Vanderbilt University and author and editor of several books. Her scholarly work has been cited by two associate justices of the Supreme Court of the United States

Critical Race Theory’s Destructive Impact on America” by Carol M. Swain

Here is a taste of Swain’s take on CRT:

“Critical race theory is an analytical framework to analyze institutions and culture. Its purpose is to divide the world into white oppressors and non-white victims. Instead of traditional forms of knowledge, it uses personal narratives of marginalized minority “victim” groups (blacks, Hispanics, Asians) as irrefutable “evidence” of the dishonesty of their mostly white heterosexual oppressors. The ultimate goal of this theory’s proponents is to remake society so that the victim class eventually displaces the oppressors and becomes the new ruling class.”

12. Dr. Craig Mitchell on CRT: “Marxist Concepts Have a Foothold at SEBTS and SBTS”

Dr. Craig Mitchell, president of the Ethics and Political Economy Center, an evangelical think tank based in Dallas, Texas, expressed worries that these Marxist ideologies have gained footholds among the faculty of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Kentucky, and the Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary in Wake Forest, North Carolina.

Speaking to Louisiana College students as part of a “Christ, Church, and Culture” series about current cultural issues from a biblical perspective, Dr. Craig Mitchell, “described Critical Race Theory and Intersectionality as emerging from Marxist thought, which as its primary tenet declares that there is no God. He added that these two concepts also developed within the framework of different branches of thought that inform the Social Justice movement. But, ultimately, both of these concepts present a perspective that there is conflict between ‘an oppressor’ and ‘an oppressed’ and that the oppressor cannot know right or morality.” The rest of the article can be read here.

Craig Mitchell, former professor at Southwestern Baptist Theological   Seminary (2002-2014) and at Criswell College (2014-2017), also served as a research fellow for the  Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention from 2005-2014, is now president of the Ethics and Political Economy Center.

Probably Dr. Mitchell’s most enlightening comment was concerning the “analytical tools” of critical race theory and intersectionality that the SBC passed under Resolution #9 this past year in 2019 at the convention: “It [CRT] is not a useful tool to get people saved – I can tell you that.”

13. Free Thinking Ministries

Free Thinking Ministries led by Tim Stratton has published a series of articles critiquing Critical Race Theory:

Biblical Christianity VS Critical (Race) Theory” by Phillip Mast (of Theist Thug Life) | Free Thinking Ministries June 19, 2020

Critical Theory vs Critical Thinking” by Tim Stratton (The FreeThinking Theist) | Free Thinking Ministries June 29, 2020

The Appeal & the Problems of Critical Theory” By John White | Free Thinking Ministries June 30, 2020

White Fragility: A Study in Irrelevance” By Phil Bair | Free Thinking MinistriesJuly 1, 2020

14. Monique Duson, a former promoter of CRT

A longer video of Monique on CRT can be found with the Alisa Childers Podcast. The opening salvo my Monique in the video affirms my point of division that CRT brings: “The Spiritual Goal of Critical Theory, Critical Race Theory is to divide.” Check out the video here:

woke-3.jpg

Criticism of Critical Race Theory

First, racism is wrong wherever it is found. It should be called out, shamed, and abolished. The problem is that CRT finds racism in guilt by association: one’s skin color. If you are not a person of color, you are a racist. Second, oppression is wrong, it is a sin. All Christians are called to liberate the oppressed (Is. 1:17, Zech. 7:8-10, etc.). But the Bible doesn’t associate oppression by some hegemony of cultural norms, but oppression is associated with physical violence, theft, cruelty, etc. Power can corrupt, but it isn’t power or privilege that prevents one from seeing reality, it is sin. And sin is present in both those who have power and those who don’t, sin is manifest in the oppressors and the oppressed.

With CRT emphasis upon division, disunity, and separation, Christianity and Critical Race Theory (and all its associates) are not compatible. Christianity affirms unity. Paul tells us to “be eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace” (Ephesians 4:3). Christians are to be one in spirit, not divided by race or gender: “In one Spirit we were all baptized into one body — Jews or Greeks, slaves or free — and all were made to drink of one Spirit” (1 Corinthians 12:13).

Our unity in Christ glorifies God as Paul instructs the Romans: “May the God of endurance and encouragement grant you to live in such harmony with one another, in accord with Christ Jesus, that together you may with one voice glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. Therefore welcome one another as Christ has welcomed you, for the glory of God” (Romans 15:5–7).

Again Paul exhorts that “there is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.” (Galatians 3:28) We are not to divide or separate by gender, race, or even economic station as Christians. The church is to be one in Christ.

In short, the emphasis of unity in Christianity deems the use of Critical Theory (and its associates) as a worldview, tool, or methodology as problematic. Critical Race Theory breeds disunity and division, not unity of spirit, voice, and faith.

A list of problems of Critical Race Theory (CRT) highlights its shortcomings:

– CRT violates the Golden Rule.

– CRT make truth relative to a person’s lived experience.

– CRT bases one’s identity in their oppression, while a Christian bases their identity in Christ.

– People are morally tainted by their membership in oppressor groups, but in Christianity each person is guilty only for sins they have personally committed.

– CRT redefines our identity in an non-biblical fashion

– CRT imputes motives to another person on the basis of that person’s skin color.

– CRT redefines the gospel, positing cultural change as our end, not the salvation of sinners through Christ.

– CRT is uncritically associated with (or susceptible to) various movements that are not consonant with Christianity.

– CRT is not a useful tool to get people saved and cannot provide salvation.

– CRT makes racism permanent and unredeemable.

– CRT assigns unequal value in dignity to people based on their class, whereas the Christian view is that all persons are equal in value and dignity in virtual of being in the image of God.

– CRT is not necessary and is contrary to providing justice for people.

– CRT shuts down debate and discussion.

– CRT inhibits the recognition of true racism and prevents reconciliation.

As theologian Owen Strachan concludes in his posts, “CRT thus represents a different system of thought than Christianity, one we should carefully study but ultimately reject.”

Hopefully you notice the overwhelming motif of CT and CRT in this article: division. Any tool or worldview that divides such as Critical Race Theory is incompatible with the church. Any movement that is based on division and not unity is antithetical to the gospel. As the apostle Paul clearly tells the church: “I appeal to you, brothers, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you agree, and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be united in the same mind and the same judgment.” (1 Corinthians 1:10, ESV)

The Way Forward

Monique Duson came out of Critical Theory herself and is now working toward unity (instead of division) from a biblical perspective with The Center for Biblical Unity.

woke-3.jpg

The CFBU about pages describes their approach:

“In a culture polarized by race, black and white, where conversations of race often lead to division, strife, and blame, The Center For Biblical Unity exists to lead respectful and Bible-centered conversations on race and unity.”

“Issues of race impact us all. We believe that the solution to these issues must start with scripture. We begin with defining terms according to scripture, not culture. Terms like ‘woke,’ ‘white fragility,’ or ‘whiteness’ have no place within the Body of Christ and only cause hurt and disunity among believers.”

“But, what are the words scripture uses to define humanity, race, racism and justice? These, along with other terms and questions, are what we answer as we teach practical tools for clergy and lay people to walk out the difficult conversation of race and unity.”

Monique describes herself as spending two “decades advocating for Critical Race Theory (CRT), but through a series of events began to see the contradictions of CRT with the historic Christian worldview. She is now convinced that  Critical Race Theory is not the best way to achieve racial unity and speaks out against Critical Race Theory within the church and promotes a third way to walk out  true racial healing and biblical unity.”

Experts Quotes

“In Resolution 9 they said that Critical Race Theory is a ‘useful analytical tool. It is not a useful tool to get people saved – I can tell you that.” – Dr. Craig Mitchell, president of the Ethics and Political Economy Center

“Critical race theory assumes that racism is permanent and affects every aspect of our society, including political, economic, social and religious institutions. The theory further advances the belief that being born with white skin, in itself, gives unearned privileges. Therefore, any expectation of societal attainment of colorblindness, in which race or ethnicity does not hinder opportunities, is impossible to be achieved. Neutrality in law and decision-making is a pipe dream that can never be attained. Therefore, this mistaken reasoning goes, the oppressive system must be dismantled and destroyed.” – Dr. Carol M Swain, former professor political science and law at Princeton and Vanderbilt

“Because CRT teaches a new racism in the name of a fight against racism, it instructs its devotees to do what the New Testament condemns—“do[ing] evil that good may come” (Rom 2.8).  In effect, CRT endorses the principle that the end justifies the means.” – Gerald McDermott, holds the Anglican Chair of Divinity at Beeson Divinity School, and is Distinguished Senior Fellow, Baylor Institute for Studies of Religion; and Fellow, Institute for Theological Inquiry, Jerusalem, Israel

“Already you see a difference with Critical Theory which assigns unequal value in dignity to people based on their class, whereas the Christian view is that all persons are equal in value and dignity in virtual of being in the image of God.” – William Lane Craig, PhD, DTheo, Professor at Biola University and Houston Baptist University

“We are left with the following conclusion: we should not marry CRT to Christianity. We should instead pray for the release and liberation of those who have fallen prey to it.” Owen Strachan, Professor of Christian Theology at Midwestern Baptist Seminary and Director of the Center for Public Theology

“If this were at the height of the New Atheist movement; if I were to design a plan to bring all of Christendom down, how would [I] do it? Make them woke. It will eat itself from the inside. If I were the old-school angry atheist—’let’s just throw rocks at the cathedral until it comes down’—I would start making woke pastors and sending them in. They are going to tear everything apart because they are going to make everything about identity, and that’s all they talk about.” James Lindsay, PhD and Peter Boghossian, PhD, atheist commentators on the churches embrace of CRT, masterminds behind Grievance Studies Affair

Resources on CRT: Books/Articles/Videos

Cynical Theories: How Activist Scholarship Made Everything About Race, Gender, and Identity – And Why This Harms Everybody by Helen Pluckrose and James Lindsey (Pitchstone, 2020)

The Incompatibility of Critical Theory and Christianity” by Neil Shenvi and Pat Sawyer | The Gospel Coalition, May 15, 2019.

The Devil’s Pleasure Palace: The Cult of Critical Theory and the Subversion of the West by Michael Walsh (Encounter Books, 2015)

The Politically Incorrect Guide to Communism by Paul Kengor (Regnery, 2017) – specifically chapter 12 “Cultural Marxism and the New Left”

Cultural Marxism and Its Conspirators” by Paul Kengor | The American Spectator, April 3, 2019. Kengor, professor of politics at Grove City College, answers the charge the “cultural marxism” is a far-right anti-semitic conspiracy theory.

Critical Race Theory: An Introduction 3rd edition by Richard Delgado and Jean Stefancic (New York University Press, 2017)

The Most Dangerous Socialist in History” by Samuel Gregg | The Stream,  July 25, 2016 – Gregg is referring to Antonio Gramsci in this article.

Social Justice Encyclopedia,” New Discourses – Provided a plain-language encyclopedia of social justice terminology

Eight Big Reasons Critical Race Theory is Terrible for Dealing with Racism” by James Lindsay | New Discourses, June 12, 2020

Do the ‘Work’: Why Christianity Offers a Better Hope for Racial Reconciliation Than Critical Race Theory” by Monique Duson | The Center for Biblical Unity, Jan 6, 2020.

Race, Injustice, and The Gospel of Critical Theory, With Monique Duson” podcast | The Alisa Childers Podcast, June 9, 2020.

Deconstructing Critical Theory” podcast | The Theology Pugcast, Nov 4, 2019.

Racism, White Privilege and Christianity: What Do We Do With Critical Theory?” by John Stonestreet and G. S. Morris | The Stream, June 27, 2020

The supposed conflict between science and religion that proliferates culture today possibly originated with the depiction of the 1925 Scopes “Monkey” Trial in the movie Inherit the Wind (1960).  Thinking back to you high school American history class, one event that is usually taught is the infamous Scopes Trial in which John Scopes was found guilty for teaching evolution in a Dayton, Tennessee classroom.  While this event is worthy of study for political reasons as well as educational policy, my focus in this post is the propaganda that the movie heaved upon cultural understanding of the relationship between science and religion.

Clarence Darrow

A young teacher by the name of John T. Scopes was accused of teaching evolution in a state-funded school which allegedly violated the Butler Act of 1925 in Tennessee which prohibited the teaching of evolution.  Defended by the well-known trial lawyer Clarence Darrow, Scopes was prosecuted by the three-time presidential candidate William Jennings Bryan.  The atmosphere in Dayton, TN that hot summer of 1925 was electric like a sideshow carnival.  Hundreds reporters descended upon the town, including H. L. Mencken of the Baltimore Evening Sun.  Articles for newspaper and magazines produced countless articles and cartoons on the trial.  Stories were wired by telegraph as far as Europe and Australia. This was the first American trial that was broadcast by radio, while thousands of people crowded the festival like town of Dayton.  Scopes was found guilty and was fined a $100.

William Jennings Bryan

While the Scopes Trial in its own right was newsworthy, playwrights Jerome Lawrence and Robert Edwin Lee created it for Broadway in 1955 as Inherit the Wind.  It was later produced as a theatrical film in 1960 (directed by Stanley Kramer with Oscar winning performers Spencer Tracy and Fredric Marchand along with Gene Kelly) and subsequently in 1965, 1988, and 1999 for television.  Kevin Spacy and David Troughton starred in a 2009 revival at The Old Vic in London.

Krameraward

Stanley Kramer (dir.) receiving an award, 1960 Berlin Film Festival, Inherit the Wind

The 1960 film has by far been the most influential iteration of the Scopes Trial and unfortunately so.  A much more faithful depiction of the trial is Edward J. Larson’s Pulitzer Prize winning history book Summer of the Gods.

summerofthegods

Randall Balmer of Dartmouth writing a review of Summer of the Gods states that:

Although Bryan has generally been regarded as the loser in Dayton, a hopeless throwback to the fundamentalist, antediluvian past, not all contemporaries saw it that way. “At the time,” Larson says, “in sharp contrast with later legends about the Scopes trial, no one saw the episode as a decisive triumph for the defense” (206). Only later, beginning with the 1931 publication of Frederick Lewis Allen’s Only Yesterday: An Informal History of the Nineteen-Twenties, did the Scopes trial begin to succumb to caricature, a caricature that was shamelessly perpetuated by Richard Hofstader in The American Political Tradition (1948) and Anti-Intellectualism in American Life (1963). The main culprit, however, was the play Inherit the Wind, which appeared in 1960 and which, as Larson demonstrates, was intended not so much as a representation of the trial

Balmer correctly pinpoints that Inherit the Wind was the “main culprit” for depicting the trial as an exaggeration to create a comic or grotesque effect.  Why should we be concerned with a film instead of the history.  Well, because of the influence movies have on culture.  For example, there are numerous lesson plans (here, here, here, and here) for high school students on the movie.   Just do simple Google search to see the plethora of lesson plans available for teachers of history, English, science, and humanities that utilize Inherit the Wind.  Thousands if not tens of thousands of students are exposed to the Scopes Trial via the movie every year.

The problem is that the movie promotes the propaganda of the conflict thesis between science and religion that I have written on before (see here and here). Carol Iannone describes it aptly: “While Inherit the Wind remains faithful to the broad outlines of the historical events it portrays, it flagrantly distorts the details, and neither the fictionalized names nor the cover of artistic license can excuse what amounts to an ideologically motivated hoax.”

History of the Film:

Inherit the Wind film was a originally a theatrical play in 1955 by Jerome Lawrence and Robert Edwin Lee.  It was later produced into the well known film staring Spencer Tracy and Fredric March.  The movie was remade in 1999 starring Jack Lemmon and George C. Scott (it has several other television remakes as mentioned before).  The play, and later the movies, change the names of the actual people.  Here is a diagram to help with watching the movie.

Role:                                     Movie Name:                                            Actual Name:
Teacher                                 Bertrum T. Cates                                        John T. Scopes
Prosecuting Attn.                    Matthew Harrison Brady                             William Jennings Bryan
Defense Attn.                         Henry Drummond                                      Clarence Darrow
Journalist                               E. K. Hornbeck                                          H. L. Mencken
Town                                     Heavenly Hillsboro                                     Dayton, Tennessee

Read the rest of this entry »

1Flat-Earth_Myth_01_240x305 Quickly, answer the following question: “Who proved the world was round?” If you said Columbus, you are certainly not alone. We have all heard the idea that before Columbus, the Church and all the Christian intellectuals of the Middle Ages taught that the earth was flat.  If you sailed out far enough you would fall off the face of the earth. Unfortunately, you, along with many others, have been vastly misinformed. No Christian scholar, theologian, philosopher, or priest in the Middle Ages believed that the earth was flat. Where did this idea come from that the earth was flat?


This is my second post in the series on science and religion.  Just this past week I was involved in a discussion about Galileo’s imprisonment, which I had blogged on recently, and the flat earth myth was thrown in my face as proof of the churches backward beliefs before science came and corrected it. At that moment I knew immediately what my next post in this science series would be: the flat earth myth.  The flat earth claim is part of the propaganda of a conflict between science and religion.  Here is a quick video to introduce this myth: Who else has purported this defamation of the Medieval thinkers?  And more importantly why was this myth perpetrated upon the Middle Ages?  Contemporary perpetrators include examples from pop culture to high school and college textbooks to established academics:

Contemporary Perpetrators

  1. Infinite Car Commercial:

“If no one ever challenged the status quo, the earth would still be flat.”

  1. America: Past and Present (5th grade textbook):

“Columbus felt he would eventually reach the Indies in the East. Many Europeans still believed that the world was flat. Columbus, they thought, would fall off the earth.” (1983)

  1. We The People: A History of the United States of America (8th grade textbook):

“The European sailor of a thousand years ago believed that a ship could sail out to sea just so far before it fell off the edge of the sea.” (1982)

  1. A History of Civilization: Prehistory to 1715 (College textbook):

“The fact that the earth is round was known to the ancient Greeks but lost in the Middle Ages.” (1960 ed., 1971, 1976)

  1. Daniel Boorstin (the former Librarian of Congress):

“Christian faith and dogma suppressed the useful image of the world that had been so slowly, so painfully, and so scrupulously drawn by ancient geographers.” – The Discoverers (1983)

  1. John Huchra (Harvard Smithsonian Institution of Astrophysics):

“Back then [when the New World was discovered] there was a lot of theoretical, yet incorrect, knowledge about what the world was like. Some thought the world was flat and you could fall off the edge, but he explorers went out and found what was truly there.” – (1990)

The belief that educated people in the Middle Ages believed the earth was flat and Columbus braved superstition and ignorance by sailing across the Atlantic when his contemporaries thought he would fall of the edge has been circulated so widely it is held as common sense today.

Origins and History of a Myth

The seeds of the invention of the Flat Earth myth were planted by Copernicus (1473-1543), watered by Washington Irving (1783-1859), and came to fruition with Andrew Dickson White (1832-1918).

– Copernicus, Preface to On The Revolutions (1543) – Copernicus compared his opponents who insisted on geocentric model with the ignorance of those who believed in a flat-earth like Lactantius.

– Washington Irving, History of the Life of Columbus (1828) – Irving invented a fictional telling of Columbus and the fictitious “Council of Salamanca” in which Columbus was assailed by a parade of biblical and medieval sources touting a flat earth.

– Antoine-Jean Letronne (1787-1848) – Established the flat-earth myth as academically acceptable with his article “On the Cosmographical Opinions of the Church Fathers” (1834). Claimed that astronomers were “forced” to believe the earth was flat and “had three irresistible arguments: persecution, prison, and the stake.”

– Andrew Dickson White, History of the Warfare of Science with Theology in Christendom (1896) – First president of Cornell University: “Many a bold navigator, who was quite ready to brave pirates and tempests, trembled at the thought of tumbling with his ship into one of the openings into hell which a widespread belief placed in the Atlantic at some unknown distance from Europe. This terror among sailors was one of the main obstacles in the great voyage of Columbus.”

As you can see the Middle Ages were maligned with a belief that was invented and spread by the creative fiction of subsequent generations particularly in the nineteenth century but has had continual ramifications in the twentieth and twenty first century. In contrast the ancient world was quite progressive in its near universal adherence to a spherical earth: Pythagoras, Parmenides, Plato, Aristotle, Euclid, Archimedes, Strabo, and Ptolemy all believed in spherical earth.  The so-called “Dark Ages” glimmered with enlightenment concerning sphericity of the globe with Christian intellectuals such as Isidore of Seville, Bede, Basil of Caesarea, Ambrose, Augustine, Albertus Magnus, Thomas Aquinas, Roger Bacon, Brunetto Latini, and Dante all believing the earth was a globe. Even the Enlightenment rarely charged the Middle Ages with the belief in the flat-earth, being fully aware that sphericity was central to their beliefs about the earth.

Jeffrey Burton Russell, emeritus professor of History at the University of California, Santa Barbara, states, that “nineteenth and twentieth-century writers flattened the medieval globe.” What this myth tells us, according to Russell, is that historians and scientists pass on error as well as truth, especially when led by biases rather than evidence and fact. When methodology and sources are not checked it can lead to myths that can take on a life of their own.

The flat-earth myth is based on the conviction that church was opposed to science leading to a conflict model. This model is relatively recent beginning with John W. Draper in his History of the Conflict between Religion and Science as the first influential figure to declare a war between science and religion followed closely by Andrew D. White.

The flat earth myth is a slanderous falsehood concocted by opponents of Christianity in the 19th century which has been debunked by historians today. Along with the myth that Galileo was thrown in a dungeon for promoting a heliocentric model of the universe, the flat earth myth needs to be buried.

The conflict between science and religion is smoke and mirrors.  There is no conflict as it is popularly presented to us today.

Resources:

Quick Quotes from the Experts:

No one thought that Columbus would ‘sail of the edge of the earth’ since the sphericity of the earth had been fully established in Europe for over 1,500 years before Columbus. The notion that people before Columbus thought the earth was flat is a 19th century invention. Medievals would have had a good laugh at that idea!” (L. Principe, The Scientific Revolution, p. 15)

“The widespread conviction that all in the Middle Ages believed in a flat earth until Columbus showed otherwise was an invention of the nineteenth century.” (Edward Grant, God and Reason in the Middle Ages, p. 341)

“There never was a period of ‘flat earth darkness’ among scholars (regardless of how many uneducated people may have conceptualized our planet both then and now). Greek knowledge of sphericity never faded, and all major medieval scholars accepted the earth’s roundness as an established fact of cosmology.” (Stephen Jay Gould, “The Late Birth of a Flat Earth” in Dinosaur in a Haystack: Reflections in Natural History, 1997, pp. 38-50)

Books and Articles and Video:

“Myth of the Flat Earth” by Jeffrey Burton Russell, American Scientific Affiliation, August 4, 1997 at Westmont College

Inventing the Flat Earth: Columbus and the Modern Historians, by Jeffrey Burton Russell (Praeger, 1991)

“The Myth of the Flat Earth” by James Hannam, Medieval Science and Philosophy (website for the book The Genesis of Science: How the Christian Middle Ages Launched the Scientific Revolution)

“The Assault on the Middle Ages” ch. 7 in God and Reason in the Middle Ages by Edward Grant (Cambridge University Press, 2001)