Review: Christianity and Critical Race Theory

Christianity and Critical Race Theory, Robert Chao Romero and Jeff M. Liou. Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2023.

Summary: A critical and constructive engagement with Critical Race Theory in light of the Christian faith.

The fallacy of the excluded middle seems present in most conversations I’ve observed concerning Critical Race Theory (CRT). Either someone is utterly dismissive saying things like, “You’re a Marxist, divisive and if you don’t like the United States, you should leave.” Or there are those who are so wounded by their experience of racism that they have withdrawn, believing the United States as incorrigibly corrupt and that Critical Race Theory not only describes what was and is, but also will always be. Sadly each set of voices often feeds off the other, often without real understanding of what Critical Race Theory is and isn’t. There is no middle ground.

For Christians like the authors, who come out of a Reformed background fond of saying “all truth is God’s truth,” the question is whether there is truth in Critical Race Theory, even if, as in so much of scholarship, there is an admixture of error. Are there insights which ring true with scripture? Perhaps more tellingly, as is sometimes the case, are there truths that open our eyes to truth in scripture, that have been cultural blind spots? And are there insights from scripture that correct what is in error or supply what is missing? The subtitle of this book is “a faithful and constructive conversation.” And this is what I found the authors doing. Beginning with the Creation, Fall, Redemption, and Consummation framework of a Reformed Christian faith, they assess key ideas of Critical Race Theory for where these resonate (or not) with scripture. Furthermore they bring their own racial background helpfully into this discussion as an Asian-Latino American (Robert) and an Asian-American (Jeff).

First of all, they offer a brief introduction to the history and basic tenets of CRT. It arose among legal scholars who asked why there was a failure of racial progress despite advances in civil rights. A key insight is the recognition of racism as ordinary, baked into the way we do business as a country, that it advances the interests of the white majority, that “race” is a social construction not based on biological realities, and the “voice of color thesis” that says that people of color may be able to communicate with white counterparts about realities not a part of white experience (if whites are willing to listen).

They begin with Creation and the CRT concept of “Community Cultural Wealth.” This idea contends that rather than some cultures having deficits vis a vis other cultures, that every culture has cultural capital. This recognizes the cultural mandate and blessing of Genesis 1 to fill all the earth, reflected in the Table of Nations in Genesis 10 and God’s judgment against the mono-culture of Babel. This diverse wealth is reflected in the glory and honor of the nations brought into the new Jerusalem of Revelation 22. The writers also observe that Jesus as a Galilean was also part of a marginal community, not considered to have the cultural capital of Judean Jews, and as today’s Galileans, they bring a richness to our understanding of Jesus from their own experience.

The Fall is evident in the analysis of racism as the ordinary business of society. A true understanding of the doctrine of the fall understands that sin is more than our individual sins. Sin pervades the human order and how things are done. Even when we say we do not have hatred toward a person of another “race,” sin manifests itself in a system which is set up to benefit some over others, whether in real estate deed restrictions and redlining, differentials in property tax education funding, policing patterns and practices and more. The good news of the gospel in this is that the effects of the fall are remediable, contrary to the beliefs of many secularists. But we have to see it first, and CRT helps us with this.

Turning to Redemption, the “voices of color thesis” offers hope of understanding the realities to which those of us identifying as white may be blind to. More than that, this thesis reflects the idea of the body of Christ in which every part is needed for the health of the whole body. We dismiss voices of color to our own loss. A major part of this chapter focuses on how one of the authors was the lead candidate for a top diversity, equity, and inclusion position at a Christian university, which would have meant leaving a recognized role at a public university. Sadly, top leadership at the school subverted the search committee, choosing an internal candidate who was not a person of color. The author reflects on how his secular institution seemed to recognize the worth of his voice of color more than the Christian institution. He writes tellingly of the role “color blindness” played in this decision and the model Acts 6 of recognizing minority voices, with the resultant flourishing of the church.

Under Consummation, the authors argue for the one of the distinctive contributions Christians may make to CRT. They contend that CRT offers no grounds for an eschatological hope. And sometimes, the resistant response of dominant culture results in deepening alienation, a critique that only envisions divides with no hope of healing. Instead, the authors point to King’s idea of “the beloved community.” In contrast, the authors identify the “gloomy eschaton” of CRT. Christians with a biblically informed eschatological hope live toward a vision of a diverse multitude worshipping a common Lord in Revelation 7:9, sustained by the resurrection of Jesus as the foretaste of his final victory.

Sadly, “Critical Race Theory” has become a rallying cry of our political right. The phrase, unfortunately, lends itself to this, even though few who rail against the theory understand what they are railing against. And because of political alignments, many dominant culture Christians join them. The writers of this book occupy that neglected middle ground, appraising CRT fairly, recognizing both the way it reflects biblical insights into the human condition as well as its shortcomings. They denounce any association of CRT with Marxism, one of the author’s parents having fled the Marxist revolution in China and seeing the havoc it wrought. Perhaps their most original contribution is the recognition of the hope of the gospel rather than the counsels of gloom that prevail in some CRT circles. CRT exposes the insidious character of racism beyond our personal acts, the ways it has been woven into society. The scriptures understand that this, too, is sin. As God’s people, we know a remedy for sin. But we have to face it and repent and lament and confess and turn away, finding pardon and restoration in Christ. That’s painful, but that is often the way it is with healing, whether of our own lives or our nation’s soul.


Disclosure of Material Connection: I received a complimentary review copy of this book from the publisher.

2 thoughts on “Review: Christianity and Critical Race Theory

  1. Pingback: New Book Releases – Week of 24 Apr '23 – Chao Romero & Liou, more…

  2. Pingback: The Month in Reviews: April 2023 | Bob on Books

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