I am in the Presbyterian Church in America. It is one of the biblically orthodox, conservative denominations and there are warning signs that the denomination is being slowly shifted to the left by a group of pseudo-intellectuals.
The Southern Baptist Convention is having similar problems for similar reasons. Megachurches and prominent quasi-celebrity pastors are attracting others within the denominations to try to be rockstars in the world. Through claims of “whimsy” and “love” they are doing like Sauraman in Lord of the Rings and assuming they can harness bad things for good.
With the PCA, it is a Tim Keller problem.
Let me be very, very careful about this. This is not a critique or criticism of Tim Keller. But Keller is perhaps the best known PCA pastor in America. With his retirement, some younger pastors who studied under him and others are seeking to be the next Tim Keller. The problem is they misinterpreted Keller’s ministry and are embracing worldly instruments. Keller himself has pushed back on a lot of the nonsense cropping up.
We should begin with the Nashville Statement, to which I was an initial signatory.
The Nashville Statement is a modern creedal statement drafted by the Council for Biblical Manhood and Womanhood. The fourteen articles of the statement make two statements in each article. One affirms what Christian biblical orthodoxy teaches on sexuality and the other expressly denies a related post-modern related claim that is starting to crop up in the church.
For example, Article One states, “WE AFFIRM that God has designed marriage to be a covenantal, sexual, procreative, lifelong union of one man and one woman, as husband and wife, and is meant to signify the covenant love between Christ and his bride the church.” The same Article then concludes, “WE DENY that God has designed marriage to be a homosexual, polygamous, or polyamorous relationship. We also deny that marriage is a mere human contract rather than a covenant made before God.”
The statement was signed by some of the leading Christian theologians in the twenty-first centry from J. I. Packer to John Piper to R. C. Sproul to James Dobson to Ligon Duncan to Kevin DeYoung to Francis Chan to J. D. Greear to Albert Mohler.
The statement appealed across Christian denominations and various Christian denominations passed resolutions to embrace the statement as compatible within their denominations. The Southern Baptist Convention and the Presbyterian Church in America declaired the statement, in the words of the PCA resolution, a “biblically faithful declaration.”
Within the PCA, however, a group of pastors has agitated against the statement and started an organization called Revoice that attempts to claim one can be a gay Christian and be defined as both gay and Christian, even while foregoing homosexual acts. Most troubling, Revoice drew from some professors at Covenant Theological Seminary, the PCA’s own church funded seminary.
Essentially, this group is trying to allow people to express an identity separate from being a Christ-follower so that one can be a gay Christ-follower and a straight Christ follower. It matters in the long run because what is a “gay Christian” that makes him different from a “Christian”?
It’s important to get that background because those identifiers come from something called “critical theory,” which has found a foothold within several PCA churches including some prominent ones like Scott Sauls’ church in the Nashville area. Sauls, by the way, was also opposed to the Nashville Statement.
So what is critical theory and why do you need to know about it?
Critical theory is derived from Marxist political thought. It has been wholly embraced by self-described Marxist groups like Black Lives Matter — a group whose founders not only explicitly call themselves Marxist, but is also a group that in its own words calls for undermining the two-parent household as “Western prescribed” instead of biblically ordained.
Perhaps the best explanation of what critical theory is and how it is wrong comes from Tim Keller, who writes, “Postmodern critical theory argues: [f]irst, the explanation of all unequal outcomes in wealth, well being, and power is never due to individual actions or to differences in cultures or to differences in human abilities, but only and strictly due to unjust social structures and systems. The only way to fix unequal outcomes for the downtrodden is through social policy, never by asking anyone to change their behavior or culture.”
Keller goes on to point out that a central premise of critical theory, like Marxism, is control of language. “Language does not merely describe reality—it constructs or creates it. Power structures mask themselves behind the language of rationality and truth. So academia hides its unjust structures behind talk of ‘academic freedom,’ and corporations behind talk of ‘free enterprise,’ science behind talk of ‘empirical objectivity’, and religion behind talk of ‘divine truth’. All of these seeming truth-claims are really just constructed narratives designed to dominate and, as such, they must be unmasked. Reasoned debate and ‘freedom of speech’ therefore is out—it only gives unjust discourses airtime. The only way to reconstruct reality in a just way is to subvert dominant discourses—and this requires control of speech.”
On those bases alone, Christians should be deeply concerned about the growing pervasiveness of critical theory within churches. This entire piece from Tim Keller on the various forms of secular justice theories should be mandatory reading in every church, but the last part on critical theory is absolutely necessary. I also recommend this piece from Andrew Sullivan. Sullivan writes, in part,
Just as this theory denies the individual, it also denies the universal. There are no universal truths, no objective reality, just narratives that are expressed in discourses and language that reflect one group’s power over another. There is no distinction between objective truth and subjective experience, because the former is an illusion created by the latter. So instead of an argument, you merely have an identity showdown, in which the more oppressed always wins, because that subverts the hierarchy. These discourses of power, moreover, never end; there is no progress as such, no incremental inclusion of more and more identities into a pluralist, liberal unified project; there is the permanent reality of the oppressors and the oppressed. And all that we can do is constantly expose and eternally resist these power-structures on behalf of the oppressed.
To get a sense of just how pseudo-intellectual critical theory is and why it is such a word salad, consider this push back from Greg Thompson, a PCA pastor in Virginia who is, along with some at GraceDC, increasingly supportive of reparations. GraceDC, it should be noted, is the most prominent PCA church in the District of Columbia. Remember, as you read Thompson’s pushback, that part of critical theory involves controlling the language and the terms used.
Thompson argues that one must be trained in critical theory to truly understand it and then argues that critical theory does not have a “coherent whole.” He defends Marxism claiming that those who oppose critical theory have a “tendency to willfully neglect the long tradition of Christian Marxists around the world (especially in the Catholic Church) and to traffic in the demonstrably false binary of Christian vs. Marxist.”
One should remember that the Christian Marxists of the National Liberation Army in Columbia believed communion was only available to those murdering non-marxists. But, Thompson would argue, anyone who makes that claim has a “tendency to suggest that because one thinker or leader in the Marxist tradition thought or said or did a thing that the entire tradition is thereby committed to that thing.” In other words, no one has truly done Marxism the way it is supposed to be implemented, but these PCA pastors will do it.
Seriously, you need to read Thompson’s entire push back against those of us raising alarms on critical theory. You will note he admits Marxism was derived, in part, against Christianity and Thompson puts the Christians on the bad side.
This man is a PCA pastor of growing prominence who graduated from Covenant Theological Seminary, the same seminary so many of the Revoice advocates came from. Seeing prominent voices within the PCA embracing critical theory should deeply bother the leaders of the denomination. Seeing, yet again, many of those voices coming out of the PCA’s own in-house seminary should deeply bother the denomination.
The PCA has always set itself apart as curious and intellectual. But I would remind them that the things of the world hate the things of God and Marxism is inherently a thing of this world. A Christian who thinks he can co-opt Marxist thought for the church is a Christain whose pride will come before his fall.
The church needs to be warned.