Eighteen months ago, I began hearing terms thrown around in my online theological discussion boards I was not familiar with. More alarmingly to me, I was being accused of things I didn’t understand – being ‘woke’ or having bought into critical race theory. Often times when I asked what they meant I got snarky or dismissive comments, so I set out to read up on critical theory, critical race theory, and social justice movement. I sought the recommendations of people I trust and read widely people who were far to the left of me, people far to the right of me, and some people who tried to walk the middle road. I’m still reading (and still open for recommendations).
I’m aware now of the dangers on the extremes of critical theory, critical race theory and the social justice movement. On the other hand, I’ve seen how these have become ‘boogeymen’ in the evangelical circle. If someone says something uncomfortable about race, well, that’s because they’ve bought into the Marxist Critical Race Theory.
I am very concerned that we are, even in the church, migrating more and more to silos of like-mindedness. Please, in the list of books below, pick one or two you don’t think you’ll agree with and read them with an open mind. Don’t just develop a reading list echo chamber where you read only those who are ‘on your side’ of the debate.
Here are a couple of book recommendations (reviews also posted) that’d I’d recommend – one for everybody, on on the left, one on the right.
Critical Race Theory: an Introduction, by Richard Delgado and Jean Stefancic. This book is a good introduction to the main tenants of critical race theory and exposes the reader to its underpinnings (philosophical, methodological, etc.) as well as some of the diversity within the movement and ongoing debates. I read the first edition, which has been updated recently (now on a third edition). I think both those who are sympathetic to and those critical of CRT or the BLM movement would profit from reading this book. Neil Shenvi, a Christian apologist and critic of CRT offers a short review.
Confronting Injustice without Compromising Truth, Thaddeus Williams. I believe this is a very important book. If you are ‘all in’ on the social justice movement, a big supporter of BLM, a ‘social justice warrior’, please read this book. Williams is critical of the social justice movement as it is currently manifesting itself in contemporary culture. But, this book is fair, balanced, and well written. Williams acknowledges, for instance, that there are systemic injustices that need to be addressed, but questions the rhetoric of activism and whether of nor current approaches are actually helping those they claim to care about. Again, Neil Shenvi does a good job of engaging this book. And, if you care, here’s my short review.
Woke Church, by Eric Mason. This book is a good introduction to woke evangelicalism, the pros and the cons. I do believe the book is built on a fundamental confusion of categories regarding the gospel. After doing some mental reinterpretation of Mason’s framework (he confuses gospel and law in my opinion, making justice ‘a gospel issue’), there is much in this book that I found very beneficial. The discussion of our “family history” and how it continues to shape us – whether we talking about our nuclear family or spiritual family – was very helpful. I very much appreciated his writing regarding the black church and how important an institution it has been and how it is often misunderstood and misrepresented by white evangelicals. His explanation of why the black church often is lukewarm or downright resistant to talks of integration was very helpful. Also, his advice on how to avoid ‘tokenism’ was helpful. I wish the practical section was a bit more applicable to contexts other than the urban church, but understand why that was the focus. It will take a bit more translation to a small town context like Bloomington. Overall, I recommend the book as an example of wokeness that has been run through a thoroughly Christian worldview and maintains fidelity to the faith once for all handed down to the saints. Neil Shenvi has a fairly positive but critical interaction with Mason’s book.
Books from a position sympathetic to CRT
- Critical Race Theory, Stefancic & Delgado (4/5 stars. Good intro to main ‘doctrines’ of CRT by a one of the originals)
- Be The Bridge, Morrison (2/5 stars: shrill, some questionable theology)
- Beyond Colorblind, Shin (4/5 stars: enjoyable, narrative based)
- The Half Has Never Been Told, Baptist (4/5 stars: provocative, hard to read, but eye opening)
- Woke Church, Mason (4/5 stars: mostly balanced with some un-careful comments, bit of confusion regarding gospel/law)
- Color of Compromise, Tisby (4/5: excellent, provocative)
- How to Fight Racism, Tisby (3/5: good, too practical but without being practical enough)
- White Awake, Hill (3/5: some sections were very helpful, but biblical exegesis was loose and off)
Books critical of CRT
- Cynical Theories, Pluckrose & Lindsay (4/5 stars. Excellent intro/critique of critical theory and offspring)
- Why Social Justice is Not Biblical Justice, Allen (2/5: bad book, caricatures, logical problems, etc. My long review)
- Fault Lines, Baucham (3/5: shrill, hypocritical, attacks on evangelical pastors, fundamentalist feel to it. My long review)
- Confronting Injustice without Compromising Truth, Williams (5/5 Love the tone. Balanced, well argued, reasonable. Targets extremes on right and left)
- Rise and Triumph of the Modern Self, Trueman (4/5 so far. Half done. Heady, well written)
- Third Option, McPherson (4/5: very good, pastoral, navigates middle between extremes)
- Divided by Faith, Emerson & Smith (4/5: historical account of how evangelical church has been complicit in racism and exacerbated the race problem)
- Where Do We Go From Here, King (5/5: prophetic, hopeful)
- The Fire Next Time, Baldwin (3/5: good for historical context)
- From Every People and Nation, Hays (5/5: not political, exploration of biblical passages related to race. My review)