The OPC, GRACE, Diane Langberg, and Critical Theory, Part 1: Critical Theory

Guest Post By Michael Grasso

Should the OPC hire GRACE to investigate potential instances of abuse in its churches?  This question came before the 87th General Assembly (GA) in the form of a motion to add a docket item called “Ministering to victims of abuse”.[1]  The motion needed a 2/3 majority to be added to the docket, and it failed to reach this threshold.  This motion did not come in a vacuum.  Aimee Byrd had called on the OPC to hire this organization on April 5, 2021.[2]  Following the GA’s decision not to take up the question of hiring GRACE, Aimee Byrd publicly condemned the decision of the GA in two blog posts on July 21[3] and 26[4] respectively.  A few months after GA, on October 8-9, the Presbytery of Philadelphia hosted a fall conference on the subject of spiritual abuse with Diane Langberg as the speaker.  Diane Langberg is the author of Redeeming Power: Understanding Authority and Abuse in the church and is a former board member of GRACE.  The connection between the conference and the motion brought before the GA was made explicit by the bringer of the motion, Larry Westerveld, whose church hosted the fall conference.[5]  It seems clear from these actions that one of the goals of the conference was to move the denomination in the direction of hiring GRACE at a future GA.

While abuse is something the church must always take seriously, the thesis of these articles is that hiring GRACE would be a mistake, that the ideology driving all of these actions is Critical Theory, and that embracing this ideology, exemplified in Langberg’s book Redeeming Power, would not help abuse victims but remove God-ordained protections for them as well as move the church towards a new form of liberalism.  This will come in four parts.  In the first part I will give an overview of Critical Theory.  In the second and third parts I will review Diane Langberg’s Redeeming Power: Understanding Authority and Abuse in the Church to show the connection with Critical Theory.  Then in the last part, I will try to draw some connections between this ideology and the move to hire GRACE.

Critical Theory

Critical Theory is the ideology of the Frankfurt School established in the 20th century.  Corradetti gives a succinct history:

The Frankfurt School, known more appropriately as Critical Theory, is a philosophical and sociological movement spread across many universities around the world. It was originally located at the Institute for Social Research (Institut für Sozialforschung), an attached institute at the Goethe University in Frankfurt, Germany. The Institute was founded in 1923 thanks to a donation by Felix Weil with the aim of developing Marxist studies in Germany.[6]

Critical Theory is a Marxist ideology that makes use of Conflict Theory, a theory that separates people into two classes (oppressors and oppressed) and seeks to explain the problems of society in light of the systems controlled by the oppressors.  Critical Theory is called “critical” in the sense of being critical of existing authority structures. Pluckrose and Lindsay define Critical Theory as a theory that is “…chiefly concerned with revealing hidden biases and underexamined assumptions, usually by pointing out what have been termed ‘problematics,’ which are ways in which society and the systems that it operates upon are going wrong.”[7]

What is distinctive about Critical Theory is its expansion of Conflict Theory into other areas of life.  Marx applied conflict theory to class divisions.  Critical theorists apply the distinction to areas such as race, gender, and sexuality.  This broader application of Marx’s Conflict Theory is known as “cultural Marxism”.[8]  Critical Theory applied to race is Critical Race Theory, which posits “systemic racism” on the basis of “implicit bias”.  When applied to gender, Critical Theory manifests itself as feminism.  When applied to sexuality, it is the LGBTQ movement.  In each case the “oppressed class” (blacks, women, homosexuals) are abused by the system of power held by the “oppressing class” (whites, men, heterosexuals).  In popular thought, these movements are expressed under the name “Social Justice Movement”.  One who adheres to the movement is “woke”, that is, he has been awakened to the realities of systemic injustice understood on the basis of these categories, or intersectionalities.

There are three distinctive things that bind these movements together under the heading of Critical Theory: First, extreme skepticism about the use of authority, that is, the systems of power are corrupted and cannot be trusted; second, a Marxist view of oppression or abuse, often combining real forms of oppression with those that are unfalsifiable; and third, intersectionality, i.e., the process of dividing people on the basis of race, gender, sexuality, etc.  Intersectionality leads to seeing one’s intersectional identity, one’s relationship to the group, as the most significant thing about a person.  If a person is a woman, then she is automatically in an oppressed class even if wealthy, in a position of prestige, etc.  In this scheme a person’s success or failure in the world is determined not by individual choices, but by one’s adherence to a particular group. 

The concept of intersectionality also bears an important relationship to postmodernism.  In postmodern thought objective truth is impossible to attain.  It is a reaction to modernist thought which claimed that a person could reach objective truth by being detached and unbiased.  When people became disillusioned with the possibility of being detached and unbiased in the way Modernists claimed, the result was a denial of objective truth.  If objective truth depends on being “unbiased”, then it is impossible to attain because everyone has some sort of perspective that “colors” one’s view of a thing.  Schüssler-Fiorenza, a postmodern feminist, explains this posture: “This modern posture of value-detached inquiry in the interest of pure reason and its claims to universality has been thoroughly challenged by diverse (post)modern discourses such as philosophical hermeneutics, the sociology of knowledge, ideology critique, and Critical Theory.”[9]

Doing away with objective truth does not mean that truth of every kind is gone for postmodernists.  It means that objective truth is replaced by truth as it is received by a community.  Grenz notes, “The conviction that each person is embedded in a particular human community leads to a corporate understanding of truth.”[10]  This fits very well with the idea of intersectionality and makes the truth claims of the oppressed class unassailable by definition.  If those in the oppressed class feel oppressed, then this is truth for them and no data or objective reasoning can be brought to bear to show that they are not oppressed.  In fact, in postmodern thought, to try to do so is a form of oppression.  It is nothing more than the oppressing class imposing its biased view on the oppressed class.  This is why today on the issue of abortion, the pro-abortion side demands that women, not men, make the decision.  If a woman determines that an abortion is the correct decision for her, this is the truth for the oppressed class of women that must be defended in order to protect women from the oppression of men.  A man telling a woman that abortion is wrong is a form of oppression since his view is just as biased as hers.

The view of oppression is distinctive for another reason.  In Critical Theory the oppression is seen, not on an individual level, but on a societal level.  Oppression further becomes anything that promotes inequality of outcome.  Beisner links this view of equality to the French Revolution and notes the common slogan of the day: “Not only equality of right, but equality of fact, is the goal of the socialist art.”[11]  In this view equality as an outcome, i.e., “fact”, not equality in the sense of a person’s “rights”, is true justice.  The problem is that this form of justice is contrary to biblical justice and requires a perversion of justice to implement.  Justice in biblical terms entails giving to each person his due according to what he has done.[12]  Equality of outcome means giving the same to every person regardless of what he has done.

The promotion of this form of justice comes with a deceptive trick.  Very real examples of oppression and abuse are put forward, but then abuse and oppression are defined so broadly that many other things can be lumped into the category of abuse or oppression that are quite different. 

An example from Critical Race Theory may illustrate this point.  Slavery, lynchings, Jim Crow laws are defined as racist; however, racism is more than these.  It is any systemic injustice that keeps black people down.  Further, these systemic injustices may be invisible.  They may be implicit, unconscious biases of people who do not even know that they are racist or have not done a racist thing.  If a person does not stand with Black Lives Matter, even though its stated goals are neo-Marxist, anti-family, and anti-Christian, then a person is guilty of the same kind of racism that produced slavery, lynchings, etc.  One is a racist if one does not stand with the oppressed class in the neo-Marxist sense.

The purpose of this article is not to suggest that everyone who advocates for hiring GRACE is guilty of adopting Critical Theory in its entirety.  It is to suggest that this is the ideology that undergirds the mistrust in the authority structures of the OPC and that hiring GRACE would give a foothold to this ideology.  It is also to suggest that the view of “abuse” is taken from Marx’s Conflict Theory expressed in the Frankfurt School’s Critical Theory.  It ought to be noted further that this ideology is very popular today even if many do not understand where it comes from.  For many, it is the air they breathe and the position accepted uncritically. 

This is one of the great dangers of the Social Justice Movement.  Ideas like “abuse” or “racism” or “oppression” are used to garner support.  Who does not want to oppose racism?  Who does not want to take down all oppression?  It is easy to sell ideas about liberation from oppression generally, but what is meant by “oppression” and “liberation” has been given Marxist content in the Social Justice Movement.  The goal of these articles is to draw out these connections so that the Scriptures might be applied faithfully to the situation.  In part 2 we will look at Diane Langberg’s Redeeming Love to see how it related to Critical Theory.


                [1] Minutes of the Eighty-Seventh General Assembly, July 7-13, 2021, item 214, The Orthodox Presbyterian Church, Pennsylvania , USA.

                [2] Aimee Byrd, “An Open Letter to the OPC on Abuse,” Aimee Byrd, April, 5, 2021, https://aimeebyrd.com/2021/04/05/an-open-letter-to-the-opc-on-abuse/

                [3] Aimee Byrd, “Reflections on the OPC GA Meeting: Part 1, The Purpose of Church Order and the Vote on G.R.A.C.E.,” Aimee Byrd, July 21, 2021, https://aimeebyrd.com/2021/07/21/reflections-on-the-opc-ga-meeting-part-one-the-purpose-of-church-order-and-the-vote-on-g-r-a-c-e/

                [4] Aimee Byrd, “Reflections on the OP General Assembly, Part 2: Trauma-Informed Ministry and a Traumatizing Process,” Aimee Byrd, July 26, 2021, https://aimeebyrd.com/2021/07/26/reflections-on-the-op-general-assembly-part-2-trauma-informed-ministry-and-a-traumatizing-process/

                [5] Westerveld opened the conference by saying, “And you may have also heard that an attempt was made to engage the services of a third party, an independent party to help us in our diagnoses and so on.  That had very little traction.  What is less known, perhaps, is that another motion was made simply to add to our docket a chance to discuss ministry to abuse, victims of abuse, and that also failed, sadly, but the presbytery of Philadelphia believes these are discussions worth having… So we approved the planning and hosting of this conference for your benefit and the benefit of the whole church.”

                [6] Claudio Corradetti, “The Frankfurt School and Critical Theory,” The Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy, n.d., https://iep.utm.edu/frankfur/#H2.

                [7] Helen Pluckrose and James Lindsay, Cynical Theories: How Activist Scholarship Made Everything about Race, Gender, and Identity-and Why This Harms Everybody, First Edition (Durham, North Carolina: Pitchstone Publishing, 2020), 13-4.

                [8] Scott David Allen, Why Social Justice Is Not Biblical Justice: An Urgent Appeal to Fellow Christians in a Time of Social Crisis (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Credo House Publishers, 2020), 51-2.

                [9] Elisabeth Schüssler-Fiorenza, “The Ethos of Interpretation: Biblical Studies in a Postmodern and Postcolonial Context,” in Theological Literacy for the Twenty-First Century (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2002), 212.

                [10] Stanley J. Grenz, A Primer on Postmodernism (Grand Rapids, Mich: William B. Eerdmans Pub. Co, 1996), 14.

                [11] E. Calvin Beisner, Prosperity and Poverty: The Compassionate Use of Resources in a World of Scarcity (Eugene, OR: Wipf and Stock Publishers, 2001), 54.

                [12] Cf. Rom. 2:5-6.

9 Comments

  1. February 18, 2022 at 12:30 pm

    Excellent! I learned much from this first part and look forward to the rest of the series. Thank you!

  2. Jim Henley said,

    February 21, 2022 at 1:11 pm

    I would ask that you please look somewhere other than the atheist grifter James Lindsay for an understanding of Critical Theory and Critical Race Theory. There are actual Christians doing work in those fields who can provide an honest description of the material. Repeating Lindsay’s misrepresentations may get agreement and support from certain corners of faith, but it does not promote truth and right understanding.

  3. Graham Dugas said,

    February 22, 2022 at 12:35 am

    …𝒃𝒖𝒕 𝒓𝒆𝒎𝒐𝒗𝒆 𝑮𝒐𝒅-𝒐𝒓𝒅𝒂𝒊𝒏𝒆𝒅 𝒑𝒓𝒐𝒕𝒆𝒄𝒕𝒊𝒐𝒏𝒔 𝒇𝒐𝒓 𝒕𝒉𝒆𝒎 𝒂𝒔 𝒘𝒆𝒍𝒍 𝒂𝒔 𝒎𝒐𝒗𝒆 𝒕𝒉𝒆 𝒄𝒉𝒖𝒓𝒄𝒉 𝒕𝒐𝒘𝒂𝒓𝒅𝒔 𝒂 𝒏𝒆𝒘 𝒇𝒐𝒓𝒎 𝒐𝒇 𝒍𝒊𝒃𝒆𝒓𝒂𝒍𝒊𝒔𝒎.  𝑻𝒉𝒊𝒔 𝒘𝒊𝒍𝒍 𝒄𝒐𝒎𝒆 𝒊𝒏 𝒇𝒐𝒖𝒓 𝒑𝒂𝒓𝒕𝒔.  𝑰𝒏 𝒕𝒉𝒆 𝒇𝒊𝒓𝒔𝒕 𝒑𝒂𝒓𝒕 𝑰 𝒘𝒊𝒍𝒍 𝒈𝒊𝒗𝒆 𝒂𝒏 𝒐𝒗𝒆𝒓𝒗𝒊𝒆𝒘 𝒐𝒇 𝑪𝒓𝒊𝒕𝒊𝒄𝒂𝒍 𝑻𝒉𝒆𝒐𝒓𝒚.  𝑰𝒏 𝒕𝒉𝒆 𝒔𝒆𝒄𝒐𝒏𝒅 𝒂𝒏𝒅 𝒕𝒉𝒊𝒓𝒅 𝒑𝒂𝒓𝒕𝒔 𝑰 𝒘𝒊𝒍𝒍 𝒓𝒆𝒗𝒊𝒆𝒘 𝑫𝒊𝒂𝒏𝒆 𝑳𝒂𝒏𝒈𝒃𝒆𝒓𝒈’𝒔 𝑹𝒆𝒅𝒆𝒆𝒎𝒊𝒏𝒈 𝑷𝒐𝒘𝒆𝒓: 𝑼𝒏𝒅𝒆𝒓𝒔𝒕𝒂𝒏𝒅𝒊𝒏𝒈 𝑨𝒖𝒕𝒉𝒐𝒓𝒊𝒕𝒚 𝒂𝒏𝒅 𝑨𝒃𝒖𝒔𝒆 𝒊𝒏 𝒕𝒉𝒆 𝑪𝒉𝒖𝒓𝒄𝒉 𝒕𝒐 𝒔𝒉𝒐𝒘 𝒕𝒉𝒆 𝒄𝒐𝒏𝒏𝒆𝒄𝒕𝒊𝒐𝒏 𝒘𝒊𝒕𝒉 𝑪𝒓𝒊𝒕𝒊𝒄𝒂𝒍 𝑻𝒉𝒆𝒐𝒓𝒚.  𝑻𝒉𝒆𝒏 𝒊𝒏 𝒕𝒉𝒆 𝒍𝒂𝒔𝒕 𝒑𝒂𝒓𝒕, 𝑰 𝒘𝒊𝒍𝒍 𝒕𝒓𝒚 𝒕𝒐 𝒅𝒓𝒂𝒘 𝒔𝒐𝒎𝒆 𝒄𝒐𝒏𝒏𝒆𝒄𝒕𝒊𝒐𝒏𝒔 𝒃𝒆𝒕𝒘𝒆𝒆𝒏 𝒕𝒉𝒊𝒔 𝒊𝒅𝒆𝒐𝒍𝒐𝒈𝒚 𝒂𝒏𝒅 𝒕𝒉𝒆 𝒎𝒐𝒗𝒆 𝒕𝒐 𝒉𝒊𝒓𝒆 𝑮𝑹𝑨𝑪𝑬…

    Aside from the substance of the particular matter [abuse, CRT etc.] is the propriety of an organized Church of Jesus Christ [denomination] seeking counsel from outside… be they fellow Christians or heathen. Paul’s upbraiding the Corinthians for bringing lawsuits against each other before outside courts should give us an idea of the Lord’s view about hiring “GRACE” to judge things done within the denomination.

    1 Cor Ch 6…
    5. I say this to your shame. Is it so, that there is not a wise man among you, not even one, who will be able to judge between his brethren?
    6. But brother goes to law against brother, and that before unbelievers!

    Here we see two separate objections… the first is that the Corinthians were seeking counsel on matters from outsiders. That was bad enough. The second, compounding the offense, is that they went before the heathen. Therefore if the OPC was to go before outsiders, who were indeed Christians, they would still be guilty of violating the injunction of going before “outsiders”. Thus, I contend that it does NOT matter whether Langberg is a CRT Trojan Horse or whether she is 100% orthodox, it is NOT proper for the OPC to hire GRACE or to even consider it. If there are concerns about abuse, a pattern of abuse or turning a blind eye to abuse, there are existing avenues of remedy within the OPC available for advocates to utilize which are agreeable to the scriptures.

  4. Chris E said,

    February 23, 2022 at 8:16 am

    “Intersectionality leads to seeing one’s intersectional identity, one’s relationship to the group, as the most significant thing about a person. If a person is a woman, then she is automatically in an oppressed class even if wealthy, in a position of prestige, etc.”

    This is a very basic misunderstanding that has more in common with a vulgar ‘hierarchy of oppressions’ model than intersectionality.

  5. James Wright said,

    March 1, 2022 at 1:35 pm

    I think no!! The OPC should not hire that company. There’s two major problems with CRT, on what basis do they make these moral claims? So what if treating group ____ (fill in the blank) gets me ahead, their loss. As a Christian and a human being (created in God’s image and functioning within the sphere of natural law) I would never treat someone like that. They have no moral foundation to stand on.
    Secondly its not practical. How can you run a business treating anyone that way, staff or customer? Thats why I think they use, or misuse, a hyper-Postmodernism to say things like “even though you a straight white male who doesn’t practice these things, you’re just dooped and still part of the problem”. But there’s a solution to my blind meanderings in life get on board with them.
    It’s nonsense but I loved the post and the site. Keep up the great work everyone.

  6. Dari Sweeton said,

    March 14, 2022 at 9:32 pm

    Where is part 2?

  7. Reed Here said,

    April 2, 2022 at 10:44 am

    Thx for your article. Looking forward to the remaining in the series.

  8. Ron said,

    April 2, 2022 at 8:43 pm

    Ditto, Reed.


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